The Three Stories That Show WrestleMania 37's Long-Term Storytelling

I have an entirely untold rule about WrestleMania matches. They should fall into one of three categories:
  1. "First time" matches: This better be the first time I am seeing this matchup, and I am willing to give the WWE my money for it. (think Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels)
  2. "PPV only" matches: Okay, maybe it's not the first time, but spending my money is the only way I'm going to see it. (think Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock)
  3. "Long-term story" matches: I'm not seeing anything "new", per say, but I'm too invested in the payoff to not watch this. (think Daniel Bryan vs. Kofi Kingston)
The third category is an absolute flex by the WWE. We joke about the WWE not acknowledging its own history. At times, stories only work if we don't remember history--like Triple H's WrestleMania saga with The Undertaker. Truth is, the WWE always remembers its history, just not in a direct way. It's counting on us to connect the dots.

Not to turn this into an MCU conversation, but it's like Avengers: Infinity War digging up Red Skull after roughly seven years of never mentioning him. It's a mix of fan service, telling us "we didn't forget about him", and rewarding us for our investment. It's long-term storytelling that goes untold. Marvel doesn't beat us over the head with exposition to remind viewers why something is significant or how it is connected.

Though, when Thanos asked Red Skull how he ended up on Vormir, I would have howled if Red Skull looked dead-ass into the camera and said, "it all started in a movie called Captain America: The First Avenger," only for Thanos to reply with, "who are you talking to?"

MCU conversation is over. Point is, the WWE usually swings a sledgehammer to our heads with verbal recaps and video packages. We undersell the moments when it gives us invested viewers a simple wink and a nod. So let's take a moment to provide the exposition the WWE won't, and appreciate three WrestleMania 37 stories that do some serious world-building, even if the WWE isn't reminding us of it (or possibly didn't intend for it).

Edge vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Roman Reigns

There are too many layers to this story, so get ready for more words than are probably necessary.

When Edge retired in 2011, he didn't get to fulfill what could've possibly been a great run as World Champion. After years of short runs as an opportunist (he was a 10-time champion over the span of five years), he developed into a respected champion taking on Smackdown's rising stars. Bryan went through something similar in 2014. Bryan had been a champion before, but WrestleMania XXX was to start a long-awaited reign as the top guy. Unfortunately it didn't happen.

Previously on Smackdown, Edge said to Bryan that really stuck out: "You want to talk about this could be your last WrestleMania? Every match in here could be my last match!" Both men came out of retirement to get back championship runs they never lost. Bryan has become champion since returning, but not as the "Yes! Yes! Yes!" Bryan that sent the Silverdome Superdome into a frenzy. He wants THAT back, and his pursuit of that has failed.

But that's the thing: he became champion again. Edge hasn't. Bryan is worried about getting one more chance. Edge is worried if any more chances will come his way. He returned from retirement and just as quickly spent 2020 on the shelf. Every match is a risk for him, and after taking the risk of entering the Royal Rumble as the first entrant, he's not interested in adding another wrestler to HIS title match.

They both want the same thing. They have both experienced the same triumph and disappointment. Yet, they find themselves as common obstacles against the true enemy: Roman Reigns.

Reigns' connection is more direct. When Bryan returned from his first major injury, it was Reigns who defeated Bryan, preventing him from going to WrestleMania 31 and trying to reclaim the World Title. When Edge returned from retirement at the 2020 Royal Rumble, it was Reigns who eliminated him (thus, pitting Edge against Randy Orton, incidentally causing Edge's serious triceps injury). The time is ticking on Edge and Bryan because of Reigns.

None of this was planned. This story is a series of coincidences and insignificant events becoming very significant in the present. But these moments turn a story originally built on taking advantage of three hot characters into something with a long, connected history that feels like fate. It’s beautiful.

The Fiend vs. Randy Orton

Let me get this out the way: the past few months have been hokey and difficult to get into. I like fantasy stuff in my wrestling. Lucha Underground will always have a place in my heart for realizing none of this "real", so we might as well make the product as off-the-wall as possible. But between teleporting, black goo, and a charred Fiend rising up like a 90s horror movie, I've spent more time laughing than getting lost in the story.

I don't remember how these two found themselves connected again. A shame considering the overall story arc of The Fiend is great, and targeting Orton one year after sending John Cena to another dimension is a sensible follow-up.

The Fiend's story is one of getting revenge on behalf of Bray Wyatt, a person who proved incapable of achieving his mission of a) changing the face of the WWE, b) giving himself societal validation, and c) developing a cult following through holding the World Championship. Cena might have derailed Wyatt's momentum, but Orton shut down Wyatt's mission full-stop.

It was Orton who did the most damage to Wyatt. He caused Wyatt to lose his family and the WWE Title; he burned down Wyatt's house; more devastatingly, he burned down Wyatt's entire aura. He figuratively killed Wyatt. Wyatt became lost and aimless, at one point broken, and that's how The Fiend found its way to him. While Wyatt seems interested in letting go of the past, The Fiend wants to get back everything he lost.

Orton burning a man alive is the nuttiest thing I've seen in the WWE. I know I called this hokey, but I loved everything about Orton trying to literally kill Wyatt. Why? Because IT MAKES SENSE! Orton just spent 2020 trying to be on top again. He doesn’t want to go out like Cena. We genuinely can't see Cena and have no idea where he is. Burning down houses leads to burning down people. It’s science. Orton is 41, desperate, and we've continually called him some form of "sinister." Don't be shocked when an "Apex Predator" does some apex sh*t.

Too bad the past doesn't die so easily. Wyatt didn't have Sister Abigail or his mystique in his first battle with Orton. But now he has Abigail's conduit in Alexa Bliss, he has Orton's fear, and he's ready to correct a wrong from four years ago. This is perfect.

Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn

I'm still not sure why Logan Paul is here. This feels like a throwaway match; last-minute booking for two people who inexplicably haven't had a clear direction for the past couple of months. But if the WWE is going to throw an idea against the wall in hopes that it sticks, pitting Owens against Zayn isn't a bad choice.

It’s been mentioned that this is the first time Owens will be the babyface in a feud with a heel Zayn. It's a fitting transition for a rivalry that has taken many forms since beginning in NXT.

For most of Owens' WWE run, it has been implied (or directly said) that he's being held back by backstage forces. Hell, Triple H straight up told Owens in 2019 that Owens was "taken by people who didn't understand--until they had you--that they didn't actually want you." The message was clear: Owens didn't belong here. If anyone should believe in conspiracies, it's Owens.

And early on, it sounded like he did. Any time Owens struggled, it was everyone else's fault. He was the victim. In his battles with Shane McMahon and Smackdown management in 2017, Owens managed to bring Zayn down with him. Zayn, normally optimistic and accountable for his success, saw himself as a victim as well. He claimed that RAW mistreated him, that his efforts to please everyone held him back, and that it was Owens who "opened my eyes to everything."

While Owens eventually matured to simply fight everyone and anyone he could in hopes of being a champion again, Zayn only became further entrenched. So much so, he’s become blind to his own success the past year (similar to Owens in the two years after his RAW debut). In a twisted way, Zayn's fixation is partially the fault of Owens.

Maybe Owens is seeing in Zayn what we saw in Owens years ago. Maybe Owens has some regret for letting Zayn down this path. Or, maybe in the same way Zayn felt he was helping his "brother" by pulling Owens from a table targeted by Shane McMahon's body, Owens is now helping his "brother" by re-opening his eyes to reality and pulling him back up on his feet. And Owen will do it the only way he knows how and possibly the only way Zayn can understand: a fight.

It's poetic. Also weird. It’s not clear how kicking Zayn’s ass will help him. But it's cool: we're getting a fight from two people who know how to put on a good fight. While the WWE may not think about stories years in advance, they somehow stumble onto great stories that span across time. I know the road to WrestleMania 37 has been filled with potholes (and at times, plot holes), but there are some storytelling gems worth watching for. It's April, it's WrestleMania, and after a year of complaining, I'm excited.

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