The WrestleMania season has officially arrived. Thanks to the delightful change of pace brought about by Paul Levesque’s booking, we can confidently 10 of Wrestle Mania 39‘s matches based purely on the weekly TV product, despite the fact that the two-night event is still two months away. But with all the Dwayne Johnson speculation pushed to the background, the big conversation among online wrestling fans is whether or not Levesque is making the right choice to watch Roman Reigns vs. Cody Rhodes as the WrestleMania main event, regardless of Sami Zayn’s overwhelming popularity.
Even though Reigns vs. Zayn booked for Elimination Chamber later this month in Montreal, vocal fans argue that Zayn should somehow be added to the WrestleMania main event equation. The general equation is how Daniel Bryan (now Bryan Danielson in AEW) ended up being added to the WrestleMania XXX main event thanks to overwhelming fan support, resulting in one of the most beloved WrestleMania finals of all time. But I’m here to tell you, just as Zayn Ariel Helwani pointed out, the equation doesn’t really work.
But first it’s time for a history lesson. On the way to SummerSlam In 2013, John Cena was the WWE Champion and Bryan was a fan favorite thanks to his unlikely tag team championship run with Kane and his infectious “Yes!” To sing. Cena chose Bryan as his opponent for the show, and he eventually dropped the title to the submission specialist, only for Levesque (an authority figure on TV and behind the scenes at the time, but not to the extent he is now) to turn around. spin Bryan and help Randy Orton become the new champion right away. Levesque, Stephanie McMahon, Orton, and The Shield announced themselves as The Authority faction the following night on Raw, deeming Bryan unworthy of representing WWE as top champion due to his appearance. Please ignore the fact that Bryan was already a former world heavyweight champion at the time and had challenged CM Punk three times the previous year for the same title on pay-per-view without any protest.
What followed were months of Bryan trying to overcome the odds against the group, only for the rug to be pulled out from under him each time. He defeated Orton for the title Night of champions, only to be cleared when Levesque tried to accuse Bryan of paying the referee. Bryan and Orton would then compete for the vacated title at both Battlefield And hell in a cell, but interference from Big Show and Shawn Michaels continued to prevent Bryan from winning back the title.
Despite Bryan being a three-time world champion and as popular as ever, WWE then tried to run away from the whole thing. An attempt was made for Big Show to get the “Yes!” Chant, Orton unified the WWE and the World Heavyweight Championship in yet another pay-per-view match with Cena and Bryan became a member of The Wyatt Family for a short time before feuding with the titular leader. By the end of 2014 royal rumble, despite the overwhelming negativity, Bryan was on the losing end of his program with Bray Wyatt and was not even involved in that year’s Rumble match. Instead, a returning Batista won the 30-man match and was set for a world championship match with Orton.
WWE has since tried to flip what happened next as part of the company’s master plan, but between numerous interviews, backstage reports, and a leaked early draft of the original card courtesy of Punk, it’s clear that Orton vs. Batista the main event while Bryan was on the center card in yet another Mania match with Sheamus. But Punk’s decision to leave the company the night after the Rumble over a long list of grievances suddenly left Levesque without a WrestleMania match. Between that and the consistently negative reception to the main event program, the company pulled the trigger and changed its plans to give Bryan his crowning achievement.
And while there’s been some rumbling about fans not being too thrilled about Reigns vs. Rhodes, the idea that Zayn fits into the same role as Bryan from the 2014 era is just plain wrong. Throughout the Bryan vs. Authority was the focus of the WWE Championship – Bryan wanted it and felt he deserved it time and time again, while Levesque & co. disagreed, simply because he didn’t fit their mold for what a world champion should be. But the Zayn/Bloodline storyline, great as it is, was never about Reigns’ Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. It was about Zayn finding where he belongs.
Each chapter of the storyline revolves around Zayn’s relationship with each member of the group. He easily won over Jimmy Uso, but it took months for Jey to finally trust him. Paul Heyman feigned approval and claimed to welcome Zayn with open arms, only to stab him in the back when it felt right. Reigns initially viewed him as an innocent nuisance, but eventually recognized that he could weaponize Zayn’s loyalties and make him a foot soldier again within The Bloodline.
The storyline, like many of the all-time greats of WWE’s past, resonates so well with fans because of its relatability. Many of us want friends and a sense of belonging, but often don’t know where to look and sometimes try to fit in with people who use that desire for companionship as bait for their own selfish ambitions. It’s sold all the more for Zayn’s complete seriousness and his ability to make everyone around him act better, from the simplicity of Solo Sikoa to the complexity of Reigns and Jey.
This is why the story’s biggest moments were more emotional than physical. Zayn’s unbridled joy at being handed over his “Honorary Uce” shirt, the “Ucey” promotion, Jey’s acceptance of him after the WarGames match, and what happened late last week royal rumble are all infinitely more memorable and relevant to the story than Reigns’ title defense against Matt Riddle, Brock Lesnar and Logan Paul.
It’s also why saying that the correct conclusion to the story is Zayn somehow overcoming the odds against Reigns in a match doesn’t make sense. Sure, we get that game on the 18th in Montreal, but that doesn’t solve all the dangling storylines. Has Zayn’s friendship with Jey finally opened the title champion’s eyes to Reigns’ brutality or will his loyalty to his brother get the better of everything else? Can Zayn mend his friendship with Kevin Owens? And can he take revenge on Paul Heyman after what happened at the “Tribal Court”? This will probably culminate in WrestleMania one way or another – this is still pro wrestling after all – but trying to force Zayn into Reigns vs. Rhodes rings that are so hollow.
This isn’t “YestleMania II”, it’s just a good story. So let them tell.
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