By Will Pruett, ProWrestling.net Co-Senior Staffer (@itswilltime)
Two nights. Two unique and really wonderful main events. Two well built challengers coming up against unbeatable champions. Two completely different endings. Two massively different crowd reactions. WrestleMania 39’s main events were a study in contrasts. On Saturday night we saw the unbridled joy and celebration as Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens ended the record-setting title reign of Jimmy and Jay Uso. On Sunday night we saw hope turn to heartbreak as Cody Rhodes failed to finish his personal story and defeat Roman Reigns for WWE’s top prize. In both examples, we saw WWE’s longterm planning come to fruition, but now we’re left to wonder if the shock of Sunday’s ending was worth it.
From the press box at WrestleMania, we could see not just the ring, but the fans on the floor. On Saturday, the crowd stayed still and roared in approval at the end. On Sunday, as the final three count rang out at Sofi Stadium, fans rushed for the doors. You could see the visible displeasure on the faces of people vacating their seats. Folks were not interested in staying for the pyro display (one we’ve now seen for three straight years for Roman Reigns).
In so many ways this anger and this passion is the point. As a fan, you’re supposed to be upset after buying into Cody Rhodes’ story. As a fan, the desire to see him finish his own story should be strong. That this fits with WWE’s own meta-narrative around Cody is even better. In the main event on Sunday, WWE had fans eating out of the palms of their hands with the “Yay-Boo” punch sequence from Cody and Roman eliciting the desired reaction for each man. Fans were meant to be invested and, with this ending, their hearts were meant to be broken.
Contrast that with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. Once again, you have major stars in a major position on Saturday night. WWE’s storytelling supported them being beloved. The meta-narrative around them supported them rising up from nothing in wrestling to the biggest stage of all. They made themselves into characters worth believing in. And that belief was honored on Saturday night. The cathartic moment as they were handed their newly won WWE Tag Team Championship belts will live rent free in my own head for decades.
I know I find myself wondering why this choice was made. What factors went into this happening? How important is it to WWE to have Roman Reigns on top when they’re merging with UFC under the Endeavor corporate umbrella? Is the storytelling this cold, callous, and calculating? Or is it something else? If Roman Reigns was always supposed to win this match, was Cody Rhodes ever meant to be this popular?
Roman Reigns vs. Cody Rhodes was an epic fitting the WrestleMania stage. Both men felt larger than life and, for the first time in this title reign, someone felt large enough to step up to Reigns that was not Brock Lesnar. Cody Rhodes has found himself in rarified air in WWE. The Usos vs. Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens was its own epic that fit in SoFi Stadium, but would have had a home up the road in Reseda as well. While it played well on the big stage, the match was so frenetic and so dynamic it could have graced the now torn down walls of the legendary American Legion Hall.
As modern wrestling fans, we’ve never seen anything like this Roman Reigns title reign. Even Hulk Hogan’s first title reign, which was ongoing as the WrestleMania era started, only saw him defend the title successfully at two WrestleManias. Roman Reigns is already at three. And I could easily see this reign lasting to WrestleMania 40.
WWE may never have an opportunity as good as this one looked on paper to end Roman’s epic reign. Cody Rhodes was as over as a babyface can be going into Sunday night. Despite rapping “California Love” for no reason on Friday, fans still respond so well to Rhodes. Cody has also reigned in his worst instincts seen at the end of his AEW run, but will the quirkiness we all know Cody to possess come back and bite him, given more time?
To me, this was the best moment and Cody Rhodes was the best person to end this title reign. Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong in the next year by more epic storytelling. I would have never thought something as dynamic and exciting as The Bloodline would exist in WWE, so I can easily be wrong about Cody’s moment here.
I’m also curious about the path forward for Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. They’re an amazing tag team, but they are also two main event wrestlers. Will WWE want them tied up longterm in the tag team division? This would be an amazing way to spotlight and elevate acts in that division, but it also could risk bringing done the recently ascendent Zayn and Owens. Their WrestleMania main event win was a moment I want to relive on repeat for hours of each day, but will they get their singles moments to shine as well?
WrestleMania 39 offered us an all time great set of shows. For both match quality and production pageantry, it was beautiful. We had two dynamic and exciting main events that offered drama down to the final three count. What more could we ask for?
And now in the interest of time, my top five matches of WrestleMania 39:
1 – The Usos vs. Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens for the WWE Unified Tag Team Championship: What else would be my favorite match of the weekend? I loved everything about this tag match. And I loved seeing Kevin Owens get his second WrestleMania main event. There is something special about seeing a wrestler (or two, here) you watched with 400 other people in a cramped room perform in front of 70,000 or more people in a main event. Seeing Owens and Zayn pull this off and do so masterfully was the highlight of the weekend for me.
2 – Charlotte Flair vs. Rhea Ripley for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: This match belongs up there with Banks vs. Belair as possibly the best women’s match in WrestleMania history. It’s not often that Charlotte tries this hard and this match was her masterpiece. Ripley was completely game to rise up to Charlotte’s level here and wow. I could watch these two have a series of matches together at this point.
3 – Roman Reigns vs. Cody Rhodes for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship: The result is going to be questioned for years to come, but the match itself was excellent. Rhodes and Reigns have really great in-ring chemistry (and did back in the Shield vs. Rhodes family days, too). The added players at ringside (Solo, Usos, Zayn, Owens, Heyman) all brought something to this as well. This was a WrestleMania epic, which is the one thing Reigns was really missing in this title reign after last year’s disappointing match against Lesnar.
4 – Gunther vs. Sheamus vs. Drew McIntyre for the WWE Intercontinental Championship: This was looked at as a possible match of the show and it delivered. All three men must be sore even days after their match together. Gunther is an epic final boss of an Intercontinental Champion. McIntyre and Sheamus sacrificed their chests for this one and it was worth it. I’ll take Drew McIntyre vs. Gunther sometime soon now, please.
5 – Seth Rollins vs. Logan Paul: Look, I don’t want Logan Paul to be good at this. I’m super frustrated by how good and natural Paul is, but everything he did on this show was great. His entrance was over the top and purposefully annoying, but also spectacular in a way. Seth Rollins was a great theatrical counterpart. These two had a great match that fits well into Rollins’ growing library of great Mania performances. Add in a life-size beverage and I’m all about it.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. To see his video content, including several interviews from the WrestleMania 39 press junket, subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.