In wrestling some matches are thrown together. Some take months of planning. But every once in a while, the stars align and forces collide almost as if it were destiny. WrestleMania 37 will close out with a match that firmly falls into the latter category as Roman Reigns defends his WWE Universal Championship against both Daniel Bryan and Royal Rumble winner Edge. Our very own King Of The Ring, Andy Spoors, delves into a match that transcends professional wrestling and marks the end of an emotional story 10 years in the making…
April 11, 2011. Alter Bridge’s Metalingus echoes around the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Just eight days after defending his World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 27, Edge makes his way down to the ring. Gone is the usual cocky grin and even behind blacked out sunglasses, it is obvious something is weighing heavily on the Rated R Superstar’s mind.
In an emotional 10-minute speech, Edge explains after he’d undergone spinal neck fusion surgery a few years prior, he’d recently been experiencing a lot of pain and experiencing numbness in his arms. An MRI scan showed he would need to immediately retire.
Upon seeing just how emotionally distressed Edge is becoming and sensing the sombre tone in his voice, the WWE Universe realise this is no joke. A loud ‘Thank-you Edge’ chant swirls around the arena. As the retirement speech draws to a close, Adam Copeland (Edge’s real name) poses himself a question.
“If you asked me if I’d travel all the roads, log all the miles, hop on all the flights,” he says. “All the sleepless nights, all the surgeries, all of the injuries, all of the metal rods in my teeth, all of it. If you asked me if I’d do it again? In a heartbeat.”
Making his way from the ring and down to the backstage area. Edge is given a guard of honour by his fellow Superstars. He embraces a few and whispers some words to others. Unbeknown to both men one of those Superstars would have to endure a similar fate less than five years later….
February 8, 2016. Daniel Bryan stands in the middle of the KeyArena in his hometown of Seattle, Washington. His eyes are closed, but a smile of pure contentment is plastered on his face. The WWE Universe is showering their hometown hero in adoration. The word “Yes!” reverberates around the arena.
News had broken earlier in the day that Daniel Bryan would be forced to retire. It was a bitter blow to a wrestler that had rolled with the punches and taken his bumps all over the world. For a man that had fought so hard to get to the top of the mountain it seemed cruel that those very same bumps that made him the ultimate underdog, had not just caught up with him but ended his esteemed career.
In an eerily similar speech to Edge, Bryan gives the WWE Universe an insight into how he got to this stage, but also lists every reason why he is grateful for the career he has had.
“Now, tomorrow morning, I start a new life,” he begins. “A life where I am no longer a wrestler but that is tomorrow and that is not tonight. And by damn I have one more night to feel this energy and to feel this crowd, so if I could just get one last ‘YES’ chant, I would really appreciate it!”
October 22, 2018. The comically named Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island is about to have the air sucked out of the WWE Universe in attendance. The usual noisy but mixed reception for Roman Reigns is in full swing. For every cheer, there are at least two boos. As Reigns begins to speak a concerned look etched on his face betrays his usual stoic demeanour.
The crowd begin to heckle and cheer in equal amounts until Reigns breaks one of the oldest rules in wrestling and openly states his real name. He goes on to reveal that he has been fighting leukaemia since he was young and that unfortunately it was back. The arena descends into almost complete silence. Wide eyes, open mouths and raised eyebrows ripple across the WWE Universe as not just the ramifications for the company but what this means for the man stood in front of them begins to dawn.
Unlike Edge or Daniel Bryan, Roman Reigns takes this opportunity to end with a rallying call. He will not be defeated by this and he will be back to reclaim his Universal Championship. As he waves goodbye for now, he is embraced at the top of the ramp by his Shield brothers Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose posing in their signature stance as all three men are visibly emotional.
April 11, 2021. Raymond James Stadium. Wrestlemania 37. All three men will stand in the middle of a WWE ring ready to main event and close out one of the most important events in the history of the company.
Three Superstars that have lost over a decade off their careers between them. Even Hollywood would have a hard time writing that story. Each man had totally different things rob them of creating more memories with the WWE Universe but it is easy to imagine that all three have experienced dark days where a road back would feel impossible.
From a surprise entrant at the Royal Rumble, a first match back on the huge stage of WrestleMania 34 or sharing the news that you’re in remission with a packed arena, each man managed to climb their way back to the top where they belong.
When the bell rings to start the match in Tampa, no one knows exactly how those lucky enough to attend will react. Reigns has transformed himself into a character the WWE Universe has not had a chance to experience live yet. Bryan has made no secret that this could be his last WrestleMania as a full-time talent and Edge has finally tapped into his previous Rated R Superstar persona from the late noughties.
The WWE ThunderDome has allowed fans to place themselves albeit virtually, back in the arena but producers direct attendees who to boo for and who to cheer for and have the power to remove anyone going against what they want. Canned cheers and chants fill the air to help the Superstars react to some sort of atmosphere but the lifeblood of wrestling has been missed.
This weekend marks the first time that the higher-ups of WWE can truly gauge the organic feelings of their audience, other than odious remarks of social media platforms. What works and what doesn’t? Who do fans want to cheer for? Who will they boo?
It is unlikely to affect the outcome of any match, least of all the main event. The trio involved here all have their next chapters to write whether that be as champion, or even wrestling again at all.
This year’s main event goes beyond just another wrestling match. No, this match is a love letter to anyone that has been told they can no longer do something they love doing. Here is proof you can. Many of us have been looking for hope in a miserable year. Here it is.
It may sound twee or a little overboard but wrestling fans need to show their appreciation for what promises to be a memorable night for all involved. This main event is a microcosm of the emotion and hard work normal men and women put into their craft, all to be called Superstars. And to echo the words of Daniel Bryan, we are grateful…