“Appreciation” and “grateful” are two words that come to mind this week as WrestleMania’s opening salvo looms Wednesday night with NXT’s two-night Takeover series.
Reason being, if you want to entertain the idea of alternate realities or parallel dimensions, a reality could exist out there where both Edge and Daniel Bryan never return to the WWE ring, or even worse, Roman Reigns succumbed to his second bout with cancer. Three lives, all having taken different paths to get to this point, this moment and this week when it could have been different.
That context is both abrasive, and necessary. Driving the point home like a hammer striking the ring bell, it needs to be said how remarkable this contest is beyond the mere match itself, or the imbecility surrounding the backlash directed toward the inclusion of Bryan in the “money match” of the show. Admittedly so, if you go back, you’d see early on after Edge secured his Rumble win in January, I was an early adopter of Reigns vs. Edge needing to be THE match at WrestleMania to be featured on Night 2 to close out the weekend. That context is required, because any one of the three could easily not be involved at all and I want that to seep in and absorb into your minds. Let it sink in for a moment.
Edge retired due to a very serious neck injury, one that could very well leave him worse than Paige in her ill-fated final match. His story is noteworthy because of the determination involved in the recovery, but also as well the story ingrained in the comeback. He’s on borrowed time, and he knows it as well as we do. He’s here now before us, and ready to entertain.
Daniel Bryan suffered very serious concussions. It can’t be understated how serious head or brain injuries are; many hockey and football careers have been shortened by the concussive impacts of a brain slamming against a skull. We’ve seen it in wrestling too, and lives change often for the worse because of it. He returned to us, and he too is now before us once more and ready to entertain.
Roman Reigns is a cancer survivor twice over, and if you know someone who has struggled through any form of it, or lost that ultimate battle, you know the stakes involved. Moreover, you can appreciate the journey back even from a third-person perspective. Reigns is among the leaders of the pack in wrestling right now, and along with Kenny Omega will likely be occupying the top two spots on most lists for wrestler of the year in 2021. Reigns is a survivor, and he in story terms will have to survive a triple threat match with two other people, with everything to lose, who also could easily not be wrestling. Reigns stands before each of us, ready to entertain.
Stop for a moment and consider the threads of each story, how each began at very different points: they have started, stopped, restarted and halted; they have all been spun and converged at this moment, in this company, on this coming weekend, at this WrestleMania. The wrestling fates have woven a story for us, one with stakes, one with a story that is all too real. Trumpet the trite commentary of its scripted nature if you will, or stand firm in your stance that it should have been simply Edge and Reigns. You’re entitled, as are any who believe it should be Sasha Banks and Bianca Belair main eventing on night one. But there’s also little value in contemplating the alternate realities that could be as they’d undercut the actual reality of the WrestleMania we’re faced with; the one right before us.
Some of the best moments in wrestling come to us out of the blue. They’re unplanned and unexpected, but “the organic” is what we remember most because it means more. Wrestling is a merger of story and physicality. It’s more than spots, more than the mere technical dynamics of its execution, more than doors forbidden or otherwise, and more than any one company, WWE included. It’s everything we love, and everything we see, and even the finer points in between the polarities of extremes that sometimes you can miss as a fan. Even more so as a critic, or more appropriately, someone who is critical recklessly to the point they’re a parody of the fan they were and choose not to be.
Wrestling is more intricate than we give it credit for, more finely tuned than you’d think and just when you think you’ve experienced it all, a moment drops in your lap that sticks with you. They’re special; we each have one. Some have many, but they’re there and ingrained in you for as long as you choose to keep them.
This week brings a slate of matches, mostly within WWE, featuring a collective of men and women who’ve chosen to dedicate themselves to this craft we follow, which we cheer or jeer, and which we often care about to a point of fault (and ad nauseum, to those in our lives who just don’t get it).
This tri-angled story between Reigns, Edge and Bryan is the embodiment of storytelling, of competition, and most importantly both what can be and — and as easily so — what could easily not be. These threads have woven together and continue intertwining with forward motion. This match maybe won’t be the greatest match ever, or a technical marvel. It maybe isn’t the match that many wanted, but it’s the one we have. Which is interesting, really, when you think about it. So much of being a wrestling fan, especially on the Internet, hinges on our isolated opinions and then having them converge with others who think the same. The hitch is, especially when you armchair book, is that expectation is exclusive inside the head of the self and then the collective. Those boots don’t ever touch ground unless by serendipitous happenstance when all the stars align, but mostly it’s in that alternate reality where things are different. It isn’t tangible.
What is, though, is what we have. We have a great, real story behind a triple threat match ripe with emotion. We have a WWE title match featuring two people either fans or the company wrote off, forcing them to work back to one of the pinnacles of wrestling. We have two women who deserve to be in a main event, and now should work to prove why some felt that was the case, and we have two women who should do everything in their power to remind fans of who they are. Around the main course are an array of matches, without even getting into Takeover, featuring people committed to likeminded causes, as are those in other companies putting on shows all throughout this week.
Appreciate all of it, because reality is fleeting. Acknowledge what they offer, and be grateful. Because when you do that, when you let your guard down, that’s when you get surprised.