WrestleMania 39 weekend has arrived.
There is a certain charm in the air as Cody Rhodes prepares to challenge Roman Reigns. This is an old-school match where neither side wants to lose. Though the match should be spectacular, it will also be interesting to learn about what unfolded behind the scenes to arrive at that point.
The finish has been decided upon, Sports Illustrated confirmed with multiple people connected to WWE. The possibility always exists for a change, especially with Vince McMahon seizing more involvement in the creative process, but there is an agreed-upon finish.
As we enter the most significant days of WWE’s calendar, here is a look at some of the most pivotal parts of the weekend.
The chairman’s presence
Vince McMahon is expected to be at WrestleMania 39, multiple sources have relayed to Sports Illustrated. And given the most recent news, why wouldn’t he be? McMahon just entered into a new employee agreement, further extending his reign as executive chairman.
McMahon has not been present at any WWE television shows since earlier this month when Raw was in Boston. That is not surprising, as more appearances could have tipped his hand. McMahon has a history of planning out multiple steps ahead, and with WWE moving closer to a sale, McMahon is keeping his plans quiet.
The level of McMahon’s involvement at WrestleMania 39 is yet to be determined, but he is expected to be involved and highly visible.
Flair and Ripley will flourish anywhere on the card
If Charlotte Flair and Rhea Ripley headline the opening night of WrestleMania 39, they will deliver.
A valid argument could—and should—be made that The Usos against Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens should close out Night 1. That feud has the longevity that even Reigns and Rhodes are missing in their program, and this is the climax of one of the most compelling stories that has been told in the company over the past decade. The tag match will be great no matter where it is on the card, and the card will be stronger if it closes. Ripley against Flair would likely be best served in the fourth or fifth spot on opening night, but it will absolutely deliver no matter where it is placed—including the main event.
“The main event, I take a lot of pride in that,” says Flair. “You’re closing the show. They might tell us we’re not, but that’s the spot I want. And I want to deliver a main-event story.”
Flair and Ripley wrestled each other at an empty Performance Center during WrestleMania 36 in 2020, which was a very physical bout. Their best work together took place the following summer at Money in the Bank in ’21, where they captured the crowd and put on a tremendous back-and-forth bout.
“There was so much to that match,” says Flair. “It’s one of the best of my career.”
A certain chemistry exists between Flair and Ripley. Both are versatile and agile, and while Ripley does not have the same size as Flair, her character and style are so well defined that all her offense is legitimate and believable.
“We’re going to bring it,” says Ripley. “If you’re not captivated by the start, you will be by the end. You’re going to remember our match.”
The opportunity exists here to elevate Ripley to the next level. She won the Royal Rumble match in January, and now looks to dethrone Flair, who WWE has transitioned into more of a special attraction. She rarely defends the title when she is champion, which is the case in this SmackDown title reign, and it is great that the company is presenting Flair in such a meaningful manner.
“You don’t see that very often with the women, so it’s very important,” says Flair. “It’s a double-edged sword. I love to wrestle. And it’s harder for the division, which I take personally.
“This puts more pressure on me, and that’s what I want. I want that pressure; I want to show that’s why I am who I am.”
Professionally, Ripley has never had a better opportunity than she will on Saturday. There is also a very personal connection for her that involves her family.
“My parents will be there from Australia, so I want it to be perfect,” says Ripley. “This is their first-ever WrestleMania, and it’s been almost five years since they’ve seen me wrestle.”
A feud that began three years ago will reach its highest point at WrestleMania 39, in a moment that could help define Ripley’s career.
“It’s two titans colliding,” says Flair. “Two physically imposing women going at it. I hope she’s been taking notes over the past three years. I’m not going to give this to her—she needs to take it.”
Who will win Sunday’s main event?
Roman Reigns and Cody Rhodes deserve credit for a fantastic build to their main event. No one is clamoring for Reigns against Sami Zayn at this point, which was a concern heading into the Royal Rumble, yet it is simply not an issue thanks to the intensity and interest of this story.
The only other person who could have worked this main event spot against Reigns is Kevin Owens. But Rhodes has been outstanding. In only two months, he has erased any doubt, but he belongs in this position. But is a two-month build really enough time to end Reigns’s historic run as champ?
Approaching so close to 1,000 days, I expect WWE to have Reigns win. A victory by Rhodes would be special, but if done right, he can recover from a defeat and return even stronger.
We’ll learn Sunday night whether the powers that be in WWE agree.
Father and son prepare to throw down
Rey Mysterio is headlining WWE’s Hall of Fame class for 2023.
He will also wrestle his son, Dominik Mysterio, at WrestleMania 39. The match has had a tremendous build, with parallels to the story line of Bret Hart finally accepting to wrestle younger brother Owen at WrestleMania XX after a long history of rejecting the match.
This is an incredible opportunity for Dominik. And every time he has tormented his father on-screen, the pride in Rey’s eyes is unmistakable.
“At 19 years old, Dominik said he wanted to try to break in this business,” says Mysterio. “I said, ‘I’ll be the first to let you know if you have it or not.’ I stepped in the ring with him and Konnan, his godfather, and it was interesting to see him hit the ropes and roll. It’s hard to explain—but he was picking up difficult moves right away. It was beautiful to see him take his first steps in a ring, and I got to share that with him. To see his growth, moving from San Diego to Tampa, Tampa to Calgary, Calgary to the PC [WWE Performance Center in Orlando], to wrestling Seth Rollins—I told him he wasn’t ready, but he made a bold decision and went with it—I’m so proud. It’s paid off. To watch him as his father, I can’t even put into words how that feels.”
Mysterio will be inducted into the Hall of Fame by Konnan, his beloved friend and mentor. The two share a history dating back decades, and Mysterio is honored to bring Konnan—who is also a wrestling legend—to WWE during WrestleMania weekend.
“I’ve known Konnan since I was 12 years old,” says Mysterio. “My uncle trained him. Right away, there was a sensation. We just clicked. Everywhere Konnan went, he brought me with him. He opened up so many doors for me. There is no one out there that knows me better. We’ve been to AAA, ECW, WCW, but never WWE. Now we get that. Especially with Dom being around, it will be a huge blessing to all be together.”
Mysterio is also eager to share the ring with his son during WrestleMania.
“This battle has been going back and forth,” says Mysterio. “Being inducted into the Hall of Fame is special, but then it will be time to go out and get that WrestleMania moment.”
The return of an all-time great
John Cena is opening the first night of WrestleMania 39 against Austin Theory. The United States title is on the line, just as it was 19 years when Cena opened WrestleMania XX against The Big Show—when he took home the U.S. gold.
Cena is an icon, and he is also extremely smart. He knows that if you don’t go on last, you go on first, which is exactly where he will be.
NXT’s time to shine
Carmelo Hayes will headline NXT’s Stand & Deliver show Saturday afternoon, challenging Bron Breakker for the NXT title.
“This is our WrestleMania,” says Hayes. “I’m putting this up as the top three matches of the weekend. I know Cody and Roman are going to do their thing, but I want myself and Bron to be up there in that same discussion.”
Hayes is a star in the making. He worked his way up through the indies before arriving at the Performance Center, and his work ethic has put him a step above everyone else on the roster—including his closest friend, Bronson Rechsteiner, who is better known as Breakker.
Hayes and Breakker represent the future of WWE. Their match at Stand & Deliver is only the beginning of a very significant feud.
“This is going to be a match that still matters in 10 years,” says Hayes. “You’re going to see a lot of me and Bron. Even when we’re separate, our paths will connect.
“This is the future of WWE, and this is the infancy of it. If you want a glimpse of the future, this is it.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.