By Keith Elliot Greenberg
Drew McIntyre has a goal: obliterating WWE's feel-good story of 2019 at WrestleMania 35.
In October, Roman Reigns stood in the ring at Monday Night Raw -- seen each Monday on USA at 8/7c -- and delivered a shocking announcement. The leukemia he’d defeated earlier in life had returned. In order to combat the illness, Reigns needed to relinquish the WWE Universal Championship and seek treatment. Even fans who’d amused themselves by taunting the popular Reigns from the safety of their seats were openly crying.
Through a combination of determination, treatment, and the positive energy of the WWE Universe, Reigns returned to Raw on Feb. 25 and exhilarated viewers with the news that his illness had gone into remission.
One of the few people not partaking in the celebration was McIntyre, a former WWE Intercontinental and NXT Champion who viewed the miraculous return as an impediment to his own plans to dominate. Allowing Reigns little time to savor the appreciation of his supporters, the 6'5”, 265-pound McIntyre began engaging the “Big Dog” in a series of altercations, laying him out with a punishing Claymore Kick on the Mar. 25 edition of Raw -- and gloating about it.
Reigns might have survived leukemia, McIntyre had the audacity to say, but he wouldn’t survive the “Scottish Psychopath.”
At any other WrestleMania, the Reigns-McIntyre matchup would be considered the most emotional match on the show. In 2019, however -- despite clashes featuring WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins, WWE United States Champion Samoa Joe vs. Rey Mysterio, and Intercontinental Champion Bobby Lashley vs. Finn Bálor -- fans’ hearts appear to be caught up in a number of contests.
Daniel Bryan (WWE Champion) vs. Kofi Kingston: In his eleven years in WWE, Kofi Kingston has become a sentimental favorite. Yet, he’s never been taken seriously as a WWE Championship contender.
When an Elimination Chamber match was scheduled for February to determine a number-one challenger, Kingston’s name was left out. But after participant Mustafa Ali was injured, Kofi fought through the top names on SmackDown Live -- seen on USA each Tuesday at 8/7c -- to fill the slot. Although he failed to win the match, he made such a strong showing that the WWE Universe began to acknowledge his championship potential.
This infuriated WWE Champion Daniel Bryan, who derided Kingston’s stature -- as well as the fans who believed in him. Flexing his political muscle, Bryan convinced WWE officials to set near-impossible conditions for Kingston to receive a title shot. Undeterred, Kofi survived a brutal gauntlet match against Sheamus, Cesaro, Randy Orton, Samoa Joe, and Erick Rowan. Even so, WWE mogul Vince McMahon made the unreasonable demand that the weary Kingston needed to battle one more opponent that night: Bryan.
Exhausted, Kofi fell short. His title hopes appeared to be dashed until his tag-team partners in the New Day -- Xavier Woods and Big E -- offered to go through another gauntlet of teams in order to secure a WrestleMania 35 championship opportunity for their dear friend.
Although they succeeded, Bryan has proclaimed that his challenger is, at best, a “B+ player” -- disregarding the fact that, five short years ago, Daniel was saddled with the same label before a spectacular win at WrestleMania XXX.
Shane McMahon vs. The Miz: This is a story that started a world away at the Crown Jewel tournament in November. The Miz had been making an impressive showing in the finals when he suddenly suffered a knee injury. Out of nowhere, Shane McMahon decided to fill in for The Miz, ultimately winning the “Best in the World” distinction.
Although Shane-O-Mac had his arm raised, the victory appeared to be a conquest for both men. As the weeks passed, the two grew closer. Eventually, Shane agreed to form a tag team with Miz known as the “Co-Besties.” At the Royal Rumble in January, the duo captured the SmackDown Tag Team Championship from Sheamus and Cesaro. As they celebrated, though, neither realized that their best times were already behind them.
The next month, at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, the tandem dropped the titles to the Usos. When they failed to regain the gold at the Fast Lane pay-per-view in March, Shane revealed himself not as a Co-Bestie but a member of the McMahon clan. If someone showed weakness, the family’s philosophy went, that person should be neutralized.
Furious about losing the title, Shane assaulted the Miz. Then, during a broadcast of SmackDown Live in The Miz’s hometown of Cleveland, McMahon manhandled the “Awesome One’s” father. In response, Miz demanded a “falls count anywhere” match at WrestleMania 35 -- a risky proposition, given Shane-O-Mac’s penchant for flying around large venues.
Triple H vs. Batista: Batista admits that he learned a lot from Triple H. Starting in 2003, the Cerebral Assassin was the guiding force behind Evolution, a notorious stable of Superstars all at different stages of their respective careers. While Triple H was at his peak, the unit also featured the wizened Ric Flair, as well as Batista and Randy Orton, both of whom were at the very beginning of their legacies.
With Flair’s encouragement, Triple H took advantage of Batista’s brawn, using him as an enforcer when necessary. Batista says he felt used, but concedes that he learned how to break the rules and manipulate others -- lessons that would serve him both in WWE and Hollywood.
In 2005, Batista rebelled against his one-time mentor, winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship from him at WrestleMania 21. A film career followed, with Batista gaining a following for his role as Drax in the Guardians of the Galaxy series.
Everything should have been even by then, but it wasn’t. Triple H was “The Game,” after all, and, even on the red carpet, Batista somehow felt resentful of what had occurred all those years earlier.
On the Feb. 25 edition of Raw, Batista decided to seek payback, attacking Flair before the “Nature Boy” could leave the dressing room for a party commemorating his 70th birthday.
Incensed, Triple H finally fell into the kind of trap he taught Batista to set. He demanded a match at WrestleMania 35, and let Batista name the conditions. If The Game loses the “no holds barred” skirmish, he’ll retire, allowing Batista the satisfaction of ending his one-time teacher’s career.
Ronda Rousey (Raw Women’s Champion) vs. Charlotte Flair (SmackDown Women’s Champion) vs. Becky Lynch: When Charlotte Flair won the SmackDown Women’s Championship in March, she wept.
She wept for the record she broke -- the first woman to hold eight championships in WWE -- and she wept with pride, since she was halfway to filling the oversized shoes of her father, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, whose 16 title reigns distinguished his WWE Hall of Fame career.
But mainly, she wept because she was going to WrestleMania.
WrestleMania 35 will mark the first time that the yearly extravaganza will be main evented by a women’s match. The intensity is palpable; on Raw this week, the three engaged in an altercation that required the intervention of the Washington, DC police. Yet, despite personal differences, every woman in the WWE dressing room feels the same sense of gratification over the trio headlining on the “grandest stage of them all.”
It wasn’t until 1972 that women wrestlers were even allowed to perform in New York, just across the river from MetLife Stadium. In the decades that followed, enthusiasm for the division ebbed and flowed. For years at a time, the WWE women’s title lay dormant.
As with any WrestleMania main event, the combatants in this Triple Threat match are ranked among the best athletes and most compelling personalities in sports-entertainment. And because the contest will feature two champions, both titles will be at stake. Whoever has her hand raised at the end will leave as both the Raw and SmackDown Champion.
“WrestleMania is where stars become Superstars and create their legacies,” said Baron Corbin -- himself scheduled to face Kurt Angle in the WWE Hall of Famer’s retirement match at WrestleMania 35. “WrestleMania is the culmination of careers and the beginning of careers. WrestleMania is the event where you put your name in the history books.”
The WrestleMania 35 Kickoff Show this Sunday at 6/5c on USA Network!
Keith Elliot Greenberg is the co-author of the autobiographies of WWE Hall of Famers Ric Flair, Freddie Blassie and Superstar Billy Graham, as well as the third edition of the WWE Encyclopedia of Sports Entertainment.