New life has been breathed into WWE over the past several months. Since Triple H took over as the head of creative, storylines are fresh, characters have been tweaked and new influential stables have been formed.
The fall is also a time when the building blocks of the next WrestleMania begin to form. Next year, WrestleMania 39 will be held on April 1 and 2 in Los Angeles and more than 90,000 tickets were sold for both nights in the first 24 hours of being on sale, a record for any event, per WWE.
Perhaps it is a bit early to predict the biggest matches on the show, but several paths are already being paved. So, let’s call the below a projection rather than a prediction. Some matchups are obvious — Roman Reigns in a starring role — and others less so.
David Dennis Jr. and Marc Raimondi attempt to lay out what we might find on WWE’s two biggest nights of 2023.
Universal championship: The Rock vs. Roman Reigns
Dennis: While these predictions mainly focus on reading the tea leaves of the storylines already put in place, this one is based on the meta-storylines that have been in business for over two years. First, the entire Roman Reigns “Bloodline” era has been built around him being the “Head Of The Table” of his family, the king of the Anoa’i dynasty. That dynasty includes The Rock. So every time Reigns and The Usos declare that he is the top dog of Samoan wrestling, there is always an implied “… even bigger than The Rock” at every turn.
The Rock hasn’t been on WWE TV in any meaningful capacity in years, his last significant moment coming when he held a struggling babyface Reigns’ hand up as the Philadelphia crowd booed Reigns at the end of the 2015 Royal Rumble. So there hasn’t been much chance for The Rock to tease the match. However, he’s been finding other ways to hint at the eventual main event. Most prominently, a nice little Easter egg on an episode of Young Rock teased a young Roman saying he’d face his cousin at a future WrestleMania.
We know that the event is in The Rock’s backyard in Los Angeles. We also know that no one on the WWE roster seems ready — from a storyline perspective — to be a legitimate threat to Reigns at this point. It’s all lining up for Rock to come back and give his cousin the ultimate stamp of approval for what will likely be Rock’s final match.
For the WWE’s part, they haven’t been quiet about their desire for this match to happen.
“It’s up to him. The platform is certainly there. WrestleMania. LA Two nights, we’ve already got 90,000-plus, I believe, sold,” Triple H told Ariel Helwani on BT Sport. “The Tribal Chief is sitting there waiting for him, or anybody else that he wants to, right? It’s magic.”
I’m sure WWE has plenty of backup plans for Reigns, but there’s no way this isn’t penciled in at the top of the card right now.
Raimondi: The return of Banks and Naomi seems imminent. Michael Cole even mentioned Banks’ name on commentary at Extreme Rules over the weekend, which may have been the first time she has been mentioned on WWE television since that bizarre “let us all down” monologue from Cole in May. The pair will likely come back as a tag team, but at some point, the WWE has to commit to Banks as one of its top stars. No, not one of its top female stars — one of its top stars, period.
If Banks and Naomi have done anything since walking out on WWE five months ago, due reportedly to issues with creative, it has been cementing themselves as women who can cross over quickly into things outside of pro wrestling. That should have been obvious already — Banks is in a Star Wars series, after all — but maybe it wasn’t to the previous regime.
Meanwhile, Belair has been booked strongly since Triple H took over. Maybe she doesn’t hold the Raw women’s championship all the way to WrestleMania, but booking her against Banks in a rematch of the historic 2021 WrestleMania 38 Night 1 main event seems like a no-brainer. Perhaps it’s not a lock, but it would be appropriate, considering Belair has knocked off almost everyone else. And again, it’s time for Banks to get that singles push and big Mania match — and Mania win — she didn’t get this past event. Los Angeles is the perfect place to do that.
Dennis: This has become one of the most compelling matches WWE has been toying with for the past few months. Zayn has been entertaining as an honorary Bloodline member, becoming a lackey to the most powerful faction in wrestling. Meanwhile, Owens has used the change in management to hit a new stride — he’s putting on matches of the night almost weekly.
A few times in the last couple of months, Zayn and the Bloodline have interacted with Owens, who has been pretty much begging Zayn to snap out of it and find his pride. These have usually been one-off back-and-forths, but they’re always there to remind us that Zayn and Owens were once a standout tag team.
It feels inevitable that the Usos will finally turn on Zayn and Owens will come to the rescue. If it goes down that way, we’ll get a tag team match that will finally give the Usos that five-star matchup at WrestleMania, which is the only thing missing from their resume. Add in a ladder and you have the makings of a guaranteed classic.
Raimondi: This might seem a little muddled, but hear me out. WWE’s roster is stacked, and you know there will be matches involving legends and celebrities (we’re talking about you, Logan Paul and Bad Bunny).
These four men need a big match and it might be hard to get it in a singles situation. So, why not a match with Rollins, Rhodes, Orton and Riddle together? They almost all have a history with each other, in some way, shape or form. The most obvious storylines involve Rhodes vs. Rollins, Riddle vs. Rollins and Orton vs. Riddle. Orton and Riddle were last seen as a dominant tag team, but RK-Bro’s days are most likely going to end with an Orton turn on Riddle. Rollins and Rhodes wrestled three times already this year and another singles match at WrestleMania — like the one at Mania 38 — might not be the best booking. Rhodes beat Rollins three times, including once with a visibly torn pec.
That brings us to our next point. Rhodes and Orton will be coming off relatively severe injuries. You want them on the card, but maybe it’s a good idea not to have them take on the work of a straight singles match. A fatal four-way contest would mitigate those risks. Then, the long history between Rhodes and Orton plus Rollins and Orton can be leveraged into some excellent storytelling. Of course, you’d want all four of these men — all stars — in big singles matches. But this seems like it could be a happy compromise.
Dennis: This one has a built-in story that’s years old. Lynch pinned Rousey in the WrestleMania main event three years ago, prompting the former MMA star to take an extended leave from wrestling (storyline-wise, at least). They haven’t engaged in a meaningful capacity since.
In her latest run, Rousey, now champion, has been toeing the line between babyface and heel, even as fans’ boos get louder and louder. Rousey beating fan favorite Liv Morgan at Extreme Rules will only make those boos more deafening. A heel turn seems inevitable.
The last we saw Lynch, she had just made a turn herself, ditching her heel persona to stand with Belair after their Summerslam match. Now she’s back, and what better time to return than the Royal Rumble to win, square off with Rousey and prove that she can beat the champ one-on-one? This creates a hot feud and allows Lynch to strengthen the Smackdown women’s division as she goes through her persona refresh.
The match would give Rousey a veteran for Mania to ensure the match goes well and a compelling story to sink her teeth into, which she hasn’t had on the Blue Brand yet.
Raimondi: It’s obvious this has to happen at some point. WrestleMania wouldn’t be the worst option if WWE continues to slow-burn the storyline. Between now and April, WWE can build Dominic as a legitimate threat under the influence of Rhea Ripley and Judgment Day. He’ll probably need to pick up some singles wins to do that.
It wouldn’t hurt to pair the elder Mysterio with a women’s talent to match up with Dominic and Ripley in some mixed-tag matches. If Ripley is put in a title program with Belair, those would be obvious pairings. Dominic needs credibility as a competitor before earning a singles match with someone of the caliber of his father at Mania.
To spice things up, a traditional Lucha de Apuesta (Spanish for “Bet Match”) stipulation can easily be implemented here. There has been talk for years, even before Dominic’s heel turn, that he could take the Mysterio torch from his father in the form of Rey’s iconic mask. What better way to do that than in a mask vs. hair match? There isn’t a more dynamic way to blow off a feud in Mexican lucha libre than an apuesta match. It would be perfect here, given the storyline and the show being in Los Angeles.
The Mysterios are from nearby San Diego, and the Mexican American population in Southern California is enormous. Rey has already lost his mask once, to Kevin Nash and Scott Hall in WCW back in 1999. If there’s one person in the world he’d probably most like to have taken it from him, it would be his son.