Originally published on Fanbyte as “Once a Match of the Year, Roman Reigns vs. Edge vs. Daniel Bryan Didn’t Endure” on December 31, 2021
I never thought Daniel Bryan would get two WrestleMania main events. He deserves more, of course, but the WrestleMania XXX triumph felt like such a large ask on its own. That this favorite from the indies that the WWE tried so very hard to put down would be the beating heart and soul of the largest wrestling show of the year felt like an absolute dream come true. Miracles like that aren’t so easily duplicated.
So when it happened again this year, I was thrilled. My guy, my favorite wrestler ever, the one that wasn’t meant to succeed, wormed his way into a second WrestleMania main event. I was over the moon about it. I was so pleased that I didn’t even mind that Edge was there, someone that I felt would almost certainly dilute the natural chemistry between Bryan and Roman Reigns.
I watched the WrestleMania 37 Night 2 main event live with friends on a Discord stream. On a separate window, a Slack chat filled with several friends that write and podcast about pro wrestling watched as well. This was the match many of us anticipated the most on the two nights of WrestleMania this year. Bryan was a universally loved figure across the circles I’m in, Roman is on the hottest streak of his career, and Edge isn’t so bad either.
Buying into the Hype
I was the ideal audience member for this WrestleMania main event: fully invested in the result, loudly pulling for one of the wrestlers on screen.
I was rivetted through the whole thing. From the moment Bryan came down the ramp, I was fully glued to the screen. It helps that the match opens with a hot start. Things spill to the outside quickly which leads to a lot of fun spots early. Within a few minutes of the bell, there’s a big suicide dive from Bryan, interference from Jey Uso, and Edge taking out said Uso on the steel steps.
From that point onward, there’s a lot of the classic car crash triple threat tropes that WWE does well. Yes, there’s a general rotation of one person on the outside selling to let pairings do their work in the ring, but there’s also a good number of fun three-way moments. Perhaps the most notable of these is Daniel Bryan and Edge grabbing a double submission on Roman Reigns.
Any time Daniel Bryan got even the slightest bit of offense, I was on the edge of my seat. I knew deep down that he wasn’t the center of the story. Roman Reigns vs. Edge was the real match that WWE saw dollar signs in, Bryan was just a last-minute addition made for any number of reasons that we can speculate. There to help pay off the months he’d been steadily building his feud with Roman, maybe there to lend a more guiding hand to get Edge through the match. Whatever the reason may be, he wasn’t there to win the title.
Even at the time, I knew the chances of Bryan winning were slim. The match made that clear for me at a certain point. Bryan made his big comeback far too early in the match for it to reasonably lead into a victory for himself. Once that burst that highlighted Bryan at its core ended, I could see the writing on the wall.
Still, even after Roman had smashed, stacked, and pinned both Bryan and Edge, I came away from the match absolutely buzzing. It left me breathless, my skin tingled from the rush of hyperventilating and trying to suppress screams of both joy and dismay. It was the kind of wrestling viewing experience I actually had to come down from. A glass of water, some deep breaths before I could properly function for the rest of the day.
At the time, I thought it might be the match of the year. Many people online had similar sentiments, and I’d imagine a good number of them still hold that opinion now.
It’s not the match of the year.
In the last few weeks, I went back to revisit the match to see how it held up under scrutiny once I had gotten past the initial rush of the first viewing. There was no more suspense to be had, I knew who won, I knew what came next. The match suffered greatly with the mystery of its winner stripped away. A lot of the flaws that I had been able to look past stood in stark clarity on the rewatch.
For one, there’s just too much dead air in the match. It ties into the WWE’s constant emphasis on “making moments” as opposed to just wrestling. I don’t hate the wrestlers taking the time to soak in the crowd. It’s especially understandable given that this was the WWE’s first weekend of live shows back after a year without fans. There’s just way too much of it in this match for my liking.
Edge is probably the worst offender on this front. In the closing moments of the match, we get an extended close up on his deranged expression after wailing on his opponents with a steel chair. In reality, something that lasts a few seconds, but on the rewatch seemed to stretch on for a few eternities. By the time Jimmy Uso finally comes in to cut him off, I feel nothing but relief.
Reigns makes the best of the crowd interactions, however. His indignant spite at the crowd continuing to boo him as he prepares to powerbomb Daniel Bryan through the ringside table is some of the most compelling character work he’s done all year. It’s so wonderful finally seeing him get the chance to express the frustration he must have felt being condemned for the awful crime of not being the greatest wrestler that’s ever lived.
Bryan is good in this match. Not even great, to be perfectly honest. He’s not given a lot of material. He helps keeps the action rolling when it’s time to crank up the pace once again. He’s integral to a lot of the quicker sequences and can be relied upon to bump for both men and sell for all their larger offense. His best moment comes in the double submission with Edge when he starts headbutting the legend out of pure frustration. It’s a breakthrough of raw violence that cuts through all the standard WWE presentation.
For all its qualities though, this match just doesn’t quite stand the test of time. By my estimation, the previous night’s main event of Sasha Banks vs. Bianca Belair deserves far more credit for its classic structure. That’s a match that retains its magic even all these months later. The Night 2 main event is very good, it sits right on the borderline of greatness, but it’s not the match of the year.
When I said as much on Twitter recently, someone asked why it mattered. What exactly is the point of going back for matches to reevaluate them knowing that there’s a chance the initial viewing doesn’t hold up? After all, matches are booked and performed to do as well as possible in the moment given everything that has led up to that point.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with loving a match thoroughly in the moment. Few things can be as rewarding for a fan as that. The reason that I go back, however, is that I want more from matches that I potentially celebrate at the year end.
It’s December now, and everyone’s constructing their match of the year lists, stamping their seal of approval on what they feel is the very best work of the calendar year.
For myself, when I’m seeking out matches to place on a pedestal as being the absolute best work of a year, I want something that has a certain quality of timelessness to it. After all, why shouldn’t we want wrestling to retain its magic beyond the very first moments of its existence? Surely, enduring past the simple basic hook of “Who’s going to win this one?” is a true sign of greatness.
Great matches—the greatest matches—keep giving long after the final bell has rung. They’re rife with detail, emotion, and spectacle that reward revisits. They invite us to keep experiencing them, again and again, living them anew with each viewing. The truly great matches live on for months, years, even decades after the fact. There’s no expiry date to their wonder. They don’t lose their shine just because the winner is known. Why wouldn’t we celebrate the matches that stay fresh and vibrant over the ones that turn stale with time? And believe me, there are many, many matches this year that fit the bill much better than this.
It’s entirely possible that this WrestleMania main event retains that magic for a lot of people. It was an incredibly well received match at the time and I doubt too many people experience the same drop off that I did. Fair enough. But for me, Roman Reigns vs. Edge vs. Daniel Bryan won’t be making my match of the year list.
I’d much rather celebrate the matches that endure.