Few would expect Roman Reigns to lose in his first major singles match back, which happens to occur at WrestleMania 35.
That is exactly why it could happen.
This is WWE, and its philosophy is to create moments, oftentimes while catching its fans off guard. Thanks to the internet age, these swerves have to be more complex and unusual than ever—think Undertaker losing at 'Mania and ending his streak in what was otherwise a routine match with a routine build, or Goldberg returning out of the blue thanks to a video game cover and smashing Lesnar in seconds.
When it comes to Reigns, real life interfered. He had the departure announcement, stayed out of the spotlight and beat leukemia, then he returned. Since he left, Seth Rollins became the golden boy tasked with carrying Raw and taking down Lesnar, and the mixture of Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles and others carried the blue brand.
Reigns came back just in time for 'Mania and a brief reunion of The Shield, but just too late to have a meaningful program that doesn't ruin weeks and weeks of story building that didn't feature him.
One of the in-flux characters, Drew McIntyre, seems to be Reigns' opponent on the stacked WrestleMania card. It is a refreshing encounter as opposed to rehashing a feud with another limbo-type character such as Braun Strowman.
But the problem with McIntyre is he's incredible. Truly. McIntyre has been one of the most protected Superstars on the roster since coming back. He's a monster heel and believable, and he's undoubtedly a future universal champion who could get in the ring with even Lesnar right now and seem to pose a threat.
He's also got the long, long-term storyline of being Vince McMahon's so-called chosen one before leaving WWE and reinventing himself and his career before returning to be the dominant force he is today.
Viewed through such a lens, McIntyre is more than capable of taking down Reigns. And WWE seems to be testing the waters with it already. He had the beatdown of Reigns a few weeks ago, which prompted Rollins to come out at the end of the show and talk about how he's not 100 percent yet. Fast forward to the March 18 edition of Raw, it was Rollins beating up McIntyre to start the show.
The groundwork has already been put in place—Reigns is rusty and vulnerable against one of the company's most dangerous forces.
McIntyre winning over Reigns at WrestleMania means retention of dominant bad-guy status in the minds of fans. With the title presumably off Lesnar, it makes him a viable threat to take it, if not simply serve as the main villain in future Rollins arcs.
More importantly, it sets Reigns up as the underdog.
This is, after all, what WWE has so desperately tried to paint Reigns as for years. Even after Reigns had main-evented multiple WrestleManias, he got the John Cena treatment, overcoming the odds in most scenarios before getting more main events.
Except this time the story is real. As WWE is prone to doing in its stories, an injection of real life that blurs the lines between real and fake will help actually accomplish this feat. It gives Reigns a ladder to climb this time around and, if done properly, will have fans behind him every step of the way.
Obviously, Reigns will get back to the top. But this slow burn sure beats the tar out of an instant-gratification move that has him back in the title scene by the time 'Mania rolls around, if not the night after.
In fact, a loss to McIntyre would prevent him from showing up the Monday after and proclaiming he's ready to fight for what he never lost in the first place. The longer WWE delays that, the better for all and perhaps the better payoff in the long run.
With Reigns, WWE has a golden ticket. He's the impeccable underdog, and the momentum of support isn't going to go anywhere, even with a loss to McIntyre. The only hurdle is not pushing too hard, quickly. Similarly with McIntyre, a surefire star villain doesn't come around too often. The two are sure to have countless matches, if not title matches, in the future.
Despite some of the groundwork laid above, Reigns going down in one of his return matches would catch a majority of the audience off guard. It would keep him sympathetic but also away from the top of the scene. At the same time, it would push any McIntyre doubters into the believers club.
Keep in mind all this is before a possible brand shakeup. With SmackDown going to Fox and presumably having a bigger audience than before, there isn't anything to say one of Reigns or McIntyre isn't getting bumped to a new program, anyway.
Scenarios and possibilities abound. But more interesting long-term doors open with Reigns losing and, as the brass at the top so love, it would make for one marquee moment on a bigger-looking card that needs a few shockers to stand out on a big night.