As it should—WWE threw two of its biggest accomplishments of the past year or so into the ring in a champion vs. champion match, with Drew McIntyre colliding with Roman Reigns.
Reigns, the universal champion, shockingly returned and did what many figured he'd never do—following John Cena's lead—and turned heel. He did it better than the best fantasy-booking fans could have envisioned, too.
And McIntyre, Raw's top champion, was WWE embracing what in other sports is known as the "long-term rebuild" by going all-in on a younger, non-part-time Superstar. So much so, the majority of last year's Royal Rumble and subsequent trip to WrestleMania 36 was all about him taking down Brock Lesnar.
Fans didn't need a match with these two squaring off to know both experiments were rabid successes.
But WWE took a victory lap anyway—and both Superstars delivered.
It's hard to understate just how good Sunday's match was. It was violent, the strikes felt impactful and while there was some typical WWE corniness (Reigns speared somebody through the barricade again), it was true to the style of both guys and made them look amazing.
Even better, WWE avoided botching things and derailing either Superstar's momentum. A cross-brand matchup like this for titleholders could have been a disaster. Maybe Reigns looked cheap by suddenly cheating or McIntyre got a cheap win somehow. Either way, there was a chance poor decisions or execution significantly hurt one or both guys, which would be devastating for either brand.
But no—there was a brief interference by Jey Uso but not in a terrible way. He was dirty with the way he did it, but there's a good storyline angle where Reigns didn't really want the help. There will surely be consequences on the SmackDown side of things from that angle.
And McIntyre didn't tap and didn't get pinned, which does much to protect him, too. Not that "passing out looks strong" is an amazing angle in itself in 2020, but it works here.
Keep in mind the idea of Reigns going over anyone or anything had widely drawn the ire of fans for a long time while WWE was still forcing him into each and every main event possible. Sunday night? Not so much—the stellar performance from both guys probably just leaves fans wanting even more.
Maybe fans will get that sooner than later, too. These guys brushing shoulders at Royal Rumble could be fun and if we're being honest, the oddities of this year and the lack of a live audience at arenas could mean WWE dips back into this well because they can't lure part-time talents like Lesnar—or movie stars like The Rock—to show up at WrestleMania 37.
On a lesser note, the match really speaks to the magic the company can work if it maintains the integrity of a brand split, too. Events such as Survivor Series have often felt too much like a gimmick because WWE hasn't followed its own rules on the split.
Actually maintaining that split can lead to some must-see matchups and also make drafts actually mean something. Not that every match will ever be as good as this, but while WWE takes a victory lap, this lesson resides underneath.
Either way, it's clear Reigns and the Scot are just a cut above the rest of the roster. And that's a testament to WWE properly identifying McIntyre—freshly returning from another promotion—and working to elevate him as a top guy. It's a willingness to play Reigns to his strengths and what fans happen to want, too.
Compare Sunday night to say, the last few one-on-one encounters between these two. Forget they even happened? That's the point—when McIntyre was wasting away as a midcard heel and Reigns was the babyface who fans were tired of, the matches in front of live crowds were forgettable, and that's being kind. The two have since evolved and put on an unforgettable match with virtual fans in the arena.
After this classic, McIntyre will revert back to putting on other classics while being an unexpectedly good headliner for the audience-less era no matter what WWE throws at him. He didn't need it, but Sunday sure showed he's at the very top and not going anywhere. Reigns will go back to being an incredible storyteller with room for so much more now that he's got a new approach to his character.
However, Sunday night was a taste of WWE realizing its smart efforts at the top of cards for the better part of a year now. The adversity of the audience-less era couldn't stop these two, and the match was something of a reward for them and fans.
And here's to hoping the lessons WWE appeared to learn along the way continue to pop up—and that a rematch between these two does, too.