Things have almost hilariously come full circle for WWE ahead of WrestleMania 37.
In the past, fans would decry big usage of part-time talents. It often didn't lead to the greatest of stories or matches, and the prime slots at pay-per-views and even on weekly shows went to them, not more deserving full-time guys. One could argue it hurt the future of WWE, too.
But now we've reached a funny point—WWE needs a big-name return and/or part-time talent at WrestleMania 37.
And we're talking big. Think Becky Lynch making her long-awaited return, or a real shocker in the part-timer department like Ronda Rousey coming back to wreak havoc on the women's division or Brock Lesnar returning to hunt down Drew McIntyre for revenge or deal with the Roman Reigns-Paul Heyman duo.
This isn't meant to discredit the strong year WWE has had and the unforgettable performances WWE Superstars have put on despite the odd audience-less era. Stars like McIntyre have blossomed, fun, unexpected title runs like the one by Bobby Lashley have been great, and the heel Reigns is the highlight of it all.
But there hasn't been a big moment. In fact, the last one that truly fits in that category was Edge's stunning return to WWE, which thankfully happened in front of a live crowd.
And that makes some sense, right? It's pretty clear WWE didn't want to waste major names like Lesnar in front of audience-less arenas. He did just fine his feud with McIntyre, sure, but Lesnar coming out to silence just doesn't hit the same.
That goes for pretty much anything. Lynch making her return without a big crowd would be...rough. Rousey shocking by coming back after bad-mouthing the business would be weird without a chorus of boos. And work with us on this one—CM Punk stunningly returning to silence would just ruin it, almost as badly as his big prior return to wrestling was on a sideshow of a talk show.
To its credit, WWE has hedged against a fan backlash due to no major returns. If there's no Lynch or Rousey for the women's division, guess what? Bianca Belair and Rhea Ripley sit positioned to usher in a new era of women's wrestling at the very top in their title matches.
If there's no Lesnar, it's going to be hard to complain about the heel Reigns continuing to occupy that role as the big bad and long-requested bit of fan service.
Those are certainly things to look forward to over the course of the next year. But whether they are enough to get casual fans to religiously tune in one, two or even three times per week is hard to say. Now if Lynch or Rousey—or both—show up to spar with the next generation and/or Lesnar comes back to set the stage for a SummerSlam showdown with Reigns, likely traumatizing Heyman every week, that's must-see stuff.
One would think something of this sort is at least being considered for the weekend considering a percentage of fans are permitted to attend both nights at Raymond James Stadium. The organic, not just piped-in noise could make one of these hypothetical moments really feel special.
Done right, it won't even steal the thunder from some of the other big moments. Lesnar, for example, interfering in what is already a triple-threat match between Reigns, Daniel Bryan and Edge would be overdoing it. Having him come out to make it clear he's targeting the winner? That's brilliant.
Overall, it's just ironic and funny that WWE used to do this sort of thing too much, but has now reverted to not doing it enough.
As with anything, balance is the key. The returns and/or surprises shouldn't dominate the weekend's proceedings by any means. It is merely one big part of the puzzle.
Again, done well, one or two big-name returns is not only special for what it is, but it would also be symbolic that WWE and things outside of its universe are starting to get back to some sense of normalcy.
Staring an era shift in the face again after the odd, brief-but-long-feeling pandemic era, WWE dipping back into its bag of tricks for an old goodie is the best sort of thing that could happen at WrestleMania 37.