WrestleMania 37 started with a classic.
A delayed classic, but a classic nonetheless between Bobby Lashley and Drew McIntyre for the former's Universal Championship.
And now WWE might make it an afterthought by dragging things out.
Still, to say the two made the most of the opening spot on Night 1 of WrestleMania would be a gross understatement. Like the fans in the stadium for the first time in more than a year, it felt like there was just some pent-up energy between the two in the squared circle—this one had been a long, long time coming—and it set up both performers and WWE as a whole beautifully for the next year.
Fans know the story by now. McIntyre hunted down Brock Lesnar a little more than a year ago and dethroned him at WrestleMania, albeit without fans in the arena. Over the course of the next year, he had an unforgettable reign that cemented him as a top guy for the rest of his career.
On paper, that match was a chance for McIntyre to get back his title and have his big WrestleMania moment with fans in the stands. It almost seemed like Lashley was inserted as the champion so McIntyre could be rewarded with his big win in front of fans.
That's not exactly how it played out—but it just works.
In short, WWE zigged when everyone was thinking zag. And somehow, someway, McIntyre got his big 'Mania moment in front of fans, even during a loss.
The two heavy hitters put on a classic of a big-man match after the weather delay. There were a ton of near-falls and the expected stuff. But McIntrye was also allowed to remind fans he's one of the most stunning athletes on the planet. He's 6'5" and 265 pounds yet displayed some stunning feats of athleticism he doesn't normally show off, including a kip-up while hung by his feet from the top rope and an epic dive out of the ring.
This was McIntyre writing a classic into his legacy while doing what needed to be done for the greater good. He didn't get pinned or tap while losing; he passed out after a match that even left fans exhausted.
McIntyre still looks like a million bucks. He lost, but not really. Win-loss trading has been a problematic thing in WWE for a long time, yet this avoided that. He's not diminished no matter what direction he goes in.
And the bigger point was Lashley remaining the champion. He not only made the new top dog who took down Lesnar pass out, but he also looked like the guy. There's still an angle here where this is a launching point for him in the same way last year was for McIntyre.
Yes, we could point out that Lashley is 44. But once he was clear of this challenge, he could go on to have quite the dominant title run. And let's not pretend the sheer brilliance that was The Hurt Business wasn't one of the most entertaining things on Raw in a long time.
Keep in mind this all happened in the opening match. It's a hot spot for title matches at 'Mania these days. And this one wasn't a forgettable hand-wave thing like, say, Seth Rollins and Lesnar in 2019. This was a serious chance for WWE to make solid gains for the long term, and both guys took advantage of it.
Now WWE just has to capitalize.
Again, another zig when it looked like a zag was on the menu. On the Raw after 'Mania, McIntyre and Lashley essentially rekindled their feud because...reasons. So instead of Lashley getting some momentum going into a new feud, fans get more of the same.
What WWE should have done is have McIntyre drop off the map for a bit, feud with another heavyweight or maybe even go over to the blue brand. Lashley should have been able to move on to dominate in feuds that set him up for the long term.
Instead, WWE has put both guys at great risk. WrestleMania felt like an organic ending point for this rivalry. Now if McIntyre loses again, he looks like a chump and could get lost in the midcard for a long time thereafter. There's a similar fate in store for Lashley if he loses—he will still end up mostly feeling like a transitional champion for a big moment and nothing more.
Maybe there is one critical way out of this. Lashley looking this good opens up some exciting new things. Think one big, fresh-feeling thing fans have always wanted: Lashley clashing with Brock Lesnar. Granted, that hinges on whether the biggest shark of a part-timer even returns (and doesn't aim at Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman instead if he does), but the door is now open for it. All Lesnar has to do is cost McIntyre this match and like magic both guys end up just fine.
Still, that feels like a long shot. WWE has a habit of running things into the ground. The company deserved credit for having the foresight to make the build to 'Mania and the match itself work, not get fans disgruntled over the treatment of a favorite and position it on the card where the fans in the stands will have the most energy possible to react to what the two big guys were doing in their slugfest.
But things are in danger again. Both McIntyre and Lashley are examples of guys escaping midcard purgatory and seizing their limited chances to establish themselves as long-term main event players.
Not to be too dramatic, but now that this has been extended, all of the work on McIntyre over the past year or so could be for naught and Lashley—and maybe the Hurt Business—could suffer clipped wings right after getting off the ground.
Maybe there's a big swerve that salvages this, but McIntyre and Lashley can only do the same thing so many times before fans sour on it and the story loses meaning. With any luck, the thing that can salvage this unexpected direction is coming sooner rather than later.