WWE, true to its nature, went all-in on a moment by having Brock Lesnar emerge as the stunning victor of the five-man WWE Championship match at Saturday night's Day 1 event.
Stunning, because as of Saturday morning, Lesnar wasn't even in the match.
But with Roman Reigns testing positive for COVID-19 and Lesnar scheduled to appear, WWE did the only thing it saw right: tossed the company's biggest attraction in the other world title match.
Even after Lesnar's addition, it was easy to think that the champion, Big E, would retain. That, or if WWE really wanted to pull a shocker, it would have had one of Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens or Bobby Lashley win the title.
But WWE got its moment:
And there's a special opportunity for WWE to take real-life unfortunate circumstances and make magic with it.
Funnily enough, Saturday night always felt like a holding-pattern sort of match before Lesnar and Reigns had their final encounter at WrestleMania in April. They initially headlined October's Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia, were set to do the same here and likely then again at 'Mania while smoothly working in the Paul Heyman angle.
But now WWE doesn't have to be tied to that idea. And frankly, as fun as Reigns is as this heel character and as enjoyable as Lesnar is as the opposite, which puts a new spin on their rivalry, the match has already main-evented multiple 'Manias.
Granted, WWE doesn't necessarily want to go away from that money matchup, especially given the potential ability to reel in non-hardcore fans for the biggest event of the year. This all works under the presumption Reigns will be back by April too (part of his hiatus in 2020 was because of the COVID-19 pandemic).
But think of the storyline potential. Owens has great cause to want revenge after re-signing with WWE, making him seemingly the first major name to not jump ship to All Elite Wrestling in recent years. Rollins had a title match that added three more names. Lashley has beef too. Who was scheduled to win before Lesnar got added to the match? WWE could blur the lines between real and fake well here.
And the biggest point of all, the Royal Rumble is next.
That staredown between Lesnar and Lashley seemed to hint that a dream match is on the horizon. Fans have workshopped a feud between those two for years, and Lashley has talked about it since at least 2008.
This is a layup for WWE. Lesnar-Lashley main-events the Rumble while, say, Big E gets the Royal Rumble win and chooses to have another shot at Lesnar. Big E's title run, after all, was a rushed-together mess that didn't do him any favors. He's the perfect babyface fans could rally behind if WWE plays up the sympathy angle.
Imagine the rehab and superstar-building work if Big E just snaps, goes all Drew McIntyre at the Rumble and takes down Lesnar at 'Mania? Talk about seizing the moment and making the most out of a tough situation.
But if Lesnar is occupied with non-Reigns opponents, where does that leave Reigns? The obvious choice is right there for the taking: Reigns vs. Rollins. Rollins would have to switch brands, but The Shield-centric story is just made for the main event.
Of course, some fans will be clamoring for a stipulation that unifies the titles if Lesnar and Reigns bully their way into a champions-only match at 'Mania. But with the brand split, it doesn't make a ton of sense, and past unifications efforts have been so-so at best. That's a no-win scenario for either guy and both brands, at least at this stage.
Unfortunately, the reality might be that WWE goes extra predictable here: Reigns costs Lesnar the title at the Rumble on a "you were supposed to fight me" slant or Heyman does it, setting up the originally intended feud and finale to the rivalry.
That would be a shame, though. There are so many star-making opportunities and chances to show fans that the company and Superstars can pull off amazing stories with last-second changeups that would earn a lot of goodwill.
Speaking to Saturday night specifically, it was one of those decisions that will get judged by hindsight more than anything else. Because one look at how that live crowd popped hard for Lesnar's win says it all—he's still the top draw going into any 'Mania. Maybe that means he was beating Reigns in their matchup at Day 1. Maybe not. But it's hard to hate the call too much coming right out of the event.
And to WWE's credit, the company usually does pretty great when its back is against the wall or chaos disrupts plans (at least speaking on an individual-feud or storyline level, not broadly company-wide). So there's plenty of reason to hope this is only the beginning of something special.
This time, real life and one bold decision by the shot-callers behind the scenes just removed the "holding pattern" feel to the march to WrestleMania and replaced it with an "anything can happen" vibe, which is never a bad thing in the world of wrestling.
Case in point, Lesnar walked out of Day 1 to start 2022 as the Raw world champion, there's a mystery underneath him on the card and all sorts of intrigue involving the blue brand's top champion—right before the Royal Rumble.
It sure feels like an opportunity for WWE and its fans to have some serious fun while starting off the new year in must-see fashion.