Wrestlemania XXXI Preview – Lesnar vs. Reigns

Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE World Heavyweight Title


The main event for this year’s Wrestlemania is unique because the non-wrestling elements are more interesting than the wrestling ones. On one end, Lesnar’s future with the WWE is up in the air and it is unclear whether retaining the title is a viable business option for the company. On the other end, the road to Wrestlemania has been very long and very bumpy for Reigns, particularly in terms of his relationship with the audience.


As always, Paul Heyman has served as an outstanding mouthpiece for Lesnar, but the job has never been more difficult than it has been for the last month. Rumors of a return to UFC, a walk-out on an episode of Raw, and disagreements about contractual terms have shifted the focus from the ring to the board room. Heyman has done his best to work these elements organically into the story, and it has resulted in some of the best promos he has ever delivered.


Will Lesnar’s contract situation take the suspense out of this match? Has the entire backstage storyline been an elaborate work by WWE? It seems possible. Since there is no clear answer that these questions, WWE has at least made the outcome of this match blurry. The business angle has served to enhance rather than diminish the uncertainty of the finish, which makes it a success.


Reigns, on the other hand, has been a lightning rod for fan criticism since he returned from an injury and won the Royal Rumble. While Reigns has had some slip-ups along the way, the boos have had more to do with WWE’s telegraphed storytelling.


When Lesnar beat Undertaker at last year’s Wrestlemania, it seemed to lay the groundwork for a conquering hero to down him a year later. WWE has unwaveringly placed Reigns in that role, and many fans have lashed out over the fact that he was selected internally rather than through grass roots public support. Are the boos coming from a significant segment of the fans or a particularly vocal minority? WWE seems to believe it is the latter, which has thus far led them to place one large bet after another on Reigns’s potential.


In the ring, the match presents an interesting dilemma. Lesnar and Reigns are both otherworldly athletes, but neither is known as a ring general who can put together a narrative masterpiece. They will likely script large portions of the match. If it works, it could work wonderfully. If it goes off the rails or if the fans aren’t along for the ride, will either wrestler be willing or able to call the right audible at the right time?


Altogether, this matchup comes with more uncertainty than any Wrestlemania main event in recent memory. The stakes are high, because either result will serve as a window into WWE’s plans for the next couple of years.


Prediction: Lesnar retains the Title. Lesnar signs a new contract, WWE deviates from its long-term plan, and Reigns spends the next year fine-tuning his character to get beyond the “Die Rocky Die” period in his career.