Saturday, April 20, 2024
EditorialWrestleMania 40 Crash Course: ICYMI Recap of WWE's Storylines & More

WrestleMania 40 Crash Course: ICYMI Recap of WWE’s Storylines & More



WrestleMania season is the time of year where many casuals jump back into WWE, but are completely lost about what is going on. While some start rewatching around Royal Rumble and take part in the entire Road to WrestleMania, others need more of a crash course to cram at the last minute.

Lucky for you, I’m here to give you a tl;dw (too long, didn’t watch) recap of what you need to know.

This post will be a short breakdown of all the essential information to explain why these matches are happening and how we got to this point. That way, you can be call caught up well in advance for WrestleMania XL.

Let’s get into it!

ICYMI: Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns vs. Cody Rhodes (and the tag team main event of Night 1)

After years of being “crammed down the throats” of the fans as the top babyface, Roman Reigns finally turned heel a few years back, won the Universal Championship and started his Tribal Chief character. Along the way of his record-setting run, he became aligned with Paul Heyman as his wise man, The Usos and Solo Sikoa, forming The Bloodline.

Reigns beat Brock Lesnar to unify the WWE Championship two years ago at WrestleMania 38 to become the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion.

Meanwhile, Cody Rhodes had left WWE several years ago, formed All Elite Wrestling, and returned to WWE at WrestleMania 38. Not too long after that, though, he suffered a torn pectoral and still wrestled inside Hell in a Cell, but was forced to take many months off.

He returned to win the 2023 Royal Rumble match and earn the right to challenge Reigns for the belt in story that revolves heavily around how Cody’s father, Dusty Rhodes, never won the championship, nor did his brother, Dustin Rhodes (aka Goldust).

Reigns is a product of Dusty’s time running NXT, so there is a “son he never had” element to this, as well, and we’re going to see two family dynasties collide.

^ All of that was my write-up for last year. Well, at WrestleMania 39, Rhodes failed to beat Reigns, namely due to interference from Solo Sikoa. He then promptly entered a feud with Brock Lensar that lasted a few months, with some hiccups along the way that purposely kept him busy and away from any rematches against Roman, nor any matches for the newly-created World Heavyweight Championship.

Fast forward many months later, after doing almost nothing but stalling (minus an interesting situation where Rhodes used his pull to get Jey Uso—who turned on Roman in the months to follow Mania 39—onto the Raw roster, leading to Kevin Owens going to SmackDown in a trade), Rhodes and Uso won the tag titles and quickly lost them. Again, another stall period.

Come January 2024, Rhodes won the Royal Rumble yet again to become the first Superstar to do it back-to-back since Stone Cold Steve Austin in 1998. He and Reigns locked eyes, but on Raw, Seth Rollins would come out to pitch that Cody should challenge him instead. Cody’s response was that Seth gave him a lot to think about.

Later that week on SmackDown, Rhodes would say that he would beat Roman for the title, but for some reason, not at WrestleMania. Instead, he would introduce The Rock, who had come out on January 1st’s Raw Day 1 episode and alluded to wanting to face The Tribal Chief. For whatever purpose, Rhodes effectively gave up his earned title shot to The Rock.

Fans didn’t have it. The illogical nature of the angle’s transition and their preference for Rhodes to finish the story resulted in the hashtag #WeWantCody spreading around, basically forcing WWE to have to pivot.

At the WrestleMania XL Kickoff press conference, Roman opted for The Rock to be his opponent, but Rhodes would come out, say he’s changed his mind and he would in fact challenge Roman, leading to an alliance forging between The Rock and Reigns against Cody and Seth.

The short version of what’s followed since then is that at WrestleMania, Cody will team up with his “shield” Rollins in a tag team match where if they beat The Rock and Reigns, The Bloodline will be banned from ringside. If the heels win, Roman’s match with Cody will be contested under Bloodline Rules, where anything goes.

Can Rhodes finally finish the story in a Rocky II comeback rematch, or will WWE once again have him come up short just to say “the story isn’t over” or “that’s not the story we’re telling” or, effectively, “wait another year or longer, because we really are just prioritizing Roman vs. Rock and/or Roman overtaking Hulk Hogan’s record more than anything else” like they did last year?

ICYMI: World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins vs. Drew McIntyre

Drew McIntyre has become increasingly upset with how his first world title win was in front of no crowd at WrestleMania 36, especially since he’s had some bad luck since then.

At WrestleMania 37, he opened the show (which was on a rain delay) and came up short against Bobby Lashley. Every bid to win a title since has been met with disaster, such as being screwed out of a match against Roman Reigns at Clash at the Castle in 2022.

McIntyre still harbors resentment over that, so when Jey Uso was traded over to Raw and met with open arms by many people, Drew began to get even saltier over the lack of respect given to him.

Throughout 2023, he threw a pity party in his failed attempts to beat Seth Rollins for the World Heavyweight Championship at Crown Jewel and eventually, Raw Day 1 on January 1, 2024.

After winning the Elimination Chamber, McIntyre again has a shot to beat Rollins, who has been busy distracted with the aforementioned Cody Rhodes and Bloodline saga.

Meanwhile, Rollins was surely set to face CM Punk at WrestleMania XL, rather than McIntyre—who seemingly may have had a match against Sami Zayn instead—but Punk suffered a torn tricep injury in the Royal Rumble match, taking him out. The build of his return from Survivor Series and his animosity with Rollins was given an interesting sidebar as McIntyre’s frustrations with Punk’s return has led to a three-way feud going on between them, with Punk’s involvement largely being on hold. He will be on commentary during this match, however, meaning he may possibly end up getting involved (intentionally or not).

McIntyre takes credit for further injuring Punk and essentially placing a curse on him, praying for his injury. He thinks Rollins is too distracted and too silly to come out of WrestleMania with the title. But he’s okay with that, as he thinks he deserves to be the rightful champion. Meanwhile, Rollins, while focusing on the feud with The Bloodline, has Punk in his eyes and The Scottish Terminator to worry about…but since he’s beaten Drew twice before, is getting a bit cocky with his confidence he’ll retain again.

All the meanwhile, keep in mind that Damian Priest still has his Money in the Bank contract looming as a threat in the background that hasn’t been focused on in a while. Don’t forget about his long-standing rivalry over this title!

ICYMI: Jey Uso vs. Jimmy Uso

While two brothers facing each other sounds like it should be one of the most complex, intricate storylines to break down, it hasn’t been too complicated over the past year.

The Usos lost the tag team titles on Night 1 of WrestleMania 39. This led to more tension within The Bloodline until Jey broke free from the faction, feuding temporarily with Roman Reigns, until he was screwed out of a match by Jimmy.

The explanation given was that Jimmy didn’t want Jey to turn out like Roman, so he cost him the title. It was weak, but WWE hasn’t gone back to try to build on top of that.

For the most part, once that betrayal happened, WWE hit the pause button on this feud. Jey was drafted to Raw, won the tag titles with Cody, lost them due to Jimmy’s interference, and everything went on hold again.

WWE simply wanted to wait until WrestleMania to host the fight between the two brothers, so they spent several months doing other things and only interacting once in a while to remind people and tease this encounter.

Finally, things came to a head when Jimmy once again interfered to cost Jey a title in his match against Gunther for the Intercontinental Championship, leading to Jey challenging Jimmy to a match.

It’s the battle of Yeet versus No Yeet.

ICYMI: Women’s World Champion Rhea Ripley vs. Becky Lynch

One of the simplest matches to break down is for the top prize in the Raw women’s division.

Rhea Ripley captured the SmackDown Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 39. That belt was swapped out for the Women’s World Championship and she spent the past year largely as a manager/valet for The Judgment Day in long stints between title defenses.

Not having many viable challengers, she ran through the competition, having a few stare downs with Becky Lynch along the way.

Lynch, meanwhile, busied herself with everything other than a confrontation with Ripley. That includes a stint as NXT women’s champion, a feud with Xia Li and so on.

Simply put, Becky eventually won the Elimination Chamber to earn the shot against Ripley and despite Nia Jax and Liv Morgan still lingering around the title scene, it will be The Man challenging Mami for the title.

There’s no grand storyline to break down. Lynch is merely the challenger for the title.

ICYMI: WWE Women’s Champion Iyo Sky vs. Bayley + Bianca Belair, Jade Cargill & Naomi vs. Damage CTRL (Asuka, Dakota Kai & Kairi Sane)

At SummerSlam 2022, Bayley returned from injury and brought with her Dakota Kai and Iyo Sky from NXT, forming Damage CTRL.

For the most part, fast forward until Money in the Bank 2023, wherein Sky captured the briefcase. During that match, there were some confrontations between Bayley and Sky that would be a harbinger of what was to come with their split.

Sky cashed in her briefcase to win the Women’s Championship from Bianca Belair at SummerSlam 2023 and defended the title in the months since.

Eventually, at Crown Jewel 2023, Kairi Sane returned to WWE and joined the group, later followed by Asuka a week later to reform The Kabuki Warriors, who captured the Women’s Tag Team Championship on January 26, 2024.

Meanwhile, Bayley was being badmouthed behind her back by the rest of the group, and when Bayley won the 2024 Royal Rumble, they tried to convince her to use her title shot as a challenge for Rhea Ripley, rather than Iyo. Bayley was aware of how she was being made fun of, though, and opted to fight Sky.

At this point, Bayley doesn’t really have any friends. However, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, to an extent, so she seems to have allies in Naomi, and by proxy, Belair, who isn’t ready to trust Bayley and thinks she’s getting what she deserves, but has had issues with the rest of Damage CTRL going back to their debut.

They have also received extra backup in Jade Cargill, who has signed to the SmackDown roster and helped Naomi and Belair fight off Damage CTRL, leading to the announcement of a six-woman tag team match for the card, too.

Belair, Naomi and Cargill will face The Kabuki Warriors and Dakota Kai, while Bayley (who is still in many ways on her own) will face Iyo Sky, and perhaps, those 4 will be able to work together to take down Damage CTRL in both matches.

ICYMI: Intercontinental Champion Gunther vs. Sami Zayn

Gunther has broken The Honky Tonk Man’s record for the longest title reign in history, continuing his nearly unstoppable run in WWE. No one can beat him, even if they’re given multiple chances.

By all accounts, he was supposed to face Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. However, with Lesnar being named in Vince McMahon’s ongoing lawsuit, WWE has distanced itself from The Beast Incarnate pulling him from the Royal Rumble, WWE 2K24 and, obviously, WrestleMania.

As a substitute, WWE opted to go for Sami Zayn. This could be a result of Drew McIntyre being put in the World Heavyweight Championship hunt, too, as he and Zayn seemed to be on a collision course that was put on hold with Zayn quite literally saying he would come back to that feud later. Rather transparent.

Zayn was victorious in a gauntlet match to earn this title shot, last eliminating Chad Gable, who many consider to be the underdog favorite they would have preferred to face Gunther instead. Perhaps in a bid to placate those fans, WWE has put Gable in a mentor spot for Zayn, coaching him on how to beat Gunther, who thinks Zayn doesn’t stand a chance to dethrone him.

Zayn’s gone from having a quest to become a world champion to becoming “a champion” and just getting on the WrestleMania card at all, to now being heavily invested in being the guy to beat The Ring General, even though he had already come up short last year—but WWE hasn’t bothered to mention that they’ve fought in the past, as it doesn’t facilitate anything with this particular story. If anything, mentioning that would make it seem less interesting, as some fans will have forgotten their matches and reminding them would just take away the freshness.

ICYMI: Six-Pack Tag Team Ladder Match for the Undisputed WWE Tag Team Championship

There’s not much to talk about here. It was announced that The Judgment Day would have their titles on the line against five other teams in a ladder match. Then, those five teams were determined in a series of qualifying matches.

#DIY (Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano) defeated The Creed Brothers, Awesome Truth (The Miz and R-Truth) defeated Indus Sher and The New Day (Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods) defeated Alpha Academy (Otis and Akira Tozawa) to earn the Raw spots.

SmackDown had a tournament to settle their two spots. At first, Legado Del Fantasma’s Angelo and Berto defeated Latino World Order’s Cruz Del Toro and Joaquin Wilde, but lost to New Catch Republic, who had beaten Pretty Deadly in their first round match, giving Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate one of the two spots.

A-Town Down Under (Austin Theory and Grayson Waller) defeated Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows to set them up against The Street Profits, who beat The Authors of Pain in their first-round match. After The Final Testament interfered to cost The Street Profits, Theory and Waller snatched the remaining spot.

There are so many ways Damian Priest and Finn Balor can lose their titles, especially in a match that they don’t even need to be pinned, so all eyes are on who will climb those rungs and grab the belts. Yours truly thinks there will be some kind of split of the Raw and SmackDown tag titles through shenanigans.

ICYMI: United States Champion Logan Paul vs. Randy Orton vs. Kevin Owens

After Kevin Owens moved over to SmackDown through the Jey Uso trade to Raw, he found himself getting into altercations with Logan Paul. A clash of characters was inevitable, given how Owens has little patience for the more “annoying” heels on the roster.

Paul, meanwhile, was able to beat Rey Mysterio for the United States Championship at Crown Jewel with some help from a pair of brass knuckles given to him by Santos Escobar (kicking off their feud).

Owens won a tournament to earn a title shot against Paul for Royal Rumble, which he lost due to Austin Theory and Grayson Waller interfering and Owens miscalculating using the brass knuckles on Paul, getting disqualified.

Both Owens and Paul were in the Elimination Chamber match, which saw Paul taken out by Randy Orton, only to cheap shot The Viper in retaliation, setting up a secondary feud for The Maverick.

Paul’s ego and attitude got the better of him, and after getting on the wrong side of SmackDown General Manager Nick Aldis for not having a good enough opponent for him at WrestleMania, Aldis announced both Owens and Orton would get a shot in a Triple Threat match, stacking the odds against Paul.

Both Owens and Orton are former United States champions with a better success record at WrestleMania, meaning Paul has his work cut out for him.

ICYMI: AJ Styles vs. LA Knight

Heading into Fastlane, AJ Styles was feuding with The Bloodline, but was sidelined due to an attack. Replacing him to tag with John Cena against Solo Sikoa and Jimmy Uso was LA Knight, who continued to steal The Phenomenal One’s thunder heading into the next event, Crown Jewel. Knight came up short against Roman Reigns, but nevertheless, receiving that title shot in the first place hasn’t sat well with Styles.

Upon his return, Styles thought he deserved the next chance to face The Tribal Chief. Knight had his case to be made for a rematch as well, though, as did Randy Orton. This set up a Triple Threat for New Year’s Revolution to determine who would earn the title shot at Royal Rumble, which saw all three earning the spot to make it a Fatal 4-Way, which Styles took the pinfall in.

All these frustrations have led to Styles becoming more and more bitter, turning heel and focusing his anger on Knight—so much so that he flew all the way to Perth, Australia to jump into the Elimination Chamber and attack Knight, costing him that match.

Since then, the two have had their scuffles in a generic personal rivalry feud that has even led to Knight getting “arrested” for attacking Styles at his home.

ICYMI: Rey Mysterio & Dragon Lee vs. Santos Escobar & Dominik Mysterio

If we’re being pedantic, this story goes back to The Outsiders joining WCW to eventually form the nWo, which would spin off into the Latino World Order in 1998 headed by Eddie Guerrero. But let’s just assume you’re aware of that faction’s history.

Fast forward to NXT in 2020 when El Hijo del Fantasma (Santos Escobar) kidnapped Joaquin Wilde and Cruz Del Toro to create Legado Del Fantasma. Escobar later recruited Elektra Lopez, who was ditched in favor of Zelina Vega upon their call-up to the main roster.

They would form an allegiance with Rey Mysterio to be rebranded as a revived LWO, eventually recruiting extra members (some being just honorary/ancillary members like Bad Bunny, Becky G, and Savio Vega). Namely, Carlito was brought into the fold at Backlash 2023, while Dragon Lee was somewhat an unofficial member for many months.

Eventually, Escobar grew frustrated with Mysterio’s leadership, in part due to an odd situation revolving around the two fighting to determine who would get a title shot against Austin Theory. Mysterio and Escobar fought, with Rey suffering an injury, allowing Escobar to win by referee’s decision. But come title time, Escobar would be attacked, allowing Rey to replace him and even win the United States Championship. Escobar asked for a title shot, which he failed to win, seemingly settling all that confusion.

However, come Crown Jewel, Mysterio lost the United States Championship to Logan Paul when Escobar conveniently placed brass knuckles in a spot for Paul to use. Later, Escobar would turn his back on everyone, reinvigorating Legado Del Fantasma by bringing back Elektra Lopez and substituting Wilde and Del Toro with Angel Garza and Humberto Carrillo.

Mysterio was out for several weeks with a knee injury, but upon his return, lost a match to Escobar due to interference from Dominik Mysterio, fanning the flames of their feud from last year that had no real resolution.

While Dominik has been off dealing with Judgment Day business and even trying to recruit Andrade to be in the group, he’s now thrown into this mix. To respond, Rey has dubbed Dragon Lee an official member of LWO and has chosen him to be his partner in a match where he outright challenged Escobar and Dominik.

Noteworthy, before Lee was announced, and Mysterio had simply said “a partner of his choosing”, the fans were chanting for Carlito. It remains to be seen if being passed over in favor of Lee will be something Carlito is okay with or if that’s going to be the reason for a heel turn to come.

That is your quick TL;DW recap of what you need to know going into WrestleMania 39. Which match sounds the most exciting? Drop your thoughts in the comments below!

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