2023 WrestleMania 39 preview: 4 things to know about WWE’s biggest event of the year

FILE- John Cena celebrates his win during Wrestlemania XXX in New Orleans on April 6, 2014. Cena has been revealed as this year's WWE 2K23 video game cover star. The wrestling game is out Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (Jonathan Bachman/AP Images for WWE, File)
WWE legend John Cena will face United States Champion Austin Theory in the first match of WrestleMania 39. (Jonathan Bachman/AP Images for WWE, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Unless you live under a rock — not “The Rock” — you’re likely aware of WWE and WrestleMania, the professional wrestling promotion's biggest annual event taking place for the 39th time.

Whether you’re a die-hard fan, casual watcher, lapsed viewer or just a passerby looking for a brief pop-culture fix, odds are that you’ve come across chatter about WrestleMania 39 at some point during the past week or will over the next few days.

While Yahoo Sports already has you covered with essentially everything you could possibly need to know about the logistics of the event (even including a live blog), the purpose of this piece is to make it so you have a better understanding of what is going to come during the weekend-long affair and, come Monday, be able to break it down — pun intended — in your social circles.

You almost certainly will see people you recognize

At the very least, WrestleMania 39 will have 13 matches spread across two nights with dozens of male and female wrestlers taking part in them. Some of these stars, such as Shotzi or the Street Profits, may not ring a bell, but there are plenty of names that fans of any generation will immediately know.

The biggest name scheduled to appear, depending on how much or little into YouTube you are, is John Cena. Cena has been a stalwart of WWE for the past 20 years, winning countless championships and serving as a spokesperson for the company through various forms of media. In recent years, much like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Dave Bautista before him, Cena made the jump to Hollywood and has become a bonafide star. He’ll be wrestling 25-year-old Austin Theory for the United States Championship in the first match of the entire event before he heads off to promote “Fast X” which hits theaters in May.

Now, if you’re closer to the Gen Z cohort, the most-hyped name for you is going to be Logan Paul. Paul, who has an immense following on social media and a legitimate business empire in the making, has taken to professional wrestling unlike any other celebrity ever has. He’s good, full stop. Paul is going up against Seth Rollins, who might be the best in-ring performer WWE has on its roster today. If you watch just one match this weekend, you might want to make it this one, which also takes place on Saturday.

With Cena and Paul out of the way, who else is there? Fans of the “Attitude” and “Ruthless Aggression” Eras will immediately recognize names like Rey Mysterio Jr., Edge, Trish Stratus and Lita, all Hall of Famers and all who have matches on the card. There’s also Brock Lesnar, who I promise you is as entertaining as he has ever been.

Lastly, is the host of WrestleMania — which is "going Hollywood" — “The Miz,” aka Mike Mizanin as turn of the century reality TV aficionados may better know him by.

[Related: A look back at every WrestleMania and main event]

Who are some of the newer faces I should keep an eye on?

They’re not necessarily new faces, but the relatively new feud between Cody Rhodes and Roman Reigns has so many layers to it — including some real-life drama — that it’s arguably the best thing WWE has going for it entering the weekend. It’s a main event that carries significant weight, which isn’t always the case when it comes to pro wrestling pay-per-views.

Let’s start with Reigns, the WWE’s Undisputed Universal Champion. In storyline, Reigns is the leader of The Bloodline, a faction made up of his real-life cousins Jimmy and Jey Uso and Solo Sikoa. The Bloodline has been together for two-plus years and Reigns has been at the head of its table for the entirety of it. Reigns is closing in on an unheard-of 1,000-day Universal championship reign, but there have been some cracks and turmoil in his faction as of late.

Storyline aside, Reigns has done a complete 180-degree turn when it comes to his perception with fans, particularly the knowledgeable ones (smarks, for the initiated). Reigns is a member of the Anoa’i wrestling family, legitimate royalty in the business. From the day he set foot in WWE, he’s essentially been destined to be a main-event star — not unwarranted considering his skill set and persona. The ever fickle WWE fans did not like that Reigns was getting pushed so hard and was in many high-profile matches and main-evented a handful of WrestleManias. This all changed in 2020 when Reigns returned from a brief hiatus, turned heel and started the Bloodline. He’s earned the respect of fans and is doing by far the best work of his career, even as he beats every challenger in his way.

That said, he does have someone standing in his way in Cody Rhodes. The storyline angle for Cody, son of the late Dusty Rhodes, is that he’s trying to do what his father never could — become WWE champion. Rhodes returned to WWE at last year’s WrestleMania (more on this in a bit) and spent the next several months in an enthralling program with Rollins before legitimately tearing his right pectoral muscle off the bone and needing surgery. Rhodes returned in January to win the Royal Rumble and earn his shot at Reigns at WrestleMania.

Like Reigns, there are some intriguing undertones to Rhodes’ rise. Rhodes, a legacy talent, broke into WWE more than a decade ago but couldn’t quite get momentum to be elevated to the top of the card. Rhodes won some mid-card championships and had brief flashes, but it was clear at the end of his first run that he was ready to leave WWE and his hokey “Stardust” character behind.

What happened next was unprecedented.

After his WWE departure, Rhodes became a megastar, wrestling for Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling, Impact and other promotions before planning, booking and selling out an independent wrestling event called “All In” in 2018. Alongside the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and Tony Khan, Rhodes started the rival promotion All Elite Wrestling as a direct competitor to WWE.

Three years later, Rhodes left AEW to return to WWE as an entirely new performer, a main-event level star from day one and is now headlining the company's biggest event.

That’s a lot to take in, so let’s rapid-fire on some of the other names to watch

Bianca Belair – Belair calls herself the EST of WWE because she’s the strongest, fastest, smartest, etc. She’s also maybe the best female wrestler on WWE’s roster today. She’s stolen the show at two WrestleManias in a row and could make it a third when she defends her Raw Women’s Championship against Asuka.

Sami Zayn – Zayn is tangentially linked to Reigns’ Bloodline faction and actually was a member for the second half of 2022. Zayn’s an excellent in-ring performer and has the uncanny ability to get over with fans no matter what situation he’s in. Look for him and Kevin Owens to walk away winners in a tag team championship match against the Usos.

Gunther – Formerly known as Walter, Gunther is a bruising throwback to wrestling days’ past. He’s going up against Sheamus and Drew McIntyre in an all-European triple-threat match for the Intercontinental championship. Ric Flair may have made chest chops popular, but Gunther’s look (and sound) downright painful.

Rhea Ripley – Ripley went nuclear at the end of 2018 and into 2019, becoming one of the biggest stars in WWE’s NXT brand. She’s on the cusp of doing it again after winning the women’s Royal Rumble match in January and choosing to wrestle Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania with the Smackdown women’s championship on the line. If Ripley wins, her star will grow even brighter.

Which match will be the best?

There are a lot of contenders here: Reigns and Rhodes have the most at stake and are the main event, Rollins and Paul could have several high spots go viral, the Raw and Smackdown women’s championship matches have four of the most talented female stars ever. The list goes on, but for my money…

The Usos versus Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens is going to steal the show. I have high hopes for this match based on the buildup and the talent involved. Expect a smorgasbord of high-flying maneuvers, dangerous spots and an intense finish with potentially major ramifications in WWE storylines.

Last but not least…

Just enjoy the show.

There’s going to be more than a dozen matches, fireworks, musical performances, tens of thousands of chanting fans, celebrities and possibly even some special guest appearances.

If you’re a fan, this will be simple because it’s quite literally your Super Bowl. If this is your first WrestleMania, just try and remember to suspend disbelief for a while in order to appreciate the athleticism and art that goes into putting on an impactful professional wrestling match.