Between TV tapings, house shows, travel and the gym, Roman Reigns' road to WrestleMania – like that of so many other WWE superstars – has been relentless. Twelve hours prior to the penultimate Raw before that signature event, Reigns is already being tugged between print, online and radio interviews, a gauntlet that only intensifies heading into Mania week.
Though in a way, this is rite of passage for Reigns, whose Samoan-dynasty relatives have included The Rock, Yokozuna, The Wild Samoans, Rikishi, Umaga and The Usos. He grew up as both awe-struck fan and privileged insider, which has given the multiple-time champion a unique perspective on what shapes an unforgettable Mania match, the kind he hopes to stage against his upcoming opponent, The Undertaker.
In that spirit, and setting aside his and his adversary's respective moments on the big stage (which, he concedes, "is hard, because I'm so immersed in it now"), Reigns ran down some of his choices for memorable all-time Mania clashes, and how he hopes to measure up opposite the event's most iconic performer.
Randy Savage v. Ricky Steamboat, WrestleMania III
"It changed the style with all the false finishes and near-falls. You can see it with the storytelling and style we do now, and I think that was before its time and why it hit off so well and the crowd got so into it. It was these nail-biting finishes happening left and right, and finally out of nowhere the big roll-up. It led a generation. Years later, you’d see HBK and Undertaker, in their own fashion, do something very similar."
Yokozuna v. Hulk Hogan, WrestleMania IX
"It was at Caesar's Palace, when my cousin Yokozuna was wrestling, and he had just won the title and then Hogan came out and took it off of him. We're all rooting for our cousin Rodney, and everybody's going nuts and is so proud of him, and here comes Hulkster. My family has a really nice history with him. My father [Sika of Wild Samoans] was good friends with him, so no hate to brother Hogan. We just wanted to see Rodney keep that title. But it was still such a cool moment. I was at Rikishi's house watching it with the Usos and tons of family, so it was a great moment for us, but definitely a shocker."
Bret Hart v. Steve Austin, WrestleMania XIII
"[Bret Hart's] one of the greatest of all time, and Steve was a great worker. He had good ring psychology and he was very physical. You couldn’t see through his stuff. Any time you get two guys at the top of their game, you’re gonna have something special. Their programs took us into a whole different direction and led an era, so that was a very impactful feud. I was always a big Bret Hart fan, so anytime I was able to see him victorious resonated big with me and made me super-happy. I was so into his stuff and his style and message and work ethic. He just seemed like an iron man and could go out there and wrestle 30, 40 minutes every night. I hold him with a high regard all the way to this day. As an adult, it’s always nice to chop it up with him and pick his brain a bit."
Bobby Lashley (with Donald Trump) v. Umaga (with Vince McMahon), WrestleMania XXIII
"[That] was the year my father was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and we were lucky enough to have my cousin Eddie [Umaga] in the Billion Dollar Handshake match, that whole spectacle. I was there to see it live, to experience WrestleMania in general as a fan, and then to see a couple of guys like Vince McMahon and Donald Trump. Even in a huge stadium, I was surprised we were able to fit all those egos in the same building, so it was neat to see that."
His upcoming match with Undertaker at WrestleMania XXXIII
"For me, last year was unbelievable, but I'm always trying to escalate, progress and get better, and the only way for that to happen is for me to create a moment or make it as special if not more special than it was last year. The goal is always to go out there, tear it up, and get everybody lost in the story and the match. I'm going out there with who most would say is the greatest of all time, so I'm putting a lot of responsibility on myself to keep that standard high, capture it and take it with me forever."