Why I’m Excited for Roman Reigns to Headline WrestleMania (Again)
There, I said it. That might be the single most blasphemous statement to most hardcore WWE fans. At the same time, all of the nonstop Roman hating has pretty much run its course. I can understand being sick of having him forced as the company's top guy year in and out, but John Cena is privy to just as divisive a reaction. Let's face it, the RAW I was at last December at the Schott was full of Roman fans; I saw more of his merch than anyone else, and his reaction from the crowd was pretty much all positive. And let's not forget how into the Shield everyone was, both initially, as well as leading up to last year's botched reunion. Not to mention the fact that Reigns participated in several of 2017's all-around best matches: his Royal Rumble clash with Kevin Owens was one of my favorites, and the multi-man matches at Extreme Rules and SummerSlam were fantastic, with his series against Braun Strowman not falling far behind. Plus, he had a barnburner of a match with Cesaro on Raw at the end of the year. His promo game has always been somewhat lacking, but that's not for his lack of confidence in delivery. And the verbal thrashing he laid on Brock Lesnar following last week's so-so Elimination Chamber match points to him improving in that regard to become one of the company's best all-around performers. So the issue really shouldn't be with Reigns himself, but with the role the company insists on putting him in. However, if he keeps delivering at this consistent rate, then there should be no real reason to regard the backlash he will undoubtedly continue to get.
People really ought to be fed up with Brock Lesnar's prominent position as the face of RAW, given his reduced schedule, aforementioned homophobia, and general disinterest in delivering enjoyable singles matches. But he has always been capable of delivering better. When Brock is pressured to put on a good performance, he can really bring it. After two wet squib squashes against Goldberg, Lesnar stepped up his game at last year's WrestleMania to deliver one of the best sub-five-minute matches I've seen. That match also served as a solid reminder of the incredible athletic potential that Brock still possesses yet generally fails to display. His match with Samoa Joe at Great Balls of Fire was also very good, although it was hampered by its short runtime and predictable outcome. Basically, he may phone it in more often than not with his part-time schedule, and I certainly don't like him as a person, but he is capable of delivering a great match when he feels compelled to do so. He's also going to have been champion for a full year by the time WrestleMania comes around, so the stakes are high over the title change whether the fans want Roman to win or not. And even if a good portion of the fans are opposed to him as Universal Champion, isn't he far better suited to a top spot than Jinder Mahal ever was? Also, do title belts even really mean much any longer?
If you ask me, people make way too much of the main event position of WrestleMania. Also, even the term "main event" has been devalued at this point. Randy Orton won the Royal Rumble last year, meaning he was supposed to take that spot at Mania; his match against Bray Wyatt lasted ten minutes and was seventh on the ten-match card. The main event isn't even the best match on the show: last year that honor went to Shane McMahon's curtain jerker against AJ Styles. Hell, I can't even begin to count how many WrestleManias put their worst overall matches in the main event spot. The way WWE has been running their PPVs lately, the final match is the perfect time to tune out following six hours of programming. I know I fell asleep multiple times throughout Reigns' last coronation against Triple H at WM32. All of that considered, why should it really matter if Roman headlines the event for the fourth year in a row?
All of that makes it seem like I'm just dismissing the match off the bat, but as the title of this column suggests, I'm actually looking forward to Lesnar vs. Reigns. This match has been no secret, having been booked nearly a year ago and unchanged in any way since. We've had plenty of time to prepare ourselves, and people seemed to will themselves to forget about this, or at least expect a last-minute change. Obviously all the talk of Lesnar returning to UFC shook things up a little bit, and certainly seemed to solidify Reigns' apparent victory. But there have been a few notable moments along the way that have looked to make this one something memorable, something less than the expected phoned-in coronation of Roman Reigns. Also, with the possibility of Brock retiring from wrestling once again, it seems like a sure shot for him to turn in a top-notch performance on his way out. This is the exact thing to light a fire under his ass and force him to deliver a quality farewell.
More to the point when it comes to anticipating this match, we need to look at its direct precedent: Lesnar vs. Reigns for the WWE Title at WM 31. Everything about that match was awesome, and it was another perfect example of Roman shining in the main event spot. Lesnar and Reigns have complementary hard-hitting styles, as well as a shared versatility that keeps their powerhouse moves from clashing in the course of things. Their match was brutal and full of hardway blood, which was shocking to see but also lent the conflict more drama and made each wrestler look legitimately vulnerable. Let's be honest, if there's anyone who looks like they could believably hurt Brock, it's Roman Reigns. And after fifteen or so minutes of incredible, fast-paced action (and don't forget that both men can pull off incredible selling jobs) the whole show was thrown for a loop as Seth Rollins cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase and pinning a weakened Reigns to snag the title. So technically, the predicted outcome of this year's match isn't even a rehashed finish. Everything about that earlier match points in favor of this rematch delivering an even better showing, although I'm really hoping they stick with the lean runtime of the earlier contest.
Finally, right after winning the men's Elimination Chamber match, Reigns delivered a career-best promo on RAW, tearing into Brock's part-time schedule and behind-the-scenes attitude. It was a blistering two minutes, and delivered the sort of scripted heat that's been lacking from pretty much every episode of the flagship show. In doing yet another fake shoot-style promo, Reigns inadvertently gave voice to a large portion of the hardcore audience that is traditionally against him in every way. This is smart booking, even though the "things 'they' don't want me to say" shtick feels a little tired. The way to get Reigns over as a face is to call attention to his reliability, his constant presence and dependability. Lesnar's part-time schedule has been a subject of much derision from fans, and it was time that somebody brought that into the storyline. Even more to the point, Reigns called Brock out for skipping Elimination Chamber (not that he was booked) to take photos with Dana White, calling his loyalty in question. To cap it all off, he called Brock a bitch, which got a big shock reaction from the crowd, so I'd say it paid off to err on the side of bad taste this time around. That promo helped prove that Reigns is out to prove himself yet again, while also making sure that Lesnar will be out for blood once he gets his hands on his challenger.
So don't talk to me about all of the times Reigns has been forced on fans, or all of the great (possibly even better) wrestlers that have been sacrificed to his various pushes. What we have here is a sure-shot incredible match that should steal the show, particularly in light of some recent misguided booking decisions. Consider: there's a very real chance that AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura's dream match will become a triple-threat featuring John Cena. I'm sure it would still be great, but that isn't what people want or need to see. And then, likely to be an absolute mess, is the newly-announced Triple H/Stephanie McMahon vs. Ronda Rousey/Kurt Angle. That's even worse of an idea than putting the Rock in Angle's place. Stephanie can't wrestle, Kurt barely can any longer, and Rousey hasn't even been tried in the ring as of yet. This match will be a disaster, emphasized even further by the fact that Stephanie McMahon (along with Rousey) could very well be the first woman to headline WrestleMania. Think about that before complaining about Reigns winning the Universal Title.
Big Vin Vader covers WWE for Pencilstorm. Follow on twitter @bigvinvader