Happy WrestleMania weekend, TJR readers, and welcome to the penultimate entry in what has been a really fun series to write, the March to WrestleMania. There are only two matches left on the agenda, and they are the final two contests on Sunday’s agenda. Today’s entry will be Triple H defending the World Heavyweight Title against Roman Reigns. As always, I’ll be breaking down the build for the match, discussing the positives and negatives heading into it, and offering opinions on what should and what will happen on wrestling’s biggest day. I’ll finish it up with a random rant (wouldn’t be me otherwise) and then tomorrow will bring you the breakdown of the match rumored to close out Sunday’s big show, Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker for control of the promotion. Before I dig into this match though, I’d like to take a moment to applaud everyone involved with Friday night’s excellent NXT: Takeover show. If you missed it, I strongly encourage you to check it out. It was a beyond memorable night with a hot crowd and featured the WWE debut of Shinsuke Nakamura. His match with Sami Zayn was far and away the topper on a card packed with talent and really gave the main roster something to shoot for on Sunday. Other highlights included a couple of major title changes and Finn Balor successfully defending his NXT Title against a game Samoa Joe in another tremendous duel. Very solid stuff. Don’t be surprised if what happened Friday overshadows anything that follows. It was that good.
Matchup: WWE World Title Match–Triple H (c) vs. Roman Reigns
The Build: If this match feels like it’s years in the making, that’s because it basically is. From the moment the WWE powers that be made the fateful decision to break up the Shield and put the title on Seth Rollins, the destiny of Roman Reigns was set into motion. It’s essentially been the anti-Daniel Bryan movement, as large portions of the WWE Universe got tired of their steady diet of force-fed RR and displayed their disgust with rampant booing. When is the last time you heard of a World title match where the face challenger was getting booed out of the building on a regular basis? It’s exactly what’s happened again and again, including this past Monday’s Raw. Despite those issues, the WWE has kept their finger on the pulse of this match and its implications, presenting Roman as an unstoppable force who survived a Triple H beatdown to come back and issue a few of his own to the Authority honcho. It’s been much of the same each and every week, but it has at least been effective at demonstrating the physical lengths each of the men will go to in order to garner the victory.
For Triple H, placing the title on himself was a decision likely made partially due to ego and partially due to lack of viable alternatives. While Brock Lesnar would be the obvious choice for Roman to defeat, his rising popularity would only exacerbate the issue of the displeasure with Reigns. Trips representing the reviled Authority allows people to accept Reigns as perhaps the lesser of two evils, but even that hasn’t worked out tremendously well. When fans are choosing the heel conglomerate that runs Raw over their supposed savior, what sort of moment have we reached? They’ve done their best to make this into a big deal, but I’d wager more fans are tuning in to see if WWE bows to popular consensus and flips Reigns to heel than to celebrate his imagined coronation.
The Good: There is buzz regarding this match, and that’s fairly important considering the belt that’s on the line here. If nothing else, Trips has done a far better job as interim champion than his running buddy Sheamus, and I’ll give him credit both in his ring work leading up to this match and the confrontations with top-tier fan faves like Shield brother Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler along the way. Creative has also given Roman a little bit of much-needed edge, eliminating his yawn-inducing waltz through the masses and having him deliver more punches than promos. Playing to strong suits is important in this business, and Roman’s strength is not on the microphone. The tepid reaction to Reigns overall has really prevented the original “man against the machine” angle from achieving complete success, but the backup plan’s been decent. Should this match be no disqualification, as expected, there are more than enough intriguing question marks regarding who could get involved. Everyone from Roman’s family member The Rock to former Authority golden boy Seth Rollins to medically cleared John Cena could conceivably get into the thick of things to play a factor in the decision. From WWE’s standpoint, they don’t care why you’re watching the match as long as you’re watching.
The Bad: Rarely have title matches felt so ridiculously one-sided. It isn’t that Triple H isn’t capable of beating Roman Reigns (in fact he’d likely get a significant round of applause), it’s that WWE has made it so clear their plan is to get Roman this title around his waist that anything else doesn’t make sense. That has turned what should be a discussion about who will win this bout into a conversation about how Reigns wins and what happens afterward. These two won’t have a bad match no matter what, but the feeling that the die has already been cast hurts it in a major way that’s unacceptable. Triple H has done an adequate job garnering heat by saying he’s better than everyone else, but there’s no chance he’s anything more than a vocal placeholder. While something like a double swerve (Reigns becomes heel champion, Rollins becomes face challenger) is exciting, I can’t give THIS match credit for what happens next. Should Shane/Taker close out WrestleMania, it’s a disaster for the World Title match. Having two part-time wrestlers close out the WWE’s biggest night is more a condemnation of the competition versus an approbation of the Hell in a Cell combatants.
The biggest issue facing this match is the lack of buzz the fans in general feel about it. It can’t come across well on live television when your “number one” guy is getting booed to hell and back. Regardless of the WWE’s frustrating attempts to ignore that, it can’t help but impact this match. That increases the pressure on the performers to do an even better job in the ring, as it can be a major distraction when the paying customers are not appreciating your work. It’s the hand-picked savior vs. one of the people that decided to make him that very thing. How do you choose? Do you even choose? Apathy is worse than distaste.
What Should Happen: There are a plethora of options here, but the biggest challenge WWE creative is faced with will be making their biggest belt relevant again to the portion of fans unhappy with the current direction. Reigns is going to be largely booed either way, so the intelligent thing to do is go with the flow and give them a reason to boo. Aligning Roman with the Authority after Trips drops the belt is the smartest bet. It would also work perfectly well with Triple H’s character to pretend like it was all part of the plan, allowing his smug superiority to declare he’s one step ahead of the average fan yet again. This idea works best if The Rock saves his interference for the main event, getting involved to even the odds against Trips and Stephanie and costing HHH the gold. Just when Rock thinks his plan has worked perfectly, Reigns throws in with the Authority after all and turns on his own flesh and blood. Rock won’t be getting physically involved no matter what, so this seals the deal nicely. Should Seth Rollins also show up, he could immediately kick off a feud with the new heel champ. Roles are reversed and everybody’s happy. It also gets the ball rolling for Trips and Rock to renew their in-ring rivalry at next year’s big event.
What Will Happen: The scenario above remains the most likely, but anytime I give WWE credit for doing what makes sense, they tend to bring me back down to earth even faster. Don’t underestimate the possibility that the company plays it safe and has Roman overcome the odds to beat Trips clean and take home the gold. Perhaps they save the heel turn for later, perhaps they have him feud with a returning heel Seth Rollins, or perhaps they just don’t do anything at all. Vince and company don’t always listen to the fans, and if they’ve got Reigns penciled in as the heir apparent to John Cena, they won’t let a little booing change their minds. Triple H drops the strap either way, but there’s two schools of thought to how that happens. Here’s hoping the WWE doesn’t do what they’ve done quite a bit of lately and take the easy route out.
Random Rant: A couple of news items made the rounds today, and they elicited completely different reactions from me as a scribe and a fan. On the one side we have Hulk Hogan, fresh off his lawsuit victory and feeling left out of wrestling’s biggest event. I’ve written before on this subject, but I’ll say it once more in case you didn’t see it: I have ZERO interest in seeing HH in a WWE ring again. Wrestling has always been one of those industries where you can almost do no wrong, but what came out regarding the Hulkster was a far bigger deal than being damaging to his cartoon character. It went to the heart of the man himself. I don’t judge whether he truly believes what he said, but I am adamant that it costs him dearly for doing so. Real hate has no place in wrestling, and those comments did a disservice to everyone who considers themselves a Hogan fan. Comments have consequences in the real world, and you can’t always walk back what you did or said. Hogan has led a charmed life in which his faults and foibles are always compensated for by the money he places in the pockets of the promoter he works for. This is once too many. Do yourself a favor, Hulkster, and own it. Your continued attempts to ingratiate yourself back into the hearts of the folks you let down is beneath even you. No organization that expects corporate sponsorships and exhorts how to “Be A Star” should have anything to do with you.
On the other side of the ledger resides Sting, who despite numerous reports to the contrary has claimed to not officially be retired. Whether he plans to address those lingering issues during Saturday’s Hall of Fame induction notwithstanding, Sting has made abundantly clear that he wants to wrestle The Undertaker before he hangs up the boots for good. Taker’s own status may be in question, partially due to his age and partially due to the stipulations in his match this year, but if both legends want to get this done it will get done and you can have no doubt about that. Sting’s been a great soldier through the years, and while his brief stint in the WWE wasn’t what it may have been cracked up to be, it did get the crowd buzzing and caused an epic moment or two. He and Undertaker have major mutual respect and would tear the house down, even if they’re not everything they once were. These are two guys that can lose a step and still have one fantastic staircase. They represent the two major wrestling companies in the business’s heyday and that’s reason enough to want this match to happen. Sting has nothing left to prove, but if he so chooses, he could make us appreciate him in the ring just one more time. It would be a fitting sendoff on his terms, and he’s earned it.
Shameless Self-Promotion: Once again, I heartily appreciate those of you that have made this journey with me. I’ve written quite a bit these past couple of weeks, and I hope you’ve liked it as much as I enjoyed putting it together. It all leads up to tomorrow’s final article, Shane/Taker, as well as predictions for the Andre Battle Royal and the “Total Divas” tag match. In addition, don’t forget to check out Main Event Madness Sunday from 2 PM to 4 PM Eastern time. I will be joining the guys for a pre-WrestleMania discussion, and as it’s always been in the past, I expect it to be a great time and a great listen. Thank you for all your support and enjoy WrestleMania weekend!