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So we are getting Reigns vs The Undertaker, even if there are many more matchups we would rather see at WrestleMania. The build-up began at the Royal Rumble when Reigns eliminated The Undertaker from the Royal Rumble Match, and then The Undertaker appeared months later on RAW and attacked Reigns. This will set up the match at WrestleMania, which could have big consequences for Roman Reigns.
In WWE's storytelling, this is a babyface vs babyface match. In reality it isn't, but that isn't what is important. The goal this entire time has been not to make Reigns successful, but rather to make Reigns the FACE of the company, so he has to be a good guy to achieve that goal. The fans are going to boo Reigns, and I think at this point WWE has to know that in advance. Still, WWE refuses to make him the heel in a situation where he is obviously going to be booed, because that isn't part of the great vision of the future. Reigns is going to be a babyface and do babyface things--no matter what.
To me it seems like such a counterproductive move. Reigns is put in a situation where he is obviously going to be booed; it isn't like when he was facing off against a strong heel like Rusev, Kevin Owens or even Braun Strowman where you can expect some cheers for Reigns just because he is going against someone a portion of the fanbase doesn't like. He is facing The Undertaker, perhaps the most universally beloved figure in WWE history, ANYONE could be facing The Undertaker and get booed.
WWE actually has a real opportunity here to turn Reigns heel, it would be the perfect time because he would be going against such an honored figure. Instead of going with the flow and turning Reigns heel against The Undertaker, WWE is once again trying to fight the current of fan sympathies and shoe-horning Reigns into a position he is ill-equipped to handle.Reigns isn't going to become a bigger babyface because he fights (or beats) The Undertaker, because nobody does that. WWE is taking a potential huge gain in turning Reigns heel and ignoring it and Reigns isn't going to get much in return, only more heat.
Who should win? In a vacuum, it is pretty obvious Reigns should win. This may be The Undertaker's final WrestleMania and traditional wrestling logic indicates the veteran should go out on his back, to a younger opponent that can benefit from defeating such an established star. When you are talking about Roman Reigns though, tradition and conventional logic don't always apply. As I pointed out earlier, Reigns isn't gaining anything as a babyface going against The Undertaker, he is only going to get more negative attention from fans who feel is being shoved down their throats. The percentage of WWE fans who like Reigns more than they like The Undertaker has to be so astronomically minuscule they can't possibly affect business in any significant way.
What I don't think WWE has figured out yet is that one of the major reasons fans don't like Reigns is that they feel he is being pushed to the moon in such a predetermined fashion. Fans like to think that they have an influence on who achieves success (booked success, like winning matches and championships) and when someone comes along that WWE awards those things to without ever really having the fan support to justify it, they will turn against that person. Nobody wants to be told explicitly who to cheer for, and in today's era the fans are savvier than ever, they can tell when Vince is high on someone and is pushing them because they match his image of success, not the fans.
When Reigns originally was tabbed for the main event; we'll say that day was the 2015 Royal Rumble; the backlash was incredible. Fans were so outraged that the hashtag #CancelWWENetwork was the number one trend in the United States. Granted, that also had to do with WWE once again short-changing Daniel Bryan, but the point still stands. The majority of fans HATED that Reigns won. WWE's main strategy when faced with this opposition has tended to be to push Reigns even harder. After all normal wrestling logic says that if you want to get a guy over you have him win a bunch of matches and take up a lot of TV time. They couldn't figure out that that was the very problem, the fans felt they had little say in who was actually worth getting titles, and in some ways Reigns became the poster-child for years of frustration WWE fans have felt towards senior management and their booking decisions.
The reason this is relevant is because I think in WWE's mind, if Roman Reigns beats The Undertaker he will become an even bigger babyface; especially if The Undertaker puts over Reigns afterwards. They have already tried that strategy with Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles, two men that Reigns beat and then put Reigns over afterwards. Neither had any effect, but neither guy is The Undertaker. After all, who has more respect from the fans than The Undertaker?
I think that if WWE decides to have Reigns defeat The Undertaker, clean and in the middle of the ring and then The Undertaker says that he respects Reigns afterwards, it will be the end of whatever small chance they had at getting Reigns over as a super-babyface. If The Undertaker "puts him over" the fans won't respect him more, in fact they will just take it as another sign that WWE is pushing Reigns down their throat some more.
Those kind of endorsements never go ever well with fans. On Monday night, Shawn Michaels came out to talk to Reigns about facing The Undertaker (I feel like they do this segment every year, with either Michaels or Mick Foley coming out and telling everyone how they can't beat The Undertaker if he is in their head) and the crowd popped huge for Michaels, after all who doesn't love HBK? As soon as Michaels started putting over Reigns, the same fans who were cheering Michaels quickly started booing him. Reigns is a toxic property for babyfaces in WWE. The only guys who don't get booed when they work with him are Rollins and Ambrose, and even they get booed more than usual.
So if I'm booking this match, I think the smartest thing to do is to have Reigns beat The Undertaker, turn heel and talk about how he "retired" The Undertaker. That character has an incredibly high ceiling in my opinion. However, due to Vince McMahon's insistence that Reigns must be a babyface (note the report in this week's Wrestling Observer Newsletter that said the plans for WrestleMania 34 are for Reigns to beat Brock Lesnar and replace John Cena as the real face of the company) you can't have Reigns turn heel. I think in that scenario the best thing to do is to have Reigns lose to The Undertaker nice and clean. I think that will show fans that WWE is not as obsessed with pushing Reigns over everybody as the fans think, and it isn't like losing to The Undertaker at WrestleMania has ever hurt anybody's career.
I can say all this but you know what is probably going to happen; Reigns is going to beat The Undertaker clean and the fans will hate it and kill Roman the following night on RAW and WWE will still try and push their lame horse to the finish line. I laughed at the report saying that the goal now for WrestleMania 34 is for Reigns to beat Lesnar and be coronated as the new champion and face of the company. What have the last several years been? That storyline already happened at WrestleMania 32 anyway. We are stuck with Reigns forever, it is never going to end up the way fans want it to.
Ring of Honor 15th Anniversary Show
This was a really fun show for a company that is coming close to a crossroads. They have really struggled to maintain their talent, losing Michael Elgin, Kyle O'Reilly, Moose, Roderick Strong, Donovan Dijak and others within the last year. With the contracts for Adam Cole, Dalton Castle, War Machine, Bobby Fish and others set to expire soon, a lot of tough decisions are going to have to be made.
Kenny King vs Jay White: **¾
This was a solid opening match, a little bit sloppy by King in the early going but they got it going later in the match and had a nice finish with White winning with an inside cradle. White has a contract with New Japan Pro Wrestling and this is kind of an excursion for him, but he could end up being a big star on the US independents because of his athleticism and in-ring charisma.
Kazarian vs Adam Page vs Chris Sabin vs Punishment Martinez vs Cheeseburger vs Silas Young: ***
A fun match that did what you would want out of a six-man free-for-all style match. Page, Sabin and Young supplied a lot of the work, while Kazarian was the sneaky heel who snuck away with the win. Cheeseburger ceiling in the US is limited, but they use him really well and the kid takes a hell of a beating. They were billing Martinez as being 6'7" when he is probably about 6'4" but because ROH has such a small roster he looks huge. He's green but he has good athleticism for a guy his size and could be a big star down the road.
The Kingdom vs Dalton Castle and The Boys: **½
Remember a few weeks ago when I talked about guys taking too many risks? T.K. O'Ryan paid the price in this match; doing an Asai Moonsault and landing shin-first on the railing. He shattered both shins in one of the nastier wrestling injuries you are going to see on PPV and they had to hurry right to the finish because of it.
The Briscoes and Bully Ray vs War Machine and Davey Boy Smith Jr.: ***
Pretty basic match that ended because Smith couldn't work with War Machine as they are feuding in NJPW. I don't know if he could have done it in WWE because their booking would make him look goofy too much, but Bully Ray just has a great presentation of his character. It isn't just his personality but the titantron, the way he dresses, the New York connection with ROH--I think he could have a really good year for ROH, especially if they lose more talent.
Jay Lethal vs Bobby Fish: ****
Fun match and a good matchup of styles. Fish has a great, unique approach to pro wrestling where he mixes in MMA moves as good as anyone and his offense and submissions look great. Lethal is just a great actor, both in the way he cuts promos and how he sells in the ring; it contrasted beautifully with the way Fish works.
Marty Scurll vs Lio Rush: ****
Rush was getting some interest from WWE but he is really small so he'd almost have to be a cruiserweight wrestler right now. Scurll has such an interesting character because the whole point is that he embraces cheating and tries his best to do tricks in the ring to get heat, but he is so damn good at it that fans respect his act. He is kind of like late-career Ric Flair, where the fans would pop for when he poked someone in the eye or raked them across the back because it was such a vintage act. They had a fun match that was derailed briefly when Rush teased hitting Scurll with the TV title belt, which wouldn't have made much sense. Besides that they mixed in Rush's speed and Scurll scumbaggery well. Nobody in wrestling teases their submission finisher better than Scurll teases the chicken-wing.
The Young Bucks vs The Hardy's vs Roppongi Vice: ***¾
This match got a lot of praise; I thought it was good but a little much. Typical wild three-way tag match with a lot of weapons and high spots. The best spot of the night was Rocky Romero taking out a sleeve that had thumbtacks sticking out of it and doing the forever clothesline to the other four guys in the ring. Roppongi Vice carried the match because they seemingly took every major bump in the match, which was rough because they were kind of the forgotten team in the matchup between The Young Bucks and The Hardys. The legal matter between The Hardy's and Impact is a really messy situation, one that Impact is once again taking a public beating for, even if they have a legal case against The Hardy's. The lesson is always: trademark your stuff boys and girls.
Adam Cole vs Christopher Daniels: ****½
People that complain that indie wrestling doesn't have storytelling are obviously not paying attention, but if you need to show them why they are wrong, show them this match. Great atmosphere with the elder Daniels gunning for his first significant world title and Cole just completely disrespecting him the entire time. The twist of Kazarian not turning on Daniels and backing away from Cole was well done and the crowd popped big for Daniels winning the title. This was another bloody match, the second PPV in a row the main event has been really bloody. After getting away from those matches for a while it looks like they are making a comeback. Blood can work if used correctly and done with real caution, but I wouldn't want to see it become a regular fixture.
Must watch matches:
Kenny Omega vs Tomohiro Ishii: ****1/4 - NJPW Cup Day 2