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On Monday, WWE unleashed the latest of their increasingly desperate attempts to get fans to cheer for Roman Reigns. WWE seems to go back-and-forth with how they want to handle Reigns. One week it seems like they are comfortable that a large portion of fans booing Reigns and accept that as a reality. The next week, they employ some hopeless strategy in order to try and get those fans to turn in favor of him; even though WWE has years of evidence that no amount of booking can get those fans to suddenly turn into supporters of Reigns.
Their current strategy with his match against Brock Lesnar goes to new extremes. The strategy is to announce Lesnar for shows and then hold him off the shows so the fans will be upset that he doesn't show up. Then Reigns can come out and complain about Lesnar, say he doesn't care about the fans and Vince is protecting him. To me, it is INSANE to think that WWE can manipulate the fans who don't like Reigns into liking him via this storyline. Based on what was told Monday, the idea is for Reigns to come across as this underground rebel who hates that Brock has been allowed to get away with no-showing because Vince gives him special treatment.
For starters, the whole reason fans don't like Reigns is because they feel like Reigns has been shoved down their throats by the decision makers in WWE (aka Vince McMahon). WWE fans have years and years of evidence that Reigns is booked to be the best guy in the company, and that Vince and other powers that be are huge supporters of him. With a few weeks left before WrestleMania, WWE suddenly believes they can flip the script and make Reigns look like this guy the who is bucking the system; when his success in WWE is almost 100 percent because of the system—and the fans know that. It isn't just desperate; it is insane and a little bit sad. To me, they need to accept that Reigns isn't going to get cheered by a lot of the fans, and that the fans that boo Reigns are also the fans that are going to be harder to manipulate into cheering for him. Yet, they are still trying and this latest, 11th hour strategy, hits a new low for WWE.
That isn't even the most disrespectful part of the storyline though. The worst part is that WWE is promoting Brock Lesnar for these shows and then intentionally pulling him from these shows. Fans are paying money to see Lesnar, and pulling him from the show isn't a good business practice. Of course, every show is promoted as "card subject to change" but that is bulls--t. It is one thing if someone is pulled from a show due to an injury or an emergency, it is another thing to knowingly promote a major star appearing at a show and knowing that you are going to pull him off for storyline reasons. That is sleazy as hell.
The funny thing is; the idea is for WWE to get the fans to think that Lesnar is screwing them by not showing up, so they will cheer for Reigns. Of course, the same fans they are trying to manipulate are the same fans who are probably savvy enough to understand that Lesnar isn't screwing the fans; WWE is screwing the fans because they are intentionally holding Lesnar off the show in order to get fans to try and get Reigns cheered. WWE is holding Lesnar off the show; and that is just another ploy to try and get people to cheer Reigns. After the segment on Monday, Vince announced that Reigns was going to be suspended; and the crowd cheered. Nothing was gained by this garbage; and it is a big FU to the loyal fans who paid to see Lesnar.
Even if WWE was able to sell fans on the idea Lesnar doesn't care about them (and there certainly are fans who think Lesnar's infrequent appearances have hurt the product and the world title) that doesn't necessarily mean they will start cheering for Reigns. Like what happened at WrestleMania 20 when fans knew Lesnar was leaving, they booed him and his opponent (Goldberg) for the entire match. This strategy is ineffective and just disappoints paying fans. It sucks.
Fastlane marks the end of single-brand PPVs, as every show moving forward is set to feature matches from both brands. A lot of people like this; and I agree there are some advantages. Fastlane was not a particularly exciting show, and some more star power would have made it more interesting. In addition, there does seem to be way too many shows; having about 20 special PPVs every year is a lot and does make them seem less important.
However, in defense of the single-branded shows, they did allow talent to get over that otherwise may have been overshadowed, and gave spotlights to guys like AJ Styles, who probably wouldn't have gotten to main event a lot of shows without SmackDown having their own show. In addition, it allowed things like the tag team division to really find its stride and become one of the best parts of WWE. The SmackDown tag division has been great since the brand extension, but now on every PPV they will struggle to find adequate time on the main card, as WWE has to now cram in a bunch of title matches. The SmackDown tag titles will have to take a backset to the WWE Championship, The Universal Championship, The Intercontinental Championship, The U.S. Championship and probably both the RAW and SmackDown Women's Championships.
The cutting of the single-branded PPVs also will surely lead to EVEN MORE multi-man matches. WWE has a bloated roster anyway with two separate brands, now in order to get more men and women on every show, they are going to rely on triple threats, fatal four ways, and other matches in order to shoehorn everyone onto the show. The single-branded shows were not perfect, but I think they are better than four-hour shows with a bunch of shorter matches and way too many multi-man matches on every show.
I thought WWE was trying to accomplish a lot with this match and they did a reasonably good job hitting the various stories they were trying to tell. The two big takeaways are the feud between Owens, Zayn and Shane McMahon, as Shane prevented both of them from winning the match. They also protected Corbin and made him look dominant at portions in the match; and they needed to tell the story of Cena being desperate to not really win the WWE Championship, but get a spot at WrestleMania.
With AJ Styles winning the story continues that AJ is able to overcome the odds and retain the championship. A similar story unfolded at the Royal Rumble, when he retained in the handicapped match against Zayn and Owens. I like that they are keeping Styles strong and having him keep winning helps reaffirm the widely-held belief that this guy is really special. I think he loses the title at WrestleMania, but that is fine because it will both mean something when he drops the title; and he has enough momentum from his strong victories that he can put someone else over and remain an elite name.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs Rusev: ***
I was a little worried about this match; only because Nakamura is a babyface that WWE is trying to build for WrestleMania and they are putting him in the ring against Rusev, who has the hottest cult following in WWE. In the end, the crowd (which was hot all night, good job Columbus) liked both men and the match was a very good opener with Nakamura getting the clean win and Rusev looking good as well.
Randy Orton vs Bobby Roode: ***
Technically a very strong match; but was missing some stuff that usually happens in Randy Orton matches. The two things that stood out where the amount of near-falls that I never believed were going to be the finish, which kind of defeat the purpose of a near-fall. Orton hits the superplex in every single match; and he has never won a match with that move. Yet a bulk of the match built towards Orton hitting the superplex for a near-fall that I didn't buy. The second thing was as soon as Roode hit his first diving clothesline from the top; I knew the finish was going to be Orton hitting the RKO when Roode went for that same move again. How did I know this? Because Orton has been wrestling the same style of match for 10+ years and he doesn't seem concerned with changing his style.
The Usos vs The New Day: **
I really liked the build-up to this match and the video package made it seem like this match should be at WrestleMania. In a lot of ways it is the most well-constructed feud in WWE today. They did all of that and the match was forgettable, ended nine minutes in when the Bludgeon Brothers interfered and laid out everyone. The beatdown was pretty brutal, but beatdowns are so common in WWE that it's hard for any of them to really standout; especially because the guys who got laid out will probably be on SmackDown Tuesday.
Charlotte vs Ruby Riott: **3/4
This had some entertaining portions; and I thought Riott really held her own for most of it. I liked her promo last Tuesday and thought she carried herself well as a true rival to Charlotte. WWE has done a better job with the Riott Squad and explaining their motivations than they have with Absolution. There were a couple notable botches, include an awkward Last Call that Charlotte tried to give Riott into the barricade, which looks like a move that is just asking for a separated shoulder. My only real knock is that they could have done more to protect Riott than a simple tap-out loss. However, the real mission was to set up Charlotte vs Asuka, which is the biggest match the women's division can have right now, so it was a fine decision.
Carmella and Natalya vs Naomi and Becky Lynch: **1/4
This was fine and they got enough time to get Carmella over as someone of note. For a lot of her run as the MITB contract holder, she has been an afterthought and not relevant on WWE PPV shows. At least on this show they gave her her own match so-to-speak; the whole point was to make her look good and that was accomplished, even if her kick needs some work. Lynch is probably the most underrated woman on the roster.
Must Watch Matches:
Will Ospreay vs Kazuchika Okada: ****1/2 – NJPW 46th Anniversary Show
Kota Ibushi vs YOSHI-HASHI: **** - NJPW Cup Day 3