Let’s start by being free. This is a new thing for me, but I’m getting old and trying to improve before my cholesterol goes up. Thanks to the work of Sami Zayn and Roman Reigns over the past six months, the normally running PLE, Elimination Chamber, has risen to the level of a must-see event. It was one of WWE’s most anticipated shows in recent memory, and the main event created a buzz that most Wrestlemania main events have failed to do recently. This is something only WWE can do. A kind of story that extends beyond the world of the wrestler. Perhaps the first time that has happened since Bryan Danielson’s 2014 run. Or maybe Becky Lynch in the first women’s main event. But none of these culminated in anything other than Mania. Credit to Reigns and Zayn for bringing this level of anticipation and excitement to a show of this caliber.
Second, the structure of the match and even the first half harkened back to the roots of wrestling during the territory. Here’s the local face, as you won’t find a more beloved figure in Montreal than Zayn, and the invading, intimidating force (Reigns) brought in to challenge him and elevate his hero status. It’s the quintessential wrestling story that this whole business is from, before it became such a big deal.
And it’s a role that Reigns plays extremely well. Not just the way he carries himself as a heel, or the constant trash talking to both the opponent and the audience, or the way his every move has a menacing power in the “heat” of the match. But the way he bases this on paranoia and uncertainty is familiar to us from previous works. The cracks have been there for a while, and Reigns hasn’t been afraid to play into them. It’s not his fault that WWE booking trots down the same goddamn path every match.
Which is what made last night’s ending so disappointing, combined with the fact that we all know this is what they’re doing, and yet we keep thinking that the company will one day do something different. Yes, being a wrestling fan involves soaking it up and imagining all the possibilities. But that gets harder and harder to enjoy when they keep coming to the same conclusion.
Even with a crowd as loud as it has been since CM Punk walked into the Rosemont Horizon In 2011, even with so many angles to play with that could have led to countless interesting story paths, we got the same Roman Reigns match we’ve been watching for at least the last two years. Face comes back, ref bump, interference, false finish then distraction, spear, Reigns wins (LOL). Not even the slightest deviation from the same routine. You could have run a tape with Danielson, Edge, Kevin Owens, AJ Styles or Drew McIntyre. We’ve seen it all before.
And you know deep down WWE thought it was lame enough for a post-match angle where Owens saves Sami from being attacked and they get one last shot at Reigns so everyone can cheer at the end instead of raining (pun somewhat intended) down the end of the show. It’s the half-assed 50/50 booking that New York has specialized in for the better part of the last decade, and that we thought would change under Triple H, but it didn’t. It’s spineless. “We’re not going to take the titles away from Roman, even though it’s led up to this point, but we’re going to give this crowd a bite to eat afterwards so they can have fun cheering for their guy.” He taps into everything that makes sense.
They couldn’t even get anything going with Jey Uso, who has a multi-layered history with both Zayn and his cousin Reigns. He came in and both teased Reigns or Zayn and ended up doing nothing. And it’s the same old lament from WWE pouring out afterward, “Let’s see what they do with this.” Well, most of us are tired of seeing it and then being left with the same thing.
All the Rhodes they could take
A great story can be told, according to which Roman can only bring down the whole company from within. From someone who was beneath him at one point, someone he once trusted, but someone who truly knows what he really is. Jey Uso, or Zayn, or Seth Rollins. They have played with all this recently. Jey is the family member who saw through the facade. Zayn, who was brought in, who was finally removed just enough to see that the emperor had no clothes. Rollins is the former partner that Reigns has never been able to solve and has always been one step behind. Reigns has carved out such a powerful force over the past three years that only those who truly know where the weak points are can be a threat. Any of these would be a great story to tell.
Instead, we have Cody Rhodes parachuting his sophisticated George Carlin “my dad” routine. WWE is so focused on their “moments” and the moments they envision, and they have a perfect vehicle in Rhodes, who also only deals with moments that don’t have any scaffolding underneath to really matter. you can’t tell when she’s wearing a better foundation than staring at her face.
WWE will say that giving Zayn a match like this in Montreal is better than main-eventing Mania. Horse shit. Zayn is so talented and so loved that he could turn any arena or stadium into Montreal behind him. They say he’s going to be an even bigger star after that, and now he’s going to be a main event player for a long time. He may be that good, but who else has done it? Where are Reigns’ past feuds now? Danielson in another company, McIntyre in the Intercontinental scene, Styles on hiatus, Owens bouncing in and out of the main event scene. Rollins now has to put up with Logan Paul after months of using his considerable talent to make the Austin Theory seem viable in any way.
Sure, there are a few ways to save this. Add Sami to the Rhodes-Reigns match. Get involved. Fuck him to turn around to dunk over Rhodes (least likely, but anything to distract Cody!). But they don’t do anything. Because quite a few people believe in “let’s see where they go with it” what they will see, even if it never ends, never pays off.
WWE went back to the quintessential wrestling storyline last night, but that storyline always ends with the face defeating the heel. This is the business. You invest people in his journey, his pursuits and his challenges, and then one day it all comes together for catharsis. There couldn’t have been a bigger catharsis than Sami in Montreal. WWE forgot or deliberately ignored one of the rules. More proof that they don’t care what the fans want, only what they want. Which doesn’t make it storytelling at all.