"What's that Rock? The segment wasn't working? Oh, I couldn't hear you over all the boos..."
Please note that originally I was going to do a different article, but I thought I'd strike while the iron was hot and talk about this moment while it still seemed relevant.
Often on this site we talk about people being buried. That whatever momentum they've had has come to a crashing halt because creative has essentially taken a dump on them making it infinitely harder for them to reach the top. Well, I would like to propose another term and if it catches on all the better.
An Icarus Moment.
For all those who don't know the story Icarus was the son of Daedalus- the man who built the Minotaur's labyrinth. Daedalus- a brilliant inventor- was imprisoned on the island Minoa (now Crete) by King Minos. To escape, he fashioned two pairs of wings for himself and Icarus to fly to the mainland of Greece. Icarus, however, became dazzled by the sensation of flying and wanted to see how high he could go- despite the warnings of his father. He flew higher and higher- getting closer to the sun until the wax which held his wings together melted and he plunged to his death.
Like Icarus, sometimes superstars go too close to the sun before they are ready and find themselves vulnerable to what follows.
I think we all know where this is heading...
Strap in cause this is going to be a long one...
By the end of February 2014, the Shield had essentially moved from corporate shills making Daniel Bryan's life a misery to raging babyface act that the crowd was slavering to see decimate guys like Corporate Kane, the New Age Outlaws, Triple H, Batista and Randy Orton.
The beauty of this was that it was a face program that worked on a few levels. For ages we had been complaining about the prominance of the likes of Kane, Orton as well as the 'new assets' of Batista and the New Age Outlaws simply because it looked like we were still holding on to an era that had gone by 5 or even 8 years ago. The Shield then was a group who could came out and represented the up-and-comers; the NXT alumni whose path was paved by the likes of Punk and Bryan and were demanding that the old men get out of the goddamn way!!
This was crystillised during their two wins over Evolution- a group with 32 world championships between them- with the second of course being a three-nil shut out elimination. No group- thanks to a mixture of good booking and a strange solidarity that arose through the three coming through NXT at the same time and having enough sense to look out for each other- has been so equal and yet so complimentary to each and every performer. Ambrose was the talker of the group as well as the one who would often start matches with his twisted offence. Rollins was the best wrestler and would sell like a motherfucker for whoever he was in the ring with while amazing the crowd with a dazzling array of moves. Reigns was the silent badass who would end matches with the hot tag.
And then Seth Rollins turned his back on it all for his 30 pieces of silver.
Fast forward to January of 2015 and Seth Rollins was Mr Money in the Bank and about to wrestle John Cena and Brock Lesnar in the Royal Rumble triple threat while Dean Ambrose was just off a well-wrestled but creatively bankrupt feud with Bray Wyatt but loved through and through by the WWE Universe.
And what about our friend Roman?
Well, after a decent match against Randy Orton at Summerslam, Reigns actually suffered a hernia, scuppering any chances of a potential Reigns/Rollins feud.
The trouble was that he never bloody left our television sets.
In a way, I can see why this idea may have been identified as a good one. You're trying to label him as the next big face of the company and so the notion of doing some legit live crosses addressing how his rehab is going may sound like a good thing.
But on the other hand you are painting a massive target on his back for the fans too. Because plenty of people get injured but few get this sort of treatment. And it wasn't just for one or two weeks building up to his return, this was throughout his absence, including a big interview during Survivor Series to announce his return in a month. Not even Daniel Bryan announced his return at a major PPV.
Why not just do a couple of good video packages announcing his return in a month? Why go through all this rigmarole?
And then the target got infinitely bigger when this happened.
Here is a list of guys I think were more deserving:
Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt. Those five took me all of two seconds to come up with.
Personally I hate the Slammys (or as I like to call it "Kevin-Dreams-of-Producing-the-Oscars"). They are self-indulgent and invite scorn. I used to like them when there was an element of tongue in cheek about them (when the Undertaker would come out to accept awards in full costume) but now it seems more like Vince's way of flipping the bird to the dirt sheets. And this was a really dumb move because while it was probably Vince's way of trying to push Roman back into the picture, it actually made people do two things.
Firstly they processed what Roman had done and found him wanting compared to others in the company. That by itself is not a huge deal. Oscar winning films are compared to others all the time. However, films don't exist all in the same universe the way wrestlers in WWE do. So the second thing the people said was along the lines of:
"They must be a bit insecure about his ability to make it to the top...I wonder why?"
And with that the audience was given a massive excuse to examine Roman's flaws with a lot more scrutiny.
This would be put to the test when he returned in late December and set up a small feud before the Rumble.
Against the Big Show.
I have nothing against Paul Wight coming in to collect a paycheck. I actually think there's a place for him in the roster (I am kind of surprised no one has thought to do a variation of Jerishow but with an up and coming heel- say like Tyler Breeze with Big Show as his 'entourage').
What I do have a major problem with is the fact that Vince seems to think that a match with the Big Show is the best way to get a future main eventer 'over'. And what was really annoying about this feud is that it seemed to go on and on, like creative had nothing better to give the guy who- let's remember- is supposed to BE THE FUTURE OF YOUR COMPANY!!!
Almost every goddamn week on Raw or Smackdown leading up to the Rumble it seemed the Big Show and Reigns were wrestling. If you thought the AJ/Jericho feud was getting tiresome, at least those were two guys with extensive move sets.
And of course, while this was all happening Vince had decided to play Bard and lumber Roman with some of the most godawful writing in the last decade.
And what made it infinitely worse was the fact that he did it most of the time against Seth Rollins, who was by this stage of his heel run was actually cutting some good promos (this was before he was essentially cutting 20 minute Triple H promos) and Reigns' promos just sucked momentum out of the air.
And what was with the wink to the camera? I haven't even seen the Rock do shit like that, so I don't know why Vince would think Reigns would get away with that.
Well, at least Reigns would have a clear run at the Rumble. I mean, it's not as if there was a blindingly obvious story the fans wanted to see happen.
In early 2015 Daniel Bryan, after a huge layoff with injury announced his intention to enter in the 2015 Royal Rumble match. And with that you had essentially gifted all the smarks their dream story.
Indy wrestler reaches to the top only to be laid low by injury. In the meantime cruel mercenary beast holds company for ransom by managing to best all competitors for the title. In a true David vs Goliath tale the indy wrestler returns and earns the right to challenge for the title he never truly lost. While he suffers all sorts of hardship, he prevails and vanquishes the Beast- ushering in a new era for the company.
The thing doesn't just write itself- it fucking publishes itself and handles the movie rights.
And that's the thing. WWE had set up poor Roman to fight a story that was far more compelling than his was. It was like if someone told Tolkien that "yeah, but instead of the hobbits dropping the ring into Mount Doom after all they've done, why don't we get Legolas to do it because he's prettier?"
Which leads us to the final problem before I actually concentrate on the match (I told you this would be long...)
When the Shield broke up, the guy who actually went to avenge the injustice was not Reigns...but Ambrose. From the start of the split he was defined as a guy who was from the wrong side of the tracks that would die for a cause and had the scars to prove it. Rollins on the other hand was defined as the smug heel who had betrayed the Shield because the notions of brotherhood meant less than his own ambition.
And Roman? Well, he kept the Shield music and the entrance and was defined as...a guy who wanted the title?
And that's the thing. Why should we care about Reigns when he can't seem to move on from the music and costume of his former faction? No potential future main eventer that I can remember has had so much time put in to attempting us to care about him and yet so little in giving us a reason why. What makes him different? What does he have that others don't? Bray Wyatt wants to expose the system for the lie it is; Kevin Owens is a prizefighter willing to do anything to get what he believes he deserves; Chris Jericho believes that he is the Best in the World at what he does and is dismayed that the fans don't appreciate it; Triple H does what's best-ah for business-ah.
It's almost as if Vince McMahon's "So-you-wish-to-make-a-face-of-your-company" book has a few of its pages stuck together...
But onto the Rumble...
Rarely has a Royal Rumble come down to a singular moment- but that was what happened on Philly that night. There was 'Before Bryan's Elimination' and 'After Bryan's Elimination'. Before D-Bry was eliminated the match was actually very good, with some nice wrestling, a couple of cool returns- a nice nod to R-Truth doing the Wassup and the 3D with Bubba Ray Dudley. And they used Wyatt perfectly to run through the lower midcarders and captivate the audience during the early going (Incidentally, I really hope he brings back the 'Whole World in His Hands' if he's turning face to creep heels out) before they released Bryan.
In many ways the first part of the match is actually a real risk because it's actually a little lot of one-on-one matches- eventually while the longer participants get their breath back in the corner. What makes it work really well is the fact that none of the matches go on for too long and when the actual men in the ring moves up to three or four they find quite nice ways of 'subbing in and out'. There's one part where Fandango and Tyson Kidd are going at it while Bray and D-Bry are recovering and Daniel Bryan manages to get up, miss Tyson Kidd but hit Fandango, after which Kidd hits Fandango and takes him out- leading to it then being Bryan and Kidd taking centre stage. It's only at entrant 13 that they begin to have two pairs of guys squaring off at the same time.
Of course soon after that it all goes to Hell.
I can sorta see Vince's thinking in eliminating D-Bry early. He was obviously scared that if it was between Roman and Bryan then Reigns was going to lose out in the fan favourite status. And the fact that Bray eliminated him was no doubt supposed to help him get some really good heat (interestingly, I have to wonder if Vince saw real money in a big feud between these two because if there was a superstar that was Bryan's kryptonite during his last two years with the company it would be Bray). There was several problems with this however.
1) Although Bray did all the right things in trying to absorb the heat onto him, the crowd liked Bray and acknowledged the fact that there really wasn't anything awful about how Bryan was eliminated. Bray didn't cheat like he did this year against Brock. He just saw a guy on the ropes and knocked him off. Obviously Vince wasn't listening to Lillian Garcia when she told the crowd of the point of the Rumble...
2) It runs under the assumption that the best alternative to a Philidephia crowd if it isn't Bryan would be Roman Reigns- and I think that the crowd was going to soon let him know how that idea would pan out...
3) While I said that there wasn't anything awful about the way that Bryan was eliminated in the moral sense (at least from Bray's POV), there was a hell of a lot wrong with it in the booking sense. It was the sort of elimination that seemed to scream 'afterthought' as if, oh I don't know, someone backstage was trying to contrast the pissy elimination of Daniel Bryan to the courageous stand of the eventual winner- thus making us stupid fans see that of course we were wrong- Roman's the real man here.
4) Just from a pure pacing perspective, Bryan was a fast technical wrestler. And if you look at the other wrestlers that came in or were in around his elimination (Goldust, Rusev, Wyatt, Adam Rose, Kofi) they are all talented, but a guy who can launch into a quick flurry of offence may have helped keep the Rumble at a more lively pace. When he goes it slows down quite a bit.
5) It only emphasised the target on Reigns' back because now the Philly fans saw him as having to be coddled to the championship at the expense of everyone else. Something which would become even more clear as the match reached its conclusion.
And the really stupid thing is they don't give the crowd time to stew over the Daniel Bryan defeat or throw in another fan favourite like Ambrose or Ziggler. Instead they throw Reigns to the wolves at entry 19. NINETEEN. Only four entrants after Bryan was eliminated. So...approximately 6-7 minutes. Sometimes one wonders if this is actually sabotage rather than stubborness on the part of Vince...
And they don't make it any easier for him by continuing to fill the ring with big lumbering dudes like Jack Swagger and Ryback. So not only is Roman fairly worse off from the fans to begin with, it essentially pits him against guys whose offence is limited- forcing him to do a lot of working in the turnbuckles rather than any sort of interesting moves that might drag the audience back a bit.
Having said that, it's not as if Roman is doing himself any favours. Guys like Wyatt and Rusev are good at keeping this period of the Rumble somewhat interesting because of their quirks of ring psychology- and the fact that they occasionally get busy in the centre of the ring. Until the end there is genuinely little reason to follow Roman because he doesn't really do anything interesting. Contrast that to the massive cheer when Dean Ambrose comes out and the flurry of offence he gets and how busy he looks- even after others come in and it tells a tale.
But it gets worse of course at entry #29 when the Big Show came out.
Here's the thing. When the thirtieth entrant hits the ring these are the remaining contestants: Bray Wyatt, Dean Ambrose, Cesaro, Dolph Ziggler, Bad News Barrett, Big Show, Kane, Roman Reigns, Rusev (on the outside). I would wager if any of the first four- maybe five of that list won the Rumble the crowd would be somewhat placated. Not entirely satisfied, but definitely placated as they would acknowledge that a main event with one of those guys would be interesting to watch.
So what does Vince do in one of the smarkiest crowd's in America? He gets three of those first four eliminated by two aging creaky monster heels who nobody cares about and everyone knows are not going to main event Wrestlemania with Brock Lesnar. Bray Wyatt? One knockout punch and he's gone; Iron Man or not. Dolph Ziggler? Sure he may have been the hero of Survivor Series but what are you gonna do? Dean Ambrose? Needs to get out of the way- Vince doesn't care about the Shield brethren any more- this is Roman's time.
It was almost as if Vince was trying to hold the audience to ransom "Goddamit, you will cheer Roman Reigns or by God I'll book a Big Show/ Brock Lesnar Main Event at Wrestlemania! Is that what you want?!" And the audience simply called bullshit on his bluff. Instead all it did was make the audience more annoyed that Vince was willing to make the Iron Man of the Rumble, the Hero of Survivor Series and the hottest rising face the company had look like afterthoughts so as to make Kane and Big Show look fearsome. Why couldn't they fight it out amongst themselves? Because of course then someone might get in the way of the guy who the crowd were by now aching to boo out of the building once he won.
And they couldn't even give him a great ending! Instead they had Kane and Big Show have a hissy fit and start hitting each other with some of the weakest punches I have ever fucking seen (which JBL hilariously refers to as "the haymakes landed by these two massive men") before they have each other by the throat and edge oh-so-obviously to the ropes where Reigns comes out of nowhere and throws them over.
Sooo...essentially you can't even give your Royal Rumble winner a massive moment? Instead you have to protect Kane and the Big Show?! What the fuck is that?!
Of course, they weren't really protecting Big Show and Kane- they were just allowing them to be fed to someone else.
Sooo...The reason that Reigns couldn't have a great ending (which, everyone in the crowd knew wasn't the ending- instead chanting "we want Rusev!") was so that they could bring the Rock out to lay the Smack down on Big Show and Kane.
See the thing is, the Rock is beyond sports entertainment now- with his own brand to maintain. And this was no doubt a partly unselfish act to help his cousin get over. And as such if I was Rock I would also feel a little...used. Like Vince had a strange feeling that his Golden Child wasn't going to get over the way he thought and he'd send ol' Dwayne into the lion's den as a sort of hostage negotiator. Because no one would boo the Rock right?
Philly just shrugged their shoulders and once again called 'bullshit' on Vince's bluff. In that moment the Rock was not the 'People's Champion' but 'some-ex-wrestler-here-to-try-and-treat-us-like-simpletons'. So not only did Reigns not have a great moment during the Rumble he won, the reason he didn't turned out to be a bust too.
What this showed is that Vince thought about what the lesson from the previously year's Rumble was...and proceeded to do everything in his power to make it worse. The actual match is better overall that 2014's- which frankly could not get off the ground. But the damage done was worse because all of the crowd favourites were essentially shunted aside so that Roman could ascend.
But in doing so, Vince made him go too close to the sun.
And he's been plummeting ever since.
And that ends an epic article 58! Next time I am going back to Philidelphia to talk about one of the most controversial moments in one of the most controversial companies in history.
But I'd also like some suggestions for Episode 60!
What I am looking for is a PPV main event from any company that is not WWE. I would love to hear your suggestions in the comment box below!
In the mean time thanks for reading!
The InVasion Saga
Article One: Shane has a surprise for Daddy
Article Two: Booker T vs Buff Bagwell and the Temple of Boos
Article Three: Daddy's little Girl Gets in on the Action
Article Four: "WHY AUSTIN DAMMIT?! WHY?!