Where WWE Creative began mistaking the Big Dog for Daniel Bryan...
In January 2015, Roman Reigns won the Royal Rumble to a chorus of massive cheers. As his cousin, the Rock, embraced him in the ring, the WWE Universe stood up and applauded the new face of the company, who would take World Wrestling Entertainment to new and incredible heights.
What's that? Oh, I am being told that my sources are slightly awry...
Of course, what actually happened is well known. The WWE then made the genius decision to attempt to endorse Roman by having him beat Daniel Bryan and have him and Paul Heyman give skin crawlingly sycophantic promos.
And yet, the crowd continued to hate him. And Wrestlemania 31 got closer.
It was almost as if the fans and Vince were playing chicken with one another, much like the year before. The difference was that last year the fans had a guy who they wanted in the Main Event. In 2015 they wanted a guy out.
At Wrestlemania 31, we all know what happened...
Vince blinked and the WWE Universe was left with a champion that could move the company forward (until, due to a whole lot of reasons, he wasn't) while Brock Lesnar was 'suspended' and then came back to feud with the Undertaker.
But what of Roman Reigns?
In many ways, by putting all their eggs in the Roman Reigns basket, WWE had an odd conundrum on their hands. The temptation would be to bring Roman back down to Earth in order to attempt to give him a redemption arc. However, Roman as a character hadn't really done anything wrong. He didn't lose due to a massive mistake or a moment of hubris a la HBK at Mania 25 or Cena at Mania 28, he lost because Rollins used cheat codes. In other words, as a kayfabe character, Roman really had no real justification to change, but as a future face of the company, Reigns needed to.
Of course, turning Roman heel would have made this a whole lot easier. But this too came with a few problems. For one thing, Wrestlemania had seen Daniel Bryan become Intercontinental Champion and John Cena as United States Champion. So, it's not as if he could just walk into a major push as a heel. And granted, less than a month and a half later Bryan would relinquish the IC Title, but by that stage Reigns was already in the WWE Title picture again. It's the sort of limbo one could expect to find for a worker who no doubt was pencilled in to be the WWE Champion up to the last minute.
So what occurred next was a strange few months where everybody knew Roman was going to get the championship back, and WWE kept on trying to convince them that he wasn't. To be fair, this did result in some great matches, including a fantastic Hell in a Cell match with Bray Wyatt and a hectic Fatal 4 Way where Roman uttered the immortal words "Loser buys the beers" to his friend (and opponent) Dean Ambrose. But because Roman was still was booked infinitely better than anyone full-timer on that roster and made to look so much better than everyone else there was no one that could have been seen as a viable alternative to take that title off Rollins (I mean, were you going to give it to Kane?).
And then Seth got injured. So now someone had to get the title. And since Survivor Series that year seemed to be all about nostalgia, WWE did an update on the Deadly Game tournament that was part of the 1998 show.
And another old favourite reared its ugly head again.
Look, the fact of the matter is that by the time November of 2015 had rolled around we had two and a half years of this goddamn Authority Angle.
"But Vectron!" I hear you cry, "Vince and Austin feuded for three years!"
Well, firstly it wasn't non-stop- Austin took nine months of time off in 1999 and 2000 to rehab his neck. Furthermore, Vince was more than willing to take his share of bumps for the sake of a babyface pop. Triple H takes the occasional one but isn't on TV enough and the less said about Stephanie the better, except to say there is a reason some workers like Ambrose, Wyatt, Harper, the Miz and Corbin are getting over (HINT: it has something to do with the show they are on). Thirdly, McMahon as a character was never, erm, dull and never seemed to dominate the show to the point where we as an audience were questioning who the star was.
And look, I know they are trying to put themselves as the proven people who can make new stars the way that Vince helped Austin to do, but the thing is that not everyone is going to be the Anti-Authoratarian Babyface. It worked with Daniel Bryan because there was an element of truth to the B+ schtick in the eyes of the fans that Triple H (in particular) stoked expertly. It worked with Austin because Vince had screwed Bret Hart and Austin was 'one of us'.
What part of Roman Reigns is going to be seen as a 'B+' player? Or 'one of the people' the way Austin was? And yet, despite all that Hunter and Stephanie sat above this whole thing like a toxic cloud, with Triple H seemingly inviting Roman into a laughable Faustian pact.
It's easy to see why the writers would think this would work from the kayfabe side of things. You can have Triple H come out and tempt Roman, pointing out that the fans don't appreciate him, but the Authority will, if he is willing to sell his soul. However, from a snarky point of view, what you are actually doing is making the whole tournament about Roman and marginalising everybody else. Instead of letting Roman travel under the radar, this just thrust a massive spotlight on him while making the fans wonder what treatment more popular superstars were getting.
Particularly this one:
Look, Vince may have eyes only for Roman but when it comes to the Universe's ideal babyface in late-2015, Roman had nothing on Dean Ambrose. And for some bizarre reason, rather than keep Roman as far away as possible from Dean in order to protect Roman a bit, they continued to make the odd decision to have Ambrose as Roman's tag team buddy, as if popularity can be passed on through osmosis.
And the really stupid things is that when you see them together, either against each other or tag teaming, you see a guy who was part of a kick-ass stable now making his own identity with new music, new outfit and a new character depth...and a guy who seems to suffering from some sort of arrested development where he has kept the same stable music and the same costume and therefore can't forge his own identity!
And, just as an aside for the moment, this is not only having an impact on Roman, but it'll also have an impact on when they do the inevitable Shield reunion. Because when the guys reunite, what music are they going to use? The original? Because that's now Roman's music and with that you've essentially torpedoed the beauty of the stable in the first place- that they were three equals. Oh, and are you going to have them come out in the all-black outfits again? Like the ones Roman has wore even after the Shield split?
And of course you had to put Roman into the tournament final with Dean because...um...No, don't tell me...because...you want Roman to be booed? Why not have Owens beat Ambrose in the semis by nefarious means and then try and get some heat on Owens? Do something for God's sake.
Well, for all that, at least Roman went over with the title. Now you could focus upon getting Reigns on a gradual heel turn, or maybe add some depth to his character in order to make him look like a legit champ.
But that's part two.
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?