And so it ends; not with a bang; but for chants for Shinsuke Nakumura
And so it came to pass that after the Rumble Triple H was the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, having won the match in the 2017 Royal Rumble.
Of course, it was blindingly obvious who he would face- he'd face the winner of the Royal-
Oh, I see a problem...
Basically, the obvious choice was Roman. We could all see that it would be Roman vs Hunter for the title. But how to get there? Would he have to run some sort of gauntlet like Daniel Bryan did? Would the Authority try to screw him around, like they did when he had the title?
Erm, no. Stephanie just announced that Roman, Dean Ambrose and Brock Lesnar would face off in a Triple Threat at Fast Lane to determine a number one contender.
See, one of the annoying things about the Authority is that creatively they are trying to have it both ways. Two months ago they were trying all sorts of shenanigans to get that damn belt off Roman, including special referees, stables and more. Now that he no longer has the belt, the Authority is willing to shrug their shoulders and give him a #1 Contenders' Match because it's apparently 'best for business'. Why are they all of a sudden willing to be let bygones be bygones and essentially let Reigns walk back into the title picture when they have been so damn single-minded in getting him out of it?
And what was worse was that you put Roman in there with Dean Ambrose and Brock Lesnar. Who in their right mind thought that out of those three Roman would be the one to get cheered? Because they did put a great match at Fast Lane, but it didn't help Roman much (particularly since he seemed to just get up after five chair shots and a Kimura to spear Ambrose for the pin).
Now, what was not known until later was that Roman had some concerns with a deviated septum and needed a surgery. Additionally, some of the next few Raws were in some pretty unfriendly cities for Reigns and so the notion of Roman taking a couple of weeks off may have seemed rather tempting. So they got Triple H on the Raw after Fast Lane to essentially beat ten tons of crap out of him.
Unfortunately, if this was a way to get heat onto Hunter...it backfired.
It didn't help that Triple H came out in his leather jacket and jeans looking every ounce the bad-ass babyface, nor did it help that Roman was, like the Rumble, made to look worried and concerned by Triple H rather than defiant. It also didn't help that Triple H mocked Roman's stupid pump-action fist thing before giving him the crotch chop, a gesture that had more in common with Triple H's days in D-X than it ever did during his tenure as COO of WWE. So naturally, the crowd ate all of this it up as a chance to tell the WWE what exactly they thought of the so-called next big thing (sorry Brock) and to essentially say to Vince "well, you may be booking this shit, but don't expect us to roll over and accept it".
But at least Roman was off TV. Trouble is, with Roman off (and thus unavailable to contribute to a build), there needed to be some impetus behind the feud. How did WWE solve this? By shoehorning a whole other feud in between.
And guess who it involved?
I think the thinking behind the whole Triple H/Ambrose program was an attempt to generate heat on the Game via proxy (or patsy, if you were more sympathetic to Ambrose's treatment). And, look I know people will claim that it was a way for everyone to have their cake and eat it too, and it even gave Ambrose a couple of weeks as the company's de facto top babyface, the fact of the matter was that WWE was dangling a carrot in front of the universe's face with the most over babyface in the company. Soooo while the company may have hoped that the universe would boo the hell out of Hunter, there was every chance that the crowd would have seen Reigns as the 'less desirable challenger'. Which is of course what happened when Dean was beaten by Triple H.
And while all this was going on, suddenly:
Yes Shane O'Mac and his wonderful fly swatting was back on WWE television, and he managed to get himself into a Hell in a Cell match with the Undertaker for control of Monday Night Raw. So, while Roman and Triple H may have been fighting for the title, Shane was fighting to see if he could get rid of the damn Authority once and for all.
Just think about that. No more Stephanie burying every second talent on the freakin' roster. No more loooooong Triple H promos. No more Corporate Kane in- actually just no more Corporate Kane. We could have heels that wouldn't be subsumed by the whole Authority bollocks (See Rollins, Seth) and maybe we could focus a little bit more on the workers who have their future in front of them.
Add to that another match where that pesky Dean Ambrose was going to get in a Street Fight with the Beast and it was really hard to keep the relevance mostly on the Roman/Triple H stuff. Because, unlike the other two matches, most of the universe could see where the thing was going and couldn't really see a way that it could change.
What were they going to do? Turn Roman heel? Against the Authority? Not likely. But there was the nagging doubt that maybe Taker would lie down and allow Shane to take over Raw, or maybe, in his crazed twisted No DQ World, Dean would be able to take Brock to school and give the Beast one hell of a fright, or maybe even beat him.
By the time Wrestlemania rolled around, Roman and Hunter had none of that doubt going for them. Could the match turn it around.
Put it this way, I think Triple H's Roadblock match against Dean Ambrose did much more for Ambrose than the Mania match did for Roman (until Lesnar acted like a sook and basically pissed a lot of that momentum away).
The Roadblock match is a telling match in Ambrose and Triple H's career. While he won the match the story he and Ambrose told was wonderful. The fact that Ambrose got under his skin. The targeting of Hunter's legs to set up the figure four and the Sharpshooter (it was in Toronto after all). The fact that Ambrose almost won the damn thing but for the fact that his legs were underneath the rope, and how his mistake allowed Triple H to just snag a victory, a fact that Triple H sold wonderfully post-match as he crawled up the ramp, desperately clutching his title.
Y'see Triple H is a guy who loves epic matches. His best matches therefore, particularly in later years, are mostly not against the best wrestlers, but the best psychologists- guys who are able to add flavour through their character quirks and selling to make the match seem significant. It's one of the reasons I want to see Hunter go up against Bray Wyatt. Anyway, Ambrose has his character down pat, and so the two of them were able to tell a remarkably accessible, but interesting story in the ring.
The thing is...Roman has never really been able to establish a deep character like a Dean Ambrose, or a Bray Wyatt, or a Cactus Jack, or an Undertaker. His character, is rather...one paced. So while with Ambrose or Foley Triple H can seem like the straight man to the colourful face, against Reigns you are essentially trying to generate interest between two guys who in the ring often lack the quirks to make a match more interesting (hence why I prefer Jericho to Triple H).
This wasn't particularly helped by the fact that the 'Best for Business' Authority had suddenly gone all Beyond-Thunderdome-Meets-Bizarre-Orwellian-Knockoff with Stephanie telling everyone that they only existed to serve the Authority.
It was the sort of promo that Bray Wyatt or Ministry Undertaker could have pulled off (with a bit of re-targeting), but Stephanie just sounded like she was trying waaaaay too hard to try and put over a main event, despite the fact that it totally went against the tone of the event they were building up for freakin' ages. Oh, and it goes on for waaaaaaay too long. I remember when she introduced Triple H at Wrestlemania 30 with a simple 50 second announcement at the beginning of the show. This is a crowd that has been there for over FIVE HOURS and you're doing this now?!
Anyway, the Game comes out with another ludicrous entrance (this year involving skull wearing dudes with replica belts) before Roman comes out to a chorus off boos and some silly gimmicky where he does the whole pump action fist thing before punching the star to set off some fireworks.
It didn't alleviate the crowd...
There is a sort of idea to the beginning of the match, with Triple H essentially playing mind games with Roman. The problem is that Roman seems to be ok with the idea of going along with it and it just slows everything to a crawl. So much of the first few minutes is just grapple holds and looking at each other intensely. With Dean Ambrose it worked because he had the personality along with Triple H to carry it off (including grabbing Hunter's nose at one point), and it would feed into the longer narrative of Ambrose getting under Triple H's skin.
And then when it does get to the next stage of the match, Reigns...doesn't really up the pace of the match and keeps just hitting Triple H with that damn right hand. All this time the commentary team is talking about Reigns' "natural athleticism" but when Reigns is on the offensive, the match still seems really slow (those corner clotheslines across Triple H's throat are a particular big bear of mine).
Of course, Triple H gets Roman low while Stephanie distracts the ref and Triple H begins targeting the nose because of Roman's surgery while working a methodical pace. And by methodical, I mean quite slow.
When Hunter faced Ambrose, these sections were broken up enough by flurries of Ambrose offence that got the crowd interested. But Roman, for all his good points, doesn't really have the move set to actually switch things around. So while Triple H is on top, all you get from Reigns is a lot of that right hand.
And if you think I'm making too much of this, I was two thirds of the way through the match before I saw the second offensive move from Roman that did not involve his right arm or shoulder making contact (it was a boot, incidentally- the first was a Drive-By).
Look, I know not every superstar can be AJ Styles, but if you are going to book a match with a guy who favours a few moves, then don't accentuate it. Find interesting ways that the moves can be incorporated into the match that might not have been seen before. And when it is a big show, maybe show a little something extra to make people realise that you have that extra move or two in the bag for the big occasion. And also, find ways to make him more interesting as a character so you can fill in those moments when a headlock is going on, or when you're opponent is on the ground.
This match did none of those things. In fact at some points the booking looked like it was taking the piss. At one stage Roman and Triple H were brawling outside the ring and Roman threw Hunter into the steps. He then proceeded to roll Hunter in, who rolled out again to avoid Roman. Roman chased him and caught up only to get...thrown into the steel steps.
Then they have a big moment where Roman spears Triple H into the barricade, and both just crawl back into the ring to beat the ten count, only for there to suddenly be a tete-a-tete between Roman and the ref (and Stephanie just being irritating) about whether Roman should forfeit. Meanwhile Hunter is totally prone on the other side of the ring, but let's check on the guy who's making his way to his feet.
Of course the whole thing was done so that Hunter could recover and slap on a submission, but why not just sell being hurt? Did they think Stephanie wasn't getting enough of the limelight? Why did they have to go into this whole dull back and forth (I imagine it was ten times worse if you were there). You just had a spectacular spot and you could have had all this momentum but you suddenly called everything to a halt again so Stephanie could get on camera (again).
Sorry, anyway, Hunter slapped submission after submission on Reigns while the crowd chanted for various WWE superstars. Reigns however, continued to power out and soon after hit Triple H with a spear and a certain 3 count...had Stephanie not pulled the ref out of the ring.
Now, this next bit many people like. I personally have mixed feelings about it.
So Stephanie continues to harangue the ref after he walks away from her. Which again takes up time for Hunter to get to his feet only to see Roman charging at him. Hunter and the ref dodge and Stephanie takes the full brunt of it to the cheers of the crowd.
Look, I can see why they did it. It was bound to get a cheer. But it also just emphasises the difference between this match and the Ambrose match in that Ambrose didn't need to resort to cheap gimmickry to win the crowd over. The fact that this was needed to get a big pop from the audience should have given WWE pause for thought.
Reigns then kicks out of the Pedigree and soon after speared Hunter out of his boots for the championship to the chorus of people leaving the stadium or booing.
The sad thing is, Roman deserves much better than the shite he has been stuck with. But nobody has been willing to let him win hearts and minds organically. Instead, Roman has either been put over more beloved baby faces at the time (Bryan, Ambrose) or he has been set up as some saviour for a company that until he came along we really were unaware needed saving.
Daniel Bryan, CM Punk and Steve Austin resisted the Authority because they wanted to get what they were due. Nobody really thought Roman was due anything, and before we could make up our minds, WWE tried to force a story to claim that he was.
Just turn him heel already.
And that's the end of article 75! After this analytical seriousness we are going to look at the art of comedy in the Wrestlemania main event and how, like in most art forms it's all about (a lack of) timing and
hitting missing your cues.
See you then!
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?