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Historically Significant Disasters of Wrestling #90: The Lesnar/Reigns Feud of 2018, Part One

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Ross and Rachel didn't have as many 'will they/won't they' moments...

The WrestleMania coronation can strap a rocket to a rising star's back. It did for Steve Austin; it did for Becky Lynch; and it looks like it has for Drew McIntyre. Roman Reigns on the other hand has had four attempts at same coronation and every time it hasn't really worked. At Mania 31 he found himself caught underneath the wheels of the Daniel Bryan return train and the more WWE tried to make him look great, the more the crowd pushed against it to the point where Seth Rollins had to parachuted in. At Mania 32 he had suffered because WWE thought that when he was getting plaudits finally they could shove him down the throat by having him defend his title in the Royal Rumble- something that they didn't get Rock, Austin, Hogan or Cena to do when they were at the peak of their overness before having a bland match with Triple H at WrestleMania 32. At Mania 33 the whole "whose yard is it" feud was overshadowed by the real life obviousness that his opponent's body was falling apart and Roman beating ten types of crap out of him with a chair looked reeeeeeaaaaaalllll uncomfortable. And 34? Well, we'll see...

But before we get to that, let's talk about this guy:

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At WrestleMania 33 Brock Lesnar got his revenge on Goldberg, winning the Universal Championship and once again establishing himself at the top of the Raw food chain. But in doing so he began picking at a scab that his return had made for the WWE until it had become a full blown wound,

Y'see anyone who faces Brock Lesnar is essentially being placed in a legit sports feud in the bubble of a sports entertainment program. In other words, while the rest of the WWE really runs on stories, Brock runs on titles- getting them and holding them. And this is fine for Brock cause he comes in for a few weeks to hype a match and then goes away again. But his opponents on the other hand have to then front up a week later and feel like part of the furniture. And because of this, there's really no way that these workers can grow and redeem yourselves.

Put it this way: imagine the Avengers went to fight Thanos in Infinity War and lost and then came back to Earth...only to find that the world didn't care that half the population was gone and that Captain America was now going to be doing police procedure work. That's how it essentially felt every time Samoa Joe/Roman Reigns/Finn Balor/Braun had to go back to face the rest of the roster. And Heyman can promo the other guy all he likes, because the next time we see Brock he will be exactly the same because he has months to recover. As a result, it doesn't look like these matches have really taken a physical or psychological toll on Lesnar and make him seem less like a badass wrestler and more like the Death Egg from Sonic the Hedgehog 2- big and certainly powerful, but devoid of growth and personality. And what made it worse was what was happening to the guy that Vince had continued to earmark to take the title off him.

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Y'see, there is no doubt that by having Reigns beat (and supposedly retire) the Undertaker they were saying to fans that Reigns had essentially proven himself worthy of the mantle of Beast Slayer. And if kayfabe and crowd perceptions had aligned, Reigns probably would have got the belt at Money in the Bank or SummerSlam. However, what people saw at WrestleMania 33 was an aging warrior that was doing his darndest to put over a guy who the audience was not so much angry at as just bored with because the audience had realized that their opinions were kinda secondary to Vince's rescue project. So the man who supposedly retired the Undertaker lost the next month clean to Braun Strowman because Roman needed a new redemption arc in order to make him sympathetic because beating up a 50+ year old man hadn't done it. This led to a year where WWE had to legitimize Roman as a fan favourite by having him win against John Cena in an...ok match while reuniting with the Shield before a virus took him out for TLC.

So when 2018 came around, you had a champ that was keeping the main event in a holding pattern, and a successor who despite their best efforts got his best pop when he came out as part of.a reunion tour for a stable that had been essentially defunct for 3 years. Or to put it another way the guy who had the title seemed to be hampering future prospects, and the future champion's exploits only seemed to prove that he was more over 3 years ago. And what was worse that it wasn't like the WWE had no idea this might happen because it had happened for the LAST THREE YEARS. In other words, if you were going to going to anoint Reigns as the next champion, it may as well have been at SummerSlam 2017 so we could at least get the main event picture moving again.

Instead, at Elimination Chamber Reigns won in the first seven man chamber where Braun Strowman eliminated everyone else to win the chance to face Lesnar at WrestleMania and came on the next night to promo on an absent Lesnar to say that he was an entitled absent champion who he didn't respect! And this is a story that would work ok except the WWE (through Reigns) kept on over-egging the pudding to the point where Roman would do promos about how Brock isn't here and then get in Vince McMahon's or Kurt Angle's face about how Brock wasn't there, as if they were his babysitter and it was a vast conspiracy where Reigns and the fans were being dudded. If you wanted to make Reigns look good, have him fight up and comers in contrast to Lesnar who no-shows. If you have a guy who turns up only to pout about the fact that champ is not there, particularly since this has been the status quo since he came back, he's just going to look desperate.

And what is worse is all this does is show that WWE has resigned itself to the fact that they can't argue why Reigns should be the champion, they can only argue why Lesnar should not be the champion. So rather than make Reigns look badass (like McIntyre did in the lead up to this year's Mania), they kept on having him being beaten to gain sympathy as if to say "Look! Look at that cad Lesnar!".

And while this was happening, others's pushes ground to a halt.

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Strowman caught fire in 2017 as everyone realised that the former Black Sheep actually had improved out of sight (I mean he wasn't Bret Hart, but he was much better than he was), but instead of giving him a meaningful feud that would push him to the next level, they fed him to Lesnar three times over 2017 and 2018. No worker suffered more by fighting Brock Lesnar than Braun (apart from perhaps Roman, as we will see). Essentially the WWE positioned him as the Giant Gonzales to Brock and Roman's Undertaker- a big massive guy for Brock to overcome to show how badass he was.

But all this would have been mostly forgivable if at WrestleMania 34 Vince and co. did something. They could have:

  1. Turned Roman heel with Paul Heyman as part of a Corporate panic that Brock was going to go away with the title again.
  2. Had Brock win dirty because of interference from (insert hot new property here) which would give Roman a new feud
  3. Or finally, just held their damn nose and given Roman the damn title like they had been planning for a whole year.
See, the thing is that what all these HSDoW articles have made me realise is that Roman's best periods post-Shield have occured when he's left well enough alone. Unfortunately, the lead up to Mania 31 did not dissuade Vince and co to take a permanent step back from Roman like they did with the ascension of Austin and the Rock to let the workers breathe. And it wasn't that the WWE were trying to make Roman a beloved babyface; it was they were trying to do this like Roman had just left the Shield in 2014, rather than 2018.

So this was the main event of an already 4.5+ hour show (that doesn't even count pre-show) that saw the two Royal Rumble winners lose to up and comers AJ Styles and Charlotte Flair. Because Lord knows Asuka and Shinsuke are just charisma vacuums.

Jesus...

In any case, what followed was a match where it almost seemed like Vince was at Gorilla position on the phone going "Brock's winning- No Roman- No Brock- No Roman!!!!!!!" The whole match screamed of indecision and rebooking, with Vince being petrified that whoever won, the other would look worse off (obviously Vince had forgotten about the fact they are in sports entertainment...).

The match starts at 100km/hr, probably to try and zap some life into the crowd (most of which had been watching wrestling for 6 hours), with Brock hitting 3 germans before Roman hits 3 Superman punches and then clotheslining Brock over the rope (to which Brock takes a fantastic bump), before Brock then counters again into some suplexes. This of course moves into the next phase of the match the "babyface shows resolve by getting the crap beat out of them" part of the match. And I realise that this is a staple of lots of wrestling matches but with a heel like Lesnar and a face like Reigns...the trouble is that between all of the suplexes and superman punches, there's...not much. If anything this match lacks a rest hold or two. Every move is high impact, sure but there's no real feeling of babyface pluck or heel cunning. Just both wrestlers doing things that they know work more or less and ignoring the fact that the guy opposing them is supposed to be really good.

Eventually Roman turns the tables and spears Brock over the table before giving Lesnar 2 more spears in the ring which Lesnar kicked out of before Lesnar counters a third spear with a knee. Lesnar than attempts to pin Roman after 3 separate F-5s, all of which Roman kicks out of.

Now keep in mind that nobody had kicked out of an F-5 for a year. And WWE decided to then (as usual) remove all subtlety by having Roman essentially be seen as three times better than anyone else on their roster. And they wonder why the poor bastard gets booed.

But of course, that's not enough to show how wonderful Roman is. So Lesnar gives him a 4th on the announce table, a german suplex and a 5th back in the ring before once again Roman kicks out. By this time the crowd had moved thoroughly against the match with chants of "Boring" being heard in the crowd, with the crowd more interested in beach balls than Roman kicking out. Which is made all the more ludicrous by the fact that the MMA guy didn't try ground and pound until the last few minutes of the match, nor did he slap on a submission at all.

So Brock busts Roman open and then Roman counters an F-5 for two more spears and then gets a close 2 count before going for another spear which is counted for a 6th F-5 for a pin. Fun fact: the match went for approx. 16 minutes, or about 1 min 20 sec per finisher. And despite the fact Brock was hit with FIVE SPEARS (Jesus Christ) he walked out with no assistance or even bloody limp.

The best thing that can be said about this match is clearly they learned from it for the McIntyre/Lesnar match at this year's Mania. If you're going to spam finishers, do a fast frenetic 6 minute match and be done with it. And what was even funnier is that Brock didn't even want the fucking title, apparently throwing it at Vince McMahon as he stormed past him in Gorilla because he thought he didn't need it (he's right) and it was stopping him from pursuing other interests (also right). It was the right Mania to slap the title on Roman because the fans didn't have to cheer him- they could cheer the fact that they could see the Universal Title back on their screens and a little less logjam at the top of the Raw card. They could cheer the fact that suplex city could finally have been seen to run its course. And they could cheer Roman because (perversely) they would know that from there it could only come off Roman and onto (perhaps) a newer talent.

And despite all this, Vince blinked and decided that Roman's chase- the chase that he had in many ways embarked on since Royal Rumble 2015- was not complete enough. And for some bizarre reason another few months of horrific finishers, top card stagnation and ludicrous booking was just what was needed.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

#1 Owen Hart vs Stone Cold @ SummerSlam '97
#2 December to Dismember 2006
#3 The Fingerpoke of Doom
#4 The Scott Steiner vs HHH Feud
#5 Ryback vs Mark Henry @ WrestleMania XXIX
#6 Bret Hart vs Vince McMahon @ WrestleMania XXVI
#7 The Jerry Lawler/Michael Cole Feud
#8 The Curtain Call
#9 Bash at the Beach 2000
#10 Royal Rumble 2014
#11 Warrior/Hogan II @ Halloween Havoc
#12 The Cena/Laurinatis Feud
#13 The Firing of Ric Flair From WCW
#14 The Brogue Kick of Doom
#15 Lesnar vs Goldberg @ WrestleMania XX
#16 Immortal Revealed @ Bound for Glory 2010
#17 Sting vs Hogan @ Starrcade 1997
#18 Triple H vs Booker T @ WrestleMania 19
#19 The Corre
#20 The Undertaker vs Big Boss Man @ WrestleMania 15
#21 Jeff Hardy vs Sting @ Victory Road 2011
#22 Road Wild 1999
#23 The John Cena/Kane Feud of 2012
#24 Hulk Hogan's Mancow Interview of 1999
#25 CM Punk vs the Rock @ Elimination Chamber 2013
#26 The Reign of Bill Watts in WCW
#27 The Claire Lynch Affair Part One And Two
#28 Triple H vs Kevin Nash @ TLC 2011
#29 The Cactus Jack Amnesia Angle
#30 Hulk Hogan Leaving TNA
#31 HBK vs Hulk Hogan @ SummerSlam 2005
#32 David Arquette: WCW Champion
#33 Katie Vick
#34 nWo Souled Out 1997
#35 The Vampiro/Sting Feud of 2000
#36 Once in a Lifetime, Episode II
#37 The Angle/Jarrett Feud of 2010/11
#38 The McMahon/Lashley Feud
#39 The Shockmaster
#40 CM Punk vs Ryback @ Hell in a Cell 2012
#41 Hulk Hogan vs Roddy Piper @ Starrcade 1996
#42 The WWE Championship Reign of Diesel
#43 Cena vs the Wyatts
#44 The Main Roster Run of Emma
#45 The WCW Run of Bret Hart
#46 John Cena vs the Miz @ WrestleMania 27
#47 The Lone Wolf AJ Styles
#48 Alberto Del Rio vs Jack Swagger @ WrestleMania 29
#49 The Transition of Mike Awesome from ECW to WCW
#50 The Dolph Ziggler Conundrum Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five
#51 The Rise and Fall of Damien Sandow/Mizdow Part One and Part Two
#52 DDP & Jay Leno vs Hollywood Hogan & Eric Bischoff @ Road Wild 1998
#53 Triple H vs Randy Orton @ WrestleMania 25
#54 Lord Tensai
#55 LOD 2000
#56 Sid Vicious vs Scott Steiner @ Starrcade 2000
#57 Bret Hart vs Yokuzuna (feat. Hulk Hogan) @ WrestleMania 9
#58 Royal Rumble 2015
#59 The Crucifixion of the Sandman
#60 Brock Lesnar's First Year Back in WWE
#61 Bo Dallas' Main Roster Run
#62 Vince Russo vs Booker T for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship
#63 Randy Orton vs the Big Show @ Survivor Series 2013
#64 AJ Styles vs Abyss @ Destination X 2010
#65 EV 2.0
#66 The Summer of Punk Part 1; Part 2; Part 3
#67 The Lex Express
#68 Goldberg's first WWE Run
#69 Paige's Main Roster Run 2014-2016
#70 Seth Rollins' First World Title Run
#71 Hulk Hogan vs Sgt Slaughter @ WrestleMania VII
#72 Sting vs Abyss in a Last Rites Match
#73 The Undertaker vs Big Show in the Punjabi Prison
#74 Ric Flair vs Hollywood Hogan @ Uncensored 1999
#75 Roman Reigns' Road to WrestleMania 32 Part One, Part Two. Part Three
#76 Hulk Hogan vs Sid Justice @ WrestleMania VIII
#77 Muhammad Hassan
#78 Sheamus' World Heavyweight Title Reign
#79 The Ghastly Match
#80 Bray Wyatt vs Randy Orton @ Wrestlemania 33
#81 Goldberg vs Steiner vs Nash @ New Blood Rising'
#82 The Lesnar/Angle/Big Show feud of 2002
#83 Aces and Eights
#84 Dean Ambrose vs Brock Lesnar @ WrestleMania 32
#85 Jinder Mahal: WWE Champion Part One, Part Two, Part Three.
#86 DDP & Karl Malone vs Hollywood Hogan & Dennis Rodman.
#87 Triple H vs Sting

#88 The 1992 Run of the Ultimate Warrior

#89 Jenna Morasca vs Sharmell

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

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