Saudi or Bust...
So when we last left, Vince had suffered from a massive bout of analysis paralysis that resulted in one of the most emotionless and vacuous WrestleMania main events in history that left the WWE Universe stuck with a status quo that they were thoroughly sick of.
So the question was, where did you go from there? As I said during Part One, once Lesnar left the danger would be that Roman would just become one of the workers again and the gloss of pushing Brock to the limit would wear off too. So what did WWE do instead? Book him in a Brock feud and another feud! Against a returning worker no less!
The night after Mania 34, after being beaten clean by Brock Lesnar the night before, Roman complained that Vince signed Lesnar to another deal behind his back and that he learned of his rematch for the title on "the Internet" before complaining that Vince should have been honest and told him, implying that...it would have made him fight better if he had no distractions? And then the guy above came out and verbally destroyed him in a way that was...exquisite. While Roman whined and speculated wildly, Joe spoke in plain facts. While Roman complained that he didn't learn about his rematch face to face, Joe pointed out that he was lucky to get a rematch at all.
Of course, we eventually found out that it was Lesnar who requested Reigns to have a rematch, but by this stage after two verbal pummellings by Joe the crowd's own antipathy towards Reigns had hardened and Joe looked more and more like the badass the crowd wanted to get behind. I think the idea was for Joe to be Brock's hype man by proxy. But the problem is, that Joe is so good at promos and Roman's character was so staid that it made Roman's posturing seem faintly ridiculous.
And speaking of ridiculous posturing...
There's plenty to be said on the WWE's deal with Saudi Arabia (and there's at least 2 more articles forthcoming that deal with this pact), but suffice to say I think that aside from the massive human rights questions (if the best you can do is say that the WWE will bring some sort of equity and democracy to Saudi Arabia than you are in a real moral minefield), the main issue here is one of booking dissidence. Y'see the thing is, with Beast in the East or the Australian Super Showdown there was always an idea that these were a level above house shows but not Big-4 worthy PPVs. Instead they would feature a couple of big matches featuring locally born (or trained) talent as well as some part timers coming over to increase the spectacle. These Saudi shows, on the other hand, have almost been treated as some parallel WWE, where titles like the Tuwaiq Mountain Trophy and the WWE World Cup mean almost bubcus in the greater scheme of things but are part of a show that is treated by the announcers as the equal of WrestleMania- if not bigger. But how do you then reconcile that with a viewing public that may be fairly turned off by the whole deal, due to its obscenity and its moral issues. It is no coincidence that out of five Saudi shows, and thus 10 world title matches, the titles have only changed hands three times- once because it was vacant (Brock vs Braun); once because the crowd had totally turned off the champ (Seth vs Fiend); and once because the challenger had an inflated view of his own worth and Jesus why didn't Vince just tell Goldberg where to shove it (and don't worry, we'll ask that in a later article)?!?!
In other words, the WWE has been very reluctant to opt for a top title change at Saudi unless they have been booked into a corner. And it was made worse in this case by what was happening with the other championship.
This was a funny time for the men's main roster world titles. Essentially you had two challengers that the audience thought were ready to take the top belts only for Vince to say "nah". But rather than add some new challengers, or add some spice to the storyline, we had a WWE Title feud that could be boiled down to 'nut shots' and an Universal Title feud that could be boiled down to 'the WWE is out to get me! Waaah!!'. And considering the caliber of the 4 workers, the WWE were essentially wasting resources.
But screw it, let's get on with it.
The first thing that must be addressed is that if you are going to book two people in a cage, most fans will think that there's going to be a clear winner because how are you going to raise the stakes any higher afterwards?! So in normal circumstances Vince had a decision- stick with Brock and give Roman another clean loss or have Roman crowned halfway across the world in a PPV that people felt a little queasy about. You'd almost sympathise for him if he didn't make the rod for his own back.
And so it came to pass, with Michael Cole, true to form, taking only 2 seconds when Roman appeared to exult him as the Big Dog (thank God he's turned heel...). Both competitors come out to a TON of pyro (seriously it's big even by Mania standards), and the commentators and Paul Heyman do their best to put over the big fight feel of the match. They also do their best to remind people that they've only seen this match twice before.
While their Mania match started out at 100km/hr, the match at Saudi has a moment of feeling out before Lesnar hits Roman with a few suplexes and makes Roman look like a chump, essentially dissecting him in the middle of the ring while the commentators tell the viewers that he could walk out at any time. Soooo...we're trying to make Roman a badass by making the audience pity him? Are we supposed to think Roman is really cool because Lesnar is really complacent?
A F-5 later and Lesnar looks totally on top, but then Roman counters a second F-5 and hits...3 Superman Punches? Look, I know I harped on about this before in the previous article, but why is Lesnar the one guy the one guy that has made Roman look like he has less of a moveset than what he actually does? And when it means relying on a move like the Superman Punch, which is absurd anyway (poor Brock has to sell it like he's a guy whose had a few pints and has tripped over his own feet), it just means that you have two guys spamming 2 moves.
Lesnar then gets Reigns up for another F-5 but Reigns manages to escape and go to climb the cage, where when he gets to the top and gets over, only for Brock to (and I'm not making this up) apparently lift Roman back over with his chest protector, with Reigns so overpowered by Lesnar that he puts his leg back over the cage to the ringside. And I know I'm being a little picky about this, but a cage match should have an element of legitimacy and once both workers apparently forget how to win that goes out the window.
Brock then gets Roman to the floor and, now having had his fill of torturing Reigns apparently, goes to climb the cage too, but is cut off by Reigns who then hits a good looking powerbomb (a new move!). The next couple of minutes sees Reigns take control as he...throws Brock into the cage a couple of times before hitting 3 spears after which Brock kicks out. Reigns then goes for the opened cage door...only for Heyman to slam it into his head and Roman to stumble into an F-5 that he kicks out of.
Heyman then chucks a chair into the cage to help Lesnar at which point Lesnar takes his gloves off, then gets the chair (I know, it makes little sense to me either) only to run straight into another spear by Reigns that Lesnar kicks out of.
At this point (to be helpful I think) Micheal Cole says "the scorecard looks like this: 4 German Suplexes, 2 F-5's, 4 Spears". And while that is supposed to show the punishment and heart of the two competitors, it also shows the major deficiency of this match, in that there is no reason to care about this as a statistic. This isn't Stone Cold holding on for dear life in the Sharpshooter or HBK kicking out of a tombstone at Mania, this feels like numbers that the WWE wants you to care about, but because there is no context surrounding it the whole thing feels lifeless. It would be like if someone reduced a match in the Queen's Gambit to "5 pawns, 2 knights and a rook". Only with Reigns and Lesnar, there is nothing else.
So then Roman hits the Beast with 4 chair shots (which sound mighty impressive) before chucking the chair away and going back to the friggin' Superman punch (cause why would you do more of the thing that no one has seen before?!?!). But Reigns does not go for the door because he doesn't not want to incur the wrath of...Paul Heyman? Look, I know he caught him unawares the first time, but just keep your eyes open now and you might just get out. But, no apparently that isn't an option for Mr Big Dog and so instead he spears himself and Brock through the cage in a great spot.
Unfortunately that also gave Brock the Universal Title cause he apparently hit the ground first? Even though he was on the cage for ages and Roman had rolled off and Jesus Christ we're going to be doing some sort of bad ref finish aren't we? And what was worse is that is that a) it was a finish all of Roman's choosing which made look a bit of a fool (of course he was going to go through the cage) and b) he was essentially on his back while Brock walked (albeit gingerly) back up the aisle. If you wanted to do this, have Reigns do something after the match to give him a bit of impetus going forward, like beating up Lesnar, or have him walk out under his own power.
Because when Roman got back to Raw and declared himself the real Universal Champion, the reaction of most people watching (who weren't sympathetic to Reigns anyway) was "Is Roman complaining because the heels cheated, or because he didn't just walk out the door of the cage like a sensible person?"
Y'see one of the finer points that WWE seem to have forgotten in all of this is that they have groomed the audience over 35+ years to cheer wrestlers who see themselves as the masters of their destiny. Austin got over because he knew that Mr McMahon needed to be taken down a peg or two. The Rock got over because he knew he was the most electrifying man in all entertainment. Daniel Bryan got over because he knew he and the audience deserved better.
Roman during this time was not a character full of certainties. He was a character full of 'would haves' and 'could haves'. And what was worse that rather than looking for a way forward, he kept on harping on about what happened (admittedly this wasn't helped by 3 PPVs in like 6 weeks). If Austin lost the title through nefarious circumstances, he would come on the next night on Raw and call the dude who did it a SOB before stunning him. That's the reason the "the guy" gimmick after Mania 32 worked so well (before they repeated ad nauseum)- it was because he felt in control of his own destiny.
But it also raised another conundrum.
So you had one guy who had been talking a big game and just come back from injury. Booking 101 would usually state that you'd give the win to him to jump start some momentum. But that means that *gasp* Reigns would have to lose again! How would he cope?!
The thing is, Roman took 11 F-5s in the course of 3 weeks. It's not too much to ask that he would be a bit hurt. Why not get him to favour a section of his body and then get Joe to target it during the match so that Roman puts up a valiant fight but gets beaten. By doing that, y'see you can put over the fact that Roman has to do this week to week and get him some sympathy whilst maintaining Joe's momentum.
See, for some reason WWE were not certain about Roman being champion, but they were certain of him cutting off a beloved worker's return at the knees. And they wondered why Roman couldn't be loved by the crowd?
And again, like the two Brock matches, the match with Joe at Backlash starts out the gate fast with Samoa Joe hitting a cheap shot on Roman before slamming him through a table with a great uranage. And again, you could use this to show how Roman's last few weeks had taken a toll. And Roman is selling really well throughout this. But it could have been made even better if you could have Samoa Joe target one area in a way that becomes a bit uncomfortable to watch (a la Ziggler/Del Rio). As it is though, half of the match is just...rest holds (though I do think Joe's trash talk during this and facial expressions don't get enough plaudits). And the problem is that Roman can only power out of so many before it just gets dull. Much of the match seems to be either Roman trying to scramble out of a rest hold or Joe stumbling into a turnbuckle.
There is one amazing moment where Joe counters a drive-by into the Coquina Clutch and soon after Roman hits Joe with a spear, only for Joe to grab the rope. But there's just not enough activity to make it an interesting match and some of the great selling that Roman was doing at the beginning of the match goes out the window, to the point where the commentators literally wonder where Roman got this second wind from.
The thing was, Roman was clearly #2 in the pecking order. But WWE had dictated it so that the crowd were a bit sick of Reigns/Lesnar. They could have had a protracted feud with Joe, but that had now flown out the window. The question was how could they keep Reigns simmering so that he could still be fresh on his way to fight Lesnar at Summer-
Oh God no...
But that's Part 3...
#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