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Card subject to change, and other stories

Match graphic for Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns at Royal Rumble 2021 WWE

Expectations are a hell of a thing.

When five-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion Adam Pearce (yes, I type that out manually every time, no I will not stop) signed with WWE as a producer six years ago, I really did not think he was ever going to wrestle for the company.

I am a proponent of the idea that wrestlers never actually retire unless injured out permanently, and even then cases like Daniel Bryan and Edge make it clear that even the most serious retirements may not stick. Wrestlers are entertainers, born and raised, and generally speaking, show biz people don’t stop until they have to.

But a WWE producer gig is a pretty good reason to stop taking matches, and for a long time, Pearce wasn’t even an onscreen character, the odd pull-apart brawl aside.

But then we went into plague world, and WWE TV suddenly became constrained by who was available, and quietly, unofficially, Pearce slipped into a role as quasi-general manager of both Raw and SmackDown, making matches and settling disputes while being billed simply as a “WWE official”.

Still, he wasn’t exactly a focal point of either show.

Not until he ran afoul of the Tribal Chief, that is.

Think of the possibilities!

In a moment, I saw the possibilities unfurl in front of me— sure, Pearce would never actually win the gauntlet match, but what if he did? That’s a great story!

A decorated veteran— yes, his five reigns with the NWA World Heavyweight Championship came at a historic low point for that title’s prestige and visibility, but his series of matches against Colt Cabana for that title are generally well-regarded and he defended it with pride all around the world— at the end of his career coming out of retirement to face off against the dominant world champion, real top shelf David vs. Goliath stuff, pure Rocky Balboa injected directly into your veins.

And then he won! Yes it was a shallow victory where Reigns and his cousin Jey Uso took Shinsuke Nakamura out and literally dragged Pearce’s unconscious body on top of him for the cover, but he had the match!

Okay, I still had the fear that they’d get to the Rumble and Roman would just destroy him in a matter of minutes— of course he was never going to actually win the Universal Championship, that’d be a step too far, but the story in my head had the Scrap Daddy stepping up and delivering the challenge of a lifetime to our brash young Tribal Chief, the kind of “old man isn’t going to put up with your shit” story that is one of my personal pro wrestling favorites— but the match was on! We had a graphic! It was official!

Card subject to change

...and then it wasn’t.

After signing the contract, Pearce unveiled his secret. As a WWE official, he can invoke that “card subject to change” fine print at the bottom of every poster and darn it, turns out he’s just too hurt to work a match.

It was, as far as swerves go, an eminently logical one. The story had already tipped its hand when the Big Dog’s camp insisted on adding a stipulation. At first Paul Heyman tried to make it a no disqualification match, which fits inasmuch as you might want to gimmick a match to make up for six years of ring rust, but Reigns objected and it became a Last Man Standing, which makes less sense for a one-off featuring a retired wrestler but is a perfect feud-ender for the likes of Owens/Reigns.

It’s sure to be a great match, and these two (plus probably at least one Uso, and maybe even two of them if Jimmy’s return from injury follows the timeline that’s been estimated) are gonna beat the hell out of each other, but like I said, expectations are a hell of a thing. In that moment of triumph when Adam revealed his plan and Kevin Owens came out to the stage? I was crestfallen.

But that’s one of the things that makes pro wrestling great! Sometimes you take what the show gives you and you read wonder and glory and excellence into it and the show gives it back to you tenfold, and sometimes it turns out you’re barking up the wrong tree but the show still wants to give you an excellent professional wrestling match for your trouble.

Will the Big Dog maintain his death grip on the Universal Championship or can Kevin Owens wrest it away from him, Cagesiders?


Who will win?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Kevin Owens
    (66 votes)
  • 82%
    Roman Reigns
    (318 votes)
384 votes total Vote Now

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