Just when we thought WWE couldn't screw up Roman Reigns (or pretty much their entire creative offering) any more, they go and do something like TLC...and totally redeem themselves!
That's the sentiment some have - or at least want to have - in the wake of last night's pay-per-view (PPV) from Boston. After again being denied the WWE World Heavyweight championship, this time by Sheamus' League of Nations henchmen Rusev & Alberto Del Rio, The Big Dog snapped.
Reverting back to the presentation most of us fell for when Reigns' came on our radars as the Powerhouse of The Shield, WWE sent the crowd at TLC and much of the audience watching at home into a frenzy by having Roman decimate not only the three wrestlers who had denied him the title (this time), but also on-screen Chief Operating Officer Triple H.
Will our optimism last for more than 24 hours, or will we be flipping channels by 8:20PM Eastern time tonight after Raw reveals Vince McMahon has played us for fools?
On the one hand:
1) F***ING FINALLY!
Pleading for Reigns to shut up and kick ass was hardly an original thing to do over the past year. As much as the fan revolt against him was based in contrarianism - some folks are going to hate whoever the company tells them they should love, no matter what - it was even more a result of top babyface Roman not resembling the guy we loved from late 2012 until Summer of 2014.
At TLC, we finally got an extended look at the guy we'd cheered in a staredown with Bray Wyatt. The wrestler who actually got "Believe That" over, not even so much because it was all that he said, but because when he said it you did believe, and were a little scared.
In this way, WWE's horrible storytelling since Royal Rumble 2015 (where he was booed out of the same building they'll run Raw from tonight) works in their favor. Similarly to how they were able to use their real-world efforts to keep Daniel Bryan from being the top guy into a great story, they can use their attempts to turn Roman into something he isn't into another one.
His saying "the line must be drawn here" in Boston was cathartic because, as viewers, we'd been saying the same thing for months. And that's one of pro wrestling's, or any art forms, greatest tools...giving us a release for a sentiment or emotion we've tamped down inside ourselves.
Wrestling gets to do it with steel chairs. Which is nice.
2) Playing to his strengths.
That violence is also Reigns' greatest gift as a performer. And that kind of sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it's really not. There were few things I enjoyed more in the world from November of 2012 - June 2014 than a tag to Roman.
Because I knew he was going to energetically ruin everyone else in the match. The war cry that follows his Spear used to be something I marked out for, made Conan the Barbarian jokes about...for the "top face" version, it was something at which most of us rolled our eyes.
There were other growing pains as a singles wrestler. His psychology as something other than a hot tag was rough at first, and anyone in WWE is going to rely on a series of moves (the proverbial Five Moves of Doom) that takes some of the energy and all of the novelty out of them.
But in the build to WrestleMania 31 and pretty much all of his matches since, Reigns has proven to have learned what he needed to to make the transition. And as long as they present him closer to how they did at TLC as opposed to Survivor Series until then, they'll be letting him showcase his particular set of skills rather than burying them under a pile of bad one-liners and forced charm.
3) And hiding his weaknesses.
Roman Reigns is not The Rock, in any way other than blood. He's not John Cena, other than the ability to bring it for big PPV matches.
What both of those guys can do is really a gift. Ever try to convince 15,000 people set on not only booing you but thwarting whatever you try to do as a speaker they should not only shut up but get on your side? Not many have, and even fewer can pull it off.
It makes total sense that WWE would be looking for another guy like Cena, who's approaching 40, has other options and is savvy enough to not want to leave his future in the squared circle. It doesn't make sense that he has to be replaced by one guy who does all of the things that he does.
Could last night be the start of acknowledging that? That Roman Reigns is an on-screen ass-kicking machine who does public relations with his daughter, while Dean Ambrose gives long promos to explain angles and Kevin owens does all of those things?
If so, we've got real cause for optimism. If not...well, these are our concerns, dude.
On the other hand:
This is pretty self explanatory, and not at all original. Jim Ross and others with more experience in the business are advocating it. But it's SO important.
All of the good work they did last night can be undone with a "suffering succatosh" or "tater tots" promo. Heck, if Reigns gets too much mic time and says "son" more than once, the whole thing is darn near ruined.
It will take more than just tonight to convince me, too. Can Vince resist the urge to make Roman into something he's not? For TLC to have been a fundamental shift in how they present rather than just his version of a "serious" Cena promo before he reverts back to "joking" John?
And if the future of WWE is still the Big Dog cutting promos like we got in last Monday's main event, I don't know that I'll be watching a whole lot more WWE television, even if we get actions like we got in last night's main event every once in a while.
2) Triple H, Superstar.
Well, well, well. Look who's front and center in a main event feud heading into 2016. It's that hot, young act, Hunter Hearst Helmsley.
Haitch is, without a doubt, becoming one of the more interesting figures in pro wrestling history. His reinvention as the savior of WWE via NXT is brilliant work (and a brilliant work). But I was pissed off that he made himself the top heel in the company again at Survivor Series, and that doesn't change because he did a stretcher job in Beantown.
If it was just for one reason, it'd be less of concern. But if this is what it looks like - building to Reigns. vs, Triple H for Mania as a way to stall Roman's title push once again - it means more of the played out evil management angle, more of the confusing kayfabe presentation of The Authority where they're faces in NXT, and on commercials, and maybe even within certain divisions on the main roster, but not in the WWE title picture (where they don't want Roman as champ...why exactly? And if its because he won't do what they say, what benefit have they derived from having Randy Orton, Seth Rollins or Sheamus as titleholders who will do what they say? Why do we care?).
There is something to the argument that Roman running roughshod over League of Nations wouldn't have meant as much, but who's fault is that? Will anyone be able to act as a big bad on the main roster as long as a McMahon surrogate can step into that role whenever they feel like it?
The reliance on The Authority as villain and motivation for everything is as stubbornly lazy as insisting that a John Cena clone be the hero.
3) Does 15 minutes of John Wick erase 15 years of Ted Logan?
All the problems of Sunday afternoon are still with us Monday morning. Roman is still a bad promo who's struggled to connect with the audience-at-large. He's still a guy who - though not a knock on him personally - reportedly doesn't have the interest in the business that top guys like Steve Austin, Cena or Triple H had that lead to their playing an active role in how their characters were presented.
WWE is still a company which, in addition to overreliance on what's worked in the past, routinely asks you to disregard a story you invested a bunch of time in in favor for the new one they hope works better. And can't be bothered to flesh out anything other than the main storyline and the characters it needs for that right now (where were Dean and The Usos last night - not to mention King Barrett?).
Concussion protocols aside, this is still a business where men bludgeon each other with steel and then are asked to get on a bus and go do it again 24 hours later. Does it make sense to get excited about anyone's run at the top when a career-ending injury is one mistimed move away?
I was marking out as much as the next smark at 10:45 Eastern time last night. But does something that amounts to like 5% of what WWE's main roster put on my screens last week really change the outlook for the entire product?
Final Analysis: I was a big fan of last night's finish, and I want to be more pumped for the future. But I've been down this road too many times before. We go bananas because Daniel Bryan won the title, and then he's starring in cheesy horror skits with Kane and Brie Bella. Charlotte, Sasha Banks & Becky Lynch debut and we mark out, then get insulted by #DivasRevolution. I hope this time is different, for Roman and for us as fans. But...
I'm 30% Excited and 70% Afraid.
Tell us whether you believe that, Cagesiders.