Watching Braun Strowman take a dual spear from Roman Reigns and Bill Goldberg last night, it became even more clear just how much Vince McMahon loves his new “big boy” toy. It shouldn’t be a surprise, because since day one, he has always gone googly eyed over the larger than life superstar of the moment.
In many cases, he’s been proven right, because the old fan mentality was always that in the main event, people would pay to see something they couldn’t see on their own block, their own street, or their own community. However, as times and paradigms have shifted, most of today’s most marketable stars are the ones capable of a natural relationship with those in attendance. Tangibles often recede into the background, while the intangibles strengthen in importance.
Wrestling is best in a climate where both the talented David and talented Goliath can co-exist, where both can thrive, and where the writing for each is appropriate and not based solely because of one surface-dwelling factor. The reason the behemoth vs. the moth works is because it’s generally rare when the latter can overcome the odds. To that end, it’s a rare story to tell, but it’s almost always effective, particularly when the smaller component is as talented as Sami Zayn.
Take my assertion above in a broader sense and think of it this way. Pro wrestling is in its most advantageous state when its condition is one of variance and balance. A robust tag division benefits the show as a whole, as does a credible lightweight division, a pushed and deftly handled women’s division, and a relatively deep bench of upper midcard and main event performers.
As Strowman and Zayn engaged in what was an effective and entertaining Last Man Standing match last night, I began to question what the long-term effects would be for Sami. Braun immediately moved to the tertiary main event scene, where WWE’s top two babyfaces combined to take him down in the final segment. He’s presented as a constant threat, rarely ever leaves his feet, and he usually isn’t placed in even a moderate sense of peril.
Because Vince loves brawn, and in this case Braun, it stands to reason that Strowman is actually getting over. Unlike Roman Reigns, where McMahon’s stubborn refusal to embrace what his audience is telling him as to baby vs. heel, he sees and pushes BigShaft McGrapefruitGrundle (had to get one in there for Geno and Matt Fowler) like a MONSTER. That’s the difference. Here he treats Strowman like a dominant heel, which is in some circles having an alternate effect, because he comes across as a genuine bad ass, unlike the smarmy, half-assed Seth Rollins babyfaces of the world.
Strowman may face Reigns at Wrestlemania, or he may be involved in something else, but it’s difficult to see him scripted into anything but a relatively high profile bout in Orlando.
And then there’s Sami Zayn.
When David loses, when the slingshot fails him, does David still get over in Israel, or is the reaction muted inside Judah Square Garden? The answer isn’t absolute, because the circumstances surrounding said defeat are so radically different. Last night, Zayn was the man who refused to die, and as a result was brutalized and powerslammed twice on the floor. The fans who didn’t already know it may now see Sami as a tough guy, but do they see him any higher up on the card? Do they care drastically more about him today than they did two months ago?
I’m not really sure, and if WWE doesn’t follow-up and do anything with Zayn, the entire angle can be pegged as solely for the benefit of the big man. The next eight weeks will say quite a bit about what the company thinks of Sami, and how far they’re willing to go with him in the near future. What they thought of him last night was he was the perfect sacrifice to make sure Braun left Tampa stronger than ever before.
For Strowman, I’m enjoying his segments, even though he’s still limited and he’s being given the green light to do nearly whatever he wants, relative to much of the rest of the card. I’m fascinated to watch him, because he’s another example of a commodity we’ve seen not just in pro wrestling, but also in basketball. The tall guy is such an attraction and is so coveted that sometimes the push, the draft position, or the number of chances given far exceed what a standard man or woman might receive.
But, just as a brief analogy, that’s the concept that leads some to thank God after winning a Championship. He may not have had a rooting interest, but for believers, he gives his creations gifts and abilities. Braun was given size, and it’s taken him to the doorstep of superstardom.
Ole’ Country Strong is still learning, and he’s green as grass, but at the very least, he’s starting to more consistently lay in his offense. He crushed Sami’s sternum with forearms and fists, a tactic that works because it looks so much worse than it feels. It’s a fairly safe place with which to get tight, and nothing looks more pathetic than a big man pulling punches. Strowman, to his credit, is doing the opposite. Kudos to those agenting his matches that have told him not to fear his own strength. While he might be reckless or sloppy, at least the brawling and the power appear legitimate.
I predict Strowman main events a RAW branded pay per view event in 2017, and it has to be at least even money that he holds the WWE Universal Championship as well. Look at how far he’s moved up the card in less than 18 months on the main roster, and that’s with virtually no name recognition in the wrestling community. Vince keenly grasps how to get a giant over, even when said Jack-killer or vegetable merchant is only around 6’8” and dresses like a camouflage-loving version of Matt Hardy Version 1.
(Seriously, take a look at those patchwork pants next time with the tight black shirt and the high ponytail. When his back is turned, he looks like Matt Hardy in a comic book just after he climbed out of a vat of toxic waste. His new power is suffering from intermediate explosive disorder.)
I’ll leave you with this thought. With the exception of Braun Strowman’s segments last night, there will be nothing other than Titus O’Neil dancing that I’m going to remember long term from RAW. The WWE Universal Champion is at least 75% comedy, despite having every tool to be a serious top heel. His running buddy is 95% comedy. The only individuals who have had opportunities at the United States Championship since Rusev lost it and moved on from it have been those two men. The Tag Team Title feud is currently pitting one group with two singles stars against another group that’s taken loss after loss since debuting last year. The women are in better shape than either secondary title, and possibly in better shape than the top strap as well.
The big dude who suplexes Christmas trees and heaves people around while growling and spitting is a little different, and because so much of everything else is THE SAME, Braun Strowman stands out despite his own shortcomings. Should he ever really figure it out, imagine what Vince could and would do with him. He strikes me as a below average worker for the duration of his career, but I’m not sure it’s going to matter. He’s not out there to have a Match of the Year. He’s out there to play the beast, and in that role, he’s cast pretty damn well.
There’s no easier story to tell in fiction than Monster vs. Underdog. I thought Last Man Standing worked, and hope it leads to good things for Sami Zayn. For the grizzly bear he faced last night, I have no doubt where he’s headed. He’s in the right place at the right time, has a good look and a great voice. He may not understand the intricacies of Windham and Pillman’s psychology during the heat at Starrcade 1992 (in the most underrated tag match of all-time with Shane Douglas and Ricky Steamboat), but he’s getting by just fine.
He’s stalking his way straight to the main event, whether anybody likes it or not.
I’m not sure I mind it.