There’s a lot of talk going around about WrestleMania 33.
The Seth Rollins injury has changed the focus of the discussion, but I’d like to take it back to where it was coming out of Royal Rumble, and that’s on a rumored Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns match - one of several possibilities set up by the main event of that show.
Overall, I’m on the fence about a potential match-up. The scene where Reigns eliminated Taker was electric. Roman telling the Dead Man the ring was his yard now was one of my favorite moments of the Rumble match, and the entire pay-per-view (PPV). The build for a Mania showdown between these two larger-than-life characters could be awesome. But even without the reports of the 51 year old Phenom “struggling” after his short-time in action, I’m not sure the wrestling at the end of the tale would enjoyable - at least in part because my mind would be preoccupied worrying about Undertaker’s well-being.
Regardless of that, however, what moved me to write about the match-up is the idea, first discussed in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (subscription required but recommended) that Vince McMahon might use a Mania encounter between the two to create a “passing of the torch” moment from Taker to Roman.
In principle, that sounds great. I even think it’s brilliant to use it as subtext; a theme that’s present but not made explicit by having the Dead Man raise Reigns’ hand afterwards.
But Vince doesn’t do subtle, and I don’t trust him to be able to resist a grand gesture to tell wrestling fans “Roman is The Guy”.
And that’s where I think it could all go wrong.
Taker is loved and revered. If anyone could get the entire crowd of a show like Mania to cheer anything, it would be him. Which is another reason I think this will be tempting for McMahon. The Rock couldn’t get Philadelphia to cheer Roman at the 2015 Rumble, so let’s fix that by having Undertaker do it the Showcase of the Immortals in 2017.
But a lot of the people who paid for WrestleMania tickets aren’t going to go for it. Some of them are already salivating at the prospect of raining on the Chairman’s parade.
Another manufactured moment like that doesn’t help Reigns’ cause. And it would suck for what could likely be Undertaker’s last WrestleMania to involve his being booed - even ironically. Even if it’s not aimed at him.
By WWE’s own line of thinking, the Big Dog is doing fine. He gets a reaction from everybody. Enough of those are positive so that he stays atop merchandise sales charts. Unless you’re blinded by hatred, you have to admit he’s an amazing athlete and gifted pro wrestler.
Have the match. Have Roman, or lose. Turn him heel, or don’t. Then let the audience continue to naturally cheer or jeer.
A “passing of the torch” moment won’t change how most people feel.
Whether folks can articulate it or not, the biggest complaint about Reigns is that his push has been inauthentic. Some fans feel he was forced on them. A pre-planned scene where a legend tells them Roman’s “okay by me” is going to feel like more of the same.