Sorry to mess up Jim Gordon’s famous quote from the end of The Dark Knight, but you get the jist. I tried the headline with the original wording, but another famous line - Will Munny’s “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it” from Unforgiven - kept popping into my head.
But I digress. Kind of.
Whether or not fans “deserve” anything is a bigger discussion, and one which goes beyond our little corner of the pop culture universe. But a lot of folks believe they know what WWE should do when it comes to the Universal title match at WrestleMania 34 on April 8 in New Orleans. While I understand where you’re coming from, I’m not sure you’re right.
Braun Strowman is undeniably one of the most popular acts in wrestling right now, and up to and including the match Roman Reigns won at Elimination Chamber on Feb. 25 to earn a shot at Brock Lesnar’s title at ‘Mania, he’s been presented as someone who absolutely should be in a championship, main event-caliber bout at The Showcase of The Immortals.
It’s a good problem for WWE to have. It doesn’t justify changing a plan to pay off a long-term story in the sequel to a widely-praised match from three years ago, though.
We (collectively/generally) often remark on how The ‘E only books by the seat of their pants. Yet when faced with an angle that’s been laid out over a really long timeline, there’s a lot of criticism because a few subsets of fandom don’t like the protagonist.
Reigns’ ascension to the throne has been building since The Shield days. The big unanswered question is whether or not he can finish Brock in a one-on-one match. With his win in the Chamber, he finally earned the right to find out. To do so, he fought through Strowman, the rival who’s defined him for much of the last year. It’s hard not to imagine reaction to this same story being very different if other performer’s names were swapped into it.
Another complaint lobbed at WWE is how repetitive the matches are. At a time when there are at least five hours of television a week, even the brand split hasn’t stopped us from seeing most match-ups multiple times. But Lesnar and Reigns haven’t been in a singles match with one another since March 25, 2015. Some of that is a result of Brock’s schedule, but it looks like there’s a decent chance he won’t be around on even a part-time basis for much longer - so shouldn’t Vince McMahon give us a clean resolution to his story before he goes?
The predictable nature of Reigns vs. Lesnar II is another issue many of us have with the plans for WrestleMania 34. Again, I get it, but I’m not sure what WWE could have done differently. Nobody makes us read the backstage reports that’ve been telling us this was the direction. And even without those “scoops”, we’d have seen it coming - and that doesn’t make it a bad thing. As a long-time fan, this isn’t any more surprising than (spoiler alert) finding out Rocky Balboa would fight Apollo Creed again at the end of Rocky II. But the quality of the journey is every bit as important as the destination.
Each individual will have their own evaluation of that journey, but if you’re still holding onto the notion that Reigns’ talent isn’t worthy of his spot, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s been a long time since the Big Dog was in a truly bad match, and even his character issues have largely been addressed by the writers and the performer himself.
Strowman, on the other hand, has been in two lackluster bouts with Lesnar. But that’s a pairing fans are advocating for more of when hoping for a Universal title Triple Threat.
Back to the story of Roman vs. Brock - there’s a lot invested in it. They’re the only two men to have defeated Undertaker at WrestleMania. In addition to Braun, Reigns had to fight through John Cena to even be in his current kayfabe, and possibly behind-the-scenes, position. Lesnar’s put down everyone they’ve put in front of him, including The Monster Among Men. But he hasn’t put down the Guy.
This fight has to happen.
Even from a more cynical viewpoint, this fight has to happen... just so the story can finally end. Especially if the Beast Incarnate is on his way back to UFC, or Saskatchewan, this feud needs a winner and a loser. Roman will be around, hopefully for years and years. In that time, he’ll continue to help turn Strowman, and Seth Rollins, and Finn Bálor, and Jason Jordan... you get the idea... into bigger stars. Adding a decisive, one-on-one victory over Lesnar to his myth is a major asset to what he needs to do for the rest of his career.
It’s far from perfect. The stumbles with how to present Reigns while he learned on the job how to be an Ace, Brock’s part-time schedule and the lack of another major angle for Strowman in New Orleans are real issues.
But calling an audible to turn a years long plan to use one of the biggest stars in recent history to cement the legacy of another into another match that leaves as many questions as answers isn’t a fix for those issues.
To finish this out by butchering another movie quote, “the arrogance of fans is thinking booking is in our control, and not the other way around... let them fight.”