Roman Reigns (c) vs. Edge
Universal Championship match
I don’t need to tell any of you, but this last 15 months without fans has been rough. Whether it’s been no fans, wrestlers posing as fans, video screens, or real fans at partial capacity, wrestling this last year plus has not been near the same.
In WWE world, last Friday night reminded us what we were missing when SmackDown returned in front of a full live crowd for the first time. And it was a more than welcome sight. For all that we used to complain about certain live crowds, and we will again, wrestling is not whole with it.
All the competitors deserve this moment to perform their craft in front of an audience. But the participants in tonight’s Universal title match are two I want to focus on. Not because they deserve it more necessarily, but their individual situations are unique.
When Edge made his improbable return to wrestling after a decade-long absence in Houston at the 2020 Royal Rumble, it was one of the biggest pops in recent memory. Since then, he’s never worked a match in front of a full crowd. He performed for silence at WrestleMania 36. He worked in front of a crowd of Performance Center talent in the following Backlash. He’s wrestled for video screens of folks their living rooms. The closest he’s come to a working a crowd was at WrestleMania 37, an open air stadium, which never carries sound well, that was at about one third capacity.
This is surely not what the man had in mind when he defied the odds to return from what was surely a career ending injury. I guess that puts us all in the same boat as 2020 wasn’t what any of us had in mind when thinking about our futures at the end of 2019.
Wrestlers feed off the crowd. They need that energy to lift them up as they risk their bodies for our entertainment. They use the response to help adjust the match. There’s little doubt that the idea of performing in front of a packed house was in the front of Adam Copeland’s mind as he prepared Edge for his return. Then after the first month, he ended up needing to wait 15 months to really feel the energy from the crowd.
The ovation he received last SmackDown must have been catharsis. Now tonight, he’ll get to work a one on one title match in front of a packed house. Just like he planned, just over a year later.
On the other side of the ring is another man who is really meeting a full house for the first time. Unlike Edge, Roman Reigns was working full time up to the pandemic. But he used the situation to craft a new character unlike anything he had done before. Finally a villain, Reigns unveiled the Tribal Chief to the world, a manipulative mob boss coercing his family into serving the great good - in his words, family, in reality, Roman Reigns. Fans have seen Reigns before, but they haven’t gotten a good look at the Tribal Chief in the person.
It’s possible that he would not have been able to develop this character without the controlled environment of the ThunderDome. But now that he’s mastered it, he has to be itching to show it off in front of the live crowd. In the past, the character was often manipulated by creative forces to manufacture a babyface superstar. The pressure to fit that square peg in the round hole is gone and Reigns can be free to work the crowd as he sees fit to suit his persona and story.
In that regard, it’s also rewarding for the fans. There was always a decent subset of fans who wanted to boo Roman and was frustrated that the powers that be never leaned into that desire. Now they can finally be part of that story.
Friday Night SmackDown was great in front of a hot Houston crowd. I expect tonight’s Fort Worth crowd to be nuts. This won’t last forever, but for the next weeks or months, just the ability to be there and see a live wrestling show will buoy the live audience. For the men in the main event, alongside the rest of the locker room, this will feel like a long time coming.
Roman Reigns will defend his Universal championship against Edge tonight at Money in the Bank, starting at 8 PM ET, airing on Peacock in the United States and the WWE Network everywhere else.
Who will win this match?
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