When It Reigns, It Pours
Since I last wrote about the WWE the landscape of the company was looking abysmal. Television ratings had hit record lows, champions were injured and my interests in the product had hit an all-time low.
Seth Rollins, the former WWE world heavyweight champion, suffered a knee injury and was forced to vacate the title. Randy Orton and Cesaro both suffered shoulder injuries, John Cena left to film a reality TV show, Brock Lesnar hasn’t been seen since the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view and The Undertaker hasn’t been seen since Survivor Series. This lack of star-power hit the WWE hard and forced their hand into shaking up the entire promotion. With Seth Rollins going down, the WWE heavyweight title was briefly reclaimed by Roman Reigns, only to be quickly taken away by Money in the Bank-holder Sheamus at Survivor Series.
Survivor Series featured the finals of a tournament to determine the new WWE champion, as well as a reunion tour for The Brothers of Destruction, Kane and The Undertaker. Undertaker lost to Brock Lesnar decisively at Hell in a Cell, yet came back to avenge that loss against The Wyatt Family for his 25th anniversary.
Survivor Series ended with Sheamus as the new champion and top heel in the company, with Roman Reigns as the top babyface since John Cena, Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan were all put on the shelf.
Normally November’s Survivor Series through the end of the year are some of the WWE’s weakest points of the year. WWE tends to spin their wheels and coast along until the Royal Rumble at the end of January, which starts the build to Wrestlemania. TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs takes place in December and is usually one of the WWE’s weakest pay-per-views of the year. 2015 was no exception.
TLC offered a few GIF-able highlights but didn't offer enough to make it a start-to-finish repeat view, though a few highlights are worth noting. The opening match was a tag-team triple threat ladder match for the tag team titles featuring The New Day vs. The Lucha Dragons vs. The Usos. This was a throwback to the tag team matches of yesteryear, with innovative high spots and high energy. They opened the show for good reason.
High flying action from The Lucha Dragons.
Kalisto hits his finisher from over the top of a ladder, onto another ladder. Congratulations to Kalisto for giving the WWE a moment they can play in video packages and montages for 20+ years. My jaw hasn’t dropped at a WWE spot in a long, long time.
The build to TLC saw the return of the ECW Originals, Tommy Dreamer and Rhyno, joining forces with The Dudley Boys to take on The Wyatt Family. I met Tommy Dreamer when he performed at an indie show here in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and he could not have been a nicer dude. Seeing him come back to WWE television was a nice surprise, and Rhyno is a character who can still pop the crowd with his veteran status. Team ECW (Dudley Boyz, Dreamer and Rhyno) faced off against The Wyatt Family (Wyatt, Harper, Strowman and Rowan) in an 8-man elimination tables match. The general consensus from the internet wrestling community seemed to dislike this match for its sloppiness and mistimed spots, but I really enjoyed it for what it was. Four old school, East Coast hardcore match veterans coming back to take on a squad of evil hillbillies.
Devon eats it through a table at the hands of Bray Wyatt. At least they did the right thing and let the Wyatts get the victory in this match.
Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens squared off for the Intercontinental Title. Two of my favorite characters in the entire pro-wrestling world facing off had my hopes through the roof and well, they delivered, but not to the level I hoped they would. They had a good match that never really seemed to get into that next gear. Perhaps an extra 5 or 10 minutes could have made this great, but I was hoping for a 4/5 and got a 3/5.
I think Kevin Owens is one of the top 10 workers in the world right now, but Ambrose has really regressed as an in-ring performer for me. They’re both fantastic characters, but in the ring Owens easily has the advantage. Ambrose wins the title after a surprise reversal to Owens’ finisher, so this feud will continue and hopefully offer something great.
TLC concluded with, obviously, a TLC (tables, ladders and chairs) match between Roman Reigns and Sheamus for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. I guess I had my hopes up here since I thought that the gimmick match would be able to hide some of Reigns’ and Sheamus’ deficiencies in the ring with smoke and mirrors.
Instead I was presented with a boring slog-fest. Spots were meticulously planned out and choreographed and looked rehearsed. Not something you saw in the chaotic opening match with the tag teams. The crowd chanted for John Cena, Daniel Bryan and CM Punk. My roommate fell asleep. This match just sucked. Sheamus gets the win and the crowd fell flat again.
Then, the aftermath came. Triple H came down to congratulate Sheamus, the stand-in for Seth Rollins, when Roman Reigns rose up and began to lay the smackdown on the boss. The live crowd suddenly woke up and so did I. Something different was happening.
After the table failed to break the first time, Roman puts an elbow through Triple H and breaks through the Spanish announce table.
Roman charges full force into Trips and spears him out of his dress shoes.
The final 5 minutes of the show were awesome. The WWE decided to book Roman Reigns as an asskicker. Last month, Roman Reigns closed out the show crying on the mat in a sea of confetti in an attempt to draw sympathy, Daniel Bryan style. This flat out doesn’t work with his character. At TLC, the crowd went from booing him from his entrance to chanting his name when he started the beatdown of Triple H from screwing him out of the championship once again. The show went off the air with fans wanting to see what happens next with Roman and Triple H, with Sheamus as a background character who just happened to hold the belt.
Roman Reigns has been earmarked to be the new face of the company for years. He’s been groomed from the beginning and given every opportunity to get over with the crowd even since the days of The Shield. The smart fans are aware that he’s been hand selected to be “the guy.” He won the Royal Rumble this year to overwhelming boos from the crowd. The WWE even brought in The Rock for his Rumble victory, and crowd even booed The Rock. WWE tried too much too soon by trying to push him down fans’ throats. Roman went on to beat fan favorite Daniel Bryan and was almost booked to go over Brock Lesnar until the company realized he would be booed out of Wrestlemania. They tried to book him as a John Cena/Rock type character by writing him quippy dialogue for promos that just didn’t fit his character. TLC showed that having him being a silent mercenary who shows his intentions through violence instead of words works for him better than anything.
Roman’s been scheduled to get the WWE title for the better part of 2015. It was inevitable, but the question was when it would happen. I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of the guy; I’m not buying his T-shirts or pulling up the WWE Network to watch his matches. However, I am intrigued to see what the WWE do with his character. They want Roman to be the top guy. The top brass think he’s the next Hulk Hogan or Stone Cold Steve Austin. They’ve put him in charitable positions like John Cena would do. His Wrestlemania match against Brock Lesnar was a nail-biter until Seth Rollins cashed in, since almost everybody figured he would be beating Brock clean for the belt. Roman was scheduled to beat Rollins for the title at Survivor Series before Rollins got injured. Sheamus cashing in just seemed like a ploy to prolong the inevitable. The longer it took to put the belt on Roman, the longer it would pain fans. It came to a point where it felt like pulling off a band-aid: just get it over with and the quicker the better.
Monday Night Raw on 12/14 finally ripped the band-aid off. Roman won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the main event of the show, and crowd went wild for it. I was even excited to see the championship change hands on Raw, something that hasn’t happened since 2011. I should mention that this episode of Raw took place in Philadelphia, the same place that booed Roman Reigns and The Rock out of the building when Reigns won the Rumble this year. Somehow they managed to turn it around and by the end of the show the fans were entirely behind Reigns winning.
I figured since Sheamus won at TLC, they would hold off Roman’s win one more month until the Royal Rumble, the first pay per view of 2016. Instead, WWE put on the best episode of Raw in months. They pulled the trigger and it looks like things might be changing for the better.
Vince McMahon made his return to Raw after over a year. The story of the show was that since Roman attacked Triple H at TLC, he’d have to defeat Sheamus for the title or be fired. It’s such a simple storyline, and something that worked for The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Vince McMahon is 70 years old and is still a captivating on-screen performer. It’s quite incredible. He basically had me hook line and sinker, and by the end of the show I was glad to see Roman Reigns win the title.
Not only did they pull the trigger on Reigns, but everything else on Raw felt fresh and unpredictable. Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler and Kevin Owens looked like they are going to make the Intercontinental title important. If you don’t like Reigns, the WWE will offer something with that title. Backstage skits and interviews were shot differently than they normally are. Scripts didn’t feel so wooden and robotic. The Wyatts and Team ECW had a rematch for the Philadelphia crowd that was even better than the match they had the night prior.
The New Day invited out The Lucha Dragons and The Usos to put them and their ladder match over in a segment that was a direct homage to a segment with Edge and Christian and The Hardy Boys from 10 years prior.
Reigns wins the title in the main event and it felt incredibly cathartic. Sheamus’ reign as a belt pillow is over. Reigns is the champion heading into Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania season. Raw felt fresh and interesting for the first time in months. The WWE showed that they can provide entertainment even in the lull period of the winter months. Roman isn’t my first choice for champion, but it’s about time they finally do it. It will be interesting to see if he can sink or swim.
The future of WWE is peculiar from here. Roman as champion cuts down on possible winners for the Royal Rumble match. Reigns is obviously lined up for a match with Triple H soon, but when? A championship match at the Rumble? At Wrestlemania? John Cena, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker will all be back soon as well.
What interests me is that those are your top 5 guys going into the Wrestlemania season. Cena and Brock have had their time. Every combination of Brock/Triple H/Undertaker has been done at Wrestlemania too. So who wins the Rumble? Roman/Brock 2 and Roman/Cena seem possible. Someone’s getting the odd-man out and it will be fascinating to see where this all goes. If Monday’s Raw was any indication, I’ll be watching.
by Nate Dimit (@ndimit)