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Monday, May 18, 2015

Familiar Reigns: WWE's Albatross May Be Turning the Corner

Getting past the Heaven's Gate-length farce that was the John Cena-Rusev match last night (simultaneous streams of Attitude and PG vomit into the same 20 gallon bucket), Payback was an enjoyable B-show. The Tag Team title match was a whole lotta great compacted into a 13-minute box, complete with the best fuck finish in quite some time. Sheamus and Dolph Ziggler was a fine opener, gruesomely punctuated by Ziggler losing a pouchful of blood off of a headbutt. Even Ryback vs. Bray Wyatt overachieved. In fact, Ryback working the latter half of the match through obvious discomfort off of what was apparently a busted rib would cause even his staunchest critics to offer up words of respect.

Through the rough patches, new perspectives were gained.

In the case of Roman Reigns, 2015 has been a bittersweet year, an extended rough patch in spite of the company prod spurring him forward. While Reigns has proven capable of working a main event match with little device aside from his own balls-out efforts, the crowd almost completely turned on him. There's no point in rehashing it completely - the story remains part of WWE's mixed narrative. Reigns found himself excommunicated by the audience that saw the writing on the wall, and realized that favorites such as Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, and Dean Ambrose were due to be passed over for Reigns' mega-push. A possibly rigged "Superstar of the Year" vote and some recitations of poorly-cobbled promos were both an excuse to continue the hatred, and a validation of the "Reigns isn't ready" argument.

Putting aside the awful Royal Rumble match, the worst since Vince McMahon's 1999 win, Reigns has delivered in four straight PPV bouts. Coming as no surprise, none of the matches in question were contingent of Reigns uttering words that don't sound good emanating from anyone's mouth, let alone that of a 30-year-old, tattooed warrior with a death glare that could stupefy an alien overlord.

The win over Bryan at Fast Lane was polarizing. It was a good match, sure. The argument against howled with the obvious: Bryan clearly carried him. 'Clearly' is probably the wrong word here, especially from an audience that beats the workrate drum until its resonance is duller than lead. In the efforts to reconstruct Reigns from the ashes that his vote of confidence had been reduced to, it was a start.

The WrestleMania match with Lesnar was an all-timer. Even with the Rollins fuck-finish, it borders on five stars, and with another five minutes of what they were doing, it gets there. The sad part is, even if Reigns wins, it's a souring moment for fans still bitter over the company's virulent insistence on their action hero-of-choice. After all, when Bryan, Ambrose, and Ziggler got their WrestleMania moment, the sun was still shining brightly, as it was still late-afternoon in California. Bryan YESing it up with the IC title gave fans plenty of time to shift moods toward the hostile when Reigns' bastardized remake of the Shield theme kicked up.

Reigns laid himself bare for a thrashing from Lesnar, possibly the best match either man has ever had. It's certainly Reigns' best singles effort, and yet it wasn't quite enough.

The Extreme Rules win over the tiresome Big Show in a last man standing match took bells and whistles so aged and worn that the dust had to be blown off of them prior to their use. Yet it was a fine match, some I feel overrating it out of abject shock and surprise at the fact that it didn't suck. I thought it was a fine showcase for Reigns' capabilities as an able-bodied bad ass, and it took Show off of TV, so huzzah.

Last night, Reigns received his biggest cheers in ages. Sadly, they were only showered upon him in the midst of Ambrose and Rollins, his ex-Shield cohorts, when they triple-powerbombed Randy Orton through the English announce desk. Nostaglia sells to the aging WWE crowd. JBL may be a loathsome announcer today, but let him hit the ring in an APA shirt next to Faarooq, and the wrist-banded keyboard-mashers in the crowd will summon up some fleeting cheers.The temporary Shield reunion was the highlight of a wild match capped up by Rollins pinning Orton with the Pedigree.

Pinning Orton is the point of curiosity. That's two straight losses on PPV to Rollins, so you'd figure he'd be eliminated from the title scene. Reigns and Ambrose remain, and the gleeful screeches from the Shield reformation could be the gateway to the next story arc. Can Rollins play Ambrose against Reigns, and vice versa?

Hey, it's the youth infusion the WWE Title picture has needed, and that we've wanted. In fact, after Reigns and Ambrose murdered Rollins, putting him through the Spanish table in a hilarious and cathartic crowd-pleaser, it seemed the two were intentionally programmed to see how they'd play off of each other in the aftermath. Reigns and Ambrose did the yay/boo punch spot in the ring, with Reigns still the low-man, though not as fiercely as he'd once been. Yes, Ambrose was the crowd favorite, but the divide wasn't so unbridgeable.

Clearly, WWE isn't going to give up on the Reigns push. Not that they should; he has the tools to be a true main event talent, especially if they can keep the clueless scribes from fastening their 'best efforts' to his tongue. The keystone to getting Reigns over once more might come from the same well that first got him over: the Shield.

Reminding everyone that Reigns was the muscle of an incredible trio that burst onto the scene like a hail of bullets and cut down everyone in their path unflinchingly puts shine back on the neutered monster. The virility is restored.

Through osmosis of his old running buddies, I think Reigns turns the corner and becomes the star he's supposed to be. WWE remaking him into their idea of what a star is in their eyes is what cut him off from fan oxygen. Letting him be the Reigns that captivated everyone in the first place, and stocking him with the men who walked that path with him, benefits everyone.

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