Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Lesnar Vs. Reigns: The Coal In The Wrestlemania Stocking

Almost as many F5’s in the ring as there were beach balls in the crowd.
Tights And Fights, which is really the only wrestling podcast anyone needs even if Hal hates Lucha Underground, coined the term “Ice Cream Christmas” to describe what Wrestlemania should be. And I want to expand on the Christmas part of that to try and explain why Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns was such a disaster.

A good Christmas present is when you want a thing and someone who knows you want that thing gets you that thing. It’s a bit straightforward and transactional, sure, but it’s easy and everyone ends up happy. That’s your Cedric Alexander win, your AJ Styles win, your Undertaker win, your Gargano win, your Rousey win, your Bryan win, your Jax win, and, to a lesser extent, the Rollins win. These stories have natural conclusions, and the matches delivered those conclusions.

Sometimes, you get socks. You need socks, you get socks. You m ay not necessarily want these socks, how much you like the socks varies, but at least you got some socks. Baszler winning? Socks. Jinder Mahal’s win was ugly socks. Charlotte beating Asuka was a pair of fancy, battery-powered, heated socks in your favorite color. The Bludgeon Brothers as tag champs are the sockiest socks of all. And I’m talking about the booking here, not necessarily the in-ring performances, because ultimately this is about Brock Lesnar winning at Mania, although we have to talk about the performance, too.

The best kind of present is the thing you didn’t know you wanted, but someone who knows you almost better than you do gets for you anyway. Roderick Strong joining the Undisputed Era. Shinsuke Nakamura turning heel. Braun Strowman selecting a ten year old child from the crowd as his tag team partner. Not just surprises, but good, happy surprises.

And then there’s Lesnar-Reigns. Lesnar-Reigns is the Christmas where an abusive parent finds out you’ve peeked at the presents hidden in the closet, and decides to teach you a lesson by hiring a local bouncer to dress up as Santa Claus, yell at you for ten minutes about the magic of Christmas, and set your closet full of presents on fire. It’s weird, it’s uncomfortable, and ultimately, it doesn’t help anybody.

Feel however the fuck you want about Roman Reigns. I straddle the line constantly between the “fuck that guy” crowd and the “he doesn’t get a fair shake” crowd. You can say the negative fan reaction to him is reflexive all you want, but every time I start to agree with you, he pulls out a match like this which is nothing but shitty Superman Punches and Spears and honestly, why the hell wouldn’t anyone boo that? And then he does something not worthy of booing and many of the same people boo him anyway because marks are marks.

But regardless of how you feel about Reigns, someone needs to take the belt Brock Lesnar never should have had off of him. Lesnar and absentee champ doesn’t just hurt the top of the card. It creates a logjam that pushes main event talent like Rollins and Balor into competing for the secondary and tag belts, leaving the true midcard talents to founder with nothing to do because WWE writers still can’t craft decent angles that aren’t tied up in championships.

I mean, Smackdown’s been a pile of shit for months, but at least their main eventers are battling for the big belt and their midcarders are battling for the little belt and the tag teams are all actual fucking tag teams. Lesnar needs to lose the belt, and he didn’t at Mania, reportedly fairly last minute as Vince didn’t like the reactions from the crowd. And now the rumor is it’ll happen at the Saudi Arabia event, where the fans will be less conditioned to reflexively boo Reigns and just be happy to see a big cage match.

And it’s true that the Wrestlemania crowd refused to give the match a chance. They stopped paying attention almost before the entrances started. They turned their backs, essentially, on the ring and played with beach balls, But by the time the match was over, it was clear they’d made the right choice. Because that match was u-g-l-y UGLY. Yes, it was “physical”. Yes, it was “hard-hitting”. But it was also uncomfortable, like watching a married couple jokingly bicker about the real problems in their relationship. This wasn’t the fun play-fighting we get most of the time, but it ALSO wasn’t the intense, stiff, strong play-fighting we get in other promotions and sometimes get in WWE. This felt wrong.

And that was before Lesnar got sloppy or “got sloppy” with his elbows AGAIn and busted open the head of his opponent AGAIN. I didn’t like it when it happened to Randy Orton, and I reeeeeeealy don’t like Randy Orton. So I liked it even less when it happened to Reigns.

And that was before Reigns lost. Which is pretty much spite-based booking. The story they were telling ends with Reigns winning at Mania. I get that the Mania crowd was primed to shit on that ending for a variety of reasons, but that’s not a terribly difficult thing to predict, given how big crowds at big events have been shitting on big Reigns moment for the past four years. If you want to avoid that, tell a different story with a different ending. Don’t just tack on an extra chapter at the end of the story in the hopes the readers will be in a better mood when they finally get to it.

The match was bad, the booking was bad, the crowd was bad, and worst of all, it continues a trend WWE’s had for a few years now where a perfectly enjoyable event leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth because they can’t just spend the last half hour or hour or 90 minutes giving you nice things. Wrestlemania 34 was a great show, and all I can think about when I think about it is this shitty ending. That’s not what anyone wants.

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