3/28/16 – Andrew Berg – @WrestleRosters
Roman Reigns Hunts HHH
The final episode of Raw before Wrestlemania is usually uneventful. WWE reiterates the existing storylines and protects the wrestlers from any injuries. However, this year’s WWE Title storyline has been so weirdly inverted- with fans booing the handsome babyface and cheering the evil corporate champion- that WWE had work to do to get the fans behind Roman Reigns. They did so with promo from HHH and Stehanie McMahon in which HHH said that Reigns lit a fire under him to compete. They added that Wrestlemania revolves around the WWE Title. Reigns interrupted them and hit the ring to attack, but HHH escaped before Reigns did any damage.
Later in the show, HHH baited Reigns out of an interview and into a gang attack with the Dudleys. HHH smashed Reigns face-first into the WWE Title belt and left him laid out backstage. He and Stephanie returned to the ring to finish the promo Reigns interrupted earlier. Reigns hobbled back to ringside and the brawl resumed. A group of heels ran to the ring and a group of babyfaces followed to keep them apart. They brawled through the group as the show went off the air.
In isolation, the booking sounds straightforward enough. The problem was with how the fans continued to react to Reigns. From the first time he entered, the Brooklyn fans mercilessly booed him. After Reigns performed a splash over the top rope, the fans chanted, “you still suck.” The problem is not a new one and it is not really about this episode of Raw. WWE has presented Reigns as a sympathetic underdog even though he simply doesn’t resonate in that context. As it did last year, the unprecedented unpopularity of Reigns complicates the Wrestlemania booking. Will he walk away with the title on Sunday, will HHH beat another young prospect in spite of his reputation, or will WWE come up with another storyline twist? Each option has its drawbacks, which is the result of continuing to fixate on Reigns in spite of his unpopularity.
Shane McMahon Attacks Undertaker
In contrast to the disappointing finish to Raw, the opening was outstanding. Undertaker started in the ring and Shane McMahon joined him. They traded verbal barbs until they started to brawl. Shane avoided a powerbomb on the table and hit Undertaker with a monitor. With Undertaker laid out, Shane ascended to the top turnbuckle and flew across to the announce table to hit a crazy elbow to Undertaker. The spot reminded fans that Shane is not worried about taking big risks. In fact, it made me wonder if the spot was built to create an injury angle for the match. The story between Shane and Vince has been booked very well and the outcome of this match is the most exciting storyline is one of the most exciting parts of Wrestlemania.
-Paul Heyman delivered a characteristically strong promo on behalf of Brock Lesnar. Midway through, Dean Ambrose walked to ringside with a cart. He filled it with weapons from under the ring without making eye contact with Lesnar, and walked away. The rivalry with Lesnar has already made Ambrose look like a star. The next step will be to deliver in their street fight.
-Chris Jericho initially refused AJ Styles’s Wrestlemania challenge on the basis that he did not want to give Styles his Wrestlemania moment. Styles stood at ringside during Jericho’s match with Zack Ryder and his “Y2 Jackass” chants distracted Jericho into a rollup pin. Jericho hit a Codebreaker and threw a tantrum at ringside that led to him accepting the challenge. Style and Jericho, on paper, look like the best match at Wrestlemania.
-New Day got a phenomenal reaction from the Brooklyn crowd before Kofi Kingston beat Alberto Del Rio with a schoolboy pin to counter the Cross-Armbreaker. After the match, Jonathan Coachman joined New Day on the ramp and celebrated with them. It truly appears that New Day are on their way to the very top of WWE.
-The six Intercontinental Title match participants other than Ryder had a time-filling six-man tag match near the end of the show. Kevin Owens stayed out of the match until it looked like Sami Zayn was out of it, but when Zayn fought back, his teammates ignored him. Zayn hit a Helluva Kick and got the pin on the champion.
-A Ric Flair distraction led to Natural Selection on Becky Lynch for a Charlotte victory. Sasha Banks looked on at ringside. The match was merely a reminder of the Triple Threat match and didn’t add anything new to the rivalry.
-Kalisto got a win over Konnor of The Ascension to show his ability against a big man. Ryback stared him down after the match. I continue to wonder how this singles match got on the card while Owens, Zayn, and Dolph Ziggler are stuck in a seven-man schmozz.
-Lana’s interference gave Emma a win over Paige. After the match, Eva Marie offered to join team Total Divas to the biggest non-Reigns boos of the night. It was unclear that the team would accept Eva Marie on the team, which is a funny twist to a pointless match.