Let’s start by being complimentary. It’s a new thing for me but I’m getting old and trying to evolve before my cholesterol count gets me. Thanks to the work that Sami Zayn and Roman Reigns have put in over the past six months, what is usually a run-of-the-mill PLE, Elimination Chamber, rose to the level of a must-see event. It was one of the most anticipated shows WWE has run in quite some time, and the main event generated buzz that a good portion of their Wrestlemania main events recently have failed to do. It’s the thing that only WWE can do. A kind of story that spreads out farther than just the wrestling world. Maybe this is the first time that’s happened since Bryan Danielson’s run in 2014. Or maybe Becky Lynch’s to the first women’s main event. But neither of those culminated at something else other than Mania. To get this level of show to that level of anticipation and excitement is a credit to Reigns and Zayn.
Secondly, the build and even the first half of the actual match harkened back to wrestling’s roots in the territory days. Here we have the local face, as you will not find a more beloved figure than Zayn in Montreal, and the invading, intimidating force (Reigns) brought in to challenge him and raise his hero status. It is the quintessential wrestling story, what the whole business stems from before it became such a big business.
And it’s a role that Reigns plays extremely well. Not just the way he carries himself as a heel, or the constant trash-talking to both opponent and crowd, or the way each one of his moves has a menacing edge to them during “the heat” of a match. But the way he grounds it in paranoia and insecurity we know is there from previous work. The cracks have been there for a while now, and Reigns hasn’t been afraid to play into that. It’s not his fault that WWE booking trots him down the same goddamn path every match.
Which made last night’s ending so disappointing, combined with the fact that we all know this is what they do and yet we keep psyching ourselves into thinking that the company will one day do something different. Yes, part of being a wrestling fan is being sucked in and imagining any possibility. But that gets harder and harder to enjoy when you keep being brought to the same conclusion.
Even with a crowd as vociferous as any since CM Punk walked into the Rosemont Horizon in 2011, even with so many angles to play with that could have led to any number of intriguing story paths, we got the same Roman Reigns match we’ve been watching for at least the last two years. Face comes back, ref bump, interference, false finish, then distraction, spear, Reigns wins (LOL). Not even the slightest variance from the same routine. You could have just run a tape of matches with Danielson or Edge or Kevin Owens or AJ Styles or Drew McIntyre. We’ve seen it all before.
G/O Media may get a commission
Samsung Galaxy S23 Series
Free $100 credit or gift card.
Samsung’s newest line of Galaxy phones—the S23 Ultra, S23+, and S23—are available now. Receive a free $100 credit or gift card with your purchase.
And you know that deep down, WWE thought it was kind of lame by running the post-match angle where Owens saves Sami from an attack and they get the last shot at Reigns, so everyone gets to cheer at the end instead of raining (pun somewhat intended) down boos to end the show. It’s the half-assed 50/50 booking that New York has specialized in for most of the last decade, and what we thought would change under Triple H but hasn’t. It’s spineless. “We won’t take the titles off Roman even though that’s where this has led, but we’ll give this crowd a morsel afterward so they can feel good about cheering their guy.” It’s pawing at anything meaningful.
They couldn’t even bring themselves to do anything with Jey Uso, who has a layered past with both Zayn and his cousin Reigns. He came in, and teased both helping Reigns or Zayn, and ended up doing nothing. And the same old lament from the WWE-pilled spills out afterward, “Let’s see what they do with this.” Well, most of us are tired of seeing and then just being left with the same thing.
All the Rhodes they could have taken
There is a great story to be told that Roman’s hold on the entire company can only be taken down from within. From someone who was under him at one point, someone he once trusted but someone who truly knows what he really is. Jey Uso, or Zayn, or Seth Rollins. They’ve toyed with all of this in the recent past. Jey is the family member who has seen through the facade. Zayn, the one they brought in who eventually was removed just enough to see the emperor had no clothes. Rollins is the former partner that Reigns has never been able to solve and has always been one step behind. Reigns has cut such a powerful force over the past three years that only those who really know where the weak points are could be a threat. Any of these would be great stories to tell.
Instead, we’ll get Cody Rhodes parachuted in with his spruced-up George Carlin “My Daddy” routine. WWE is so focused on its “moments,” and the moments they’ve visualized, and they have the perfect vehicle in Rhodes who is also only concerned with moments without any of the scaffolding under them to make them really count, that it can’t see when it has a better one with a superior foundation to it staring it in the face.
WWE will say giving Zayn this kind of match in Montreal is better than having him main-event Mania. Horseshit. Zayn is so talented and so loved that he could turn any arena or stadium into Montreal behind him. They’ll say he’ll come out a bigger star after this and a main event player for a long while now. Maybe, he is that good, but who else has that worked out for? Where are any of Reigns’s previous feuds now? Danielson is in another company, McIntyre is in the Intercontinental scene, Styles is on hiatus, Owens bounces in and out of the main event scene. Rollins is having to put up with Logan Paul now after having spent months using his considerable talents to make Austin Theory look in any way viable.
Sure, there are a few ways they could go to save this. Add Sami to the Rhodes-Reigns match. Have him interfere. Fuck, have him turn back to fuck over Rhodes (the least likely but anything that screws Cody!). But they won’t do any of it. Because enough people believe in the “let’s see where they go with it” that they’ll just keep seeing even though it never ends, it never pays off.
WWE got back to the quintessential wrestling story last night, but that story always ends with the face overcoming the heel. That’s the deal. You invest people into his journey and his chase and his challenge, and then one day it all comes together for the catharsis. There couldn’t have been a bigger catharsis than Sami in Montreal. WWE forgot, or willfully ignored, rule one. Further proof they don’t care what the fans want, they only care what they want. Which doesn’t make it storytelling at all.