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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders – Five Marquee Matches That Could Headline Future Big Four Pay-Per-Views
By The Doc
Nov 30, 2017 - 11:43:06 AM

When news broke last week that Finn Balor was no longer in WWE’s short-term plans for a Universal Title bout, many feared that it made a negative statement about The Demon’s status, that perhaps he had fallen out of the ever-important favor with Vince McMahon. What if it was the opposite, though? What if WWE realized that having Brock Lesnar defeat Balor at The Royal Rumble was just a bad move for the near future and audibled out in an attempt to keep the Bullet Club founder’s rise back to the main-event level a slower burn?

Being honest, you should expect no backlash here if your mindset toward WWE’s product skews toward the glass being half-empty after what could be fairly labeled an up-and-down 2017, but there are plenty of positives to be found in someone like Balor steering clear of the runaway freight train that is Roman Reigns challenging Lesnar for the big red belt at WrestleMania 34, not the least of which is The Demon’s viability for headlining matches over the next year or two, when hopefully the part-timer craze downtrends, offering space on the marquee for current stars to wrestle each other at the biggest events on the calendar. Everything in wrestling is cyclical, including the part-timer problem that has prioritized WWE’s past ahead of its future; when the dust settles, here are a five options involving exclusively stars that debuted in WWE from late 2012 on:

#1: Roman Reigns vs. Finn Balor

WWE surely realizes that post-WrestleMania 33 Big Dog is the best Big Dog, as Roman was still subtly “good” enough to maintain his position with his target audience but he was also villainous enough to not be the groan-inducing farce that he had been before. Reigns, for the longest time, struggled to be authentic as a character, but from retiring Undertaker through Summerslam, he looked comfortable in his own skin and he was one of the best parts of Raw as a result; that anti-villain persona, as one of our readers dubbed it, is Roman’s sweet spot as a character and, if WWE commits to it, Reigns will be one of their most bankable commodities for years to come, no part-timer assistance required.

Balor is currently trying to find his own character sweet spot beyond the re-emergence of The Demon, which is just so visually stunning that it works. WWE is taking care not to over-push Balor, so presumably they will also take care to develop his persona further to the point that he gets more than a “he’s good looking, so the women cheer, and he was a big part of NXT’s growth and founded the world’s most popular wrestling stable, so the men cheer” kind of reaction when he is not wearing the paint. If they find his “real dude with the volume turned up” character, nobody on the roster today would be able to match his combination of silky smooth performance, organic underdog size, and eye-popping aesthetics (when in Demon form). That combo plus anti-villain Reigns for the Universal Championship is, to quote Steve Austin, “pure solid ass gold.”

#2: Finn Balor vs. AJ Styles

A cynic might look at the recent Styles vs. Balor match that was randomly put together at the last minute to help deal with last minute illnesses at TLC in October and say, “They did not think highly enough of that potential match to save it for a more meaningful show with an actual build.” The more positive view, of course, would be to look at that decision as WWE recognizing the appeal of the match and using it as a method of ensuring that fans would actually take the time to watch an otherwise skippable show. Even if Vince McMahon saw it the way that the glass is half emptiers might have perceived it, surely one could logically posit that the chairman was impressed enough by the impromptu encounter that some are calling a darkhorse Match of the Year candidate that he now understands more acutely the value in Balor vs. Styles.

Both Styles and Balor are leading the charge for New Japan being the best promotion from which to recruit talent in this day and age. If their legends continue to grow, WWE's association with the far east will grow too and, should WWE ever more seriously revisit the concept of The (Bullet) Club on its airwaves, an awesome power struggle storyline awaits the first two leaders since the faction's inception. Therein lies the key to maximizing the Balor vs. Styles potential – making sure that the world at large knows of their history; and the best way to do that would be to bring that history to life on TV to a greater extent and then use it as a catalyst to create an engaging narrative between the two leading up to a major PPV.

#3: The Shield Triple Threat Match II

Confidently stated, Dean Ambrose, when all is said and done, will be remembered as the Mick Foley of this generation, in that his position on the card may fluctuate, but he will consistently be involved in something that at least feels important because he is so good. His solo babyface run has been categorically successful, even if 2017 will go by without him ever headlining a PPV singles match for the first time since The Shield split up three and a half years ago. When he turns heel, we will see him realize his full potential as a main-event player.

Taking The Lunatic's stature into account, that Reigns is who he is, plus the star that Seth Rollins remains despite a lukewarm reception to his protagonistic run of the past twelve months or so (imagine if 2017 proves to be the worst year of his singles career – with a Mania program opposite Triple H, the 2K18 cover, the most psychologically in-depth storyline of the summer, great Tag Team Title bouts, and a Shield reunion), The Triple Threat Rematch between The Hounds of Justice has got to be among the frontrunners in terms of which combination of New Era talents will headline a Big 4 PPV without part-time add-ons first. They are the three cornerstone stars of the post-Cena era in WWE, and their initial three-way encounter deserves a redo under brighter lights and on a grander stage.

If a scenario took shape that involved one of the them winning Money in the Bank, Ambrose turning heel, another of them becoming WWE or Universal Champion, and the third man winning the Royal Rumble, it would be the most anticipated WrestleMania match since Rock-Cena 1.

#4: Dean Ambrose vs. Roman Reigns

Before the Asylum's leader turns heel, there is a money clash to be had between former stablemates in Ambrose vs. Reigns. The dynamic in which Reigns has to play the de-facto babyface has proven ineffectual thus far, so trying to pit a heel Lunatic Fringe against the anti-villain is a recipe for an odd feud. However, with Ambrose in current form tapping into the more serious side of his heroic persona (see Winter 2016), you have an ideal ingredient to mix with Roman that should turn out well assuming creative gives them something of substance in the build-up (which one should predict that they would given the participants).

Back to the Foley analogy, Ambrose should be easy to heat up to a headlining title bout within a matter of a month. If a feud with Reigns somehow ended up being his first foray back to the top championship picture since he was rather swept rather swiftly back into the mid-card at the beginning of 2017, it could increase the anticipation to its peak by clearly painting Ambrose with the underdog brush; if they were to main-event Summerslam or Survivor Series in 2018, for instance, Ambrose would be returning to the title scene for the first time in two years, giving him the chance to build sympathy from a lengthy climb back to the summit. The longer WWE waited, the better that particular arc might be, but it would also run the risk of making his current act stale, the anticipated heel turn rendered a desperation move.

#5: Seth Rollins vs. AJ Styles

The Architect’s next career peak is going to happen eventually. Some have been down on him since his mid-2016 return from injury, but perhaps that has been due, in part, to the fact that he set a really high bar for himself in consecutive MVP years (2014 and 2015). Though he is still a highly intelligent wrestler capable of getting the most out of his various opportunities, to say that his stock has fallen in the critical community and that even his best performances (see vs. Reigns, MITB’16 and vs. HHH, WM33) are only connecting at a 4-star-plus level with a portion of diehard fans seems fair. If we compared match ratings to movie ratings and a database similar to Rotten Tomatoes existed for professional wrestling critics, The Architect’s matches from the past 18 months would probably be at about 65-70% fresh, as opposed to the 80-85% certified fresh clip he was hitting at prior to blowing out his knee.

AJ Styles was WWE’s MVP in 2016 and has arguably been MVP in 2017 as well. Very little opposition exists to contradict the notion that he is the best performer in WWE today. The Phenomenal One essentially replaced Rollins as the IWC darling while Seth was injured, and has yet to reach a point in his two year WWE career when his stock has dropped with the most critical voices in the industry, leaving little room for anyone to truly challenge his status; Rollins is capable of making that challenge by rising to the occasion. When Rollins begins to peak again, the masses will reflect back and see the resume of no less than the second best worker in WWE. If AJ can continue the roll that he has been on across the last two calendars until Rollins reaches his next peak, a Styles vs. Rollins match at a major PPV might register as the decade’s most anticipated, at least among the diehard fanbase.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: So, what do you think? Which matches pitting solely the stars of today against each other are most likely to headline Big 4 PPVs once the part-timer craze dies down?

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