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Posted in: Requesting Flyby
REQUESTING FLYBY: So How Do I Feel About Wrestlemania XXXI Now?
By Maverick
Feb 28, 2015 - 6:16:00 AM

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So How Do I Feel About Wrestlemania XXXI now?


It’s been a strange week in terms of my wrestling fandom. For the first time in almost a year, I did not stay up til 4am to watch WWE’s monthly pay-per-view offering. Having run a half marathon during the day, I was in no condition to, but I was also slightly underwhelmed by the card and worried about the booking of the Roman Reigns vs. Daniel Bryan feud. I had said on The Right Side Of The Pond that I had got whiplash over how many different angles to the rivalry WWE tried to open up in a three week build. My thought was always that the best way to go with a babyface match was competitive mutual respect, something the Sami Zayn vs. Adrian Neville feud on NXT got absolutely spot on in my view. It concerned me the way that the company appeared to be continually putting Bryan’s popularity up against that of Reigns; while the former Shield man has retained a good deal of his fanbase from the high point of Payback ‘14, particularly among women, children and a small section of adult males who have gone hipster on Bryan, he ultimately was not going to win a pop competition with the American Dragon, and I didn’t understand why the writers kept allowing it to happen when they could have actually enhanced Reigns’ popularity by carefully constructing his segments with Daniel as they did during the awesome tag team turmoil bout on Smackdown a few weeks ago which allowed both men to play to their strengths and look competitive with each other, but also respectful.

After a busy first two days back at work after a holiday, it wasn’t until Tuesday evening that I finally got to see the main event of Fast Lane. Now, this is what may surprise those of you who knew from previous columns that I thought that the Reigns push was being rushed a Wrestlemania too early; I loved the match and by the end, could even love to learn the outcome. In contrast to the feud, which was spotty in execution, the match was executed near perfectly. It was everything you want a babyface match to be, and everything you want a power brawler vs. technician match to be. Let me again state my position on Roman Reigns: I have always been a fan of what he brings to the table. My issue with his work post-Shield was that, partly because of writing and partly because of his draining self confidence, he had lost most of what made him exciting to watch, and he seemed ill suited to the mega push that was triggered by his Rumble win. I was always pulling for the guy to succeed, I just wondered whether he was being set up to fail. Being placed in a match with Daniel Bryan over the number one contendership was one hell of a test, and make no bones about it, he passed with flying colours. That was by far the most confident and accomplished singles performance from Reigns so far, lightyears away from the uncertain, slow paced stinker he wrestled with Orton at Summerslam. If he can channel his work on Sunday night into everything he does from this point forwards, I will feel a lot better about Roman Reigns as a top guy moving forwards.

So why was it such a successful match compared to previous Reigns outings? Well, for one thing, a top ring general like Bryan is a much better opponent than an aging Big Show. I think it became clear within minutes of the match starting that WWE had erred in continually booking Roman against monsters, when he is at his best against quicker workers who can sell his explosive power; remember that even the likes of Wyatt and Harper, against whom Reigns had critical success, are very quick men for their size. Show and Kane, at this point in their careers, are not good opponents for a young, relatively inexperienced powerhouse. The extended feeling out process in the match showed that Reigns could match Bryan tactically in kayfabe, and when the pace picked up, his tilt-a-whirl slam and rolling triple Samoan drops were eye catching counters to the Yes Man’s offense. It helped of course that Daniel Bryan is a bumper par excellence, and that he has as good an understanding of match structure as any talent on the planet right now. Just as Reigns would build up a head of steam, D Bry would cut him off, selling the experience in kayfabe by coming up a spot like the huge kick he used as a counter to the Superman punch. Credit to the Roman Empire for his selling too, both in terms of selling exhaustion and in terms of the submission arsenal of the former WWE World Heavyweight Champion.

The head of steam the two of them built up in the final ten minutes of the match was really quite incredible as they went toe to toe, big move for big move, mistake for mistake, as they put absolutely everything on the line. From multiple suicide dives, to belly to belly suplexes on the outside, to diving straight into a Superman punch, they began to really invest the crowd. The sequence where the spear was countered into a small package where Bryan rolled out of the kick out to hit the running knee was poetry in motion, and the near fall was thrilling. The hard kicks, puroresu slaps and extended Yes Lock sequence that followed was pretty damned incredible too. It was high drama as only WWE can do, and they allowed Reigns to show huge toughness in breaking out of the submissions with multiple forearm shots and a powerbomb. The finish took me by surprise even though it was obvious, which is a neat trick to accomplish. We were all so sure that there would be some kind of screwy ending to set up a triple threat that the clean win for Reigns took us all by surprise. Not only was it a superb match, the ending, cribbed from Benoit vs Orton in 2004, put the cap in it all. Bryan shaking Roman’s hand in respect and telling him he’d better kick Brock Lesnar’s ass. I loved it.

So following my viewing of the match on Tuesday night, I was actually, for the first time, sold on the idea of Roman Reigns in the main event of Wrestlemania XXXI. What I didn’t understand is why they felt they had to go back to the well on Raw when WWE had achieved exactly what they wanted to achieve, that is, Reigns over with fans and Bryan out of the way. I would not have put D Bry anywhere near Roman on Monday night. The promo where the writers had Bryan bury Reigns only to explain that he finally earned his respect was massively over-egging the pudding. Just as they had managed to get over the split in the crowd, they exposed Reigns to it again! Ridiculous! That one handshake at Fast Lane was perfect, why they felt the need to heavy handedly run the angle again the next evening is utterly beyond me. It was almost as if WWE didn’t trust that the fan base had watched their pay-per-view and felt like they needed everyone to see that show of respect. It smacked of poor writing, though perhaps it had something to do with Lesnar walking out of Raw and needing to quickly fill a segment. I could have also done without them going all Reality Era on the Reigns victory speech where he referred to his “doubters”. It just came across as ungracious. Now, the other thing I had a problem with when I watched the flagship show on Monday was Paul Heyman’s promo, which really doused my new found enthusiasm for the feud before it really got started. Saying Reigns would have defeated the very best of any era in their prime was just a piece of hyperbole too far for me, which brought back out the eye rolling cynic in me. It also illustrates the problem with having Heyman carry all of Lesnar’s feuds on his back; he gets over exposed. As good as he is on the mic, now and again, he will misfire as he did on Monday. I guess we’ll see how the next month goes, but my interest in the main event is still very much in the balance. With Brock’s hair trigger temper, WWE may be walking a dangerous line, creatively speaking.

The problems with part time performers is actually something which is affecting my enjoyment of the Wrestlemania build as a whole. I articulated this poorly on The Right Side Of The Pond last night, but the mini-era of part timers taking up most of the main event time at the Showcase of the Immortals is something I am longing for to end. I am getting sick of the sight of them, and I am getting sick of the patchy builds due to limited dates. Do I need to see The Undertaker put his broken body through hell just to wrestle some kind of redemption match against Bray Wyatt? Can I really put myself through four weeks of a feud which is entirely carried by one person within it? There’s no doubt that Bray is a talented guy, but the direction of the feud alarms me, and it remains to be seen whether the contest will actually benefit the second generation star. As cool as the casket promo was, another 30 days of that will get very old, very quickly. The same applies to Sting and Triple H; the entire thing is being carried by Helmsley’s stick work, and while I find The Game’s insistence that he is defending the company that he loves interesting, it’s pretty difficult to have a rivalry with a guy who shows up for one show every blue moon. Those two matches alone, with elaborate entrances factored in, are likely to take up a huge slice of time. Two matches that I have only a passing interest in, eating up the time of performers that I do want to see.

Ay, there’s the rub, as a certain Danish literary prince once said. This part time era, which worked horribly at the odd numbered Wrestlemanias XXVII and XXIX and very well at the even numbered Wrestlemanias XXVIII and XXX, has prevented the up and coming talent from performing in the kind of feature midcard bouts that added so much to Wrestlemanias of times past. And when you look at a potential Wrestlemania XXXI card and see that the only likely place for Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan is in a hastily thrown together cluster-you-know-what ladder match, you begin to despair. Three of the most over babyfaces in the company with no proper storyline; absolutely absurd. In times past, these sort of performers would have been in non-title matches with a compelling story; Christian vs. Chris Jericho from Wrestlemania XX is always the one which springs to mind for me. I would have been fine with, say, Ambrose winning the battle royal, Ziggler in an Intercontinental Title match with Barrett and Bryan getting a redemption win over a heel Sheamus, but throwing all those guys into the mix in one match smacks of poor planning and limited time to get them all on the card, and it’s all because of WWE’s insistence of milking the part time cow for all it’s worth and allowing main events a ridiculous amount of time each. Bloated match times for the top matches on the card has continually robbed the undercard of its time to shine, and as someone who appreciates a good undercard, that makes me mad. It’s no coincidence that my favourite Wrestlemanias are the epic trilogy that spanned the end of the Attitude Era and the beginning of Ruthless Aggression: Wrestlemanias XVII, XVIII and XIX. Every one of those cards had a fantastic undercard and built through the night to a crescendo of main event matches. The thing that really irks me is that with the incredible roster WWE have right now, they could put on one of the best wrestling shows of all time, but of the new generation of stars, only Rusev, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins are likely to get time in the sun. The tag titles might not even get on the show despite the combined talents of The Usos and The Masters of the WWE Universe. For all the great matches being put on by the exciting developmental talents in NXT, those guys are going to get shafted when they come up, because dinosaurs like Sting and ‘Taker are taking up space on the biggest night of the year.

As it stands, I am interested conclusively in two Wrestlemania matches: Rusev vs Cena and Rollins vs Orton. I am prepared to be convinced by the others, either in the build or on the night, but I am concerned by all of them and annoyed at the lack of something to do for most of the other great full time talents on the roster. It feels like a step backwards from Wrestlemania XXX, when the mixture of part and full time talent felt right and new talent got showcased effectively. I am honestly torn. I want to be positive, as that’s my default mode, but this is all going a bit too Wrestlemania XXVII for comfort. So if Wrestlemania XXXI turns out to be a critical bust, I hope it convinces the higher ups to do something different. So I say this: please WWE, next year, give us a new start. Put on a Wrestlemania that showcases all of your brilliant full time talents. No Jericho, no ‘Taker, no Rock, no Lesnar unless he’s willing to do more dates, no Triple H unless he’s putting over someone new, and definitely no Sting. I want to see Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, Daniel Bryan, Rusev, Cesaro and Dolph Ziggler on the marquee without the need to prop them up with the stars of previous eras. I want to see the likes of Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Fin Balor and Adrian Neville make eye catching debuts at the Show of Shows. I want WWE to showcase its future, not its past. Let’s make some new legends.

This is Maverick, requesting flyby.

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