Last night was WWE’s Extreme Rules, the catch-up show from WrestleMania. It was also probably the beginning of rebuilding Roman Reigns. I was last a semi-active watcher during The Shield‘s initial dominance of WWE and I’d always seen Reigns as the surefire breakout. Not to say he was my favorite — Dean Ambrose takes that title in a walk out of the three, and even though I’ve never been the biggest Tyler Black/Seth Rollins fan I knew him better than I knew Reigns — but I felt that he was the guy WWE was going to want to push. And I was right, as were a lot of people. It wasn’t hard to see. As they started to dismantle The Shield they were pushing Ambrose out of the main speaker role and giving it to Reigns, giving him the singles matches, trying to have him him end up with the lion’s share of the group’s popularity.
I wasn’t really watching for much of the post-breakup stuff. I followed results and news, though, and saw that real quickly Roman Reigns was not exactly turning out as the super-popular golden boy. Crowds were coming out against him and WWE was quickly playing the “fans can do whatever they want” card. He got locked into the main event at WrestleMania 31 against Brock Lesnar, the reigning WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Walking into that title match against The Beast, he was not popular. This should have been the peak of WWE’s nurturing their new superstar, a main event title match at WrestleMania. But to me, WrestleMania did anything but crown Reigns, literally or metaphorically.
So what’s happening now? Reigns needs to get some wins back. He’s got to start looking like the powerhouse that he first got popular as. At Extreme Rules, he came up against The Big Show in an effort to get that back under way. As a talent I think Big Show is slept on a lot. He’s an extremely versatile wrestler and great opponent, especially to prove your toughness against. If Reigns could have good performance here it could do a lot to help him get his credibility back.
That does rely heavily on your idea of what good is. As a tough guy, it certainly hits all the beats. Still, I felt the match was rather artless. I’m not sure that the blame can be placed entirely on Show and Reigns, except that they were in the ring. WWE likes to construct their matches around a series of big spots, which makes them feel very mechanical. As a last man standing match, what we got was a lot of set-up and hanging around, two WWE favorites.
Last Man Standing
THE BIG SHOW vs ROMAN REIGNS
I think what we’d expect to see here is the big man/little man interplay between Show and Reigns. They do use it a bit, mostly in that it’s very difficult for Reigns to take Show off his feet. At the same time, Reigns takes Show over the top with a clothesline about a minute in. He gets Show up for Samoan drop, hits a couple other slams, and basically shows he’s strong enough to deal with the giant. There’s a lot of Show proving that he’s the World’s Largest Athlete but not a whole lot of outright dominance from him. At best, he is standing groggy while Reigns is down, but it’s basically the same effect. Every time Show gets a hit in, Reigns will have an answer for him shortly. It’s a see-saw effect which makes it look very even but also means that no tension gets built. Since we’re pretty sure Reigns is going to come back with something soon, why would we be worried that he might be at the end of his rope?
The fact that Reigns is shown to be pretty near on Show’s level power-wise doesn’t leave a lot of other avenues for the match to go in its storyarc. Usually there would be a lot given into just how the size difference is being made up but there’s none of that here. That means that even the little bit of strategy that you’d usually see in a Big Show match — the little guy doing his damndest to get out of Show’s way — is thrown out the window. What’s left is a pretty flat match as far as its trajectory. We get a build-up of spots — from table teases to chairshots to table busting — but it never really feels like anybody is winning because nobody secures anything but a temporary advantage.
A last man standing match seems to bring up the image of a wild brawl, but the art of wrestling is to keep a strong sense of flow through the chaos. Strategies and tactics you can see do a lot to help that flow become realized. If Roman Reigns, say, is trying to take out The Big Show’s knees, we all have a focus: can Reigns do it, how will Show defend against it, will it be successful? If The Big Show feels that Reigns’s spear is his biggest weapon, why not try always to be behind Reigns, or to be so close that he can’t get the spear done? The most we got toward any sort of strategy in this match was Reigns attempting to use tables and chairs. This doesn’t really amount to a strategy, especially as it never seemed clear to me what he was bringing the tables out to do except to use them on Show. I mean, that might seem reductive, but “hurt your opponent” is so broad that I don’t think it really counts as a strategy in pro wrestling. If Reigns really could never lift Show and was trying to rely on the tables for extra impact, continually setting them up in the corners, that would make sense. That’s not how they played it.
Both guys did pretty well acting the thing out. Roman had some good facials, thinking particularly of when Show rolled out to the floor. They hit their spots and everything looked pretty good. I think Show is too big to do the spear if I’m honest — I feel like it looks best when it’s a big missile flying at you, like Goldberg or Rhyno; Show is like a truck rolling over you — but I’m guessing that was more as a way to fuck with Reigns. I just wasn’t feeling the flow of the match. After 30 seconds of guys hitting each other I get the idea, I then want to see them invest their time into trying to win a wrestling match. But, as is usual with WWE, the match’s action masks how little meat there is to keep you drawn in.
Bottom Line: If you like people being put through tables and smashing a bunch of stuff up, this’ll be your jam. There’s nothing deeper than that going on here.