Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Who Is Triple H Putting Over at WrestleMania?

Is this scene going to happen at WrestleMania in the main event?
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Ever since Seth Rollins shredded his knee against Kane on a European house show and Roman Reigns speared Triple H out of his pants at Survivor Series, the latter two men were set on a collision course, seemingly for the main event of WrestleMania. The story has followed familiar beats. Reigns rebuffed Trips' offer to replace Rollins in the Authority. Reigns won the tournament for the vacant WWE Championship. Reigns rebuked Trips' handshake, but the Chief Operating Officer was waiting and had Sheamus cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase for the Championship. Sheamus and his new running buddies, the League of Nations, harassed Reigns between Survivor Series and Tables, Ladders, and Chairs, and they allowed Sheamus to retain at said TLC. Reigns flipped his shit and put Triple H on the shelf with a brutal beating. Then, Triple H came back at the Rumble and won by eliminating Reigns.

Except Reigns wasn't the last wrestler the current Champ eliminated. That honor went to Dean Ambrose. One might surmise that Ambrose as the final stumbling block for Trips was a way to shake up the order and not make things as predictable. However, that reasoning feels like putting a hat on Malibu Stacy as a ploy to make her seem all new rather than a cheap trinket to distract from the fact that what was really underneath was the same old thing. But then Ambrose was put in the main event of Fast Lane. The knee-jerk reaction is that WWE wants neither Reigns or Brock Lesnar, the other two wrestlers in the match, to eat a pin in advance of WrestleMania, so Ambrose is in the match as a convenient fall guy.

If I'm interpreting the tea leaves correctly, Lesnar has no shot of winning the triple threat. He will be conveniently taken out/kidnapped/distracted by the Wyatt Family, leaving Reigns to get the pin on his running buddy, Ambrose. Or will Reigns get the win? Could WWE be adding another layer to the story by delaying Reigns' payoff against Triple H, or scuttling it altogether in favor of a "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" heel turn after WrestleMania?

The first thing to look at is the crowd's reaction to Reigns in the last few months. His big win at Survivor Series was greeted to mixed reactions before Sheamus cashed in, and Atlanta is purported to be a "Roman Reigns town" on the WWE touring schedule. He did get a hero's reaction in Philadelphia when he won the title the night after TLC, and many observers concluded that he'd finally gotten over the hump, especially since Philly booed him so hard at the Rumble last year that God decided to dump a shitpile of snow on the RAW site for the night after. But the Rumble is an event that attracts a lot of travelers from outside the area. It's more a cross-section of the entire fanbase than a random RAW crowd, which has a far, far higher percentage of natives to the area. Point is, the same crowd that tore him and The Rock to shreds after the Rumble in January were not the same people losing their shit for him winning the title in December, at least by and large it wasn't. Additionally, one cannot discount how much of a flop Sheamus was for his stunted run as Champion. Maybe Reigns was greeted as the lesser of two evils that night?

His crowd reactions started to even out to the point where they were leveling back to the mixed responses he'd been getting ever since he came back from injury at the butt-end of 2014. Culminating at the Rumble, his entry into the match was, as corroborated by several attendees as well as viewers at home, mixed at best, with boos winning out. If Reigns is the guy who's definitely closing out the show as THE guy, a reaction such as that right now portends the biggest crowd in WrestleMania history will shit all over the ending, provided that Reigns/Triple H will go on last. Unless John Cena's Wolverine healing factor has him back facing the Undertaker in record time, the last man standing at WrestleMania will get a tepid reaction at best.

Granted, rehabilitating Reigns isn't an impossible task. WWE almost did it last year against a Brock Lesnar whom the crowd was aching to cheer. How it would have ended, no one knows because Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase during the main event and left as WWE Champion. Vince McMahon and his staff have no such ace in the hole this year, so if they somehow are able to write a narrative for Reigns that allows him to endear himself to the crowd and gain the fans' support, they had better deploy it starting at Smackdown.

But do you know who doesn't have problems getting positive crowd reactions? Ambrose. He has been put on backburners so many times since The Shield broke up that it's no wonder his pants aren't scorched the flames. He's been given shit character development at times, put in feuds that don't particularly go anywhere, and basically he's remained bulletproof. Fans still react for him as if he's a conquering hero. If he's put in a meaningful feud, like the one he's seemingly just gotten out of vs. Kevin Owens, he can whip the people into a frenzy and give them the catharsis they need. And when he's got the carrot dangling in front of him like when he feuded with Rollins over the last two summers, and more importantly, like when he was the last guy in the ring with Triple H at the Royal Rumble, the tension gets so thick that you don't even need a knife to cut it.

Now, instead of having Michael Cole call his Nigel lariat the "Wacky Line" and putting him in situations where he's wheeling hot dog carts (which he made great, by the way, no lies) just to lose in the most ridiculous fashion possible (like to an exploding television), imagine WWE putting Ambrose in a similar build into Mania like Reigns got last year or will need this year to get to a level close to Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXX rather than Hulk Hogan at Bash at the Beach '96. I can't concretely say what the results would be, but given what is known about how people flock to Ambrose, it has to be what McMahon and everyone in the boardroom and the writers' offices would dream of, right?

So, going back to the Royal Rumble, maybe the reason why Ambrose was the last eliminated wasn't just to fake everyone out and not go with the most obvious ending, instead ratcheting it back from 100 to 99 on the most likely scale. What if WWE was planting the seed for the true ending of WrestleMania? What if the company was taking a new model out for a test run?

Honestly, the people running the show can't have ignored all the evidence so far. Inserting Ambrose in Reigns' spot at Mania is not a stretch either. Rollins turned on BOTH Ambrose and Reigns. The Authority did its best to put screws to Ambrose, whether directly while he feuded with Rollins, or indirectly as a way to get to Reigns. He's been fairly protected in the pecking order so that while he's not currently on the level of a Reigns or John Cena, he's not too far off. The time is right for WWE to call an audible on him.

The booking can go in a few directions, but the most simplistic path has Ambrose pinning Reigns after Lesnar is taken out of the equation at Fast Lane, while Reigns stays on board with Ambrose to help him take down Triple H and The Authority. Machinations from the evil overlords would definitely include them screwing Ambrose out of the Intercontinental Championship, preferably to get it into another feud (Owens vs. Sami Zayn? Whomever AJ Styles is wrestling? THE UNDERTAKER?!?!?). Then, at Mania, Reigns would be taken out after whatever match he's in (at this point, the best bet would to put him against the Undertaker, AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, or alongside Lesnar in a multiman match against the Wyatt Family) so that he can't interfere in the main event. Ambrose would then win without anyone's help against all odds, which would be the thing to set Reigns off the night after.

Of course, the Reigns heel turn is the most controversial part of all this for some. However, it makes the most sense because WWE has basically done everything short of doing the world's largest Jedi mind trick to make everyone love Reigns like they did Bryan or Hulk Hogan or even Cena before he got overexposed. The only path left to make Reigns into a viable main event property that gets a reaction is to let people boo him. Turning Reigns has been a staple in conversation ever since the rumblings began about The Shield's breakup, and he was always the best suited for it. Ambrose was far too popular with modern WWE crowds, and Rollins' deficiencies were more easily hidden as a babyface. Now is the perfect opportunity, and if the clues point in the direction I'm thinking they are, WWE may realize it.

Now, WWE's stubbornness has been well-documented, especially in the post-CM Punk era, and even its biggest deviation from the plan only happened because Punk walked out. This whole setup could just be a way to help jumpstart Reigns one last time. Ambrose will theoretically give Reigns the big rub the way Bryan did at Fast Lane last year, and hey, maybe he'll be the one to turn. Never underestimate the desire of post-Attitude Era Vince McMahon to ram the square peg into the round hole. But the way the cards are laying on the table right now, Ambrose could be the one who gets his moment in the Sun at WrestleMania...

...or maybe neither of them will go over. Maybe Triple H wins as the biggest fuck you on the biggest show in WWE's history. You never know anymore.