Sports

What does Roman Reigns do once he’s beaten everyone in WWE?

Vince McMahon tries to figure out how to get out of the corner he painted himself into.

Vince McMahon tries to figure out how to get out of the corner he painted himself into.
Screenshot: WWE

I’ll admit to watching Survivor Series last night hoping that it would be an unmitigated disaster. Through WWE’s terrible promotion and build to the event, spiced with the disheartening and cold releases of wrestlers due to “budget cuts” even though the company keeps trumpeting record profits, there are few wrestling fans who don’t want the company to face some sort of reckoning.

Is that sort of thing possible? No, it isn’t, and deep down we know that. They make too much money, are just far too big, the deals too locked in for too long for the execs to ever truly feel and see how their terrible stewardship of it all has been. They’re insulated. But if it’s ever going to happen, a massively panned PPV that turns off even more fans would be a start, at least.

But Survivor Series wasn’t a calamity. Was it good? No, it wasn’t that either. But it had its moments, mostly due to WWE still having performers who are exceptional at their jobs despite the company making every effort to kill their spirit. Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair put on a belter because that’s just this thing that they do. Big E vs. Roman Reigns was really good too, thanks to the slightest build, the history between their factions, and the overall talent of the duo.

There were lowlights too, of course. The battle royale was utterly pointless and somehow made even worse by being a glorified Pizza Hut ad. The women’s Survivor Series match was a mess that didn’t make all that much sense, but at least ended with Bianca Belair looking like the star that she is. The match on the preshow, Damian Priest vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, ended in a DQ, which predicted an even messier main show than we actually got.

There was also the infuriating and frankly insulting vignette of Vince McMahon arriving with his “golden egg” (another tie-in to a sponsor, this time to the Netflix movie Red Notice, starring The Rock, and from what I can tell on Twitter, no one has seen it). Vince’s arrival had to be “cheered” by a host of wrestlers, who seemingly had to ignore the fact that this aging, senile turd has laid off 80 of their coworkers this year simply to maximize already obscene profits, and those profits were actually fairly represented by that ridiculous egg. It was a gross picture all around, and one I’m sure Vince is completely oblivious to.

And no, The Rock didn’t appear. It was the 25th anniversary of his first appearance in WWE, and they certainly wanted to tease that he would show up with a series of video tributes and a couple of wrestlers using his signature moves.

And when he didn’t show, at the end of the main event, I couldn’t help but think about why the company and fans needed him to arrive so badly. Because what is the plan with Roman Reigns?

Reigns pinned Big E clean last night, honestly something he probably should have done more of in this 400+ day run as the main guy of the company with the universal championship. No complaints about his booking have anything to do with Reigns himself — he has aced everything about being a heel and top of the card for over a year. His matches have been must-see and consistently great. His mic work, often cringe-worthy when he was being peddled as the next Cena, has matched his in-ring work as the all-conquering asshole of the world. Whatever Reigns has been given, he’s done the most he can with.

But what now? This can’t go on forever, and WWE is heading into its main section of the calendar, the Royal Rumble through WrestleMania stretch. And who is left to be a credible challenger to Reigns? WWE has basically ignored building anyone into someone we can believe will be the one to topple Roman. And the longer they fail to do so, the longer Roman runs unopposed consistently at the top, the harder it becomes to get someone there. It keeps feeding on itself.

Big E would have been a prime candidate. He’s the company’s biggest face, fantastic in every facet of the job, wildly popular, and easily could have started building momentum to be Roman’s opponent in Dallas for Mania 38 with a win last night. Sure, there are some complications with E being on Raw and Roman on SmackDown, but who gives a shit? Easily worked around, if they wanted to badly enough. But they don’t. Instead of the start of a glorious rivalry, it’s unlikely we’ll see these two in a ring together again for ages.

It was Edge once. He’s a part-timer. It was Daniel Bryan once. He works for the competition now. Kevin Owens symbolically walked right out of the Survivor Series match last night, in what basically everyone hopes is what he’ll do to the company as a whole in a month’s time when his contract runs out. Cesaro had his moment, but WWE didn’t use the star power one gets from a program with Roman to keep him as a main event player, and now he’s lost it tag and battle royale hell again.

So that leaves Brock Lesnar again, but everyone knows he’ll never be more than a very-part-timer. He’s not getting the title off Roman, and if he does it’ll just lead to more shows where the title isn’t even up for grabs, and those suck deep pond scum. It’s also why everyone’s so curious about The Rock, given his familial connections to Reigns. It doesn’t seem fair to a roster of performers busting their ass with the threat of a sudden release hanging over their heads — for no reason other than to make the uber-rich even more uber-richer — that someone can waltz in and take the most coveted spot, and it’s hardly their fault. That said, I would probably still mark out hard when the PA hits, “IF YA SMELLLLLLLLL!” Whatever the complaints are, if Rock has enough time between filming whatever version of The Rundown he’s on now (to be clear, The Rundown is great and you should see it, but every Rock movie is just some reworking of that). But Rock isn’t going to beat Reigns for the title either.

It’s an indictment that the only wrestlers fans can realistically see with Reigns in the ring, come the company’s biggest shows, are two who, at best, wrestle four times a year. Or a third guy who hasn’t wrestled at all in nearly a decade. How can WWE not put even the slightest effort into finding someone in-house? Is it too hard? This is where I would point out that with just a modicum of work, Keith Lee would have been this guy, but my voice is already hoarse from that. They haven’t even really bothered with anyone else.

There is one possibility in-house, if WWE was listening last night, which they almost certainly weren’t. It’s Jeff Hardy. The fans still love him, he’s still great when given something real to work with, and he’s capable of one last run at the top. Fans would rally behind a last hurrah kind of build, because they know he doesn’t have forever left. Again, it’s still an indictment that the first name I can come up with who’s on the show every week is still a 25-year veteran or whatever instead of new blood, but this is where we are.

Or just have Bianca do it, but I won’t sit on a hot stove waiting for that to happen.

Nothing lasts forever, and we’re rapidly approaching the point where the Age of Roman gets awfully stale and has nowhere to go. I have no problems with long title reigns (GET IT?) and in fact encourage them. But they need serious challengers to make them feel legit, and Roman is out of them and has been for some time. Still, water eventually becomes fetid. And WWE only has itself to blame that it has to break the glass for its emergency part-timers.

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