FACT or FICTION Returns! Will Reigns ever win the crowd? Should Rollins beat Brock? Will Miz & Bryan main event Mania? & more feat. ‘Plan, Sir Sam & Type

WWE

G’day Lords of Pain and welcome to the return of FACT or FICTION, the monthly/bi-monthly/quarterly/annual column where we put the the hot topics going around the world of wrestling in front of a pair of my Lords of Pain brethren and we determine if they are FACT of FICTION.

In case you have never read one of these before (and let’s face it, it’s been a while between drinks for us too) I have come up with five statements for myself and my guests to discuss and determine if they are FACT of FICTION. I have picked four contemporary topics and one more historic statement to be dissected. All of them are inspired by different conversations on the LOP Forums so if you want to weigh in or ever want to feature in one of these columns down the line you should sign up down there today.

Just for the sake of introductions I’m your new host for this series Sir Sam (@Sir_Samuel on Twitter), you may have read my work hereon LOP either in Sir Sam’s Court or my Daniel Bryan series YES Relived. That is enough from me though, allow me to introduce my two guests for today:

Samuel ‘Plan@LoPPlan –  Prolific Main Page writer of the Just Business series, on LOP Radio he hosts The Right Side Of The Pond, Aftershock and Retroshock and the author of the fantastic book 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die which you should absolutely check out if you haven’t already.

Tony Beauchamp@LopType – Our newest main page writer, he debuted on the Columns Forum just over a year ago and has been typing it in ever since. You can find his work under Type’s Fingertip Feelings.

Now the formalities are out of the way, let’s get this show on the road.

It doesn’t matter what the WWE does with him, Roman Reigns will never win the crowd over.

Tony: I will say FICTION.  The main reason people do not accept Roman Reigns is because his plans have been laid out far in advance at the expense of other wrestlers. It’s bad enough that we knew for almost an entire year he’d be main eventing this past Wrestlemania, but its even worse for fans knowing we may have to suffer all summer knowing Reigns is next in line.

Simply committing to him as a full fledged heel, taking scrutiny from the fans and giving it back, is already something fresh and new.  Might as well play into what the narrative is. I’m pretty sure a guy named Rocky Maivia didn’t stay a smiling babyface when he was boo’d by the fans. He used that as fuel.  Stop making him the cool in between guy and commit to the elephant in the room. The main reason I call fiction on this is because I think a good heel run where there’s no more odd “hero shoved down our throats” moments will allow a follow up face turn to be far more accepted by the fans. There is absolutely hope he can win the crowd ever if the WWE lets him become what he is to the fans.

‘Plan: Had this question been asked as early as the night after WrestleMania 31 I would have said this was fiction. Hell, had it have been asked as recently as the night before WrestleMania 34 I would have probably talked myself into the same response.

Unfortunately it seems that WWE have been completely unable to help themselves and, in what feels like is becoming typical fashion for them, are inside their own heads when it comes to the Roman Reigns experiment. Fearful they won’t get exactly what they want, they seem unphased by the potentially disastrous consequences of their immediate decision making and, as a result, have, in the space of a single calendar month, stripped Roman Reigns, conceptually, of every major achievement of his career.

He was always going to beat Brock Lesnar, until he didn’t. He was the man who retired the Undertaker, until he wasn’t. He defeated The Authority to become the new poster-boy of the company, until it never happened. Instead all Roman Reigns now seems to be is a talented performer struggling to do his best impression of a top guy, all of it through no fault of his own.

Imagine John Cena entering the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania still attempting to solidify his status as a top name in the company, or WWE still clinging to their Lex Luger experiment heading into WrestleMania XIV. Those are the equivalents, in terms of timing, and that is quite frankly insane.

I have no idea what the solution is at this stage, though getting Reigns away from Brock Lesnar and keeping him there is certainly step one. The rest…well, all I can say is good luck. I’m now resigned to ride the storm out numbly and wait for something more interesting to happen, and if that’s how a once impassioned defender of the Big Dog now feels I can’t help but think that the idea his critics will one day be won over is complete fiction. So the answer to your question Sam is FACT.

SirSam: Ever since Wrestlemania I have begun to feel more and more strongly the damage done to Reigns’ career is terminal and it is a sad FACT he is destined to continue to provoke the ire of the crowds for the rest of his career.

You have both outlined the exact reason he is so disliked and the sad thing about this disaster of a situation is that it lies almost entirely at the feet of the WWE creative department. I guess this question comes down to how optimistic you are about the WWE’s ability to change its approach towards Roman in a positive way and then the fans readiness to change their mind on the guy. Sadly I do not trust either to change such deeply entrenched behaviours and attitudes even in the long term. While someone like The Rock was able to turn a similar situation around, the course correction for him was done far earlier in his career. Roman Reigns now has three solid years of this treatment at the very top of the card and if anything the mistakes from creative have only compounded and attitudes towards him have only hardened over time.

The guy may get a grudging cheer when he is one day put into the Hall of Fame but on current form the WWE will want him to headline it the day after he retires and fans will just see it as yet another time Reigns has been pushed into a position years before he should be there.

Seth Rollins should be the man to beat Brock Lesnar.

‘Plan: FACT! FACT, FACT, FACT, FACT, FACT! I would say that, right?

There’s a difference between a manufactured attempt at pushing someone to become a star, and a star who becomes who they are through the natural coincidences of history, with a little help from their own incredible talent. The former is the previously discussed Roman Reigns. The latter is Seth Rollins.

Whether it was the ‘Heist of the Century’ at WrestleMania 31 or his brief reign as the only WWE World Heavyweight and United States Champion in the summer of the same year, whether it was being the man responsible for bringing back The Authority or being the first overall draft pick of the company’s second ever Brand Extension, whether it was being the first-ever NXT Champion or hitting new heights of organic popularity as Intercontinental Champion, Seth Rollins has accrued a legendary singles career already. Right now, he is the hottest character on their show, a fact openly admitted by the company on regular occasion, and he holds the Intercontinental Championship over his shoulder…right before Summerslam; the idea of him repeating history by this time becoming the first ever WWE Universal and Intercontinental Champion seems almost too perfect, doesn’t it? It’s certainly a way to make a new major star like the company so desperately needs (and professes to want, I hasten to add).

From a real world perspective, Rollins makes a lot of sense then, precisely because of the fateful inflections that seem to run through his career. Toppling Brock Lesnar can only add to that, and as the hottest act in the company right now, and as a good guy honing in on nearly universal degrees of popularity, he is the most logical choice to do it.

More interestingly to me though is the fact that he is also a logical choice from the perspective of storyline. He has previous with Lesnar. The first time was in the legendary Royal Rumble 2015 Triple Threat Match, in which Rollins broke Lesnar’s rib and, the night after, claimed to have discovered the secret to defeating him. The second time was at Battleground, and while it seemed like Lesnar was on the verge of victory when the Undertaker’s interference chucked the match out, it would be pretty easy to play on the fact that Brock Lesnar has <I>never</I> defeated Seth Rollins in a one on one match.

Who else can claim that? The Undertaker can’t. John Cena can’t. Triple H can’t. Randy Orton can’t. Big Show can’t. Kane, Braun Strowman and Samoa Joe can’t. Most importantly, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose can’t. Combine that with Rollins’ indomitable will that stands as such a key component of his character and in-ring performances and it’s a perfect cocktail for success, and one obscure enough to provide refreshing intrigue for fans when it comes to a woefully predictable Lesnar.

The situation has almost been written by fate far too perfectly for WWE, and it’s inevitably the company won’t capitalise on this opportunity to make a mega-star for life. They probably, sadly, won’t even see it. But should they see it, should they do it? FACT, FACT, FACT!

SirSam: Despite rumours to the contrary flaring up all over the place I am going to say not only is this FACT but it may well happen. Call me naive or hoping against hope but the whole time Brock Lesnar has been running roughshod over the Raw Main Event, who is the one, very prominent former World Champion who hasn’t been fed to Lesnar and has recent victories over Roman Reigns and John Cena to his name? Seth Freakin’ Rollins.

The WWE is generally exceedingly careful with their challengers for Brock, too careful in Roman Reigns case but have they in fact pulled off a master stroke and kept the guy they really want to win clear all this time? #BurnBrockDown

Tony: Definitely a FACT. You have exhausted everyone else who had any kind of momentum (Joe and Strowman come to mind mostly).  If you would have asked me 4 months ago I would have told you it’s Strowman and nobody is even close, now several months later I’ll tell you no one touches Seth for this spot.  He’s putting on great matches, he’s winning clean, and he has everyone behind him. Fans are begging for a worthy full timer to get behind to grab that spot and take the championship back to weekly television.  Seth is the last hope before you start recycling people who have already lost to him 1-on-1.

The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan will main event Wrestlemania 35.

‘Plan: Sadly for both Miz and D-Bry, neither of them are over 40, neither of them are past their prime, neither of them are nostalgia acts, they both have original ideas to offer and they both work full schedules. Neither of them therefore meets the elite criteria needed to apparently qualify to main event a WrestleMania. As a result, and because of my complete inability to hope WWE is on the verge of surrendering its obsession with the safety net of its past, I’m going to have to say FICTION.

Do I think they should, or could? Well, the latter most certainly. The former, I think, largely depends on who walks into Royal Rumble holding the title. I could easily see the two of them bringing their sure to be blockbuster rival to a climax on the Grandest Stage and, once upon a time, that would have been a given. They’re both more than capable of putting together a classic in the ring and, with the right kind of storytelling – the sort of tease and retreat storytelling we’ve seen WWE employ with them ever since the Superstar Shake Up – it could become something rather special.

Alas, as WWE well knows, we’d much rather see Batista vs. Triple H or something, right?

SirSam: Oh ‘Plan your disdain for part timers really makes me happy and sad at the same time.

This should really be the biggest story the WWE has done since The Shield’s implosion, probably bigger in fact. At their creative disposal they have the combination of the miracle return of the most beloved wrestler since the Attitude Era, who just happens to have an incredible amount of shared history with a home grown antagonist who has by sheer force of will grinded his way from near career oblivion to become one of the most reliable and exciting acts on the roster.

Anyone who has read YES Relived will know how much I love the Yes Movement but even that could be eclipsed by the natural rivalry that has grown between these two right from Bryan’s very first appearance on WWE TV. You think that Monster clip was good, wait until we get something that goes through these guys histories mixed with The Miz’s Talking Smack promo and Bryan’s Fight For Your Dreams speech.

The WWE has been very clever at keeping these two apart on TV so far which gives me hope they are planning something big and why couldn’t it be Wrestlemania 35? Daniel Bryan never did win that Royal Rumble and currently The Miz is was very consciously moved on after proving himself so well as the Intercontinental Title. As a WWE fan right now hope is often a one way ticket to disappointment however I chose to rise above the cynicism, I chose to fight for my dreams, I choose YES! YES! YES! this is FACT

Tony: FICTION. Not a chance in hell, but I suppose it depends on how you term “main event.”  With the WWE’s obsession with the casual fan and part timers, no way this match would go on last on the show of shows, even though I personally wouldn’t be against it.  I think with Lesnar’s possibly still lurking, Cena still chasing title history, Undertaker not officially retired and WWE’s obsession with everything Roman- there is far too much to contend with.  Could they fight for the WWE championship on this show? Absolutely.. but I have a feeling they’d position that match more towards the beginning of the card than the end.

NXT Takeover shows will continue to overshadow the main roster PPVs for the rest of 2018. (Question was asked before Takeover Chicago and Money In The Bank.)

Tony: I’m going to go with FACT here. The limited programming and pay-per-views really help NXT stand out and be a fun alternative to the WWE product that’s over saturated with programming. It seems like no matter how many roster overhauls they go through, they are killing the “next man/woman up” approach with stars like Johnny Gargano, Nikki Cross, Shayna Blazer, and others.  The system supersedes the star power and it’s allowing NXT to have that same feel even after guys like Nak, Joe, Roode, and the entirety of the women’s revolution get promoted. If only NXT developmental and the WWE main roster creative could get on the same page.

SirSam: Yep, FACT. Right now the NXT product occupies a very different space to the WWE main roster, one where they have the fans trust. Unfortunately many fans (including myself at times) go into WWE main roster shows with our defences up, worrying about how the WWE is going to mess up rather than coming in anticipation of how they are going to entertain us. This different focus means that NXT can get away with things the WWE main roster would get torn to shreds for and generally fans come out of Takeovers talking about the positives and main roster PPVs talking about the negatives.

The trust is well deserved and isn’t something that can be built up overnight. What it means is that for at least the foreseeable future, even if Takeover doesn’t live up to the high standard it has set itself so far this year, it will continue to overshadow its main roster big brother.

‘Plan: FACT. Whether they deserve that reputation or not is something I will continue to debate and contest with the hardcore NXT fan base, because I do believe they benefit largely from their status as the countercultural alternative. Still, with New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) now the hot topic within the Internet Wrestling Community (IWC) further solidifying the appeal of any alternative product, and with WWE’s main roster creative largely in the doldrums with few positive signs of an up-turn, there’s little doubt in my mind Takeovers will go from strength to strength.

Of course I don’t mean to sound confrontational or abrasive in my foremost assertion. Its appeal as an alternative I think is undeniable, but it’s also undeniable that Takeovers are rarely anything less than ‘three to four star’ shows, if you go in for that kind of ranking. Their cards are solidly put together, their matches usually tear the house down and there’s an energy and verve about NXT sorely lacking with the overexposed main roster. NXT takes a back to basics approach and it works for them. Takeover: Chicago II is just one example, and its heavy focus on well-developed story and fleshed out character motivation even evokes positive feelings from a cynic like me.

I remain convinced that, one day, NXT’s popularity will crest. That day won’t come anytime soon though, that much is clear.

Legacy Statement Time: Triple H has been a better long term draw than Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock.

SirSam: When I first saw the discussion around this question on the LOP forums I balked at it but as strange as it may sound I’m going to go with FACT here and I will explain why.

There is no denying that at their peak Stone Cold and The Rock were far bigger stars than the third wheel of the Attitude Era, Triple H. However, and this is a big however, Triple H was around far longer than either of those two and the pure mathematics of the situation mean he is the only right answer. I count around five to six years from 2004-2010 where The Rock and Stone Cold were chalking up zeroes on the board while Triple H was still filling up arenas and headlining or co-headlining pay per views even if it wasn’t in a terribly spectacular way. Time doing a job is a hell of a multiplier, I actually believe there is a list floating around based purely on tickets sold that also puts The Undertaker ahead of The Rock and Stone Cold. So based on that multiplier I will say that Triple H has been a better long term money maker for the WWE than either of his slightly more fancied Attitude Era brethren.

Tony: I’m not even going to be the douche who tries this hot take just to be different- FICTION!  I understand the spirit of why people would have this hot take: HHH was a draw as the leader of DX, he was a draw as a heel vs. Rock and Austin, and obviously the longevity blows those two out of the water.   Take Rock and Austin out of the annals of WWE history and you have a company who loses the Monday night wars and possibly even shuts its doors for good. This is the classic “does the quarterback need his wide receiver or vice versa” debate. HHH drew because he was opposite of Austin/Rock.

By the time the ‘Ruthless Aggression’ era had begun, you had Brock Lesnar and then eventually Cena so again he was playing second fiddle.  Solid worker, always near the top, one of the top draws of all time, but really only carried the ‘E for one year of his career single handedly.  If you prefer longevity over ‘lightning in a bottle’ then I suppose HHH wins but The rock/Austin’s impact is far greater. HHH is one of the 5 greatest of all time in my opinion for his contributions to the WWE.. but when you think WWE you think Austin/Rock/Hogan and then you could make a case for Flair, Undertaker, HHH, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and a slew of others who are next tier down.

‘Plan: It’s a pretty big question for a Fact or Fiction, this, and a curious one. Can we even make the comparison fairly? The question’s qualifying statement is ‘long-term’ and the simple fact that Triple H’s career has had greater longevity than either of his two Attitude Era compatriots would seem to favour him automatically. It sort of renders the issue practically moot.

At least, it does as far as Austin is concerned. I have neither the space nor time to do proper research, but gut instinct alone would tell me that, at their primes, the drawing power of Austin and Triple H is a no contest – the Rattlesnake is said to have made more money for the company at the height of his powers than even Hulk Hogan himself. The candle that burns twice as bright does so for half as long, though, and considering that Triple H’s career has far outdone Austin’s, as regards longevity, sees the Cerebral Assassin win out on that front I guess.

The Rock is a different situation entirely, and it really begs the question of how you define a long-term draw for WWE. Does The Rock’s mainstream Hollywood appeal and return to the company following 2011 contribute to what we might consider his drawing power for the company? Is he drawing eyes to their product simply through profile alone, even when he’s not around? His two last WrestleMania matches helped set and break records of course, and in 2016 he was the first part of the Showcase of the Immortals to be advertised before even any matches were booked; that show, too, was a record breaker. All of this was well past his in-ring prime, and that prime was pretty impressive in its own right as the People’s Champion rose to the levels of infamy enjoyed only by Austin, as we well know.

Oddly enough, we can also apply the same questions to Triple H though – do we consider his time developing NXT into what it is today as part of his drawing power, and what of his time in office when it comes to the main roster?

There are so many mitigating factors involved in the debate that I hesitate to provide any kind of an answer. Without proper research and careful dissection of the meanings of the words in the question, I can only go with my gut, and my gut tells me that The Rock is the biggest star in the company’s history, with his record breaking career within the industry – that spanned well into this very decade – speaking for itself. So for Austin, I’ll say FACT by virtue of longevity alone, but for The Rock I’ll go FICTION.

And that brings the return of FACT or FICTION to a close for June. Thanks to Tony and ‘Plan for joining me today, don’t forget to follow them on Twitter and check out their work here on LOP by clicking on their name in the intro above.

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