With matches between Triple H and Roman Reigns, and Dean Ambrose and Brock Lesnar already set for Wrestlemania 32, it seems unlikely that WWE is counting on a title change for this inaugural event. The match is most probably an attempt to further the idea that Roman Reigns is the anti-establishment wrestler that WWE wants fans to believe he is. However, it will only serve to show he is the very definition of the establishment’s choice.
Now, I want to be clear that this is in no way a commentary on Roman Reigns. Although I am not a Reigns fan, I am not exactly a huge Ambrose fan either. This is simply why I feel that WWE’s strategy for pushing Reigns has failed so miserably.
Former Shield members Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns have had very different fortunes since the Shield split up. Reigns has been pushed by WWE as their next top star, with very mixed results. Ambrose, on the other hand, has been mired in a variety of feuds and has not been racking up comparable success. Despite Reigns being a two time world heavyweight champion and now headlining his second straight Wrestlemania, Ambrose has been more warmly accepted by WWE fans.
Despite the fans refusal to accept Reigns as the top guy in the WWE, the promotion only keeps trying harder to convince fans to embrace Reigns. They have been stacking the odds against him considerably while making him mostly beat them. These attempts have largely backfired. Fans booed Reigns when he won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at the Survivor Series, only to cheer when Sheamus cashed in his money in the bank contract. This was not because Sheamus was popular. Reigns, in fact, seemed incapable of getting the crowd behind him until he finally showed a vicious streak and brutally attacked Triple H after failing to win the title back at the TLC event.
At first it seemed like the WWE had finally figured Reigns out. He won the championship finally the day after the TLC event to thunderous applause. Coupled with the positive response of Reigns attacking Triple H the night before, this seemed to indicate that setting up Reigns versus the Authority was the right move. In addition, possibly remembering the success of the Steve Austin and Vince McMahon feud, WWE brought in the chairman to personally antagonize Reigns. Unfortunately, the WWE dropped the ball with this move.
While it may have made sense to bring in McMahon, there are many reasons that the strategy has failed. First, McMahon’s heart has never seemed to really be in this feud. When he faced Steve Austin, McMahon was a business owner who was losing his business due to the success of WCW. It was well known that WWF was in financial difficulty and McMahon’s opposition to Austin was tied into the fact that Austin seemed to be, in McMahon’s view, hurtful to the survival of his company. McMahon originally tried to embrace Austin’s popularity, only to constantly be belittled by Austin. It was only through systematic aggravation that McMahon turned from a Austin supporting announcer into an evil business owner. The McMahon character became convinced that having Austin as champion would be the nail in the coffin for the WWF.
McMahon’s animosity towards Reigns seemed manufactured and artificial. Where McMahon originally had tried to put his support behind Austin, he immediately opposed Reigns. Rather than try to capitalize off of Reigns new found success, McMahon simply tried to ruin him. This was not consistent of the Mr. McMahon character.
Furthermore, McMahon’s anger seemed disproportionate to what Reigns had done. Let’s not forget that it was McMahon’s comment to Triple H about doing what was “best for business” in 2013 was the beginning of this whole Authority storyline. It was McMahon who said that Triple H could not let things get personal. But it was McMahon who immediately let it get personal after one attack. In addition, McMahon stacked the odds against Reigns so profoundly, having him defend the title in the Royal Rumble as well as making him enter at number one, that it seemed like it was too much opposition too quickly.
McMahon’s actions in this feud did nothing to help Roman Reigns because it seemed like they were trying too hard to make the fans like Roman. It was too obvious and it backfired. In the Royal Rumble, the fans cheered when Reigns was taken out by the League of Nations and booed when he came back to the ring. This was further damning as it was held in Reigns’ home state.
While WWE has been trying to establish Reigns as the anti-establishment wrestler, they have continued to ignore that the fans have been largely more supportive of Ambrose. This, in effect, has caused fans to see Ambrose in the way they wanted them to see Reigns. Ambrose is the anti-establishment in much the same way that Steve Austin was two decades before him because the fans want him and the real McMahon does not. He wants Roman Reigns and we all know it.
When Reigns was eliminated from the Royal Rumble, the fan response was passionate. While some of this was obviously because they had already turned against Reigns, it seemed to also be because of the possibility that Dean Ambrose might become the champion. When Ambrose took the fight to Triple H, he was cheered in a way that Reigns has never experienced.
Ambrose’s popularity has continued to rise as Reigns’ popularity has remained stagnant. In the number one contender’s match at Fastlane, the crowd was clearly behind Ambrose. When Reigns won, the crowd basically died. The following night on Raw, when Triple H annihilated Reigns, the crowd tremendously cheered Triple H‘s clearly heel actions. Triple H himself seemed a bit taken back by the response he was getting.
So we come to Roadblock. Despite not winning the number one contender’s match, Ambrose has been given a title shot against Triple H. At first it does not make sense that Triple H did not defend the title at the Fastlane pay per view but decided to defend on a minor WWE Network exclusive event. I’ve seen plenty of people ecstatic over the idea that WWE has realized that Ambrose is more popular than Reigns and that they are shaking up the Wrestlemania 32 main event.
Now, I cannot read the future but it is very doubtful that WWE has any plans on making Dean Ambrose the WWE champion. It seems more likely, given the history of WWE’s attempts to push Reigns despite fan insistence that they will not embrace him, that this match is an attempt to get the fans behind Reigns.
Firstly, WWE is not going to change the Wrestlmania main event mere weeks before the event. The Triple H and Roman Reigns feud has been their centerpiece since November and they are unlikely to scrap it. Furthermore, the Lesnar and Ambrose feud has been hot with the fans and that match would be scrapped if Ambrose won the belt. This is because Reigns won the match to put him in the Wrestlemania main event. He is set to face not Triple H, but whomever the champion will be. Although a Reigns and Ambrose match might be appealing, this would leave Brock Lesnar and Triple H completely out of the event.
What WWE is more likely to do is to use this match to try and help Roman Reigns. This title match will not have a clean finish. Either Triple H will cheat with a sledgehammer to win or Brock Lesnar will get involved to cost Ambrose the belt. The announcers and Paul Heyman have been very clear that they feel Lesnar had the belt won at Fastlane and Ambrose cost him. If Ambrose was close to winning the belt, it makes sense that Lesnar would want to return the favor.
Cue Roman Reigns. When Ambrose is getting destroyed by either Lesnar, Triple H or both, Reigns’ music will reverberate throughout the arena as the former champion makes his way down the arena. Reigns will save his brother from the onslaught and the two will fight off their opponents. By having Reigns save Ambrose from a beat down that may jeopardize his Wrestlemania match, WWE will be trying to use Ambrose’s popularity to get the audience behind Reigns.
It will not work. The only thing this ending will do is further demonstrate Reigns as the establishment’s choice. The fans will be quite aware that Ambrose is being used simply to further Reigns’ advancement. As a result, Ambrose will become more popular and Reigns will continue to be booed.
A fan only needs to look back again at the rise of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to see what WWE is doing wrong. Back then, it seemed more plausible and realistic that Austin was against the establishment. Austin was popular as a heel. WWF did not have to try and make Austin popular. Reigns, though, has never had that sort of fan backing. By pushing a wrestler seemingly against the will of the fans, it is clear that Reigns is not the anti-establishment character that WWE wants him to be. He is the establishment character that they want. By continuing to overlook Ambrose, they are inadvertently making him into exactly what they wish Roman could be.
— Jacob Fox