First and foremost, I have to preface everything I'm writing here by saying that I was in attendance at Raw this week. Front row, hard camera side, white t-shirt, black beanie, Fightful sign at the beginning of the show. As of this very moment, I have yet to go back and watch the episode on television, although I do have it recorded on my DVR, so I don't quite know how everything translated to TV. Therefore, all of my thoughts presented here are based on what I saw up close with my own two eyes.
It's no secret that WWE has wanted Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns to be the main event of WrestleMania 34. It is, without question, a big match. It is, without question, a match that would end up being a very entertaining brawl on a grand stage, just as the Lesnar vs Reigns match from WrestleMania 31 was. It is, without question... something that a large percentage of wrestling fans do not want to see. Those are the fans who have grown tired of WWE's constant efforts to portray Roman Reigns as the next John Cena, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, Hulk Hogan, etc.
If you asked many of those fans who they feel should be the man who gets the Universal Title shot in New Orleans, they would say, in a moment of honesty, that Braun Strowman gets their vote. The way he has been presented on WWE programming over the last year or so is nothing short of incredible. He is a larger-than-life man who plays an even-larger-than-larger-than-life man on television. He has carved a path of destruction through arenas all across the globe, and has really gained support from the WWE Universe in doing so. Strowman and Lesnar clashing is the new age version of "Irresistible Force vs Immovable Object" matches of decades gone by.
Of course, the same could be said about the build to matches that took place at SummerSlam and No Mercy last year, as well as this year's Royal Rumble, all featuring Strowman challenging Lesnar for his title, with the champion retaining every time. Does that mean Braun isn't deserving of another shot? No. I'm just saying that we've seen this song-and-dance before, and the company repeatedly failed to go ahead with a title change.
After watching the Gauntlet Match on Raw, I'm ready for something different. Something that would be rewarding, both to the talent and the fans.
I'm ready for Brock Lesnar to defend the Universal Title against Seth Rollins.
Not that long ago, there was a time when even the biggest Rollins fans would say that idea sounded crazy and wouldn't make a lot of sense in any type of story. Rollins appeared destined to be involved in either a match for the Raw Tag Team Titles, or in a match against Jason Jordan once their tag team completely fell apart. Then, in a twist of fate that would make Matt Hardy take notice, Jason Jordan's neck injury worsened and required neck surgery, knocking him out of action until after WrestleMania. That opened the doors for Seth to have a singles match at Mania, where he could showcase everything he can do.
That brings us to the Gauntlet Match. Going in, I think it's safe to say that almost everyone was expecting Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns to end up as the final two men in the match, with maybe John Cena thrown in as a "wild card" to be there at the end. We were expecting one of those quick matches, with a couple falls coming quickly, and perhaps after a move that isn't even a finisher of any type. You know the matches I'm referring to. Matches with multiple falls, and one of the falls comes after like four minutes of action and ends after a cross-body from the top rope. What we ended up getting was as surprising as wrestling matches under the WWE umbrella can get these days. Nobody, sane or otherwise, could have predicted the Gauntlet Match would start Raw off, and that it would end up lasting just about two full hours long.
Even though he didn't win the match, all I'm seeing and hearing from everyone is about the performance that Seth Rollins put in. He kicked things off with a 21-minute match against Roman Reigns that, all by itself, was entertaining and would be viewed as a candidate for Match Of The Night on just about every episode of Raw you'll ever see. After pulling off a somewhat surprise victory, Rollins then had to square off against John Cena, and that's where things began to fall into place nicely. In a 28-minute Match Of The Year candidate, Rollins pulled off another upset win, pinning Cena.
At this point, everyone in attendance was blown away. If you were to ask anyone what would be a tremendous way to get someone over as the guy in WWE, I would guess that "have them pin Roman Reigns and John Cena in consecutive matches on the same night" would be an oddly specific, yet entirely accurate, answer. It wasn't just that Rollins beat them, though. It was the performances he delivered in doing so.
Seth was able to wrestle at both faster and slower paces. He was able to dazzle with his offense, but also to create story and atmosphere with his selling. He wrestled "injured". He was the "underdog" that simply would not back down, no matter what. The match with Cena was great for the little things that took place. Cena going back-and-forth between being concerned for Seth's wellbeing after wrestling for so long, and then almost wrestling as a heel, taunting Rollins over how fresh he (Cena) was. I can't speak for the rest of the arena, but the Cena fans that were sitting in my vicinity were even cheering for Rollins by the end, as they were hooked on every two-count we witnessed.
After the Cena match ended, I began to think about the possibility of Rollins wrestling for the entire Gauntlet Match. By that point, everyone around me was making semi-serious comments about the match lasting for the entire episode of Raw, and were discussing the idea of it being potentially risky for someone to wrestle for so long being only six days away from them being involved in an Elimination Chamber match. Not only am I happy that Rollins didn't have to wrestle for three hours because of the physical toll it would take on his body, but it allowed for another great story to be told with Elias swooping in to take advantage of someone who had already wrestled for an hour.
Don't get me wrong... I don't think we're going to get Seth Rollins in the main event spot at WrestleMania, no matter how great his performance was. I think he deserves it, and I want it to happen, but it's coming down to either Lesnar vs Reigns or Lesnar vs Strowman, with Lesnar vs Reigns vs Strowman always being a possibility after someone finagles their way into the match after not winning at Elimination Chamber. I think this was more of a way to build Rollins back up for something bigger coming post-Mania. It was also WWE's way of throwing him some crumbs, maybe as a bit of an apology of some kind for not really having anything "major" for him to do at the biggest time of year for their workers. Thanks to (rumored) stubbornness in putting together the main event matches, as well as untimely injuries, there are a few people in WWE with no clear, deserved routes to take for Mania, and Seth is one of those people. Even before the Gauntlet Match, he was in a weird spot where he is seen as being too "big" for a smaller role on the show, but if he isn't included in the top matches, what else is left, except for a randomly thrown together match with someone else that doesn't have anything going for themselves?
Thank you, WWE. Thank you, Seth Rollins. That was an effort that I am proud to have witnessed in person, and it will be a memory that stays with me for as long as I'm a wrestling fan. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get ready to go to Smackdown. Good luck following that one, guys and gals.