Ever since last WrestleMania, the story has been that Roman Reigns has been repeatedly screwed out of getting the WWE World Heavyweight Title. As Michael Cole puts it, he’s always the bridesmaid, never the bride. He keeps getting so, so close, yet fails to win the big one – or can’t keep it once he has it.
The big problem with this narrative is that most of the things that “screwed” Roman out of his title were legal, and as the commentary loves to remind us, it’s having the title that’s important, not how you get it. Isn’t “overcoming the odds” practically a champion’s job description? Let’s look at Roman’s history with the title:
- He wins the Royal Rumble and gets a title shot at WrestleMania. Seth cashes in his Money in the Bank briefcase to make it a triple threat and pins Roman for the win. Cashing in the briefcase like this isn’t “manly” or whatever but, uh, it’s totally allowed. That’s what the briefcase is for. Also, it wasn’t like Roman had Brock put away before that – he absolutely could have still lost on his own merit. This was honestly a pretty clean loss.
- I guess the fact that he never got a one-on-one match with Seth for the title after this, and Seth’s continuing use of shenanigans, could be seen as being cheated, but Roman was never champion and didn’t have a rematch clause so…
- Then Bray Wyatt interfered at Money in the Bank and cost Roman the briefcase but, uh, if Seth cashing in was unfair to Roman, then wouldn’t it have been shady of Roman to use it? Later, Roman would say that he doesn’t take shortcuts so, uh, why was he even in this match? Plus, the match was no DQ, so, again, no actual cheating took place. Bray’s interference was shady, but legal.
- The next occasion of Roman being “cheated” out of a title shot was when Seth’s injury prevented him from having their match, and if your (kayfabe) response to a colleague getting an injury that lays them out for the better part of a year is “oh no, how will this impact MY career?” you’re probably a dickdouche. Just saying.
- After Roman’s first title win, Sheamus cashes in, taking advantage of Roman being weakened from already having had two pervious matches that night. This is, again, perfectly legal. The whole point of the briefcase is that it allows you to target your opponents when they are at their weakest. People have lost the belt to cash ins under way shadier circumstances.
- Outside interference by the League of Nations during his TLC match with Sheamus is, again, totally legal.
- The Royal Rumble situation is the only one that was legitimately screwy, although the way that Roman lost wasn’t really related to the Authority’s machinations – Triple H just eliminated him while he was distracted from eliminating Sheamus, that’s like, the most basic way to lose the Rumble ever. I guess he was tired from having the deck stacked against him but he looked fine so *shrugs*
Comparatively, Dean actually HAS been screwed out of the title, in situations that came down to bad luck or technicalities being used against him. He pinned Seth for about seven seconds before it was declared that the match should already have ended, Seth had a slightly better grip on the title in their ladder match, a fact that is canonically due to blind luck. He wrestled an incredibly smart match against Triple H and pinned him clean, only to have the decision overturned by the technicalitiest of technicalities.
For someone who is supposed to be getting sabotaged at every turn, Roman comes off a lot more like sour grapes. The Money in the Bank briefcase is part of the business. Interference during no DQ matches is part of the business. These factors are something that everyone has to contend with, and many, many past champions have won and maintained the title with these factors in play. Dean’s story fits this narrative a lot better. Of his three title shots, he lost one to blind luck, and the other two due to rules that had nothing to do with either party’s abilities as a wrestler. The narrative is also much neater for Dean: he’s a Death Match guy, rules aren’t really domain. He has all the skills he needs to make it to the top, but he’s being held back by all these technicalities and regulations he barely understands. When he’s in a match with no disqualifications, his win rate is much higher.
I guess where I’m going with this is, if Dean beats Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, it’ll be a great end to a great arc. It’s the story of a great wrestler who was constantly underestimated due to his wild background finally, indisputably proving himself on the biggest stage of them all. A man who has had victory snatched away from him time and time again, but never complained, never whined, never let it get him down, finally being put in a position to succeed.
The rules of wrestling are myriad, convoluted, and often not fair, but that’s the world that wrestlers live in. The key to success in this world is not to find a way to get a fair shot – it’s to be good enough, or clever enough, or slimy enough to beat the odds.
It is in the nature of wrestling that your opponent will always be holding all the cards. You can’t just complain when he plays them; you have to knock over the table before he gets the chance to.