Your author (me) got to take in the latest edition of Monday Night Raw in person this week and I can say with certainty that, on a list of at least a dozen, this was one of the two or three best shows I’ve had the pleasure to attend. Now, I wasn’t counting on that going in. Anyone who’s followed WWE programming of late knows, as ratings can attest, that the product’s been lacking. I expected a lackluster show and figured I could still look forward to a fun night of chanting sometimes rude nonsense with my buddies.
But the WWE shut me up in a hurry. First there was the highly entertaining, back-and-forth opening match between Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler. There was also the jaw-dropping four-on-four match between the ECW Originals and The Wyatt Family. Not to mention I got to see Vince McMahon for the first time in what could well be one of the 70-year-old’s last few live appearances.
Now, I would’ve been more than satisfied leaving Raw with all that alone, but I also got to witness my first WWE World Heavyweight Championship change. This was the first time since 2006 that the title changed hands on Raw through anything other than a Money In The Bank cash-in, a vacancy or the memorable, and peculiar, CM Punk two title situation. A month ago I may not have been thrilled with the man who won it, Roman Reigns, but in a two-day span starting at TLC he won me, and many others, over.
It started when Reigns went on a rampage after, once again getting screwed out of the WWE Championship at TLC. The resulting onslaught left many bodies lying in Reigns’ wake, most notably that of WWE COO Triple H. And it was exactly the type of showing that made Reigns a fan favorite to begin with. The former Georgia Tech defensive lineman isn’t the plucky underdog, ala Daniel Bryan; he’s a ferocious badass that you don’t want to set off.
If Daniel Bryan picks a fight with you at a bar, you probably laugh it off. Maybe you even hold him at bay with your hand on his forehead. If Roman Reigns does it, you’re out the door and looking into plane tickets in seconds flat.
That Reigns, the one fans grew to love before turning on his softer, underdog character, was in full force again on Monday’s Raw. Reigns goaded the nefarious Vince McMahon, irate over the attack on his son-in-law, into a championship rematch against then-champion Sheamus. Under the condition that, should Reigns lose, he’d be fired. Even with that stipulation in place, few would bet on a Reigns’ victory. After all, it’s so incredibly rare for the WWE to dole out title changes on free programming.
But as the match wore on, fans started to buy into the idea that Reigns could win. With each near-fall or rope break, the cheers got louder. Of course, Vince McMahon and Sheamus’ League of Nations cohorts, Rusev and Alberto Del Rio, had other plans. But Reigns warded off the latter two and then had the gall to level the meddlesome McMahon with a Super Man Punch. Sheamus capitalized on the distracted Reigns with a Brogue Kick, but Reigns kicked out of what seemed like the sure, decisive pinfall and rallied back to hit Sheamus with the decisive spear.
The Wells Fargo Center, which had been roaring all night, and especially during that match reached a fever pitch in that moment. It was a full-circle moment for Reigns, who had been nearly booed out of the same arena less than a year prior after winning the Royal Rumble. Many members of the same crowd that couldn’t stand the thought of Reigns hoisting WWE gold. But, on this night, many of those men, women and children couldn’t help but embrace Reigns’ fight and cheer him on to victory.
One could argue that this wasn’t the same type of crowd, that the die-hards only come out for the pay-per-views. But, from where I sat, many of those die-hard types were in attendance. Right in front of me were a group of college-aged guys, like myself, who couldn’t help but to roar in approval for Reigns’ big moment. Adorned in Wyatt Family goat masks they, like me, didn’t seem particularly enthused with the idea of a Reigns title victory to start. But at the end of the night they, like me, couldn’t help but to cheer his triumph.
Many have spent months lamenting how the WWE force-feeds stars to its fans. It’s a gripe commonly lobbied against John Cena that had begun being attributed to Reigns as well. Let us choose our own stars, they said. In a strange way, that’s just what happened on Monday night. Yes, Reigns had clearly been pegged as a future headliner going in. But the fans had the ability to make or break his title victory. With their roaring approval, Reigns has got a fighting chance.
And, in his own big moment, I got one that I won’t soon forget.