SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
REIGNS HITS A NEW LOW…
Recap: The show opened with Roman Reigns coming to the ring to thunderous boos. Corey Graves mentioned that Reigns received a much better reaction in Saudi Arabia.
The announcers then recapped the controversial ending to Friday’s match. They acknowledged the referee error in announcing Lesnar as the winner despite Lesnar’s feet hitting the floor first.
Reigns emphasized that he was the real champion due to the referee’s mistake. He went on to say that he still had faith in himself, but since Brock Lesnar was not at the arena, he had to move his focus to his Backlash opponent, Samoa Joe. The crowd, however, had no sympathy and chanted “Roman sucks.” There was no normal mixed reaction; the crowd loudly booed and jeered from start to finish.
Samoa Joe then appeared on the Titantron and claimed he would put Reigns’ career to sleep. Joe was loudly cheered. Just then, Jinder Mahal came to the ramp, and blamed Reigns for making excuses for his shortcomings. He emphasized that he wasn’t complaining about Jeff Hardy’s cheating on Friday, and that Roman lost fair and square. Jinder challenged Reigns to a match. The crowd cheered Jinder at times, and chanted “you both suck” at other times.
Sami Zayn then entered to a huge pop. The pop continued as he spoke to his hometown in French. Zayn said he caught vertigo from Lashley’s vertical suplex, which is why he wasn’t at the Greatest Royal Rumble. Zayn then challenged Roman to a match.
Kevin Owens then entered to a huge pop, wearing a custom “KO” shirt with a fleur de lis, and also speaking French. Owens stated that more than Zayn, the people wanted to see Kevin Owens fight Roman Reigns. Owens proposed a popularity contest to determine which wrestler would get tonight’s match with Reigns. Owens received the best crowd reaction of the three. Reigns then attacked Owens, only to be jumped by the other competitors. Bobby Lashley then entered the ring to take on the heels. Braun Strowman then entered to assist as well. Lashley, Strowman, and Reigns cleared the ring of the heels.
At the top of the third hour, Lashley, Strowman, and Reigns took on Owens, Zayn, and Mahal in a tag match. Reigns got awful reactions throughout the match, and wasn’t even involved in the finish. Strowman pinned Owens with the running powerslam for the win.
Evaluation: When only Reigns and Jinder were in the ring, Jinder actually got a better crowd reaction than Reigns. Reigns is completely and totally dead at this point. I don’t see any way he can again challenge for the Universal Title for some time. Having Reigns not even factor into the match’s finish also seems to point in this direction.
While Owns and Zayn played face tonight for their hometown Montreal crowd, long term they still seem to be positioned as heels. Their pairing with Mahal in the main event seemed to make that clear. Since WWE was already fighting natural crowd reaction for Reigns, it was smart to at least let the Quebecois cheer Owens and Zayn. It also allowed for a test of Strowman’s popularity.
The Montreal crowd popped big for Strowman, despite his being opposite their hometown heroes. Even when pinning Zayn, the reaction seemed mostly positive. At this point, it seems WWE almost has to move to Strowman as Universal Champion.
Forecast: Reigns has been so utterly destroyed over the past few months that I think he almost has to get the win over Joe on Sunday. Even if WWE is in fact moving on from Reigns as Universal Champion at the current time, presumably he would still be booked as at least near the top of the card moving forward, and he frankly needs a win right now to even be credible at that level.
The question is whether Reigns sits in that spot as a face or a heel. Out of the top spot, there would be no reason to keep him face against the fans’ wishes. For that reason, I will optimistically predict a heel turn.
Brock Lesnar’s next feud should be with Braun Strowman, with Strowman going over as Lensar leaves the company.
ANOTHER STRONG ROLLINS-BALOR MATCH…
Recap: Seth Rollins came to the ring for a promo at the top of the second hour. He got an absolutely massive reaction from a hot crowd when recapping winning and defending his Intercontinental Title around the world. He then proceeded to totally bury Brock Lesnar, claiming that he would not be an absentee champion like Lesnar. He also recounted how Lesnar was only champion due to referee error.
Finn Balor then came out, recapping how close he came to winning the title in Saudi Arabia and reminding Rollins that they are tied in wins in singles matches. He challenged Rollins on his promise to be a fighting champion by requesting a title match on Raw. Rollins said he’d leave it up to the fans, and based on their enthusiasm accepted the match.
The Miztourage then came out. They encouraged Rollins and Balor not to fight tonight, but to instead team up with the Miztourage as a stable. They donned shirts with the faces of all four wrestlers. They proposed the new stable adopt the “Four Horsemen” name.
Balor and Rollins declined the offer. The Miztourage appeared to leave, but instead attacked Rollins and Balor. After Rollins and Balor cleared the ring, Balor hit a sneak attack Inverted DDT on Rollins.
In the main event, Rollins retained the title in a very solid back and forth match.
Evaluation: The match itself was very good. It was clearly the best match of the night.
Forecast: With Miz on Raw, the Rollins-Miz feud will have to end on Sunday. Tonight seemed to set up Balor as the next rival for Rollins. Balor’s sneak attack during the Miztourage attack seems to foretell a heel turn.
Using the popular Rollins to totally bury Lesnar here is an indicator that Lesnar’s next opponent will be a face. As mentioned above, I think WWE has to go with Strowman as champion at least for the time being.
WWE, McDONALD’S, & PERESTROIKA…
Recap: Throughout the night, WWE highlighted positive media coverage of the trip to Saudi Arabia. The announcers stated that the show was a part of Saudi Arabia becoming a more open and progressive country. Later in the evening, footage was shown of Saudi fans talking about the event.
Evaluation: Over the past week, I have intentionally avoided discussing many of the issues related to Saudi Arabia and the Greatest Royal Rumble show. I try to keep the columns solely focused on wrestling to be maximally inclusive to all readers.
Over the past week or so, critics of the decision to run the show have become more and more vocal in their opposition, and have adopted a progressively angrier tone. While I truly believe that critics of the Saudi show have been completely well-meaning in their actions, it has made following many outlets’ coverage of the event difficult to bear at times. Because these Saudi shows will continue into the future, I’d like to use this space to make the case for a de-escalation of sorts.
There is no doubt that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has engaged in violent activity not only within the Kingdom, but around the world (particularly in Yemen). It’s perfectly reasonable for a citizen of a country with a government militarily allied with KSA to make his displeasure known to his elected officials. When it comes to non-military commercial and/or cultural exchange, however, the situation is much different.
This is easiest to explain by historical analogy. WWE’s deal with the Saudi government is part of a larger Saudi Vision 2030 program, which claims to have as its goal a modernization of that country. It is in that way very similar to the glasnost and perestroika movements of the 1980s in the USSR.
My younger readers are likely not familiar with most of the USSR’s atrocities. The magnitude of the purges inflicted by the Soviet government in the the 20th Century far exceed anything Saudi Arabia has ever done. Ethnic, religious, and other minorities were exterminated at various times in staggering numbers.
In the 1980s, the Soviet government realized that its path forward was unsustainable, and initiated glasnost and perestroika with the explicit goal of opening up the country culturally and commercially just slightly enough to placate the people, while still maintaining absolute control of the country for the totalitarian Communist Party. This is almost exactly the same thought process behind the Saudi Vision 2030 program initiated by the KSA government.
As history tells us, glasnost and perestroika were a massive failure for the Communist Party. As soon as the Soviet people got a taste of what they had been deprived by their repressive government, the internal calls for change rapidly accelerated. Within a few years something that people my age grew up thinking was completely impossible had happened: the USSR had fallen.
As part of perestroika, some Western businesses were allowed to begin to operate in the USSR, essentially in joint venture with the Soviet government. Most famously in this era, McDonald’s opened a restaurant in Moscow. If you were not alive or were very young during the time, please believe me when I say this was a huge deal. Much ink was spilled regarding the matter. Here is a photo of what the scene looked like on opening day. People literally waited for hours to get a hamburger.
McDonald’s certainly entered Moscow with a profit motive far above all else. However, McDonalds’ commercial ambitions nonetheless played a part (however small) in the downfall of one of the most repressive regimes in human history.
I tell this story as a counter-argument against the frankly excessive skepticism shown towards WWE. It is absolutely true that WWE’s primary motivation is profit. It does not necessarily follow, however, that WWE gave absolutely zero consideration to the non-business issues at play.
History tells us that exposure to outside culture, no matter how “trivial,” has at least a nonzero chance of playing a part in making Saudi Arabia a more open society.
Seen through that lens, WWE was presented with an opportunity to make money that at least possibly may also play a part, no matter how small, in a larger good. Even if that good is never ultimately accomplished, it is incredibly unlikely to make the situation in Saudi Arabia worse in any way. Under this rationale, I take Triple H’s recent comments to the Independent as being made in good faith, rather than cynically as many others have.
I’m not calling on anyone to suddenly become a supporter of the Saudi royal family or suddenly trust every story WWE sells. I’m not even asking to assume the best motivations for WWE’s actions. I’m simply making the case to not assume the absolute worst.
Forecast: The shows in Saudi Arabia will continue into the future. Over time, although obviously not primarily driven by WWE conditions in the country will improve. Like anything else, this may be very slow.
Titus’s promo tonight came across as awkward….
With her blue tongue gimmick, maybe there will be an angle where Liv Morgan is the daughter of George “The Animal” Steele….
Seth Rollins’ pants look like a diagram of a molecule that involves Oxygen….
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: TOP 3 DEVELOPMENTS – RAW 4/23: Reigns & Lesnar are a Dud, the Sami & Kevin Show, McIntire Debuts in the Ring