A WrestleMania Preview THAT CAME FROM THE VAULT: Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar

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With WrestleMania tonight, it's time for The Classical to present a WrestleMania Preview THAT CAME FROM THE VAULT. We'll end the whole thing with a look at Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

There’s a maxim that says there only seven real stories in fiction and that the rest are merely a combination of the seven, which seems like a problem if you’re a member of WWE’s creative team hoping to book the 31st WrestleMania.

Last year’s main event featured the quintessential David versus Goliath(s). Playing the role of the David was, and arguably still is, Daniel Bryan. Despite unwavering support from fans in the preceding year, Bryan was nowhere to be seen in the WrestleMania main event featuring Randy Orton and a returning Batista. One a giant snake man, the other an intergalactic fighting machine, both Goliaths, were scheduled to square off for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship instead.

Just to receive an opportunity to compete for the title that night, Bryan had to face the ultimate pro wrestling Goliath (and the self-proclaimed King of Kings,) Triple H. In what was arguably the best match of the night he defeated HHH, his real-life boss, then went into the main event and made Batista -- who was forced to turn heel in the face of Bryan’s momentum despite returning as a hero to win the Royal Rumble that year -- submit to win his first major championship. This year, the company has gone in a decidedly different direction.

WrestleMania XXXI will be headlined by Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns: The former is an established veteran and conqueror holding the ten pounds of gold who is more beast than man. The latter is a relatively novice superstar in the grand arc of championship storylines. How, you ask, can a feud between these two narratives not at least lean towards a tale of perseverance in the face of impossible odds?

By incessantly emphasizing that the David character is stronger than Goliath.

***

Like most years, the road to WrestleMania began at SummerSlam. Coming off the most shocking match in WrestleMania history wherein he broke The Undertaker’s 21-win streak, Brock Lesnar turned a heavily promoted match between he and then-WWE champion John Cena into a one-sided destruction of an industry icon. Lesnar threw Cena like a rag doll across the ring, with every one of the sixteen German suplexes that Cena endured separating him further from the Superman/Hulk Hogan hybrid that he has played over the last decade.

In the same event, Roman Reigns looked to find his rhythm as a singles competitor. No longer playing the part of The Shield “heater” (or heavy or juggernaut or big dog or powerhouse,) WWE creative immediately placed him in the title hunt. Almost immediately after the group’s dissolution at the hands of the coward Seth Rollins, Reigns was featured in both a fatal four-way and a ladder match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in consecutive pay-per-views. In doing so, the WWE made it clear they were serious about setting up Reigns as the latest and greatest.

Both of these, however, were multi-man matches that allowed some of Reigns’ more glaring weaknesses -- which are, to be clear, largely a function of his relative inexperience, not some unfixable deficiency of character or talent -- to be hidden or at least moddled. SummerSlam 2014 was Reigns’ first shot at the limelight by himself to showcase his skills as the upcoming force majeure.

He defeated Randy Orton in a serviceable match where momentum swayed back and forth until Reigns was able to hit Orton with his signature diving Superman punch, followed by a spear to the ribs. It worked. Kind of.

As Reigns’ stock began hurdling upwards, many adult fans weary and bombarded with flashbacks to previous chosen ones who eventually wildly overstayed their welcomes, became cautious of the young superstar’s likeability. Instead of Roman Reigns, resident badass of the Shield, they saw another infallible do-gooder in the John Cena mold with a Hogan-esque limited moveset that was forced upon them by the powers that be. Rumors circulating that Vince McMahon, was entirely invested in making the former Shield member into as big a star as (his “cousin”) The Rock, didn’t help matters.

This vocal disdain by the loudest members of the audience did not stop Reigns, or more accurately, the all-hands-on-deck push he received from behind the curtain however. Even a serious hernia tear that wiped out the latter part of his 2014 couldn’t stop his momentum. Reigns made several appearances via Satellite to remind fans that he should be missed. He was essentially campaigning to maintain his popularity.

In December, he announced that he would be returning to enter the 2015 Royal Rumble match. With its “anything can happen if you just imagine” ethos, the Royal Rumble match usually functions as a microcosmic American Dream, (not that one, daddeh) in the WWE Universe with the heavy implication that anyone who works hard (and enters the match at the right time) can achieve the pinnacle of success (and/or a spot in the main event of WrestleMania.)

At a distance, viewing the journey through the lens of the American dream sounds idyllic but this only works if the subject comes from humble beginnings. Imagine if someone who was already well established experienced the American dream. It’s Mr.Burns winning a brand new car at a baseball game. It is no longer a romantic tale. And that's exactly what happened.

To fans privy to the backstage machinations of the show, he was given the opportunity to become the next face of the franchise way too early. What resulted at the Royal Rumble echoed the year before with Batista when “smart” fans already well aware that “The Animal” would win the Royal Rumble match endlessly booed him as he pointed to the WrestleMania sign hanging on the rafters.

This year’s crowd in Philadelphia was fired up to see the winner until Daniel Bryan was eliminated. Bryan, one of only two logical narrative choices to win, essentially spoiled the match’s ending midway through. Reigns, with the help of The Rock, would win the 2015 Royal Rumble after handly dispatching the Authority’s henchmen and Russian supernova Rusev. All the pieces were in place to set Reigns as the powerful up-and-comer — matches with former champions, a ticket to the main event, support from a WWE legend — but without the vocal support of fans, Reigns seems like an unbecoming heir apparent to the throne.

***

It’s the very same throne that Hulk Hogan made famous, albeit as king of a world with a slightly different name which existed in a very different time. Which, even after personifying both the 1980s and professional wrestling for nearly a decade, the Hulkster found himself on the way out of in the early 90s.

Vince McMahon had to fill the role of “muscle-bound all-American who will overcome the odds to fight opponents that were billed as indestructible monsters.” He already had his monster in the massive (and faux-foreign menace) Yokozuna, who challenged any man from WWE superstars to professional football players, to body slam him. At somewhere in the vicinity of a quarter ton, the massive Rodney Anoa’i -- who, it should feels worth noting is Roman Reigns’ cousin, and a part of the massive Anoa’i wrestling dynasty -- proved nearly impossible to lift, let alone slam.

Enter Lex Luger.

This being professional wrestling -- and with Hogan having just been told to not let the door hit him where the Good Lord split him by McMahon -- Luger slammed Yokozuna in effort to deliberately echo WrestleMania III’s famous body slam of Andre the Giant that propelled Hogan into the American zeitgeist. After Luger went on a cross-country campaign to prove his worthiness on the “Lex Express” (which was painted with the stars and stripes to reinforce precisely how AMERICA Luger was) -- their first match took place a few weeks later at SummerSlam.

Prior to Luger's entrance, "Macho Man" Randy Savage—Hulk Hogan's longtime friend and oftentimes rival—introduced him. Dressed in an ostentatious (even for him) red, white, and blue outfit replete with cowboy hat, Savage stared at Yokozuna as he said "Now, the moment we have all been waiting for. It is my honor and my privilege to introduce to you the next World Wrestling Federation Champion, Lex Luger," and passed the allegorical baton to Luger.

The storyline of the match itself was fairly even despite billing Yokozuna as unstoppable 600 lbs. monster. As Yokozuna launched Luger's head onto the top turnbuckle repeatedly, all Luger could do was answer with a swarm of ineffective elbows. Luger managed to escape the turnbuckle assault and got Yokozuna in a body slam like he did on the USS Intrepid, which led the massive Hawai’ian to roll to the outside. He lied motionless on the floor as the referee counted to 10 and declared Luger the winner as a result of a count out. Various superstars came from the locker room and jubilantly corralled Luger to usher in the newly-crowned champion. However, a title does not change hands if the match ends in a count out, and as such the ending gave fans an opportunity to see Luger beat the monster without destroying him for good, all in order to make money on the come back. It worked. Kind of.

As a result of the match and a ridiculous photo finish between Luger and the erstwhile Bret Hart at the ensuing Royal Rumble that somehow produced a “tie”, Luger found his way into a match against Yoko at the Granddaddy of Them All and, if he were successful, a chance to defend the title against Bret Hart in the main event of WrestleMania X. Vince McMahon hyped Luger to begin the match, exclaiming, "They're ready to blast off into the next decade.” Jerry “The King” Lawler, McMahon’s partner on commentary, offered a rebuttal. "But [Yokozuna] is Cornette's monster. He's Fuji’s monster, but he's your champion.”

Yokozuna was larger than life, so much that his physical gravitas demanded not one but two managers in Mister Fuji and Jim Cornette. Like Lesnar, Yokozuna did not need to say much in order to project his savagery in the ring against the upstart heir to the WWE throne, and Cornette was, at worst, the junior executive version of Paul Heyman.

Alas, the championship match between Yokozuna and Lex Luger proved to be anticlimactic, ending in disqualification thanks to special referee Mr. Perfect. Yokozuna, retaining his title belt as a result of the disqualification, then had to face Bret Hart in the main event later that night, where he would go on to lose his title.

Most don’t remember the ending of Luger vs Yokozuna at WrestleMania X. Some of that is because Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon upstaged their performance in a ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship. And 21 years later, the match between Lesnar and Reigns may suffer the same fate as a seven-man ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship is set to take place in this year’s WrestleMania with Bad News Barrett, R-Truth, Dolph Ziggler, Luke Harper, Dean Ambrose, Stardust, and a resurgent Daniel Bryan threatening to steal the show from underneath the three-and-a-half headed main events (as your mileage may vary on Cena/Rusev’s “main event” ness.)

But a great deal of the ephemeral nature of that match comes from the forced build up that nearly everyone remembers just as much for its tone deafness as its forcefulness. And the fate of Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns at WrestleMania ultimately rely on WWE creative’s willingness to retell the same story.

Hector Diaz is a writer living in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @iamHectorDiaz for obscure pro wrestling references hidden in NBA game analyses.

____________________________________________________________

Check out the rest of our previews (but hurry, because the show is probably starting):

Sting vs. HHH

Seth Rollins vs. Randy Orton

The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt

John Cena vs. Rusev

Intercontinental Clusterkerfuffle

The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale

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