Per sources: Much like at #WrestleMania, everyone backstage was worked on the result of the Reigns vs. Lesnar match. Posters, magazine copy and promo material all included Reigns as champion following #WWEGRR.
How we think, how we cope, is a funny thing. After WM34, the #RomanEmpire collectively told itself not to hold out hope for the Greatest Royal Rumble. I actually blame Dave Meltzer for this. For a year, he told us and everyone else that the main event of WM34 would be Lesnar vs Reigns II, and that Roman was going over. People hated Roman—and by extension, us—for it. But the Universal was the prize at the end of the line, and we waited for it, only to have it taken away. “Plans change,” he said, and the theory became that Vince wanted to give Roman the title in front of a receptive crowd. The Greatest Royal Rumble, then. Roman’s generally accepted and even well-liked, out of the country. The show started off great, the crowd was excited; it was an incredibly positive atmosphere. He had new gear, a good entrance, amazing pyro. Now, we thought, this was surely his time. And then the match ended in controversy. To read the above makes me wonder if it was a work, or if it was a last minute audible. If the latter, this is the third time that Vince McMahon has pulled the rug out from under him. At least this time his family wasn’t there to witness it, and he didn’t stagger out of the arena covered in blood. (Though there has been speculation that he knocked himself out, spiking his head to the floor with that spear—you know, the one where Brock saw that he would hit head-first and let it happen.)
Now that the initial shock is past, we’re left struggling to make sense of it all. Some look at the upcoming Montreal date on Monday, and suggest that the controversial ending is deliberate, leading to a new “screwjob”. This would track with the paranoia that Roman showed after WM34. But was it really paranoia? Paul Heyman hired men to dress up as US Marshals and beat him. The day of Wrestlemania, people whispered behind his back wouldn’t meet his eyes, as if they knew he was going to be hurt that night, yet they wouldn’t do a thing to stop it or even warn him. He questioned getting a rematch when no one else ever had; we later found out that Brock requested it, and the steel cage, specifically for an opportunity to hurt him further.
But if that isn’t the story, then what? The Raw preview blatantly states that the controversial finish is “all in the past” for Roman, that he needs to focus on facing Samoa Joe at Backlash. And yet just last night, Samoa Joe taunted him on Twitter, telling him that he had disappointed him, had “disappointed us all”. (Speak for yourself, bub. By the by, way to Be A Star. Are you taking notes from John Cena?) There’s at least some possibility of the match at Backlash turning into a triple threat, because then Lesnar wouldn’t have to eat the pin. Then again, that’s why everyone thought they were in a cage match to begin with.
A heel turn would make sense here, whether or not you want to go with the aforementioned “screwjob” storyline. He’s tired of people conspiring against him, tired of being hurt, tired of the fans being against him no matter what he puts himself through for their entertainment. What concerns me is that they’ve had opportunities for this before: when he attacked Triple H, for example. Or the night he “retired” the Undertaker, and the night after. The time he stared into the rearview mirror before backing an ambulance with Braun Strowman inside into a parked truck. Time and again they could, and they won’t.
Also worrying is that they took one of his long-held records from him: 12 men eliminated from the Royal Rumble. Braun Strowman broke it with 13. Although, Roman did eliminate a higher percentage of the field, if they choose to acknowledge that. Still, with ‘Taker so recently coming back, it feels as though all of his accolades are slowly being stripped away. Is this Vince turning his back on Roman and making a visible point about doing so, or is he finally trying to undo years of damage before it’s too late?
Either way, the Empire is still behind their guy. But for many of us, when Roman is done with WWE, we may just be done with the company.