Every now and then WWE can surprise you.

It’s not hard to ignore the WWE. In fact, if you look at their steadily declining ratings and their shrinking position in global popular culture, you can tell that it’s actually the easiest thing to do. Us wrestling fans find this a potentially shocking idea as within our bubble, they are an inescapable monolith. The Big Company always swallowing up our favorites and in the wider culture, still the only company that is synonymous with the term “pro wrestling.” And yet, once you actually start cutting them out of your life, it’s exceedingly easy to keep up especially when their product has been as bland and lifeless as it has been.

That’s what makes stories like Roman Reigns vs. Jey Uso so damn surprising. In a company that works to its fullest to turn everything into a worse version of itself, they occasionally stumble upon something really worthwhile. The very true story of someone trying to overcome his far more popular and successful cousin is one that needs very little explanation. The familial relationship between all the famed pro wrestling Samoans has been beaten into our heads for ages now such that something like Reigns’ blood relation to Jey Uso is a fact that we take for granted. Sure, they’re related but their positions in the company are so distant from each other that placing them into such close contrast makes for excellent tension and drama.

The hype video leading into this match does an excellent job of setting the stakes. Roman Reigns has been propped up as the golden boy of this generation, not just by the company but by his family as well. Jey Uso, in the meantime, while loved and respected is simply one half of a doubles act. “Which one are you?” is the defining legacy of Jey Uso’s career in the WWE. It’s good stuff, it’s simple stuff built on a reality that we can all understand.

So of course, we’re not allowed to have that.

All the credit in the world to both Reigns and Jey in this match. They both do the best with the material they’ve been given. Although I would have preferred even a slight babyface shine for Jey at the upon, Reigns makes the most of the extended heat beatdown. Don’t get it twisted, he’s not nearly as good as the man he inherited it from, Brock Lesnar, but he’s not horrible either. His strikes land true and his flashier feats of athleticism look great.

Jey, for his part, plays an excellent underdog babyface. His selling is expressive without being cartoonish. When it’s his time to start throwing hands, he does so well and builds his incredibly brief comebacks to get you potentially biting for an upset victory.

There’s a lot of good here from Reigns’ harsh persona to the creative kick out/low blow spot.

But of course, neither of these two could just shut the fuck up and wrestle the match.

I don’t want to put too much blame on either Reigns or Jey here. This is a stylistic choice that has permeated a lot of WWE’s COVID-era programming and extends back even further than that. It’s the same kind of hamfisted NXT-style melodrama you might catch with Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano indulging in.

Reigns comes out shout screaming to his cousin to “ACKNOLWEDGE ME” and declare him the TRIBAL CHIEF. It becomes the dramatic crux of the finishing spot where the match decides that a blatant and unsubtle morality play makes for a decent substitution to Roman Reigns just beating the crap out of his cousin. The entire point of this match was to establish that Roman Reign is a bad dude who will hurt his blood, so what kind of mercy can you expect for anyone else? And yet, Roman spends more of the finish talking than he does actually laying in any kind of punishment on Jey Uso.

They haven’t exactly been quiet through the rest of the match either. Reigns and Jey spend a lot of the match jawjacking with each other and explaining plot points to the camera. While the performance of these lines is generally good and they come across far more genuine than a lot of NXT people attempting the same thing, the content itself is just droll and unimaginative as the next WWE angle. Perhaps the only reason I can imagine that this match gets more love than the fading star of NXT epics is that the actual history beneath what’s being portrayed lends the poor creative choices some semblance of realism and substance. It could have been there, but this match goes out of its away to avoid it.

Substance simply isn’t marketable, you see. And in the WWE, everything must be printed in bold, large letters so that even the children sitting at the very back of the Thunderdome watching on their webcams can understand what’s going on. The audience can never be trusted with anything and so they never have anything to truly rejoice in either.

There was something here and that was surprising.

But how they ruined it was exactly what we should have expected.

One Comment

  1. THANK. YOU. With the way everybody, including Meltzer and Alvarez, was praising this match I thought I was going crazy. Both Roman and Jey played their roles well but the storytelling in this match was the most ridiculous melodrama I’ve seen since Ciampa/Gargano. No subtlety, nothing allowed to speak for itself. Instead we have two characters stating their motivations to each other, loud enough for the audience to hear, like we’re in a crappy amateur theater production. If this is what’s supposed to pass for storytelling in wrestling these days, I’ll take a spotfest any day of the week.

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