Wrestling is at its best when it doesn’t need to lie to us. The artifice of professional wrestling should always be in service of the truths of its performers. Beyond all the mechanics and the little details that we all love to pull apart, that’s where this match succeeds the most. It has a fundamental understanding of all the characters involved and how they should relate to each other.
This match establishes the core values of each of the key performers. Daniel Bryan, as indicated by the structure of and performance of this match, is the best wrestler of all time. He’s in a level of talent so elite and capable that the tough intimidating form of Roman Reigns who has run roughshod over the Smackdown roster for half a year now poses no real threat to Bryan.
The early moments of this match establish that Bryan has no fear of Roman Reigns. In fact, a part of him kind of looks down at Roman’s ability. Bryan spends the first five minutes of this match belittling Roman. He’s laughing at the conjured image of Roman The Tribal Chief, exposing Roman for the coward that he is with simple lunges to the leg. Bryan taps him with body shots, kicks to the leg, systematically picking away at Roman’s body and image. This idea is further reinforced as the match progresses, culminating in Bryan getting a visual submission victory over Roman in the closing moments.
Roman Reigns, despite his size and power, is at the end of the day a puffed up coward being propped up by his gaslit cousin and the machinations of a man at ringside. Reigns has proven in the past that he can tough things out and absorb a beating but years of choking on major stages has instilled him the need to just take the easy path out now. He leans on a lighter schedule, the interference of Jey Uso, and all sorts of smoke and mirrors while still presenting like a double tough bully in the ring. Despite all the bravado though, he’s horrified of Bryan. Bryan makes a single motion for his leg and Roman can’t get to the ropes fast enough. He understands that if Bryan gets him down on the mat, he has no way out. He’s not equipped with the ability to survive that kind of attack. Roman still has his raw strength though. He often brute forces his way out of Bryan’s submissions, dropping Bryan down to punish him. Roman also throws a mean punch which Bryan sells to absolute perfection here.
The third man in the equation is Edge. He also exposes his true nature in this match. He’s not some dignified legend coming back to win the title the right way. He’s an opportunistic glory hound looking for every chance he can to worm his way back to the top. “This is mine!” he shouts after nailing both Roman and Bryan with chair shots. And yet, of the three people involved, he’s the person who had nothing to lose. Edge’s spot at WrestleMania is written in stone given his Rumble win, it’s only Roman and Bryan who had something to lose here. Yet Edge couldn’t stop himself from getting involved, bitterly throwing chair shots as he’s done his entire career.
This is a great match because it doesn’t lie to you. It’s not perfect. Perfection is having Bryan and Roman fighting it out at WrestleMania in a singles match with Edge resting comfortably in Canada. One can argue a few portions of this are a tad to slow which is fair enough. The silliness at the end does stunt a little bit of what this could have been though.
But still, you give the GOAT a platform to perform and with someone on such a hot streak as Roman Reigns, and you’re going to get something special.