When “The Game” started blaring on the TitanTron as Entrant #30 was being announced, the broadcast team sold shock and awe that the COO was in the match. Even as the betting lines (yes, there are betting lines on wrestling, er, sports entertainment) had installed Triple H as the favorite to leave the main event with the belt.
The reason why was obvious when Roman Reigns was introduced to the crowd at the Amway Center in Orlando.
And every time Reigns did anything in the match.
Admittedly, it felt, to me, watching on the WWE Network, artificial, piped-in. That, or it was just a tough crowd. Earlier in the night, The Usos, the top babyface tag team in WWE, was similarly serenaded with boos throughout its match with the top heel team, the tag champs New Day, who got one of the bigger pops of the night when they finished off the match with a clean fall over the challengers.
The second biggest pop of the night, and the most enduring, was for newcomer A.J. Styles, Entrant #3, who lasted 27:53, and was the clear favorite of the live crowd throughout the Rumble, even after he was finally eliminated by Kevin Owens about halfway through.
But the biggest pop was reserved for Triple H, at his music hitting, and then when he eliminated Reigns.
The pop for his championship win – his 14th – was subdued in comparison.
Not having been there live, I’m still at least half-suspicious that there may have been some live editing going on in the control room to prove the point that, see, the fans want Triple H to be champ, and they can’t wait to see who he gets in the main event at WrestleMania 32.
Because, honestly, Triple H main-eventing WM32 is not what’s best for business.
It may be all Vince McMahon has left at this point, with injuries to Seth Rollins, John Cena and Daniel Bryan, and the best wrestler alive, CM Punk, training for his MMA debut this summer.
The effort expended on Reigns to make him into The Next Big Thing has been wasted. Reigns, for his look, is absolutely devoid of charisma, abysmal on the mic, and only barely compelling to watch in the ring. At best, he’s the next Cena, and that’s not a compliment, for all of Cena’s good works outside of the ring.
Rollins is the future of the company, and his inevitable face turn to fight Triple H and The Authority would have made for a great storyline heading into WrestleMania season. Now we can expect to see that develop over the spring and into SummerSlam, with Triple H as the authority figure champion, and Rollins as the people’s champ.
I’m not expecting to see Reigns involved in the main-event picture heading into ‘Mania 32, if only because McMahon rented Jerry World for the occasion, and needs to fill it up with 100,000+ bloodthirsty fans.
Triple H-Roman Reigns doesn’t sell 100,000+ tickets. There’s nobody on the roster, healthy, who can sell 100,000+ tickets matched up with H, aside from …. Brock Lesnar.
The Rock would be an intriguing dance partner, but word is that he’s making a movie this spring, and insurance issues related to the shoot are going to keep him from getting into the ring in anything other than a speaking role at WM.
Which is a shame. Triple H-Rock sells, even if as an actual wrestling, er, sports entertainment match, er, spectacle, would be spectacularly awful.
But Triple H-Brock Lesnar, well, there’s cachet there, not with Triple H, because, who cares, Triple H, but Lesnar is still recognized outside our little sphere of ‘rasslin fans as a legit athlete, because of his success in UFC.
Even that as your main event is a hard sell when you’re trying to fill up an oversized Texas ball field with fans. WWE has already blown the Undertaker mystique with his upset loss to Lesnar two ‘Manias ago, so even if you put ‘Taker in a match at 32, big deal.
There are loads of mid-carders who are fun to watch – Styles, Owens, Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt, Dolph Ziggler. Plus you have New Day making the tags fun to watch again, and you have a deep and talented Divas division – with Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Paige and “The Boss,” Sasha Banks at the top of the women’s game.
None of them, though, fill up a football stadium.
Neither does Triple H. But putting the strap on him is the best chance WWE has for having any kind of buzz heading into WrestleMania.
As pathetic as it is to say, it is what’s best for business.
– Column by Chris Graham