At WWE Fastlane, Roman Reigns faces Daniel Bryan for the right to go on to main event WrestleMania to face WWE champion Brock Lesnar. Much controversy surrounds the event as Roman Reigns had earned the opportunity after winning the 2015 WWE Royal Rumble. However, an early elimination of fan favorite and leader of the “YES! Movement,” Daniel Bryan, led to a vocal outcry of both the live audience and the internet fan base, who had hoped to see Bryan go on to WrestleMania to face Lesnar and avenge his prior stripping of the WWE championship following last WrestleMania‘s epic victory that saw Bryan beat then-champion Randy Orton and Batista in a tremendous three way match after having already beaten Triple H earlier in the evening, and his subsequent stripping of the title when, shortly after WrestleMania, mounting injuries necessitated potentially career-ending neck surgery and months of physical therapy to heal nerve damage in his shoulder and arm.
Roman Reigns had seen limited opportunities for most of two years as the muscle of The Shield. While his appearances were always impressive, his lack of experience and questionable promo abilities led many to claim that he was “not yet ready” to be a main event attraction for WWE. However, prior to Bryan announcing his return to the ring and entrance into the Royal Rumble event, Reigns, who missed several months following emergency hernia surgery and who had reportedly taken that opportunity to attend acting classes and improve his vocal delivery, seemed to be a heavy favorite to win the event and go on as a legitimate threat to Lesnar’s championship.
Last year, Lesnar had become the one in 21-1 when he broke the Undertaker’s 21 year undefeated streak at WrestleMania 30 in New Orleans. That, paired with the obliteration of Cena at SummerSlam en route to becoming WWE champion, positioned Lesnar, who returned to the WWE as a special attraction after becoming the only WWE superstar to ever cross over to the Ultimate Fighting Championship and win the UFC heavyweight championship, as unquestionable and very realistically the top dog on the WWE. That means that whoever is the man to finally take down the Beast will reap the benefit of not only knocking off the most dominant champion WWE has perhaps ever seen, but also the “Undertaker rub,” knocking off the man who did the impossible and left the Phenom in a pile of broken, concussed ruins.
While Lesnar has leveraged limited appearances to raise his box office appeal, Reigns has set about to establishing himself as a dominant powerhouse on the WWE roster. His explosiveness and agility, paired with his movie star looks, bronzed stature, and lineage to the same legendary Samoan wrestling legacy as his cousin, The Rock, positioned him as an easily acceptable top favorite. However, as WWE sought to establish Reigns as a possible successor to John Cena as the face of the WWE, questionably written promos that forced cartoonish, Cena like verbiage into the mouth of Reigns only fueled the fire that he “wasn’t ready.” When left to his own devices, his interviews seemed to be developing naturally. Then, when Bryan announced his entrance into the WWE Royal Rumble, the WWE Universe seemed to overthrow Reigns in favor of the returning and conquering hero, Bryan. WWE, however, had already set wheels in motion, and it appeared that plans would go forward to have Reigns main event WrestleMania 31 against Lesnar, even following up the controversial pay-per-view with a face-to-face showdown between Reigns and Lesnar on the following night’s WWE Monday Night Raw, which took place at the WWE Studios due to inclement weather.
At tonight’s WWE Fastlane, WWE has an opportunity. It can be argued that Bryan is already a top guy, and WWE is short on main event level talent with mainstays like Randy Orton and John Cena aging. Roman Reigns, in a dominant and believable victory over Daniel Bryan, can gain needed credibility leading into WrestleMania 31, and in beating Lesnar, can not only win his first WWE championship, but also reap the benefits of the “Undertaker rub,” gaining the benefit of beating the one in 21-1. Instead of having one major top guy in Bryan, WWE can make two potential leaders of the “Reality Era,” and given the work between the two, spark what could be viewed in years to come as a legendary rivalry between Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan.