Earlier tonight, WWE presented the Survivor Series pay-per-view event, and while the event celebrated the 25 year to the day anniversary of the debut of the Phenom, the Undertaker, the event also marked the return of the Deadly Game tournament to crown a new WWE World Heavyweight Champion. The semi-finals of the tournament saw Roman Reigns, the would be new "it guy" for WWE, defeating WWE US Champion Alberto Del Rio to advance to the finals against Dean Ambrose, who defeated Intercontinental Champion Kevin Owens.
In a hard fought, competitive contest that saw Roman Reigns pick up a sudden pinfall victory over his former Shield brother Ambrose, Reigns finally overcame nearly vanquishing the Beast, Brock Lesnar, at Wrestlemania 31, and narrowly missing winning the title against Seth Rollins at Money In The Bank, to become WWE World Heavyweight Champion. However, in a scene reminiscent of the Daniel Bryan double-cross from a recent Summer Slam, Authority figurehead Triple H came out to congratulate Reigns, only to have Sheamus snag the glory. Sheamus cashed in his Money In The Bank contract to take the championship right away from Reigns.
In doing so, many will criticize WWE for doing the "easy thing." Many called for a heel turn, either by Reigns or Ambrose, but neither would have made sense or been "best for business." With Sheamus as a sell out champion, and Reigns once again seeing glory slip just through his fingertips, WWE has placed itself in a great position to further ingratiate Reigns as a fighting warrior in the minds and hearts of the same WWE Universe that once rejected him. Ideally, the plan would be to have Sheamus lose the WWE World Heavyweight Championship sometime between now and Wrestlemania 32 in Dallas, projected to be the biggest Wrestlemania of all time, somehow move the belt back around the waist of WWE's biggest draw and most unconquerable monster, Brock Lesnar, and then have the rematch from last year's event whereby Reigns proves himself as WWE's most dominant figure, finally becoming the guy to dethrone Lesnar, and definitively become WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
To understand the importance of this match is to understand a little piece of storyline psychology. It has been speculated that the recent return of The Undertaker had more to do with sagging ratings and an attempt to spike WWE Network subscription numbers ahead of the quarterly conference call with investors, but a closer look at the direction of WWE's primary storyline reveals a psychology behind the seemingly random return of the Dead Man than previously met the eye.
The man behind The Undertaker, Mark Callaway, is a 30-year veteran of the professional wrestling business. That is a lot of years and a lot of miles on a body in a physically taxing industry on a six-foot, ten-inch, 300-pound body. Rumors have abounded over the years as to Taker's ailments: bad hips, bad knees, bad back, you name it. Prolonged hiatuses could be attributed to the fact that, at 50 years of age, The Undertaker is nowhere near as impervious to pain as his character had once portrayed.
The Undertaker had gone a remarkable 21-0 at WWE's signature event, WrestleMania, a feat that will likely never be surpassed, but leading into WrestleMania 30, WWE had a business decision to make. After seeing Taker beat the likes of Triple H and Shawn Michaels, twice each, in a series of matches that each could be considered all time greats, Taker was pit against Brock Lesnar, The Conqueror. Lesnar, still in his thirties, had returned to the company after dominating the heavyweight division of the UFC before diverticulitis cut Lesnar's mixed martial arts career short. Leading into WrestleMania 30, we had a near 50-year-old, obviously physically ailing Undertaker, versus a Beast nearly half his age, who had become WWE's first legit "real" butt-kicker, who knocked out a man many consider to be UFC's greatest champion ever, Randy Couture
Since having Rollins cash in and pin a prone Reigns at this year's Wrestlemania — just as it appeared the "Samoan Bad A**" was ready to overcome the onslaught of "The Beast," Brock Lesnar — WWE has put extra effort into ensuring Reigns' credibility with the audience, which has, in turn, resulted in a massive swell of popularity for Reigns. All signs pointed to an ensuing Rollins/Reigns rivalry, never truly resolved from Rollins turning his back on Reigns and effectively ending the Shield.
Paul Heyman and the Authority have already done business together with Heyman, making Lesnar's skills for hire as a mercenary, so it is a built-in mechanism that allows for the Lesnar/Reigns rematch to take place. Reigns continues the story that began for him at last year's Wrestlemania, whereby he took a brutal beating at the hands of Lesnar, only to keep fighting and appear to be overcoming the Beast's onslaught before Rollins cashed in. Since then, Reigns has continued to get knocked down the ladder, forced to overcome psychological and numeric games at the hands of Bray Wyatt, made to endure Rollins and the Authority's protection, and made now, once again, to keep fighting, not only for his spot, but also for his own family lineage and legacy. If Reigns, who appears to have finally won the respect and adulation of the WWE Universe, cannot answer the call, he risks becoming yet another built pretty boy who failed to be "the next guy." If he can continue to develop, garner sympathy, and, as he has done consistently over the past year, deliver A+ matches against everyone he's put against, Reigns has the chance to be the next big crossover megastar and enjoy success similar to his cousin, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
Tonight, WWE did Roman Reigns a tremendous favor. Now, it's on him to deliver.