The Last Dance? Reigns vs. Lesnar

June 17’s edition of Friday Night SmackDown featured a rare television match for Roman Reigns, who defended his Undisputed Universal Championship against Riddle. Momentum had built for Riddle’s challenge since the Usos defeated RK-Bro to unify World Wrestling Entertainment’s tag team championships. Not content with capturing all of WWE’s top titles, the Bloodline savagely attacked Riddle and tag partner Randy Orton after the match. Before the big bout, Riddle easily rallied crowds to his cause during in-ring promos on Monday Night Raw, riling up the WWE universe at large to see him strike a blow at the dominant Bloodline in the name of injured fan-favorite Orton.

The anticipation alone was  refreshing and genuinely dynamic. The match itself was a thriller of false finishes, as Riddle tried to overcome Reigns with staple moves like the “Floating Bro”. Although the outcome was fairly easy to predict, Riddle’s challenge to Reigns looked credible and was carried out with true suspense. 

What followed, however, was a turn of events WWE fans are, by now, quite accustomed to. Reigns claimed victory over Riddle with a pinfall win following a spear to the challenger, and addressed the crowd. The applause of their customary acknowledgement of the “Tribal Chief” had barely died when Brock Lesnar’s music hit. The “Beast Incarnate” charged the scene, delivering F5s to Jimmy Uso, Jey Uso, and even the Undisputed Universal Champion himself, Roman Reigns. It was clear that Reigns’s victory at WrestleMania 38 was not as decisive as its high stakes had suggested. Lesnar arrived for another shot at the Undisputed title, and he will get it at July 30’s installment of SummerSlam. Is another pass at Reigns vs. Lesnar what WWE needs? Will it be Reigns’s and Lesnar’s last dance?

Pros and Cons

Reigns and Lesnar’s rivalry has largely not been one of the same memorable heights as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, despite being as prolonged. Rather than chanting “fight forever” fans have criticized and called for change after some of their more significant bouts, like WrestleMania 34 and Crown Jewel 2021. 

However, the road to WrestleMania 38 drew lots of storyline out of Lesnar’s presence. Paul Heyman’s past as Lesnar’s advocate evoked months of dramatic tension as questions swirled about whether he was a sleeper agent on Lesnar’s behalf, acting against Reigns clandestinely. His shifting loyalties and eventual return to Reign’s side propelled the depiction of Lesnar as a lone wolf, on the edge, willing to attack Reigns flagrantly as WM38 drew closer. Reigns and Lesnar can be fun outside the ring, and within it they are evenly matched in size and strength. 

Reigns is lacking in credible opponents for his newly created title. He ran through a swath of WWE’s finest during his time as Universal Champion, cutting down Edge, Bryan Danielson, and Kevin Owens. Another go round with Lesnar helpfully fills the void, but it doesn’t carry the same novelty as a fresh challenge, like Reigns’s bout with Riddle. 

With Clash at the Castle fast approaching, a storyline with Drew McIntyre perhaps would have been more profitable. McIntyre has honed his babyface credentials since winning the WWE championship from Lesnar at WrestleMania 36: he’s a good sport even in midcard comedy feuds, is a bona fide bout machine with impressive technical prowess for a man of his colossal size, and connects well with crowds despite being known as the champion of the ‘crowdless’ ThunderDome era. 

Once, and For All

World Wrestling Entertainment draws frequently on the Lesnar v. Reigns card. Lesnar is a popular figure whose presence crosses over to, and transcends, the worlds of both pro wrestling and MMA. He is one of WWE’s last active performers from the latter ‘Attitude Era’ and ‘Ruthless Aggression’ periods of its history, and familiarity goes a long way with the audience. 

The WrestleMania 38 winner-takes-all unification match was implied to be the battle to end all battles between the two. With this reprisal, the earlier match has lost some of its impact. However, if this were to truly be the last match between the two familiar opponents, then their SummerSlam 2022 bout can have a meaningful place in WWE history. Reigns is already working a fairly lighter schedule, and has hinted for years that he will eventually be following in Johnson’s and John Cena’s footsteps, leaving the squared circle for Hollywood. If this is indeed the last dance for Reigns with Lesnar, WWE has the chance to redeem the promise of WrestleMania 38 with one final, meaningful bout between the two to settle this long rivalry for once, and for all, before Reigns eventually departs.  

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