The conclusion to Sunday’s match between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman at WWE’s ridiculously named Great Balls of Fire show wasn’t wrestling at its worst — not even close — but it provided one of those moments when I shake my head and wonder if the criticism my dad leveled against wrestling were right all along.
There’s no other way to describe the sequence following their Ambulance Match than this: Roman Reigns attempted to murder Braun Strowman.
Now, enjoying professional wrestling requires the suspension of disbelief. This holds particularly true when watching WWE, which has presented itself more like a television drama than a sport as long as Vince McMahon’s been in charge. Sunday isn’t the first time WWE has used what amounts to premeditated attempted murder as a plot device, either.
Some of the federation’s most memorable moments include such angles. The quintessential example is Jake “The Snake” Roberts unleashing a cobra on Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Brian Pillman pulling a gun on “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is another instance.
WWE also ran attempted vehicular homicide angles in the past. Rikishi ran down Austin in 1999, the storyline explanation for Austin’s yearlong absence due to neck surgery. Upon his return in 2000, Austin proceeded to drop Triple H from a forklift while trapped inside a car. The storytelling leading up to a 2002 dream-match pitting The Rock against Hulk Hogan — a match not really requiring any additional build-up beyond two legends of different generations going toe-to-toe — featured Hogan slamming a semi into an ambulance containing The Rock.
The difference between the Roberts-Savage angle and the various attempted killings-by-car? Roberts always brought a snake to the ring, making the scene that played out between he and Savage feel like the incurred risk any wrestler faced when getting into the ring with Jake. The Austin-Pillman angle is slightly more absurd for its own reasons, but happened under the plot line of Austin breaking into Pillman’s home. The gun angle didn’t play out backstage at a World Wrestling Federation event.
Professional wrestling isn’t a TV drama in the traditional sense, but Roman Reigns stumbling from an attempted murder without repercussions defies even television logic. Nevertheless, the angle’s done and can’t be shrugged off. WWE writers have an opportunity not only to salvage the Roman Reigns-Braun Strowman feud as a result of this, but can also push the boundaries of storytelling in a way WWE has never done — and at a time when a fresh approach is exactly what the product needs.
The cult hit Lucha Underground has differentiated its presentation from other televised wrestling shows by fully embracing the scripted nature of the medium. Highly stylized vignettes more reminiscent of a Robert Rodriguez film than they are an episode of RAW supplement the in-ring action.
WWE can’t go to the extremes Lucha Underground has, as the latter is strictly a television show without live events to promote around the world. However, this particular storyline is fertile territory to explore the limits of WWE’s presentation — and a chance to reinvent Roman Reigns.
Here’s the scenario: Cameras catch Reigns’ arrival to an arena for the night’s show. There waiting for him are police, who take him into custody. The live audience won’t see Roman Reigns for a few weeks, if not a couple of months. Instead, vignettes following Reigns in his time incarcerated — shot on film to differentiate between the rest of the product — follow his transformation. The interspersed scenes from Seagate Prison in Season 1 of Luke Cage provide an ideal template. And hey, since this is wrestling we’re talking about, it’s not stealing: it’s borrowing.
Our video packages establish a new persona and lend a new meaning to Roman Reigns’ catchphrase, “The Big Dog’s Yard.” We follow him until his release — and the final video ends with his arrival at the host venue of a live event. The crowd reaction would be tremendous, and it’s a new way of reintroducing a character to the viewing audience.
A ridiculous proposal? Maybe. But when your starting point is attempted vehicular homicide with an ambulance, you work with what you’re given.