Over the past two weeks, I’ve presented you with my version of WWE March Madness. I’ve booked the tournament to spotlight that are prominent in WWE right now, and ones that I feel should be the foundation of the company moving forward.
WWE March Madness Semifinals
Roman Reigns vs. Finn Balor – This one is for the contrast. You have Reigns, The Guy, taking on Finn Balor, the Internet’s Favorite Demon. Reigns is Vince McMahon’s “chosen one,” and in spite of, or actually because of, that, he’s booed out of virtually every arena. I’m not a Reigns apologist, but he deserves to be at the top of the card. Reigns has improved drastically as a worker over the past few years, and consistently delivers good to great matches. He’s improving on the mic, and if WWE would ever pull the plug on a heel turn, he could follow the same career path as his cousin, The Rock. (I remember the “Die, Rocky, Die” chants being roughly as loud as the boos that Reigns gets.) Balor is the poster boy for the New Era. He’s not 22, and not built like a real-life action figure.
He’s plied his craft all over the world, and really made his name in Japan. In many ways, Balor is following the same path as Daniel Bryan. (Hopefully, he won’t end up having to retire due to injuries.) These two burn down the house. In a clash between the guy that WWE created and the guy who created his own legacy, the fans are the winners. The moral of the story is that both methods work. You can find talent in any number of ways. What’s most important is what you do with that talent once you get it into the ring. Eventually, Balor’s superior quickness and his elite technical skills pay off, as he ducks under a Superman Punch and puts Reigns down with a kick to the back of the head. Then, it’s Bloody Sunday and a trip to the finals. Reigns cements his heel turn by spearing Balor off the turnbuckle from behind, sending both men crashing to the floor. Reigns stomps Balor a few times for good measure, tosses his hair at the booing crowd, and saunters up the ramp.
AJ Styles vs. Braun Strowman – Another match here that proves that you can come from different backgrounds, and employ different techniques in the ring, and still be successful. Styles is possibly the most electrifying performer in the ring since Shawn Michaels. His aerial offense is spectacular, and he also has top-notch mat skills. Strowman is a newer version of the classic monster heel. While he’s as big as a house and ridiculously strong, he’s also pretty athletic and appears to be more muscle than just mass. These contrasting styles (no pun intended) would make for a great match. In the bout, Strowman has a hard time catching up with the quicker Styles, but the tension is building throughout the contest. The crowd knows that Braun only has to catch AJ one time to end the bout. After some gripping back-and-forth action, where Strowman swings and misses and Styles hits his offense to little effect, the action comes to a head when Styles leaps from the top rope, ducks a Strowman punch in midair, and rolls through the big man’s legs, taking him to the mat. As Strowman rises to his feet, Styles hits the flying forearm, which rocks Braun, but doesn’t take him down. Styles goes to the ropes again, and repeats the process. Finally, after AJ has hit his forearm from three of the four sides of the ring, he launches himself for the fourth time. He connects, and Strowman goes down for the three count.
WWE March Madness Championship
Finn Balor vs. AJ Styles – This is a celebration of the New Era. Both men made their bones somewhere other than Stamford. Styles has been everywhere from Memphis to Tokyo and Balor has been a star on three continents. It doesn’t really matter who wins this match, the victory is already in the books. The WWE Universe is the winner, because they get to see arguably the top two performers in the company head to head in the finals. Styles and Balor would put on a five-star exhibition of in-ring work and storytelling that are the hallmarks of this new breed. For the record, I’d put Balor over. He’s been out of the spotlight for a while, and probably needs the bump a bit more than Styles does. So, Finn gets the trophy, or the briefcase, or the contract, or whatever WWE decides to put on the line. Then, because this is WWE after all, he reveals to one and all that he’s joined HHH’s new Evolution stable along with Samoa Joe and Kevin Owens.
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a theme here. No part-timers. Nobody who’s main evented a WrestleMania more than five years ago. The final four is a mix of guys who have plied their craft in the “minors” for years and guys that WWE has developed themselves. If WWE is going to trumpet the “New Era,” then they should stop putting together WrestleMania cards where the top four bouts feature names like HHH, Undertaker, McMahon, Goldberg and the like. For 10 months of the year, guys like Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins and, yes, Roman Reigns carry the company. These are the people that fans tune in for, buy merch for and subscribe to the WWE Network for. If they’re good enough in June, they should be good enough in April. Most wrestling fans would tell you, the level of competition in the ring has never been better. Why would we want to go back to 2004? If these legends are going to be around, they need to be used to “make” the New Era stars. I don’t want to tune in to Wrestlemania 50 with my son and his son and watch John Cena take on Randy Orton in the main event for the fifteenth time. WWE has done a great job of finding new talent, literally in every corner of the world. Now is the time to let that new talent take the lead.
I’ll see you next week with my takes on what went right and what went wrong at WrestleMania in Orlando.