Perhaps the biggest question entering WrestleMania 33 surrounds Roman Reigns and The Undertaker. It started when Reigns eliminated Undertaker at the Royal Rumble this year. Sure, Reigns didn’t win that match, but Reigns knocking the dead man over the top rope was one of those moments that had wrestling fans up in arms.
But why? Reigns has put in the work for the past three years: he’s been consistently at the top of the card, he’s had incredible matches against the likes of AJ Styles, and he’s one of the single biggest movers of merchandise that WWE has, which proves he has a loyal fanbase. So why would people get frustrated that he’s booked against a legend like The Undertaker?
Walking into WrestleMania 33, the Reigns vs. Undertaker match looks like it can only have one possible ending: Reigns taking the win, and dethroning a legend of the business. A lot of people are going to be as unhappy with this as they were when Reigns main-evented last year and the year before; but there are many reasons why Reigns should walk out of this year’s biggest event in sports entertainment as a victor.
Firstly, Reigns is liked backstage, no matter what the audience might chant when he’s in the ring. Fan favourites like Finn Bálor have praised his work and said they’ve enjoyed working with him, and he’s been seen to be a safe, steady worker who is always willing to put the effort in. Paul Heyman has said of Reigns that “no one is more coachable,” which is high praise from someone with good advice for those in the business. Reigns came into wrestling so green the grass was still growing on him, and the ability to listen and to take the advice of others is clearly what has helped him get to where he is. Corporate-wise, he’s a company favorite, and not just because of anyone’s preconceptions about his family. He makes good money for the company through merchandise sales, has a strong, reliable fanbase, and is willing to fill in where stories need it—like WrestleMania 32, due to Seth Rollins’ injury—while improving and working tirelessly to put out the best matches he can.
Talking about a fanbase, Reigns brings in a certain type of fan, and it’s a type that WWE should want more of. He’s very popular with children, which is always a big market in action figures, t-shirts and the like, but he’s also very popular with women and people of color, the former of which is a growing fanbase for WWE, and the latter of which is a crucial demographic for the company. They’re doing better with their women’s division and in pushing wrestlers of color, and Roman Reigns is a valuable way to appeal to both. Due to WWE’s marketing machinery, Reigns is also a more familiar name to casual fans than many wrestlers more beloved by hardcore fans; short of John Cena, he’s probably the most mainstream choice on the current roster for an Undertaker match, and since Cena is clearly easing his way out of the wrestling business, it makes more sense to devote what might be Undertaker’s final match to the man poised to replace Cena. For the hardcore fans who say that this match should never have been conceived, there needs to be a realization that events like WrestleMania are by necessity geared towards a more casual audience, who might only watch a few pay-per-view shows a year, but never miss WrestleMania.
One of the most important parts of WrestleMania is the buzz that surrounds it, the way that it’s built up through the year into moments that are supposed to be heart-stoppingly exciting, to make a huge crowd scream and shout and boo and cheer. The breaking of Undertaker’s streak is one of those WrestleMania moments that sticks in the mind, even though it was contentious at the time, or perhaps because of that. This match, and especially if it’s Undertaker’s last, is sure to be one of those moments: controversial, exciting and a symbolic passing of the torch from the [very—ed.] old to the new. Whether people love or hate what happens, they’ll be talking about it, and that’s what WWE wants.
Something which cannot be forgotten is that Undertaker doesn’t work with anyone he doesn’t want to. If he’s facing Reigns at WrestleMania, it’s because he wants to. More than that, it says something for Reigns’s skill that Undertaker will work with him; known as a safe worker, Reigns is unlikely to injure the dead man in what may be his final match. With the two of them having a similar style, it’s likely to be much like Undertaker matches have been at WrestleMania for the last few years—fights, rather than matches, and a real battle of strength. Expect minimal spot work, just something vicious and hard-fought. If Reigns wins, everyone should feel he’s put the work in to get there, and those who say that Reigns winning would destroy Undertaker’s legacy should respect that clearly the dead man himself doesn’t feel that way.
As far as story goes, the popular opinion has been, for a long time, that Reigns needs to turn heel. He gets booed already, people say, so why not make it so he’s a character who needs to be booed—why not let him have heel heat? Retiring the Undertaker would be meteoric, stratospheric heat, as opposed to the almost rote heat Reigns has now, where he’s booed almost out of habit. There would be those angry about him taking that spot, and fans would give him heat if he acted arrogantly about it, or was disrespectful towards Undertaker’s legacy. Alternatively, if they want to keep him face, have Undertaker literally pass his gloves over, a symbol of one generation giving way to the next.
Whichever way the match goes, having Reigns face Undertaker is a statement from WWE that they’re not stopping his push, and that they’re going to stay behind him all the way. Like it or lump it, the man’s done a lot to improve himself in-ring, and he’s had some spectacular matches that deserved better than the reception they got from antagonistic crowds. If the future of WWE absolutely depends on Roman Reigns at the top of the card, then he needs something like this behind him, because—for better or worse—retiring or even just beating the Undertaker is one of those career highlights that no one will forget.
Steph Maxwell-Kavanagh is a wrestling writer from the UK. She owns and writes for Rasslin Rehash, where she presents recaps, articles, and satirical pieces, with a feminist viewpoint.