Triple H vs. Roman Reigns, WWE WrestleMania 32 (4/3/2016)

This was for Hunter’s WWE World Heavyweight Title.

It is the long awaited realization and climax of the Political Hit, if not totally the end of it. One could easily suggest that it didn’t fully end until Roman Reigns finally grew a spine and turned himself into a villain and a proper character, and I wouldn’t especially argue. This is, however, the real shining moment of the thing as the perpetrator of said Hit gets his match against Reigns in WWE’s biggest match of the year and fully enacts his agenda.

As such, it is hands down, the absolute funniest match of the year.

Maybe of the entire decade.

It wasn’t so much at the time, and had it ultimately worked, it would probably be something I still revile as much as I once did. Given all that’s happened since though, I can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all. The effort, the work on even the smallest details, the scope and breadth of the thing itself. Time has transformed this from a monstrosity into something worth laughing at. We’ll get there at the very end, but given how excited a few people have told me they are for a more expanded version of a popular forum review from several years back, I will begin by playing the hits.

The real joy of the thing comes before the match, as Triple H and Stephanie McMahon have one of the most big brained and ridiculous entrances in the history of wrestling. Zombies in suits around the stage with steel plates welded to their mouths (NO FREEDOM OF SPEECH), Stephanie on a huge balcony in some all-time coked up combo of a leather singlet dominatrix get up, but also with the Triple H skull, next to one of the gigantic Triple H thrones, giving an outright fascist propaganda speech about how they own everyone and how hope is stupid and how there is no savior.

Triple H comes out alongside an army of people in skull helmets holding replica belts. It’s all a whole lot, the total opposite of the genius WrestleMania 30 entrance, with all the quiet parts not only said out loud but shouted at you. It’s more than just the entrance itself also, as outside of the upset win in the ladder match opener, not a single babyface has won a match on this show so far. A clear and obvious attempt, given how they tend to mix these things up, to force some kind of a positive reaction for the only babyface left.

Given that booking for the previous four or five hours, and given the champion’s introduction being outright fascist messaging, it’s a set up for one of the loudest and easiest negative reactions ever for the boss/champion corporate god-king, throwing everything out there, telling you this is all the work of the plainest forces of objective evil in the universe.

The crowd cheers anyways.

And to think, people said the WWE stopped being able to properly capture the cultural moment after 9/11.

When the bell rings, the match itself is no good, as you well god damned know.

The funny thing about it is that it maybe could have been. Not like GREAT exactly, these are not the two for miracles at this point, but these are wrestlers who have had some fun brawls. Their parts in the Shield/Evolution tags in 2014 weren’t the best parts of the match, but they were competent parts of the match. Their brawls going into this match, at the end of TLC in 2015, the great nose breaking angle (in which Triple H did the coolest thing in the entire feud by completely owning Roman Reigns), and Roman’s return on the previous week’s Raw leading to a pull apart brawl. Reigns is capable of these really energetic and fired up scraps, and if there was a way for this match to succeed, it was through some kind of a shortcut filled Attitude Era brawl, maybe even one with a little blood like Roman had the previous year at Mania.

Obviously that’s not the match they have.

(Although when one considers that the only times in the last 14 months that Roman’s been cheered at all were when he was just purely kicking ass, I suppose it’s not surprising at all that this match takes the complete opposite approach.)

Instead, The Political Hit comes to fruition in one of the most evilly constructed matches I’ve ever seen.

Instead, Triple H decides to work a technical match, the kind of match Roman Reigns is very specifically not so great at, because he’s had no real experience with it. It’s some old NWA style stuff, in Hunter’s mind, but he also makes ZERO attempt to make Roman look good. He slaps Roman around in a hammerlock. He’s the one who ejects Roman from the ring initially, throwing him out easily with a hip toss over the top, and then he holds the ropes for him, in this whole show to not only get across to people who want to boo Roman that Roman is bad at technical wrestling (the only good kind of wrestling) but in hurling him around and out like he did, also that he’s not even stronger than Hunter, so his entire push predicated on being the biggest and strongest is a lie.

Really, it’s masterful stuff.

Wholly despicable, but when it comes to professional wrestling’s black arts, none left are as skilled or efficient as Triple H.

Hunter also wins out in power fights pretty cleanly, outside of a small run that he cuts off with a punt to the dick. (To cheers, of course.) They deliberately avoid doing a lot that’s interesting, a lot of punch exchanges and the kind of thing that would get a big reaction if the crowd loved Roman. Stuff that wouldn’t be out of place in Triple H vs. Cena, Batista, maybe The Rock, maybe Austin. That type of a guy. But that doesn’t happen, because the crowd hates Roman, has been given no reason so far to support him, and by having a match where he specifically does nothing to turn them around — and in fact, does LESS than he would do in a normal Roman Reigns match, it’s like they’re actively hurting the crowd’s reaction to him, in a match that only works if the crowd reacts to him. It’s absolutely brilliant stuff.

Eventually a neat spot does happen…

And yeah, fucking OBVIOUSLY it’s Triple H who does it.

Stunningly, it’s a match about how Roman Reigns is this underdog figure in a clean fight. Not as experienced, not as smart, not as scientifically skilled, and somehow, not really even as strong. Like he’s a Dolph Ziggler or a Dean Ambrose type.

The real master stroke comes after this, in part once Triple H begins working the arm of our poor hero.

You may recall a recent Triple H singles match on a WrestleMania in which he worked the arm of a beloved young wrestler named Daniel Bryan. It’s a match a whole lot of people love, myself among them, and for good reason. This is not that match though, and to be entirely fair, that is as much on Hunter as it is Roman. His arm work is nowhere near as good. Not as focused, not as mean, out and out just not very good at all. It’s not the same sort of a match at all, but on the surface, you have Triple H working a similar sort of match to far far lesser results. Had it not probably been the point, we’d call it this classic own-goal, but really, you have to concede that it is probably the point. It’s a comparison drawn with a superior match Triple H had with the guy who became a martyr at Roman’s expense. Just the reminder of a match involving Daniel Bryan and that incredible night is a reminder that, hey, yeah, remember the 2015 Royal Rumble? Fuck this guy. Even on a smaller scale, Hunter worked Ziggler’s arm three weeks ago, and it was much better than this. This segment begins with Roman hurting his arm spearing Hunter through the railing, which both makes him look like an oaf and makes Triple H look tough as hell for surviving that and still finding a way to take control.

In front of a crowd that respects technical wrestlers fighting against who they perceive to be the chosen people (a lesson Triple H learned two years ago), Triple H pulls off perhaps his greatest feat ever, and casts himself as the technical wrestler in that situation.

A switch seems to click at the end, and the match moves towards activity suddenly, as if they had spent twenty minutes waiting for a signal from someone on high. Big moves, interference, Roman getting to break the intergender taboo to hit the spear on Stephanie when Hunter dodges it, things like that. There’s another great little bit where Triple H kicks out of one Spear (he did not kick out of Ambrose or Ziggler’s finishes in those matches in the past month), before a second one later — after also cribbing the “Triple H uses the hammer to stand up into the finish” spot from the Shield/Evolution matches — gets Roman the win and his third title reign.

As if it matters, really.

This is a phenomenally bad match. There’s a few decent spots in it and Roman’s arm selling is decent enough, but it’s such a completely wrong call on every level, so much so that it has to be on purpose. I’m a broken record with the Political Hit stuff at this point. There’s no way something can misfire this much and still be all coincidence. You never want to assume conspiracy when there could simply be stupidity, but there is just too much of it for me to believe that. There can’t be. Roman wins the title back and wins his WrestleMania main event, but instead of winning a brutal and exciting match like he could have in 2015, he wins this lazy, sluggish, boring main event where he’s miscast and put in multiple positions that expose him and make him less appealing to both hardcore fans and the kind of casual fans who watch this one show a year maybe.

It’s not his fault, he did the best he could, but that doesn’t change any of it.

I thought, once upon a time, that Triple H could never top the political work that he did in 2004.

After losing the World Title to Chris Benoit at WrestleMania, Triple H went on a six month political campaign that is somehow nowhere near as talked about as it probably ought to be, just mowing down everything in sight. There was the one night only match with Eddie Guerrero, where Triple H was traded to SD for a night, where he sandbagged the shit out of the most popular face in the company and used interference by Shawn Michaels to make it look like Shawn’s finish was stronger than Eddie’s, while in a program that routinely saw him get the better of Shawn Michaels. He then was traded back to Raw for four other people, to show that he’s the most valuable guy and that on top of the sandbagging, Eddie was champion of the brand full of people who couldn’t beat Triple H. He then used Shawn to undercut Benoit in a match with a lot of little burials (Benoit’s triple Germans keeping Shawn down for as long as a slam from Shawn would keep Benoit down, Benoit needing HHH interference to beat Shawn) before going over Shawn in one of the most masturbatory matches in history. He would then use the mentally disabled character of Eugene to undercut Benoit by being in a match with him where Eugene’s suplexes were treated as stronger, before it was Eugene’s interference that allowed Benoit to retain vs. Triple H that summer, before beating Eugene very easily in their matches, using Orton to beat Benoit, and then also viciously ruining Orton. Never overtly beating internet favorite Benoit, so the dumbest people in the world could still say “Triple H never got his win back!” (although he did eventually) as if it mattered at all.

That’s all insanely impressive. Holy SHIT, look at that fucking paragraph. It’s a political masterpiece.

The Political Hit is better than that.

I’ve softened on it, somewhat, in recent years. Both because it failed and with Roman’s heel run since August 2020, he’s finally become the star he always could have been, but also because all of Triple H’s plans just collapsed and he is probably dead. The soft coup, a locker room and backstage full of people who came up through NXT and are loyal to Hunter, that shit all fell apart, and so all of these plans just didn’t matter, given that he ultimately got outmaneuvered by actual business people, never managing to pull the trigger after getting all of these people into place. So, you know, whatever. But it really should be discussed when talking about this match, and Roman’s all-time horrible half decade misspent as a babyface.

I’m not saying Triple H is behind the Shield turn where Dean got the hot feud with Seth, while Roman got put with an ice cold Randy Orton, or that Hunter is behind the 2015 Royal Rumble, THE worst booked match in the history of wrestling, but he’s not a stupid guy politically, and that had disaster all over it. Roman spends 2015 embroiled mainly in a terrible feud with the similarly cold Bray Wyatt, a similarly cold Sheamus, and when their feud begins, it’s a series of master strokes. The attack at TLC that probably goes over the line, if you wanted a reason to boo Roman. The Rumble return pop, and the way Dean Ambrose was built back up just in time to be a decent alternative option, even being last in the Rumble with Hunter, only to be beaten by Roman at Fastlane, AND THEN given a mini feud with Triple H that’s much better than any part of the Hunter/Roman feud. The babyface style beatdown following Fastlane, and the booking of supposed tough guy Roman Reigns needing three weeks off for a broken nose. Triple H deliberately working better matches with other options, in the eyes of the sorts of fans to be influenced by these things, like Ambrose and Ziggler. The return attacks where Roman is super aggressive. On paper, Triple H can write everything off as him helping Roman, but at every step, he’s feeding every fan who wants to boo Roman and signaling that it’s okay to do that, undercutting his ascent at every turn, almost on every show.

By the time WrestleMania hits, nobody likes Roman. And hey, Hunter’s the one who gave you NXT, with all the guys you like. Remember that? Well now you will, because for the first time on Mania weekend, two days before, Triple H’s brand produces a hell of a fucking show and steals the weekend (at least for people who only consume this slop), with a big spectacle match featuring a Japanese superstar he personally signed. That’s progress. You know what’s not progress? A big dumb lug on top of the WWE. That’s not what Roman is, he’s shown himself to be a great wrestler time and time again for the last several years , but in his big showcase, his big moment on the biggest show of the year, he doesn’t get to show that.

Instead, the match shows him off as what the feud’s presented him as, an unworthy guy who can’t wrestle very well.

That’s what’s suggested here. He’s boring, he’s not explosive, he can’t perform in a long “old school” (“good”) style match. He’s not on the level of the other options in front of you, and definitely not as good as the last guy to have this style of a match against Triple H, the one who Roman’s rise stopped, shortly before his untimely (forced, ultimately kind of shoddy, I still have so many suspicions) retirement. Everything cool here comes from Triple H on offense. Triple H is doing the best he can, but Roman just sucks. He can’t go, and this match proved it. But, Triple H does what’s Best For Business, and he put him over. Only so much one man can do. This is Vince’s call in the end, you’ve heard that dodge a hundred times before on the conference calls. Triple H brings you NXT, with good wrestlers in prominent positions, and good booking, and great matches. His product wouldn’t be like this, that’s for sure.

That’s the idea anyways, the one you’re supposed to get here, and going forward.

Someone way better than Triple H said something once about some trick the devil pulled. I won’t give him the dignity of the line itself, because in the end, Triple H got exposed, all of this failed, and we eventually got around to the sort of shit that should have been obvious for the last half a decade. At the same time, a lot of stupid mindless people really did fall for it.

All’s well that ends well though.

Given how things worked out, none of this really mattered all that much. The result is that instead of being as infuriating as it was the last time I wrote about this in another place, it’s become roughly a thousand times funnier. To do all of this, to go this far for so long, to ultimately be undercut by two different Khan Families, and because he got exposed as a fraud by a company like pre-Punk and Bryan AEW, it’s all just so good. There are games beyond The Game, and he lost every single one of them when the time came to solidify all this power and advance higher.

All of this effort, all of this time and energy spent, all for it not to matter even a little bit once he was out of sight and exposed as this complete and abject fraud, his great works scattered to the wind entirely, an influence almost entirely removed. Can you imagine anything quite so beautiful?

Triple H may not quite be the devil himself, but through his fall from power, we have concrete evidence of not only God’s existence, but proof that He loves us.

In this match, and in all that’s happened since, we have Triple H in totality. The King of Kings. This match feels like a monument buried in the sand, decaying and weathering and slipping further into the Earth day by day as we grow further away from this would-be crowning achievement, with only that visible pedestal at the very bottom.

‘Look on my works ye mighty, and despair’.

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay. Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare. The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Rest in piss, coward.

1 thought on “Triple H vs. Roman Reigns, WWE WrestleMania 32 (4/3/2016)

  1. Pingback: WRESTLEMANIA IN LISTS | HANDWERK

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