Submitted by Kyle Johnson for WrestlingObserver.com
There was a moment in the last segment of the final Raw leading into Sunday’s WWE Wrestlemania 31 that was so imperceptible yet so effective—and potentially telling—that it makes one wonder why it wasn’t done more than once in the build to Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns. It was a moment that may have also confirmed that the focus for this Wrestlemania’s headline program has been misplaced all along.
There stood Paul Heyman, the advocate of WWE World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar, speaking with all of the usual bombast and braggadocio that accompanies standing beside the man who beat The Streak. All things considered, there wasn’t much out of the ordinary in Heyman’s unsurprisingly great promo—except for one small moment where Heyman, having spent the last several weeks telling the world that Reigns has no chance of defeating Lesnar at Wrestlemania, indicated that Lesnar can be beaten.
Granted, the method to which Heyman referred involved home invasion and absconding with Rena Lesnar and their two children, but what this did was establish six days out from the biggest show of the year that the nigh-unkillable beast has a weak spot. It took a man who had been promoted to an almost mythical status and busted him back down to mortality.
What made this work? Lesnar’s reaction. To that point, the champion had been alternating between pacing the ring restlessly and staring coolly into the distance—transitioning from a caged beast anxiously awaiting release to a calculating predator measuring a situation. But when Heyman mentioned Lesnar’s home? His wife? His children? He stood taken aback, staring at his advocate as if he had wounded him, almost indignant that Heyman possessed the temerity to say what he was saying.
He looked rattled. For the first time in a long time, Brock Lesnar expressed something approaching human emotion.
It was a subtle enough occurrence that it could very well have been inconsequential or even accidental—after all, if there’s one thing that WWE doesn’t quite get the hang of, it’s subtlety. That this moment centered around Heyman—the most capable storyteller in the company—might indicate otherwise.
The moment ended, Lesnar cooled, and everything returned otherwise to normal. The damage, however, had already been done. Lesnar—the unmoved, the unconquerable—looked vulnerable for the first time since he was elbowdropped through a table at Royal Rumble. Here, it did not come at the hands of an opponent, nor did it take an act of physicality. Rather, it took a few seemingly ill-timed and misplaced words from the man who is his advocate and, presumably, knows him better than anyone else on a professional level.
This moment is enough to raise the question of why the focus of Lesnar vs. Reigns was ever about anything but the dynamic between Lesnar and Heyman. After all, who better to rattle the cage of a beast than the man who holds the key to its pen?
Lesnar’s post-Mania status is very much in the air, and unless he has already signed a contract when the bell rings on Sunday, he’s going to lose the championship to Reigns. Make no mistake: there are very few scenarios that conclude with Lesnar retaining the title. Reigns, for all intents and purposes, is your next WWE World Heavyweight Champion. But there may only be one way that Lesnar losing to Reigns can be accomplished to any convincing degree: if it is a loss mitigated by the man with whom Lesnar has entrusted his weaknesses—Paul Heyman.
Reigns is an afterthought in the position of challenger; of the other possible matchups for Brock at Wrestlemania, Reigns’ through line—he wants to win the title because he doesn’t like being told he can’t—is arguably the weakest. Reigns has been flattening out with the audience from the moment he returned from his injury and flubbed his first backstage segment. He has not yet been accepted by the audience as a believable challenger to a man who has laid waste to everything in his path. If they had not bought Reigns as a legitimate contender by the end of Raw, then it stands to reason that they will not buy him at Wrestlemania or in the months after as either a legitimate top star or champion. Not unless he has a very convincing salesman at his side.
Last year, Heyman took a New Orleans crowd—still indignant and confused in the wake of The Undertaker’s unthinkable Wrestlemania loss the night prior—and worked them over in a single promo the way that a master potter molds clay. In the weeks since the infamous “1 in 21-and-1” promo, Heyman has owned every segment in which he has featured— crucial given how infrequently Lesnar has appeared on television since winning the championship. Unquestionably, Heyman has been the MVP of WWE programming for the last year, and the audience understands this.
It’s just as easily argued that Heyman has been the MVP of what little build there has been to Lesnar vs. Reigns. When Brock has contributed, he has generally been very good—particularly when he’s promising to mess Reigns up or storming out of pre-taped segments. But even with these contributions, the build to Lesnar vs. Reigns is practically non-existent without its star player—Heyman. Not only is Heyman the glue holding together the Wrestlemania headliner, but he may very well be the key to rejuvenating Reigns.
Heyman’s ability to make a malleable audience conform to whatever designs the company has is precisely why Heyman must help take the title off of Brock and transfer it onto Reigns. When Reigns wins—be it at Wrestlemania or on Raw the night after—it will not be a popular choice. It will be met with resistance and hostility from the San Jose crowd. That reaction, however, will probably not see anywhere near the backlash as last year’s decision to beat The Undertaker—a reaction that Heyman tempered and recalibrated a night later with just one promo.
Heyman’s potential motivations for turning on Brock are countless. Perhaps he couldn’t handle Brock’s erratic handling of his contract and the possibility of him shirking a sure thing for an uncertain future in UFC. Perhaps he felt that he had been left to carry the bag for a man who had grown overconfident in his untouchability. Perhaps he simply wanted to embrace another impossible challenge by killing the monster he created and backing the new next big thing. Whatever direction the story would move, chances are pretty good that Heyman could sell it to the audience. In a company that prides itself on telling stories, he is one of the very few actual storytellers—and almost unquestionably the best.
Aligning Heyman with Reigns would not just make the most sense from a narrative perspective, but it would also serve the most masters. In so doing, Heyman creates the best opportunity for WWE to transfer some of Lesnar’s mystique to Roman. It would also provide a memorable shock ending not terribly dissimilar in tone from that of the conclusion of arguably the best show in Wrestlemania history—Wrestlemania 17.
People may not immediately take to Reigns as a monster heel—particularly if he stands in as an ersatz Lesnar—but Heyman would do his damnedest to sell it to the best of his abilities. This partnership would allow Reigns to do what he did best as the enforcer of The Shield: look intimidating and beat people up. No goofy Loony Tunes promos. No hackneyed catch phrases. Just a big, scary-looking dude standing silently in the ring with his championship belt, daring anyone to try and take it off of him. It also arguably provides Reigns with the most opportunity for natural growth.
This opens a number of doors for programs and matches down the line. Maybe Brock comes back as a babyface to get his revenge. Maybe The Rock returns to try and return his cousin from the dark side. Maybe it’s as simple as the seemingly inevitable Cena/Reigns showdown.
But what it almost certainly does is keep Paul Heyman precisely where he belongs: in the spotlight at the top. After all, it’s where he’s been for the last year.