Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman: Early Hits and Misses from WWE Raw Feud
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman is the WWE Raw equivalent of a shoot-em-up movie—a straight-forward story fueled by aggression and adrenaline.
Reigns wants to chop down the redwood of a man after Strowman denied him a shot at the Universal Championship. Strowman is angry at The Big Dog for daring to step up to him. Violence has ensued, erupting in a number of arenas as WWE marches toward the Fastlane pay-per-view on March 5.
For the most part, the pairing of powerhouses has clicked. Strowman's hot streak and Reigns' prominent position has made for a winning combination.
The rivalry's issues mostly lie in big-picture elements. The PPV schedule has the rivals hurrying into battle, and Reigns playing anything other than a smarmy, condescending and merciless heel is the wrong move.
The following is a dive into their feud thus far, breaking down what's working and what's not.
Hit: Eye for an Eye
Strowman vs. Reigns' central theme of retaliation has resonated.
One attack has led to another to create a circle of payback. Each attack is the feud's next logical step.
It began in earnest on the Jan. 2 Raw when Reigns and Goldberg flattened Strowman with spears in stereo. The Monster Among Men responded at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view with a beatdown that prevented Reigns from winning the Universal Championship.
Reigns spoiled Strowman's title match against Owens soon after. The former member of The Wyatt Family then hunted down The Big Dog during his bout with Samoa Joe on Feb. 6.
The simplicity of the narrative has been its biggest strength.
There have been no long-winded promos or convoluted explanations. Instead, these are simply two angry titans who feel wronged. Their back-and-forth violence has compelled audiences thus far.
Miss: Fastlane in the Way
WWE may be planning to continue Reigns vs. Strowman into WrestleMania 33 and beyond, but many expect Reigns to take on Undertaker instead. Their confrontation at the Royal Rumble felt like a heavy-handed tease of that showdown.
If that's how things unfold, the company will have to push Strowman aside and leave this story unfinished.
If WWE is instead planning on pitting The Monster Among Men against Reigns at WrestleMania, getting it early at Fastlane will ruin the special feeling of the match. It will be a sequel rather than an original.
And there isn't sufficient time to let the bad blood between these warriors simmer. The calendar is forcing things to move quickly.
Hit: A Monster's Momentum
Strowman will head into Fastlane as one of WWE's biggest success stories of late. The big man has emerged as a potential top-tier star, thanks in large part to the company committing to him and presenting him as an apex predator gobbling up much of the food chain.
Recent images of his dominance still linger.
Strowman steamrolled the competition in the Royal Rumble, ousting six men from the match, including hosses Big Cass, Big Show and Mark Henry, per WWE.com. Victory is commonplace for him, and when he doesn't win, his matches have ended in no-contests or disqualifications.
WWE has done well to protect him, using strong booking to propel him.
That continued on the Feb. 6 Raw when Strowman devoured four jobbers at once. The sight of him pinning a pile of flesh was a powerful one.
Kyle Fowle of The A.V. Club wrote of the latest squash match, "It's a good way to keep Braun at his current level without getting stale, especially when you add in the brutal beating he lays on Reigns at the end of the episode."
The momentum Strowman has built elevates his clash with Reigns.
It's a big deal if Reigns beats the monster at this point. And considering Strowman's recent past, the audience isn't sure if he'll go down, even if Reigns is treated like the Superman of the squared circle.
Miss: Reigns Remains Miscast
A tale of a hero looking to conquer a villain is askew.
WWE wants to sell us on the idea of Reigns as a babyface, but too much of the crowd wants no part of that. As a result, the crowd reactions for this feud have been out of whack.
When Strowman crushed Reigns' title dreams at the Royal Rumble, the audience chanted, "Thank you, Roman!" Strowman earned cheers when he beat down Reigns in his match with The Samoan Submission Machine, too.
Philly.com's Vaughn Johnson joked on Twitter, "Braun Strowman slowly becoming a babyface every time he thwarts Roman Reigns."
A double turn would be an excellent move. History says, though, WWE isn't thinking that way. It has been dead set on making Reigns its top babyface, even if the audience soundly rejects the idea.
That has hampered the Strowman feud.
It's hard to buy into Reigns as a conquering warrior while jeers remain his soundtrack. It's hard to root against Strowman when he comes off as the violent representation of the anti-Reigns brigade.