On the surface, it appears as though Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar could not be more different.
One is the face of WWE, a hardworking guy that should be respected but is hated. Reigns loves the business and grew up in it, but that makes little difference to fans that resent him for what he is. No matter what he does, Reigns cannot fully get over as a babyface.
The other guy is a big-money star that is usually cheered in spite of what he is. Lesnar has never been accused by anyone of being passionate about the sport of professional wrestling; he seems to love the money more than anything. Yet the fans love him and love to watch him work.
Reigns and Lesnar indeed seem to be fire and ice.
But Reigns and Lesnar have had similar careers in WWE, though many fans perhaps don't see it. Everyone is actually too busy hating Reigns and cheering Lesnar to notice, which is understandable. The Big Dog is despised for all the right reasons and The Beast Incarnate is loved for all the right reasons as well.
Each man has reached a certain level of comfort in his career, making them even more similar.
Reigns is the hero that fans love to jeer. He's not one of them. He was given his spot because the company wanted him to have it, not necessarily because he had earned it. He's on top due to a booking process that has been arduous at times, but he's still rolling with the elite of the company.
Fans may immediately recognize that scenario as being the one that produced Lesnar as well.
Lesnar was a freak of nature, a guy that jumped ahead of a locker room full of Superstars that had worked hard to get their spots. The Next Big Thing was elevated to the top because WWE just could not envision him working his way up.
He was green, but he had more potential than anyone could have realized.
In both cases, WWE moved ahead with an untested talent. Reigns had experience thanks to his time in The Shield, but he had nothing when it came to being a singles star. Lesnar was a natural and athletically gifted, but he had never worked atop a pro wrestling company before. Would he even know how to carry himself?
Luckily for Lesnar, Paul Heyman was there to help lead the way. Heyman provided guidance and valuable advice whenever it was needed. Lesnar excelled and learned to be the main event powerhouse that he quickly became. Of course, while Lesnar had Heyman, Reigns had Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.
By the time Reigns began his main event ride, he had nearly two years of experience on the main roster. Rollins and Ambrose were there to help Reigns along the way, and he improved because of them. WWE didn't just cut Reigns loose on the world after The Shield disbanded; they opened the door for him to succeed.
Reigns took down some fan favorites along the way, including Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles. He also took down legends, including Triple H and The Undertaker. Reigns was put in a position to succeed, and that's what he did.
Lesnar's rise came with wins over fan favorites like The Hardy Boyz, Edge and Kurt Angle. He took down some notable legends as well, including Hulk Hogan and The Rock. Like Reigns, Lesnar was poised for WWE immortality, and he embraced it.
The Working Man
Both men were strategically positioned at just the right time, and fans were forced to either accept them or reject them. Though Lesnar is over now, that's not always been the case; fans have definitely had a tremendous love/hate relationship with him.
The issue is not with his performance in the ring; at least it wasn't in the beginning. Lesnar's wrestling ability and freakish athleticism put him above many Superstars he faced in the ring. Lesnar was talented, he was quick and he was able to do things between the ropes that many guys his size just couldn't do.
But the Lesnar that fans see now is not the same man that took WWE by storm in 2002.
Lesnar is now nothing but a power wrestler. He throws heavy hands, massive clotheslines and German Suplexes. Instead of mat wrestling, Lesnar's game is a hybrid of MMA and power moves. He takes his opponents to Suplex City until they can't move anymore. Fans know The Beast is capable of much more, but yet they rarely see it now.
Despite how popular he is, there are many that have grown extremely tired of the same old routine. But for others, his popularity overshadows his stale act in the squared circle.
Reigns, however, works in the ring like a pro wrestler, not an MMA fighter. He uses power moves as well, of course, but he can also work Superstars of different abilities and skill levels. Reigns may have been awkward in the beginning and unaccustomed to the main event flow, but he has truly come into his own now.
But like Lesnar, Reigns' work is being overshadowed. He is hated so much that few are willing to admit he is more than capable in the ring. His improvement is ignored and disregarded as if it doesn't matter, all in the name of vilifying him as a character.
Fans just cannot get past the fact that Reigns is the top guy, even though they didn't want him to begin with. No matter who he faces, or how many times he does something impressive, that fact will always come back to haunt him.
The Conqueror is haunted as well, because no matter how dominant Lesnar is in the ring, fans cannot let go of his sporadic schedule. It's even harder to accept when Lesnar disappears after winning the main championship. Fans want the champion and the championship on TV.
This is through no fault of Lesnar's, however, as his contract is agreed upon not only by him, but by WWE as well. But that does not stop the WWE faithful from growing impatient after months of no Beast Incarnate.
But Lesnar will forever be haunted by the same thing that follows Reigns around like an ominous shadow; the defeat of The Undertaker.
Lesnar's victory over The Undertaker at WrestleMania 30 in 2014 sent shockwaves through the pro wrestling world. Why did this happen? Was The Deadman done? How could Lesnar go along with this, and more importantly, why would WWE book him to go over in the first place?
The backlash against Lesnar was immediate. Fans hated him for what he had done to The Phenom. Taker's undefeated streak was the stuff of legend, and many believed he should have remained undefeated. But Lesnar took that away from him. Once again, Lesnar's perceived lack of passion for the sport came to the forefront, as fans rallied against him.
Lesnar was not a Superstar on the rise that needed a massive rub to get over. He was already a made man and did not need to win over The Undertaker. But it could be that's why WWE gave it to him.
Lesnar was at a point that he could handle the hate. If Taker's streak had to end, why not let it end at the hands of a guy that could absorb the criticism and grow even stronger from it? He and Heyman laughed it off on TV, proving that The Beast Incarnate was indeed a remorseless creature. It worked perfectly for him, and though fans didn't want to admit it, they knew Taker wouldn't have lost had he not agreed to it beforehand.
Fans respect The Deadman, so they eventually respected his decision. However that has not prevented the boos from ringing out every time a crowd is reminded of Lesnar's Mania win. The WWE faithful will never forget, and many will never forgive.
Undertaker's loss to Reigns at WrestleMania 33 was the result of The Big Dog needing a massive rub to get over. Reigns was already near the top, but his win against Taker put him over the edge. Reigns was the best choice to beat The Phenom because, like Lesnar, he could do the most with it, and he could handle it.
Retiring The Undertaker is a tall order, and the company needed someone that could carry the responsibility with him throughout his career. Just as he did with Lesnar in 2014, Taker surely signed off on the match with Reigns. His wishes have to be respected.
Of course, Reigns will forever be hated because he put Undertaker on the shelf. Even if Taker did return for one more match, there's no guarantee it would be against Reigns, or that Reigns would even lose this time.
Both Reigns and Lesnar were changed by The Deadman; they will both carry the burden, and the honor, of going over on the legendary Undertaker.
Up Around the Bend
Lesnar and Reigns have an appointment with destiny, and it's just ahead of them at WrestleMania 34. On that night, their WWE careers will intersect and become more connected than ever before.
Reigns has beaten every big name put in front of him. If he beats John Cena at No Mercy, then he will really only have one obstacle left. Lesnar is that obstacle, as he is the one Superstar that Reigns has yet to get past. What does Reigns do after retiring The Phenom and beating Cena?
He fights The Beast. Reigns needs to put Lesnar away, and fully establish his dominance in WWE. His critics don't want to see it, but it will happen. Scoring wins over every legend and top performer on the roster is the way WWE does things when it comes to building the top guy. Reigns is in that spot now, and Lesnar is the only guy left.
Lesnar had to get past his own obstacle at WrestleMania 33, when he beat Goldberg. Goldberg was the one guy that couldn't be moved, the one guy that had Lesnar's number. Of all the men that have stepped into the ring with The Beast, no one was as fearless or more intense than Goldberg. But Lesnar finally overcame his challenger and put the former WCW champion back on the shelf.
Lesnar has no one left to beat, and that will especially be true if he defeats Strowman at No Mercy.
But Lesnar needs to face Reigns again to prove his dominance. Reigns beat Triple H, Taker and may possibly defeat Cena. Lesnar has beaten all three as well. Bragging rights will be on the line, though the Universal Championship may or may not be.
While Lesnar is likely nearing the end, Reigns is still in his prime. The Beast has almost run out of victims, but Reigns is still hungry. Lesnar has nothing left to prove, but Reigns is sill proving himself everyday. WWE needs both of them, but there can only be one Alpha Male.
The top guy in WWE is a force of nature, and that's the way it's always been. Whether he's the most popular, the most hated, or both, he is a cut above everyone else because he has to be, and because that's what WWE needs him to be.
One day Reigns will near his own end, and he will be challenged by a Superstar in his prime. Their differences will be apparent, but their similarities will definitely be there as well.
Tom Clark can regularly be seen on Bleacher Report. His podcast, Tom Clark's Main Event, is available on iTunes, Google Play, iHeart Radio, Amazon Android, Windows Phone and online at boinkstudios.com