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Roman Reigns' Win vs. John Cena at WWE No Mercy 2017 Didn't Pass the Torch

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterSeptember 25, 2017

Credit: WWE.com

Roman Reigns' victory over John Cena at WWE No Mercy 2017 was a cheap, paper replica of a career-changing moment.

A battle hyped as one that would decide who could claim that the WWE belonged to them, who would now be the face of the company, never became that. Issues with pacing and tone, elements that have long plagued Reigns' booking, held back that match and its impact.

The Big Dog fended off the 16-time world champ on Sunday's pay-per-view. Cena endorsed him. The announcers talked up how we were seeing a changing of the guard. 

As Miami Herald columnist Scott Fishman noted, Cena continued that narrative on Raw Talk following No Mercy:

Scott Fishman @smFISHMAN

John Cena emotional saying future in good hands. Says he didn't pass the torch. Roman Reigns took it. Put him over huge on #RawTalk. #WWE

All the pieces were there, but the finished product fell flat.

Reigns vs. Cena was a reminder that you can't fake electricity. You can't force the momentous. 

When Brock Lesnar took down The Rock in 2002, it felt as if a special force was set to take over. The rising star and freak athlete devoured The Rock in a stunning, resonating passing-of-the-torch moment.

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Steve Austin besting Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV had a similar energy.

Fans were onboard with backing Stone Cold as the WWE's next top dog. His triumph over Michaels was the natural next stage of Austin's rise, an emphatic climb into the throne.

The WWE clearly wanted Reigns and Cena to emulate these past major moments.

It didn't in part because it was rushed. The buildup to this showdown started just over a month ago.

As well as the WWE did in making things personal between the rivals in that short stretch leading up to No Mercy, it's hard to sell fans on a match being important if it was put together at this pace. Imagine if Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior was set up within weeks and put on a B-level PPV. 

The match itself had its issues, as well.

For a contest with so much at stake, a battle of two top stars of their generations, it lacked intensity at times. Early on, as fans chanted "You both suck!" Cena shrugged, stepped out of the ring and began to walk back up the entrance ramp.

It was like something out of a house-show clash.

Cena oversold Reigns' offense at times, too, giving cartoon reactions to The Big Dog's onslaught. When one starts flashing back to Michaels' over-the-top ridiculousness at SummerSlam 2005, that's a bad sign for a match.

And Reigns vs. Cena lacked heart. Their bout felt formulaic, a series of high spots without the emotional connection.

WWE @WWE

NEVER. GIVE. UP! #WWENoMercy @JohnCena @WWERomanReigns https://t.co/9J4SLjhal3

Kyle Fowle of Real Sport wrote: "Each Superstar gives a little smile before hitting their signature move, as if winking at the crowd and saying 'We know exactly how you will react, but this is what it means to be a massive WWE Superstar.'" 

Reigns has had more resonating, fulfilling matches. And so has Cena. This year, in fact.

Their underwhelming effort at No Mercy made Reigns' big win less emphatic.

And boy did the WWE lay on the passing-the-torch stuff on thick. The announcers beat that point into the ground during the action. When Reigns scored the three-count, Cena lifted his foe's hands in the air.

WWE @WWE

Hustle, Loyalty, Respect isn't just a saying for @JohnCena. #WWENoMercy @WWERomanReigns https://t.co/5HeHGpnVj5

It felt eerily like The Rock doing the same thing at Royal Rumble 2015 as fans ferociously booed Reigns.

And just like that night, the victory at No Mercy wasn't the stirring climax to a story that fans had been glued to. Daniel Bryan overcoming The Authority at WrestleMania XXX struck a powerful chord, building on his popularity and deep connection with the audience. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins' recent reunion buzzed because of the anticipation preceding it. Even Zack Ryder's United States Championship win from 2011 was an example of the WWE smartly stoking flames that were already burning.

That was not the case with Reigns vs. Cena.

The WWE wanted this to be huge, to signal The Big Dog's arrival as a top-tier star, but it all felt artificial. That's not surprising considering much of Reigns' career has been a showcase of the company's stubbornness rather than getting a feel for the audience. 

On Raw this week and next, the WWE will proclaim Reigns is now standing where Cena stood. He may very well move to that point, but that shift didn't happen on Sunday night.

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