Match Point: Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar, WrestleMania 38

Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar Two-Night WrestleMania Sunday
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Twice, Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar have faced off on the ‘Grandest Stage of Them All’, World Wrestling Entertainment’s cornerstone pay-per-view, WrestleMania. Reigns has yet to claim victory over Lesnar in a WrestleMania main event, one of the few achievements that genuinely eluded Reigns’s former babyface persona.

Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar, WrestleMania 38

Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar WrestleMania

Past Encounters

At WrestleMania 31, Reigns was the challenger for Lesnar’s WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The moment anointed not Reigns, but his former Shield comrade Seth Rollins. Rollins exercised his prerogative as Mr. Money in the Bank to cash in, transforming the main event into a triple threat. Rollins emerged victorious, in one of WrestleMania history’s enduring, indelible moments.

Speculation was certain that Reigns’s narrative was leading towards a victorious rematch against Lesnar at WrestleMania 34, at which Reigns challenged Lesnar for the WWE Universal Championship. The match itself notoriously drew the ire of the New Orleans Superdome crowd throughout, for its presumed predictability. However, at the end, Lesnar’s victory drew genuine surprise: Reigns’s coronation as the face and future of WWE by clinching the Universal title with defeating Lesnar had seemed assured, and Lesnar was rumored at the time to be bound to return to UFC. While storyline adversity faced by Reigns’s babyface character often struck a hollow note, defeating Lesnar at WrestleMania remains a brass ring Reigns has yet to grasp.

The Road to WrestleMania 38

Summer 2021 saw the return of John Cena to active competition in WWE. The top babyface of the 2010s had returned to challenge Reigns for the Universal Championship. In his absence, Reigns had transformed into “The Tribal Chief”: a pitiless, megalomaniacal heel obsessed with keeping possession of the Universal Championship.

The genuine fluctuations in fortunes Reigns has endured with being received by the WWE audience power this multifaceted portrayal. Beneath Reigns’s brutal attacks on his opponents, underhanded tactics, and dominance of cousins and henchmen Jey and Jimmy Uso is the vulnerability of fear: the fear of losing the title and the personal validation he feels it gives him. WWE’s audience seem, by and large, to approve of this iteration of the character, who, tactics aside, has taken control of his destiny. His victory over John Cena at SummerSlam led to the surprise return of Lesnar, who was clearly hell bent on the Universal title.

With Lesnar’s former advocate, Paul Heyman, now serving as Reigns’s special counsel, the narrative became a drama of divided loyalties and rising suspicions within Reigns’s Bloodline stable. The ambiguity increased at October 2021’s Saudi Arabia event, Crown Jewel, but Reigns did manage to successfully defend the Universal title. Heyman eventually appeared to betray Reigns and returned to Lesnar’s side in late 2021, acting as his advocate as Lesnar claimed the WWE Championship at Day 1. The ruse was abandoned at 2022’s Royal Rumble, when Heyman and Reigns reunited to help Bobby Lashley defeat Lesnar and claim the WWE Championship.

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Champion vs. Champion

However, Lesnar reclaimed the championship in the eponymous program of 2022’s Elimination Chamber. Lesnar had made his intentions known previously, that he wanted a champion vs champion match against Reigns at WrestleMania.

WWE not only made it official, but upped the ante by declaring the bout a champion vs champion unification bout, to unite the WWE Championship and WWE Universal Championship.

On WWE television, Reigns and Lesnar have bided their time in the usual ways before WWE’s grandest pay per view: parking lot attacks, promos, mock interviews, etc. March 2022’s Madison Square Garden live show, however, perhaps gave WWE fans an idea of what to expect of WrestleMania 38’s outcome. After successfully defending the WWE title against recent NXT call-up Austin Theory, Lesnar was brutally attacked by a triumphantly posed Reigns.

Conclusion

Reigns’s babyface narrative was often contrived and contradictory, but Lesnar has been a very real bete noire for him throughout his WWE journey. Reigns is a much different player than his WM31 or WM34 selves. His “Tribal Chief” persona has struck a chord with WWE audiences with his depiction of a secretly insecure conqueror who has cut through a swath of opponents, but fears only one: Lesnar. By claiming the WWE Championship from “The Beast Incarnate”, Reigns finally seems poised to defeat an adversary who has long eluded him, uniting WWE’s top titles in the process.

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