Coming out of Monday's snowed-in studio version of Monday Night Raw, it seems pretty clear that WWE is going to stay the course with plans for WrestleMania to be headlined by a World Championship match pitting Roman Reigns against Brock Lesnar. But WWE might want to have a backup plan if fan reactions to Reigns still aren't positive during Thursday's live Smackdown.
Here is my suggestion to flip the script on WrestleMania, without simply doing another Triple Threat match like last year. There is one pretty big caveat to all of this. WWE must convince and, more importantly, pay Brock Lesnar to wrestle at the Fast Lane PPV event Feb. 22.
WWE should book a segment on Smackdown tomorrow night to really heat things up right away with Roman and Brock (and, perhaps more realistically, if Lesnar isn't there, Paul Heyman) to the point Reigns says, forget waiting 'til WrestleMania, I want Lesnar NOW! If Reigns gets a positive reaction, stay the course, if not, it gives Vince McMahon and company time to shift gears in by next week's Monday Night Raw.
On Raw, have the Authority say that since the next event is called Fast Lane, and since Reigns and Lesnar can't seem to wait to tear each other apart, we're going to accelerate the Road to WrestleMania and Reigns is going to face Lesnar for the title in just a few weeks at Fast Lane (which, if they are having issues with network cancelations, perhaps this gets people back on board).
But that also means we need a new No. 1 contender for WrestleMania. So, the Authority says they're going to have an 8-man tournament at Fast Lane to determine that contender. Two of the participants will be Seth Rollins and John Cena, who came within an eyelash of winning the championship at the Royal Rumble. Five of the other competitors will be the final six in the Rumble match, outside of Reigns – Rusev, Big Show, Kane, Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt.
The final participant will determined by a fan vote on the WWE App. Here's where they'd pit Dolph Ziggler, Ryback, Cesaro, Bad News Barrett and Daniel Bryan against each other (and maybe one other person ... Luke Harper?).
Since Cena and Rusev has already been announced for Fast Lane, that will be one of the first round matches. Wait until the end of Raw after showcasing the rest of the particpants and give all the fan's choice guys matches against each other to set up some other feuds, then announce the other first-round matches will be: Ambrose vs. Wyatt, Rollins vs. Kane and Big Show vs. the winner of the fan vote (of course, Bryan).
At the PPV, Rollins vs. Kane is first. This is more of an angle. After Triple H and Steph announce the match at the end of the first Raw, the next week is a lot of "Why are you pitting us against each other?" with Trips telling Seth to relax and that, when the time comes, Kane will do what's "Best for Business." After some tension at the start, Kane lays down and Rollins pins him to advance.
I'd do Bryan vs. Big Show next. Give Bryan some heat early on, but ultimately, Big Show gets disqualified for just beating the tar of out him along with other members of the Authority. Bryan advances, but he's hurt. He's got Rollins in Round 2, and Michael Cole tells the audience this was obviously the Authority's plan all along, as Rollins has a seemingly clear path to the finals.
I'd have Bray vs. Ambrose go third, have a good 8 minute match or so where Wyatt goes over clean, as he's been doing in this seemingly never-ending feud with Dean. Sorry Ambrose fans, you can't make an omlet without breaking some eggs.
Next is Cena vs. Rusev in the final first-round match with the winner to take on Wyatt in Round 2. Late in the match, Cena powers out of the Accolade and turns it into the STF and has Rusev square in the center of the ring when the bell rings. Cena jumps up and celebrates, but the ref looks around confused. Lillian Garcia makes the announcement that the time limit has expired and therefore, the match is a draw. No one advances.
WWE should make a point to have Garcia announce, albeit subtly during ring introductions, 10-minute time limits for all of the first round matches – because if you're going to have an 8-man tournament plus other matches on a 3-hour show, you need to make sure it's paced well.
A draw also sets up a rematch at WrestleMania between Cena and Rusev, who could get a jump on Cena post match and leave him laying.
You can do a filler Divas match or something here to break up the tournament.
To start the semi-finals, Rollins comes out and says Daniel Bryan isn't fit to compete, so he's going to win by forfeit. Of course, Bryan does come out, bandaged up, and they have a terrific 12 minutes or so (more time for semis and finals matches) but the Authority is doing a lot to try to keep Bryan from winning. Bryan steals one here, and suddenly the Authority hits the ring and proceeds to beat him down until fan favorites like Ziggler, Ryback, etc. show up to even the odds, which culminates with Randy Orton making his return to set-up a WrestleMania program with Rollins.
This leaves Triple H in the ring alone with Bryan. He's getting ready to obliterate him with a sledgehammer when suddenly, IT'S STING. This can lead into the advertised Triple H vs. Sting "confrontation" at Fast Lane where Trips challenges him to a match at WrestleMania.
Meanwhile, it's Bryan vs. Wyatt, who received a bye to the final because of the Cena-Rusev draw, assuming Bryan can make it back.
I think you go ahead and book the WWE title match here. Obviously, Lesnar goes over. But they can roll all this into the storyline for Reigns, who – hopefully – will be ready for the main event WrestleMania spot by this time next year.
Have Reigns cut a humbled promo the next night on Raw about how maybe it was all a little too much too fast for him, that he underestimated Lesnar and that his impatience in demanding his title match so soon instead of waiting and training and preparing for the Beast at WrestleMania was a mistake.
"But it's not one I'm gonna make again. I'm making a promise to all of you, that I'm going to spend the next year training harder, working harder than I've ever worked in his life, and next year, I'm going to win the Royal Rumble, I'm going to main event WrestleMania for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, and when I get there, I'm gonna be READY. Believe THAT."
The promo is a nice mix of kayfabe and reality in that his storyline hubris got the better of him and he bit off more than he could chew. It also acknowledges his real life shortcomings and should earn him some goodwill with the fans for doing so and promising to work harder. He needs to hit on that "I'll be ready" line in his promo too, because it's a nod to the primary criticism of "Reigns isn't ready" that the IWC has been screaming from the rooftops.
Which brings us to Bryan vs. Wyatt in the main event of Fast Lane. WWE has already established that Wyatt has Bryan's number. They can probably pull together a video package about Wyatt beating him at the Rumble last year, on Raw earlier this year, and was responsible for his elimination at this year's Rumble.
Of course, Bryan limps in, hurting while Wyatt is fresh, having not wrestled since earlier in the night against Ambrose. And, of course, Bryan will ultimately prevail in what should be a pretty strong match, setting up Bryan vs. Lesnar at 'Mania and hopefully making everyone happy -- and WWE lots of money.