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411 Wrestling Fact or Fiction: Should Roman Reigns Still Be the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Next Year?

April 21, 2023 | Posted by Jake Chambers
Roman Reigns WWE SummerSlam 2022 Image Credit: WWE

Welcome back to the 411mania Wrestling Fact or Fiction. I’m your host Jake Chambers.

Finally the day has arrived – the finals of the 2nd (semi) Annual Larry Csonka Memorial Wrestling Fact or Fiction Tournament.

Of course, Larry Csonka was the legendary 411 writer, editor and notable reviewer who passed away in 2020. His legacy will be forever intertwined with this site, its writers, and readers, and his voice is dearly missed.

Even though Larry was the editor of the Wrestling Zone when I first starting posting articles on 411mania in the early 2000s, I didn’t have much of a relationship with him, only a few short email messages here or there over the years. So I don’t have a lot of anecdotes to share like Steve Cook or Jeremy Thomas would; I was really just a fan.

What Larry accomplished as a writer was pretty extraordinary. Because it was with his written words that you started to feel like he was your friend. I know this is common for talk shows, reality shows, or daily radio, where a personality brings you into their lives, but, you know, you can see them, hear them, it’s very tangible and vivid. But Larry transcended those boundaries and drew us in with text. And what Larry wrote about was also very specific for us – wrestling fans. And I don’t mean like high-fiving bros or screw-loose, autograph seekers – we’re literate fans who have always wanted our analysis to be taken seriously on this subject that consumes our minds.

And Larry was a conduit that summarized the images we all watched together/alone into text on a communal screen that objectively articulated our opinions into clear poetic bursts. This created a form of shared experience and authority over time that rivaled the Dave Meltzer star-rating system. A lot of wrestling fans just look to the Meltzer stars for validation of opinion, but few were reading the paper version of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter when Meltzer was a younger and enthusiastic fan. However, Larry was in his writing prime in the online digital blogosphere. You sensed how a Larry star was handed out because you read his description of each headlock or strike in every match, whether in the main event of the mid-card on a little-seen C-show. The way many of us discern the good and bad of a wrestling match is because of the work Larry did to situate us in a place of logic and passion.

Though he has been clearly missed, the condition Larry left the discussions of pro-wrestling will reverberate for many, many years. Respect to those who have picked up the mantle here at 411 and across the fandom; but in particular the two men who will battle in Larry’s honor today: Thomas Hall and Jeremy Thomas. Thomas has tried to keep up the arduous reviewing pace Larry set, and Jeremy also reviews and maintains the strong and vital voice of the site as Larry did as editor.

They both defeated worthy opponents – Bob Colling and Robert Stewart – to arrive here today, and I am proud to share their words with you, and excited to see who will come out on top in this friendly exchange. A special shout out to Steve Cook and Robert Leighty Jr who battled to a draw in the first round and paved the way for this one-on-one final.

So brace yourselves, what I present to you below is an epic tribute to man who also wrote a lot! Take your time and enjoy!

Participants were told to expect wrestling-related content, as well as possible statements on quantum physics, homemade pharmaceuticals, the Turtle Total Trip Theorem, pizza and hydroponics.

Statement #1: Roman Reigns should remain the undefeated, undisputed WWE Universal Champion until (at least) Wrestlemania 40 next year.

Jeremy Thomas: FICTION – Good gods, no.  I love Roman Reigns’ run the past three years, and I think that he’s largely carried WWE on its back through a very difficult time.  Reigns absolutely has the ability to be entertaining all the way through WrestleMania 40, and I could make a convincing argument that he should still be either WWE Champion or WWE Universal Champion through to next year’s ‘Mania.  But both titles is too much.  It’s the kind of reign that worked in the era of the 1970s and 1980s, when you didn’t necessarily have this level of TV and awareness.  But for good or ill, it’s too much of a demand on the audience, the roster, and even on Reigns himself.

Even if he’s taking time off as he does currently, it means that he has to sustain the level of heat that he currently has.  And there is a point where things get overplayed and overexposed.  We’re not there yet because WWE has been able to continue adding interesting twists and elements, but despite Paul Heyman’s claim that they’re just in the third inning there is a limit to how long you can sustain this.  In the meantime, you have a roster that is waiting in the wings for a chance to be elevated to main event level.  And when Reigns starts to lose his heat because fans are tired of him, the benefit to having someone beat him to the title starts to taper off.  The Bloodline can start to have its tension now that The Usos have lost the titles in the group’s first major setback, but I feel like extending this too far past SummerSlam would start to hurt things.  Maybe you can make it to Survivor Series, and they could always prove me wrong but I don’t think it has the gas to go beyond that — and certainly not to ‘Mania 40.

Thomas Hall: FACT – This is something that can go either way and I can see both sides. On one hand, yes, Reigns has been champion for such a long time that a change is welcome. It would be great to see someone FINALLY take him down and become the champion. While I won’t say it is long overdue, it is the kind of that would feel like a major moment, the likes of which WWE has not presented in a very good while.

However, there are two big reasons not to do it. First, you have the historical nature. Reigns has been Universal Champion for, as of this writing, about 950 days. He is going to surpass Pedro Morales this summer and move into some VERY special territory. Getting past Morales puts him fifth on the longest title reigns of all time. Do you know who he passes by making it to WrestleMania XL? Bruno Sammartino (at least one of his reigns). That is the kind of mythical name that it is almost impossible to imagine someone approaching, but Reigns could do it. If he gets there, Hogan is less than six months away. That is history you probably won’t see again, and it would be very cool to see him go there.

But what if it just isn’t that interesting? What if Reigns isn’t worth watching anymore? Well, getting the title off of Reigns was just the focal point of WrestleMania XXXIX and that is getting some pretty rave reviews for the most part. WWE is bragging about the money they are making off of it and all the records they have shattered. Reigns has been champion for the build, the show and now the fallout, so it isn’t like things are falling apart with him holding the title. Until that changes, why not let Reigns see how many more records he can smash? Don’t change the title for the sake of changing it, but change the title when you have the next guy ready to go. If that’s WrestleMania XL then cool, but going until then sounds like a blast.

Statement #2: Having so much wrestling to watch every week now is NOT a good thing.

Jeremy Thomas: FICTION – We really are in an embarrassment of riches right now.  Let’s break it down, just because I think people might not realize just how much there is.  Right now we have WWE Raw and AEW Dark: Elevation on Mondays.  WWE NXT, MLW Underground, NWA Powerrr, and AEW Dark are on Tuesdays.  Wednesdays is AEW Dynamite, the only night that there is just one weekly major wrestling show.  Thursday has Impact Wrestling, NJPW on AXS TV, MLW: Fusion, and ROH TV.  Friday is WWE Smackdown, AEW Rampage, and some weeks we also have an Impact+ event.  WOW – Women Of Wrestling airs in syndication weekly on Friday through Sunday, NJPW Strong is on Saturday nights, and then we have WWE and AEW PPVs.

That is on average (I am averaging Dark and Elevation at roughly an hour, though it varies wildly) 21 hours a week, with a full 24 hours on weeks that there’s an Impact+ event.  And that doesn’t include all the GCW shows, A&E’s WWE programming block, NJPW shows on NJPW World, VICE TV programming, the upcoming AEW All-Access reality series, Miz & Mrs., the multitude of independent promotions available on FITE+ and IWTV, etc.  Hell, I’ve probably forgotten something despite listing all of that.

Long story short: there is a LOT of wrestling out there, and let me tell you, it is a fucking nightmare to try hand make sure it all gets covered at this point. But that means nothing regarding whether it’s a “good thing” that we have so much wrestling to watch.  Because you don’t have to watch it all.  In fact, you shouldn’t watch it all.  It is almost certain that not all of it will appeal to you.  AEW, WWE, NJPW, Impact, MLW, WOW, NWA, GCW — they all have very different identities as brand and present very different products.  Some of it will vibe with you, and some of it won’t.  Take it from me: I’m the guy who literally makes an effort to watch every movie released in a calendar year, and who decided to start watching Doctor Who with “An Unearthly Child” (the 1963 series premiere) and watched all the way forward to live airings.  So I know something about being a completionist.  But if I tried to do that with wrestling, I would lose my goddamn mind.  With so much different product out there, there is a type of wrestling that appeals to every fan in a way we haven’t seen in a long, long time — if ever.  It’s only a problem if you try to watch everything; if you find the shows that appeal to you and watch them while not watching what doesn’t appeal, you’ll be fine.  And having that ability to choose due to the amount of wrestling available is 100% a good thing.

Thomas Hall: FICTION – How could this be a bad thing? I’ve been watching wrestling for well over thirty years and trying to find more of it was always a challenge. Between hoping that Blockbuster had a new tape that I hadn’t watched 27 times already and trying to come up with another way to get my parents to buy me the next pay per view when I was already way over the limit they had set for me that year, it was a constant difficulty to come up with a new way to find more wrestling.

That is where Monday Night Raw made all the difference in the world. The show was offering bigger names every single week and that was a special feeling rather than having to wait for all of the weekend shows. As good as the show was, it set off a huge tidal wave of shows, such as Monday Nitro, Smackdown, Thunder and more as the Monday Night Wars kicked off in a race for more and more content. What more could a wrestling fan ask for?

That would be streaming you see, as one day in 2014, instead of having to go out and find old shows through less than legal means, here was the majority of everything WWE had ever released all in one place. I spent three days reading through the announcement and specifics, trying to find out the bad part I was missing. It turned out that there wasn’t one, as it was a wrestling fan’s dream come true: all that wrestling in one place for the monthly cost of a day’s lunch. This was the new reality and it wasn’t going to get much better.

Yet somehow it did, with the rise of streaming services such as Highspots and IWTV, which offers so many smaller and lesser known options. There is so much wrestling in a week that it would take you a month to watch it, which isn’t even getting into the older stuff. To have gone from being able to see a two and a half hour pay per view (or at least what was left of it on the home video release) to having to pick and choose from almost ever WWE PPV ever to Pizza Party Wrestling to New Japan World, it is the wrestling fan’s dream come true and absolutely a good (understatement of the day) thing.

Statement #3: Wrestling journalism awards, like the WON Awards or the PWI 500, are important and meaningful.

Jeremy Thomas: FACT – So let’s just start by saying that awards for creative industries are subjective at the best of times.  The Oscars, the Grammys, the Emmys, etc. are all entirely based on subjective criteria, and there’s always going to be an argument about how useful they are in determining the best of the best.  But they’re still important and meaningful because of the impact they have on the industry, the talent, and even viewers.  The same applies to wrestling awards.  There’s a wide swath of wrestling journalism awards, and I think it varies depending.  The PWI 500, for example, is valuable and has very clearly led to boosting people’s careers; it gives them greater visibility and introduces new people to talent who are up and coming on the independent circuit, or might be working in an area that audiences just don’t pay as much attention to or have as much access to.  The WON Awards, on the other hand, fit that notion a little less but have still been known (especially historically) for having easily measurable impact on stars’ careers.

As such, for that reason alone, I think you have to argue that these awards are important and meaningful.  We can make all the jokes we like about “Tony Khan, WON Booker of the Year,” and I’ll make them too.  But for those people for whom being on the PWI 500 or being the WON Rookie of the Year means they get more attention and thus more work, these awards can mean a ton and can legitimately make careers — which further shapes the industry.  Thus, for all the criticism that they receive (rightly so in some cases), wrestling journalism awards will always have a place in wrestling and will always have a place of importance.

Thomas Hall: FACT – Wrestling is of course scripted and pre-planned and whatever else you want to say about it. That’s all well and good and has been known for a very long time now. At the same time though, fans have been sucked into it for decades and will continue to be until it isn’t around anymore. There is a storytelling element to it that cannot be topped and that is the kind of thing that needs to be honored in some way. How exactly do you do that though?

Like any other industry, wrestling has people who talk about what is going on and praises or criticizes it accordingly. Everyone does this, from fans watching at home to people online to anyone else who might have watched it. You can have a take on a show or a match or a wrestler and talk about it with anyone interested. When I was a kid, my friends and I would talk about who the best or worst wrestler was and I’m sure I’m not alone in doing that.

Awards like the PWI 500 or the WON Awards are the exact same thing but on a bigger scale. Those awards have criteria and more of an established method of voting, but at the end of the day, they are just fans talking about wrestling. The people running these discussions are known names throughout the wrestling industry so those discussions mean more to the people involved than some random fan on the street. How is that different than listening to one of your friends than some random person who throws in their opinion?

These awards matter because they are about wrestling fans doing what wrestling fans are supposed to do. Wrestlers are a lot of things, including entertainers. If they are able to entertain the fans well enough that the fans will talk about them and call them the best at something, then they have done something right. Being told that they have accomplished their goals is a different way of thanking them for their work and that has to have some kind of an impact, if nothing else for their peers who are trying to do the exact same thing.


Statement #4: You prefer a 5-minute sprint to a 60-minute draw.

Thomas Hall: FICTION – I could see both sides of this, but I look at it as a question of variety. Every week you get to see all kinds of five (or so) minute sprints and while they can be a lot of fun, it’s the same thing that you see so often. As a rule, I don’t rate matches that are less than three minutes. Going up to five isn’t much higher than that, as the wrestlers just don’t have enough time to get anywhere. They can set up a few things here and there, but if it is just about getting in as much action as you can, it’s more a matter of junk food wrestling: fun to watch at the time, but not much staying power.

On the other hand, two wrestlers who are worthy of getting an hour on a show are going to be able to set up some very nice sequences during that amount of time. They know how to build up drama, emotion and hopefully crowd investment, especially if they put their time in the right way. The match is going to feel a lot longer, but the extra effort that is put in can lead to a much bigger payoff.

Finally, there is a special feeling that comes with having a match go that much longer. While it takes a lot of talent to have an entertaining five minute sprint, being able to go out and wrestle an hour long match is on another level. Wrestlers being trusted with that kind of time on a show are going to be able to build up the interest and then lead to a bigger payoff in the end, even if that is drama over the anticipation of a fall that never comes. Building things up and letting them grow into something special is better than running through it as fast as possible, which is why the sixty minute version is that much more fun.

Jeremy Thomas: FICTION – Like Thomas said, this is more a situation of variety.  When done right, a 60 minute draw can be one of the best things you see.  When done right, a five minute sprint can do the same.  Right now we do have too many of the latter, in part because the TV format doesn’t lend itself well to Broadways.  There is a very, very rare set of talent who can go a full hour, not have a winner, and keep the audience from turning on it at any point.  But those talents are out there for sure, and when it’s appropriate to the situation I am all for seeing it.

And that’s the key here.  Match length shouldn’t favor a particular time frame.  If a match best serves the talent and story to be a three-minute squash then don’t make it eight or nine minutes.  If it makes sense for guys to battle for an hour and the talent can do it, don’t short change them.  That doesn’t just apply to official matches, either.  There are times I would 100% rather see a five-minute mic battle, even if the guys on the mic are top-notch people like MJF or Seth Rollins or Paul Heyman, than see them do a 20 minute opening promo battle just because we need to fill 20 minutes.  If you make the matches work within the context of the story, there’s no preference at all from me for how long it goes and thus I have to go FICTION.

Statement #5: Talking and/or writing about wrestling is better than actually watching wrestling.

Thomas Hall: FICTION – Picture two people, one a wrestling fan and one not.

Fan: “So there’s this guy named the Undertaker. He’s kind of a monster/demon and can control lights and has been buried alive a few times. Then he became a biker but then came back and turned into a kind of zombie MMA fighter. Oh and he has this brother who can control fire but sometimes he’s this corporate boss and now he’s Mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee in a whole other story. But Undertaker, yeah, he’s amazing.”

At this point, the other person would have already turned around and left, because there is almost no way to make wrestling sound sane without seeing it. On paper, wrestling makes absolutely no sense unless you’re either a fan or have at least seen something of it. I can’t count the amount of times that I’ve tried to explain something in wrestling and have to avoid saying something akin to “I guess you had to be there.”

I’ve spent a good portion of my life writing and talking about wrestling but it’s not the same. There is something about watching it and seeing this stuff (either on TV or in person) that changes everything about it. While there are times where I pick up some insights writing these things down or talking about what I saw, it isn’t the same as being there as this stuff is happening, because there is nothing like watching wrestling.

Jeremy Thomas: FICTION – Look, talking and writing about wrestling is what I do, and I love what I do.  But even when you’re talking about it with other fans, it’s not the same as watching it.  I don’t watch nearly as much wrestling as I used to despite being the head editor of a wrestling site, but when I sit down to watch something I’m looking forward to like the Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, MJF vs. Danielson, AEW Double or Nothing, etc., it’s still magic.  I turn back into the kid I used to be that snuck down from my room where I was supposed to be asleep to peek into the living room to watch Hogan bodyslam Andre.  I turn back into the guy who went with my brother to watch WrestleMania 19 live in Seattle where my all-time fave Shawn Michaels battled Chris Jericho.

When you’re talking wrestling or writing about wrestling, you’re generally having to be analytic about it.  You have to think about it from a slightly different standpoint.  A lot of the time when I’m writing about wrestling it’s from a recapping standpoint, and to be frank it can be hard for me to really get into a pure mode to view it as a fan because I’m trying to track moves or think about what match rating I’m going to give it.  I’m in full agreement with Thomas here in that it’s just different and while I love both, just sitting down and watching hits differently in the best way.

A tough battle, please vote in the poll above to determine the winner of this year’s Larry Csonka Memorial Wrestling Fact or Fiction Tournament.

Many thanks to Jeremy Thomas, who you can follow on social media here.

And thanks also to Thomas Hall, whose collection of reviews you can find here.

If this column has stirred up your memories of Larry, I would direct you to the loving tribute from many of the 411 writers at this link.

And please, if you haven’t contributed yet to the GoFundMe for Larry’s daughters now would be a great time! Thanks!