Those of you who have read my previous efforts in the Lords of Pain Columns Forum may have stumbled across the regular Biggest Winners & Losers Column I post after each WWE PPV. For various real life reasons I wasn’t able to compile a comprehensive list for Elimination Chamber this week. However as I watched the show I was struck by the curious similarity in how Nia Jax and Braun Strowman were presented: unstoppable forces until the moment they were beaten but then after losing attacking their opponent and ending up beaten but standing tall.
While looking at the Elimination Chamber show through the lens of the biggest winners and losers, both fit into my hypothetical list in a strange way. They were impressive in the ring, showed strength in attack and resilience in defence. They dished out wave upon wave of offence and absorbed just about everything their opponents had to offer. Strowman pinned everyone but Roman Reigns on his way to setting a record for most eliminations in an Elimination Chamber match and Nia Jax took Asuka to a place the undefeated Royal Rumble winner had never been before. Both also ended their matches demolishing their opposition and battering them some more as revenge for the loss. Seen this way, the strength of their efforts no doubt made them big winners on the night. However, given the stakes of the matches they both lost, title matches at Wrestlemania, they have to also be counted as two of the biggest losers of the night. While they were able to dominate their opposition, ultimately they couldn’t close out fights they should have won against smaller, weaker but more resilient and ring savvy opponents.
The similar way they were dealt out such a big loss got me wondering, can a giant ever become ‘the man (or woman)’ in the modern day WWE and what is stopping the company capitalising on the obvious talents of these two wrestlers?
While the WWE has sometimes been referred to as ‘The Land of Giants’ and Vince McMahon has a famous infatuation with bigger wrestlers, last night’s results shine a light on a glass ceiling that giants such as Strowman and Jax face in the WWE, a glass ceiling that prevents them from truly reaching the top level of stardom in the company. To put it simply, no matter how big and strong they look, how many jobbers they account for and how many incredible feats of strength they display, when it comes to the final hurdle, giants are constantly the final obstacle to be conquered by a hero and only very rarely the conqueror themselves. This isn’t new, it is a similar glass ceiling that held down the likes of The Big Show, Kane, Mark Henry and countless other giant wrestlers time has forgotten. I would even argue it is a ceiling that has only really been broken through by The Undertaker, Diesel, and Andre The Giant in the modern WWE and even though these three were existed on a different plateau to the aforementioned giants, they still had other wrestlers around them you could say were bigger stars.
WWE is an organisation that exists with deeply ingrained creative habits, it means that they can pump out over five hours of TV each week but it also means that creatively they can miss the boat when the right time comes to change one of those habits. In Nia Jax and Braun Strowman the WWE has two talents who have not only demonstrate in ring skills beyond what you would expect from someone their size but also posses charisma and mic skills that can engage audiences and draw fans into their matches emotionally. However, because the WWE has fallen into the habit of booking them as dominant, but ultimately conquerable giants, they are both now at a crossroads where if the WWE doesn’t strike and strike soon, they will be pigeonholed into a position of diminishing returns and never fulfill their full potential at the top of the WWE card.
That current cycle the WWE is stuck in, and has repeated at least twice with both wrestlers, is building them up by giving them big wins and making them seem like an unstoppable force only for them to be beaten at that final hurdle. A smaller wrestler can absorb a loss but when a wrestlers character is built primarily on their aura of strength and power, losses are more keenly felt and that aura is stripped away quickly. This cycle of never truly getting that big win can even weaken a giant’s effectiveness as a final hurdle for a hero to overcome. The first time any giant rises to the top and is beaten it is a big deal for the wrestlers that does it, the second time it can still be a huge moment but by the fifth or tenth time they get to that point the writing is already on the wall and the audience has lost any investment in the match. Just look at The Big Show, the first time Cena set him on his shoulders at Wrestlemania 20 it was a truly amazing moment, by their match with Edge at Wrestlemania 25, Big Show’s aura across from Cena was all but gone and getting hoisted on Cena’s shoulders was par for the course.
We only have to look at the reaction to Strowman in the lead up to his championship match at No Mercy, compared to the build to his match with Lesnar and Kane at Royal Rumble, to see this cycle of diminishing returns is already in effect. When Strowman squared off with Brock Lesnar and manhandled the champ at Summer Slam the crowd rose to their feet, welcoming the coming of a new king. Before their 1-1 match at No Mercy fans genuinely thought Strowman could get the win. I read countless comments and columns on LOP and social media by fans prophesying or calling for the WWE to take the plunge on Strowman as champion. Conversely in the lead up to Royal Rumble, as much effort as the WWE put into presenting Braun as a legitimate threat to Lesnar, most of us simply hoped he would win but were resigned to the fact he was not going to get the title he was striving for. By the time Strowman got to Elimination Chamber no one truly bet against Roman Reigns slaying the giant on his way to taking on Lesnar at Wrestlemania, despite the fact it would have made perfect story line sense for Strowman to win the number one contenders match and finally beat the opponent who had out manoeuvred but never truly beaten him, .
Despite being one of the best wrestlers in the company throughout 2017 and managing to get himself over against all odds, Strowman is now without a clear path forward come Wrestlemania. Since being repackaged in 2016 he has only been used as a stepping stone for the companies two biggest stars, Lesnar and Reigns, however if he doesn’t get the chance to eliminate every single wrestler in the Battle Royale or tear Elias in half in an Extreme Rules match, the next step for Braun could be as Reigns first victim as champ or acting as the stepping stone to a title match for Finn Balor or Seth Rollins, yet another step down the totem pole for the giant.
Nia Jax’s path forward is a tad clearer, she has an obvious story with Raw Champion Alexa Bliss that hasn’t yet been completely nixed and even though Jax has been beaten a number of times, that aura of invincibility has not yet slipped completely especially across from the obviously physically outgunned Bliss. Jax has improved dramatically since debuting on the main roster and in this world of body acceptance could act as a powerful role model for the WWE to place at the pinnacle of their women’s division. However if Bliss was able to escape a match with Jax and somehow retain the title, the damage it could do to Jax’s physical credibility could be terminal. Honestly being left off the card would be preferable to another loss at this point.
In making both Nia Jax and Braun Strowman winners and losers at Elimination Chamber the WWE clearly showed it is unwilling to place ultimate trust in the hands of either of the wrestlers. However if they do not strike soon with both of them, there is a timer counting down to when they will have damaged these two giant talents beyond complete recovery.
But over to you LoP. Can Braun Strowman and Nia Jax overcome the curse of being a giant in the WWE? Let me know in the comments below, or even better sign up for the LOP Forums and get stuck into me down there. You may also want to check another piece about Strowman by former Columnist of the Month TypeItInMan: WWE is like a cheating girlfriend and Braun deserves better.