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WWE

Daniel Bryan battles Rusev on Smackdown.

One of the more common gripes about WWE concerns its treatment of wins and losses.

They don't matter, critics say. Kevin Owens can cleanly beat John Cena, for instance, but Owens still flounders in the mid-card and Cena still gets title shots on command.

Well, two matches this week reaffirmed that wins and losses in Vince McMahon's ring do matter — if not directly to him and his company, then by way of its fans.

Roman Reigns' victory over Samoa Joe Sunday at Backlash and Daniel Bryan's loss to Rusev Tuesday on Smackdown were each met with as much internet outrage as any WWE match result in awhile.

Fans were mad Reigns won because of how tone-deaf it all felt. Joe had been generating fan support with entertainingly vicious promos about Reigns being a failure because of his losses to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania and the Greatest Royal Rumble. So Joe had the Newark crowd in his corner — those who didn't leave the arena because they didn't care to see Reigns face him, anyway. Besides, Joe would move on to Smackdown after the match, so a win over the company's top full-time wrestler would have made him an even bigger deal on the blue brand.

But Reigns won. And the match was pedestrian, thanks in part to whichever genius booked Joe to grab holds for almost all of the middle third — a producer? Joe himself? Still, the bigger question remains who booked Reigns to lose to Lesnar twice, only to mow down Joe and call himself the company's uncrowned champion because his feet hit the ground first in the Greatest Royal Rumble cage match. (What a heroic way that would have been to conquer the conqueror.) But that's not really a question: That genius is McMahon, who reportedly wants to depict Reigns as a political victim a la Bryan. 

It's not working, though. For all the clean falls Reigns has eaten (to Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, etc.) and all the shoot promos he's cut about some company conspiracy, fans will reject him out of hand because they know McMahon's palms are pressed against his back. That's what makes wins like Sunday's grate all the more. And that dynamic is aggravated by the return of Bryan, who helped create the instinct to reject Reigns by being the guy fans wanted in his place atop the card. Bryan got there by by taking the path opposite of Reigns': Fans sensed McMahon didn't support him whatsoever.

That's why fans were so quick to voice their disapproval of Bryan's clean loss to Rusev on Smackdown Tuesday. Not that they needed to. Bryan is beyond a made guy in WWE, and he can lose to the Rusevs of the company to make them look like a million bucks — which he did — without damaging himself in the process. In fact, no amount of defeat will make Bryan's inevitable showdown with The Miz anything less than the hottest match of the summer. But I expect fans to react passionately to Bryan's wins and losses anyway. And that's why they'll continue to matter in WWE.

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Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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Features editor for The Citizen and auburnpub.com. I also cover local arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.