Why You Are Wrong: Roman Reigns and WrestleMania 34
I find I'm most inspired to write about the common complaints I read online from smart fans, and how ridiculous these opinions are. So, here's chapter one of "why you are wrong."
Roman Reigns at WrestleMania
There’s no doubting that the Roman Reigns character has been flawed since he separated from the Shield, and it stems from the booking. Whether it was trying to make him cool with catchphrases and the infamous “sufferin’ succotash” promo, the creative team has been trying to turn Roman into something he’s not for so long. The shame is that they had a great superstar already, but kept forcing him into a different direction. Had they acknowledged early on that instead of making him the next Cena or Rock, they should have pushed him as a Goldberg or Big Evil Bikertaker type (“my yard”, and “big dog” were all used for the Deadman Walking era), we wouldn’t be in this mess today.
We’ve seen that a common type of character that has successfully evolved into popular stars over recent years has been the no-nonsense asskicker. Whenever we cheered Brock for example, it was for he was displaying this competitive aggression. In fact, his single catch phrase was an off the cuff remark in the ring that was picked up by the ringside microphones: “suplex city”. Goldberg’s return, while not perfect, had that aspect of straight forward fighter included into it. Dean Ambrose might be closer to an everyman version, but he has always been shown as someone who won’t back down and will fight to the death when needed. One of the most exciting match ups against Brock of 2017 was Samoa Joe, who also portrays this type of attitude. And of course, there’s also the prime example of Braun Strowman, theRaw breakout star of 2017.
And yet, why hasn’t no-nonsense asskicker Roman Reigns worked out?
It’s because even though all the best and popular moments of his career are when that side of his persona is on full display, what has been emphasized over the years are the weakest moments of when he’s doing the exact opposite. It’s not a steadfast rule, but before the superpush began, he was the hero we wanted at the Royal Rumble in 2014. It was this reaction that started the WWE machine to move forward with Reigns as the face of the company. In their haste, they missed some key opportunities to make Reigns a star quicker than it’s turned out.
Rewind to when the Shield broke up; what was Roman’s reaction to being hit with a chair by his brother Seth Rollins?
It didn’t even seem to faze him.
While Rollins had to deal with the vengeance of Dean Ambrose, he didn’t face any repercussions from the Shield member he actually attacked. Instead, WWE moved Roman Reigns straight into the spotlight of a ladder match for the WWE Title at the next Pay Per View, Money in the Bank, followed by a singles feud with Randy Orton for SummerSlam. This was likely the first major mistake, as it was the first of many times when WWE tried to manufacture Roman as a singles star, instead of working with his existing character. The Brotherhood of the Shield was a major function of their unit, yet he barely bats an eye when one of them nails him with a chair? And why does he get the WWE Title opportunity at MITB, while the other Shield brothers are in the ladder match for the contract? It was convoluted, and the fans who are generally too smart for their own good saw right through it. It’s hard to win over the most disgruntled fans when the attention to these details is ignored. This is especially daunting when this was happening later in the exact same year CM Punk quit for many reasons, including how WWE picks their favorites despite reactions. Also, 2014 was also the year WWE needed to switch gears for WrestleMania away from another handpicked chosen Animal, and go with the actual fan favorite. The entire WWE Universe was solidly behind the story of Daniel Bryan instead of the out of nowhere push for Batista, and the company reverted to a more popular path for the biggest show of the year. WWE seemed to learn their lesson about picking their own favorites and instead listening to the fans, yet not even 4 months later are repeating the same formula with Roman Reigns as the next golden boy.
Not even 6 months after the match with Randy Orton at SummerSlam, Roman won the Royal Rumble in 2015. And I’m sure you all remember that not even the Rock was able to turn the Philly crowd around to cheer Roman, who was extremely before the breakup of The Shield. What’s important to note is that Roman barely changed anything he was doing inside the ring in that time frame. He was still the same dominant juggernaut that we cheered the year before at the Rumble in 2014. But this time WWE tried to force a smiling babyface version of his character, and it bombed. Badly. Not just because he wasn’t the actor needed to pull that off, and not just because WWE was so obvious in how they were trying to force fans to enjoy it. It has a lot to do with the fact that he wasn’t the same Roman Reigns character we were cheering only months earlier.
Remember 2003-2005 John Cena? That man was the most popular superstar the WWE had seen since The Rock was full time. He was a breath of fresh air. In the ring, he wasn’t anywhere near great, but he was serviceable. Yet the pickiest of smark fans were still behind him 100%, because his character just worked. Then, WWE needed to move him away from the borderline offensive raps. Nothing much changed in the ring (which evidently showcased the weaknesses in his game, much like what we saw from Roman from 2014-2016), but his character evolved in a way that didn’t coincide with what we came to love and respect about Mr. Word Life, Basic Thuganomics. Eventually, the fans turned their backs on him. By the time he was defending his WWE Title against Kurt Angle (who was a great opponent for Cena in 2003, in the ring and on the mic), the definite heel Angle was the fan favorite in the eyes of the paying audience at Unforgiven 2005.
There’s nothing wrong with WWE wanting to create stars that match the popularity of those that came and went over the years. Of course they want another Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, Rock, or Cena. But the methods they used to attempt to turn Roman into that level of star, instead of letting him become his own brand, turned their efforts against themselves. And they are still paying the price of those mistakes today.
While everyone has their opinion and taste when it comes to what we enjoy in the ring, there’s only a very small portion of the audience that still feels Roman can’t go. And if everything Roman has done since WrestleMania 33 vs Undertaker has shown us anything, it’s that he’s able to win over many of the fans that initially refused to give him a chance. Myself included. He’ll never be the top guy WWE expected him to become, but he’s certainly an amazing and valuable star. Instead of comparing him to Hogan, Austin, Rock, or Cena, compare him to Savage, HHH, Foley, or Orton. These men were never the face of the company, but were major stars and valuable assets. That’s what Roman Reigns is today.
Yet, because WWE wanted him to be their marquee superstar, many fans still refuse to acknowledge what Roman Reigns has been able to accomplish. While I’m certainly more excited for AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura, it doesn’t mean Brock vs Roman, or the event entirely, is doomed to bomb or disappoint. You’re only doing a disservice to yourselves by not giving it a chance. If it fails, then you have the opportunity to pull the classic smart mark “I told you so!” But if it succeeds, or at the very least delivers on belonging to the biggest card of the year, even if it’s not the match you would have chosen for either man, you get another piece to the WWE puzzle known as WrestleMania.
WWE isn’t perfect, nor is it for everyone who enjoys wrestling. Too often they attempt to reach too many people and waters itself down in the process. But WrestleMania is the one time a year that WWE does something it can never do for the rest of the year. Whatever kind of fan we are, we will enjoy a part of WrestleMania. You can’t say that about any other show, be it Raw, Smackdown, PPV or NXT. But I guarantee that there’s at least something WWE will offer you, whatever kind of fan you are, and entertain you if only for that single match or segment. We’ve all seen bad shows, yet more often than not, there’s always something worth tuning in for. But WrestleMania is the only night I feel comfortable saying it’s a guarantee to happen. Brock vs Roman might get the spotlight, but they aren’t dumb enough to put AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura in an 8 second card opening match. They will give the pure wrestling fan an extravaganza. Yes, Brock vs Braun is the match that will draw in the casuals, and might not be for you. But to everyone planning on turning off their WWE Network before that match, or walking out live, or canceling your subscription altogether, you’re only hurting yourself. It won’t be the match I’m most excited to occur, but I’m open minded enough to realize it might be the match I walk away from the show being most excited about.