Well, WWE listened to us, the thousands upon thousands of fans who relentlessly rejected their vision of Roman Reigns as a conquering, Cena or Hogan-style babyface with arenas full of negative crowd reactions. They have throttled back on his massive main event push, dropping him down the card since losing the WWE World Title at Money in the Bank, so they can rebuild his character into something the fans will hopefully accept.
Except, they kind of haven’t really done any of that. If you’ve been watching, it’s pretty clear that whomever is actually holding the WWE Universal Title, Roman Reigns is still supposed to be The Guy, the most important person on the roster, the one who stands tall at the end of the show, and the only Superstar we’re really supposed to care about. In fact, it’s getting very obvious that WWE hasn’t learned from their mistakes, and the current plan for Reigns is only going to end up biting them in the ass yet again.
Let’s take a closer look at how even though they’ve professed that they’ve learned from their mistakes, WWE is continuing to mess up a potential top star.
But First, Some Clarification
We do not have a problem with Roman Reigns, the wrestler or the man. He’s a good wrestler capable of having great matches with the right opponents, which is a lot easier in the modern WWE where everyone in the main event has a baseline of “pretty good wrestler”. Every report we’ve seen says he’s a likable guy with lots of respect among the rest of the roster, and he generally seems like a decent human being. Honestly, he absolutely should be a major part of WWE’s main event scene for the foreseeable future. Our problems stem from WWE itself, and its stubborn refusal to see Reigns as anything more than a squeaky-clean heroic figure that will fill the void of John Cena for years to come. There’s no shame in him not fitting that mold, but there is a major issue with WWE failing to make adjustments when it’s clear that the role they’ve envisioned for Reigns is not the one he should be in.
Airing Out The Dirty Laundry
One of the biggest things that happened to Roman Reigns, which may have played a part in him losing the WWE World Title in the first place, was an unexpected Wellness violation that put him out for thirty days. And while we have issues with WWE still giving him a PPV rematch the second he was back in action, that part of their decision making was actually completely justifiable, as they were setting up a highly-anticipated Shield Triple Threat match that they couldn’t put off thanks to splitting Ambrose, Rollins, and Reigns up in the brand extension. Our problem lies in the fact that WWE immediately wove Reigns’ suspension into the ongoing storyline, and used it to try and somehow justify Reigns’ mistake. Certainly, he’s only human, he’s allowed to make mistakes, but he’s the only one who gets to have the company make mea culpas for him on Raw while he’s still serving the suspension. Meanwhile, everyone else on the roster is expected to serve their suspensions in silence and accept any punishments, including de-pushes, that come afterwards. Fans would have basically forgotten about Reigns’ suspension like they did every other Wellness failure, had WWE not trotted it out every week and tried to turn it into just another form of “adversity” for the heroic Reigns to overcome. Instead, it reeked of Reigns getting special treatment, and that perception has been a large reason why fans were already rejecting his character.
Worst Babyface Ever
After dropping the WWE World Title and theoretically moving out of that title picture, Reigns spent several months engaged in feud with Rusev and Lana, which to the casual observer would seem to involve Roman Reigns disrespecting a woman, mocking the concept of love and marriage, and making fun of a man’s family. WWE even marketed the feud on the idea that Rusev was trying to defend the honor of his family, while still portraying him as the bad guy because…he’s not American, we guess? We’re not sure. To be fair, Rusev tried his darnedest to be the bad guy, but the story that played out continued to make him sympathetic, and the fans agreed. If ever there was a perfect opportunity to do a double turn, making it okay to cheer one of your most entertaining acts, and simultaneously putting Reigns in a role he’s clearly more comfortable in, it was this feud. However, it seems like WWE can’t see through the xenophobia that is somehow still a part of wrestling, and can’t understand why anyone would cheer for a guy from Bulgaria instead of the All-American former football player. Well, it’s because the football player is a jerk who hates to see people in love, and you’ve even pointed out that the Bulgarian is a family man who rightly feels like he’s been insulted for no reason, but apparently that’s hard for WWE to understand.
Even When He’s Wrong, He’s Right
A large part of the problem with Roman’s “new” character is that no matter how massive a jerk Roman was clearly being on TV during his feud with Rusev, Michael Cole and company continued to talk about how great a guy he is. Sure, he shoved a newly married woman into a wedding cake and joked about her being a “mail-order bride”, but what a great father he is! Yeah, he destroyed a beaten man with a steel chair when he had already shown he didn’t need to do so in order to win, but that’s just because he was overcome with passion! The thing about someone like Steve Austin was, he did bad things to people and regularly got called out on it, but he didn’t care because he was going to do things his way, and thus looked like a badass who worked outside the system. Roman’s character isn’t outside the system, he’s a product of it, and it shows when the announce team trips over themselves to justify everything he does as being the correct and right way. If they’re not going to turn him heel, at least have someone point out that he does a lot of pretty crappy things so he comes across as a rebel, instead of a company-supported jerk.
Disrespecting The Belt
This is probably going to sound crazy to some people, but the physical titles in wrestling are supposed to mean something. They represent greatness, and accomplishment, and lineages that stretch back decades. To win a title of any sort should be one of the biggest deals in a wrestler’s career, and while that may no longer be as true as it once was (although you can tell that it’s still important to some wrestlers), showing respect for the title you carry goes a long way towards making it look like it matters, and like it’s worth fighting for. Back when Bret Hart was feuding with Shawn Michaels, he said that one of the reasons why he couldn’t respect Michaels was because of how he carried the WWF Title when he came to the ring, dragging it at his side rather than displaying it proudly around his waist, or on his shoulder, and that resonated with fans. Now, watch how Roman carries the United States title to the ring, literally slung over his back like it’s something he’s being forced to carry around, rather than something he wants. Mick Foley even made a point one week of obviously adjusting the belt on Reigns’ shoulder so that at least the faceplate was displayed to the camera, because Roman clearly couldn’t be bothered. How is that “elevating” the US Title? Why should anyone care about a title that the champion himself doesn’t particularly seem interested in? And why would he, because…
Guess Who’s Back
Roman Reigns won the US Title at Clash of Champions, defended it at Hell in a Cell in Rusev’s contractually obligated rematch, and then…moved into a feud with Universal Champion Kevin Owens. He’s defended the United States title a grand total of one time, against the former champion, and by all appearances, he’s already decided that he’d rather go after the “more important” title. Again, that’s not making the US Title look important, it’s taking a midcard belt out of circulation while Reigns goes after the only title that he thinks means anything. You can’t build a division around a secondary title when the champion isn’t feuding with anyone in that division, and in fact, doesn’t seem to care that he’s the champion. Even if he lost it to someone next week, that win (which would almost certainly be in screwy fashion) wouldn’t mean much, because Reigns will still have his Universal Title shot at Roadblock, which is what he really wants anyway, and guess what, he’s back in the main event after a “cooling off period” that didn’t even last six months, despite the fact that fan reactions haven’t noticeably improved in the interim. Which reminds us…
Did It Just Get Abnormally Quiet In Here?
Nowhere was it more obvious that WWE was literally turning down the audio of an audience than Roman Reign’s title victory at WrestleMania, and that was as clear a sign as any that WWE needed to change what they were doing with Reigns in order to get the audience back on his side. So, because they’re not dumb, that’s what they did.
Actually, what they’ve been doing is consistently muting the live audiences every single time Roman Reigns is on TV, lest the people watching on TV get the idea that he isn’t universally beloved. And when the boos seep through the jamming, they have Reigns pull a John Cena and say that he loves his detractors. The problem with that is, WWE is clearly sending the message that they aren’t fans of people booing their chosen guy, by using obvious audio tricks that it doesn’t take a sound engineer to notice taking place. Once again, they’re portraying him as a rebel while showing to the audience that the entire company is behind making sure he succeeds, a message that only inspires fans to react negatively to the perception that they’re being “force-fed” their new hero.
Even Superman Had Kryptonite
The thing about wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and John Cena is that even when they were portraying larger-that-life unbeatable superheroes, they still showed weaknesses. Sure, they won in the end, and sometimes convincingly so, but the point is, it didn’t always feel in the moment like victory was guaranteed, and there were feuds where they legitimately felt like underdogs. Roman’s matches, however, have a feeling of inevitability about them, where the entire audience sits and waits for him to hit that single Spear which guarantees victory. WWE has tried to counter by having Reigns get absolutely beat to hell during his matches, but the problem is, it’s reaching a point where the amount of offense Roman survives is literally becoming unbelievable. The punishment Reigns has just shaken off in recent matches, including one of WWE’s all-time most brutal gimmicks in Hell in a Cell, only to hit a single Spear and win, would have flattened a dozen Hogans. This also has the added effect of making all of his opponents look incredibly weak, since they couldn’t put him away despite dominating the majority of the match, and lost to a single finishing move after Reigns repeatedly powers out of their big submissions and kicks out of their finishers.
If You Want To Crown Him, Just Crown Him Already
In the end, if WWE wants Roman Reigns to be the biggest deal on Raw, then he should be the Universal Champion. We don’t want that to happen, but it’s become inordinately clear that WWE doesn’t care what we want. Right now, Reigns as the US Champion who gets top billing over the actual Universal Champion, who gets the big featured entrance even in matches that involve the Universal Champion, and who gets to stand tall at the end while everyone else runs for the hills, is doing no favors to the supposed top title on the brand, or the man who’s holding it. When the Universal Champion is not the most important man on the show, you’ve done something horribly wrong. At this point, we’d put money on Reigns not winning the title in his first shot at Roadblock, if only because even WWE knows they’ve portrayed his opponent, Kevin Owens, like he can’t possibly stand up to the awesome power of Reigns, and thus nobody would expect him to eke out a (likely tainted) win. They likely still believe that this will create enough “adversity” that Reigns’ eventual and inevitable Universal Title win will finally be the one that gets the crowd on his side, despite all signs pointing otherwise.
In The End, It Doesn’t Really Matter
WWE has made it clear that any appearance that they might be listening to the fans is simply a delaying tactic when it comes to Roman Reigns. He will be your top babyface no matter how many crowds boo, no matter how many better options there might be, because they have decided that this is the way things will be. And since the company is still wildly profitable, they have no reason to do otherwise, which is actually understandable. It’s hard to say they’re wrong when what they’ve been doing has made money. Of course, as history has shown, just because something is working right now doesn’t mean it will stay that way forever. People always like to point out that even the Roman Empire, which spanned a significant part of the largest continent in the world, eventually fell. Somehow, that seems like an appropriate comparison here, where WWE is pinning a lot of hopes on a Roman Empire of their own, and if it continues as it has, may end up costing them more than they could possibly imagine.