By Haydn Gleed
Coming out of WWE Raw this past Monday, the main talking point that I came away talking and thinking about was the John Cena and Roman Reigns exchange. While obviously a worked shoot, it was very revealing and I’m not talking about the unnecessary “insider terms” that probably went over the heads of a lot of younger fans. Rather, the segment was a great example of what is wrong with WWE right now.
I’ve dusted off the Prowrestling.net time machine and we are going to make a little trip to just before WrestleMania this year and a Talk Is Jericho show with Roman Reigns. During the many topics they covered, as a manager myself, I was intrigued by Roman comparing the locker room of today to the locker room of ten years ago while indicating that it wasn’t as poisonous now as it was in the past. He noted that the wrestlers support each other as entertainers traveling the world. It’s great that the WWE locker room is all butterflies, puppies, and rainbows in 2017, but in a world where your best friend behind the scenes could be your worst enemy in the world that WWE has created, does that really produce the best product?
I know a lot of people look at the Attitude Era through rose tinted glasses, but there’s no denying that at the time it felt more of a real product. I’ve spoken before about how I firmly sit in the camp of the more real that something feels the more emotionally invested. It’s not a revelation that people connected emotionally with Steve Austin in the late ’90s because they wanted to be like him or lived vicariously through his character. They wanted to be the bad ass who could walk into their office or place of work and give the middle finger to their boss and beat the tar out of them. It felt real to the fans and therefore they could get behind it. Austin has spoken many times about how behind the scenes it was important to him to protect his character and how he battled to make sure that everything he did fit the persona he had created. Did it create an atmosphere of puppies and other fluffy things in the back? No. Most top wrestlers from the last twenty years have had a reputation, rightly or wrongly, of being very protective of their spots and fighting for their character when they felt they were not being used correctly and during those times the product felt more realistic.
So to swing back around to this week keeping those points in mind, you had a man in John Cena who is very protective of his character vocally sparring with a man who is happy with butterfles, peace, and harmony backstage and who has also spoken about how he does what management tells him to do with the goal of getting rich. Remind me again, who came out victorious in round one of this battle? Who was the guy who flubbed his lines when the segment seemed to go off script slightly?
The point I’m trying to make is that I’m all for people getting along and not rocking the boat or not being a douche, but at the same time is there something to be said for professionals caring about what they do to have the confidence, courage, and passion to stand up for what they believe is the right way for their character to be used? From everything I’ve heard from Roman in interviews, it feels that he’s happy to do whatever he’s told to do instead of calling for an audible (sufferin succotash, anyone?). I don’t want to watch Reigns or anyone else and think that they are just reciting lines that someone else wrote for them. A Dot Net Member put it well with a question/statement in this week’s Q&A audio show by noting that Reigns’s body language screams “I’m trying to be confident” rather than “I am confident.” I want Roman to be someone who doesn’t go out of his way to screw people over, but rather that he does everything to be who he said he wants to be, which is the only Roman Reigns molded in his own ideas for the character, not a tall sports entertainer molded by management. I want to be made to believe that he knows his character enough that when he’s being torn down he can come back with the logic that is in his head as to why his character behaves the way he does, not pray for his character’s writer to tell him how to react so he can go and hang out with his buddies in the locker room.
Some fans won’t like Reigns no matter what he does or doesn’t do. Likewise, there will be some fans who worship the ground he walks on. However, there’s a large void in the middle of people who simply don’t care about him and I firmly believe that the way Roman has talked in media interviews and the exchange on Monday casts a huge spotlight on a man who is doing whatever he’s told to do and doesn’t feel what he’s doing and the crowd consequently feels it. The scary thing is, I see a lot of wrestlers up and down the WWE roster who I believe also fit into that mold.
As for the exchange itself, it was very entertaining for what it was. To get the negatives out of the way, I don’t think undercutting your opponent is an effective way of building a feud. Mick Foley wrote in his book that if you make your opponent look like a piece of crap then you have nothing to gain from it. If you win, you’ve just beaten a piece of crap and if you lose you’ve lost to a piece of crap. I agree with what a lot of reporters and analysts are saying in terms of this being effective because it doesn’t happen that often, but I also didn’t like the way this was executed in terms of going over the heads of a lot of casual fans. A lot of people forget that when CM Punk did his pipe bomb promo and broke the internet, he took a number of inside shots at WWE and then he then started to turn the “pipe bomb” into an effective heel promo by telling the fans cheering him to stop because they are part of the problem. Even if you didn’t get what he was talking about, you still came away thinking his character was a complete douche. Conversely, I can imagine a lot of casual viewers coming out of the Reigns and Cena segment wondering the hell happened.
On the positive side, there is a buzz about the segment and it has certainly made the match between the two feel more personal and must see. The key now is the follow up. If they go back into full on “sports entertainment” mode this far out from No Mercy, it could lose steam. At the same time, you can’t do this every week. Roman has to come back strong next week and make the fans feel that he is genuinely peeved at what transpired. If he comes out and says “The big dog is not happy with what happened last week in his yard” and lists off some lame pre-written jabs at Cena, it will lose steam quickly. Either way, I’m certainly intrigued to see what the follow up will be, not because I’m invested in the characters, but I want to see Roman prove that he cares and makes the fans say I “believe that”.
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As entertaining as The Rock and others were on the mic, if they didn’t follow it up with a compelling match, it was all for naught. In my opinion, that’s why The Miz is mid-card at best. Basically, in WWE, it’s put up or shut up. Even as a full time talent, Lesnar didn’t do much talking. Who cares? It’s the match we’re here for. Your argument seems to be you can’t suspend disbelief when guys read a script and maybe do it less effectively. I’m with you in the camp of, don’t force/script the smack talk. Let it be organic. I’m not with you on bashing Roman because he’s not selfish enough to go off-script and sound more believable on the mic. My solution for folks like Roman who aren’t natural gabbers, is give them 3 or 4 lines to use and let them do most of their talking via action. Lesnar’s notable lines are “Suplex City, Bitch!” and “I’m just here to hurt people” and it’s all he needs to say. The rest is said through action. Put folks like Roman into that mold. Basically, I guess it’s summed as Hey management, play to each performers strengths. Set them up to succeed. But when management doesn’t do this, the rest of us need to stop taking it out on the wrestlers. It’s like you’re saying Roman sucks because he didn’t read someone’s script all that well. He wrestles great, but I couldn’t get into it because he didn’t make be believe in his character’s motivation on the mic. Da fuq?
Apologies if you got that from my blog, I was trying to say that you could wrestle the best match in the world, but if you don’t connect with the crowd (which I believe he’s not) who cares? I was putting my theory as to why I feel he doesn’t connect. I don’t think Roman sucks, I think he’s a very good wrestler who’s a lot better than he used to be, BUT I think he’s miscast in the role. Just wanted to clarify that.