By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Remember when everybody was pissed that WWE wouldn’t stop trying to make Roman Reigns the top babyface in the company?
WWE creative did all it could. The braintrust booked him to beat everybody, including the Undertaker. At a WrestleMania, no less, where the night after on Raw, Reigns cut one of the best promos of his career, when he walked to the ring and stood there, saying nothing. The crowd went nuts as they booed him, defiantly rejecting all that WWE wanted him to be.
In that moment, it felt like that was all Roman Reigns was ever going to be – a guy shunned by fans for reasons that couldn’t even be articulated in real life. It was just another example of the unfair (and oftentimes unreasonable) world of wrestling fandom.
But then …
… Paul Heyman showed up and Roman Reigns became a bad guy.
From there, everything changed. And it wasn’t like a light switch, either. We all watched the heel turn, and a lot of us probably thought something like, “Well, they had to do something and Heyman is great, so let’s see how this goes.” Reigns was given a chance at a rebirth. He ran with it. Fans accepted it. Fans bought into it. And what we have today is precisely what WWE wanted Reigns to be: The most over wrestler on its roster.
Good guy, bad guy, whatever guy, Roman Reigns holds both of the main titles, is in all of the main events and is, on pretty much every level, the main attraction on WWE’s two most prominent television programs. He’s been a champion for the last 617 days (according to Google, at least), and there is no sign of anything changing even a little anytime soon.
Such is why things got interesting over the weekend when …
… Roman Reigns cut a promo at Saturday’s house show in Trenton, New Jersey.
Yeah, let’s run that one back for those who missed it the first time.
Roman Reigns cut a promo at a house show in Trenton, New Jersey.
For those who missed it, Reigns, over the weekend, grabbed the microphone at the end of the night and essentially got all up in his feelings, saying he wasn’t sure if he’d ever be back to Trenton again. Now, all Trenton and/or New Jersey jokes aside, the speech, which was of course captured on fan video, went viral in the way that wrestling things go viral on Pro Wrestling Internet. By the time Sunday morning came around, speculation was in full effect.
Is Roman leaving WWE? He’s gotta go to Hollywood, right? This dude just wants to be an actor, does he not? Do you think he’ll join his cousin as one of the biggest names in movies? What’s WWE going to do now that he’s gone? Wait, he’s gone? Really? Oh my God, who’s headlining SummerSlam?
As it turns out, there wasn’t really much to the promo. If anything, Reigns is going to work fewer dates, which means fewer house shows, which means … well, yeah, he probably ain’t going back to Trenton until Trenton hosts a WrestleMania. And for those wondering where Trenton sits in the internal list of potential WrestleMania host spots, I can’t confirm it’s somewhere between 5,291 and 1,000,000, but I can’t deny that, either.
So, his pseudo farewell to that audience was perhaps a bit overblown. In reality, it’s probably just the truth. Reigns is now in that rarefied air where he won’t have to work 200 nights a year and he can just do the Brock Lesnar thing. He’s earned it. In fact, he’s earned it so much, that …
HE EARNED IT
I was surprised to learn that he was even working house shows to begin with.
Between Randy Orton, Seth Rollins, Cody Rhodes, Drew McIntyre, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Bianca Belair and a handful of others, WWE can do just fine selling tickets for house shows without Roman Reigns. There’s no real need for him to be wrestling in front of a few thousand people on a Saturday night in New Jersey. He’s earned the right to pick and choose his spots.
But that’s the thing: He’s earned that right in such a low-key, almost-forgettable manner. It’s almost like the fans were so committed to booing him and hating him and criticizing his work that now, nobody’s dragging him through the mud, per say, but nobody’s falling over themselves to praise him in the way they do Kenny Omega when he has a six-star match on an AEW pay-per-view.
And that’s where things get crossed for me. All this guy did was pick up a microphone for a few minutes at the end of a show and the World Wide Internet immediately hopped on it. But is anyone heaping compliments onto him for his role in the six-man tag main event on Sunday night’s WrestleMania Backlash event? Did anybody notice how well he worked with Goldberg and Brock Lesnar, two guys who have two very specific styles that aren’t necessarily easy to work with all the time?
Nobody thinks of that stuff when it comes to Roman Reigns. Meanwhile, all he has to do is tease the notion that he might not be around forever and everything melts to the ground. And you want to know where this gets even more convoluted?
A lot of what I read in response to that promo didn’t even have a “Thank you, Roman” vibe. Instead, the narrative turned right back to WWE, where people immediately started criticizing the company for not having someone else already built to step in and take Roman’s place as the top guy someday.
Now, sure. That’s fair because there’s a lot to that thinking that’s true. But before we turn this thing around and use it as fodder to be mad at Vince McMahon again, can we just stop for a few seconds and shine a light on Roman Reigns? And if his promo was the beginning of the beginning of a new schedule for him, and this is the first step toward backing away from being a full-time wrestler … I mean, can we at least appreciate what he’s done?
Think about this. Fans never liking him as a babyface was never his fault. This is pro wrestling, remember, and in the case of WWE, it’s not even that; it’s sports entertainment. Even so, you can’t kiss too many babies and you can’t smile too wide for too long or else these fans will turn on you quicker than an MVP babyface run. There’s always gotta be one good guy that the “real fans” (whatever that means) will boo, no matter what, as an indictment on the company. That turned out to be Roman Reigns.
The thing was, he never appeared to be precious about it. He was asked to do a job and be the person he was asked to be. So, well, he did the job. And he became the person he was asked to be. The Roman hate was never rational; it was just essential – in this weird, wacky world of wrestling fandom. The problem now, though, is that because he switched things up and actually did the thing the fans wanted him to do, he’s just sort of … there.
As in, nobody’s going out of their way to praise Roman Reigns’s work in or outside of the ring. Smackdown has been the superior WWE show in recent years (though an argument for Raw eclipsing it in the last few months could be made), but during that run, what has the dialogue been? It’s been some form of “Yeah, Smackdown’s pretty but, but goodness gracious Raw is atrocious and wow, look at how bad Raw is.”
Meanwhile, Reigns has been out there on Fridays every week, cutting promos, dominating the screen and being at the center of what oftentimes is a pretty good pro wrestling TV show. Does that matter? Or is WWE just so easy to hate that we can’t even see the good through the bad and in the few times we get a glimpse of that good, we look the other way because it’s just not natural? If that’s the case …
… Then Roman Reigns deserves even more credit for taking on a role that nobody sees in a positive light: The embodiment of WWE.
Much like the company, if he’s good, he’s expected to be good. If he’s bad, though, people can’t line up fast enough to break all of that badness down. The remarkable thing about Reigns is that he hasn’t been afforded the luxury of simply being bad in spots since he turned heel and in a rare move, he actually hasn’t been bad in spots. He’s had to pitch a perfect game and he’s kind of done it. Actually, he’s done it so well that nobody even really notices.
That’s why Saturday night’s in-ring promo at a house show in New Jersey should serve as a wake-up call for those who keep forgetting that Roman Reigns is one of the best sports entertainers on the planet. He isn’t going to be included in the die-hard pro wrestling talk, but pro wrestling isn’t all work rate and mat work and blood and submissions and innovative athleticism. It’s something often inexplicable, something you know only when you see it, but you can’t put words to it.
Roman Reigns has that thing, that “you only know it when you see it” thing. People booed John Cena for years, but once he went away, you could feel that absence. Then, when he came back, those same fans that delighted in booing him and genuinely disliking his every in-ring move … well a lot of those people cheered him. In earnest, too. They didn’t know what they had until they didn’t have it anymore. Then, when they got it back, it simply felt more meaningful, more honest, more pure.
The same thing is going to happen when Roman Reigns decides to focus more on a life outside of wrestling. That much, we all know. What some of us might not know currently, though, is precisely how much we should be appreciating what’s in front of us while it’s in front of us. Roman Reigns is on an all-time run right now and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon. There’s no hot potato with the world championship. There’s no confusion as to who is the top guy. There’s no question as to who is at the top of the card.
Reigns proved that again this weekend when fans were confronted with the possibility that he might be heading out of town soon. In a lot of ways, good for Roman. He deserves his flowers yesterday, putting that company on his back for as long as he has and not even messing it up in ways that those before him had. As fans, though, we can’t lose sight of what’s in front of us, especially when what’s in front of us is so under-appreciated and rare.
And make no mistake about it. Roman Reigns is rare. It’s about time we start viewing him that way without having to consider what life without him would be. On his own, he deserves our attention, our respect and our admiration.
Or in other words, it’s about time we truly acknowledge him.