Today on the blog we have the debut piece from our new writer, Chris Flackett. In it he has a look at the build up to Wrestlemania in terms of Roman Reigns and what comes after the biggest show of the year for the former Shield member, whether he is ready or not…
Let me start by saying that I’m not one for jumping on bandwagons. If I was the same age in the mid-eighties as I am now (29, since you ask), I’d probably be in the minority of WWF fans saying my prayers, taking my vitamins etc. (although I’d be feeling pretty smug once everyone caught up with me in 1993, but there you go…)
Likewise, as much as I believe Bryan is, at this moment of time, the right man to give the world title to, I’m not without criticisms of his work either; for all the electricity his ring work generates, his mic skills leave a lot to be desired. They may share beards, but Arn Anderson he aint. It’s a “YES!” chant from me, but a cautious one.
This leads me on to Roman Reigns. All signs indicate that he seems set to dethrone ‘The Beast Incarnate’ this Sunday at Wrestlemania. The fan reaction to this has so far been apathetic but what did WWE expect? They’ve presented the Road to Wrestlemania apathetically from the very start. Fin Martin has speculated on…that the Network has played a big part in this. When you’re preaching to the converted, those subscribers who for £9.99 a month don’t just get Wrestlemania, but every other monthly PPV (and much more beside), what incentive is there to build the most exciting show possible to snare the casual fan in their PPV net?
And then there’s Reigns himself. The fan response has been tepid at best, downright hostile at worst. One suspects Vince has dismissed this as smart mark pettiness – the fans want Bryan or nothing, and of course, Vince knows best. In the post-Rumble 2014 era (where the fans made their views on what they did and didn’t want very clear), Vince can’t afford to be this naive. A line was drawn and up until Daniel Bryan’s unfortunately timed injury last year, it appeared for a moment that the WWE was listening…
For a moment, anyway.
In fairness, in the void left by Bryan, WWE did seem committed to building new stars. Cena may have become champion once more, but there were reasons to be positive. The Shield had split, and out of one explosion shone three stars; Ambrose, the unhinged lone gun, Rollins, the cocky yet cowardly upstart, and Reigns, the hero, laying down the law and taking no prisoners. All three seemed to sense that this was the start of their moment and went for it full pelt. And each time any of the three appeared at the top of the card, there was a genuine excitement. More importantly, you felt they deserved to be at there. They were fresh, they were exciting and they were over.
It must be remembered here that fan response to Reigns at the time was positive. It was clear, even then, that Roman was being groomed to be ‘THE NEXT BIG THING.’ Yes, he was still green in the ring, and his mic skills mediocre and monotone, but the potential was clear. He looked like a warrior and against the right opponent he was unstoppable, a killer of the first order. The fans were willing to believe in him. The road to success was clear. Wrestlemania was calling and there was enough time left to build up Reigns from contender to bona fide champion. The fans were ready to give him a chance. He was included in the Money in the Bank main event, he was set for a top line feud with a genuine main eventer, Randy Orton, and then…
And then disaster struck. I can only imagine Vince’s reaction. To have one new figurehead injured is unfortunate, but two? In less than a year? Hence Plan C(ena): the return of the Beast Incarnate (and a fighting champ he has not been). Why build up unreliable new stars when the old dependable workhorses will do the job instead? Ambrose was reduced to a comedy caricature of himself. Wyatt was forgotten about, then had the strangeness that made him unique diluted as he waded through a directionless feud with Ambrose. Only Rollins looked like he was getting somewhere, and even then he lacked the presence in the ring to cut it as a successful heavyweight champ.
Still, with both Bryan and Roman returning in relatively quick time, surely this was the opportunity for Vince to reset the clock, to reinstate the original plan, to inject some much needed fresh blood into a stagnant main event scene. Surely?
It all started to turn sour at this year’s Royal Rumble. The elimination of Bryan (not even deemed worthy enough of fighting to the finish) was bad enough. The (less than convincing, it must be said) sight of Reigns emerging victorious was a red rag to a bull. Even everybody’s favourite eyebrow, The Rock, was surprised at the fierceness of the crowd’s response.
He needn’t have been, if he’d really thought about it. The same goes for Vince. But what was the issue? Weren’t the fans behind Reigns before the injury? What had changed?
In the internet age, with so much information freely available, the age of kayfabe is dead. Everything is exposed, nothing is allowed to hide. Potentially even your basic casual wrestling fan has the ability to be a smark, just from a simple glance at the majority of wrestling sites across the web. The magic of make belief has gone. Hasn’t it?
The truth is, no, it hasn’t. Yes, even your most basic fans know that wrestling is a ‘work.’ It’s hard to pretend otherwise in an age dominated by the internet. But we, as an audience, want to suspend our disbelief. Wrestling is a way to enjoy ourselves, to lose ourselves in the squared circle. For me it’s a way to be transported somewhere outside of my everyday humdrum existence. Somewhere colourful, exciting, adventurous (and yes, violent.) A battle between two forces over things worth fighting for – pride, respect, glory. I don’t watch a film and think ‘this is rubbish because I know that character isn’t real and is played by an actor’, and I don’t think the same about wrestling either.
Looked at in this way, the reaction to Reigns is not hard to understand. How can we believe that Reigns can defeat Lesnar, a man who destroyed Cena in fiery fashion at Summerslam, the man who ended The Undertaker’s streak? We haven’t seen Reigns defeat anyone even remotely comparable to Lesnar, except maybe Daniel Bryan, and this is where the age of the smark betrays the business; we all knew the match was designed to put Reigns over: “Look, he beat your golden boy!” The desperation to make Reigns a star was obvious, and so thoroughly unconvincing.) The only other person was Big Show, and who takes him seriously anymore? And besides, there wasn’t even a real decisive match between Reigns and Show to settle the matter of the better man. How can we believe Reigns as a champion when he has not wrestled or won like a champion? His work, both in the ring and on the mic, is improving, but is nowhere near to being Flair-Austin-Rock level for it to matter heading into Wrestlemania.
In the summer, pre-injury, this wouldn’t have been a matter for concern. There was plenty of time for Reigns to hone his skills. A few decisive wins, sensibly booked, over the likes of Rollins, Wyatt, Kane, Triple H, Orton, even Ziggler and Bryan, and wonders would have been done for Roman’s status as champion in the making. What we have had instead has been 9 months worth of build up reduced to the space of around 4. Which is fine if you’re a natural, but if you’re Roman Reigns…
Ultimately, this is not Reigns’ fault but a lack of foresight on the side of Vince. Reigns is only doing what he can do in the time allotted to him. But what would the alternative have been? I believe that WWE should have taken up the story where Wrestlemania 30 left off. They should have held off announcing Bryan’s return and instead let him emerge unannounced at the Rumble match. The crowd pop would have been incredible and a Rumble win for Bryan in these circumstances would have been something special indeed. The next night on Raw, Bryan could have stuck his finger in the authority’s face and announced his mission to reclaim HIS title – a title he was never actually defeated by another wrestler for. This would have given the ‘Mania main event a genuine back story, one that the fans could get behind very passionately. A second title reign for Bryan, beginning at Wrestlemania, would have given a great sense of closure to that story and given the fans a fighting champion they could genuinely get behind and support.
If the master plan at that point was to still put the belt on Reigns, giving Bryan the title at Wrestlemania would have given Roman lots more time to develop as a main eventer, so that come Wrestlemania 32 the crowd would have seen Reigns become a genuine superstar, one deserving of the biggest title in the sport. A 12 month title reign from Bryan would have helped restore prestige to the title tenfold, meaning that when Reigns finally did unseat Bryan, that victory would be so much more rewarding, for Reigns, the fans and WWE alike.
What if, of course, is a futile gesture, and we can only make the best of what we’ve got. For what it’s worth, I still believe in Roman Reigns. But his time shouldn’t come now. Come Sunday, there’ll be no turning back. Reigns is to be anointed and it’s up to him to make the most of this incredible opportunity – ready or not…