I typically don’t write articles about wrestling other than my weekly recaps because I don’t want to fill this site with wrestling overkill, which is what would happen if I hosted too many recaps: the wrestling articles would bury the times I write about pretty much anything else. However, I decided to make an exception due to the lack of a live, ongoing Monday Night RAW for January 26th (snow storms in the northeast have caused RAW to be postponed until Thursday and Smackdown to be canceled for the week), to discuss last night’s Royal Rumble Pay-Per-View because the events that transpired were so out there that they actually got mainstream media coverage.
Last night, Roman Reigns won the 30-Man Royal Rumble match to put him in the main event at Wrestlemania 31 against WWE World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar, but fans were not pleased with the outcome. They booed, they raged, they blocked arena exits, they protested, and even canceled their monthly subscriptions to the WWE Network. One year ago, Batista suffered the same reaction for winning the Royal Rumble, and oddly enough the fans were begging Roman Reigns to eliminate Batista and go on to the Royal Rumble. At the time Reigns was one of the three members of The Shield, a faction consisting of Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins.
So why is it that now that the Shield has disbanded people despise Reigns? He still has the same moves, same entrance, and same ring gear. He’s essentially the only guy who hasn’t actually moved on. He looks like a man in denial the Shield is done. Why is it that a year later, the fans want this guy’s head? Is Reigns really that awful? Let’s look at then, now, and the future and figure out what’s what.
The Rise of Reigns
For starters we have to look at Roman Reigns from the beginning: when Reigns first debuted as “Roman Reigns” on NXT (after WWE rebranded then-developmental territory FCW), the commentators pretty much kissed his ass as if we were seeing history being made. At the time, Reigns wasn’t very interesting. He was just an above-average sized Samoan who was portraying a heel character who talked about how successful he was while being mean to Byron Saxton every week. He wasn’t really doing anything anybody cared about; beating up the CJ Parkers and Danny Burchs of the NXT roster wasn’t anything that endeared him to anyone. We just kept being TOLD he was IMPORTANT. From the get-go this has been how WWE views Reigns, who is a member of the legendary Anoa’i family (where pretty much all the Samoans in WWE come from).
With warning, Reigns and Rollins got repackaged along with Dean Ambrose (who hadn’t re-debuted since the transition from FCW to NXT) into the Shield and promoted to the main WWE roster, a special ops group of developmental guys that weren’t going to wait for a spot but take it. Many people already questioned “why Roman Reigns? Why not another indy guy?” The writing was on the wall – it was to “balance shit out.” Ambrose and Rollins were both talented guys, but neither man is a “powerhouse,” and if you wanted a faction to look dominating it needed to have one. Reigns was put in a good spot to work with solid talent, and you know what? He got over organically. He was the man of few words of the group, he had a look that female fans seemed to enjoy, he was the clean-up hitter that when the Shield needed to wipe it’s ass with some of the bigger men like Mark Henry or Ryback or Sheamus, was used to keep the group looking strong (at the time it wasn’t going to be believable for Ambrose or Rollins to just mow down powerhouse wrestlers). It worked. The crowd enjoyed Reigns for what he was. Reigns would go on to a tag team championship reign (with Rollins), and from there become a Sole Survivor at the Survivor Series, and break Kane’s record for “most eliminations in a single Royal Rumble match” by eliminating 12 men in the 2014 Royal Rumble. People really did not hate Reigns with a passion.
The Fall of the Shield, Reigns Goes Solo
It wasn’t until the dissolution of the Shield that Reigns was sailing in these waters alone, and for a while that left him without anything to really do – WWE knew they wanted Roman Reigns to succeed but with the Shield being a 3 man faction, Reigns ended up being the odd-man-out. Rollins would be repackaged as the “Judas” of the group, and Ambrose repackaged as an unstable loose cannon that left to his own devices would eventually self-destruct. But what was Reigns?
WWE really had no idea. So instead of rebranding him, they left him in the Shield gear with a slower version of their entrance theme and continued to have him come from the crowd and fight Randy Orton who at the time they also had nothing really to do. The problem is Reigns vs. Orton was concurrent with the Ambrose/Rollins feud. An average chick standing next to a hot chick looks like an ugly chick. That’s what happened. During their feud Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins delivered – and were a tough act to follow. Seeing this, WWE fizzled out the feud between Ambrose and Rollins to make a feud between Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. The problem is, once again, now he was being compared to Ambrose in every way. Had Reigns maybe been the first to feud with Rollins he wouldn’t have looked so bad. He was second behind Ambrose, and there was no way he was going to follow that up. Reigns would suffer an unfortunate injury.
Months later after a few “via satellite” status updates to his recovery (reminiscent of Reigns’ real-life cousin, The Rock), Reigns returned and was given the Slammy for “Superstar of the Year.”
Now we all know wrestling is rigged, but how exactly did a guy that really didn’t accomplish anything after January 2014 manage to win an award for being “the best guy on the roster?” This immediately caused fans to sour – not because they dislike Reigns but because as a solo act he hadn’t accomplished ANYTHING yet except a few sob story photos in a hospital bed from his injuries. So how do you take Reigns and make him popular with the people who soured? WELL OBVIOUSLY YOU MAKE HIM FIGHT THE BIG SHOW FOR 2 ½ MONTHS!
Unfortunately somebody in the WWE believes that the Big Show is the menace he was 15 years ago and the problem with that is that often matches with the Big Show are slow-paced, dull, and rather uninteresting. The truth is that Big Show has done just about everything he can do in the “big man” role, from breaking the ring, to overturning cars, to ripping off cage doors. There is nothing the Big Show can really do anymore that makes anyone stay awake during his matches and that is the price of being a giant – there’s a certain point in your career when people just see you as old, fat, and slow. Big Show is at that point. Nobody said “I’m watching this Pay-Per-View to watch Roman Reigns fight Big Show.” It wasn’t a good spot, did Reigns no favors and equated to “busy work.” In the meantime they decided Reigns should take acting classes and cut promos.
I don’t think Reigns is a bad at speaking – when he’s being Roman Reigns. And this is the problem when you have writers that decide how promos are going to go – they decided to make Roman Reigns cut some weird re-telling of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” That kind of thing works for The Rock. It does not work so well for Reigns. Reigns, who had been the man of “few words,” whose first on-main-TV promo was “I’ll talk when I have something I want to say,” has turned into nursery rhymes and kids stories. WWE didn’t get the memo that this man isn’t Sheamus or John Cena – he’s Roman Reigns. He’s been booked as a clean-up hitter, a mercenary, a man without a country… why is he spitting nursery rhymes? In order to be successful in anything you need the right fit for the right moment. You know those kids toys with the shapes? Roman Reigns is a triangle that someone is trying to force into the round hole. You need the right tool for the right job.
A powerhouse of few words? Let Reigns be that. Let it progress NATURALLY instead of forcing it down our throats – because when Roman was progressing naturally the crowd bought it. Roman was cheered as a Sole Survivor. Roman got a lot of attention at last year’s Rumble, eliminating everyone. The crowd would shout with Reigns before he delivered a spear and loved watching him hit what the commentators have dubbed “The Superman Punch.” But that’s because it wasn’t being force-fed to anyone.
The writing was on the wall that Roman Reigns was going to win the Royal Rumble. Alright, cool, whatever – but it’s the delivery of that Royal Rumble that caused the problem.
The Royal Rumble and Where It Failed
The 2015 Royal Rumble was started off great from the pre-show all the way down. Opening with a Tyson Kidd & Cesaro vs. New Day match that was very enjoyable, the Philadelphia crowd was pumped – Philly is a tough crowd. They’re in the know; you go to Philly, New York, Chicago, or just about anywhere in Canada and people get passionate and aggressive about their wrestling. The WWE World Championship match delivered: Seth Rollins vs. John Cena vs. defending champion Brock Lesnar was unpredictable. The crowd was kept guessing. There were a lot of close calls. And they even managed to make Rollins look like he could hang with and survive Brock Lesnar. Then came the Rumble match itself.
The Rumble had three surprise entrants. Bubba Ray Dudley made a return we thought would NEVER happen (he’s justifiably not happy about WWE trademarking the Dudley Boyz’ name). The Boogeyman and Bray Wyatt had a staredown that was so intense that it made me want Boogeyman to stay to feud with Wyatt. And proving DDPYoga fucking works, Diamond Dallas Page showed up in tremendous shape and managed to hit his trademark Diamond Cutter for an ovation from the audience.
The problem is that the first half felt like it was booked entirely different from the second half – Daniel Bryan, arguably the audience's favorite superstar, made his way out… and was unceremoniously eliminated by Bray Wyatt – not to further a feud, not to any purpose, but simply thrown out in a fodder of multiple Bray Wyatt eliminations as the “Eater of Worlds” attempted to clean house. The crowd went quiet for a moment – an awe they usually only save for legitimate tragedy (such as Jerry Lawler’s heartattack or Owen Hart’s tragic and fatal entrance accident). After it set in Daniel Bryan had been eliminated, a crowd favorite, and a man they were hoping would at least make it to the end the crowd booed the entire rest of the Royal Rumble, especially Reigns, who instead of being booked strong in this Rumble spent a lot of time down on the ground – where was the dominant, aggressive “Hound of Justice” from a year ago? He was laying down while Bray Wyatt was made to look far more dominant. At this time the rumor is Daniel Bryan will wrestle Sheamus at Wrestlemania 31. Where was Sheamus? Had Sheamus been out here, had he eliminated Daniel Bryan, and had he turned heel in doing so, at least there would have been purpose. The crowd would have true hate to focus. When Bray just eliminated Bryan in a series of “toss random people out” it just left people confused and unhappy. They didn’t feel like Bryan’s elimination served a purpose other than to say “hey viewers, Vince McMahon doesn’t like Daniel Bryan. Fuck him and fuck you.” Daniel Bryan is arguably one of the hottest commodities the WWE has… and they treated him with all the dignity of a Zack Ryder.
Hope would rise in the audience as crowd favorites Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler made their way to the ring – again, people knew Roman would likely win but they were expecting a pay-off. Personally? If it were my call I’d have called for Ziggler to win after they spent the past six months turning Ziggler from “midcard for life” into a very important player on the roster who has been inserted into a lot of major angles on television. But I knew it was Roman and even accepted that – “Oh it will be down to Roman and Ambrose and the tension between the two Shield members who are ‘still friends’ will get the crowd hooked even if Ambrose has to lose.”
Nope, in one of the most anti-climactic finishes ever – Big Show and Kane… err… Isaac Yankem, Libertarian Representative of Parts Unknown, systematically dumped Ambrose and Ziggler out like their names were “Fernando and Diego.” Big Show and Kane then began to turn on each other and try to eliminate one another. For a moment I even thought that they were going to completely troll us by eliminating each other without Reigns actually doing any of the work. Reigns got up and scooped them over the top rope and the crowd raged. WWE pushed their emergency button. The trump card: The Rock.
The Rock rushed to the ring to save Roman Reigns and then stood by when Rusev, who had not been officially eliminated (and booked to be the most menacing guy on the roster) was tossed like a sack of garbage out of “the Rock and Roman’s ring,” Rocky embraced his cousin – an endorsement that WWE had hoped would translate into “please cheer for Roman; he is my cousin.” Instead the Rock got booed. And booed heavily.
The Rock got booed so much that his facial expressions could not hide his surprise that the crowd was so angry that WWE’s iconic mainstream star could not quiet the fury of the audience. Again, it wasn’t Reigns’ fault – but the 2015 Royal Rumble felt wrong. It felt off. And for the second year in a row the WWE had caused outrage. Only this time they have this little thing called the WWE Network in play.
The Aftermath, The WWE Network and Is All Publicity Good Publicity?
WWE has been trying to push their Network frantically since it debuted with Wrestlemania 30 last year. Initially when you signed up for the Network you had to have a six month commitment, meaning that if you unsubscribed, WWE would still get a full $60 out of you. In order to drive up subscribers, WWE got rid of this mandate. Unfortunately for them that means that if you’re not happy with the product you can opt out at any time. The anger at the Royal Rumble (whether it was either caused by the way Reigns won or Reigns winning is not relevant; people are not happy) caused viewers to be so enraged that #CancelWWENetwork began to trend on Twitter in the number one spot with many people taking screenshots of their computer or mobile device to show they had done so.
Usually you want publicity but this is actually bad press. It tells the public who isn’t watching “this company doesn’t know what they are doing.” It doesn’t instill brand confidence and that is not what’s best for business. WWE attempted to stitch the bleeding wound when the page that allows people to “unsubscribe” from the Network magically “stopped working” due to “technical difficulties” (see also: big lie), but the damage was done. All people are hearing who don’t watch wrestling are “how bad wrestling is.” The people who don’t watch wrestling who think it’s stupid, are openly mocking people for “continuing to watch” this crap, and in a world where people pay way too much attention to social media, this is going to do some damage… but that’s justifiable, and truthfully I’m somewhat glad that this has happened, and I will explain why.
It’s no skin off my nose if Roman Reigns main events. Again – my problem isn’t with Reigns. He’s got a bright future regardless of whether you like him or not. It’s the way Reigns is being utilized that is sub-par and that is not any fault on his part because he’s out there doing what he’s being told by management, and by a creative team. The man is just doing his job, and nobody should be enraged at the man for doing just that. A man’s got to eat.
Are people being melodramatic? Absolutely. People tend to be that way when it comes to wrestling when they don’t get their way. Are they justified? That too, is absolutely. If you don’t like the show, then definitely quit watching and quit paying the WWE. This is something WWE’s fanbase HASN’T had the balls to do. They would complain over and over about how bad it sucks and how much they hate it and how angry it makes them… and then continue to tune into RAW the next night, or keep the Network. If Reigns winning bothers you that badly, if the Royal Rumble pissed you off that much, then by all means DON’T watch RAW and DON’T subscribe to the WWE Network. Last week several independent promotions such as Beyond Wrestling, Interspecies Wrestling and Absolute Intense Wrestling (to name a few, as there were many) hosted a streaming event called #RAWlternative. On Wednesday nights, the collaboration between Mexico’s AAA and director Robert Rodriguez, Lucha Underground is on, and is an hour long. As of late people are going ga-ga for New Japan Pro Wrestling as well, so If you’re tired of WWE but want something else to watch on a wrestling standpoint, then by all means you have other options.
If it’s strictly WWE for you and you’re tired of it, then just stop watching. Cut it out of your life. Why keep things that make you miserable in your life? It’s like staying in an unhappy sexless marriage. Don’t do it to yourself. Save yourself the $10 if you feel that passionately about it. One of two things will happen: Either WWE will improve in the way you like, and you’ll be happy… or you just won’t give a shit about WWE anymore, and you’ll be happy. Me? I’m going to continue to watch – I have always done the duty of “watching RAW so you don’t have to” for the people that want to know what’s going on without spending the three hours of their time doing so. But I continue to watch because even when it’s lackluster, or “bad,” it doesn’t ruin my day. I’ve learned how to cope with it. I’m in a place of Zen. It doesn’t bug me all that much and in the grand scheme of things, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. However, WWE also needs to realize that you can't tell people what they're supposed to like and they are going to make up their own minds. They made up their own mind, and they did not agree with WWE's decisions in this regard, which as dissatisfied customers is their right.
So what should you take away from this? They’re not going to do things you like all the time. You may not agree with the result, or you may not agree with the delivery and that is ALWAYS your right as a fan and as a consumer to voice when you are not satisfied. But if you are truly unhappy and the WWE is beyond redemption in your eyes there is no shame in walking away. Sometimes it takes walking away, and sometimes walking away and doing something else with your time is what’s “best for business.” If you’re really unhappy with the state of the WWE nobody forces you to watch this crap and it’s time to cut ties. If it’s not that big of a deal then you grin and bear it and keep watching, express your opinions but don’t let it ruin your day. This is a company that actively expects you to watch a women’s reality television show every week. You shouldn’t take them too seriously.
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