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The Roman Reigns Era in WWE has arrived, and like it or not, it is here to stay. WWE management had not-so-subtlety tipping their hand on who is going to be the next golden boy for the company over the last few months, and to the surprise of pretty much nobody, Roman Reigns has won the Royal Rumble and will head to Wrestlemania to face Brock Lesnar for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Right now, the Roman Era is 0-1. At the Royal Rumble, Reigns was massacred by the Philadelphia crowd, who seemed to take out several months of pent-up-frustration with poor booking out on Reigns, who was visibly befuddled on the crowd’s reaction to his victory. And the worst part is that none of this is really the Reigns’ fault. It is highly unlikely that Reigns is stomping around backstage, barking out orders and refusing to do jobs. No, Reigns’ career, like nearly every other talent that works for WWE, is determined at the discretion of WWE management. Maybe Reigns isn’t ready for the main event slot at Wrestlemania, but that only makes him as guilty as 99% of professional wrestlers, who will never develop the skills or the following to reach that peak.
On Monday, for the first time in the show’s history, Monday Night Raw was canceled because of inclement weather in the Northeast. In its place was a unique broadcast that mixed in full-length matches with live promos and highlights. While this would seem like a detriment to WWE compared to a live show in an arena, it might have been a blessing in disguise. The wound that the fans had felt at the Royal Rumble was still very fresh, and it is likely they would have jeered Reigns as harshly as the Philadelphia crowd. Giving it a few days might quell things down a bit, and perhaps by the next episode of Raw, Reigns is getting a significant amount of cheers again. Maybe they will boo him out of the building tonight on Smackdown and it will be even worse by Monday on Raw, but it is probably safe to say that old man winter did Roman Reigns a service by forcing Raw to be canceled on Monday.
Getting back to the Royal Rumble, WWE was forced into a catch-22 with Reigns winning the Rumble. While they certainly had to be aware that the fans would be upset with some other fan favorites being eliminated from the match (Dolph Ziggler, Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose) they had to figure out the best way to eliminate them while also protecting Reigns. There were two options on doing this:
Option A: Have the final four be comprised of Ziggler, Bryan, Ambrose and Reigns and let Reigns eliminate the three of them. This might make fans boo Reigns because he was eliminating “their” favorites, but it would be pretty exciting having four different types of babyfaces in the final four, and it would add a greater element of suspense, since it isn’t inconceivable that any of the four could win the Rumble.
Option B: Have Ziggler, Bryan and Ambrose dumped out of the Rumble rather unceremoniously during the course of the match. Fans might boo that, but they also might cheer when Reigns eliminates the heels who tossed out their heroes.
WWE decided to go with B and it completely backfired. The elimination of Bryan in particular was a mistake, since it gave fans a good 30 minutes to vent their frustration out at WWE for once again managing to ignore the obvious fan favorite. The final eliminations of Big Show and Kane (not counting Rusev) where extremely boring since it was beyond obvious that Big Show or Kane were not winning the Royal Rumble, leading towards an extremely anti-climactic ending. In addition, Reigns didn’t get any cheers for eliminating the heels who threw out their favorites. In hindsight, it probably would have been better for Reigns to have eliminated them himself, at least then they would seem more relevant and not just, as David Shoemaker put it, “cogs in the Roman Reigns hype machine.”
Looking back on it, the whole matter is ridiculous. If you have to book an event so that fans won’t get mad at one of your babyfaces for winning the match over another babyface, then you are booking the event wrong. Period. Wrestling should be about giving fans what they want, and WWE has declined to do that so frequently it almost seems like a cruel joke at this point.
So where does Roman Reigns go from here? His opponent is set to be Brock Lesnar, which right now doesn’t look like he is going to be doing Reigns any favors. Lesnar has been booked stronger than any other talent in the last 15 years. In the last year alone he has done two things nobody has ever done before (beat The Undertaker at Wrestlemania and squash John Cena) and walked off a stretcher in his last match, took roughly 45 finishers, and still retained his world title. It is going to take someone that the fans really believe in to beat Brock, and right now that isn’t Reigns.
In addition, as big and bad as WWE has booked Lesnar to be, fans still enjoy seeing him tear people to shreds. This was evident last week on the go-home Raw for the Royal Rumble, when Lesnar tore his way through The Authority to get at Seth Rollins. The crowd went insane for Brock and the reaction was so overwhelming that some people even assumed Brock was turning face, even though no such plans were ever made. Brock Lesnar is really, really good at his job, and even the most casual fans can understand that. Because of that, fans might actually want to see Lesnar destroy Roman Reigns, which would make Brock the de-facto face and Reigns the de-facto heel, regardless of how WWE choses to present the match. On the flip side, rumors abound that Brock Lesnar is set to leave WWE after Wrestlemania for another stint in MMA, which could cause fans to boo him for once again leaving wrestling. This could lead to fans booing both men, similar to the infamous Lesnar/Goldberg match at Wrestlemania 20. It is a coin-toss on which situation would be worse for WWE, but either way it would be bad.
The logical solution would appear to be to turn Reigns heel. Fans are booing him, why not give them a real reason to boo? After all, it worked out well with Batista last year. But the situation from last year and this year is completely different. Batista was booed terribly, but that was more because WWE was ignoring the rise of Daniel Bryan’s popularity. Few would doubt that Batista didn’t have the experience or the skills to main event Wrestlemania, and in an alternate universe where Daniel Bryan never existed, he might even had been cheered. For Reigns, it is more because fans just don’t like/care about him enough to take him seriously as a main eventer. Reigns isn’t necessarily being booed because Daniel Bryan isn’t getting the spot he deserves (although that is part of it) but because he symbolizes what is wrong with WWE. Management that neglects its true fanbase in search of viewers it doesn’t have, and a willingness to tell the fans what they should like, instead of letting them chose their own hero. Reigns being a heel wouldn’t really solve any of his problems the way that they solved Batista’s.
The only real way WWE can deliver a solid Wrestlemania is to do several things. The first step would to be to book Roman Reigns as perfectly as possible. He needs to be sheltered, put only into promos and situations that only play to his strengths. Raw should not be 30% Roman Reigns, he needs to appear only when it is absolutely vital for him to do so, and he should pretty much never talk. No more of him cutting corny promos, no more joking, no more puns, he needs to be a serious, aggressive, asskicker that doesn’t back away from anybody. Anything that reminds anyone of John Cena should be immediately canned. In addition, WWE should really strive to give the fans a really exciting undercard. Even if the main event is destined to fail, the least WWE can do is produce a strong, enjoyable undercard. The main event of Wrestlemania 13 was The Undertaker vs Sid in a very mediocre match, but nobody remembers that event for the main event, but for the excellent undercard match between Bret Hart and Steve Austin. The undercard is still up in the air right now, so hopefully WWE will manage to work things out and get Wrestlemania back on track.