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With John Cena reportedly still planning on taking time off after Hell in a Cell and Daniel Bryan still on the shelf with concussion concerns, WWE is going to need a top babyface to support the company, particularly at live events where it is widely believed that the top babyface is the name that draws the audience. So far, WWE has made no bones about it, they are planning on Roman Reigns to carry the company as the top babyface while Cena takes some well-deserved time off.
WWE has already been utilizing Reigns in this fashion on live event tours. There are two tours that go on simultaneously, one that has been anchored by John Cena and another that has been anchored by Roman Reigns. To anyone consistently paying attention to the product it is no mystery that WWE believes Roman Reigns is going to be their next mega-star once Cena either retires or begins to work a reduced schedule, but the question still lingers on if that is going to be a wise strategy or not.
The plans to launch Reigns into the stratosphere of the WWE Universe have been unfolding for quite some time. Once Seth Rollins turned on The Shield and forced Reigns and Ambrose to go their separate ways, WWE has taken extreme measures to ensure that Reigns gets over as a top babyface. The push of Reigns hasn't been subtle at all, WWE told everyone that it was coming and frankly they didn't care what anybody else had to say about it. Reigns was going to be the next face of the company and that was that.
Everything changed for Reigns when he won the Royal Rumble in 2015 and the live crowd in Philadelphia destroyed him. Then the next crowd booed him, and the one after that and the one after that. The original plans for Reigns to conquer Brock Lesnar and cement himself as the next big thing in WWE at Wrestlemania 31 were scraped in favor of having Seth Rollins swoop in and steal the world championship from Lesnar. Despite WWE's ridiculously strong commitment to making Reigns the next beloved superstar, Reign's super-push fell flat on its face, rejected by the audience and sending WWE back to the drawing board.
Since then Reigns has remained in a sort of mid-card purgatory. WWE still believes in him as the next top star, but they have stepped off the gas pedal quite a bit. Reigns has spent most of that time teaming with Ambrose and now taking on Bray Wyatt. The Wyatt feud has been fairly mediocre without a ton of memorable matches or segments, but it has kept Reigns relevant and in the spotlight while his former Shield teammate Seth Rollins runs around as the chosen one who just went over the 200 day mark as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
However, as Cena plans to step away for a couple months and with WWE beginning to piece together the plans for Wrestlemania, Reigns name has again sprung up as someone who is getting another super-push to the moon for Wrestlemania. The Undertaker vs Brock Lesnar grudge match that was expected to headline Wrestlemania 32 was hotshotted to Hell in a Cell next Sunday, opening the door for an alternative main event for Wrestlemania. Most insider sources in the wrestling industry seem to believe that those plans involve Reigns in some shape or fashion.
With plans developing in a similar fashion to last year, what makes WWE believe that things are going to work out differently? From an objective standpoint, I don't really see a ton of improvement from Reigns since Wrestlemania. I think his in-ring work has always been a little bit underrated; he isn't great by any means but with the right opponent he can have a decent match. In the past he has had very solid singles matches with Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton. He is not going to be able to carry weaker opponents to good matches, but there have been plenty of very successful wrestlers in the past; Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Kevin Nash, John Cena, that have had about the same amount of in-ring competency as Reigns.
A huge issue with Reigns though, is his ability to talk on the microphone. Those wrestlers I listed above might not have had the most polish in the ring, but they all undisputedly had tons of charisma and microphone ability, with the exception of The Ultimate Warrior who was either horrible or amazing on the mic depending on your point of view. Reigns on the other hand just comes off as incredibly dry and awkward while speaking, clearly cutting scripted promos and showing the charisma of a statue. During last Monday's Raw in Chicago, the audience ripped him apart and he was unable to salvage what ended up being another awkward, boring promo. The crowd will sometimes do the same thing to John Cena, who they have similar feelings toward, but the difference is that Cena has enough charm and charisma to adapt on the fly to the temperature of the crowd and typically ends up cutting pretty strong promos. Reigns just doesn't have that ability and as hard as WWE tries to get him there, it really is a skill set that you either have or you don't, and I think it is pretty clear by now that Reigns doesn't have that.
Another issue really hurting Reigns is that WWE seems committed to making him into the next John Cena. This is made evident constantly on WWE programming, most recently when WWE brought several breast cancer survivors into the ring and had them stand there with Cena and Cena-in-training (Reigns). From a literal standpoint it makes sense, WWE has had great success with Cena and they would like to replace him with someone similar. But if you look at wrestling history, the torch that has been passed from one generational star to another has also gone from one unique talent to another.
When Hulk Hogan got stale at the top he was replaced at first by Lex Luger, who was portrayed in a similar fashion to Hogan as a super-babyface with a great physique who stuck up for America against various foreign heels. Well, Luger was a total dud and it wasn't until WWE discovered Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and then Steve Austin and The Rock, all of whom were radically different form Hogan, did they once again find prosperity. The top guy gets stale on top for a reason, and you can't just put makeup on the same character and expect him to take off like his predecessor did. By insinuating that WWE can just recreate Cena with a new guy is an insult to Cena's ability as a performer, suggesting that simply anybody could do it well just as long as they got pushed hard enough.
We can talk and theorize on how WWE could fix Roman Reigns until we are blue in the face. Maybe they could turn him heel and maybe then the fans will at least supposed to be booing him. He still won't get any better on the mic or in the ring and many fans who hate Roman not because he is a good guy but because he has been shoved down the proverbial throat of the consumer will state hate him, but at least it would be different. Maybe he should wear a mask? Maybe he should reform The Shield? Maybe he should take a break for six months and come back as a surprise?
We can talk all we want about those things but I think all of the issues pointed out above indicate one thing, and that is that Roman Reigns never will be the superhero that WWE desperately wants him to be. When WWE wants to team him up with Ambrose so the fans will at least cheer for when he wins, when you are afraid to let him speak in front of a hot crowd because he might get rattled, when you have to pump the breaks on a push because the fans are openly rejecting him more than they have any superstar in history; than that guy isn't going to be the next top guy in the company. Reigns can have a really solid career, maybe even get a couple world title reigns in, but he isn't going to be the next Cena, or the next Austin, or Bret Hart or anyone like that. The sooner WWE realizes that the sooner they can get to work on finding the guy who is going to be that generational game-changer.
You can follow Jesse Collings on Twitter @JesseCollings