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When John Cena took out the big guns and annihilated Roman Reigns on Monday night during their promo exchange, the wrestling world lit up on social media discussing the content and ramifications of what had to be one of the most interesting promos in recent WWE history. In a swift flow of words that only a few stars in recent history could ever pull-off, Cena basically told Reigns on RAW everything that was wrong with him; or to put it in another way, Cena repeated what many frustrated WWE fans have been saying for years.
One of the first things Cena brought up in his promo was that Reigns had been protected by WWE management at every phase of his career. That very statement is in part what made Cena's promo so exciting for fans; for years WWE has tried to market Reigns as the uber-babyface to replace Cena, and that all of the fans loved him; even going as far as to lower the live audience mics during broadcasts so that the viewers at home wouldn't hear him being booed out of the building. The fact that Cena would come out in a scripted promo and basically destroy that facade by pointing out that Reigns couldn't cut good promos, that the fan's didn't buy him as a top guy and that WWE had put a ridiculous amount of effort in trying to get him over, was kind of mind-blowing. Whatever inadequacies WWE had been trying to mask from fans (and at this point it is hard to believe there is a significant amount of the fanbase that doesn't think Reigns has flaws) they were blown up and put on display by Cena.
Now, there are two ways to evaluate the promo. The more radical view is that WWE management is finally ready to acknowledge Reigns' flaws and had Cena go out on RAW to eviscerate him to both teach him a lesson and also signify that Reigns is no longer going to be the guy WWE wants to replace Cena. If you took the promo at face value, that is a logical conclusion to come up with. I don't really think that was the case though; I think it is more than likely WWE had Cena do a worked-shoot promo on Reigns as kind of a wink to the hardcore fans who are sick of Reigns' never-ending push, and attempt to shock the fans into becoming more interested in the feud.
From that perspective, I think it was brilliant. I know that I am much more interested in their feud than I was last week, and now I am more motivated to watch RAW next week to see what happens next, as well as increasing my anticipation for their match at No Mercy. If Cena and Reigns did a normal promo on Monday where they talked about how they respected each other but that they won't be holding back during their match; I'm not writing a piece about that promo later in the week and it doesn't get nearly the reaction on social media that this one did.
The key for the remainder of this feud is just out how "real" the promo was. Is what was said going to be indicative of how the feud is going to be booked; or was it kind of a one-time thing that WWE did to help pop interest? The most memorable promo in RAW history in my opinion is C.M. Punk's "pipe bomb" promo, which was not dissimilar from Cena's promo on Reigns, in that the content was largely based on reality and was sympathetic to hardcore fans feelings on the matter. The reason that promo really goes down as an all-time great segment though, is that following it WWE booked the feud to cater towards the brilliance in the promo. Punk talked about how he was the best; and then he went out and defeated Cena, clean, and proved that he was the best. The promo encouraged fans to really get behind Punk, and WWE responded by booking Punk to have enough tangible success to justify his feelings and the fans' support of him.
My opinion is that the promo was great in a vacuum, but in a few months we are going to look back on the promo and remiss on what could have been. My prediction for the ensuing next few months is that Reigns and Cena are going to have three matches; one at No Mercy, one at TLC in October, and a final match at Survivor Series. Cena wins the first match but Reigns wins the match at TLC and the blow-off match at Survivor Series. Then Reigns heads into the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania and the plan remains the same; Reigns defeats at Brock Lesnar for the world title in the main event of WrestleMania. While the promo on RAW was fun; ultimately it won't really mean anything for the future, Reigns is still the guy and WWE hasn't wavered in the faith they have in him.
I think this for a couple of reasons, the first being obviously the fact that nothing has stopped WWE from pushing Reigns to the moon over the last several years, so why would they stop now? The timing of the Reigns/Cena feud is also indicative of the future plans for Reigns. Reigns vs Cena is a highly anticipated matchup, so why is WWE wasting their first encounter at a B-show like No Mercy? The reason is that WWE has bigger plans for Reigns at WrestleMania, which include wrestling for the world title. The plan following last year's WrestleMania was for Reigns to face Lesnar in 2018, and right now that still appears to be the case. In some ways, maybe WWE thinks that by having Cena publically acknowledge Reigns' faults, the fans will ultimately become more accepting of Reigns in the long term, because it will be a more honest presentation of Reigns as a star.
Another possibility is that this feud is being used as a way to turn Reigns heel. Cena would be the ideal babyface for Reigns to turn heel against; after all to many fans Reigns already is a heel--the only portion of the fanbase that doesn't feel that way is mostly the same fans that adore Cena. You could have Reigns turn heel by beating up some mid-card talent that the hardcore fans adore, like Sami Zayn, but it wouldn't be nearly as effective since the fans who support Zayn would ALREADY be booing Reigns, regardless of what he did. If you are turning Reigns heel, you are really just turning him for children and few remaining Reigns loyalists; and Cena is easily the biggest babyface to those fans.
A Reigns heel turn has been talked about for years and it almost exhausting to discuss it some more. WWE hasn't been interested in turning Reigns heel yet; they either want him to be the babyface that carries the company, or some shade of gray between heel and babyface, depending on who you ask and when you ask them. At this point it seems unlikely that WWE is ever going to give up on making Reigns the face of the company, so a heel turn would really only be a temporary thing, with the logic being that you can only truly be a babyface if you are a heel first. The biggest pure babyface acts in WWE (Cena, Orton, Styles, New Day, Nakamura, Rollins) all started out as heels, with the exception of Nakamura, so there is some truth to that thinking.
Would turning heel fix Roman Reigns? It would depend on what the ultimate goal is for Reigns. If you wanted to make him into the definitive heel of the company; I see it working out pretty well. The fans would boo Reigns forever and eventually when a beloved babyface finally faces him and knocks him off, that babyface is going to get a huge boost; just like a guy like Sting did against Ric Flair, or Batista against Triple H, or Steve Austin against Shawn Michaels. However, I don't think that is the ultimate goal for a Reigns heel turn; I think it is far more likely they are turning Reigns heel with the idea that he will eventually be a babyface again and they can resume their plan of him taking over for Cena. That wouldn't work, because Reigns would emerge from his heel hiatus and unless he has become a much better talker and discovered some unknown charisma, the fans are still not going to buy him as a top babyface, and he will get the same reaction from the crowd that he is getting now. The reason Reigns isn't over as a babyface isn't because WWE screwed up their booking for him, it is because his personality doesn't resonate with a bulk of the audience. Changing the way they book him will not really accomplish that, because that was never the issue in the first place, until his personality is completely altered and fans actually can connect with him, they will really just be spinning their tires.
One last tidbit I found interesting about the entire promo exchange between Cena and Reigns was that throughout the entire time Cena was ragging on Reigns, he never commented on Reigns' record in the ring. Cena never said Reigns couldn't win big matches and couldn't defeat a top guy like himself; he attacked Reigns' inability to cut a good promo and his so-so charisma. The story so far isn't that Reigns is a crappy competitor that can't be Cena, it is that Cena doesn't believe that Reigns has the personality or charisma to replace a guy as dynamic as himself.
Eventually, Reigns and Cena are going to have a wrestling match, which is ideally what the promo was trying to get people excited for. However, due to the content of the promo, the result of the match doesn't matter at all. Reigns could beat Cena 100 times in a row and it wouldn't really impress Cena or change anything. It wouldn't be until Reigns cut some amazing promos and showed unbelievable charisma would Cena really think Reigns is "ready". It is interesting that they would set up a feud where the outcome of the match doesn't matter at all.
Overall, the promo Cena cut on Reigns was fun to watch and was a huge improvement over the normal Reigns segment. However, I just have the feeling that at the end of the feud Reigns is going to win and Cena is going to stand in the ring at the end of the final match and tell everyone that Reigns deserves to take his spot. That kind of endorsement won't help Reigns at all, and in December we are going to feel the same way about Reigns that we do right now.
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