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It is unfortunate that we look at Roman Reigns at the beginning of 2017 and largely feel the same about him as we did at the start of 2016, and in fact largely the same as we did at the start of 2015 as well. The same issues plague Reigns despite WWE's incredible effort to minimize those problems over the last several years and at this point it is becoming apparent that not only is Reigns not ready for the top spot in the company right now; but with years of opportunities now it is fair to believe that he is never going to be ready.

One thing that I think we did learn in 2016 about Reigns is that WWE has become at the very least satisfied with his popularity. Although it is clear that they want Reigns to assume a bigger role in the company (why else would they book the last two WrestleMania's around him finally reaching the mountaintop?) it also seems that they are happy with his current character. Although he is often booed in favor of the heel and many fans have shown their displeasure for Reigns, WWE is committed to building most episodes of Monday Night RAW around him and putting him in the main event.

They are not necessarily interested in protecting him the way they were earlier during his push; they are not really hesitant to put him against someone like Seth Rollins or Kevin Owens that fans will likely cheer for despite them being heels. In a lot of ways it looks like WWE has accepted that this is as big of a star as Reigns is ever going to become and are complacent with it.

So how could you rationalize being okay with the top babyface of your company being openly disliked by a large portion of your audience? The answer would be because that is how John Cena was treated by the fans and even with their disdain Cena was a successful face of the company. The issue with that theory is that I think the fans' animosity towards Reigns is different than it was for Cena. I think they are similar in that they both don't get enough credit for their ability in the ring, but that is about it. I always got the sense that fans didn't dislike Cena necessarily for the fact that he was untalented or he was doing a bad job, but rather that he had been overexposed and his character was stale, even if a promo is a good promo, you can only hear it so many times before it becomes tiresome. The noticeable hatred of Cena did not emerge during the formative years of his singles push, they only became really apparent after he had already been on top for years.

With Reigns the situation is different; his character is not stale and the booing came almost as soon as he began being pushed as a top singles star. The fans don't like him because in large part they don't respect his ability as a performer. I think he is a better worker than people give him credit for, but he is still far away from being a guy like Cesaro or Sami Zayn; someone that gets over almost entirely because the fans respect their wrestling ability so much. His real issue is that he does not exude enough marketable charisma and is at the most a mediocre promo. Cena might be an average wrestler, but even his detractors will admit that he is a great talker and has tons of charisma.

The problem now becomes that after watching Reigns in a top role for years, it seems unlikely that he is ever going to become a good talker the way Cena is. By demanding more out of Reigns on the microphone, fans might be asking for something that he is characteristically incapable of ever achieving. Some guys are natural talkers, some guys start off okay but turn into good talkers once they get enough experience and some guys are never going to become good promos no matter how much effort is put into teaching them. Unless Reigns makes a huge improvement on the microphone, I don't think he is ever going to get over the way WWE wants him to.

A symptom of this issue is that it cannot be rectified by traditional means. In the past if a wrestling company was trying to get a wrestler over at the main event level, the natural strategy would be to book them really strong and put them in exciting feuds. The problem today is that such a large portion of the fans are savvy to these booking strategies that they are not nearly as effective. It just so happens that the people who tend to jeer Reigns are also hardcore fans who are very well aware of how WWE wants to get Reigns over (by winning 10,000 matches). Having Reigns in a feud with Owens and getting him a big victory over Owens isn't going to move those fans to cheer for Reigns; in fact the opposite is true, a victory would just indicate that WWE is trying to manipulate those fans and that will be rejected in favor of more jeering of Reigns. WWE's main strategy in trying to get Reigns over with those fans is basically "We'll have him win a bunch of matches!" and that is why we feel the same way about Reigns year after year.

It doesn't have to be this way; Reigns could be a star in a different role. A lot of fans think if he turns heel he could be a bigger star. His promos might not improve that much as a heel but at the very least it will make sense for the fans to be booing him. He could also not be given the time on the microphone to suck--he could just be a quiet tough guy that kicks a ton of ass, something you'd think WWE would think about with Goldberg back in the company. The problem is that WWE doesn't want Reigns in either of those roles. He has been groomed to replace Cena so he has to at least fill the same role that Cena did, which for him involves being a babyface and talking on the microphone. Reigns is being asked to do a job that he can't do, like a point guard being asked to guard the opposing team's center.

So Reigns is probably going to defeat Owens at the Royal Rumble and become the Universal Champion; but WWE is way off if they think that is going to help get him over more than he is right now. Until Reigns gets put in a role that is more suitable for his skillset, he is always going to get met with an overwhelming amount of apathy.

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