Missing the Marks is where we explore the gap between the wrestling industry and the expectations of its most diehard fans. This week we take on the backlash of Roman Reigns.
Once the most talked about member of the most exciting stable in the last decade, Roman Reigns was being groomed for greatness almost as soon as The Shield made the transition from NXT to WWE. He was nicknamed The Power House and with good reason. He had a series of charging attacks that combined speed and strength to create one of the most viscerally attractive fighting styles in WWE at the time. He could move fast and hit hard. Plus he had the physical charisma to carry a match, and the look of a marketable champion.
Things however started to go sour for him soon after The Sheild broke up. Left to his own devices he no longer shared a third of the ring time with two excellent partners, so he had to up his in ring work by 66%. This meant he could no longer simply tag in, create a massive impact and tag out again. Now he would have to start a match, control its down points, effectively sell his opponents, and do the little things between the hard hitting power moves.
Unfortunately, this isn’t what he did. He remained the high impact player he always was, becoming stale and repetitive while doing so. His 2-dimensional style and is lack of technical storytelling skill meant that for many fans he simply wasn’t ready for the main event. Despite these faults, he won the Rumble and defeated former champion Daniel Bryan at Fast Lane.
Too green and too protected, the fans made their displeasure known by saying exactly what they felt about him on social media and at live events. Fans do not like Roman Reigns and they want WWE booking to know it.
His backlash was simmering just before his absence in 2014. Twitter was rumbling about him being a dreaded “five-moves-of-doom” performer. His hernia could have been a blessing in disguise. It gave fans time to simmer down while WWE figured out how to fix is shortcomings. While he was away his former stable mate Dean Ambrose stepped into his spot and a fine job he made of it too. He even had a couple of barnstorming headline spots in feuds with Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt.
If it went on like this WWE could have had a really good thing. But during the Slammy’s Roman Reigns won Superstar of the Year. It was a clear piece of kayfabe as Ambrose was by far and away the most popular superstar in the organisation. It was Ambrose that made the Universe forget about Bryan, not Roman Reigns. But the Slammy was an indication of their direction and Ambrose has been as directionless as a compass in a magnet factory ever since. Reigns has been getting booed by the audience ever since.
But they shouldn’t. It isn’t Roman Reigns you have a problem with. It’s his booking. Let’s look at the two things that fans can’t get over. Firstly, his move set. Yes, perhaps he dosen’t have the chops to know how to pace a match, but his moves aren’t in question. Over the years at several indie and developmental territories, Roman Reigns has a amassed a list of moves that, while perhaps not huge, is certainly substantial and well rounded.
But WWE doesn’t want him to come across as substantial or well rounded. They want him to be huge, devastating, and effective. His motto is that he assess, then he attacks. They want his style to be swift, efficient, powerful, and decisive. This means there can be no room for mediocrity. No room for the little things that add up to make a memorable match. He must be a Samoan Superman and nothing else. But this isn’t his fault. He can’t perform his Springboard Chop or Leg Drop because they simply don’t fit in with the WWE vision of what Roman Reigns should be.
Look at his recent PPV performances. In his bout with Daniel Bryan he increased his range to match Bryan with an impressive suplex game. He used a series of pumphandle suplexes and didn’t break his grip; outside the ring he sent Bryan flying over his head with a belly-to-belly on the mat. But you don’t think of that when you think of Reigns do you? You don’t think of him as any kind of technician.
This is because creative have failed him. When Roman was pulling these moves off commentary didn’t even use the word “suplex” once. Even though they went to all the trouble of legitimising him with a technical general like Daniel Bryan yet they don’t create a narrative around how Reigns is fighting him with vastly increased move set.
This extends to his place as a main eventer. His style is maintained in order to get his rugged good looks on the PPV posters and hopefully into the hands of the mainstream media, as decreed by Vince McMahon. Roman didn’t decide to win the Rumble. Roman didn’t decide to beat Daniel Bryan at Fast Lane. He doesn’t have the kind of clout that Triple H or John Cena can pull. He doesn’t have access to a shovel.
That’s the main reason I believe this anger to be misplaced. But you’ve had your way. He isn’t facing Rollins at Extreme Rules, Orton is. If his renewed feud with Big Show is any indication, he’s back in the upper midcard and won’t be on the main event trail for a while.
And do you know what this means? You’ll cheer for him again. Remember the kind of reactions Ryback (and how people can boo Roman and still support Ryback baffles me) was getting when he was accelerated to the main event? It wasn’t exactly with trumpets and confetti. But he got dropped down to the undercard in a jobbing tag team with Curtis Axel. Now he’s flirting with the main event again and he’s doing it to the tune of “Feed Me More”. Roman will be the same. Once the audience are sated and Roman occupies a place on the roster they feel befits him better the crowd will lose their divisive attitude to him and join along with his war cries once again. Believe that.