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Swimming in the Deep End: Can Roman Reigns Sink or Survive?

raw-060214-roman-reignsThis past Monday, from the innards of a massive blizzard in Connecticut, Roman Reigns told a heart-warming story about his father, Sika Annoi’a. He talked about his father throwing him into the deep end of a pool, of feeling like he was going to drown, but ultimately fighting his way to the surface and thus learning to swim.

He related that story, I’m sure, because he knows he is in that position now.

Winning the Royal Rumble should be a glorious moment for any WWE superstar. It will forever be an accomplishment, a high point of their hopefully long and decorated career. This year’s Rumble winner, Roman Reigns, has reaped the unfortunate whirlwind of a bitter wrestling community, and thus been denied the adulation of such a momentous feat.

Signs are already visible that there is hope for Reigns. It won’t be easy, or simple, but he may yet win the fans back.

What is Best for Business?

This past Sunday, we got a rude awakening. I know I did. I didn’t like it, either.

I watched the Royal Rumble with my wife. I had made my prediction clear: I wanted Daniel Bryan to win the match. I presented my argument as to why it was the best direction for the company to go, and felt secure in that.

What unfolded before my eyes made my breath stop and my head spin. Daniel Bryan eliminated in a few short minutes after entering fifteenth? What was this? How did this make sense? What is this company doing? The crowd in attendance echoed my immediate reaction, and the entire event became drowned in discontent.

My wife simply stated, “Well, that’ll show the fans they can’t always get what they want.”

My comment to that was, “Thanks for that, Stephanie (McMahon).”

She shrugged, “Hey, I can’t help it. Maybe it was what’s best for business.”

In the hours that followed my initial disappointment in the Rumble’s outcome, those words made me pause. It began to make sense. It reminded me of that old showbiz saying: “Give the people what they want.” I, personally, have always added a second and equally important part to that old tune: “Give the people what they want, but don’t give them what they expect.” The people wanted Daniel Bryan to win, as I did. Everyone going into Royal Rumble 2015 was so focused on that fact, they entirely expected it to happen. When it didn’t happen, they felt ripped off. The sentiment was; “We payed to see our man win, and he didn’t, and I feel cheated!”

But what happens when you always get what you want and what you expect? There are no surprises. There’s no suspense. There’s no excitement.

Daniel Bryan being denied inclusion in last year’s Royal Rumble created the launch-pad for a revolutionary show of fan support, which proved that people have the power to make a difference in the direction WWE chooses to follow. More than ever, the fan is now conscious of his or her influence. But if Daniel Bryan had won this year simply because everyone wanted him to, then how far away are we from WWE programming that has fans vote for the night’s main event winner? Can’t you just see it, looming on the digital horizon?: “Cast your votes for tonight’s outcome! Log onto the WWE App, it’s free!” (Shudders.)

The fact that Daniel Bryan lost is a slap in the face from reality. Life isn’t fair, and the guy you want to win isn’t always going to win, and that’s the way it should be. You can only know victory after you suffer defeat, you can only know light from being in the dark. How long would you continue to cheer for a guy who wins every single match clean before you stopped watching out of boredom?

On a side note, I have sympathy for Vince McMahon, who in all likelihood, thought that he was giving the fans what they wanted. In the closing minutes of Royal Rumble 2014, what name were the fans chanting? Roman Reigns. Who has garnered significant fan support over the past year, despite winning no championships and cutting regular awful promo spots? Roman Reigns. Who was voted, by the fans, Superstar of the Year? Roman Reigns.

RAW_1102_Photo_002The fans don’t hate Roman Reigns. I don’t, either. But I, along with many, have voiced the opinion that Reigns is not ready to be WWE Champion. I, like everyone else, also possess my own biased opinions. I’m a fan first and an analyst second. I had my favourites this year: Bryan, and barring that, Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt. My dissatisfaction has more to do with not getting my ideal outcome than having Reigns win. I think the same can be said for the majority of the WWE Universe. The sooner that more people admit to this, the sooner we can all move on.

Something that will help this process along would be public displays of support for Reigns from his peers. Of all the faces currently on the roster, those holding the most fan sway seem to be Bryan, Ziggler and Ambrose. Ambrose has already stood beside Reigns as a brother in arms when the chips are down, and the support and endorsement of his former Shield partner will be critical over the next weeks and months. Bryan and Ziggler, likewise, need to demonstrate that they hold no animosity toward their fellow compatriot. Perhaps saving him from a beat-down, or “mugging” as Cole likes to put it, would be a nice way to start. Maybe a face to face interview on Miz TV. However it’s done, it would help to put Reigns back over with the masses.

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Who is Really Running the Show?

When Daniel Bryan was singled out by the Authority as talent undeserving to be the face of the WWE, it brought light to an element of sports entertainment which bordered on breaking kayfabe. They eluded to the fact that outcomes were predetermined by those with influence inside the company. They found a way to bring the reality of pro wrestling into the light and weave it into the drama, without losing the suspense of disbelief. It was brilliant. It added wonderful layers of intrigue to the storylines, which could then be further pondered, discussed and debated by viewers and wrestling analysts.

When Daniel Bryan was excluded from last year’s Rumble, and when Batista came in after a prolonged absence to win, it was seen as a move orchestrated by the Authority, and they played it up as such. Their plan was to get rid of people like Daniel Bryan and put in place people a bit more “suitable” for the top spot, namely Batista or Randy Orton. This gave the people an injustice to fight against, a crime worth avenging.

This year, as the bearded warrior was thrown legitimately to the arena floor by Bray Wyatt (with help from Rusev), that was not the case. There was no injustice done. Daniel Bryan was given a legitimate chance to compete, and he failed. Nobody from the Authority interfered, no crooked referees, no rigged number draw, no handicaps, no excuses. Daniel Bryan was eliminated fair and square. Roman Reigns won fair and square. This time, there’s no basis for a “Yes!”- style grassroots movement.

Something interesting happened on Raw the night after Rumble, and it deserves more attention. Byron Paxton, in a sit-down interview with Reigns, brought up the point that there are those who believe Roman was “hand-picked to succeed” by the “higher-ups”. It should be noted that Triple H and Stephanie McMahon came out and showed their obvious displeasure at Reigns’ winning the Rumble match. Therefore the Authority, who take credit for pulling strings for Randy Orton, Batista and now Seth Rollins, are opposed to Roman Reigns’ success. Who, then, are the “higher-ups” that Byron is referring to in respect to hand-picking the powerhouse?

Could this potentially add to another layer to the already murky world of kayfabe reality?

400x242xroman-reigns-and-triple-h-2159735.jpg.pagespeed.ic.gy_f0TQgflA big problem with the present storyline of Reigns versus the Authority is that it hasn’t been given enough time or attention. Since his return from injury, Reigns has been locked in a feud with Big Show, and Big Show is now an enforcer for the Authority, but that’s about as close as it got. The Authority was not making life hard for Reigns the way it had for Ziggler or Bryan or Ryback or even John Cena. They seemed mildly threatened but largely indifferent to Reigns. If Reigns hadn’t been out with an injury, he no doubt would have been inserted into Team Cena at Survivor Series and probably would have performed the role that was inhabited by Dolph Ziggler. If it had been Roman standing alone at the night’s end, victorious as Sole Survivor, saving everyone’s career, it would have made him a central figure in the Authority storyline and a major player going into Royal Rumble. But he wasn’t, and now the WWE creative team have to start such a rivalry almost from scratch. That won’t be easy, but it is possible.

A good way to start would be the systematic targeting of Reigns at every turn by the Authority. He needs to walk around with a target on his back, he needs to be hounded by Kane, Big Show, J&J Security, H, Stephanie and Seth Rollins. This would not only give his fellow faces a chance to come to his aid, but it would also build sympathy in the fans’ eyes. Sympathy is one thing Roman Reigns doesn’t exactly have a wealth of right now, but it’s something he deserves.

Something else he deserves is respect.

Family Matters

Curtis Axel takes the name of his grandfather and the name of his father, both famous and recognized pro wrestlers, and puts them together to adopts the ring name as a way to let people know the stock he comes from. This is the same trick Rocky Maivia adopted, before he wised up and shortened it to The Rock.

Cody Rhodes, Ted Dibiase, Randy Orton, they all wear their family names proudly and pay homage to their wrestling heritage. Even Bret and Owen Hart, Natalya, The Usos and Chavo Guerrero Jr. make their heritage known almost as a secondary part of their gimmicks. “Here comes the second-generation star!” or “Shades of dad!” and so on. It’s a fact worth bringing up.

The fact that Roman Reigns belongs to a proud wrestling family is important, and it’s something the fans cannot really fault the man for himself.

If anyone gets upset because he moved up through development to the big-time a bit faster than others, they need to recognize the reality of the world. If your friend or brother works for a company, your likelihood of getting a job there is better, especially if your friend or brother is a good worker. If your dad owns the company, chances are you can get a job there if you want to if you show you’re able.

Curtis Axel is a wrestler now because of who his father was, but is he champion now? Regardless of who his father was, I honestly doubt Axel will ever be WWE Champion in his career (sorry, Michael).

The point is, if Roman Reigns absolutely sucked in the ring, he would not have lasted as long or gone as far as he has, regardless of his lineage. In his interview recently with Byron Paxton, he aptly remarked that even though his family may have given him opportunities, the responsibility to make things work was still up to him alone.

wik0wgThis is something that sets Roman Reigns apart from other superstars in his position. He changed his name to exclude Annoi’a. He chose not to advertise the fact that he belonged to probably the most decorated wrestling family in the history of WWE. He chose to let his in-ring ability speak for itself. Just like other top men before him, he simply worked hard, entertained the people, and earned the people’s support. He became popular with punching, not with pandering, and certainly not with paternal influences.

That, I believe, is a distinctly strong angle to lean on as Reigns goes forward. He can set himself apart by being the self-made man, going his own way and carving out his own spot through hard work, instead of relying on his father or his cousins or uncles. This hard-working ethic is admirable, and something to which the fans can respond.

Just Keep Swimming

Roman Reigns needs to learn from the mistakes and successes of past stars.

Hulk Hogan and John Cena have always had their share of haters. Ultimately, they will be seen as two of the greatest stars ever to set foot in the squared circle. Part of the reason is their commitment and consistency. Hogan never dropped his persona, never stopped believing in himself, and love him or hate you have to respect that. Same goes for Cena, who through all the negativity thrown his way from fans all around the world, he never stops preaching the word and smiling for the kids. I might find it irritating, but I’ll remember them for it.

hulk_hogan_-_terry_bolea_153-365x450_display_image salute

With the onset of Reigns’ first hater sect, it may make him doubt his ability, doubt his worth. If fans smell that weakness, he will lose them. Fans want to cheer for a hero with strength of character, and he cannot lose sight of who he is and what his goals are.

Batista, being met with a similar situation last year, chose to take an extreme reaction, which was: “I’m going to WrestleMania, and I will be the WWE Champion. Deal with it!” He said it with such sourness towards the fans who had turned on him, and it made us want to boo him harder. It became his gimmick, and he embraced the heel role instead of a planned baby-face run.

Batista-Royal-Rumble-2014_crop_650Roman cannot take this route, at least I don’t think he should. If he wants to be a hero like Hogan or Cena or even Daniel Bryan, he cannot turn on the fans. He needs to accept their reaction, to acknowledge their right to cheer or boo and have whatever opinion they want. He needs to make it clear that regardless of how they feel about him, he will continue to show up and perform to the best of his ability, because it’s what he loves to do. That is something the fans may find it hard to boo against.

Roman Reigns has truly been tossed into the deep end of the pool. He has been thrown into the WWE Championship picture with distinct disadvantages. He not only has opponents in Brock Lesnar and the Authority, but also in the WWE Universe. In such a position, it’s very possible he may drown. He may fail to win the people back, and the history of Roman Reigns, once told, will be akin to that of many past pushes, former hopefuls, who ended up falling short of their potential. If he fights, and never gives up, he may yet have a chance to become the iconic star many people hope he was destined to be.

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