Friday, February 27, 2015

Big Dave on Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan, and a Note about Promotion, the Fans, and Manipulation

Reigns may or may not be ready, but if he's not, the blame can be on McMahon's lack of manipulation of the fans
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Dave Meltzer dedicated a huge block of text in the latest edition of the Wrestling Observer newsletter on the Fast Lane main event and its far-reaching implications about the mind of Vince McMahon. It is worth reading whether you're a subscriber or if you're like me, some shithead who read it away from the rest of the newsletter when it was re-posted at r/SquaredCircle. It's a longer read, and those who aren't familiar with/comfortable reading Meltzer's style of prose may struggle to get through it. However, I would exhort everyone to power through it, because the analysis is mostly solid. I would wholly disagree with his stinging jabs here and there that go back to his belief that Bryan is only "catchphrase over," but other than that, it's a solid look into the history of who has drawn and how all the leading factors that Vince McMahon seems to think create a draw aren't as hard and fast as history might suggest.

One line sticks out most conspicuously through its prescience:
I learned long ago that a good promoter listens to the fans, and a great promoter completely manipulates the fans.
The dirty truth in wrestling promotion is that while the fans are the best and most reliable focus group, giving them exactly what they want on more than a special occasion doesn't work as well as one thinks. For every satisfaction provided, a good promoter has to leave two dangling edges to keep the fans coming back. Additionally, wrestlers like Bryan, who came from the indies with a sizable prefab fanbase, don't come around with great frequency in this age of WWE hegemony. Sure, the company can keep coasting on fumes because of said dominance, but at some point, one might think McMahon would be interested in creating a star on his own.

The problem here is that Roman Reigns was not ever dead on arrival. He was the Hammer of The Shield, and fans quickly took to him as affectionately as they did the other two, more acclaimed, more storied members. Making him the heir apparent to John Cena was never the worst idea, but the execution of his rise to power was botched severely. Some might point to how he was handled upon his return from hernia surgery, but he wasn't lighting the world on fire right after Seth Rollins disbanded the group either. Meltzer danced around the biggest reason why, but he never explicitly wrote that Reigns was never over as an individual as much as he was a part of the group.

He had to be built up, and McMahon never put the effort in. Rollins was always Triple H's pet project, so the reason why he is where he is is backed up by months of homework. Dean Ambrose got over, sure, but it was in spite of terrible direction, and no one knows if he will ever recover, whether on his own merits or if WWE ever will get off its collective ass and realize what it has with him. Reigns got the least amount of work out of the gate. McMahon acted like a good promoter and pushed Reigns because the fans cheered for him as a member of The Shield, but he never manipulated them into a frenzy over him because he assumed that Reigns, the singular whole, was going to remain as over as he was as a part of a bigger cog.

If McMahon wanted to jam Reigns into the WrestleMania XXXI main event, he had two options. The first would have been to do some actual work getting him over as more than a shitty, nursery-rhyme spewing mouthpiece for his own shitty promo ideas. The second idea was to have never broken up The Shield in the first place. Both show the lack of creative range that exists within Titan Towers right now. No maxim ever existed that says a successful stable has to do stable things to remain a viable entry. Did the Four Horsemen exclusively work atomicos? Even in the recent past, Evolution never was the well-oiled machine that The Shield was as a stable. and conversely, The Shield was never given a chance NOT to play a role different than what it had been introduced as.

And so the Reigns/Brock Lesnar quandary isn't so much a tragedy just because of misunderstanding process and category as endgame like Meltzer suggests, but because it shows how lazy and unwilling to put in the work in manipulating the fans into buying Reigns that WWE and specifically McMahon has become. Malaise doesn't loom over the entirety of the company like it is over the main roster. NXT bookers and writers don't have any problem getting juice out of its roster, and it's not just because the best people who inhabit the territory are insanely talented at what they do best, from Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens all the way down the line to Tyler Breeze and Enzo Amore. But pride and sloth just seem to be in McMahon's way.

As an aside to the main thrust of this commentary, the final paragraphs of Meltzer's original piece are sobering as all hell from a business standpoint or a standpoint of importance within the greater narrative, if you care about these things. Sure, Bryan will continue to be the best wrestler in the goddamn world, and as long as he can go 10-20 minutes with the WWE's rogues' gallery in any given match, he'll remain absolutely golden from an artistic point of view. But the picture of him as the world's most technically proficient Hacksaw Jim Duggan? Yeah, that mental image is so plausible that I can see it now.