Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Unknown Quantity of Roman Reigns

Is it really Reigns' fault he's in this position?
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Roman Reigns is in a tough spot right now, as he's veritably the rope in a tug of war between Vince McMahon's stubborn vision for "his" WWE and the fans who have revolted against him as the choice to headline WrestleMania against Brock Lesnar this year. Many critics of Reigns' push accuse McMahon of trying to ram him down the fans' throats despite him not being ready for that kind of main event exposure. Based on what he's shown so far since returning from an injury that kept him sidelined from September until December, the evidence supports his lack of readiness, but how much of it is Reigns' fault?

Usually, if a wrestler falters, a share of the blame can go to him/her even if terrible creative decisions factor in heavily. A good wrestler/performer can overcome bad booking. Dean Ambrose, for example, has been able to overcome his character being thrown through the stupid machine and having every single instance of bullshit deus ex machina tossed at him and remain as over as someone in his position can be. However, not everyone can overcome terrible booking at every point in their careers. Wrestlers sometimes have to evolve or get seasoned in order to transform bad direction.

Reigns, as most people can admit or agree, has gotten some godawful direction. All reports indicate that McMahon has taken over guiding the Reigns character to WrestleMania, even so far as personally scripting his promos. That terrible retelling of "Jack and the Beanstalk" that Reigns recited on RAW a few weeks back came right from the addled brain of the Chairman himself. Reigns has proven that he's not ready to carry the same mantel that a John Cena has been able to with painful clarity. But does that mean Reigns is clearly not ready to headline WrestleMania?

Of course, the elephant in the room is that Reigns at Mania will have to be the guy calling spots and direction for Brock Lesnar, who has famously followed where he was led since returning to WWE. Reigns could pull off a miracle in the ring, but it would be highly unlikely. However, match quality in a singular instance rarely determines quality of an arc, and i the ascension is memorable and well-crafted, then one might be able to forgive an underwhelming blowoff.

Which brings up the question whether any iteration of the current Reigns character could have headed into Mania with the support of a vast majority of fans (not just the minority tha weakly reacts to him). Would Reigns have been doomed to walk this path of ignominious fate all along? At this time last year, the world would have been relieved to have seen Reigns across the ring from Randy Orton at WrestleMania XXX, and he's barely changed since then. But of course, within that conceit is the disconnect located.

Reigns has changed the least of his three Shield brethren, which is why throwing him into the John Cena role was such a big mistake. His role in promos was to stand menacingly in the background and deliver a resounding catchphrase. He was never eased into that different role, nor did he show at any time during his previous run that he could. Remember, Cena came out of the gates, guns blazing, mouthing off at Kurt Angle when he debuted. Reigns barely said two words before Seth Rollins thwacked him with a steel chair to dissolve the best stable in WWE's history.

The question now becomes whether what Reigns' strengths were could have translated into a viable main event character, which ventures too much into the realm of fantasy booking with too many variables and too much faith in conducting a study in mass crowd psychology to say definitively whether it would have worked. But I would venture a guess that it would have been better to push Reigns as a strong, silent type whose economy of words kept him as a veritable wild card. Or maybe he could have been the one to turn heel. Or who knows, maybe the Shield never had to break up, and Reigns could have had Ambrose and to a lesser extent Rollins doing the heavy lifting for him on mic spots.

But as it stands right now, Reigns has become a post turtle, a figure who is way out of his league in his current position through barely any fault of his own. He's being used as a proxy in McMahon's war against his own fanbase, which in the end might end up erasing yet another viable person of color from true superstardom in WWE. The problem isn't that Reigns isn't ready; it's no one knows if he could be ready in any role that was feasibly available to him, and that's a cardinal sin by any booker or promoter.