Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Issues of 2016: Roman Reigns, Walking Talking Point

When is a wrestler not a wrestler? When he's a sentient topic for argument, that's when
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The year 2016 was eventful for many things, both beneficially eventful and actively harmful for professional wrestling. Some of these developments were fun, and others were weird, but the most tedious, annoying one has to be the continuation of Roman Reigns' metamorphosis from "professional wrestler" into "corporeal hot take subject." People just can't talk about Reigns without frothing at the mouth. A large swath of the wrestling community still reviles Reigns for merely existing. A smaller but extremely vocal minority wonders aloud why people just don't like him or think he's a good worker. Honestly, one might find more reasonable conversation around the Kardashians.

Roman Reigns as wrestling's Kardashian makes sense given the immense sense of divide both entities cause within their spheres of influence. Sure, Reigns didn't rise to prominence of a confluence of a famous father, standing in the LA socialite scene, and having released a sex tape, but much like Kim Kardashian, he may get unfairly maligned by a large portion of people who are predisposed to paying attention to him. Unlike Paris Hilton, who also was a LA socialite with a famous sex tape, Kardashian and the rest of her family stayed famous because she hustled, man. You may not like the game she runs, but you probably have to respect it. She may have gotten her foot in the door of fame through dubious means, but the amount of marketing she has done to keep herself relevant has been insane. In the same vein, Reigns has put in that hustle, at least in the ring, but he still has a mess of critics who hate him based solely on preconceived notions that he's a Vince McMahon-ordained body guy and nothing else. These critiques are nothing new; in fact, the discussion of Reigns' negatives is about as boilerplate as angst over Triple H's god-push from 1999 through 2008.

But Reigns and Kardashian also share the insanely chatty and defensive corps of super-believers. Stan Twitter is relentless.
This is a fake tweet, obvs. But you can see it in your mind being real, right?
Granted, Reigns Stan Twitter doesn't go nearly as far as the Kardashians' army of delusional online defenders. Reigns defenders don't resort to harassment and doxxing or other things that I've heard go on within the depths of Pop Culture Celebrity Twitter. However, some of the same behaviors are present: extreme defense of Reigns' abilities, denigrating of "rivals" even if the necessity of comparison is thin at best, seeking out people who don't like Reigns to shame/argue with them, expectation that people have to like Reigns.

The shame part of it all is that [extremely Liberal Clinton Supporter Twitter voice] THE DISCOURSE has room for healthy Reigns debate. He's definitely good, but how good is he? In the ring, like anyone else in WWE not named AJ Styles, he's competent most of the time and shows flashes of greatness, but has his flaws that can become fatal if things go pear-shaped within the match. What's different between Reigns, who bumps well, has great signature spots, and brawls above-average but whose selling takes a lot of importance away from those bumps and who suspiciously can't carry the middle of a match while working as an underneath babyface, and the following wrestlers?
  • Dean Ambrose (excellent in-ring energy in his best matches and great brawler, but has shitty dive/rebound lariat spots and is BAD when he visibly doesn't give a shit)
  • Sasha Banks (great at building to spots and executing on moves, but takes dangerous bumps against people who are questionably suited to protect her on them)
  • Kevin Owens (most creative non-cruiserweight offense on main roster and great at bullying wrestlers of any size, but relies too damn much on spamming the chinlock)
  • Dolph Ziggler (still a hellacious bump taker and seller, but who insists on working longform matches despite having the most impotent offense this side of a Brock Osweiler-quarterbacked offense on anti-Viagra)
The answer is that those wrestlers are supposed "smark favorites" and Reigns is, again, a Vince McMahon body guy. Sure, stereotypical "smark" archetype loves indie wrestlers or smaller guys or anyone that this strawman (face it, that "archetype" is a goddamn strawman) feels is "disliked" by McMahon. But isn't it just as disingenuous to argue against such a strawman with the same lack of nuance? The arguments around Reigns are extremist everywhere, no matter how much defenders of his will insist otherwise. It also takes away from the fact that Reigns, as part of the greater cast of WWE wrestlers, is an able hand, and when he finds chances where he can work more heelishly (like in the AJ Styles matches), he excels.

But honestly, the cacophony on both sides is off-putting, and to further drive the point home, while more people scream into the void about how Roman Reigns is the second coming of Satan, they're not the ones in my Twitter-sphere except usually when they're quoted by the Reigns Stan crowd in an attempt to point and laugh at them. Honestly, I don't need to be beaten over the head with how "bad" Kevin Owens is to know that Reigns is good. I don't need to see dumb opinions thrust onto the timeline in a crusade to show how bad the genpop is at identifying great wrestlers. I certainly don't have to like Reigns either, because I'm a human being whose preferences are shaped by experiences that are uniquely my own.

What's worse is that this attempt at screaming conversion is turning a dude from a wrestler into a talking point. Talk about erasure. I don't know when wrestling went from something to enjoy to a tiresome thing to argue about creatively, but I'm tapped out. I'm ready for Roman Reigns to decide he'd rather open a sandwich joint in Jacksonville than watch him anymore, but if that happens, good lord, someone's gonna be the next wrestler turned talking point. It never ends.

It never ends.