Was this the week Roman Reigns finally connected with the WWE fan base?
That’s the overwhelming question coming off of Raw this past Monday with Roman Reigns leaving the show as WWE World Champion.
Leaving with the championship is almost a side note though as strange a thought as that is. The fact Roman Reigns would one day be WWE champion was a near enough guarantee, barring injury or bizarre event then it was happening, that much had been telegraphed over the last year and a half. What wasn’t a guarantee was whether Reigns would be able to seriously connect with the fans before he got the title and before this week it was looking just as far away as ever.
The build to Reigns versus Sheamus for TLC had been just another chapter in the mishandling of Roman Reigns.
The weird, cartoonish promos and lack of fire in the brawls were all present and accounted for. It was standard build to a Roman Reigns PPV match. Now all we needed was a lacklustre match at the show, and it would be another month as usual. But once we hit TLC that’s not what we got.
Based on the lack of substantial build and the fact it was a Sheamus-Roman Reigns main event, the crowd were against it from the start, with a “let’s go Cena/Cena sucks” chant erupting early on. What also happened from the start was Reigns and Sheamus working incredibly hard, using the TLC stipulation as best they could, incorporating brawling and decent spots, generally having a good match that gradually got the crowd involved. By the time Reigns went for one of his final climbs toward the belt, the fans were loud and on their feet. Interference from the rest of the League Of Nations (I hate that name) and the odds were typically stacked against Reigns, leading to the loss to Sheamus again. This time though something different happened, specifically unbridled rage from Reigns. Destroying Rusev, Alberto Del Rio and Sheamus with a chair, this was something we hadn’t seen before, this was raw, pure and exciting. It escalated as Triple H and Stephanie came out with Triple H getting destroyed for his trouble, who cares if he wasn’t in the wrong at that moment, he’s the Authority and he, had it coming and the crowd loved it. There was even a “thank you Roman chant”, whoever thought they’d see that day? There was no terrible quips, no sufferin’ succotash, this was what Reigns does best but that we so rarely see, a silent, unyielding force of nature.
The stakes were ratcheted up on Raw the next night when the ultimate wrestling authority figure, Vince McMahon returned to take down Reigns. Yes, there was references to McMahon’s genitals but what Roman said had a point, goading McMahon into giving him a title match. Plus if anyone can make a successful underdog face it’s Vince McMahon, he has a bit of experience in that department. Then came the match itself where everything but the kitchen sink was thrown at Reigns and still he persevered, still he fought and eventually won, even delivering a Superman Punch to the boss himself. The most important thing, the fans in attendance loved it; the internet hasn’t shut down, and it feels the reception has been positive.
So what’s changed? What’s been done differently from the last year? The answer would be two things, the first that TLC and Raw played to Reign’s strengths, they kept his promo time short and sharp, almost everything he said had a purpose and he didn’t have to tell a ten-minute story which is where things tend to go wrong for him right now. He got to do most of his talking in the ring which again, plays to his advantage of being a physical, powerful guy. To quote Paul Heyman’s ECW booking philosophy, accentuate the positive, hide the negative. Not a tough concept.
The second part of that answer is the deeper connection and appeal to the fans. After the match at TLC, the fans saw something interesting, exciting and something that on an individual level they could all relate to. That unadulterated anger and rage that comes from when you’ve been unfairly treated or screwed, this being pro wrestling it played out in front of you in the most literal senses. A man screwed so many times he couldn’t take it anymore, and he just didn’t care. Like Stone Cold representing the every man rebelling against the wealthy boss, this was the every man being angry at the man, the authority.
WWE needs to keep Reigns on this path, in this style, not necessarily opposing the Authority until the end of time but as a man of few words who talks through his actions and is always just on the edge of control. Being a pure ass kicking force of nature who is just here to fight would be something different in WWE that we only get close to when Brock Lesnar comes to town every so often, and it works out okay for him. Don’t let Roman get bogged down in complex stories and petty grudges, his experience with Bray Wyatt showed that wasn’t the way forward.
I know I don’t often say this but please WWE, keep doing what you’re doing!