WWE fans have been subjected to the Roman Reigns experiment for two years and it is not working. The former member of The Shield has done everything from winning Superstar of the Year at the 2014 Slammy Awards to winning the Royal Rumble to headlining Wrestlemania to becoming a two time WWE Champion. Despite how strong the company has booked him towards the end of last year, the majority of fans still have a tough time supporting him. What more has to be done at this point?
As a member of The Shield, Roman was a strong silent type who did all his talking in the ring while his pals Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins could work the mic as well as being athletically impressive. I personally saw his potential early on because of his physique and his devastating spear attack. They got over with the crowd as soon as they debuted. Once Rollins turned against his pals for The Authority, the heat he took from the crowd made fans get behind Roman and Dean big time.
Initially, Roman was the alternative answer to John Cena in 2014. Fan favorites like CM Punk had left the company and Daniel Bryan was out on injury. People who grew tired of Cena as champion saw Roman as a possible threat for Cena’s championship. But in a short matter of months, Cena lost the title in a devastating beatdown against Brock Lesnar while Roman got sidelined injury. The bad booking decisions started at this point.
First, Monday Night Raw would devote TV time to interviewing Roman via satellite so he could update fans on his recovery. He clearly came across stiff and scripted. Zero crowd reaction. Once he returned, he won Superstar of the Year at the Slammy Awards. This decision was very questionable in a year when Brock Lesnar had ended the Undertaker’s streak and made Cena job to him at Summerslam. What did Roman do exactly to deserve the honor outside of meaningless matches with Big Show?
On the same night as his Slammy win, Roman announces his entry into the Royal Rumble. Clearly he was the odds on favorite to win because he was inches away from eliminating Batista a year before. The fans, however, did not expect for Daniel Bryan to announce his return at the exact same time. Now the Yes! Movement was running wild once again for a repeat of Bryan’s Wrestlemania moment. Clearly that was not the case when Bryan was quickly eliminated that night alongside other fan favorites like Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler. It was nothing but resistance to Roman from then on. Everything he did from beating Bryan in a number one contender match to cutting promos about magic beans and tater tots would get scrutinized by the IWC.
When Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase to prevent Roman from winning the title at Wrestlemania 31, I felt it was the company’s way of giving him more time to earn his spot as the face of the WWE. Many people were initially comparing Roman’s megapush to that of Kevin Nash as ‘Diesel’ in 1995 which quickly lost steam as his weaknesses in the ring and the mic shined through. Roman was knocked down the card for a long program with Bray Wyatt while Seth was giving more opportunities to various opponents throughout the summer. But once they Seth and Roman were set to face each other for Survivor Series, the curse of talent injuries had struck down the WWE champion.
In a scramble to patch up a main event with a injury-ridden roster, WWE decided to do a tournament instead which Roman managed to win. He got screwed just moments later by a distracting Triple H and dropping the title to the latest Money in the Bank winner, Sheamus. Rather than come out on Raw the next night with great vengeance and furious anger, Roman comes out smiling and all sarcastic towards The Authority in demanding a rematch. He was now taking on the Daniel Bryan (or Stone Cold Steve Austin) role of the underdog babyface taking on the system that holds him down. Fans were not buying it.
By the time the TLC event took place, things appeared to be turning around for Roman. Within the span of 48 hours, Roman lost the title match to Sheamus, reacted by destroying everything in sight including Triple H, confronts Vince McMahon on Raw the next night, and finally gets his title win at the end of the show. This drew headlines not only for Mr. McMahon’s return but also for Roman to finally be booked right. No silly promos or smiling at fans. Just a big Samoan badass fueled by anger and frustration. The next week, however, things went back to normal.
So why the Roman hate? A poor buildup to Wrestlemania this Sunday does not help matters. Blaming the fan love for Bryan makes no sense now that he’s retired from the business. If I could point at one issue that Roman has, it’s not necessarily his in-ring work or his promo ability which at times can be OK given less dialogue to work with. It’s the suspension of disbelief that people cannot accept Vince McMahon’s prototypical top star as a rebel. Bryan worked well in the role because of his smaller size and real world looks that did not fit Vince’s image. Steve Austin fit a period when fans wanted a hero who cursed at and beat up his boss which was a huge contract to squeaky clean acts like Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart. As much as I cannot stand John Cena as a character, he plays the part of the urban Superman who does no wrong better than anybody. Though he gets a split reception every night, you can still believe in what he does in the ring and on the mic. Roman lacks identity without The Shield.
In the past weeks, WWE has tried everything to improve the Roman Reigns character. He no longer enters from the crowd, his promos are more short to the point, and he’s brawling with everyone he comes across. Yet, people still cannot cheer him. There was no doubt some internal panic on the night when Triple H beat down Roman to the point where fake blood was used to add dramatic effect. Between the way it was handled and the fans cheering for the heel, this was a bad sign for the Roman experiment.
Let me make it clear as I wrap this blog that I do not dislike Roman Reigns as a person. I do believe he’s a hard worker and doing his best with the position he’s in. Management is clearly holding him back from finding his voice. Many IWC folks say he should turn heel at Wrestlemania and win fans over with a tougher attitude in the way his cousin The Rock had done 19 years ago. If that’s not the case, then he should continue to work with opponents like Kevin Owens and AJ Styles who can help bring the best out of him as a face. But WWE must act soon. Between NXT talents like Finn Balor and injured stars like Rollins, there are superstars in the locker room right now who can easily take Roman’s spot at any moment.