2.20.2015

WWE Fastlane: The Roman Reigns Problem

Photo courtesy WWE.com
We've heard it a thousand times or more by now: Roman Reigns isn't ready. The former enforcer of The Shield and foremost contemporary of a Samoan wrestling dynasty is just too green to headline the grandest stage of them all - WrestleMania.

Of course, many of us were singing a different tune last year. Reigns was still with his already legendary stable, plowing through the ropes in a clinch and hitting energetic power moves - including one of wrestling's most beautiful spears - to save the day. It couldn't have been more apparent, however, that a returning Batista had been hand-picked to win the Royal Rumble and main event the big one.

The infamously poor reception Batista received upon his victory can, among other reasons, be chalked up to the fact that we all saw it coming at least a month out. The reason we were thrilled Reigns made it to the final two against The Animal is because it was unexpected. It was fresh. Plus, we had been in Reigns' corner since his impressive coming out party at the prior Survivor Series. There would surely have been backlash due to the relatively limited moveset Reigns has exhibited on television, but in the moment it was instantly exciting.

What a difference a year makes. Roman Reigns has won the Royal Rumble in questionable fashion, and we're not happy. Large contributors to this unrest are arguably the rumors that swirled all the way back to last year's WrestleMania - that Reigns had already been selected to headline in 2015. WWE has had an issue with telegraphing several months of television with the often predictable results of the Royal Rumble event, but here we all but knew for sure who would challenging whom for the world title much farther in advance. This also exhibits WWE's stubbornness, seeing as they are pushing forth with their selection despite Reigns' current and well-documented struggle to become a believable character.

Photo courtesy WWE.com
Some apologists have demanded Reigns' monster push be seen as a positive, as it further indicates John Cena's more than a decade on top is waning. To that, the response is simple: like him or not, Cena paid his dues, earned his spot organically, and hasn't relented. Reigns may well be a hard worker, but the way we're seeing him is not as a new face. He is being sold more as a remolding of the same old thing, and one that can hardly cut a promo, at that. More to the point, Reigns is being positioned to usurp the throne of the man who defeated the Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania... yet he's far from the most talented or most over worker in the company. So, are we complaining even though WWE seems to be moving new talent to the top as opposed to continuing the era of the Cenation? Yes! Yes! Yes!

Another argument in favor of Reigns is the ever-present concept that WWE works hardest to appeal to casual fans. We hardcore viewers will always be there, where channel-surfing casuals can be roped in by a good-looking guy like Reigns leaping through the air to deliver his Superman Punch. Speaking personally, however, there is not a single casual fan I know who does not root for Daniel Bryan. People I never thought would be interested in professional wrestling have tuned in just to see if Bryan wins. My own Cena-loving five-year-old daughter runs around, thrusting her fingers in the air and exclaiming "Yes" every time Bryan is on screen. Viewers of E!'s "Total Divas" even love the guy! Yet, two years in a row now, WWE has missed the Bryan boat and had to scramble to appease the American Dragon's fanbase. And anyone who doesn't believe Bryan vs. Brock Lesnar would be a believable contest, good ol' Jim Ross retorted best on his podcast: "Maybe you've never been beat up by someone smaller than you." I would add it's also possible you haven't heard of the time Eddie Guerrero defeated Brock Lesnar for the world title. David vs. Goliath is almost always a compelling story.

I can't say Bryan's return from injury has been botched, per se, seeing as it has made a Bryan fan of me (I was not a member of the "Yes Movement" in 2014, even going as far as to say the "Occupy Raw" segment was one of the worst Raw segments I'd ever seen), but it cannot be denied that Bryan's lack of significance in the Royal Rumble is also a contributing factor to this Roman Reigns problem. Yet again, the situation recalls last year's debacle when Bryan was not in the Rumble at all. According to reports, Bryan himself requested to be a part of SmackDown upon the show's return to Thursday nights, but would it not have prevented much of this mess had Bryan returned after the Rumble? Perhaps he could even have been a surprise at Fastlane a la Sting at Survivor Series to drive the idea that anything can happen at WWE specials (it is another free month for new subscribers, after all). And with that idea, fantasy booking time is over for now, I promise.

Photo courtesy WWE.com

So now we have Bryan - who was never defeated to lose his title - and Royal Rumble winner Reigns facing off at the inaugural Fastlane to determine who will face Lesnar for his title in the WrestleMania main event. It is difficult to envision a scenario in which Reigns does not go on to face Lesnar, whether it be one on one or a triple threat with Bryan due to some kind of no contest on Sunday. At this point, despite everything, I say just run with Reigns, and let Bryan shake his hand. Inserting Bryan at the last minute for a second year in a row could be difficult to stomach depending how it's sold. This new Bryan fan would rather wait to see it done properly rather than rushed. Give the man in his own match for now, whatever that may be.

On one hand, I'm sure WWE is enjoying the controversy as it brings attention to their brand. On the other, it makes the brand seem dull and out of touch, particularly when the "developmental" NXT is consistently showing it up with flying colors. It just goes back to WWE needing to listen to its fans, instead of playing their own game and adjusting crowd audio later.

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