The (Real) Problem(s) with Roman Reigns

Monday, March 23, 2015. Over 2+ years from the time of this article

There is an aggressiveness, and almost a coldness to WWE’s marketing strategy that is off putting to even the most ardent, hardcore supporter. World Wrestling Entertainment have truly and completely mastered branding— the show, the individual matches, certain individual awards, the ropes sometimes, even you the viewer — are all branded somehow. The amount of salesmanship that goes into any given three hour episode of Monday Night Raw is remarkable, and truly admirable in a way. It is also tiresome to sit through as a fan, desensitizing and numbing, and it eventually serves the opposite of its intended purpose. Fans begin to tune out when they hear that familiar tone in Michael Cole’s voice, that Hypespeak that bears no resemblance to human speech. THE ULTIMATE THRILL RIDE~! That stuff.

Roman Reigns falls into that trap, and in many ways is completely part and parcel of it. The biggest thing with Roman, in my and many other fans’ opinion, is 100% simply that the fans didn’t choose him. Vince McMahon did.

The fans chose Steve Austin, future president Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, future Tonight Show host John Cena (though they later turned on Cena), and Hulk Hogan back in the day. Vince didn’t choose them; or more accurately, he didn’t choose them alone, he chose them as well. When Vince did choose a guy to smash over everybody else, it did not work out. See: Diesel, or Lex Luger. It seemed that the Vince McMahon of the 80’s, 90’s etc, would always see the writing on the wall, after about a year, and quietly pull the chute on that performer as the top star of the company.

It’s unprecedented in wrestling that a promoter positions a single performer as the top babyface for this long to this negative a reaction from the audience. It’s absolutely unprecedented. Jerry Lawler was on top in Memphis for decades, but he turned heel and face multiple times, and was a local institution who is deeply loved there. Cena, on his worst days, was split 50/50 in the audience. And Cena rose to prominence on his own, through his extremely strong mic work in 2003–04, and his charisma as a young babyface.

Roman Reigns feels anointed in the way that Diesel and Lex did. At the last WWE PPV, Roman Reigns actually lost a match to Braun Stroman. However, the entire presentation of the match was more about Roman than Braun. It was about Roman’s storyline injuries, Roman’s struggle to his feet, Roman puking blood on the wall. There was almost zero mention of Braun Stroman scoring the most impressive win of his career. The crowd loudly cheered Stroman the whole time.

People know when they’re being aggressively marketed to, and they generally hate it. Remember when Stephanie McMahon was touting that “philanthropy is the future of marketing, it’s the way brands are going to win” or whatever that crazy robot shit was?

WWE openly celebrates branding and social media in a really desperate way. There is nothing fun about it. A bad episode of Raw is like if a door to door salesman snuck into your house and started shouting corporate slogans at you for three hours. People instinctively want to be treated like people, and when they are being treated like dots on a graph, they pull away. If nothing else, it’s just poor form to hit your customers over the head with the fact that they are dispensable numbers— it feels almost as if an implicit agreement is being broken. We know we don’t matter, we just don’t want you to tell us.

It’s a highly ironic problem for a professional wrestling company, of all things, to have. “ We know what you’re doing, just please don’t smash us in the face with it”. That’s the entire Wrestling Fan Thesis, after all.

Acceptable in the 80's

This will hardly be a breaking news story, but things have changed drastically since the 1980's.

In fact, one might go as far to say that most things that rose to prominence in the 80’s are gone now. They’ve either grown, advanced or disappeared. Once upon a time, the Rubik’s Cube confounded an entire generation. In 2017, Youtube has soundly defeated the once mighty cube, and now literally every six year old child on earth can solve a Rubik’s Cube in under 3 minutes.

Blockbuster Video, shoulder pads, waterbeds, political discourse. All dead and buried. Case in point:

co-starring Adam Sandler

We used to take Glamour Shots. They were the Instagram of 1983. Now we carry cameras in our pockets 24/7, have all become superior photographers, and nobody ever has to set foot inside of a Sears again. Progress!

Mainstream pro wrestling is another one of those 80’s things that have evolved. In 1984, all people wanted to see was the biggest guy, who was yelling the craziest shit, while on the most steroids, slowly run into a slightly less-big steroidman. Paying customers were OK with a single dominant champion being placed at the forefront of their favourite sport. Fake sport. Very, very obviously (especially in the 80's) fake sport.

It is a far different climate today, in 2017. Our palates are more sophisticated. People don’t want to be told what to like, and when to like those things. There’s nothing that people hate more in 2017 than being forced into a box. Wrestling fans, a strange and wonderful subgroup of human people, fall into that category as well. We care less and less about looks every day. “He’s good looking” and “his family is ____” are no longer things that every wrestling fan cares about in 2017. Some still do, but a great many of them don’t, at all. If Hulk Hogan himself came along in 2017, in the exact form he filled in 1984, his push would have to be much much different in order for Hulkamania to work. “Why isn’t he selling more for Ted DiBiase?” “How could he kick out of the big elbow like that?” “Holy shit, he KILLED Mr. Perfect’s career.” (Wait, people said that one at the time).

Nevermind the actual act of forcing Roman down our throats. I personally am of the belief that the Roman thing is being made worse by the fact that this is the single worst time in the history of media to force something down the throats of your audience.

Random Thoughts AKA The Big Dog Thinks, Baby Girl AKA Once I Cock This Here Thought AKA I’m Not a Good Thought, I’m Not a Bad Thought….AKA THoooooourahhhhhhhghts AKA Sufferin #yessircotash Trademark Titan Sports:

  • Sorry about that ^
  • Roman Reigns is a really good wrestler. He improved very quickly, became decent super fast, and now he’s really good. He had to be protected greatly in those early Shield matches. Dude has worked his ass off to improve and he really did.
  • TLC 2015 vs Sheamus could have been a big moment for Roman. The two guys had a shockingly good match, Sheamus won, and Roman beat the shit out of HHH afterwards to a really big babyface reaction. If they would have kept Reigns and H away from the WWE Title, I think it’s possible Roman is a full fledged, accepted babyface today. There there is a universe where it’s possible(a #WWEUniverse!! WHOA CORPORATE SYNERGY plz buy my brand and all its things)
  • Here’s a thought: what if Roman Reigns leaves? Like hypothetical here: You’re Roman Reigns. You have movie star good looks, you’ve already made GTFO money from Vince McMahon, and you get that first “Mummy Returns” phone call from Hollywood. Are you still a professional wrestler at that point? He’s a square peg in a round hole. It’s not happening. Vince is not relenting. I’m sure the cheques are fine and he is not exactly in a time of personal hardship right now. But as sweet a life as WWE Superstar is, Hollywood Movie Star, I would think, is much better. To quote CM Punk, “at least I wouldn’t be throwing myself at the ground”. I’m not saying he is going to quit because he’s tired of winning pro wrestling matches. But if the fans hate him, if the boys resent him, if the thing they are trying isn’t working and if he gets an opportunity to be a star anywhere else, why wouldn’t he take it? Where would it leave WWE, if the basket they are loading all their eggs into were to up and disappear?
  • One last Roman hypothetical: Wrestlemania 31 was 2+ years ago. It’s been 26 months since Roman/Lesnar I. How much different does the wrestling business look right now if Roman beats Brock Lesnar that night to a hero’s reception? Like, if the fans actually did accept Roman that night and loved him, what would wrestling look like right now? I wonder if Roman was the new Hulk Hogan and actually had a wave of popularity behind him, what would a wrestling boom look like in 2017?
  • To that point: I would feel pretty pissed if I were Roman. Cheated. Not by Vince personally, but I mean, we’re a pretty long way away from Romanmania Volumes 1 through 6 on VHS.
  • I mostly wonder how this historically unmatched megapush of Roman is going to end. We are deep into uncharted waters here. With Raw hemorrhaging viewers like it is, part of me wonders if Roman Reigns is the thing that actually kills WWE.
  • Conversely, they grossed over $700 million last year, so probably no.

Matt Ederer is a writer, actor and comedian seeking representation/a warm meal. Look for me in split second intervals in the background of the show The Handmaid’s Tale, on Hulu. Also, follow me @mattederer on twitter or wherever you waste time while you poop.