On Tuesday, news broke of Roman Reigns’ suspension for 30 days due to a violation of WWE’s Wellness Policy…but that’s not the real story. For months, whenever Roman Reigns’ name has been mentioned, what takes the lead is the reaction he has been receiving from the fans for the entire year. But how could THAT be the story when it was predictable once it became clear that Reigns would be “The Guy”? This story isn’t new. It’s in reruns. Muscle-bound main eventer=Boos. Any world-champion wrestling style with a power base=Inevitable chants of “You can’t wrestle.” Wrestling fans can be terribly obnoxious. And as learned from the above formulas, they are very predictable. So why on earth are they the story? How the wrestling media continues to ignore this formula and act as if it’s anything personal to Roman Reigns or something new…yeah, there might be a story there.
What everyone must understand is that the seemingly majority of wrestling fans are not only fickle, but they are blatantly full of it. Take someone like John Cena. For years the major criticisms against him has been his “Five Moves of Doom,” and the desire for him to turn heel. John Cena himself once stated on camera that regardless of what he changed he would “never win those fans over” because they already made up their minds. But John was wrong. He will continue to get a polarizing reaction filled with “CENA SUCKS” chants not necessarily because he hasn’t won them over…after all, it’s obvious that Cena has improved every single year as a wrestler, as showcased with the multiple United States Open Invitational matches and his very, very long and underappreciated list of classics throughout the years. The reason Cena continues to receive this reaction is because it’s tradition. It’s simply tradition to chant “CENA SUCKS” and boo him whenever possible. Many times, during a John Cena promo, you rarely hear a boo, because the fans are, perhaps begrudgingly, enjoying yet another great promo. They only resume the chants during his entrance and his matches. To attribute any other reason for this reaction other than it being blind tradition is giving the wrestling audience too much credit. Nobody is that stubborn or blind to the fact that Cena has earned the respect of the WWE Universe and any wrestling fan with his hard work, dedication, mic work, and in-ring improvements. As for the “heel” criticism, that is living proof of how arbitrary the fan reaction is. Babyfaces are held to a much higher standard for earning cheers. The best way to turn someone into a face is to make them a heel first. We’ll call that the Stone Cold Steve Austin precedent. To attempt to say, “Here is your guy to cheer for,” is to sabotage him, perhaps eternally. There was a time when someone who received bad reactions from the audience would always have a chance to win over the good graces of the fans with hard work and great performances. But there is no such thing as earning the fans’ respect anymore….especially if you are a power wrestler who has found success in the social-media age. It’s the age of memes, trolling, and criticism—where negativity is just more fun. Reigns is just the latest scapegoat in the WWE. Reigns has shone in many, many matches over the past two years against the likes of Bray Wyatt, Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, and most recently, Seth Rollins. Respect has nothing to do with the reaction and how any intelligent wrestling reporter does not see this…yeah, now there’s something that ought to be reported, hence this very post you are reading. Has Roman Reigns really changed that much since his big pops in 2014? Nope. Same guy. If anything, he has improved noticeably. But once he became MORE than the same guy, but THE guy, that is when the trolls crawled out. The thing is, they AREN’T really haters. If they were, Romans would have always received this reaction…including when he won the World Championship from Sheamus in Philadelphia live on Monday Night Raw. Instead, the roof nearly collapsed from the cheers. Who are we kidding? Just like with Cena, there is no real logic. Can we please just acknowledge that and move on?
To Roman Reigns, I hope that the brass and your peers have stated the obvious to you…but since the media won’t, I will: The fan reaction has nothing to do with you. Pro wrestling is a world where the big guys get to be bullied whenever extra success and babyface expectations is put on them. Once you realize that it is nothing personal, no matter what troll tells you otherwise, you will see that you are doing an awesome job out there.
To everyone else…although the media needs to be put on notice that there is nothing new in this story of wrestling fans booing a power wrestling main-eventer this decade for attention and in tradition, that is not the story either. There are two stories here: The first is that the WWE has outsmarted the fans and have finally taken steps to evolve their product. The best way to adapt to the fickle fans who can’t be manipulated to cheer for whom they want is to make the concept of heel/face secondary if not non-existent. We’ve finally seen signs of this and it has been long overdue. A world where the WWE is no longer this simplistic good guy vs. bad guy scenario that Vince promised us that we’d move on from on December 15, 1997. Vince stated that good guys vs. bad guys was passé; and finally, nearly 20 years later, it seems like he may finally be prepared to follow-up on that promise. Because although Steve Austin was a foul-mouthed middle-finger waving rebel, let’s face it, he was clearly a face, thus a “good guy.” And the WWE never truly had the guts to follow through on Vince’s address. But with Roman Reigns stating repeatedly that he’s not a good guy, and not a bad guy, as the apparent franchise player for the WWE, it is a game-changing statement. And for Seth Rollins, who upon his return made it clear that the fans can boo him or cheer him, it doesn’t matter…that, too, speaks to this shift that is happening. But even with this progress happening before our eyes, the media continues to be a few steps behind. Because if Roman is not a good guy, then the boos literally mean nothing. The wrestling media, however, seems to be falling into the trap of the attention-seekers and ignoring the fact that the WWE has adjusted its product to outsmart its fickle audience.
Finally, the major story is one that has happened and is set To Be Continued. It’s the story of how in spite of those who have tried to sabotage his career, Roman HAS reigned….and that after this very ill-timed setback with the Wellness Policy violation…. I think I speak for all of Roman Reigns’ supporters when I say that there is no doubt in my mind that Roman will learn from this mistake and return even stronger where in this new era of the WWE, he will lead even wiser and strengthen his reign of the WWE empire…while Roman Empire continues to advance for what will assuredly be a never-ending war of One vs. All.