THE VOICE OF THE BRAND
"What endorsement could I give Roman Reigns that everyone hasn't given him already? Future champion? Absolutely. Future Hall of Famer? Absolutely. There's only one thing on this planet that will ever stop Roman Reigns, and that's Roman Reigns, and he's not gonna stop himself." – Paul Heyman.
Enter - WWE booking.
Not that what happened will stop Leati “Joe” Anoa’i. We all know the story by now. Professional Wrestling is in his blood. The Anoa’i family includes the Wild Samoans, Umaga, Yokozuna, Rikishi, the Tonga Kid, Rocky Johnson and The Rock.
Roman Reigns well-built, and inevitable push has been derailed, and his overness with the audience even more so, by typically predictable WWE booking.
I’m sure we all agree, it is much more enjoyable to watch professional wrestling television when the crowd is hot. As viewers, we are even persuaded to like/dislike a certain segment or character based on how the live crowd is reacting. A worldwide trend was started by the chanting and “dancing” to Fandango’s theme music for crying out loud. Such is the power of the WWE “Universe”.
The fans in attendance at the Wells Fargo Centre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on January 25th, 2015 were hot. White hot. And, when Roman Reigns entered the Royal Rumble match as the 19th entrant, they certainly let their voice be heard. They were not happy, and they had every reason not to be.
This, so very easily could have, and should have, been avoided.
I’m going to tell you how.
But, first I want to backtrack for a moment.
I want to take you back to when The Shield made their debut at Survivor Series in 2012. Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Roman Reigns, dressed in gear very similar to that of a SWAT team, made their way through the crowd and over the guardrail to interfere during the main event, a triple-threat match between CM Punk, John Cena, and Ryback for the WWE Championship. They attacked Ryback and Power-Bombed him through the announce table, enabling CM Punk to get the pin on John Cena to retain his WWE Championship.
Wow! What an impactful way to debut. But, who are these guys?
Some were familiar with Seth Rollins. It was Tyler Black from ROH, finally making his debut in the WWE after being signed to a developmental contract in August 2010. Often referred to as the ‘Architect’ of the Shield, Rollins had a somewhat chaotic in-ring approach. The most talented ‘Wrestler’ of the trio.
Then there was Dean Ambrose. Only the hardcore internet wrestling fans were familiar with Jon Moxley’s work on the independent scene. Ambrose was an ‘unhinged’ character and a gritty brawler who acted as the mouthpiece of the group.
But, who was this big cat Roman Reigns? This guy stood out. He had the look of a future star written all over him.
“The Shield from Injustice”, initially it seemed obvious they were hired by Paul Heyman to protect then-WWE Champion CM Punk. That was soon refuted by Heyman, in storyline, and the Shield continued on their path of destruction through the majority of the WWE roster for near-on a year and a half. Although, CM Punk later claimed, on ‘The Art of Wrestling with Colt Cabana’, that the whole Shield idea was his and they were supposed to be a part of his heel stable, we really never did get closure to the angle as to why they arrived, and what injustice they were speaking of?
Nevertheless, the build of Roman Reigns through this Shield angle was on-point.
In May of 2013, at the “Extreme” Rules pay-per-view, Reigns teamed with Seth Rollins to win the WWE Tag-team Championship. A nice move by the WWE that, in my opinion, finally added relevance back to the title. Reigns and Rollins held the tag straps for close to 5 months. This, was good booking.
At Survivor Series 2013, Reigns eliminated four opponents on his way to being the sole survivor for his team in the traditional five-on-five elimination tag team match. Now we are starting to see that this guy is a serious powerhouse and an exciting future star with the fans right behind him. This, was good booking.
2 months later at the Royal Rumble in 2014, Reigns entered the Rumble match as the 15th entrant, and set the record for most eliminations in a single Rumble with 12, which was another great build on his already strengthening character. He eliminated both his Shield teammates, and was the runner-up in the match after being eliminated by the returning Batista. The already-hot crowd, due to fan-favorite Daniel Bryan not being entered as a participant in the match, hated the idea of Batista winning the Rumble and headlining WrestleMania against then-WWE World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton. I often wonder how a Randy Orton vs. Roman Reigns WrestleMania main event would have been received, as when it came down to the final 2, the fans were right behind Reigns.
The ‘Destruction of the Shield’ took place in early-June 2014 when Rollins turned on the group and aligned himself with Triple H and the ‘Authority’. Great booking for the Rollins character on route to becoming the top heel in the company.
Later in the month, Reigns won a Battle Royal to earn his spot in a ladder match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view. I can’t stand these Battle Royal matches used as qualifiers. They are littered with jobbers and the outcome is painfully predictable. In this case, Reigns winning was predictable, but I had no issue with him competing for the title in a match that featured other up-and-coming talents in Bray Wyatt and Antonio Cesaro. John Cena wins the match to retain the title, just as he did the next month at the Battleground pay-per-view where Reigns participated in a fatal four-way match for the gold. Solid booking, and build-up, continues.
At SummerSlam 2014, Reigns was again booked strongly and went over Randy Orton in the biggest singles victory of his short career. Reigns more than held his own in this match and continues to get over with fans.
Now that we have caught up on the history lesson that is Roman Reigns well-built push, let’s see how all that good work came undone.
On September 20th, 2014, Reigns was forced to undergo legit emergency surgery on an incarcerated hernia, ruling him out of action indefinitely. This injury came at the perfect time, I’ll explain a little later.
Reigns returned on the December 8th episode of Monday night RAW, when he accepted an award that rightfully belonged to Seth Rollins, the Slammy for 2014’s "Superstar of the Year”.
THIS was the moment.
This was the moment it all went pear-shaped for Roman Reigns. This was the moment when PREDICTABILITY set in.
Roman Reigns was going to win the 2015 Royal Rumble.
If it wasn’t a 99% possibility already, it quickly turned into a 100% GAURAN-DAMN-TEE when he returned weeks later at TLC announcing that he is the first official participant in the 2015 Royal Rumble.
This leads us back to the Wells Fargo Centre, where the Philadelphia faithful treated Roman to an all-mighty rude awakening.
Now, let me get one thing straight, Roman Reigns was NOT booed out of the state of Pennsylvania because the fans opposed the idea of him winning the Royal Rumble. No, Roman Reigns was booed out of the state of Pennsylvania, not only because of the way the Rumble match was poorly booked, but because fans already knew he was going to win.
If there is any match we, as fans, want the predictability completely drained out of, it’s the Royal Rumble match. It’s been poorly booked for at least 5 years dating back to Alberto Del Rio’s victory in 2011.
That’s where it all started for those in attendance that night.
4 years of already built-up frustration at one of, what used to be, our favorite events on the WWE calendar. Now, throw in the predictability of Reigns winning, and add a splash of the hope that “maybe, just maybe, they might throw us a curve-ball’ being crushed when Daniel Bryan, after weeks of building up his comeback angle, entered at 10 and was thrown over the top rope before Reigns had even entered the match himself. This prompted the typically pro-heel crowd to even get behind the anti-American Rusev when it came down to only him and Reigns.
Oh man, I get frustrated just reliving it all again.
To think this could’ve so easily been avoided, by using the perfect timing of that unfortunate hernia injury.
Here’s what I would have done.
Firstly, Seth Rollins wins the “Superstar of the Year” Slammy.
Then, I simply would NOT have Roman Reigns come back from injury until the Rumble match itself.
Think about it, you could even still use the same lame final 4 of Reigns, Rusev, Kane, and Big Show.
Let’s say Rusev comes out as the 29th entrant to join Kane, Big Show, Dolph Ziggler, and Daniel Bryan. The 3 heels team-up to eliminate Ziggler, and then Bryan well before the 10 second countdown to the final entrant.
The crowd is livid.
As the countdown begins anticipation is at an all-time high eagerly awaiting a savior. And, as the countdown ends, and buzzer goes off, after 4 months off television with not a word spoken about him, Roman Reigns music hits and those in attendance at the Wells Fargo Centre erupt.
Reigns, of course, still goes on to win. As he SHOULD. But, in this alternate universe, we wrestling fans are sent home happy for the first time in many years after a Royal Rumble pay-per-view. And, more importantly, Roman Reigns push and overness are still well-intact.
I don’t for one second buy into, Roman Reigns is "not ready", or is "being pushed too hard, too soon", as was being thrown around in the negative fallout from Royal Rumble 2015.
Roman Reigns WAS and IS ready.
The build-up of this character for just over 2 years, to that point, was absolutely on-point. Regardless of the lack of depth to the Shield storyline.
It was the PREDICTABILITY that shot this guy down.
It was PREDICTABILITY that killed this guy’s overness with a cut-throat, persuasive wrestling audience.
Now, some 5 months later, WWE creative is still rummaging through the carnage that was Royal Rumble 2015. Trying to find a way to right THEIR wrong. But, they are still on the wrong track. A feud with Bray Wyatt does nothing for Roman Reigns in the sense of getting over. Because, Bray Wyatt is over. And, this feud does nothing but finally give Bray Wyatt something to do.
So the WWE can spare us the shockingly transparent promos from the Daniel Bryan’s, and the Paul Heyman’s, endorsing Roman Reigns. The WWE needs to get their creative team to do what they get paid to do, and that’s get Roman Reigns over. Because, he already was and you ruined it with PREDICTABILITY.