Friday, October 19, 2018
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Can Roman Reigns’ Character Be Saved (Without Turning Heel)?

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As the world continues to scream “turn him heel already”, it remains to be seen if WWE will ever turn The Big Dog into the guy we love to hate. Much like with John Cena (who went through the same thing year on year), it seems ever clear that WWE adamantly refuses to turn him completely. He’s become more of a tweener in the last couple of years, which disappointingly, has had more of a negative effect than positive. It had the potential to make him more relatable to fans, but the lack of cockiness, and the absence of memorable promos, has somehow made his character even harder to care about.

So I didn’t want to make a typical “turn him heel” article as it’s cheap, and honestly, it might not work as many expect. Either the fans would start cheering him (which is not what a heel wants), or they’ll not boo him as much; therefore getting less reaction and be less of a commodity. What do I mean by that? In his current state, Roman Reigns makes one helluva star maker; if you put heels like Braun Strowman and Samoa Joe against him. Fans love to see him get beat up as much as they enjoyed AJ styles “beating up John Cena”. Roman Reigns in his current incarnation is one of the best at highlighting other talents potential, and no one can deny Braun Strowman and Samoa Joe have benefited (even if they lost) occasionally. It’s literally the only reason why I think Roman Reigns continues to be booked the way he does, but I’m not sure if it’s because WWE is being extra smart, or because they’re so clueless they’re making it up as they go along. There’s no doubt WWE continues to put him in situations which makes it harder for fans to respect him; it’s almost like they’re fishing for the mixed reaction.

Purposely making a character controversial gets under people’s skin. Not just fans, but the amount of legends (like Steve Austin) who speak up about a necessary heel turn is staggering. If WWE is doing it on purpose then bravo for working everyone. If they’re not trying to make Roman Reigns controversial, and actually want him to succeed as a babyface, I believe there are ways it can be achieved, however, nothing will change opinions overnight. His character has been damaged so much that it could take months to see a turnaround. I’d like to go in to different elements of Roman Reigns’ character, and what tweaks WWE could initiate to make him easier to like. Sticking him back with The Shield is not an option either.

Personality

When you think of John Cena you get an idea of what his personality is like. He can be a rapper. He can be a wannabe soldier. He can be a superhero to the kids. No matter what you think of him, John Cena has a personality which is meant to be how he is from day to day. He stays true to who he is and has never deterred from it. This is unlike Roman Reigns, who for the longest time was a guy who didn’t talk much, but when he did, you felt the impact. This is how The Shield covered up his weaknesses, as Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose would do the longer parts of a promo, and let Roman Reigns finish with a “Believe in The Shield!” in an intense and somewhat mysterious way. The thing that made Roman Reigns great was that he wasn’t overexposed and still had an element of mystery to his character. No one knew if Roman Reigns was capable of more, so they were intrigued.

So when The Shield split and Roman Reigns went on his own, fans noticed he had little to no personality. He was going off of scripts, and to this day it feels like he’s trying to remember his lines. But why is this? When we know he can do a promo like the one below (disregard the fact he’s playing a heel in it):

The biggest issue I found is that he never had a proper midcard run. Okay sure, he held some midcard titles, but they were just props to keep him relevant while he was being punished for violating the wellness policy. He never had what many big superstars had, which was a run in the midcard against opponents who force others to up their game in every aspect. Not only that, but Roman Reigns has been protected from starring in comedic segments. Would he be a better character if he got to do comedy with The New Day? Or Goldust? Or even Curt Hawkins? Literally anything to show he’s a human being with a sense of humor would go a long way in connecting him with fans. They need to see Roman Reigns enjoying his time at work.

Not just comedy, though, but showing different emotions, too. Having him bring out different feelings (other than pure hatred) in fans would make him a more rounded character. You don’t necessarily need to be a heel to be entertaining, but WWE’s had this issue with babyfaces for ages. Faces in WWE are often too nice, and it puts many off as it feels like they’re not real human beings, but just a superhero product as fake as his promos. When Roman Reigns started saying he was “the guy”, I hoped it would be a prelude to him being more nasty in general. It didn’t happen, though, he soon reverted to being regular, boring, predictable ol’ Roman Reigns. He’s far too serious on the microphone. He never gets upset, either, even with an entire arena giving him the business. To the fans it’s like he’s not listening to them, so when he doesn’t acknowledge the haters, he’s just acting like nothing’s wrong, when really he should be having a pop at them to make them hate him even more. Play to it, play to the emotions, and they might begin to respect for being honest. It doesn’t mean a heel turn; it means playing to both types of wrestling fan.

But the best thing Roman Reigns can do is share parts of himself. Don’t talk about how he’s “born into this business” and all that, because to haters it’s an unfair advantage he has over more deserving talent not born into a wrestling family. He needs to share past experiences, funny stories, hardships he had to overcome. I’ve watched Roman Reigns for years now, and I still don’t know who he is. I guess I could go looking for that Table for 3 show on the WWE Network or something, but most fans are not digging deep for it. He needs to share himself with the world in public settings, and only then can more fans connect and find out the kind of guy he is.

Entrance

Whatever happened to Roman Reigns walking out through the crowd? Is it because WWE thinks he’d be in danger? The fact of the matter is, when they stopped letting him come through the crowd, they set a precedent that Roman Reigns cares more about looking like a superstar than having the balls to walk through a hateful crowd. Just think of the respect some may find for him if he walked through the Raw crowd after WrestleMania? I’d applaud that. He could goad fans being held back by security, and it would be a magical thing. For whatever reason he doesn’t anymore, and it wasn’t replaced by anything better. John Cena, Steve Austin, The Undertaker, The Rock, Shawn Michaels, even Batista have better entrances. He walks to the ring never playing to the crowd, always walking with a slow, methodical pace reminiscent of The Viper. He gets to the turnbuckle and, slowly raises his arms in the air, almost like he’s mocking the WWE Universe.

And somehow WWE managed to take a solid entrance theme like The Shield’s, and get the world hating the very sound of it. The theme’s tainted, and he desperately needs something personal to him. Roman Reigns needs something spectacular, something which tells the fans he is “the guy”. As long as he uses The Shield’s music, fans will pine for him to return to The Shield. He needs to move on from this and form an identity for The Roman Empire (does he even use that anymore outside merchandise?). He also needs to trade his Randy Orton-like entrance for something more like Stone Cold Steve Austins. Just look at Braun Strowman when he comes out. What does he do? I mean yes, he looks big, but he didn’t use to come out with the same intensity as he does now. His aura is one of “someone’s gonna get these hands!”, and Roman Reigns doesn’t have that. No one believes for a second that Roman Reigns is coming down to cause mayhem and destruction.

Too many WWE guys have generic entrances these days. If Roman Reigns is truly “the guy”, he needs to be presented as such. For now, he slowly walks to the ring never playing to the fans, to a tune which has fond memories for fans when it belonged to The Shield; yet the exact opposite for him. His entrance doesn’t need a complete overhaul, it just needs some intensity, something fresh to listen to (get Jim Johnston back if you have to WWE!), and possibly some lighting effects to highlight how much of a star WWE makes him out to be.

Promos

I touched on this a little above, but it’s something you can’t really teach. You either have charisma or you don’t, so WWE has a few options. Either give Roman Reigns more catchphrases (“believe that” is not enough), or hook him up with a manager. Giving him a manager might feel like defeat for WWE, like they’re telling the world he’s useless, but Brock Lesnar’s always had one. Brock Lesnar doesn’t NEED a manager to talk for him, he’s perfectly capable of doing it himself, but Paul Heyman enhances his image as he’s a promo-cutting machine. Roman Reigns isn’t very good at selling himself, so let someone do it for him. Not only that, but have the manager teach Roman Reigns how to sell himself, let them bounce off each other in promos like he used to do with Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose. He needs more experience in this area, despite having The Rock as a family member.

Put it this way, if Roman Reigns got a tenth of The Rock’s promo ability, and a tenth of Rikishi’s fun spirit, that would make him x5 more bearable (the math may not be correct, check with Scott Steiner). Roman Reigns needs to show his emotions more, instead of using the same monotone voice. That’s why fans crap over his promos, because they’re boring, monotone, and there’s never anything interesting. He tells people he’s “the guy” like they’re supposed to pop for that. It’s not believable because he doesn’t sound like he believes it himself. If you don’t sound like you believe it, how can anyone else? When he tells people he’s the guy, he really needs to drill it in. Even if he goes “Paul Heyman Repetition Mode” on it, you have to drill it in and make fans believe what you’re saying, or it will fall on deaf ears.

Moveset

I’m actually a fan of Roman Reigns’ ring work, but only with certain opponents. When he’s selling opponents moves, he’s pretty good. I think Roman Reigns sells better than John Cena, which makes him a good star maker. I think his work with Braun Strowman was top notch, even though he was on the receiving end most the time. The problem occurs when he goes against an opponent who isn’t hungry to make a name for themselves; like Brock Lesnar. Roman Reigns can only work with who he’s booked against, and for whatever reason, Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns like to skip the middle of matches and get straight to the finishers. This sucks for any wrestling fan who appreciates quality matches, as it takes them out of the action and makes both wrestlers finishers look weak.

I hate the Superman Punch. In fact, I’m not sure what I hate most, the Superman Punch or the 5-Knuckle Shuffle. It’s to do with the setup, and the name of the move. Superman Punch implies that Roman Reigns is some kind of Superman, which means he is a superhero despite being portrayed as an underdog (my head hurts just typing it). Roman Reigns isn’t as predictable as John Cena used to be, there was a time where I couldn’t watch WWE as I was tired of seeing the same old John Cena match. Roman Reigns isn’t the same, he does change it up, but he’s lacking a few moves. With more moves in his arsenal, his matches would be better received. Notice how the fans don’t chant “you can’t wrestle”? It’s because he can, but yeah, he’s no AJ Styles or Daniel Bryan. Roman Reigns has the athleticism to do some impressive moves (like how Braun Strowman dropkicks people), but he either chooses not to impress, or has been restricted by management.

However it’s changed, I believe the Superman Punch should be phased out. Still use the spear as a trademark, but introduce something more powerful and explosive. While he’s at it, add a unique submission hold finish as well. Give him more ways of winning matches, and fans might get interested and want to see how he wins; instead of booing the inevitability of him winning. Also, let him win some matches by rollups, so it’s not super predictable he’s getting the pin after his new finisher. Predictability in the ring is a definite mood killer.

Opportunities

It seems that Roman Reigns gets everything handed to him. He loses to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, he gets a rematch. He loses to Brock Lesnar at Greatest Royal Rumble, he’ll get another rematch down the line. The fact is, if Roman Reigns had won either of those bouts it wouldn’t have gone down well. So now there’s nothing for fans to complain about, they turn to the next thing, which is how many opportunities he gets over others. Does it make sense that Roman Reigns was in the main event of Backlash over the WWE title match? Not really.

But as a company they want to keep him in the mix. Something tells WWE he’s a big enough draw to book him in main event slots. At the same time, it’s frustrating for the fans who want to see AJ Styles in the main event. Why can’t we get Braun Strowman in the main event more? Or Seth Rollins with his Intercontinental Title? It doesn’t always have to be about Roman Reigns. And he’s won everything there is, except the Universal Title. He doesn’t need to be challenging for titles or be in the main event to sell. I like that WWE’s put him in a feud with Jinder Mahal, because he’s nicely loathed. I’m looking forward to seeing if fans will cheer for Jinder Mahal or Roman Reigns. If you want to get Roman Reigns over as a face, put him up against the most hated heels of all. Don’t put him against anyone who fans respect (like Samoa Joe), as they’ll only cheer the heel. Pitting Roman Reigns against heels who fans really don’t like is the way forward, and this trend must continue.

It’s not a surefire thing. The problem for a while is that WWE was booking Roman like he’s the golden boy of this generation, when fans could see it and dreaded the thought of him being crowned champion over Brock Lesnar. Booking Roman Reigns like an underdog is another issue which I won’t go into too much, as it’s pretty obvious he’s too big and strong to ever be considered an underdog. Booking him in this way is a bit insulting, but I guess they didn’t go as far as Daniel Bryan overcoming The Authority (which was really well done) which is good. Roman Reigns had so many failed opportunities lately, so it’s time to move on, and give him the goal of earning an opportunity through hard work over several months by getting guys over. He’s established, and there’s so many talents who could do with standing across the ring from him. When Roman Reigns does finally get over as a face, that’s the time to have him win the Universal Title. But not before, not unless WWE wants Roman Reigns to be hated, in which case they should’ve handed it to him already at WrestleMania.

Conclusion

While everyone bangs their heads on the wall screaming “heel turn”, I believe WWE really wants to avoid this. I believe if they could do it and keep his merchandise sales up, they’d have done it already. It’s risky business, to change a product too drastically to appease a portion of the customer base; you could end up alienating everyone and losing out in the process. WWE is a business, but it also needs to remember the TV product keeps people tuning in, and if people are sick and tired of Roman Reigns being “the guy”, they’re going to grow disinterested and look for better wrestling elsewhere.

With Roman Reigns it’s not just one thing, it’s a plethora of things that are either missing or need fine tuning. He’s the real deal, I can “believe that”, but I don’t believe he, nor WWE or getting the best out of him. He’s being severely misused, and the negative reaction is more towards his misuse than anything he’s done personally. He’s been professional and done what’s been asked, but there comes a time when a talent has to be held responsible as well. For someone in his position, if he wanted to put his foot down and say he wants his character to evolve, then I believe Vince McMahon would jump on board and look for ways to do it. For now, don’t change what’s not broken. As long as Roman Reigns is a draw, and as long as fans buy his merchandise, there is no reason to change anything about him (in WWE’s eyes, not mine).

The only way anything will change is if people stop buying his shirts, they stop watching his matches (turning backs and literally walking out on main events), and more importantly, stop booing with utter disdain. Silence is way more deadly to a career. I’d gladly give money to any fan who sits in the audience and tells others to stop booing Roman Reigns. Don’t cheer him, don’t boo him. Do what some fans do at Impact Wrestling tapings, get your smartphone out, find a nice game to play, and don’t look up from your phone until the match is over. Just imagine it, a whole arena of people playing games on their phones as Roman Reigns main events. Wow, I’d die inside of laughter. That would truly stick it to those who think Roman Reigns is main event material. Not likely to happen, though, fans can’t help themselves, and while they boo Roman Reigns, Vince McMahon is sat in the back thinking “at least he’s getting strong reactions”.