One week removed from Wrestlemania 32, the WWE Universe is still buzzing. For the most part, it seems like a buzz generated for all the wrong reasons: nonsensical booking, predictability, and plain and simple bad wrestling. Not to mention, the main show ran for just under five hours (not including the pre-show!) according to Cain A. Knight of Cageside Seats.
Perhaps most disappointing was the main event of the evening: Triple H defending his WWE World Championship against Roman Reigns. What was supposed to be Reigns’ biggest career moment was marred by fan backlash and disinterest. Wrestlemania 32 was a busy night for WWE’s sound editing crew as well, who were tasked with cutting out the deafening boo’s pouring over Reigns throughout the match.
The WWE elected to stay the course with Reigns despite the continual pushback from wrestling’s diehard fans.
That isn’t the fault of Reigns. He’s proven to be a solid in-ring worker, and when allowed to be natural in front of a WWE audience, tends to win them over. Fans just want to see him beat people up!
Nonetheless, he continues to struggle to unanimously win the WWE faithful over.
Why? He’s been written to be a generic catchall for what ‘the guy’ should be. His heavily scripted promos feel forced and actually seem to further disconnect with the audience. In doing this, the WWE is revealing an inherent flaw in the formula.
Many think Reigns is the part of this formula that is the problem, but he’s not. It’s not that he’s ‘the guy,’ but that the WWE feels the need to have ‘the guy’ in the first place.
Before the onslaught of Hulkamania in the 1980s, pro wrestling wasn’t exactly considered an item of pop culture. Then, the shining hero that was Hulk Hogan vanquished dastardly evil-doer after dastardly evil-doer, sold a ton of merchandise, and took the industry to new heights.
Decades later, and with the exception of the Attitude Era, the formula is the same though the heroes have changed (see: John Cena, Reigns). The WWE seemingly must have one grand overarching hero to build its’ entire brand around.
While many attribute the success of the Attitude Era to the graphic nature of the program during that time, this wasn’t a great era of wrestling because people could openly bleed and curse on television. It was great because it featured a wide array of characters. Consistent storylines were written to feel important from the opening segment to the close of the show.
The product was more a reflection of the overall essence of ‘attitude’ than it was a simple story of hero versus villain. Sure, Stone Cold Steve Austin is often considered to be ‘the guy’ of the Attitude Era, but he was never booked to be as invincible as Hogan and Cena were when they were champions. Austin also had to share the spotlight with The Rock, while superstars such as Triple H, Mick Foley, Kurt Angle, Big Show, and Vince McMahon himself also boasted reigns as WWE Champion.
It was a period of great tumult and an ever changing, exciting landscape. When fans hearken back to the Attitude Era, it isn’t always about direct chair shots to the head, topless women, or absurd storylines. Sometimes, it’s just about appreciating unpredictability.
In looking at the Attitude Era as an example of how to produce quality programming, it exemplifies a need to forget about ‘the guy.’ Fans don’t want to know who’s going to win every match for the next five years, especially just for the sake of selling merchandise and garnering brand attention. It’s tired, old, unoriginal, and easy – and that’s why fans boo Reigns.
There’s a wealth of guys who can build the brand. This is the deepest roster the WWE has had in years. Reigns is certainly a key cog in this machine and I’ll say deserves to be one of the focal points of the program, but nothing will change with him until the idea that he represents dies off. Until then, the WWE is doing him no favors.
This is an issue that could be corrected easily by simply building around multiple superstars and letting his/her own unique personality shine through to their characters. Don’t script them so much.
Write consistent, dynamic stories for every character on the roster to engage in – from Reigns to the Social Outcasts. If the show isn’t interesting from start to finish, viewers are going to tune out. Look at the recent ratings.
Make championships other than the WWE World Championship mean something again. Allow for other titles to close Raw, Smackdown, or even pay-per-views every once in a while. Maybe then, the product won’t feel so stale watching the same guys close the show week in and week out.
So, to the fans and the WWE itself, Reigns isn’t the problem. The archaic formula followed to push him is.
Stoney Keeley covers the WWE for WrestlingNews.co, covers the NFL’s Tennessee Titans for Pro Football Spot, and is the Editor of The SoBros Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @StoneyKeeley and the SPOT’s Tennessee Titans Twitter feed at @spot_titans.