Back in the days of kayfabe, wrestling was easy to understand. One was the bad guy, the other was a good guy. You cheered for the good guy, you booed the bad guy. Back before I even knew what “face” and “heel” meant the world was a simpler place. But in our post-kayfabe world it’s become a confusing mess. People cheering the bad guy, others booing everyone. Good guys—but only some—are pelted with proverbial tomatoes. And let’s not get started on not being the good guy or the bad guy but just being “the guy”. I can’t keep up with the attempts to placate those in the audience who won’t play along to the storylines WWE is attempting to tell.
I’ve fallen victim to the confusion myself. I left wrestling for a while after the heady days of Mick Foley, Stone Cold Steve Austin and the likes. But I got back into it in a big way around about the time The Shield were starting to get popular.
It seemed clear back then that Roman Reigns was the one destined to be the biggest star with Seth Rollins behind him and Dean Ambrose a distant third. Whether that was because of the way they were being portrayed, or just my WWE instincts I’m not quite sure – but Reigns seemed to have the world at his feet. And he did. For a time.
And then he fell victim, for want of a better word, to the demands of a section of the fans. How big, we’ll never quite know – a vocal minority or an overwhelming majority? It’s hard to tell in the echo rooms that is the comments section on some internet wrestling sites.
Is Joe Anoa’i the most deserving wrestler? Is he the most talented? The answer to both questions is no. But that’s not how the world works. I once lost a job to one of the biggest assholes on the planet so “deserving” and “talented” clearly don’t always matter. Well, I would say that. But Roman Reigns, the character, was written as the guy who was going to be the top star and—at some point—we should respect that decision. So we should cheer him.
Does that make me a mark? Stupid? Both? Probably. But I’ve read all the excuses—he’s too green, he’s limited in the ring, he can’t do a promo—and while there may be grains of truth in all of those, he’s no worse than many others who’ve graced the squared circle—and won titles—without the vitriol.
I genuinely can’t think of another example in the sports and entertainment world where fans feel they have to have such a big say in the minutiae of the product, to the extent where some can’t get any enjoyment out of the matches that Roman Reigns has put on in the last year with a variety of the other top stars. Matches that put anything Hulk Hogan did in his career to shame.
Soap opera fans (and I consider WWE a soap-opera of sorts) will vent their displeasure, but I don’t see anything like the equivalent behaviour of chanting “you can’t wrestle” at someone who clearly can and has improved immensely over the last few years.
And it’s now got to the point where we seem to be in a Mexican stand-off. The clever thing to do to appease the fans (sorry, some fans) would be to turn Roman heel. I’m now down with this as an option, because I’ve started genuinely feeling sorry for the abuse the guy gets – and it would be a way for his character to take the Rocky Maivia route to superstardom.
But Vince McMahon undoubtedly wants to retain some control of the product. And so he should. He should be responsive to the fans, but not capitulate because at the end of the day it’s his company.
And I say that despite some of the decisions Vince has made in the past—The Gobbledy Gooker, Battle Kat, Isaac Yankem, Papa Shango, Hogan winning the title at WrestleMania IX—it’s a long (and incomplete) list.
I’d more value a fan who was prepared to walk away rather than hurl invectives at someone who’s done nothing other than his job. Like I was, briefly, when I saw a panicked decision to give Sheamus the belt at Survivor Series 2015.
Of course, this may all be moot anyway, because of Joe/Roman’s failure of a drugs test. His push seems to be at an end, at least in the immediate future. Will this take the heat off him? I hope so.
But I genuinely wonder if we were better off as wrestling fans when Vinnie Mac was just a commentator and Jack Tunney was the President. Unfortunately the cat is out of the bag. And I’m going to have put my head in an internet-free one to try and make sense of it all.
Regardless, I’m hoping I see a few of you at WWE Live at the Vector Arena. I’ll be the one cheering Roman Reigns, wearing the t-shirt and waving the sign. And booing Seth Rollins. Not because I don’t like him, but because that’s what we’re supposed to do.
This post was originally written for NZPWI.co.nz.