The unwritten rule in wrestling is that any reaction is a positive reaction, but in reality, crowd responses should match the character of the wrestler. Wrestling is built on narratives that are mixed and matched together like fabrics woven into a quilt, while character development is shown through overcoming the odds or putting them in your favor. Roman Reigns is a great talent, a solid face for the company, but many fans still react to him negatively. The common opinion is to turn Roman into a heel, but while this may build his character, it would not help the story behind it. The narrative of Roman Reigns begins with the one thing that he can’t change: The Anoa’i Legacy.
Most reasonable fans want to like Roman Reigns. After all, he is a good guy. We automatically know to cheer the faces and boo the heels. Its call-and-response at its best. Unfortunately, WWE can’t get Roman past the ghost of The Shield. One of the best factions in WWE history, The Shield was the beginning of a new era for talent. Along with Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, the trio dominated the ring as heels and endeared themselves to fans as faces. Fans will never forget when Seth Rollins turned his back on the crew by delivering a vicious chair shot to the back of Dean Ambrose on a June 2014 edition of Monday Night Raw.
It was the defining moment for Rollins and subsequently catapulted him to new heights in his career. Dean Ambrose would slowly strip away his old Shield attire, and try to become his own man. Currently, Ambrose is in the midst of some of the most important character building in his career. The addition of Renee Young into the canon of the Dean Ambrose character is a welcome change. It adds depth to someone only seen as a lunatic. Meanwhile, Roman Reigns is frozen in time. Trapped in the echos of The Shield. His look, his music, his move-set, his character is the leftovers of a group that doesn’t exist. He’s not his own man, and fans know it.
Roman isn’t in rare company. Early in the Attitude Era, The Rock was being groomed as one of the next top stars. While “Stone Cold” Steve Austin would be the first to ascend, The Rock was clearly being pushed heavily with many battles between him and Hunter Hurst Helmsley. When the soon to be “Great One” joined The Nation of Domination led by Faarooq, he instantly stood out. WWF would lead us down a road where The Rock would later become the leader of The Nation, but in hindsight, the build to all of this was just a backdrop for developing a character. We saw Rocky Maivia grow into The Rock and fans responded accordingly. Conversely, what we haven’t seen from Roman is growth and its the number one thing that causes the fans to react negatively to him. We see that he, as a character, is OK with all of The Shield leftovers, as if, he was “The Architect” instead of Seth Rollins. We watch Raw and see no progression, no motivation for his actions. Reigns is consistently stuck in neutral. Even his “good guy, bad guy” catch phrase suggest so.
WWE has loosely tried to link Roman with his Samoan heritage before with mixed results. The Rock tried to celebrate with him after a Royal Rumble victory. Reigns and his cousins, The Usos, would form a short-lived trio, The Bloodline. The best attempt at getting a positive reaction to Roman through the Anoa’i name would be from Vince McMahon. On an episode of Monday Night Raw, the WWE Chairman blasted Roman’s family, including his father Sika. The segment ended comically with Reigns lightly pushing his boss down to the mat and Vince repeating “my neck” as if he was seriously injured. Whether as a heel or face, we’ve never heard what Roman thinks about his family’s legacy and no one has ever truly challenged him to defend it.
Some of the best storylines in WWE history revolve around emotion, yet Roman Reigns remains an emotionless character. Reigns has faced almost every man on the main roster. The only man in the company that may be able to coax some type of character building from Roman would be Samoa Joe. Unlike Reigns, The Usos, Nia Jax or even Cruiserweight talent, Sean Maluta, Samoa Joe is not linked to the Anoa’i legacy. He is simply a relentless, Samoan badass. While some fans may cheer Joe on arrival, if written properly, WWE can create a compelling narrative behind Roman Reigns. Both superstars would benefit from forming a rivalry.
Reigns is in desperate need of a guy that can serve as his kryptonite. The fact is that we know WWE is capable of telling a story layered between self-pride and family legacy. Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair are the precedent. Fans honestly just want to see Roman Reigns become vulnerable. What good is a good guy in any form of entertainment, if he is not threatened by something. Family is important in wrestling, and WWE would be crazy not create the narrative of Roman Reigns around maintaining the legacy of his heritage.
Follow me @willmarelle on Twitter. I’m a good guy too.
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