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Is Roman Reigns Ready To Rumble?

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The stage is set for the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, an event that was pivotal, especially in the past two years, of shaping the main event of WrestleMania. The question going into this year’s event is, is the WWE setting itself up for another hostile crowd reaction?

Building the Roman empire was an uphill battle for the WWE and through no direct fault of his own, Reigns was subjected to backlash that was projected towards WWE brass for anointing the next star. The WWE fans wanted their voices heard and it was audible as they booed Reigns out of almost every building leading towards WrestleMania 31. As I’ve said before, the audience didn’t want to be told who they should want to see in the main event and the resentment towards Reigns was such that Seth Rollins was booked to cash in and win the title.

Roman was booked for a series of feuds designed to get him over with the crowd as somewhat of a “fresh start,” including matches with Bray Wyatt, who is good enough to get others over while still maintaining his own credibility as a heel. The strategy worked and the crowd steadily became more receptive to Reigns, but things were rushed when WWE champion Seth Rollins tour his ACL on a European tour and was force to vacate the title. With a depleted talent roster from other injuries, it seemed as though the WWE would go with Reigns as the chosen champion to win the belt in a tournament at Survivor Series, which he did, but Sheamus cashed in his title shot to win the championship before the PPV went off the air. Some fans criticized Sheamus as champion, but he did exactly what he was booked to do and that was get Roman over with the crowd. There are a lot of variables for how different types of heels can be used depending on the situation and while there is certainly a place for the “cool heels” to flourish, (something the NWO proved during their heyday) Sheamus was there to give Reigns a boost toward the title. Sheamus was doing the classic heel’s job, get heat from the audience and get the baby face over. That being said, Sheamus is also a solid in ring competitor and anyone that criticizes his transitional run as champion is probably just looking for something to complain about on social media.

As somewhat of an “all-in” move, Vince McMahon returned to WWE TV and even at 70, he’s still a tremendous heel. In fact, the argument could be made that Vince taking the super man punch prior to Reigns’ title victory was the key to getting the fans to cheer him as the champion. The chairman doesn’t appear on WWE programming often so when he was on Raw, it was a “special event” type of angle and it added an extra emphasis to the storyline. The Vince card is probably the best shot (and most effective way) to get Roman over completely as a baby face, but could the Rumble hinder the progress Reigns has made?

Keep in mind, the initial hostility towards Reigns was because the audience perceived that the office was giving him the spot that the fans wanted someone else to get for WrestleMania. While the title being defended in the Rumble itself adds a unique dynamic to the match, it also limits the potential results with Reigns already booked for it and there’s the risk of the crowd booing him if he eliminates one of the fan favorites, in a sense “taking their spot” for WrestleMania. Perhaps what ignited the resentment toward Reigns last year was that it was very predictable that the office wanted to push him as the next top guy and the fans took it as ignoring their requests so if the plan is the generic “Reigns defeats everyone to keep the title” type of angle, the crowd might not embrace it. Specifically, when Reigns speared Brock Lesnar on Raw, the crowd was booing and if he eliminates Lesnar from the Rumble, what’s the reaction going to be?

It almost seems like the WWE is going to have to book some type of swerve or surprise to protect Reigns from indirectly taking the heat that’s directed toward management. It’s disappointing that Reigns was subjected to so much flak during his initial push because he works hard and you can tell the effort is there to improve on the weak aspects of his character, but sometimes the scripted promos he’s given are counter productive. Too often, Roman does promos designed to sound witty or cleaver, but come off as a lame attempt at comedy and then the following week, he will do a promo that presents him as the Samoan monster that will fight all comers, which is way more effective. There’s the historical value of the Samoan heritage and the legendary stories of the indestructible figures such as Afa, Haku, etc. that could be used as a temple to present Reigns in the modern context as a monster. Granted, that’s not to say that Roman should be given some cartoonish gimmick, but he doesn’t have to attempt to cut lame promos either.

At the conclusion of Raw, Bray Wyatt was showcased as the survivor of the brawl in the ring and as I said, he’s good enough to keep himself relevant, but I don’t think a push the week of the PPV, even standing over the fallen Brock Lesnar, will get Wyatt instant credibility as the major heel to potential win the Rumble. This is where the WWE using Wyatt mostly to get other competitors over will effect how he’s perceived going into the Rumble. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve said many times that Bray Wyatt has the skills to be a main event star, but after being beaten into powder the past several months, how many fans really think Bray Wyatt has a chance to win the Royal Rumble? Another point to be made is, there’s a lack of legitimate heels in the WWE and it doesn’t seem like there’s any direct answer other than possibly turning someone heel.

When you consider all the injuries, who’s the top heel on Raw? Essentially, the answer would be the Authority, but Stephanie isn’t going to work a WrestleMania main event and Vince is 70 so does that put Triple H in the title picture? Again, aside from turning someone heel, what options do they have? Lesnar is clearly a baby face and judging from the reaction on Raw, the crowd might boo Roman at the Rumble so maybe the answer is to turn Reigns heel? That would add a different dynamic to the Reigns/Lesnar rematch at WrestleMania. If the crowd actually does boo Reigns at the Rumble, the WWE should finally turn him heel because there’s not really an alternative plan the way Rollins was booked to cash in last year because of the injuries. The point being, the WWE should be very careful how the Royal Rumble is booked because they could unintentionally generate hostility towards Roman Reigns and it provides and interesting scenario leading to WrestleMania in a few months.

-Jim LaMotta

@jimlamotta

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