It doesn’t take a WWE historian to see that the WWE are desperately trying to give Roman Reigns the same push that Stone Cold Steve Austin received back in 1998. WWE Creative is trying their hardest to make Reigns appear as a sympathetic underdog. They believe that constantly stacking the odds against him will make him more relatable and lovable in the eyes of the casual fans. This is foolish because Roman Reigns is not an underdog.
While the average WWE viewer isn’t built like Austin was, they could look like him, and everyone could relate to having a couple of beers and hating their boss. Stone Cold Steve Austin represented the every man, and so the world got behind him. Roman Reigns is 6’3, 265 pounds, and he looks like Khal Drogo. He’s “related” to The Rock, he had a stint in the NFL, and frankly, has been booked too strongly.
It’s easy to see why Vince McMahon and the WWE want Reigns to be the face of the company. He’s big, athletic, and has the right look. If Vince McMahon could build a WWE superstar from scratch, it would probably look like Vince McMahon. But if he had to make one that didn’t look like himself, it would probably look a lot like Reigns.
However, this has been detrimental for Reigns recently. The WWE want him to be the face of the company, and so they’ve tried to replicate both Austin’s run from 1998, and Daniel Bryan’s meteoric rise from 2013. It’s almost impossible to make someone like Roman Reigns look like an underdog. Especially in an era where the casual fan understands what is real and what “kayfabe” is.
In 2013, the WWE Universe rallied around Daniel Bryan because they wanted him to succeed and the company just wouldn’t let him. When the fans chanted for Daniel Bryan, they got Randy Orton or Batista. It took CM Punk walking out of the company just to get Bryan into the main event of Wrestlemania 30.
The same isn’t true for Reigns. Reigns was hand-picked before he even made his debut. He’s been pushed ever since he, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins interrupted the main event of the 2012 Survivor Series. “Making Reigns look strong” has been a priority of the WWE for years, and so he’s just not a believable underdog. The fans know that they’re booking with Reign’s best interest in mind. Even in the 2016 Royal Rumble, where the main event was booked as a “One Versus All” match, pitting Reigns against 29 other men, Reigns was still the favorite. Beyond that, the fans know that the only reason he lost was so that it would be more dramatic when he won at Wrestlemania 32.
Reigns is too strong, and has been booked too well to be portrayed as a fan-friendly underdog anymore. When Kevin Owens comes out, nobody thinks of him as a gimmick. They think of him as Kevin Owens because he’s playing himself. The same is true for the New Day, John Cena, Seth Rollins, or anyone else who is truly over with the fans. When Roman Reigns comes out, people don’t know what to think. He still comes out to The Shield’s music, he’s still wearing a combat outfit for some reason, and the fans never know which Roman Reigns they’re going to get.
Reigns could come out as the silent, strong type that people loved in The Shield. He could come out talking about his family and friends and how he just doesn’t care. Or he can come out with lines like “Sufferin’ Succotash, Son”. He comes out with silly characters like that, has to pretend to be beaten down by unbelievable villains like King Barrett or The Big Show, and then the McMahon’s wonder why nobody gets behind him.
Since the booking system hasn’t changed since the nineties anyway, perhaps McMahon should take a page out of his own book. Since Roman’s rise to the top has been handcuffed to being related to The Rock anyway, they should emulate that character.
When Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson debuted back at Survivor Series 1996, it was with a cheesy outfit, an even cheesier smile, and a fan friendly persona. Much like Reigns, the WWE Universe rejected him and the push he was receiving. So instead of giving up on The Rock or continuing to force-feed him to the crowd, they took his organic heat and put into his character by turning him heel. McMahon let The Rock go out on Raw and air his true feelings about how the fans had treated him. They let him be himself, and as they say, the rest is history.
Instead of booking Reigns like a Samoan Steve Austin, the WWE should consider letting him be himself. Give Roman his own music, let him dress like a wrestler, and let him air his grievances. He has shown to have plenty of charisma when he wasn’t being tugged like Pinocchio by the writers, so let him be Roman Reigns and let the fans do the rest.
This much is for certain. It doesn’t matter if Roman Reigns overcomes Dean Ambrose, Brock Lesnar, Triple H, or the McMahons on WWE TV, the fans won’t get behind him as long as he’s portrayed as an underdog.