A widespread happening is occurring in every arena around the world several times a week. As a WWE event kicks off, a hushed anticipation washes throughout the crowd. Fans, young and old eagerly watch the titantron, praying to hear their favorite wrestler’s music. After a few moments of suspense, it happens. A stiff, heavy guitar riff blares over the speakers, and graphic of the name “Roman Reigns” smashes onto the screen. And in every arena around the world, the reaction is the same. A few children will cheer, a few women will scream, but for the most part, the crowd will reject Roman Reigns.
Why Fans Reject Roman Reigns
On paper, Roman Reigns is exactly what Vince McMahon thinks of when imagining a perfect sports entertainer. Reigns stands at 6’3, has movie star looks, and a football background. Reigns provides a rare blend of size and athleticism that isn’t seen in the WWE very often. However, despite McMahon’s best efforts to make Reigns the face of his company, there’s a small problem. The majority of the audience refuses to get behind him. McMahon has tried tirelessly to make Reigns more appealing to fans, doing everything from making him an underdog to giving him championships. But no matter what, the fans still boo.
The Wrong Answers
If you were to ask the casual WWE fan why the crowd rejects Roman Reigns, there are a few common answers you would probably get. Some fans would blame his “move-set”, claiming that Reigns just doesn’t have an expansive enough set of moves to be entertaining. Frankly, this is ridiculous. Some of the biggest names in the history of the business did the same five or six moves over and over, and nobody complained. Stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Hulk Hogan, and Andre The Giant didn’t have a seriously diverse set of moves, but they’re remembered as some of the best ever. Even in today’s WWE, the likes of Brock Lesnar and John Cena don’t need to do moonsaults or increasingly complicated moves to get over with the crowd.
The next answer you would get is that Reigns isn’t very good on the microphone. Of this, he is guilty. Reigns is not the most talented talker in the business, and in an era that relies heavily on twenty minute promos, that certainly doesn’t help his case. But just like with his moves, this isn’t the answer either. Brock Lesnar, arguably the biggest draw in all fighting-based sports, is miserable on the microphone. He relies heavily on his mouthpiece, Paul Heyman, to do the talking for him. What many fans seem to forget is that Daniel Bryan, one of the most beloved superstars in recent memory, was just decent on the stick. While it would certainly help Reigns to be a better talker, this isn’t why the fans reject him.
The Hardcore Crowd
The hardcore wrestling crowd has been Vince McMahon’s biggest problem since the 1990’s, when Paul Heyman and ECW made rooting for the bad guys cool. This phenomena only escalated when Kevin Nash and Scott Hall defected to WCW and formed the NWO, a group of rebellious outsiders determined to bring down the establishment. Throughout history, McMahon has had to give up on established stars like Bret “The Hitman” Hart and Lex Luger to appease the crowd. In 2016, this crowd may be harder to please than ever.
Despite what WWE would like you to think, they are not the be all, end all in professional wrestling. While promotions like TNA, Ring of Honor, and New Japan Pro Wresling won’t make you a celebrity like WWE can, a wrestler can still make money on the independents. When WCW and ECW fell in the early 2000’s, the WWE became a bit complacent. Without real competition, their booking got lazy and stale, and before you knew it, they only had one main event talent in John Cena.
As a result of this, the same fans that showed up in droves wearing NWO shirts began to look elsewhere for their wrestling. In this search, they discovered American independent companies like Ring of Honor. Ironically, as companies like ROH became more popular, WWE had no choice but to sign some of their biggest stars. Arguably the most famous Ring of Honor alum to sign with the WWE was the eternally controversial CM Punk.
If Reigns is exactly what Vince McMahon pictures when he imagines a WWE superstar, CM Punk is the opposite. Despite being 6’2, Punk was scrawny, a little flabby, and covered in tattoos. While Punk is athletic enough to put on a great match, he’s nowhere near the athlete that Reigns is. Despite that, the WWE universe got behind him, eventually forcing him into the main event picture.
So why is it that a guy like Punk, who looks like a Waffle House fry cook, could get over with the hardcore audience, but Roman Reigns can’t? Well, part of it is actually Punk’s fault. As part of the infamous “Art Of Wrestling” podcast that he did with Colt Cabana, Punk went on a small rant about Reigns. According to Punk, during his feud with The Shield, Reigns’ stable at the time, in late 2013, he was repeatedly told that he had to “make Roman look strong”. This didn’t endear Reigns in the eyes of the hardcore fans, who now saw him as nothing but “the WWE’s guy” moving forward that needed help looking strong.
Unfortunately, it goes a little deeper than that. Right now, the WWE main picture event consists of three superstars. Roman Reigns is one, but he’s also joined by Seth Rollins, and the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Dean Ambrose. Ambrose originally wrestled as Jon Moxley in CZW, a “blood and guts” gimmick-based promotion where the wrestlers did terrible things to themselves to get over with the fans. Rollins originally wrestled as Tyler Black in Ring of Honor. Aside from being part of the infamous “Age Of The Fall” faction, was also the ROH World Champion.
Before joining the WWE, Reigns did not wrestle on the indies. In fact, before signing with WWE in 2010, it doesn’t seem like Reigns cared about wrestling at all. Fortunately for Reigns, his family did. Reigns is related to the likes of Rikishi, Yokozuna, and most notably, the Rock in one way or another.
Unlike his cousins, the Usos, Reigns didn’t always want to be a WWE Superstar. Unlike The Rock, there’s no home video of Reigns cutting a “Hulk Hogan” promo in his kitchen. Unlike John Cena, there’s no picture of ten year old Reigns with a makeshift WWE championship. Growing up, Roman Reigns wanted to play football.
And he did. Reigns was a decent football player in high school and college, but ultimately, he didn’t impress scouts and went undrafted. He bounced around training camps in the NFL, but he never made the final fifty-three man roster. After an unsuccessful stint in the Canadian Football League, Reigns settled for wrestling.
Unlike his former teammates, Rollins and Ambrose, Roman Reigns didn’t want to be a professional wrestler his whole life. He never worked in high school gyms for fifty dollars. He never traveled the country on pennies and dimes. Frankly, it seems like he only wrestled because his football plans fell through. Sometimes, he’s so dismissive towards the fans, it makes him difficult to connect with.
The Hardcore Fan Influence
WWE loyalists resent the hardcore audience for favoring their indie darlings over the WWE’s home-grown superstars. We’ve established that move-sets and microphone skills are helpful, but not necessarily mandatory for a star to be successful. Hardcore fans like to root for the wrestlers from the indies because deep down, they can relate. Seth Rollins grew up idolizing Shawn Michaels and wrestling in his backyard with his friends. Behind the trademark evil laugh and dastardly deeds, Rollins is just another WWE fan getting a chance to live out his dream. Who wouldn’t want to root for that?
At the end of the day, one of the biggest reasons that the WWE Universe rejects Roman Reigns is because of his booking. Part of becoming the face of the company is winning the championship. The WWE World Heavyweight Champion represents the company, in and outside of the ring. It only makes sense that he would be the company’s biggest star. Vince McMahon understands this, and that’s why Reigns has been WWE Champion three times in the last several months.
This doesn’t help Reigns at all. Firstly, having the championship change so often takes away a bit of the prestige. WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley only held the WWE Championship three times in his whole career. Secondly, the booking has been very predictable. A 46 year old Triple H isn’t going to beat Roman Reigns at WrestleMania, and there’s no way that McMahon would take the title off of Reigns and put it on Mr. TNA, AJ Styles. When Seth Rollins defeated Roman Reigns at Money in the Bank last week, it was the first time Reigns had lost without shenanigans since the Shield broke up in 2014. The reason that fans turned on John Cena was that no matter what, you knew he was going to win.
The Ultimate Decision Maker
The difference between Cena and Reigns is that even the most brutal hardcore fans can appreciate what Cena has done for this business. It’s unfair to blame anyone for their booking. Only one man is responsible for that, and his name is Vincent Kennedy McMahon. But when the WWE was on the down-slope after the attitude era, John Cena kept the business afloat. Reigns doesn’t display that same passion for the business.
Ultimately, Roman Reigns isn’t a bad guy. He’s not a good guy. He’s just a guy, and not a guy that the WWE Universe is going to warm up to any time soon if things don’t change.