World Wrestling Entertainment has seen money in Roman Reigns, essentially Gerard Butler and Bane poured into a SWAT team wardrobe, since the day he declared, “I’m an Anoai” while lacking the paunch of his previous generation. You don’t have to twist Vince McMahon’s withering arm to get him to drive a star vehicle for a Samoan with chiseled biceps, and a cold stare that could cut through granite.
The Royal Rumble on January 26 was a glimpse into McMahon Dreamland, but only portions. The parts where 15,000 fans burned the paint-by-numbers script in chanting effigy would certainly not exist in Vince’s fanciful incubus. One occurrence was to McMahon’s liking: Reigns, fresh off dumping a dozen fodderites en route to a new Rumble kill-record, warred with Batista in the end, receiving booming raves from a jaded Pittsburgh crowd when he took the fight to Batista, the Prodigal Animal.
No disrespect meant to Reigns, who plays his role as The Shield’s stoic roughneck with reliable candor. In that situation, pitting anyone else against Batista, they would have been hero for a night. Had Batista gone up against Bernie Madoff in that instance, the fans would have implored Madoff toward victory by yelling out their social security numbers.
It was Reigns, however, that was the white night in black Kevlar. It couldn’t be CM Punk, yanked out of the fray after 50 minutes by Kane, in what could possibly be Punk’s last time donning the kickpads. It wouldn’t be Daniel Bryan, whose exclusion spurred enough heat to melt Ellesmere Island. Only a fellow hoss, one not seen as part of the ‘system’, could land the plane for the disenchanted.
Obviously, it didn’t happen. Perhaps it’s for the best, actually, that Reigns finished runner-up. Reigns is 28 with as many years as he wants in this business ahead of him; the last thing he needs right now is to be a scapegoat. Had Reigns tossed Batista in a swerve ending, the clouds of vitriol that plague WWE’s Facebook page, and the disillusioned jeers currently filling arenas as recently as the weekend house show loop, could be directed at him.
Anyone picked over Punk and Bryan is, right now, public enemy. Reigns was spared.
If you don’t believe me, I’ve gone on record as a strident critic of Bryan’s 18-second loss to Sheamus at WrestleMania XXVIII. Some argued that Bryan would come out stronger, and I didn’t disagree a bit. My quarrel was on Sheamus, who honestly never recovered from that match. Yes, he was champion, but what kind of champion? Bryan fans wouldn’t get behind him. Older fans who hated his “I’m a jerk, but I’m smiling, so you should cheer for me” shtick wouldn’t get behind him. Only kids who don’t read between Sheamus’ twisted lines, that he’s a glorified cartoon character who lectures, “Don’t be a bully” while cheap-shotting unsuspecting villains, would support him.
It’s a colossal waste to see a gifted big man like Sheamus, whose radical look makes him more memorable than most cookie-cutter call-ups, end up a poor man’s Cena with a musical accent, and half the conviction to pull the role off. Making it worse is that, through short-sighted booking from a zealous office that wanted him over, a can’t-miss became a can’t-stand, brunted a scarlet letter the color of his Lyle Lovett hair.
It’s hard to say how long the current wave of hostile cynicism will last, but for its duration, especially as long as Punk’s at home and Bryan’s anything but the flagbearer, the hate will still have volume. Should it intensify, another can’t miss like Reigns could be headed down Sheamus’ thought-to-be primrose path.
Make no mistake, Reigns is certainly beginning his outs with the Shield, eroding his ties a thread here and there until the final rip comes sometime around a month from now. He’ll be positioned against two other darlings, call em demi-darlings, of the indy scene. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins aren’t hardbodied Samoans that ace a McMahon checklist; they had to develop reputations as the cream of a competitive crop to get their spots. Ambrose’s unhinged personality and Rollins’ calculated recklessness assured them a spot that Reigns was virtually born into, without discrediting the work he’s put into maintaining it.
When Reigns inevitably breaks away to begin his solo run, which I foresee having shades of 2005 Batista, the next steps will be crucial. He’ll kill Ambrose and Rollins with his primal fury, no doubt, and that may not sit well with the current Occupy Corporate Facebook Pages movement. I hope for his sake that his push goes swimmingly; he deserves for it to. The Sheamus situation, however, shows that sometimes the company can miss the toilet with the lights on and a robotic arm aiming the schwartz.
It’s also worth noting that WWE’s track record with pushing babyfaces can be spotty. If the company wants the face over, like with Sheamus, there is literally no goofy skit spared in making the wrestler accessible to a child’s sensibilities. Sheamus is merely one example. Brodus Clay, The Miz, Ryback, and others have been steered into the wall with forced writing, bad jokes, lame attempts to tack on catchphrases, and the like. Hell, it speaks to Bryan’s likability that he survived a gauntlet of goat jokes, anger management, and hug therapy to be taken seriously as wrestling’s Kickalicious, minus the cleats. Reigns likely wouldn’t be inclined to raise a hand to the writers and say, “I’m good.”
So it’s a crossroads for Reigns, one where he could summon the devil in Faust-like fashion, to sell his soul in exchange for warding off the rough omen surrounding his forthcoming breakout. Testy fans, the poor track record of creative, and a certain feud with his net-treasured allies are a perfect storm of turmoil for Roman Reigns’ ascent to a career fast-track.
It’s one thing for a ‘people’s menace’ to slay fictional dragons; it’s asking a lot for Roman Reigns to take down this very real one.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.
Ultimate Warrior: The Ultimate Collection DVD
Wrestlemania 30 DVD
Grab discounted WWE DVDs, merchandise, t -shirts, figures, and more from the WWE Shop on Amazon.com