This will be the last time this column devotes itself to what might be termed the General Roman Reigns Conundrum, but it must be said: Roman Reigns will never, ever have a normal pro wrestling career. WWE has let its strange non-push push of Reigns fester to the extent that only a full amputation will suffice to save the limb, and they won’t do that.
Reigns wrestled Jinder Mahal at Sunday’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view and the plodding, filler affair in the weeks leading up to the match translated into a plodding, filler match. As much as it didn’t excite, there was a demented genius to having Reigns wrestle Mahal for one simple reason: Mahal is hated by the crowd for most of the reasons, real or imagined, they hate Reigns.
Mahal is a former jobber with a certain look which Vince McMahon loves, but he’s not a good promo and is legitimately mediocre to bad in the ring. So of course he held the WWE title for most of last year with no real rhyme or reason as to why. People boo him accordingly, because ultimately we’re just not that stupid. Wrestling fans will eat a lot of shit to get to the good parts of pro wrestling, but they can’t take the omnipresence of wrestlers they decide aren’t ready.
Reigns had actual walkouts during the main event of Backlash, something which seemed to signal a turning point from “guy who gets booed” to “guy who actively drives people away.” A match with Mahal made perfect sense as a means of salvaging what’s left of poor Reigns’s relationship with the audience, as well as serving as the ultimate gauge of sentiment—if you can’t get cheered against Jinder Mahal, a black-hearted heel and a guy the fans don’t want to see at all, you’re not getting cheered against anyone.
The fans hated it. They actively shat on the match. They did the wave. The chanted for CM Punk. They chanted for Eddie Guerrero (who is dead). They chanted boring from the first minute. And yes, they booed, but mostly they did all the things they could not to pay attention to an overlong match of chinlocks which was doomed from the start.
We can explain it away as heel heat, that you want a negative reaction, that it was a smarky Chicago crowd, but this wasn’t that. It wasn’t that at Backlash and it wasn’t that at WrestleMania. Fans don’t want to see Roman Reigns and it no longer matters where he is in the card; in a Twitter exchange, I was asked if fans don’t want him to wrestle at all. Yes, that is what the fans want and they no longer care how they get it.
It was bad enough that long-serving WWE referee Charles Robinson tweeted about it, calling the crowd disrespectful. That’s a far cry from the standard jokey line from commentary that the Reigns-hating crowds are just having fun being contrary.
It needs to be made really clear that this isn’t about what people should be doing in reaction to Reigns matches. It’s no longer about why, and it’s definitely not about whether Reigns is good in the ring or bad. It’s not about fairness or whether he’s a nice guy.
This is about what is. What is is that Reigns does not, will not, and perhaps cannot get normal reactions anymore. He certainly can’t get a babyface pop, but that’s known. What’s becoming apparent is that he can’t get heel heat, either. There’s no turn or storyline which can alter his trajectory. There’s no length of time you can shelve him so people forget how they feel about him.
This isn’t like John Cena. Cena had a brief but memorable run at the start of his career as an asshole white rapper. People ate it up, including folks who later detested him. There’s also a charming awareness to Cena, albeit one which isn’t always apparent; it’s almost impossible to imagine Reigns working a Tonight Show audience with puckish glee like Cena does. In retrospect, it’s easy to see why Cena’s late career renaissance as an appreciated goofball happened so quickly once he stopped being pushed as a superman.
Reigns has none of that. More than that, because of the hand WWE creative dealt him, he never can have it. He can’t have the early career, quasi-ironic gimmick people grow nostalgic for. He doesn’t have the tools to charm normal people. He doesn’t have the in-ring skill to overcome the detestation in real-time. All he has is the seething hatred for the temerity of existing from some majority/large minority of the WWE crowd wherever he goes and some cooked merchandise numbers the promotion tosses out periodically to assure people that it’s not as bad as it seems.
He will never have a normal career, and whether you’re a fan or not, that’s immeasurably sad. Not least, it’s sad because WWE clearly knows, could’ve prevented this with an ounce less stubbornness, and they’re going ahead with plans to use this poor guy’s career as dross for a cheap pop.
Braun Strowman won the Money in the Bank briefcase. For the uninitiated, it lets the winner call a match of his or her choice whenever they want; Alexa Bliss cashed hers in on Sunday after winning it earlier in the night, defeating Nia Jax for the Raw women’s title.
The briefcase holder almost never loses the cash-in match; the when and where nature of it is one of WWE’s most fun storylines each year. Strowman will win the title, but odds are he won’t win it from Brock Lesnar. No, I’d bet he wins it from Roman Reigns, probably shortly after the latter wins it from Lesnar.
Picture it: SummerSlam, Reigns finally gets his title win over Lesnar, simultaneously closing that storyline and Lesnar’s career as a main eventer in WWE. The crowd dumps on it, half of them are out the door, before Strowman powerslams Reigns by surprise to the loudest pop WWE’s heard in nearly a decade.
It will be awesome. Thunderous. We won’t know what a Braun Strowman reign will mean with all its endless possibilities. We’ll know exactly what it means for Roman Reigns, though, which is a big problem.