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Will John Cena get Roman Reigns over?



When The Shield stormed onto the WWE scene in late 2012, the trio immediately generated a buzz among fans. Independent standouts, Tyler Black and Dean Ambrose were well tenured prior to their arrival, and many that followed their careers from their time working on the dirt-stained canvases of the indy circuit anticipated their next chapter on the national stage. The former ROH and CZW heavyweight championships respectively, were joined by a former aspiring NFL player. A member of the Samoan dynasty, Roman Reigns signed a WWE deal in mid-2010 and found himself on WWE pay-per-view less than two and a half years later.

As I wrote at the time, and I still think so now, The Shield was ended way too early. The original and unique presentation made the group one of the most over acts the WWE had at the time. A less than two-year run left the stable with much more to accomplish, and in retrospect, could’ve helped the perception of Roman Reigns. Anointed as the next top guy because of his last name and his look, Roman was allowed to keep all the elements that made The Shield success, using the same attire, music, and entrance that helped make the stable popular. That occurred while Rollins and Ambrose both had to change and get over key elements of their characters.

As history shows, WWE management shoehorned their hand-picked successor into the main event spot of WrestleMania repeatedly despite the hostile crowd reaction. To be fair, Reigns puts in the effort and he’s doing what he’s told to do. That said, WWE brass did him no favors in the way they handled his mega push, and continue to put him in less than favorable circumstances today. In 2015, after Daniel Bryan had to relinquish the championship the previous year because of injury, fans were clamoring to see him reclaim the title. The writing team had other plans and someone was foolish enough to put Bryan in the Royal Rumble to set up an uneventful elimination, which suggested that they learned nothing from the Rumble revolt the prior year. Reigns won and was booed out of the building. The message was clear, the fans wanted Daniel Bryan, and management didn’t care. The heat was directed at the writing team, not necessarily Reigns, but the audience viewed him as the reason why Bryan wasn’t in the main event. Another injury eventual retired Bryan, and the Reigns push continued.

Since that Royal Rumble win in 2015, “Big Dawg” worked the main event of three consecutive WrestleMania shows and won the championship multiple times, but still gets booed consistently on TV. The blatantly forced push, the repetitive move set, and the “superman” comebacks during matches haven’t helped the situation.

The entire point of all this is for Roman to replace the aging workhorse, John Cena when he finally retires from WWE. Ironically, the current feud that could be designed to “pass the torch” might actually reinforce the criticism toward Reigns. Since the start of this angle, the past few weeks of television saw the two verbally jab ahead of their match at No Mercy. The “worked shoot” promos are supposed to use reality-based material not often mentioned on WWE programming as a way to make it stand out and generate a buzz before their pay-per-view contest.

The first mistake management made was to put Reigns in a situation where he was expected to match Cena on the mic. John Cena has always had solid promo skills and speaks naturally, while one of Roman’s biggest weaknesses continue to be finding a comfort zone for doing promos. During this initial sparring session, not only did Roman get lost during the exchange and paused awkwardly, but Cena also mentioned the lack of promo ability. Aside of that, it was also pointed out that WWE brass is trying to clone Reigns to be the next Cena.

Last week, another verbal chapter was written, this time “Big Dawg” claimed that he had more great matches in the span of two years than Cena had in an entire career. It sounds like a decent jab until the realization that John Cena’s matches with AJ Styles could be considered match of the year candidates in WWE. At the conclusion of the promo, Cena delivered a KO when he referenced Reigns’ failed drug test from 2016, a wellness policy violation just a few months after he won the WWE championship at WrestleMania.

The problem with all this is, basically everything that Cena said is true and there’s a track record to add validity to it. At the same time, there’s no substance to Roman’s claims and his profanity to buy time when he was lost sounds more like a cover for being lost than an insult. The awkward pauses prove exactly what Cena said about Reign’s inability to cut promos.

At some point, you have to wonder, how exactly will this get Roman Reigns over?

While John Cena is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of the industry, even his most vocal critics will recognize his work ethic. Quite simply, John Cena has earned his stripes among the WWE audience during the last 15 years. He dedicated years to WWE, returning from injuries early, representing the company well, and carrying the brand on his back for the majority of the current era. At the other end of the spectrum is Roman Reigns, the anointed athlete that was given the keys to the top spot long before the audience had a chance to vote. Furthermore, even though Reigns has the last name, the fact is that he pursued professional wrestling because he failed at a football career. If Joe Anoa’i was a starter for the Minnesota Vikings in 2008, do you think he would’ve quit football to sign a WWE deal in 2010?

This past week on Raw, the writing team was smart enough not to put Roman in the ring with Cena for another mic exchange, but rather let Reigns get a few jabs at his opponent unopposed instead of the verbal trading. It seems like this decision is almost a recognition of Reign’s lackluster mic work in the previous weeks. Still, the promo lacked credibility and seemed forced because there wasn’t much substance to it. After everything John Cena has done for the WWE brand, it’s very difficult to build an angle where the selling point is that somehow Cena didn’t dedicate enough of himself to the promotion. The bottom line is, Cena has dedicated himself to sports entertainment more than almost anyone from the current roster, which isn’t anything against the other performers, but rather highlights his specific work ethic.

All things considered, I’m not sure if Roman Reigns getting over is possible without a full heel turn. If this attempted baby face push continues and Reigns doesn’t gain more crowd support after the Cena feud, he will probably continue to get booed out of the building on a weekly basis.

But, does that really matter?

The answer is no, it doesn’t matter how much the crowd boos Roman Reigns. As I’ve written before, it’s a harsh reality, but if Vince McMahon wants fans to watch Reigns then they will watch him. The WWE dominates 95% of the sports entertainment market in the United States and unless the Roman push affects revenue, which it won’t, there’s no reason for management to change their business plan. The WWE is a publicly traded company and recently touted record profits so why exactly should they change anything? Vince McMahon doesn’t care if fans pay to cheer or pay to boo Roman, as long as they buy tickets and network subscriptions. So, this Cena feud won’t be the key to getting Roman Reigns over, but if fans continue to buy the product, and they will, it doesn’t make a difference from business aspect for the company.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta