Alright man, you asked for this…
1) I mark out EVERY SINGLE TIME Roman does the 2nd rope bounce back, Rey Misterio set up in his matches because he does it with such ease and it’s insane that a 6’4, 240 lb dude does that on a regular basis.
2) I’m only discussing some of what I’m about to say based on the limited, and sometimes vaguely accurate information that has been coming out about the “backstage” situation in WWE.
3) Take this for what you will, but the Smackdown match with Elias this past week was the Roman’s and Elias’ best individual in-ring performances I’ve seen from either guy in a long while.
I’m sure Joe Anoa’i is a good guy and I can’t even imagine living a life as successful as his let alone facing the adversity that he’s faced. We’ve all had our struggles through the years, but it is hard to imagine waking up every morning with the looming concern that your personal health might not be as good as it was the day before. None of what I’m about to discuss has ANYTHING to do with the human being or personality Joe Anoa’i.
That being said: this is all Roman Reigns’ fault… Every single bit of this mess is Roman Reigns’ fault. Again, I’m blaming all these recent creative and administrative struggles on the character of Roman Reigns. If you go back far enough on your very own blog, you can read in black in white that I called this 4 years ago. To be fair, the problem didn’t start with Roman Reigns, but Roman was the most egregious example that has been the tipping point for the promotion and how they find themselves in the position they are in now creatively.
WWE hasn’t been a babyface promotion since June 23rd, 1996. What’s astounding to me is that for more than 20 years, Vince McMahon still hasn’t caught on. The WWF/WWE stopped being a babyface territory the day Austin 3:16 was born. On that day, the most over character on TV for the next 4 years, was a heel that cut a heel promo and jumped from the mid-card to the Monday Night Main Event the very next evening. Austin would become the unquestioned driving force behind the WWF’s resurgence during the “Attitude Era” and he was nothing more than a slimy Texas Redneck, who just got done beating a troubled, supposedly recovering, wrinkly veteran with taped up, injured ribs. After years of failed attempts to replace Hulk Hogan, Vince McMahon finally found the next big thing and he was 100% heel.
For those who may not be fully aware, historically, Capitol Wrestling, the WWWF, and the WWF had always been a promotion that had banked on having a No. 1 beloved babyface on top of the promotion. In current times, this position is even referred to on television as being “the guy”. It was the focal point for the Roman Reigns/John Cena program and, for a time was the main point of contention between Randy Orton’s character and John Cena’s television persona.
If you go back and look at when the WWE Championship was created, you will find that the longest reigning heel was Billy Graham at 295 days. That’s not a bad reign by today’s standard, but aside from Billy Graham, if you add up all the other heel’s reigns for a 20 year period, it adds up to roughly 50 days. So, for that period of time, they had 19 years of babyface World Champions and roughly 1 year of having a heel on top. Billy Graham took up almost that entire year. Every other top guy was a babyface.
In the ’80s there was another brief transition from Backlund to Sheik to Hogan. As much as everyone cites the Hogan Title switch as a watermark from when the business changed, in terms of booking philosophy in the New York Territory, it was just business as usual. There were many things that were fundamentally changed in the WWF when they moved to Hogan as THE GUY, but the booking strategies were all still the same. Aside from Savage getting about a year run on top from ’88-89, the ’80s were dominated with a babyface Hogan on top of the territory and that whole year for Savage was just a big set up to put Hogan over in the end. The good guys always win with Vince just as they always won with his Dad in charge.
Warrior was supposed to replace Hogan next. That was a well-documented mess. Bret was really the first “you deserve it” champ. Unfortunately for Bret Hart marks like me, he presided over some the worst business the WWF had ever done in terms of draws. Then Vince tried Luger. That didn’t work. Vince dug up Backlund specifically to transition to Diesel as the “New Generation” guy. Michaels made it all the to the top by virtue of his amazing heel character, and then he was set up for the “boyhood dream” run. Yuck. Vince kept trying to push the next big babyface and it never happened. Do you know what did work? They caught on to a white-hot heel in “The Ringmaster” Steve Austin and didn’t let go.
There are many details that go into when, how, and why Austin got over from ’96-’97 and those details are often missed because there is an official “WWE” version of the narrative and Austin’s personal narrative that doesn’t match up with any real parts of the timeline whatsoever. Austin wasn’t “Stone Cold” the night after KOTR, he was still very much the Ringmaster and Austin hadn’t even ditched the classic, white, wrestling boots until later in 1996. Whenever Austin tells the story, he seems to forget that he was a heel all the way up to and PAST Wrestlemania XIII. Every single part of Austin becoming one of the most over characters in history was due to his heel persona. There was also a dark secret about Austin’s push that people don’t talk about:
Many wrestling fans knew exactly who Steve Austin was before he debuted on the Brother Love Show and many of us knew that Austin had much more to offer than being “The Ringmaster”. There were already more than a million people who had been watching Steve Austin on TBS and in late 1995/ early 1996, the WWF audience wasn’t that much bigger. Even Austin leaves this part of the narrative out when he recalls his transition.
There was a not-insignificant amount of us in 1996 that recognized Austin as a WCW castoff that didn’t have much of a shot in the WWF… and we liked to root for that guy. Was it most of the audience? No. Of course not, but it was a passionate, excitable segment of the audience and a portion of the audience that was growing into what would be the largest cross-sections of the paying consumers the WWE would end up servicing for the next 20+ years. Those fans established a heel Steve Austin as the top guy, 20 years later, they have families, they have kids, and they still root for the performers they know aren’t “Vince” approved.
John Cena is often pointed out as the quintessential babyface champion for Vince, but 17 years later, there are people that seem to have forgotten that Cena was BOOED in Chicago at WrestleMania 22 against Hunter. “If Cena wins, we riot” was a real sign that made it on TV. On the other hand, during that same era, the two hottest acts the WWE had were Edge, who at the time was most famous for stealing Matt Hardy’s girl, and a Zombieman that worships Satan and drags people to Hell through the ring canvas. By WrestleMania 24, CM Punk has the Money in the Bank Briefcase and he would go on to be the hottest guy in the business within the next few years … as a heel that “the office” didn’t like and he was cheered for because of it.
I will contend that Roman Reigns’ entire journey as a performer has been at the direction of Vince trying to establish the next big babyface. That time passed us by in 1996 and I think Mr. McMahon still hasn’t noticed. Roman Reigns has been positioned as the top babyface and top guy in a territory that no longer views the top babyface as the top guy. Why do I blame all these troubles on the Character Roman Reigns though? That seems almost unfair.
Well, maybe. Maybe not. I stated a long time ago, that, although the business model is built on television revenue, merchandise, and the WWE Network now, the house show business will ultimately cause problems for the WWE product. Going back to 2014/2015 and just start looking at the top of those cards. What’s happening at the end of the night every night? Roman Reigns, the guy that no one wants to see on top, is beating a guy that no one wants to watch him wrestle. Keep in mind, this is all house show activity after Reigns bored a house to tears on PPV wrestling Daniel Bryan in a pointless babyface match-up and just beating the most popular guy on the roster at the time.
· Reigns/Kane on top
Charleston West Virginia:
· Reigns/Kane in a Street Fight (this is what’s called the intermission match or Hogan spot. It’s a match that’s heavily advertised locally and can serve as the Main Event if need be.)
Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada:
· Roman over Rollins by DQ
Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK:
· Roman/Big Show
· Roman/Big Show in the Hogan spot… THAT’S WHAT THEY RAN IN MANCHESTER AS A TOP MATCH!!! Holy Shit man…
· Orton/Roman (fucking WHY?!) versus Strowman (pre-Roman Wrecking Machine Version)/Wyatt
I could go on and on but you get the idea. The point is that, for almost 4 straight years, while the TV product is demanding more and more rights fees, WWE has had two traveling road show advertisements for their merchandise and content (understanding now that the model is essentially backward from what it was in the old days), and those road shows have been mostly headlined by performers that large segments of the consumer base have actively been expressing they don’t want to continue to pay to see. Now, we’re at the point that nobody (in a relative sense) wants to see those types of performers for free either because they’ve been traveling the country convincing them not to for years now.
So now NOBODY is over the way they should be because of the failure to understand that the market has not been interested in a white meat babyface since 1996. When you stop to think about Kofi-Mania, the very reason he was over at all was in large part due to that a large portion of the audience knew he’s not supposed to be over. The same is true with Becky Lynch, who got over strongest while (watch it now) she was in the middle of a heel run!
If it is true that both the paying networks are starting to get nervous about the WWE’s ability to deliver results, then I am pointing to exactly what I have discussed here as the root of the issue. No matter how much things change, they will always stay the same. The business of Pro Wrestling has always been about sending people home happy at the end of the night and the WWE hasn’t been doing that for 4 years with Roman Reigns being positioned as the guy we are supposed to want to see win every night. The longer you fail to provide that to the consumer, the less and less invested they will be in engaging with the product.
Yes, there are about 2 million of us idiots who will consume just about anything they produce, but when you divide that by the number of major markets there are in the US, that only yields an average potential draw of 5,200 people per city. Keep in mind, that isn’t the average number of people that would actually pay for your stuff, that’s the average number of people that would even be in the market to consider paying for your product. (which is to say, if you wanted to run a show in Carson City Nevada, you would be advertising to just 5000 people and try to convince them to pay to come out and engage with the product with their wallet. The cost of customer acquisition via advertising and local promotion would be through the roof at that number.)
What has changed since the ’90s is the psychology of the way WWE communicates things to the audience. The biggest contributing factor to cooling of Kofi-mania was the second that “No Chance in Hell” hit for a Vince promo on Smackdown. Once the audience understood that Kofi was “in” because he was in a McMahon storyline, we got the signal that he was no longer the “you deserve it” champion like Daniel Bryan and Bret Hart were.
If the WWE really wanted to get someone over, they would stop tipping their hands with the same 25-year-old McMahon tropes. The audience desperately wanted to believe that Kofi wasn’t “supposed” to be wrestling for the WWE Title at Mania. So, naturally, Vince went out on TV and granted him a title shot at WrestleMania(?). Once Vince puts you in a Title match at WrestleMania, the fun is gone and your part of the system that keeps giving them more Roman Reigns main event matches that they didn’t ask for. The WWF went from being a babyface territory to existing as an actual heel territory where the promotion itself is the heel and all the best heels are babyfaces.
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but I can’t for the life of me understand why creatively everyone is still looking to build the next big babyface. It’s way simpler than that. You don’t even need to do any work. The top heel IS the No. 1 babyface in the WWE because the audience all gets off on knowing they aren’t supposed to cheer them. It has literally been this way for an entire generation now. It shouldn’t be that hard to identify at this point.