Ring Architect 2.16.14: Roman's Rising Star
Posted by Obi Justice on 02.16.2014
There's been a lot of buzz about "the Punisher" of the Shield, Roman Reigns, but is he really made for the spotlight? Obi Justice takes a look.
Hello, 411 readers. I'm Obi Justice. Just to relate my history with wrestling, I've been a fan since I was a (younger) kid, but since I got in and out of college my appreciation for it grew deeper. As a young'n I was weaned on New Generation era WWF. One of my first clear wrestling memories was Undertaker vs. King Mabel, where Mabel would keep trying to splash or leg drop or what-have-you only for Taker to just sit up, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. In my early teens I was all WCW midcard. I rarely stuck around to watch the nWo show but the cruiserweights, the TV belt, and the US scene were my jam. Lots more memories of Raven, DDP, Blitzkrieg, and Juventud than Hogan. Though, that said, Wolfpac are still probably the coolest faction in wrestling.
I lapsed as most do, but I'd say it was only a half-lapse as I was e-fedding (shock! horror!) and thus always digging into new stuff. Got deep into ROH when I was in college, and from there expanded my watching of Japanese stuff, and eventually found myself watching WWE again. I try and keep up with new stuff as well as watching the classics, and every now and then I try and sample some low-level indy stuff, see if there's anybody new out there. The only genre I don't really dig is lucha libre, but I'm always open to watch and figure out what it's about.
The idea for this column's been with me for a while, so I'd like to thank 411mania for giving me a chance to run with it. It'll be a wordy column for sure. My hope is that there are people reading who like to think about their wrestling a bit. And, of course, feel free to discuss in the comments.
Anyway. Let's get started.
"Ring Architect" is a format I've come up with to break down wrestling topics. The 20' x 20' is the main idea that I'll be talking about in the column. Red Corner/Blue Corner are two opposing takes on it that I see. Of course, it'll just be my thoughts on it, so I'll leave it to you guys in the comments to see how valid they are. And the last bit, the Main Strands, are three key pieces of information that I think should be kept in mind when considering the topic. It'll definitely help me sort out my thoughts and hopefully it makes things easy for you guys to read.
The whole deal, the main idea.
When I look around at the wrestling industry and what influences decisions in the WWE, it often boils down to three camps: the WWE Universe (or "the general public"), the IWC (or "the catch-all term for internet-savvy fans"), and the WWE brass (or "the people who actually make decisions"). Usually, it's tough to get these camps to agree. The WWE brass often seems to have its own particular idea of what makes a star, and various voices in the IWC are convinced they know what that is. The WWE Universe tends to watch the product uncritically; they base their opinions on what's happening on the screen and nothing more. The IWC tumbles all these opinions together -- what it believes the brass thinks, what it believes the Universe thinks, experience of other companies, history, and so on. They're all pretty different in their outlook and, as a result, rarely agree on who should be the next big thing.
Let's take the golden boy of the moment, Daniel Bryan. There's no doubt that Bryan was championed by the IWC first. His chants started from the same place that the Punk chants started from, the Cesaro chants, the Rollins and Moxley chants: a small segment of people knew them and were loyal to them from day one, and they did their best to make themselves heard. Eventually the Universe caught on because week in and week out, Bryan delivered. Has the brass caught on as well? That's always the toughest to tell. All we've got to go on are dirtsheets and they're iffy on whether the people in the back really like him. But his success, at least as far as the fans, is definitely due to the IWC helping to get the Universe on board with him. He had a ton of missteps that any other guy, regardless of his personal talent, may have been derailed permanently by. I feel like it's just that unflagging support that's helped push him so steadily and quickly to the top.
On the other hand, we've got Zack Ryder. Ryder was totally a Universe creation. He got big on the internet, that's true, but the like for Ryder had nothing to do with a perception of his skill, and that's really the biggest consensus point for getting good writeups on sites like this. Ryder was a goofy character that entertained people when he came on screen, so they got on board with him. I don't know that the IWC was really ever smitten with Ryder and, while the brass gave him a shot, they were not committed to smashing him over. Once the Universe got tired of him, with no other real support, he pretty much faded from the screen.
Then there's Sheamus who took the exact opposite path from Bryan's. It's been fairly well attested that Sheamus was picked up by the WWE back room, buddied up with Triple H and all. He was smashed over right at the start and, from the beginning, what I was hearing on the internet was "Who the fuck is this guy and why is he taking a spot of a guy that I like?" However, the Universe was convinced. They don't care about pedigree. Sheamus came out and owned it and they were on board pretty quickly. It took a long while for Sheamus to win the IWC over but I believe he has by this point. Certainly for my own part, I was really down on Sheamus at the beginning and at this point he's one of my favorites. But I believe that if Sheamus didn't have any support among the internet fans, he'd have survived to quite this level. The Universe will cheer plenty of guys, but it seems to be that when those internet fans cheer there's a much greater amount of energy and that'll definitely resonate to the brass.
I said all that to say this: it is very rare that one guy comes up with a confluence of all that support, but it's happening right now, and that guy is Roman Reigns. By starting out in FCW, the IWC got a look at him before the Universe did, and I think people were impressed if not extremely blown away. But by hooking up with Rollins and Ambrose in the Shield, he got that big stamp of approval, especially because the Shield have been incredible since day one. And because they were great from day one, the Universe bought into their act immediately. It was not like the Wyatts where a lot of their support early on was with the internet fans. I firmly believe that the Universe wouldn't cheer anything that the Wyatts did, but if you remember, the Wyatts had great positive reactions when they first arrived. Maybe it's because the Wyatts had a quirkier gimmick. Maybe it's because the IWC had already seen and loved the gimmick in NXT whereas the Shield debuted on the main show. Whatever it was, everybody seemed on board from the second the switch was flipped from Leakee to Reigns and, if they are about to launch Reigns as a singles star, he's got one of the best starts to it in recent memory.
There's a lot that Roman Reigns will have to get over to cement his spot. To say that he is going to be the next face of the company, the replacement for John Cena, is almost inappropriate. That's a huge task to put on someone, especially for someone who's just starting their big-time wrestling career (as opposed to Bryan, for example, who wrestled in lower-level places but in plenty of "big match" situations). However, if he keeps the way he's going, if he lives up to the potential he's shown, he could definitely be one of the top guys for years to come. His explosive power style is a good shift from the styles of Cena, Orton, and Batista, and I'd definitely welcome a Reigns era in the WWE.
Red corner is pro. Blue corner is con.
RED CORNER: Roman Reigns has the total package, especially as far as the Universe and the office are concerned. One of the constants of the outsider perception of WWE decision making is that they favor power wrestlers. I'd say that it doesn't just stop at guys like Lesnar, Mark Henry, and Show. It also includes the Rock, Edge, Booker T, Cena, guys who weren't billed as monsters but used powerful hits to put their opponents down. It's a very simple, broad style, one that looks great in the nosebleeds, and Roman Reigns is completely of that school. The few holds he does use are well-worn and generally just links to the shows of strength that are his hallmarks: the apron basement dropkick, the Superman punch, the spear. He's got the looks (go on Tumblr and Twitter and see what they're saying about him), he's got the menacing presence, he can talk a bit, he seems perfectly poised for the brass to groom him into the next big star.
But it's not just that. A lot of those qualities are liked by the Universe, that's true, but they also like freshness. That's what Reigns brings that the brass might sometimes overlook. Roman Reigns might fit into the office mold of a superstar but he's also thrown in enough new tricks that the crowd seems to have really latched onto him. There's been no real resistance to the obvious push Reigns is getting, and more than that, it's being allowed to develop naturally for the most part. The Universe does not just want to see Reigns trotted out, they want to see where he's going, how he's going to fit in, and I think that's a much stronger stamp of approval for a new guy than simple meme-ish fandom.
BLUE CORNER: Reigns is young, untested, and a few steps away from the guys that the IWC has latched onto recently. The guys who have been catching on in writeups and comments lately are broadly skill-based guys. That is, they have styles that are really different from the WWE norm and they rely on innovative maneuvers to get noticed. Daniel Bryan and CM Punk are clear examples of this. Neither really came in fitting the WWE mold or the WWE style, but they're two of the most strongly-championed by most corners of the internet. There are also guys who came up through the WWE system more-or-less, but because they put themselves in that athletic, match-focused mode, they got more support than the guys the fofice seemed to want. Here I'm talking about guys like Ziggler and Cody, who the internet have always seemed to prefer to the likes of Alberto Del Rio, Batista, and Tensai. Even, to a great extent, Rollins and Ambrose had that pedigree of new-school kings coming in, and I think that has a lot to do with Reigns being seen as a good talent in his own right.
Reigns, well. We've seen him in great matches already, but those are mostly tag matches. He's had Ambrose and Rollins to pick up any slack he left. Plus, since the Shield has been one of the top acts in WWE since they came about, he's been against a lot of the most polished guys in the ring. I've seen a bit of Reigns in singles action and he's good but he hasn't made me stand up in that way yet. If he is going to be seen as a major player he's going to have to deliver on the level of a Cena, an Orton, a Punk, a Bryan. Not saying he's necessarily not up to the task but I don't think he's seen that test quite yet.
Important lines of thought.
TOP ROPE: Roman Reigns has had two excellent partners in Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, guys who will not be there to prop him up if he steps out on his own. If you were to ask me who was going to be the star of the Shield I would say Dean Ambrose all the way. I realize that Reigns is the guy in the spot, but I've always felt that Ambrose was the most complete guy in the group. I have never been high on Tyler Black/Seth Rollins, but he has a lot of fans and he's definitely good. Fact is, it's really tough to see how good someone is on their own when they've got guys of that caliber to play off of. If this talk turns out to be true and Reigns gets the rocket, he's not going to have Ambrose and Rollins to help him out anymore. We'll have to see how much of that swagger and confidence is from being built around two guys who had that walking into the company.
MIDDLE ROPE: There have been many, many names we've heard about being "the next guy" over the years that haven't worked out. Ahmed Johnson. Tom Magee. Vladimir Kozlov. There are a ton of names that seemed to get the rocket and have it fizzle out for them. You've got guys like Christian who, while he's achieved a hell of a lot more than most wrestlers, has definitely been sidelined time and time again by injury. Fact is, it's too soon to say whether or not Reigns will prove out, and just because there's a lot of support for him now doesn't really mean much. Sid Vicious has always gotten alright reactions but, ultimately, he doesn't mean anything to wrestling history. Just 'cause he's tapped for the job doesn't mean he'll hack it.
BOTTOM ROPE: Regardless of Reigns's presence and clip-worthy moments, he's going to have to have a standout singles match to really break out. I'd never deny that Roman Reigns has had a lot of great publicity recently. When he hits people with the spear or the Superman punch, I cringe. But you need more than that, you need great matches. The Miz had everybody buying his mic schtick enough that he got the belt, but in my mind he never had that landmark match that cemented him as a main player. Alberto Del Rio suffers even more from that syndrome. He's one of my favorite guys theoretically, I think he's got everything together, but he's never been able to have that show-stealing match. And on the flip side, we've got the Austin/Hart WrestleMania match that really put Austin on the map as the guy who would eventually succeed Hart as the top guy in WWE. If Reigns is going to be the main star, the thing that has to be remembered is that he doesn't just need to look the part and be mean and be as tall as John Cena, he needs to deliver. Every night.