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 411mania » Wrestling » Columns

Why WrestleMania 31 Needs a Plan B
Posted by Daniel Wilcox on 07.31.2014

For months, those seemingly in the know have been telling us that Brock Lesnar would be challenging for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at the company' marquee summer event, and that rumour will come to fruition when Lesnar challenges John Cena for the strap at Summerslam. The smart money is seemingly on Lesnar winning the title to add to what has already been a groundbreaking year for him.

And for even longer, it has been apparent that Roman Reigns has been hand-picked to step up to become the promotion's next biggest face. After strong shows at last year's Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble earlier this year, Reigns has been dominant for a long time. And although I said he had been hand-picked, there's no denying that audiences have reacted to Reigns.

Now we are being told that the end-game is for Reigns to dethrone Lesnar at WrestleMania 31 in California next year. In theory, this is a solid long-term game plan and one that could work out perfectly. But much in the same way that on-screen Authority has had to resort to a Plan B and even a Plan C to achieve their goals, WWE brass absolutely must tread carefully when it comes to Reigns. If the events of the previous year haven't taught WWE anything about long-term plans in the social media era, the company could well find their plans unravelling all too soon.

In the space of the last year, the WWE Universe has latched onto an unlikely hero, rejected the return of one of the decade's top stars, and continued to vent their frustration at the company's franchise player. And seven months after one of wrestling's most-loved anti-heroes left the company, audiences continue to chant "CM Punk" in arenas around the country. And while Daniel Bryan's story had a satisfactory conclusion at WrestleMania 30, his untimely injury has reinforced the idea that anything can happen in professional wrestling. But now more than ever, wrestling audiences are unpredictable themselves, and that is why WWE must take great caution with the use of Roman Reigns.

First and foremost, Reigns is still limited in the ring. Granted, he has time to improve, and limited technical skills does not have to be a deal-breaker as it pertains to becoming a top star. But reactions of audiences are more heavily influenced by actual in-ring performances than ever before. We live in an age where it's common for villains to be cheered and heroes to be antagonised, but good in-ring action will always be well-received by an average crowd.

Audiences also don't like to be told who and what they will cheer for. WWE had to change plans in regards to Daniel Bryan because his supporters were relentless in their fandom. The company had better not use Bryan's injury as a reason to stop giving the fans what they want. A large portion of audiences still heckle John Cena, due to an alleged lack of in-ring prowess, an unprogressive character and a "Superman" perception, and these issues could all be used as a description of Roman Reigns in the last year. It was reported last week that WWE is preparing for John Cena's possible departure, and if Reigns is their new guy, they need to ensure that they make Reigns a more interesting and well-rounded performer than his predecessor. I can't imagine Vince McMahon wants 70,000 at Levi Stadium booing the hell out of a Reigns title win next year. Obviously, Roman Reigns has only been around a short while in comparison to John Cena, but in the age of social media, audiences are generally more and informed and less patient than they were even a few years ago.

SuperReigns is not the way to go.

This is why Monday night's Raw segment featuring Randy Orton putting a beating on Reigns was so well-received. It's been a long-time since we've really seen someone get the better of Roman without the use of the dreaded numbers game. Reigns always comes out on top, and I have no doubt he will be victorious over Orton come Summerslam. But showing that your top guy can be vulnerable adds to any character and builds interest for rivalries. Pushing Reigns relentlessly for the next eight months is not the way to go. Put him in interesting storylines where he can work with skilled ring technicians that will help him improve as a performer. Then your audience will naturally want to see Reigns at the top of the card by the time WrestleMania 31 rolls into Levi Stadium next Spring.

But there's always a chance your audience will align themselves to another Superstar between now and then. There's always a chance your audience will reject Roman Reigns if he doesn't improve, or if the booking of the character doesn't become less one-dimensional that it is currently. Maybe the Universe will make Dean Ambrose their guy. Maybe it'll be Cesaro, or Bray Wyatt. And what happens when Daniel Bryan is fit for competition? One has to imagine that audiences will want to see Bryan back at the top at some point, and if his returns coincides with the Road to WrestleMania, WWE could well find itself in a situation reminiscent of this year, being forced to change plans at the last minute and be re-writing scripts every five minutes.

If WWE wants Roman Reigns to be a star, the company needs to let it happen organically. Not every star needs a major WrestleMania title win to cement their legacy. The Rock didn't have a true WrestleMania moment until X-8, when he was already half-way to Hollywood. Kurt Angle, Edge, Randy Orton nor CM Punk won major championships at WrestleMania. WrestleMania season is when the most eyes are on the product, and that's why it's essential that the company listens to its audiences, let their stars' popularity grow naturally and always have a Plan B in place. Especially in the modern era, anything can happen in pro-wrestling.


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