Wrestling Column: Why Roman Reigns gets it

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Several weeks back, I wrote about a UFC event that I thought fans and promoters should have watched and learned a lot from. It was all about matchmaking, making matches important and how hyping a match can make the event bigger, and how MMA can do a lot of good things, but in the end, only the fighters, the moment and unexpected situations can pull off a finish.

These are things that professional wrestling can control in many ways, even if they don’t want to.

And obviously post Royal Rumble, in my hometown of Pittsburgh, there are a lot of things to talk about. But I’ll swerve everyone and talk positively, because talking negatively is easy pickings, especially considering that even Mick Foley is “sad” and especially considering I’m not a bandwagoneer so it must be the time to talk good about the WWE.

Well, let’s be serious and let me state now that I’m talking Roman Reigns. The references for the man known by an interestingly and alliterative name run deep. We can go back to the 1970’s and his father, Sika, of Wild Samoans fame, and of course that ties into a particular branch of wrestling royalty, a tracing to the High Priest Peter Maivia and all the way to The Rock, with a nod to Rosey, countless cousins and the auras of strength and athleticism that accompany Polynesians in this business (and MMA, if you want to talk Mark Hunt!)

But no, I’m not talking anything stereotypical or nonsensical. The talent and look of Leati Joseph Anoa’i is unmistakable. That the WWE has pegged him for a building block is a no-brainer, and interestingly enough, he’s arguably built better than The Rock, yet not an overly muscular type like Ryback. He’s more in line with Batista or Goldberg, but even more, he’s shown uncanny athletic ability beyond being just a "strong man".

He’s also shown a perception of the business that gives me far more interest than any of those names in the previous paragraph, even if I sound like I’m dissing Dwayne Johnson. Reigns has a look that attracts another segment of the population, and one that hasn’t seemingly been mentioned. Like most longtime fans, I happen to watch the product with someone I’m related to, by marriage, and she tells me he would make a perfect “vampire”.

Interesting. A statuesque, ripped, Polynesian making the cut for someone who would immediately call the first Anne Rice movie horribly miscast? I guess Reigns might be able to click with the Latin lover demographics, or the Goth subculture, or that seemingly forever Twilight fad. If that’s the case, the WWE may have someone more marketable than they can ever imagine. That’s a big positive.

But what got my attention was an interview last week in which Reigns weighed in on the Richard Sherman situation. Not that anyone cares, I thought Sherman did an awesome promo. My take was destroyed, however, but Mr. Reigns, who rightly zoomed in on Sherman’s weakness:

"But his whole remarks about Crabtree being mediocre, he kinda just buried himself to me. You’re the best cornerback in the game and they’re putting you on a mediocre receiver? You only made one play on a mediocre receiver? Which I think he, if he understood the psychology of smack talk, he would build up that receiver and then put himself over even more. You know, ‘I’m going against this all-pro bad ass wide receiver, but guess what, I’m the best corner back in the game. I’ll lock down anybody.”

That’s promo 101, and even this jaded, supposedly smart, long time wrestling fan marked out over a pro wrestling promo-like rant, and missed the big picture point. Roman Reigns did not. I’m not sure how many “post-modern” talents could make that call, but here’s a guy with all the physical gifts imaginable, marketable look, an eye towards incorporating MMA moves, and he’s got a perception of the business that is above and beyond his peers.

Beyond that, his understanding of the faction he’s in comes across in this and other interviews. He’s not just another professional wrestler. He’s playing the role on interviews, working and shooting and mixing it up, and he’s obviously well-schooled in the business, let alone his position in that wrestling dynasty.

Yeah, I’m marking out. Sue me. With Reigns, we have a situation, not unlike Batista, not unlike Ryback when he got built up for a few months in 2012, not unlike Bill Goldberg aeons ago in industry age, where he’s getting the slow build and getting the benefits of old school mentality.

Is it working? Look at the Rumble and the response. Look at the situation where he makes a splash, but doesn't quite get the win that the fans thought possible, and consider that the fans continue to rally behind him, and consider what happens next... but there's more to it than simple math, or is there? Batista comes back and gets a rocket to the top. Reigns has earned his due. I can put Daniel Bryan’s name in this sentence and the people who pay to park, pay for food, pay for tickets and pay for PPVs are going to understand it, but the WWE decision makers are not.

Weird how the paying audience is wrong? Not really.

That aspect of professional wrestling is part of the nature of the business, and hasn’t changed no matter how oddly it is received in 2014. The WWE doesn’t need anyone suggestion how to handle Reigns in the future, or how to destroy him. They have a history of doing their worst, but then again, they can make names when they patiently build someone up.

Making him into just another guy on the roster is likely to diminish him, and until last week, I was sure that was going to happen. I figured they’d move him away from a strong man style, expect him to work a 20 minute match style, do the same old same old repertoire, and hammer home that a simple promo approach and style just isn’t going to cut it. But he’s obviously got a lot more understanding of the business than most, and with his size, athleticism and his family ties, he’s got a foundation that isn’t going to let him down, even if the WWE suddenly gets worried that he gets too popular.

Imagine that: a professional wrestling promotion that has no clue how to deal with a guy who can put asses in the seats and sell tickets, who can “connect” with the fans, who knows how to work and what professional wrestling is really all about. Sure, someone else paved his own way, and there’s a section of the fan base that really appreciates the hard work, and another section that agrees with the WWE that certain sections of the fan base should just shut up and play along.

Why was Mick Foley sad again? Oh yeah. But me, I’m not so sad today knowing that despite all the nonsense, there is someone else who knows what being a professional wrestler means, works on levels that more of the fanbase should appreciate, and like most of us who follow this crazy sport realize – that we’re all “in” on the kayfabe, and when we get insulted, we get really, really insulted.

(I wasn’t at the Consol Energy Center, cheerleading. Honest!)

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