It was all a bit too convenient: Fans revolt against a lackluster Royal Rumble, the next evening’s Raw is scheduled for Hartford, just a quick drive away from WWE’s Stanford, CT headquarters, and then reports of a blizzard initiate a travel ban that preempts Raw from airing as planned.
Now, I’m not suggesting Vince McMahon pulled a Chris Christie, or that they greased the palms of local media to spread premature hysteria over blackout conditions. That would just be paranoid. What I am very reasonably insinuating is that WWE used the Boogeyman‘s black magic to conjure Winter Storm Juno herself, thus allowing the company’s nucleus of writers and executives to gather themselves and formulate a counterattack after their beloved Universe staged a virtual coup d’état. In the interim, we were left with three hours of gamely staged “live” interviews with Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan on Monday night, in addition to commercially bloated re-airings of the Rumble‘s infamous battle royal and much more well-received title three-way (which, upon a second airing, held up quite well).
But mostly, we were left with this nagging question: How does WWE restore interest in Reigns, its heralded Rumble winner and WrestleMania headliner? Because, to be sure, the Philadelphia crowd’s uprising and subsequent social-media outcry demonstrated nothing less than passionate indifference. And since the only thing more journalistically sound than acting as armchair quarterback is stepping into the virtual hot seat of fantasy booker, I thought I’d put myself in WWE’s shoes and offer the following handful of ways to write and fight themselves out of this most precarious creative corner.
5. Heel Good
The most commonly advised cure for what ails Reigns’ backlash is a turn back to the forces of darkness. It was the natural move for Batista after audiences turned against him following last year’s Rumble, and that indirectly allowed for a successful and satisfying triple-threat main-event at WrestleMania XXX. The only difference is Batista was able to trade on his character’s historical precedent as a crybaby, slipping right back into that circa-2010 skin of temperamental entitlement. People also point to Reigns’ cousin the Rock, whose Rumble cameo underscored how the Great One himself overcame skepticism and launched an unforgettable, charismatic ascent.
But if Jim Ross is right, and it takes WWE talent evaluators two years or less to discern a guy’s “It” factor, do we overlook that Reigns has been top-billing broadcasts in some form or faction since late 2012? It was, by comparison, less than a year between the Rock’s 1996 debut and his career-altering heel turn with the Nation of Domination in the summer of ’97. All this is to say having Reigns disappear into the strong-but-silent enforcer role he occupied in the Shield feels less like subversion than retreat. It’s not out of the question, but doesn’t necessarily feel like the answer.
4. Family Ties
WWE did an admirable job last night of emphasizing Reigns’ lineage during his sit-down interview and ensuing confrontation with Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman (the latter of whom simply owned that segment). If Rock was at the Rumble as an ostensible insurance policy to get Reigns over, then it might be worth submitting a few more claims for coverage by having Mr. Johnson appear by his cousin’s side continuously on the Road to WrestleMania (and based on the Rumble outcome, Reigns/Rock vs. Kane/Big Show doesn’t seem implausible). For that matter, it can’t hurt to surround him with his other cousins the Usos, their dad Rikishi and anyone else from the Maivia/Fatu clans they can summon to creative a narrative of Samoan wrestling heritage conquering Lesnar’s alpha dog determinism. At the very least, it was a good first step toward associating him with greatness.
3. Yes! He Can
Hell, riding Daniel Bryan’s coattails worked so well for Big Show and countless others in 2013-14. Why not have Reigns align himself with DB for a couple months against the evil Authority? Reigns can fully realize his superhero aspirations and become the Adam Baldwin to Bryan’s Chris Makepeace, swooping in at the first signs of harassment against his little pal and swatting away all comers with flying fists and feral mating calls (or however you’d characterize his signature, pre-spear bellow). Not to mention he can leave all scripted banter to Bryan.
2. Stable-ize the Situation
It will be some time before we see a Shield reunion, but why merely ally Roman with one man (i.e. Bryan) or a scattering of relatives when you can go Voltron and make a legit anti-Authority super-faction with Reigns at the head? Introducing him as the leader of his own stable, rather than an immediate transition into solo competition, might have left him less exposed to scrutiny. But it’s not too late. The foundation is already there between he and Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton is returning any week, Dolph Ziggler needs a serious rub after getting royally screwed last Sunday, and as noted, Bryan is one man in need of a gang. You can even call them Roman’s Empire. Maybe just not Reigning Men.
1. Let Rollins Cash In
This is tricky, since Rollins has started to re-rally fans around his sheer athletic ability after some stellar matches on both Raw and PPV. But if you dared devise a scenario in which Rollins cashes in on Lesnar (and in some kind of requisite dastardly fashion), thus pitting him against former Shield colleague Reigns at WrestleMania, Roman may have a perfect and familiar foil to help reenergize his swagger. (In retrospect, we can agree that the giant-slayer angle against Big Show didn’t do what it was intended to do.) And to take this fantasy-booking conceit to its hilt, wouldn’t that make Brock available for a co-headlining re-match against the Undertaker? And wouldn’t that deliver regardless of title implications and take some of the pressure off Reigns and Rollins to steal the show in their championship confrontation? Not to mention set up a potentially killer quadruple top card also boasting John Cena vs. Rusev and Sting vs. Triple H? Ya know, playing pretend-teleplay writer is fun. Why have I been bothering to analyze what’s actually being presented onscreen all this time?