Making us care about WWE characters in 2015
February 1, 2015
By: Matt O’Brien, Wrestleview.com guest writer
A little over a month ago I was sitting in my living room, having just put the kids to bed, and ready to enjoy some TV. I started flipping through channels and came across Smackdown. I was just in time for the main event between Seth Rollins and Dolph Ziggler. The first thought that came to me was they would probably have a good match. I followed that thought by changing the channel to something else. I’m a lifelong wrestling fan. When I was in high school I refused to get a job my dad suggested I take because it would mean I’d have to work Monday nights. No way was I going to miss wrestling. Nowadays my priorities have changed, but I still love watching wrestling. That night I was channel surfing I realized that I have lost a lot of interest. I thought it was strange that I was so willing to skip what should have been a good match. The more I thought about it, I realized my problem: I don’t care about the men and women on these shows anymore.
Professional wrestling has always been at its best when you have a strong roster of well-developed characters and have them interact in front of a live audience. Be it a match, a promo, a backstage segment, whatever, characters drive the show. Without characters to invest in, a wrestling show is just a couple of guys doing stuff in a ring. It means nothing. When you look at the WWE landscape, there are so few characters that we really get into. There are the obvious guys such as John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Paul Heyman, Daniel Bryan and the Authority. We know their intentions, what makes them tick, and can anticipate what they will do next. The rest of the roster? Not so much.
A lot of opinions have been expressed about the Royal Rumble results. Many fans are upset with the outcome. Defenders of WWE’s decision to have Roman Reigns win the Royal Rumble have said that Daniel Bryan shouldn’t be in the ring with Brock Lesnar after coming back from a major injury. They’ve said that Reigns is the next guy, so get used to it. They have also referred to the fans up in arms as entitled and whiney. I disagree. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of entitled, whiney wrestling fans out there who complain about everything. However, the negative reaction to the Rumble should be taken into account of a bigger problem within WWE. It’s not as simple as the fans prefer Daniel Bryan, it’s that so few of the characters are interesting. So few pull us in and truly capture our support. Unfortunately, Roman Reigns is not one of these guys. Not yet, anyway.
I’ve heard a few fans compare Reigns to Batista, but really the only similarity is that they were both big guys from their respective stables. Also, by the time Batista reached Wrestlemania 21, he was built very well. And not just from an in-ring standpoint, but from a character standpoint. He wasn’t your typical dumb giant. He played head games with Triple H as their rift organically set them on a collision course for Wrestlemania. He had our support. For months, all we wanted was to see him give Triple H what he had coming. I don’t’ feel that at all with Reigns. Instead, I look more to Kevin Nash in 1994-1995. Nash was definitely on his way up the card by the middle of 1994. But when he was thrust into the title picture, it felt more than a little sudden. Nevertheless, WWE did a good job with Nash. They had him squash Bob Backland on an untelevised house show to win the title. After that, he was booked perfectly in a title match with Bret Hart at the 1995 Royal Rumble. Anticipating that Hart would be the fan favorite, Bret was made the aggressor, thus garnering Nash sympathy. When the match was done, not only was it one of the better title matches of the mid-90s, Nash looked very strong. He was ready for his WrestleMania showdown with Shawn Michaels. Reigns doesn’t have that. He doesn’t have somebody who can garner him sympathy and make him look like a star. Instead, Paul Heyman will be expected to a work a miracle to with his promos to really sell the Lesnar-Reigns showdown. This past Monday night was a good start, but we’ve got a couple of months to go, and we aren’t sure how other cities will react to Reigns. Also, Nash grew into his role over time, much like several other guys have. Reigns has been pegged as a future star for a while now, but has he grown into that role? It seems like the past year has just been us talking about him having potential, but he hasn’t really grown. If anything, the breakup of the Shield has exposed him.
It’s important to remember that the Rumble audience’s reaction to Reigns is not on him. It’s on WWE. They are the storytellers. They are the ones who should be telling us who to cheer and who to boo by playing on our emotions and telling compelling stories. If there is a guy on the rise, they should anticipate that before we do and rally us around that guy. Using The Rock to endorse Reigns at the Rumble was a good idea on paper, but in hindsight may turn out to be a bad idea. If Reigns doesn’t stick to the wall WWE’s thrown him at, Rock’s endorsement will be a waste.
Some of the backlash for Reigns has some fans suggesting he turn heel. That is a natural response, but WWE just had Rock endorse the guy. They have spent months building him (poorly). If they turn him heel now, out the window goes what character development they have tried with him. Also, the heat that Reigns was getting at the Rumble may not me the type of heel heat you want.
So what does WWE do now? They can move ahead with Reigns and continue to disregard the reactions Daniel Bryan is getting. They can maybe find a way for Reigns to lose his title shot and make a new main event, but that is doubtful. Many fans are upset and will continue to be so for quite some time. But the frustration of the fans will be worked out over time. Still, there is no denying that the Royal Rumble match was a disaster. There is no denying that WWE has had disappointing television over the past several months, with the exception of a few episodes. And there is no denying that the characters that are supposed to pull us in and keep us emotionally invested in the product are severely lacking. So what does WWE do now? I don’t know. Most of us don’t know, and that’s ok, because it’s not our problem. It’s theirs.