From Pittsburgh to Philly: Roman Reigns' Road to Wrestlemania

It has been said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and the old proverb seems to hold very true with Roman Reigns. At the Royal Rumble last year, Reigns became the new recordman of eliminations in a single Rumble and got overwhelming fan support when it came down to him and Batista in the ring. 364 days later, in a complete reversal, Roman Reigns got treated worse than "Bootista", to the point not even the Rock was able to avoid being damaged by associating with him. While the crowd in Philadelphia was possibly the least inclined to accept Reigns winning the shot at the main event of Wrestlemania this year, their feelings were shared on a wide basis, to the point:

  • 75% of the voters on WWE's Facebook page expressed dissatisfaction at the Rumble, with 17,000 votes, before the night was over
  • Over 200,000 accounts Tweeted or re-Tweeted #CancelWWENetwork; it reached a total of over 7.7 million unique accounts

And that came in spite of a 4.75* match between Lesnar, Cena and Rollins. The anger about this year's Rumble was profound, and yet there is no denying WWE crafted the entire marquee match in order to get Roman Reigns over. They took great care, every step of the way, to give him the chances to get over, to keep him away from others who could have outshined him - the best intentions to put over a new and exciting character that would be there to stay for the next decade. It backfired in a manner that must have taken the whole WWE brass by surprise, but really shouldn't have.

It didn't come from out of nowhere. Roman Reigns didn't just suddenly stop being one of the most over men of the roster to become the Royal Rumble winner reviled the most by the fans in attendance and a large part of the million WWE Network subscribers who were watching. It was a slow transformation, which begins on an evening of June, when Reigns received a physical chair shot to the back that was heard around the world of wrestling...

Act 1. The Silent Badass Strikes - From Payback 'till Battleground

When Seth Rollins launched the infamous attack that destroyed the Shield, there was very little question as to where Roman Reigns was headed: towards the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. In fact, when his two former Shield brethren had to wait until the last ten days before Money in the Bank to be entered in the match for the briefcase, Reigns secured his first shot at the actual gold the week before, through an elaborate ruse that caused Vickie Guerrero to cave and enter him in a Battle Royale for one of the precious eight spots in that match. Thus it was that 27 days into his Singles career, Roman Reigns had his first title shot.

Of course, as we could have guessed then, it wasn't really a credible one. Eight men battled in a match that ended up elevating John Cena to the prestigious station of a 15-time World champion. But Roman Reigns definitely belonged in that discussion. He was an absolute badass, mostly quiet, delivering straight-punched promos demonstrating he feared no one, and it was believable, since the man had acquired both the record for the most eliminations in a Royal Rumble and the record of eliminations in a Survivor Series match only months before.

In Singles, Roman Reigns was a beast. He had exactly 2 defeats on record since his arrival on the roster, both by disqualification: one against Kane, the other against Daniel Bryan. His only personal pinfall losses came as a result of a three-on-one assault by the Wyatt Family he still nearly fought off at Elimination chamber, one straight pinfall in a no-DQ title match with the Rhodes brothers, and one very understandable pinfall in an 11-on-3 match. Overall, finding a record with less blemishes than Reigns' after a 20-month career on a main roster meant going to the likes of Goldberg.

It was acknowledged. When came the fatal 4-way for Battleground, his two Shield brothers were running a very hot act but effectively stopped each other from actually counting in the title picture, and Reigns was entered in the next World title match over the likes of Alberto Del Rio, Sheamus, Cesaro and Bray Wyatt, to find himself belonging with John Cena, Randy Orton and Kane, whom everybody knew didn't actually belong in the conversation.

Otherwise put, 55 days into his singles career, Roman Reigns' peers were John Cena and Randy Orton, respectively 15-times and 12-times World champions.

Let that sink in for a minute.

The Battleground poster for the Fatal 4-way

The Battleground match in itself wasn't Reigns' best performance, but it's hard to steal the spotlight over veterans in such a crowded format, and Reigns needed to be kept away from the eventual pinfall to stay protected. It was logical, and there were still few doubts over his performance, aside, perhaps, from some voices of dissent who called out the man for only having his own version of the Five Moves of Doom to carry him through a match (leaping clothesline, basement dropkick, Samoan drop, Superman punch, spear). But they didn't find much resonance at the time, except from the more savvy of fans, and went entirely unnoticed by the greater audience.

Overall, it seemed pretty certain that Reigns was headed for greatness, and as the rumors of Lesnar returning to take the World title off John Cena at Summerslam gained in strength, Reigns came up in the conversation as the man destined to go over the Conqueror of the Streak at Wrestlemania 31.

Act 2. Roman Ascends - From Battleground 'till Night of Champions

After Battleground, it became pretty obvious John Cena would be a tough nut to crack for the Authority. Roman Reigns, along with Randy Orton, had now both been at the losing end of a title match with Cena. It was now the Time of the Beast, and Randy Orton and Roman Reigns needed to get out of the way. Which translated very naturally in booking the new Singles sensation and the 12-time World champion into a match at Summerslam.

Roman Reigns did have some critics already about his limited moveset, but also his defenders, who pointed out Reigns used more moves in NXT, and before then in FCW. The general sentiment, however, was that Reigns and Orton would put in a clinic at Summerslam, and early on, there was also the possibility they would steal the show. That latter bit of speculation found strong opposition, however, as it was pretty clear Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins were going to have their own collision and were much better position to walk out of Summerslam with the match of the night.

It wasn't easy to call at the time, but then already, WWE took decisions that would also minimize the chances of another superstar who could outshine their "next next big thing" - at the time, the white-hot and wildly unpredictable Dean Ambrose. Ambrose, interestingly, had been scheduled to take a leave from the ring to shoot a WWE-producted movie, which would give Reigns more room to get over in turn during the time between Summerslam and Night of Champions, and was set to take Ambrose's place in seeking to visit vengeance for the Shield on Rollins.

Then came a decision that flung a lot of fans into anger at WWE. For weeks, people had been speculating about gimmicks that could be inserted in an Ambrose / Rollins match, and the final decision was made for...

A lumberjack match.

The IWC exploded, and a large majority of fans condemned the stipulation as possibly being one of the worst possible choices, lumberjack matches having a record of ending up looking anything but spectacular. In fact, it was fairly common for the infamous "Viagra on a pole" and "Judy Bagwell on a forklift" stipulations to make their way into the conversations held at the time. WWE was accused of sabotaging the feud - and in retrospect, they may not have been all that sorry had that turned out to be the case, if not then, at least now. We will return to it momentarily.

The Orton - Reigns match at Summerslam actually scored 4* to Ambrose and Rollins' 3,75*. It was, as expected, a wrestling clinic that went on for 16 minutes... and was nearly entirely all Randy Orton. Roman Reigns brought out only one move that wasn't systematically seen to enrich his repertoire for his longest Singles match yet, namely a sleeper hold; he spent a good portion of the match gassed, and Orton gave him time to regain his breath when it was needed.

The outcome of the match, however, was never in question - everybody expected Orton to put Reigns over, and he did, in a beautifully orchestrated ending sequence that brought variation to the use of Reigns' moveset for the first time in months, including a spear reversed into a scoop slam and a beautiful RKO off a Superman punch. For the first time in months, Reigns' "Five Moves" weren't a near-automatic hit. Still, the match was all Orton, and a tiring crowd didn't give the victor the same cheers as he'd received for his entrance. Roman Reigns may just have had his first Pay-Per-View Singles match (and a good one), but he'd also been exposed to all smarks as needing to be completely carried through the affair by his veteran dancing partner.

And his victory over the 12-time World champion wasn't even promoted as being an exploit. Little buzz was made by WWE around exactly how huge that victory was. The Roman Empire began, and the story marched on.

Roman Reigns delivers his trademark basement dropkick to Randy Orton

Dean Ambrose made his exit, after a 1-2 punch (or Lumberjack - Falls Count Anywhere punch) that suspended his feud with Rollins in cinder block dust. The following week on RAW, Reigns interrupted Rollins' eulogy for Ambrose and returned to his familiar patterns. His moveset stayed basically the same, with the same sense of inevitable victory, and among the smarks surfaced a LOLROMANWINS that mimicked the infamous LOLCENAWINS.

It would be validated during a Singles match on RAW six days before Night of Champions, a match that was scheduled to happen again the following Sunday, against Seth Rollins, who so far had been extremely protected: Rollins' only pinfall loss since the breakup of the Shield had come after Dean Ambrose ruined his Money in the Bank briefcase, tearing the contract within in pieces, filling it with soda and popcorn and adding JBL's hat to the mix.

No such shenanigans or distractions for the first head-to-head match between the pair who once reigned as Tag Team champions. The match was very good, Reigns' usual spots building into something different once again, and the chemistry between him and Rollins was evident, but the result stunned the IWC: Roman Reigns won by pinfall six days before he was scheduled to have the very same match on Pay-Per-View.

It raised quite a few controversies at the time, but they didn't quite get the room to develop. Less than forty-eight hours later, Roman Reigns was hospitalized for emergency surgery to remove an incarcerated hernia.

Act 3. Live via Satellite - From Night of Champions 'till the Slammy Awards

The injury suddenly ground Reigns' momentum to a halt. As it turns out, he'd been working with the hernia nagging him and diminishing him for a while, which may account for Reigns being so visibly gassed at Summerslam. The story brings another one to mind, which would surface a bit later - CM Punk's own account of soldiering on with a concussion and an untreated staph infection. In Reigns' case, his push on our screens literally only stopped when his life was directly threatened.

Roman Reigns had little else to do but recuperate until he would be allowed to start reconditioning himself. The surgery implied a full month without straining his stomach in any significant manner - it was a given that Reigns wasn't going to return quite too soon, but there was still speculation about a Survivor Series return.

Roman's injury brought a new challenge along for WWE: how to keep their next top star from fading while he was banned from entering the ring. Normally, an injured worker isn't featured with any significance on WWE programming; few have storylines that are important enough to warrant booking live TV segments for them. Reigns was one such man, and on RAW, he appeared in a "live via satellite" interview meant to remind the WWE universe he was still there, and fully intent on picking up where he had left off.

Roman Reigns is interviewed

It was bad. Reigns struggled through his lines in a manner few could fail to notice, and was exposed for the first time to a 4-million strong audience as not being ready on the mic.

The interview was actually taped. Vince McMahon, however, reportedly only saw the tape as it was aired - far too late for any type of course correction - and as the word goes, he was seriously pissed. And he could be - Reigns' performance was embarrassingly bad, and one has to wonder just how WWE Creative gave the green light to airing that tape. Had someone like a Paul Heyman being in charge of RAW, that tape would never have made it to the air - he'd have taken, as he did for ECW, all the time necessary to get as good a recording as possible before allowing it to be aired. Instead, we had someone who either didn't particularly care enough, or pressed by time constraints and didn't dare and ask that the "interview" be pushed back by a week, to get enough time to record a good one.

The damage was done. Not only could the larger crowd see there were some serious improvements to make before Roman Reigns could "reign", the smarks now had every reason to keep repeating in every variation that Roman wasn't ready, and it was becoming tough to deny.

The existing comparisons weren't good for Roman either. Around that same time, Dean Ambrose was more than over than ever before, in spite of already being hamstrung by Creative, who were turning into the "prop master". Dolph Ziggler had gone through a great career resurgence and was putting on excellent matches day-in and day-out. Roman couldn't outshine either in the ring, and couldn't outdo Ambrose on the mic.

Another punch came from a direction that was rather unexpected. CM Punk was featured in two podcasts with Colt Cabana, and during one of those, he went to some length in describing how asinine some of WWE's creative decisions could be at times, and notably one that would have him going over the entire Shield - with a caveat, that was constantly repeated. CM Punk had to make Roman Reigns look strong.

Really strong.

Really, really strong.

At this point, accepting Reigns winning the gold off Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania wasn't going over with the smarks anymore. Unwittingly or knowingly, CM Punk had linked Reigns' push to the top to the nuclear heat he'd created for WWE's decision-makers. And Vince McMahon himself made the situation even worse with his infamous comment about grabbing the brass ring on Stone Cold's podcast.

Because Roman Reigns didn't have to grab that ring. At that point, he'd been built to become the next top dog for an entire year. Meanwhile, his erstwhile partner in the Shield, Dean Ambrose, was lost in a gimmick feud with Bray Wyatt and lucky when he got 2 minutes of mic time in an entire week.

The next Roman interviews didn't go quite badly. They were a lot better and actually live, allowing him to interact at least a bit with the crowds, but as far as the smarks were concerned, the support that had existed all the way back to the 2014 Royal Rumble was over. And here Daniel Bryan became a concern for WWE once again, as the time came for the 2014 Slammy awards.

Roman Reigns, Superstar of the Year, 2014

A very interesting rumor made the rounds when the Slammy's were awarded: Daniel Bryan's presence was reported backstage, but he wasn't used on the show. In fact, Daniel Bryan has not appeared on the same stage as Roman Reigns on RAW or on Pay-Per-View since he was forced to step down. The Beard was just as over as he had been before his neck injury nearly ended his career, and the contrast between the pops he received and those for Reigns' interviews was blatant.

On that same show, Roman Reigns was awarded the biggest Slammy - Superstar of the Year. Whether the vote was legitimate or not was besides the point: the smarks weren't going to accept it. To them, the Superstar of the Year was usually to pick between Daniel Bryan, Brock Lesnar... and Seth Rollins, who had brilliantly stepped up his game as a heel and was managing what few do - increasing his heat in a losing feud with John Cena. In fact, ever since Hell in a Cell, RAW had more or less become the Seth Rollins show - a paradox when he was the supporting player in the John Cena story.

As to Brock Lesnar, no wrestler had left a bigger mark in the history of WWE that year, ending the Streak and then conquering John Cena in what was one of the most one-sided World title conquests ever. He was, certainly, absent from Night of Champions until after TLC, but he, too, would return to the scene, and with him, the voice and magic of Paul Heyman.

Act 4. Sufferin' Succotash, Son! - From TLC 'till the Royal Rumble

At TLC, during the Tables match between John Cena and Seth Rollins for the former's #1 contendership, Roman Reigns made his return and the save, promptly setting him into a feud that was supposed to build his credibility - a giant who had nearly knocked Brock Lesnar out at the Royal Rumble 2014. The Big Show.

Now on paper that story looked very sensible - if Roman Reigns was going to prove he can take on Brock Lesnar, he had to overcome himself the biggest physical threat Brock Lesnar conquered. Unfortunately, while Roman Reigns certainly improved his moveset in comparison with the one he had during the summer, just didn't have the experience or in-ring acumen to pull a good-to-great match out of the Big Show (to be fair, nearly nobody has - Paul Wight accuses the wear and tear of a long career bumping with such a huge physique, and has become very slow).

The next decision was an announcement that isn't really coming as a surprise - Roman Reigns entered himself first in the Royal Rumble match. In fact, for an entire week, he would be the only man officially entered in the Royal Rumble match, another foreboding message that could be read by casual and smark fans alike.

On top of that, Vince McMahon himself got involved and started writing Reigns' promos... like a cartoon character straight from the 1950's. It can go over with children - it is cartoonish - but that style certainly didn't endear him to many adults, even non-smark fans, who started wondering exactly what was going on and why that man was made to go out and tell children's tales when he was supposed to face Brock Lesnar at some point - and in the next row, a smark was probably complaining about Vince's latest script (you know who didn't need to remind everybody he was a giant?)

Congratulations, you have now sabotaged your future face of the company where smarks are concerned, and have given cause for the damage to spill over to casual crowds.


Meanwhile, Seth Rollins was killing it on the mic, to the point he could outdo Paul Heyman himself; Brock Lesnar was a freaking beast, tearing through anything in his path that didn't have the sense to push John Cena in the way; and Daniel Bryan returned to competition, just as over with smarks and casuals alike as he had ever been.

And Roman Reigns was cutting a promo about Jack and the Beanstalk.


Come to think of it, with such comparisons, it makes sense Roman was never put in a situation where he had to compete with any of these men or Paul Heyman on the mic before there was truly no other choice. In Roman's case, protective booking had become keeping him away from any situation in which the crowd might choose to cheer someone else over him, no matter how big or small. The only redeeming grace was Dean and Roman were having each other's backs again, but Dean didn't talk. He hardly got promo time - he hadn't been given much ever since Hell in a Cell - and when he did speak, Roman wasn't around. All Dean Ambrose was used for was to rub what heat he still had on Roman Reigns.

It is pretty common in sports to say you are never going to win if all you are worried about upon entering the field is not losing. When victory isn't even a consideration, the best you can hope for is the competition will be worse than you are and you will therefore survive them.

Unfortunately for WWE Creative, they were about to enter a direct confrontation with their own fans over who their favorite should be - Roman Reigns, or Daniel Bryan.

Act 5. They made Philly boo the ROCK! - 2015 Royal Rumble

The Royal Rumble Pay-Per-View took off slowly. It came off a build that only seriously placed two names in consideration to win the right to main event Wrestlemania, and centered almost entirely on a triumphant Authority and the impending confrontation about the World title - a bout that was initially regarded as stale and definitely not looked forward to. At best, did we think, we might see Cena get destroyed again, or if Cena won, Rollins might run in and finally use his Money in the Bank briefcase.

Boy, were we wrong. Instead, Rollins was entered directly into the World title match, and while the smarks' suspicion he would be the one taking the pinfall was right, it wasn't all Rollins was there for. Nor, in fact, Brock Lesnar or John Cena. Those three men were going to give us a match to remember.

From the moment the bell rang, this match felt special. It opened with sheer, brutal domination from the Beast Incarnate, forcing Cena and Rollins to act together to rein their dominant foe in. In fact, they eventually managed to put him away after a series of thrilling spots that left the Philly crowd overjoyed - and let's face it, behind our screens, the rest of us loved it too. And it kept going crescendo until a spectacular conclusion that left no doubt in anybody's mind: Brock Lesnar is a freaking beast.

A commercial for the brand new Fast Lane and a bit of hype later, the Rumble itself began in front of a completely fired up crowd, thoroughly enjoying themselves at this exciting pay-per-view. Bubba Ray Dudley entered at number 3 to an explosion of cheers. Bray Wyatt cleaned house and got the crowd to sing along. Daniel Bryan entered the field at number 10, and Philadelphia went bonkers. Diamond Dallas Page made his Royal Rumble debut at number 14, and proved that at 58, he's certainly in good enough shape to deliver Diamond Cutter after Diamond Cutter.

The match proceeded in a thoroughly enjoyable manner, the fans were having a great night and watched Daniel Bryan, the perennial underdog, in a precarious position on the apron faces sometimes find themselves in before mounting a comeback accompanied with a choir of cheers.

And then Bray Wyatt shoved Bryan off the apron and he spilled on the floor.

Daniel Bryan is on the floor, eliminated

All of a sudden, all the enjoyment and fun vanished. Silence fell, Philadelphia was in shock. Daniel Bryan had just been eliminated in a sequence of events that took all of eight seconds. Someone tried a "No!" chant, but the heart had just gone from the crowd.

The booking decision was deliberate. The whole point behind giving Daniel Bryan's exit a spot this quick was to ensure the fans wouldn't still be shouting after a beaten Bryan was put out of commission by the Accolade or Sister Abigail. There was no sense of anticipation, no warning, no time for the fans to become actually afraid Daniel Bryan was on his way out. It just happened. The calculation was that six minutes later, by the time Roman Reigns hit the ring, once again well and far away from Daniel Bryan, the fans would be upset at Bray Wyatt, but overall not too angry for an elimination that was quick and painless.

They couldn't have gotten it any more wrong.

By the time Daniel Bryan had left the stage, the Philly fans had recovered from the initial shock. They knew - we all knew - how the match ends at this point, and we weren't even halfway through the Royal Rumble. It would be the proverbial plodding to Roman Reigns' victory celebration - the same man the smarks and a good number of marks had said wasn't ready, but who was still getting the monster push to become the Conqueror of the Conqueror. It certainly wasn't what Philadelphia wanted to see, at any rate, and they started chanting for Daniel Bryan as we went through the next few lackluster entries and spots, and the chants were accompanied with louder and louder boo's.

And Roman Reigns entered the field with the worst possible timing. By then, the void left behind when all the enjoyment was brutally snuffed out had had ample time to be filled with anger. The crowd was still on fire, but this time, it wasn't with excitement, and the focus of that anger was walking down towards the ring. And he got brutally boo'd.

Reportedly, the crew backstage were taken entirely by surprise by the violence they had themselves unleashed. And reportedly, they panicked, and rebooked on the fly - in the middle of such a complicated affair at the Royal Rumble. If the result of the re-booking was what we saw, they would have done better to refrain from changing anything, because the solution they would have come up with was having Kane and the Big Show doing what they had been booked to do for months - interfere and ruin a match's momentum by savagely attacking the Faces. The attempt at drawing the anger away from Roman Reigns onto Kane and the Big Show was transparent, and unsurprisingly, the Philly fans saw through it, which made things even worse: WWE were so far removed from reality they didn't even realize they were insulting the fans' intelligence.

Not that anything else would be done better. Those mini-spots that were planned as small offerings, much like those from the first half of the match but without the surprise entrants, did manage to distract the crowd and make them cheer for a moment. But it was very brief. The Kofi Kingston spot was completely underwhelming. Mizdow was out eighteen seconds into his Royal Rumble appearance. A quick Ambreigns connection was established to record-eliminate Titus O'Neil, but the spot was botched. Dolph Ziggler started a superkick party - but was quickly knocked out. Dean and Roman were allowed to show their complicity once more - then Dean was murdered by Kane and the Big Show.

All these small spots did get cheers, but felt like treats presented to the ailing crowd, and the moment they reach for a treat, their hands got slapped and the treat was taken away, leaving behind even more frustration. Intentionally or not, WWE had decided that this night, the fans wouldn't enjoy themselves with anything else but the one event the entire Royal Rumble match had been booked and now rebooked around: the advent of Roman Reigns, which the crowd were supposed to savor without any other pesky distractions like, say, Dolph Ziggler, knocked out and just dropped over the top rope and flopping miserably to the ground, like a chump that had even less reason to be in the Royal Rumble match than genuine jobbers like Sin Cara, who at least actually did not look all that ridiculous when Bray Wyatt eliminated him, just dominated.

Dolph Ziggler eliminated like a nobody

Speaking of Bray Wyatt, WWE had decided to be kind with him: they did not demand his falling to the canvas like another sack of potatoes. Bray was allowed the luxury of "only" falling to his knees after the KO punch, because hey, he needs to be rebuilt, who knows, maybe at Wrestlemania he will face the Undertaker!

... oh, who am I kidding anyway, they just sent him to flop on the floor every bit as miserably as Dolph just had. And at this point in my writing, I'm back in the mental state I was during the match.

Let's return to the present, shall we? At least, there is one fan favorite left in the Rumble whom Philly would accept over Roman Reigns - Dean Ambrose is there, and he's talking to Roman, motivating him (and incidentally checking on him, because Reigns took a bad shot at some point and is legitimately bleeding). Ah well, there's still some faint hope. Better Dean than Kane or Big Show...

Problem is, WWE made that calculation too. Off goes Dean - all that's left in the Rumble is Kane, whom nobody wants to see win and knows won't win; Big Show, whom nobody wants to see win and knows won't win; and Rusev - come on, seriously, nobody's going to want to see that badass upper-midcard heel who just walks over anybody in his path win against our pick for the next WWE World Heavyweight Champion.

(Vince, last year, the badass upper-midcard heel left facing your Chosen One was named Roman Reigns.)

It's bullshit. Not just the word I'm using, but literally what Philadelphia is chanting at that point. Now that Dean's elimination has had a moment to sink in, they know the winner isn't going to be anybody they want to see win - it's going to be that man WWE has worked so hard over the past half-hour to make them reject, even if it wasn't the actual intention. In fact, now that they know they aren't getting a single thing they would have enjoyed - which WWE made sure they were thoroughly aware of - they clamor for refunds.

Oh wait, maybe there is something. The Rock is in the house! The Rock is laying the smackdown on the Big Show and Kane! Big Show's down! Kane is down! The People's Elbow!

... ah. Right. He's here to sell us on Roman Reigns. You know, the guy we really, really don't want to see right now.

Bad luck, Rock, we want Rusev.

We don't get Rusev? Sorry, we love you, but you're in the wrong place. You really should go, because that other guy is totally getting what is coming to him.

He did not leave, and WWE did it.

A heartbreaking endorsement of his cousin for the Rock

They managed to make us boo the Rock.

Epilogue - What now?

We all know how the Rumble ended: with the Philly fans going home looking heartbroken and not even capable of cheating at Wing Bowl - er, seeing Mick Foley was in the parking lot; most of the rest of us at home - 75% of us, per WWE's own account - thought it was a bad event, and among those who voted to say it was a good Pay-Per-View, rest assured some of those votes came because of the outstanding Triple Threat match, not the Rumble itself.

Three hours later, #CancelWWENetwork was the number 1 trend on Twitter across the World, beating the daytime-running Indian celebration hashtag for Republic Day (there are only one billion people in that country, Vince), NJPW's website had crashed from the Twitter flood at its gate, WWE's own Network account gestion had either crashed or been prudently made inaccessible, and the phone support had been instructed to politely tell people they were saturated (which was true) and they should call again tomorrow (which was self-serving, as it was also about having some of the angry crowd go back on their initial, anger-driven impulse).

Six days later, #CancelWWENetwork is still trending at a rate of 70,000 tweets per day. Oh, it will die down soon, but the anger from the Rumble match won't. Because in the mean time, what was perhaps WWE's only serious shot at quickly salvaging the situation was smothered by snow. Oh, we did get some very nice Reigns promo work in that special episode, and Daniel Bryan taking one for the team (not too hard, he still alluded to how awesome Lesnar - Bryan could have been). Then on the special live Smackdown, Hartford gave Roman Reigns one of those receptions that make Cena mock the crowds.

How did we come to that?

I wrote a much shorter, possible explanation on my perception of it a few days back, and if you don't mind, I'm going to paraphrase it and go from there.

The whole debacle at the Royal Rumble has been doing exactly what WWE has now failed to do for Roman Reigns: it grew organically until it was so over it became impossible to stop it. It started small, just a concern for the smarks least convinced by Roman Reigns' readiness, and as the months passed with little change in the ring or in the booking, the notion Roman might not be ready spread, first to the more indifferent of smarks, and then, after the first live-by-satellite interview, those doubts started to reach some of the general audience. Colt Cabana's CM Punk podcasts and the Slammy's got the smarks in the mindset they might have to fight to be heard this year again before Roman even made it back into the ring, a lot that happened after validated the notion; on top of it got some casual fans and even a good number of Reigns' own fans found themselves cringing at the promos Roman was sent to deliver day-in and day-out. At least last week there was that defense that Roman never actually featured in the main event on RAW, and Smackdown had become the Daniel Bryan show.

And then the Royal Rumble happened, and to be blunt, it felt like it was booked to purposefully turn the fans against Reigns, and over half an hour, it created, stoked and fanned so much rage that whether the fans in the arena thought the performer can be good or not ceased to matter. The whole situation had been built for a perfect storm of hatred, and everybody knew who did that and rubbed it in their faces – WWE. Six days later, I still can't fathom how the professionals who work for WWE didn't realize they were crafting a scenario that all but screamed disaster waiting to happen.

Sure, some people have been asking, but why did you guys have to be so mean with Roman, so disrespectful, why couldn't you just have stayed silent? Why didn't you save your anger for WWE? Why are you saying you're feeling bad for Roman when you want him out of Wrestlemania's main event and boo'd the hell out of him?

A few days back, I've pointed out a not-too-well known fact about rage. When held by it, a human brain can’t rationally create separation between the real object of its ire and what stands within immediate reach to lash out at. It is a biological process which consists in part of the brain shutting down for higher efficiency in fighting the cause of the rage (WWE's Royal Rumble 2015 - The Roman Empire Strikes You). And that much rage is contagious. It also has a medical name - mass hysteria, and it keeps feeding from all those other people raging around.

Long story short, blaming the Philly crowd, or even the angrier part of the Internet crowd, because they didn't stay calm and didn't give Roman a break makes about as much sense as asking the she-bear to chill after you've stolen one of her cubs. That's how the angry person gets rewired. They can still talk (or scream), still call upon their skills and usual behaviors, still fling arguments they've already made, and even appear quite rational if said argument is good or their behavior seems sound - but rational thought is entirely out of their reach while they're in a rage.

That's what WWE worked an entire arena into; and when that anger flooded back, all that was left was tiredness and dejectedness.

Reigns and Lesnar on Snowstorm RAW

Since then, the rage has died down, but the cause of the anger has had time to simmer. Now it's memory processes at work. Less than 48 hours removed from the fact, we're still at or close to short-term memory. Six days later, we're no longer there; the anger and how it all happened have had time to imprint themselves in the long-term memory of those who were angered, and it will make it that much harder to change a good number of minds, even if they aren't raging any longer. That anger can return through subconscious processes now, and the trigger is WWE once more insulting people's intelligence with shoddy attempts at booking them to accept Roman Reigns' being pushed to the Wrestlemania main event. It is dangerous territory, and it will take quite a bit of effort to make people who felt insulted or denied like they were (violently) get over that anger and give Reigns a fair chance again - it will be hard for such people to avoid being hypercritical - which is already better than outright rejection.

WWE might actually be tempted to try fixing the situation with more of the same medicine: booking the illusion of more challenges on Roman's road to Wrestlemania, to garner him sympathy as he overcomes near-insurmountable odds (they aren't if they've scripted them not to be). It has three outcomes with regards to those already alienated fans: some will be disgusted and just quit, some will stay their ground, some will make sure their voice is heard even louder and will try to convince more people to join the revolution.

Going that route is a gamble, because it isn't really possible to know in advance where the divide in the crowds will be found (and the picture is even murkier since not all cities have the same crowds). Maybe it will boil down to a Cena-like mixed reaction (mission accomplished, Vince) or it might just as well explode again like it did in Philly - it depends in large part on the crowds and the dynamics that will play there.

It's precisely what the type of corporate suit HHH pretends to play would do - they don't really care, they aren't anywhere near the arenas anyway and will "ditch the product" if they can't sell it anyway (the product is a human being getting slaughtered by enraged crowds because you aren't there yourselves!)

But if WWE is serious about mending their relationship with the fans they angered so much, no booking shenanigans will help. Giving Roman Reigns a chance to really make us think it could be okay with him in the main event of Wrestlemania is what's needed, and genuinely helping him get there too. If he needs someone in his corner, put someone in his corner. If his qualities need selling, just let Heyman work his magic - he's going to pretend it's all about Brock anyway and we'll buy it because it'll be good. If a ring general is needed, pick one that can make that main event "can't miss". Oh, and please stop micromanaging his promos - just ask Paul Heyman to help him there backstage, he knows how to do it much better than your own staff do, judging from recent evidence.

But please, don't insult our intelligence again. It's Roman who pays the price for your "good intentions".

Well, there's an alternative that's been teased today. Maybe a heel turn will be Roman Reigns' salvation, like it once was for Rocky Maivia. But again, it had better not feel contrived, because we'll end up back where we are now: with vocal crowds refusing Reigns anywhere near the main event of Wrestlemania.

(Photo credits: WWE, USA Network,

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