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‘ SAVE the friendship’ (let’s talk about Roman Reigns)

So I’m old. I mean, I’m thirty-three which I’m sure is young to someone out there, but to many it’s considered “past-prime”. So be it. I can’t stop the hands of time nor can I change the fact that I grew up as a kid of the late-80’s/early-90’s. The era of the Super Nintendo, Saturday morning cartoons, and something called a 3D Dorito.

Seinfeld basically shaped by personality.

As such, I find myself going back to the wit and wisdom of the show whenever I’m in search of a metaphor or a phrase or some kind of life lesson to make sense of this crazy, mixed-up world of ours.

So when I see a character like Roman Reigns struggle mightily in a town like Hartford, being booed over his words (instead the usual booing at the end of every sentence), I can’t help but feel bad for the guy. As has been said many times before, it’s not his fault he’s being handled like this. And to his credit, he goes out there and does what they tell him to do very well...and then gets booed horribly for it.

What can be done?

I go back to Seinfeld for my answers...

If you’re unfamiliar with the show or just this particular moment, Jerry and Elaine are old friends but had a brief stretch where they dated. Years later, they are casually discussing orgasms over brunch (because who doesn’t) and Elaine mentions that she used to fake having an orgasm while intimate with Jerry. It was an offhand remark meant only to tease a friend.

Jerry of course obsessed over it. He begs for another opportunity to do things the right way and eventually Elaine concedes, saying that not doing so would ruin their friendship. This turns the classic “When Harry Met Sally” trope on its head that says “friends can’t have sex or it’ll ruin their friendship”. So the crux of the idea is sometimes to make something work you have to do what ordinarily would be counter-productive. If every instinct you have is wrong then the opposite would have to be right.

Roman Reigns needs to turn heel; it’s the only way to make the fans cheer him.

Let me first state the obvious: This is not the first article you’ve ever read where someone said Roman Reigns ought to just turn heel. The difference here is I’m not advocating Roman become some foul-mouthed, baby-punching, spit in the fan’s face sort of heel. I’m not saying he has to become the kind of heel Shinsuke Nakamura is fast-turning into (with a “forearm to the nuts”-based offense). I’m saying you have this character that people are booing, so stop swimming against the current and just swim with it.

So while everyone is harping on how Roman needs to just turn heel and be a bad guy for a few years and then turn back to a babyface, I say that won’t work and the evidence is in how the past four years have gone, especially 2017-2018. Roman spent most of last year working the midcard. He carried the IC title, mostly stayed away from PPV main-events and largely kept a low profile. It was clear what the thought process was: “The fans think we’re shoving Roman down their throats so we’ll ease off a bit before his next big push for ‘Mania 34.”

The trouble was the fans saw right through it, so they spent most of that midcard run being all antsy and angsty about when the shoe would drop and he returned to being the main-eventer again. When it happened, nothing was any different with his character from the last time he was a main-eventer, so the fans just slipped back into muscle memory and booed him.

A short-term heel turn would only incur the same reaction. His matches would be fun—but they are already—and his personality would (presumably) improve, much the way Nak has become so much more must-see in just two weeks, and he would finally be drawing a reaction that fit his character.

But what happens when he turns back to the same old Roman Reigns babyface that fans are booing today? Answer: Fans will boo him again.

If you want Roman Reigns to turn the corner and actually become the superstar he can be, turn him heel and then never really turn him back. After a few years just let him sort of subtly transition as a heel back to fighting other heels instead of babyfaces. The fans who love to cheer the bad guy* will be gaslighted into cheering him as a babyface without even realizing a change has been made.

Don’t say it can’t be done. Don’t say it’s crazy. It’s the exact process that took Dwayne Johnson from “die Rocky die” chants to just plain ol’ “rock-y, rock-y” chants. All that really changed (apart from a sideburns trim) was a subtle shift in his regular opponents. His character was largely the same. What it wasn’t was the stupid, smiling, tassled-up Rocky Maivia. He was the same jerk who screwed Mick Foley out of the WWF Championship more than twice. IT was the same guy who trash-talked Stone Cold at ‘Mania 15 to a chorus of boos. By the time they rematched at ‘Mania 17, it was top babyface vs top babyface with little change happening along the way.

Right now Roman Maivia is getting everything but “die Roman die” chants. He’s got a segment on his side (the same segment that would have been there for Rocky back in the day had they been part of the fanbase) but largely he’s getting booed.

Everyone seems to think Roman should turn heel because he doesn't work as a babyface. Nonsense; of course he can work as a babyface. He just can’t work as John Cena 2.0. He doesn’t have that personality. Trying to force him to be something he’s not has been the biggest problem over the past four years and the big reason why he’s getting more boos than Cena ever got during his exhausting ten years on top.

You want him to be cheered? You want him to stop getting booed? Let him be a character worth booing. It’s crazy. It’s backwards. It’s the opposite of what it should be. But that’s the WWE today.

Turn him heel to get him cheered.

addendum* -

Fans love to cheer the bad guy because bad guys in WWE are often allowed to have more personality and character. It’s not about being contrarian, it’s about liking what is fun and heels are often more fun. It’s the same root problem that explains why, whenever WWE puts the belt and a big push on any midcarder that fans are crazy about, those same fans tend to turn on him. Why? Because the moment they give someone a big push they start micromanaging his character, dumbing him down and stripping away all the stuff we liked in the first place. But WWE’s relentless micromanaging is for another article...

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