WWE: The Earning of the Roman Empire
Yes, we know that the Slammy Awards are being presented on Raw tonight and that means we are contractually obligated to give out our own awards. We will do that next week, in our final column of the year. Today, however, we need to look at the crowning of the new WWE Champion and how surprising it felt, when the inevitable finally happened.
Eleven months ago Roman Reigns was booed out of the building in Philadelphia. He was christened by Vince McMahon as being the next “IT” guy in the company, which was completely rejected by the marks and the fans in Philadelphia. Even a surprise appearance by The Rock could not stop the chorus of boos reigning (see what I did there) down on Roman. Perhaps it was the boredom with Reigns never ending feud with the Big Show and Kane or just the fans rejecting WWE’s handling of Daniel Bryan (which was just plain STUPID), but Roman never had chance earlier this year. Hell, even up until last week, he never had a true chance to win over the fans. The atrocious smiling, the horribly written lines, and the Cena like power to overcome all of the obstacles turned Reigns from the badass of the Shield to detestable.
I’ve said multiple times that it’s clear Reigns was working very hard in 2015 to win over all of the fans that he lost. In the past month, minus the corny dialogue, it’s been even more evident. Placed in a mind numbingly boring feud with Sheamus, Reigns wound up thriving. Both of their matches, especially the TLC one, were enjoyable and even though I hated the post match nonsense with Triple H, the mass audience very much loved it.
It was overly obvious that he was going to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship sooner rather than later. It was supposed to happen at WrestleMania, when he conquered the Beast Brock Lesnar. It was supposed to happen against Seth Rollins at Survivor Series (and technically for five minutes it did). But both of those potential times, it didn’t feel right. It was what Vince McMahon wanted, but we spit that right out. Reigns has the look, sure, but we weren’t in desperate need of another Hulk Hogan, Diesel or John Cena. We wanted the next guy to be our choice. Last week on Raw, Vince McMahon made his guy our guy.
Vince has always been a master manipulator, a puppet master of sorts. He’s heard all of the criticism (plenty from me) about how time has passed him by and he doesn’t get or care what we want. The ratings are in the tank and they needed to make a change. Instead of changing courses, they tweaked the show so finally everyone was able to get what they wanted. McMahon appeared on Raw last week for the first time this year and played his role perfectly. It was the same role he played when the ratings were at it’s highest. He took one punch and the crowd was once again in the palm of his hands. Instead of booing his uncrowned champion out of the building like they did in January, instead they chanted, “you deserve it”. Instead of feeling like an inevitability, Reigns winning the WWE Championship felt like a moment he had rightfully earned. It felt like a moment that Reigns had worked toward all year long and finally he had achieved. He acknowledged all of that after the show.
It was the first WWE Championship change on Raw since the Summer of Punk, in 2011 and it felt like a big deal. Naturally, WWE needed something huge to end the year with, in an effort to try and turn around their atrocious ratings. When Daniel Bryan ultimately won the WWE Championship and had his WrestleMania moment, it felt like WWE told the full story. It had come full circle from being screwed in the storyline and behind the scenes. The ending for Bryan felt natural. The same can be said for last Monday night. As Michael Cole screamed as the new champion celebrated, the Reigns story had also come full circle in Philly. Much like Daniel Bryan, it wasn’t exactly how it was planned, but sometimes that’s for the best. Reigns may have “supposed” to be champion 8 months ago and this year was supposed to be the year of the Roman Empire (yes, we’ve moved on from the era of the Cenation to that). Instead, he was knocked down and put into background for much of the year. Now, on top of the mountain, the Empire has begun and the force (obligatory Star Wars reference) has awoken. Heading into this year’s WrestleMania season, the next chapter for Reigns will be written. Whether it’s Triple H or Lesnar again, Reigns stands a better chance to be properly appreciated. And when the ultimate showdown with Cena comes, in the “passing of the torch match” (see matches like Ultimate Warrior/Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels/Steve Austin, and John Cena/Triple H as prime previous examples), Reigns will appropriately be ready.
I’ve never claimed to be the biggest Roman Reigns mark, but it’s clear that he has a major passion. He wants to be great and it was never his fault that the fans all turned against him this year. Watching him win the WWE Championship last Monday, I actually felt good for him. He may not have conquered the Beast at WrestleMania, but he conquered the WWE Universe. Both Lesnar and the crowd can kick the crap out of you, but Reigns has continually gotten back up. Philadelphia is not one of the cities WWE goes to and just gets the reaction that they demand. They are as tough as any city WWE regulates (along with Chicago and New York) and in order to get the pop, it has to be earned. When Roman Reigns speared the living crap out of Sheamus last week, there wasn’t a smattering of snarky boos. No, it was the biggest pure pop of Reigns’ career. The crowd counted to three and was rightfully elated. The Corporate Champion became the People’s Champion. And Vince McMahon gets what he wanted all along.
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