The Roman Reigns Problem

The Roman Reigns Problem is the rare pro wrestling story that's broken through into the mainstream nerd press, thanks to sites like The AV Club and the Gawker network finally letting their wrestling nerds write about wrestling.

Basically, if you're not following wrestling, Roman Reigns will, at Wrestlemania, face Brock Lesnar for the Heavyweight Title. And by far, the most likely outcome is Reigns winning the biggest prize in the company, on the biggest show of the year, when nobody likes him.

That's not strictly true, of course. People like Roman Reigns. I like Roman Reigns. They just don't like him enough to justify his role as the good guy winning the biggest prize in the company on the biggest show of the year.

Why don't they like him enough? Well, he's a decent enough wrestler. Not great, but young and good enough to maybe be great someday. When it comes to talking, he doesn't seem to have any ideas or personality of his own, and he's worse than average at presenting the multiple personalities the WWE has tried to pin on him to make people like him.

And at the end of the day, the problem isn't that people don't like Roman Reigns, it's that WWE has done an awful job at convincing people to like him. They tried making him a wisecracker in the mold of The Rock, and it was a dismal failure because, well, the man can't tell a joke. They tried to make him the strong silent type, but that only works when you're paired up with other less silent types, like Reigns was in The Shield.

But what they settled on may be the worst idea in recent wrestling history. They basically tried to convince everyone that Reigns was overcoming adversity, which is a pretty good way to go, but the adversity has consisted basically of people telling Reigns he can't beat Brock Lesnar and then Reigns beating them up. That's not adversity.

This approach reached it's nadir of ludicrositude on Monday Night Raw, where Paul Heyman, performing a Sisyphean task, screamed "YOU CAN'T" over and over again until Reigns interrupted wearing his new, for-sale-at-shop-dot-wwe-dot-com T-shirt, emblazoned with both "I CAN" and "I WILL".

Everyone knows you will. They just would rather someone else they like better did. This will not win those people over.

What would have won people over? Well, some small things, to start. Change Reigns' entrance. He's kept the Shield entrance and theme music, walking slowly through the crowd to the ring. This worked for The Shield because people were excited to see The Shield and The Shield was never in a particular hurry to be anywhere. But it's killing Reigns.

There's no energy to it, and it takes FOREVER for him to get to the ring. His run-ins are walk-down-the-stairs-ins. Even the people excited to see him are bored by the time he hits the ring. Which is part of a larger problem with WWE and pacing, but that's another day.

And don't make people like Reigns more, make people hate Lesnar more. I don't know how much pull Lesnar has with how he's portrayed, but the reality is, Lesnar's a guy who made his bones in the WWE, then left, then came back as a part-timer making full-timer money, and the only reason he's dropping the belt at Wrestlemania (probably) is because he doesn't want to play with WWE anymore (probably). Why the WWE isn't using that is beyond me. They used it with Cena vs. Lesnar, and it didn't really work, but that's because opinions on Cena are set in stone.

But the biggest thing they can do for Reigns is to stop trying to force things that worked for other people on him. He has a catchphrase. Nobody likes it. It's "Believe That", which goes a long way toward explaining why nobody likes it. People aren't going to start liking it if they hear it more. Just stop.

Fix his finisher. Right now it's a clone of Cena's Five Knuckle Shuffle, which itself is a clone of The People's Elbow. It's a setup move, a pose, and a followup move. But in Reigns' case, the setup move is the Superman Punch, and the followup is a spear. Two guys in the history of pro wrestling have managed to get a spear over with crowds. Edge could spear people because by the time he started spearing people everyone was already way into him. And Rhino could spear people because he could call it "The Gore" and every time he did it, Paul Heyman would scream "GORE GORE GORE" and make it seem awesome.

Forget the spear. Have him work on the Superman Punch. It's fairly unique, it's flashy, and it's impressive as hell... when delivered correctly. Because it's become a transition move, Reigns rarely hits it correctly. It needs gravitas, it needs impact, it needs to seem special and powerful every time he does it. It should be like the RKO. I don't like Randy Orton much, but the one thing he does right is make his finisher look like it finishes. Reigns needs to make the Superman Punch like the RKO.

Of course, the problem is it's too late for any of this. We're a week and a half away from Wrestlemania. The course is set, the T-Shirts have been made, and when, after about 12 minutes of mediocre in-ring action, Reigns spears Lesnar for the second time and wins the belt, the reaction will be the evil twin of Daniel Bryan's win last year. And it didn't have to be that way.