Published on January 13th, 2015 | by Gareth Davies0
Roman Reigns Ruined?
Did you ever hear the story of the “Mega Man” Tom Magee?
There’s no disputing that in his prime Magee was a physical marvel. Standing at a legitimate 6 foot 5 inches and walking around with 275 pounds of sculptured muscle, Tom cut quite the dashing figure. But what set Magee apart was that in addition to his rippling muscles and his tight abs, he was also tremendously handsome. Gorgeous in fact. Indeed Magee looked more like a matinee idol than a grizzled gym grunt. Throw on top of that an easy going charm, and the Winnipeg, Manitoba native was quite the potent combination.
During the early ’80s, Magee successfully entered and won numerous strongman and body-building contests, and had even claimed gold at the IPF World Power lifting Championships. But despite this success, Magee wasn’t satisfied. Looking to transition in to a more lucrative career Magee turned his hand to pro wrestling, training with the legendary Stu Hart and briefly touring Japan in an effort to hone his skills.
In October 1986, Magee was invited to a WWF non televised event in Rochester, New York for a try-out match. It was a surprise that it hadn’t happened sooner considering Magee’s aesthetic appeal. Better yet the stars seemed to align for him, as his opponent was Stu’s son Bret, an extremely gifted technical wrestler.
The match went over like wildfire with the typically demanding New York crowd, and the story goes that Vince McMahon was so impressed that he immediately ear marked Magee for great things. “That’s my champion!” proclaimed McMahon for all to hear, and the inference was clear. Magee, younger, stronger, and better looking than top dog Hulk Hogan would one day be the man to topple the Hulkster from his throne. For both McMahon and the newly dubbed “Mega Man” it was almost too good to be true.
Alas that’s exactly what it was, as less than a year later Magee was relegated to WWF ‘C’ shows and McMahon had instead turned his attention to another young body-builder going by the name of “The Ultimate Warrior”. The reason? Well to put it bluntly, Magee absolutely sucked in the ring. In Rochester that fateful night Bret Hart had accomplished something that would become a calling card in his career, namely taking a limited foe and making them look like a million bucks. However when Magee started to face less skilled adversaries the wheels soon fell off the wagon. So hopeless was he, that even in the character heavy, cartoonish WWF of the ’80s, he still stood out like a sore thumb. When it became apparent that he couldn’t wrestle a lick, it didn’t take too long for McMahon to sour on him and cut his losses.
The irony was of course that even after abandoning Magee, the WWF struggled to find a new leading man. The Warrior failed to bring in the house show revenue that Hogan had, and was soon demoted to second fiddle status. Eventually the baton was passed to Lex Luger, Diesel, Shawn Michaels, and Hart himself, none of whom managed to reignite the box office. It wasn’t until Stone Cold Steve Austin started dishing out ‘stunners’ with extreme prejudice in ’97, that business turned around.
Which brings us to present day and the curious case of Roman Reigns. About a year ago Reigns, much like Magee, was hand-picked by McMahon to become the next big thing and take over from John Cena as the face of the company. Truth be told this has been a long time coming, as by the time WrestleMania 31 rolls around Cena will have been the WWE’s main man for 10 years. To put that in to context Hogan’s initial run on top lasted just 9 years, Austin himself only managed five, while The Rock’s longest continuous stretch as a headliner was a measly four. And after a decade of busting his gut up and down the country (whatever you think of him no one can question Cena’s dedication or his work ethic), it’s becoming increasingly clear that injuries and life on the road have started to take their toll on the leader of the Cenation. So sooner rather than later, a new hero for the masses needs to be crowned.
That coronation will be for Reigns at this year’s WrestleMania. Or at least that’s the current plan. But, like the “Mega Man” before him, The Big Dog’s shortcomings threaten to derail his top tier push before it even begins.
It’s not his fault of course, the same way it wasn’t Magee’s. Reigns became the chosen one because of his ravishing face and bewitching eyes, not because of his impressive ring work or off the charts charisma. Obviously aware of this the WWE did a great job of protecting him as a member of The Shield, where partners Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose carried the bulk of the matches and the promos, allowing Reigns to gain some much needed experience and look flashy by pinning dudes with explosive power moves. It worked like a charm, as The Shield and Reigns himself became immensely popular.
Yet since the Hounds of Justice split, Reigns has been treading water. With a long period out injured with a double hernia certainly curtailed his momentum, the truth is, his weaknesses have been exposed as a singles competitor. While no where near the disaster that Magee was in the ring, Reigns’ doesn’t exactly put on five star clinics in between those ropes, and outside of a handful of signature moves his offence is criminally lacking.
But truly the bloom comes off the rose when Reigns opens his mouth, and currently Double R’s biggest feud is his losing battle with the microphone. Despite attending acting classes during his time off, he froze terribly on his first major interview back on active duty, and viewers cringed as he struggled to regain his composure for what seemed to be an eternity. Since then Vince McMahon has personally taken responsibility for penning Reigns’ promos, which sounds like a blessing but is actually a curse. For example, last week on Raw when asked about his upcoming match, Reigns stated that he was “faster than a speeding bullet. A man that can leap over a tall being with a single bound. A man more powerful than a locomotive. That’s who I am!”. If that wasn’t enough during an in-ring confrontation with former best friend turned backstabber Seth Rollins, Reigns called him a “snivelling sell out suck up full of sufferin’ succotash”. If you’re six years old you might get a kick out of that verbiage. Anyone else will struggle to justify why a guy who should be a serious ass kicker comes across like an entertainer at a child’s birthday party.
The thing is it doesn’t have to be this way. The belief is that away from the camera Reigns is a quick witted, thoughtful and engaging personality, and in situations where he’s allowed to be himself (such as the panel discussion for the launch of WWE 2k15, or any number of talking head segments he’s filmed for the WWE’s Youtube channel) he absolutely shines. However being forced to deliver lines that even a quiz show host would turn down as too hokey is slowly dissolving his likeability with the audience. On Monday night he went one on one with the Big Show to complete silence, until that itself was broken by a small smattering of boos during Roman’s comeback. Stone Cold beating up the boss and resisting arrest while the crowd goes bonkers this was not.
Then we have the Daniel Bryan situation. Two weeks ago Bryan, the darling of the ‘smart crowd”, announced he would make his own comeback from serious injury at the Royal Rumble, the event that usually establishes what the following WrestleMania’s main event will be. Smart crowds are more anarchic than regular crowds, and less inclined to follow WWE’s guidance on who to root for and who to hate. Last year Bryan’s lack of inclusion in the Rumble led to the attendees causing chaos by loudly booing everyone and everything that wasn’t the American Dragon. This year, the Rumble is in Philadelphia, birthplace of ECW and renowned for fans that are as passionate as they are cynical. It would be difficult for Reigns, the type of “Golden Boy” the Philly audience has always despised, to leave victorious to a round of cheers even if all things were equal. Add Bryan in to the mix, and if the Powerhouse walks away with his arm raised there could be a real life riot.
This isn’t to say that Reigns is a lost cause. On the contrary, Roman could be a bona fide mega-star if handled correctly. But the WWE needs to learn that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Just because The Rock and John Cena tell goofy jokes and act like class clowns doesn’t mean every top babyface has to. Heck, the reason why Cena gets such a negative reaction in over half the cities he visits is because he went from being an awesome, in-your-face, truth bomber in 2005 to a guy who told terrible jokes and said the word “poopy” a lot in 2008. For some guys, the formula of smiling, funny hero just doesn’t work.
Vince McMahon once claimed that rather than produce a wrestling show, what he actually does is “make movies”. In that case why not use movie heroes as your template? Yes John McClane is a likeable and funny guy, and people love it when he takes down a terrorist with a smooth one-liner. But they also love Ryan Gosling’s ‘Driver’, who barely says a word and just beats the hell out of people. Or Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, who is about as humourless as a Dapper Laughs TV special. The point is, not every action star has to be cut from the same cloth. And if Roman Reigns doesn’t excel in long matches and twenty minute monologues, then just have him destroy people in seconds with a smile and a wink.
Regardless, with WrestleMania looming and fans getting restless, whatever the solution is the WWE need to deploy it quickly. Otherwise Roman Reigns may soon be joining Tom Magee and a host of others as yet another failed experiment.