wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Why Did Roman Reigns’ Huge Push Fail?

February 23, 2020 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Roman Reigns Raw 22618

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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Mohamed is the biggest of dogs:

Why did Roman reigns fail to become a megastar in the WWE despite Vince McMahon pushing him to the moon?

I think that the answer depends somewhat on your definition of the word “megastar.” If you mean “megastar” in the sense of Rock or Hulk Hogan, somebody who transcends professional wrestling popularity and breaks through to the mainstream, the answer is that Reigns just doesn’t have the charisma or “it factor” of any wrestler who has managed to do that before. Heck, Reigns is even a couple of pegs below John Cena in those departments, and Cena hasn’t been half the crossover success of Hogan or Rock.

If by “megastar” you mean a beloved main eventer within the professional wrestling world, a lot of it has to do with the timeframe in which WWE tried to establish Reigns at that level. As I’ve discussed before in various columns over the years, I think that the notion that Reigns was “shoved down fans’ throats” is a bit overblown. The fact of the matter is that, if you watch Reigns’ ascension with the Shield, he actually did get over organically at first, and fans were accepting him as a top guy as part of that act. (And don’t give me the B.S. line I’ve heard before of “Well, the fans really liked Ambrose and Rollins.” Reigns was their equal.) Plus, if you go watch the end of the 2014 Royal Rumble match, the crowd was 100% behind Reigns as he squared off against Dave Batista in the final moments.

The problem is that, even though Reigns was in a perfect position to become a top singles star, the promotion tried to slot him into that role at a really inopportune time, when Daniel Bryan had organically gotten over even bigger. WWE wanted to go with Reigns as the face of their company as opposed to Bryan, and the natural consequence was that the people rejected Reigns, even though he was getting reactions like a top guy just a couple of months prior.

A smaller but still somewhat related issue is that, when WWE tried to make Reigns a singles act, they got too far away from what got him over in the first place. When he was part of the Shield, Roman was the strong, silent type, kicking a lot of ass while not saying too much. However, when he was on his own, they tried to shove him in to the Rock/John Cena mold of doing long interviews laced with poorly written jokes, which wasn’t what people wanted to see from him. If they’d kept him in the silent killer role, similar to what managed to build the Undertaker as one of their most enduring stars, he might have had a better shot of making a run at things – though overcoming the popularity of Daniel Bryan was always going to be a tough road to hoe.

I usually try not to answer multiple emails from the same person in the same edition of this column, but I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing and accidentally addressed a second Mohamed question this week:

I don’t feel like I have any groundbreaking opinions on it that differ too much from what many others have said over the years.

It was a poor idea for a variety of reasons. In the short-term, it was a negative because WCW advertised a Hulk Hogan versus Kevin Nash match – probably one of the bigger bouts they had from a star power perspective at the time – and didn’t deliver. Nowadays it seems like fans don’t care nearly as much about bait and switch tactics as they used to (probably because viewership had dipped to the point that we’re down to hardcores who will watch anything) but at the time not seeing that encounter take place after it was built up really shook people’s trust in WCW as a promotion.

Of course, the match also devalued the championship. In order for a world title to work as it’s supposed to, it needs to be portrayed as the one prize that all wrestlers will fight to attain, no matter the cost. The finger poke sent the message that, at least to Kevin Nash, the title didn’t mean nearly as much as pulling a fast one on WCW. You could conceivably argue that disrespecting the title like this was part of the whole nWo gimmick, and you would probably have a good point if not for the fact that there was a whole mess of other booking going on at the time which made championships mean less than they had in years past.

Probably the biggest problem with the poke, though, was that it signaled a reunion of the nWo, returning WCW’s top angles to a form that, by that point, a lot of people were getting fed up with. It was time for the promotion to move on to something else other than Hogan, Nash, and company running roughshod, and that is the exact opposite of what we were given.

That moment did give us the nWo B-Team, though, and they were the most unintentionally funny stable in wrestling history, so I guess it’s not all bad.

HBK’s Smile wants to follow up on a conversation from our last column:

In your most recent column, you noted your strong displeasure at the notion of David Benoit wrestling as Chris Benoit Jr. (and basically wrestling at all). In this day and age, is it feasible for someone like this with a notorious father to compete under a mask and not let his true identity ever be known to the general public? Would it be feasible in some countries but not others due to the presence (or lack of) athletic commissions?

I don’t think that it would be feasible in the United States if this hypothetical person were going to be wrestling on any sort of significant level. In fact, I think we’ve got a pretty decent example of how something like this has played out in CHIKARA.

For those not familiar with CHIKARA, it is a fairly high level independent promotion with a strong basis in lucha libre. Because of this, many of the characters are masked. The company’s founder/owner/promoter, Mike Quackenbush, has made it abundantly clear in various forums that he does not care for people revealing the true identities of the masked wrestlers, and, because of that, the promotion’s die hard fans refuse to openly discuss those identities and actively shout down others who do. As an example, if you look at the Wikipedia page for longstanding CHIKARA stable The Colony, there is absolutely no reference to the well-known wrestlers who have played the insectoid members of the group . . . and this is on a disinterested, supposedly “encyclopedic” reference source that should be focusing on the facts without kowtowing to the wishes of a wrestling promoter.

However, even with the promotion refusing to acknowledge who is who and even with the fans largely getting in on the work and trying to protect the wrestlers’ identities themselves, you can still find a listing of who’s who if you know where to look on the internet. If that’s the case with a promotion the size of CHIKARA, you can only imagine how well it would go if WWE or AEW tried to hide a secret identity for one of their wrestlers.

One of the big issues with such a scheme is that, when a promotion pays somebody to wrestle on their show, that promotion should be issuing the wrestler some sort of tax document at the end of the year which lists their legal name and the amount of money that they received from the promotion that year. If the wrestler is considered an employee, that would be a W-2, or, if they’re considered an independent contractor, that would be some form of 1099. Because of that, there will always be at least some paper trail of who is wrestling for your promotion, and all it takes is one person to divulge the information contained in that paper trail for the secret to become public information. Granted, the W-2 or 1099 would not say that the wrestler in question earned their money for portraying a particular character, but all you would have to do is get one back-office employee to disclose everybody who the promotion was paying, and then you could compare that list to who you regularly see on the company’s cards. From there, identifying the masked wrestler by process of elimination would not be too difficult.

Probably the best shot that a wrestling promotion would have at getting something like this to stick would be to have everybody who might become privy to the masked wrestler’s identity sign a stringent non-disclosure agreement of the sort employed on major film and television productions, but that would be quite a bit of time and effort to invest in something that, quite frankly, wouldn’t have a lot of upside for the promotion. Even if you were able to get all of the necessary NDAs in place, that wouldn’t prevent the fan community from trying to unmask the wrestler in question, which you know that they almost assuredly would. It would only take one relatively minor slip-up, such as the wrestler appearing in an airport where rest of the roster is located without his mask on, in order for the whole thing to be blown.

As far as other countries are concerned, I don’t know that they would be any different. In 2020, we’re living in a world where people crave information too much and have significant abilities to obtain and distribute it which are near impossible to circumvent.

Brad is a struttin’ fool:

I was thinking about Ric Flair’s career today and realized that just from an orthopedic/muscular standpoint, his body has lasted amazingly well. You don’t hear about him having joint replacements or spinal fusion like Hogan. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember him having major in-ring injuries. His broken back from the plane crash obviously doesn’t count. Do you think he doesn’t get as much recognition for this considering his extremely long and full wrestling career?

Oh, Flair is phenomenally durable, particularly given the fact that he continued to wrestle and bump after that plane crash.

There are only two instances that I can think of in his forty year career where Flair suffered some sort of in-ring injury, the first being a torn rotator cuff in fall 1996 which is attributed to a bad judo throw in a New Japan match against Kensuke Sasaki. The second is a triceps tear which occurred during a 2011 match against Sting in TNA, which to date is the last match that the Nature Boy has wrestled.

For what it’s worth, Flair was scheduled to wrestle one more match after the Sting bout, which would have taken place in January 2013 for All Japan Pro Wrestling, with Flair teaming with Keiji Muto against Tatsumi Fujinami and Seiya Sanada (now NJPW’s SANADA). However, Flair suffered a blood clot in his leg, most likely due to the long plane flight to Japan, and he had to pull out at the last minute, leaving his son Reid to replace him. That’s not a wrestling-related injury, per se, but it does go to show you that Ric has had just as many problems with flying during his career as he had with actually wrestling.

A track record like this one is virtually unheard of, and Brad is right that it doesn’t get talked about all the much. I suspect the reason for that is we’re talking about Ric Freakin’ Flair here, and there are so many other incredible aspects of his career that we don’t focus on that one, no mater how amazing it is. If there were a journeyman wrestler who managed to go for forty years while only suffering two significant injuries, we might recall it better because it would be the only noteworthy thing about him.

Nate is using language that would make a sailor (but not the president) blush:

I was recently watching SmackDown from the year 2000, and unprovoked, the audience started chanting “Shane’s a p*ssy!”

How did the WWF get away with the audience using language that would not be allowed on prime time network TV, especially with regard to Smackdown? Obviously Raw was live (and on cable), but SmackDown had two days to edit and sweeten crowd noise. I understand the actual script being cleared ahead of time, but did they not need to send the broadcast itself to Standards & Practices before it aired?

I think that the issue you’re raising has more to do with the specific word being used than it does anything else.

From doing some quick research, it appears that the word “pussy” has quite an inconsistent history as to whether and under what circumstances it has been considered an indecent term that ought not to be mentioned on broadcast television and terrestrial radio.

One thing to clarify first: When it comes to government regulations, there is no list of words that have been outright banned from the airwaves, despite common misconceptions to the contrary. The Federal Communications Commission bans broadcast of “indecent” material, but it does not say that specific words will always be indecent, instead taking the position that every utterance of a particular word must be considered in the context in which it was uttered before a decision regarding indecency can be made. The FCC also doesn’t actively monitor what is being broadcast. They act only in response to the complaints of viewers/listeners.

Granted, the standards and practices departments of certain networks or stations have assuredly gathered lists of words that they are going to ban to avoid the wrath of the FCC, but the FCC itself has no such listing. This can lead to some inconsistent results.

As it relates to the word “pussy,” there are several sources out there which indicate that different entities will treat the word differently depending on whether it is being used as a slang term for a vulva or whether it is being used as an insult. This is because, even though the entomology is not 100% clear, there is at least some plausible argument that “pussy” as an insult does not relate to “pussy” as genitalia. “Pussy” as an insult would normally be directed at a man who is seen as being weak, ineffectual or effeminate, and some have argued that this derisive term derives from comparing its target to a cat or a willow, not to a woman. (I’m not saying that this is the strongest argument in the world, but it’s out there.) Thus, there are some broadcast entities out there where “pussy” as genitals will get bleeped but “pussy” as a more general insult will not.

I suspect that UPN, which aired Smackdown at this time, treated the word that way.

Tyler from Winnipeg is getting hype, but the jury is out on whether he will stay hype:

What did you think of Mojo winning the 24/7 title?

I’m writing this answer on January 15, and Rawley just won the championship on January 13, so I don’t have a lot of hindsight on this move, but my immediate reaction was “meh.” The 24/7 Championship is a pretty meaningless, undercard title that’s mainly played for comedy. Mojo Rawley, no matter what you think about his level of talent, is a pretty directionless undercard wrestler who has been taken just about as seriously as the 24/7 Title. Aside from the fact that he’s not an overt comedy wrestler, I didn’t see it as being any different than any other non-entity of a wrestler winning that belt.

Even though I was underwhelmed by the championship win itself, I do think that there is some potential for a Mojo Rawley 24/7 Title reign. I’ve always felt that Rawley has at least some potential as throwback bruiser style character, almost in the vein of a Nikita Kolkoff. You could theoretically help establish him as that sort of character by having wrestlers constantly try to run in on him to steal the championship, with Mojo always dominating and winning. Granted, at some point he would have to start defending the championship against wrestlers who have been strongly booked, but having him first lay waste to all of the scrubs who normally contend for that title would at least be the beginning of a push.

And, as always:

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].