Wednesday 30 August 2017

Cena vs. Reigns vs. the audience

... you suck.”

According to them [the audience] so does he [Kurt Angle] and he won a gold medal.”

This past Monday on WWE Raw there was one of the best contract signing segments I have seen in years: John Cena and Roman Reigns signing for a match at No Mercy. Its hard to say that Cena does anything less than annihilate Reigns on the mic but the segment made some valid points about the reception of both wrestlers.

You see, WWE's longterm strategy is for Roman Reigns to replace John Cena as the face of the company. They have not been subtle about it, in fact they've been extraordinarily blatant and the audience just plain ain't having it. They fed him the win in the Undertaker's retirement match at Wrestlemania which is impressive for the faith it shows the company has in the man but, as Cena points out, it was a win against a man in his fifties with a bad hip.

The thing of it is that both these men have something in common: the often contentious relationship between how the company presents them to the audience and how the audience views them. With Cena you can see it swings both ways with the chant “Let's go Cena! Cena sucks!”. As has been said in the past, whether they love him or hate him they're chanting and that sort of feeling sells tickets.

With Roman its a bit more one way. The audience sees him being promoted and protected and they resent it. They see him, as pointed out in this segment, as an artificially created Cena replacement.

And thus it doesn't work.

Do I think it should? Not particularly. Reigns has some problems, how many are down to Reigns as a guy rather than the writing he's given to work with is questionable. I've no real problem with his in-ring work except where bad booking makes him look weak (such as the Royal Rumble where he disappears off for a nap which was peretty necessary but not a good visual and therefore the whole going beginning to end thing should probably not have been tried).

He has some problems on the mic, exemplified by when he utterly dries in this segment and Cena covers masterfully “Go ahead and find it. I'll wait.”. Now, that's an extreme example, Reigns rarely dries like that that I've seen.

Regardless, the subtext of this feud is whether Roman deserves Cena'a place. Cena's part time now and fair play: he's getting on by his industry's standard and he's getting married he doesn't want the constant touring schedule and he's important enough to be allowed that. It is a problem, though, that the guy coached to replace him just doesn't have the draw he still does as a part timer.

So can this elevate Reigns the way the company wants? Certainly there's a segment of the audience that wants John Cena to lose. The, not entirely unwarranted but not entirely fair, reputation Cena has for burying new talent is brought up in the segment as is the fact that he spent his whole most recent US Championship run promoting new talent through the US Open Challenge angle. Those who hate Cena think he needs taking down a peg or two and could afford to eat a loss and those who love Cena know he can carry people to great matches and have a spectacular one with even a moderately talented wrestler.

And Cena's right, this could be a Wrestlemania match we're talking about here and its scheduled for No Mercy. This match almost can't help but be great: two very talented performers, a lot of audience investment on both sides and a rather bigger name match-up than a B-show pay-per-view usually deserves.

Will it work? Maybe. Absent completely stupid booking decisions (like, oh... stripping Sasha Banks of her title on her first defence again whilst also making not only Alexa Bliss but Nia Jax look like chumps for goodness' sake!) the match itself can't help but be a barnstormer. Long term?

Reigns is languishing in the mid card when WWE wants him in the top card and he's not making a good go of it. Cena had the US Open Challenge and, as the Champ who is here says, Reigns treated that title like a demotion. It was, of course, but the fact it was visibly treated like that was poor work by the writers because it just made Reigns look arrogant and ungrateful.

Maybe going over Cena (which I am 99% certain is the plan if anyone has any sense in that writers' room) can undo some of the damage. This isn't a one-match problem but this could be a good start. 

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