Is Vince McMahon physically addicted to the rush of adrenaline he presumably receives when a wrestler who is ostensibly a babyface walks through the curtain, only to be greeted by a chorus of boos? Does he need some kind of intervention to overcome his dependence on the euphoria of pissing off the audience during every Royal Rumble? Or is it possible that he suffers from a rare inner ear condition that makes boos sound exactly like cheers?
All of these are potentially valid reasons for why Roman Reigns was the No. 30 entrant in the Royal Rumble last night. Coming out in a position that most people in attendance were hoping to see filled by a significant surprise entrant, he expertly sucked all enthusiasm out of an already problematic, low-excitement Rumble match.
To sum up all the emotions with a single tweet from an average fan:
WWE continues to find new ways of using Roman Reigns as the human equivalent of a pointy stick, jabbed into the ribs of its audience. Fans don’t so much dislike him—the first “babyface” to ever win PWI’s “most hated wrestler of the year” award—as they’re being actively antagonized by his presence at this point. Every time Roman comes onto the screen, it’s like being forced by a parent to play with the sadistic neighbor child the adults say is “misunderstood,” when in reality he’s just a budding psychopath.
As mentioned above, the 2017 Royal Rumble match was already on very shaky footing by the time we got to No. 30. Spots that could have gone to serious contenders such as a debuting Samoa Joe or Shinsuke Nakamura, or a returning Finn Balor or Kurt Angle, instead were thrown to the likes of Kalisto, Mojo Rawley, James Ellsworth and Enzo Amore, none of whom could possibly have had less effect on the outcome of the match. Part-timers again ran wild over guys who have been carrying the company, with Brock Lesnar and Goldberg effortlessly eliminating guys like Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler and Rusev and making them look like chumps in the process. Cue the annual question WWE asks itself: “Why can’t we make younger guys into stars on the same level as part-timers?” Well, maybe if the part-timers didn’t return and effortlessly squash the full-time wrestlers, they wouldn’t look so pathetic.
Indeed, the commitment toward making sure no full-time roster member can ever look good in a Royal Rumble match is impressively dedicated. With a handful of legends in this Rumble, just take a look at which guys were allowed to benefit from the prestige of eliminating a part-timer:
Brock Lesnar: Instantly eliminated by Goldberg, presumably to make it even more imperative that Brock wins a rubber match at Wrestlemania.
Goldberg: Eliminated by part-time legend The Undertaker, because heaven forbid anyone on the roster look strong by eliminating the mighty Goldberg.
The Undertaker: Eliminated by Roman Reigns, because WWE hates everything about you as a person.
Everything about the badness of the Rumble crystallizes and comes into focus the moment Roman Reigns strides down to the arena. It doesn’t even matter that he didn’t win, with Randy Orton inexplicably picking up the W for reasons unknown. What matters is that it’s yet another event hijacked by the never-ending attempt to make Roman “The Guy” in a legitimate sense, and not just as a catchphrase. Two years after the event ended with an entire arena lustily booing Rumble winner Reigns while his arm was raised by The Rock, we came this close to going through it all over again.
It’s incredible, the way this company utterly disregards what the people in the stands want to see. The biggest fans that the brand has, the ones willing to shell out hundreds of dollars for seats to this kind of show, seem to be the ones WWE is least interested in tailoring its product to. Everyone backstage sits there looking at their monitors, knowing that the audience wants to see someone like Samoa Joe or Finn Balor in that No. 30 spot … and then Reigns walks out instead. A guy who had already wrestled for the RAW title earlier the same night. A guy who was already booed by the audience earlier in the evening, and was cheered for losing. A guy who has been given countless opportunities to get the crowd on his side, only to fail in every way we can measure failure.
I know that there will be people who assure me that “You’re being worked, idiot,” because they’re “obviously” sowing the seeds of a Reigns heel turn by playing into the crowd’s hatred of him. To that I say: I won’t be able to believe that even when it happens, but after it happens. Reigns is this generation’s John Cena in terms of both crowd reaction and Vince McMahon’s obsession with him, and how many times have we been through the “John Cena is going to turn heel” cycle? Every time someone claims that these heel turns are in the works, Cena or Roman just shows up on Raw the next day, smiling, laughing and “overcoming the odds.” I refuse to believe that this company knows what it’s doing, but I invite them to prove me wrong. Which is to say: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE PROVE ME WRONG.
Because until then, WWE is just trolling its own audience for the sheer, petty thrill of it.