Last night on Monday Night Raw, we were given shocking news. Roman Reigns is leaving the WWE, as he’s been battling leukemia since 2008 and it has come back from being in remission. The Universal Championship has been vacated, the Crown Jewel title match (if it even takes place now, given the Saudi Arabia insanity) has been changed to just Brock Lesnar vs Braun Strowman and most importantly, the SHIELD is no more, especially after the remaining two members are no longer “brothers”, with Dean Ambrose turning on Seth Rollins. In the span of 3-hours, we got a hell of an emotional roller coaster, for many reasons.
I mean for starters, I’ll be completely honest here: I am one of the people who they call a Roman Reigns “hater”. I boo him at live events I attend that he’s featured in, I constantly complain about the results of his matches, his booking, his promos, everything the character does, I usually have cross words about it. But despite what all the folks online are saying, while I am indeed a Roman Reigns hater, I’m certainly not a Joe Anoa’i hater.
I don’t hate Joe the man, Joe the human being. I hate Roman the character, Roman the idea, Roman the thing that has been shoved down my throat for years as a hardcore wrestling fan who wants to see something different, something better, something with a shred of creativity. Y’know, creativity beyond spouting nursery rhymes and Sylvester the Cat quotes. I will still never get over that promo, guys. I’ve wanted to see countless other guys be given a shot at the main event card, but instead it’s Roman high atop the mountaintop, never budging. Even when he doesn’t get the pinfall, he still wins in the way he’s booked, in the way the announcers talk about him.
Roman Reigns was an underdog who rarely lost when it meant the most. One of the big four PPVs? Usually wins. First match of a big feud that the heel is generally supposed to win so the feud can keep going? Usually wins. Title match that doesn’t include Brock Lesnar as the champion? Basically a guaranteed win. WWE thought that a guy who wins a lot and has a massive list of major stars over the history of wrestling that he’s beaten, he’s supposed to be the underdog character. Roman Reigns, the man who systematically destroyed the Undertaker at WrestleMania, beat Triple H for the title at WrestleMania, was given the honor of breaking Kane’s Royal Rumble elimination record in his very first Royal Rumble, has had the Rock give him the rub, Daniel Bryan shook his hand in attempt to get the fans to stop booing the man. All of this. All of these accolades and WWE expected us to accept him as our underdog? Fat chance.
But it’s hysterical to me that people misunderstand the vitriol that fans like myself send Roman’s way. Death threats made by pathetic losers aside, the constant hatred, contention and negativity that we create is not limited to just “Fuck Roman!” or “Roman sucks!”, generally speaking there’s so much more to it than that. Early on in the “Boo Roman” saga, over and over again people kept saying (whether on social media, podcasts, etc.) why WWE doesn’t look at what they did back in the 90s with Roman’s cousin, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (they’re not actually related by blood, but through their Samoan family dynasty) when he was getting booed to holy hell in his initial run as a babyface, a good guy. They turned him heel and pretty quickly he became one of the most hated bad guys on WWE programming. He developed a new look, a new name, a new persona, found his voice and became the most electrifying man in all of entertainment today. But Roman, WWE insisted time and time again to keep him down the same path, figuring if he just keeps winning and beaten more top-name talent, the fans would eventually have to like him.
In the end, the vast majority of fans who booed Roman didn’t want him gone, they wanted him to be better, because in all honestly folks, since they started pushing him as a big singles star, he’s been terrible. Not in the ring, his ring work is a solid B, still needs some work, but he can wrestle well enough to be a main eventer. But his promos, his fucking childish promos, they killed him dead the moment he started going on his own. People seem to think that because the WWE is a PG show, that their main audience is families and kids. But in actuality, as research has shown (here) the core demographic keeps getting older. In 2000 when wrestling couldn’t be any hotter, the median age was 28. In 2006, a few years after WCW was gone, the age rose to 33. In 2016, the median age skyrocketed to 54. Yes, in 10 years the age on average shot up over 20 years of age. Why is this? Quite frankly, because wrestling isn’t cool anymore. Sports are becoming less and less cool altogether as most sports are seeing a similar increase in median age, but nowhere near what WWE is experiencing. But with mixed martial arts like the UFC becoming a more cool product, the younger sports crowd is moving away from pro wrestling altogether, leaving the fanbase to be either the kids that we’re seeing today, being sold John Cena neon green wristbands and Nikki Bella baseball caps (because nothing screams family friendly like a 34 year-old woman with fake breasts shaking her ass about in hot pants), or the holdout hardcore fans that have been watching the WWE since the Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage days.
We all wanted Roman to become better than what he was, because we saw him as something so much more than what WWE was portraying him as. This is a guy that could’ve been a take no prisoners badass son of a bitch, who says little and lets his fists do the talking. But instead, we got a guy who whined and complained when he lost to unfair bullshit from the bad guys, instead of just saying “I’m coming for you…” and like I said earlier, spouted childish nonsense like his “Suffering Succotash” promo. We wanted better and for years we got the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over and–well, you get the idea.
Now that I’m done bashing the character, let’s finally get onto what happened last night. The promo felt reminiscent of Edge’s promo, when he retired after retaining his title at WrestleMania the night before. It came out of left field, here was my favourite wrestler who’d just won a big match at the biggest show of the year and he was retiring?! Sure, I knew he’d had a history of neck problems, but he looked good in that match, how bad could it have been?! With Roman though, this was straight up as out of nowhere as you could get. I don’t know if anyone knew that Roman had a history dealing with leukemia and from what I read, it seems no one really knew about this stuff. It’s something you gotta stop whatever you’re doing and fight, so there’s no “Well, maybe I can stick around a little bit and drop the title to X.”, it’s “You gotta go and get this taken care of NOW.”. Even a hardened veteran of hating Roman Reigns had to admit, this was different. This wasn’t a storyline where Roman Reigns now gets to beat cancer and add that to the list of big names he’s already beaten, this was Joe Anoa’i having to declare defeat.
The man’s been through a lot. Whether you like him or not, he’s put up with all the mixed emotions every night. He’s put up with the terrible scripts he’s been given, the storylines he’s been booked in, the matches he’s had to have that ended in the most nonsensical bullshit ways. Joe Anoa’i has earned the respect from wrestling fans for what he’s put into the business, plain and simple. So good luck, man, go kick cancer’s ass!
But Roman Reigns, the character that WWE has failed for 4 years trying to push as the biggest star in the business? I’ll be waiting to boo you once again when you return. Because even though Joe Anoa’i will beat leukemia and will make a big comeback, if the Roman Reigns character is still the same old bullshit I’ve been booing for years now, I’m not changing my stance. And I never will.