Last night on WWE Monday Night Raw, babyface authority figure Vince McMahon temporarily suspended hated heel Roman Reigns after Roman became agitated over the special privileges contractually afforded his more successful and more popular opponent, WWE Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar, earning a roar of approval from the crowd. Unfortunately, that’s not the story WWE is trying to tell, and with WrestleMania fast approaching, the chances of the main event ending with anything other than a chorus of boos as Roman Reigns defeats Brock Lesnar to be coronated as new champion and official face of the WWE for the next decade are effectively zero.
The problem isn’t a new one. Ever since Roman Reigns won the 2015 Royal Rumble instead of the wrestler the fans wanted, Daniel Bryan, he’s been booed nearly non-stop by fans. The reason: Reigns is transparently the wrestler WWE wants fans to cheer for, but WWE fans believe that who they cheer for should play a role in deciding WWE’s storylines. This fundamental difference of opinion has created an adversarial relationship between WWE, as represented by its leading men like Roman Reigns and John Cena before him, and its own audiences. In a fictional television show about a real sport where the live audience is part of the story, the result is a bizarre and immersion-breaking experience.
Nevertheless, WWE isn’t backing down, and they intend to go forward with Roman’s WrestleMania victory. And in a desperate attempt to get the crowd to cheer Roman, they’re doing their best to get the audience angry with his opponent, Brock Lesnar. WWE has had Lesnar “no-show” some recent television appearances and even had him win a match in less than a minute to disappoint a house show crowd in hopes that the report would circulate online and convince fans that Brock Lesnar doesn’t care about them and is only in it for the money. The problem, of course, is that fans have always known that Brock Lesnar doesn’t care about him and is only in it for the money, and they still prefer him over Roman Reigns.
Reigns, in Raw’s opening segment, was meant to be speaking for the fans in complaining about Lesnar’s privilege and lack of consequences, but fans feel just the opposite. It’s Roman, the anointed chosen one of WWE management, that’s getting all the breaks over other wrestlers who are more deserving in the eyes of many fans. In wrestling, what often works best is for a wrestler’s character to be close to their real-life character, but exaggerated to be larger than life. Roman Reigns posing as an anti-authority figure fighting against corporate oppression will never work as long as Roman Reigns is the company golden boy, the personified avatar of corporate oppression. Even the previous golden boy, Cena, understands this, as exemplified later in the night when Cena, holding the crowd in the palm of his hand during a promo, tried to trick them into chanting for Roman Reigns, smirking at the expected loud booing he received in return.
But those boos are only a taste of what will happen at New Orleans in four weeks, when 75,000 people shower the victorious Roman Reigns with said boos while the announcers pretend it isn’t happening. Honestly, the crowd reaction to Roman Reigns inevitably winning his match will probably be the most interesting part of WrestleMania. Well, whatever gets people buying the network, we suppose.