During the Chris Jericho podcast on WWE Network on Monday night, John Cena said something that really bothered me. I’ve heard it repeatedly, but each time it annoys me just the same. He said the WWE Universe complains all the time that the same old things are shoved down our throats over and over again, but when we’re given something new, we don’t embrace it. He was, of course, in reference to Roman Reigns and how the WWE Universe has not embraced Reigns the way we were expected to.
This bothers me because I think it’s a way to avoid the real problem while blaming the fans, instead of the creative team. Worse, I think Cena, HHH, Vince, and the WWE in general truly believe these words. I can’t help but think that they don’t understand that the real problem isn’t that we want something new, but that we want something interesting.
Reigns was interesting; and we embraced him. When he arrived on the scene, he was part of the indestructible force that was The Shield. The fans loved The Shield. They always had the numbers game. They claimed to be willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the team, and that ethic showed through in their matches, allowing them to always work well together and overcome their opponents. Their individual personalities were allowed to shine while the group remained the focal point. This was something we hadn’t seen in a long time and it was exciting and we embraced it.
Fast forward to the Royal Rumble 2014. You may remember it as the most vocal Rumble in history. The mere fact that Rey Mysterio, of all people, was booed relentlessly will always amaze me. But aside from “Daniel Bryan isn’t in it?” the thing I’ll always remember is how much I wanted Roman Reigns to do the impossible and win the Royal Rumble. I had visions in my mind of Reigns winning, leading to dissension in The Shield. Jealousy would cost Reigns the title at Mania, when his brothers interfered, leading to an all out war between the three. Reigns dominated that match, tossing twelve people over the ropes, stealing Kane’s record and made it to the final two participants. The whole crowd was on his side. They embraced him, even if only for a moment. If we couldn’t have Daniel Bryan, maybe, just maybe, we wouldn’t have to have Batista. Instead, our hopes and dreams fell to the floor as Batista pointed at the XXX sign. I mean the Wrestlemania XXX sign.
Fast forward again, past Seth Rollins destroying The Shield, and Reigns was on a roll. He faced no adversary who could touch him. SUPERMAN PUNCH! SPEAR! WHO’S NEXT? And for a second, we rode the wave of excitement. Then it lost its luster. This big bad ass who should destroy people, came to the ring through the crowd, popped a duck face for the camera, then smiled incessantly at us all while speaking with a complete lack of charisma. The worst part is that Reigns never left The Shield. He still comes through the crowd to almost the same music, wearing the same clothes, and using the same moves; only now he doesn’t have Seth or Dean to speak for him. There’s literally nothing new about Roman Reigns. And by the time he won the Royal Rumble a year after I wanted him to, no one really cared. The WWE calls us hypocrites for this. I disagree.
They say that The Universe begs for something new and doesn’t embrace it. Only, sending Reigns out to be the new Cena isn’t new. Just because it’s a different face doesn’t make the story compelling. We’ve been given no reason to care about Reigns’ rise to the top. It could literally be Cena in the role and we would care (or not care) the same amount.
When the WWE Universe begs for something new, what we mean is somewhere between we want a compelling story and we want something we’ve never seen before. When CM Punk sat on the ramp and called HHH a doofus, the internet exploded. We’d never seen that. It wasn’t about Punk, no matter what anyone tells you. If Ziggler did it, we’d revere him. If Sandow did it, same thing. Granted, you have to have the charisma to pull it off, but the fact is that we loved it because it was interesting. Punk jumping the barricade with his title and blowing a kiss? Amazing. Because it was different. Punk generated hype by putting the title in his fridge.
Side note: It should have stayed there for three months while WWE “figured out what to do” and it could have been amazing, but that’s a rant for another day.
No matter how much we loved Punk’s pipe bomb and say we’d never seen anything like it, we had. Several years beforehand, Stone Cold Steve Austin went to war with his boss and everything he did to Vince was new and interesting, whether it was cementing a convertible, dousing the ring in beer, or just flipping everyone off. If you ran that exact same storyline today, it would be okay, but it would never reach Austin levels. I say this, because even though it’s something “very different” than what we normally get each week, it’s still not “new.” It’s entertaining. And that’s why we watch wrestling; to be entertained.
The distinction over “new” is where I feel the office staff get confused. Zack Ryder offered us something new. His YouTube Web Series was fresh, hilarious, and truly different. Whether was “trying to get over” a wall, “drawing money” with crayons or becoming the “Internet Champion,” Ryder was over with the crowd on a level most people never get to. The guy wasn’t even on TV most of the time. His merchandise sales were one of the top draws at the time. If that’s not embracing new, I don’t know what is. The office doesn’t understand this, though, because it’s not something they made. Rather than embracing it and running with it, they buried it. For them, it was too new. They didn’t understand it. That’s exactly why we loved it.
We don’t want someone new in Cena’s place (well, some do, but they don’t just want another Cena, they want something different all together). It’s not enough to give us yet another big man in the same style with the same mission. That’s not “new” no matter how much HHH or John Cena say it is. Roman Reigns, facing no adversity, walking through everything thrown at him, winning the Rumble, taking down Daniel Bryan? None of that is new. It’s the same Superman story we’re all sick of.
We embrace superstars who are different. We embrace Daniel Bryan for being different. We embraced Punk, Austin, Ryder for being different. It doesn’t even have to be that big. Look at Damian Sandow. The Mizdow gimmick got over like crazy when it had no business doing so, because we’d never seen it. It was entertaining. Ken Kennedy said things twice and we loved him. Cody Rhodes did it with a clear mask and some paper bags. New can be small and be embraced. New can be gigantic and turn “The Ringmaster” into Stone Cold Steve Austin and change the entire industry.
When the WWE Universe complains that we want “something new,” we’re really complaining because we want something exciting. We want a reason to tune in next week. When we don’t get that, we criticize. We criticize even more when we’re given the exact same thing with a different person in the role. While there’s literally no way to give us a new Stone Cold Steve Austin every week — no way to always show us something completely original — they should still work hard to keep our attention.
Superman wasn’t good enough for the comic book world. Fans needed more heroes with different powers and compelling stories. That’s what the WWE Universe is asking for as well. Cena didn’t become Cena by being “The New Austin.” He did it by being his own man with his own story. Reigns has yet to develop that character or that story. When he does, we’ll probably embrace him. Until then, we want something interesting.