Note from John Canton: This is a guest column from Josh Millwood. It was sent to us by Josh after he inquired about writing a column, I told him to check out our Contact Us page that has simple instructions on how to send in a sample column. Here’s Josh.
“What Does it Take?”
Aside from John Cena, I can’t think of a more polarizing figure in all professional wrestling over the past five years than the “Big Dog” Roman Reigns. Fans loved to hate the babyface hero Vince McMahon was trying to shove down their throats. It’s not like the guy didn’t have the talent, the look, or the work ethic, so what went wrong? Before we answer that question, let’s ask a different one.
Another superstar of the last five years we need to look at is the soon-to-be mom, Becky Lynch. Much like Roman, Becky had a lot going for her when she made her main roster debut in 2015. She had charisma and a personality that connected well with the fans. She also had good in-ring skills and the determination that made people believe in her. She was never shown the fan rejection that Reigns was, but she struggled with the poor booking and creative decisions that were thrown her way.
Now after taking all of that into consideration, why is it that Lynch has been on the roster since 2015, and yet only started to make real waves in August 2018 at Summerslam when her heel turn backfired and helped catapult “The Man” into the star she is today? Why after eight years on the main roster, is Roman Reigns finally in a position that even though he is a heel, he is connecting with fans in a way he never has before?
Part of the reason is that those pesky wrestling fans, as Daniel Bryan would say, are a fickle bunch. So, what does it take to get someone over with this crowd? Is it in-ring ability alone, microphone work and promos, or is it just a little bit of luck? I think that it is a little bit of all three. A professional wrestler obviously doesn’t make it to the top of the mountain without at least having a little bit of talent. There are exceptions of course, but we won’t get lost down that rabbit hole. There are times when “the magic happens” organically and a wrestler can be sent to the next level by a stroke of pure luck.
This was especially true for Lynch. Back in 2018, most will remember she was on a collision course for a cross-brand match with then Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series. During a Smackdown-invasion angle on Raw Lynch was, some say not so inadvertently, punched by Nia Jax causing a very real concussion and facial fractures. Lynch was not medically cleared to compete, and she handpicked Charlotte Flair to replace her in the upcoming Survivor Series match.
It seemed like a tough break for Lynch, but there were already articles circulating at the time about how that event could take the canceled Survivor Series match to the next level if WWE were to invest in building toward a Wrestlemania program between Lynch and Rousey, and boy did they ever. The accidental injury and quick change of plans morphed into Lynch winning the 2019 Royal Rumble and eventually the first women’s Wrestlemania main event two months later.
Roman experienced a similar, yet very different, situation in October of 2018 when he was forced to relinquish the Universal Title and went public about his battle with leukemia. Now to be clear, I am in no way trying to equate a cancer diagnosis with a “stroke of luck.” I’m simply stating that through a terrible situation the fans were able to see a more human side of Reigns they had never paid attention to before. Rather than boo Roman Reigns, they decided to cheer the fighting spirit of Joe Anoa’i and by default, the character began to thrive upon his return the following year.
As we can see, there’s no easy answer to the question of “what does it take?” to get a wrestler over with the crowd. Of course, they need the athleticism and look that comes with the part. They also need that natural charisma and ability to captivate the audience with the microphone. Then sometimes, as discussed in this article, those in the right place at the right time can be catapulted to new heights by taking life’s lemons and making the proverbial lemonade.
I’m reminded of a conversation between Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and the characters of Zac and Paige in the film “Fighting With My Family.” Zac asks how to be like the Rock and connect with the crowd, and The Rock responds that even though wrestling is a fictionalized world the fans can tell when something isn’t “real.” “Don’t worry about being the next me” Rocky says, “be the first you.”
Fast forward to present day, Roman is fully embracing and thriving in his new “Tribal Chief” role and is the top heel and Universal Champion on the Smackdown brand.
As for Becky Lynch, though she is away from the camera right now and preparing for a new phase in her life, she stepped away at the absolute peak of her career. She held the Raw Women’s Title for over a year and relinquished it without losing it in a match. There is also little doubt that if, and when, Becky Lynch returns she will quickly assume her spot back on the top of the mountain, just waiting for someone to try and knock her down.
Both superstars have experienced some big highs and some deep lows, but through it all, they are both doing some of the best work in the wrestling world today. They found something “real” and just like that, the fans connected to it, and it got over. No doubt Roman will continue to thrive and when he is finally unseated from the head of the table it will be a “Big E?” deal.