WWE: Validating A Work In Progress by Marc Madison

If you heard the name Leati Joseph Anoaʻi, you wouldn’t think much about it, other than that it may sound familiar. It sounds as though it’s somebody from the Samoan culture, and honestly, we wouldn’t spend too much time imagining the person who has that name. But what if we said Leati Anoaʻi was someone who has spent the last five years developing his craft inside and out of the ring? Many fans that follow the WWE may not know that Leati Anoaʻi has gone by a few different aliases in the past. Today, he is none other than Roman Reigns.

During his time prior to wrestling, Anoa’i spent time building a football career for himself. Anoai was recognized as the defensive player of the year in high school, was signed by the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, and played in the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos. He played in five games for Edmonton, and in 2008 ended his football career.  So why the move to wrestling?  Was he being noticed, or did he just need to learn a new trade? He is from the Anoa’i family, a second cousin of the Uso’s and a distant relative of The Rock. There had to be a much grander stage for Anoa’i to build a new career upon. Once that opportunity presented itself, Roman Reigns was born.

Anoai’s career has certainly seen its ups and downs. Whether it was sporting long hair, short trunks in FCW, or going by his given name of Leakee, Reigns really ran the gamut of looks while trying to evolve. Today, the wrestler who fought to stop his opposition is gone, and in his place is someone who creates emotion in other ways. Anoa’i could have simply leaned on his family name to make a career for himself, but it isn’t his family’s name that he is using to achieve success today. In a story not unlike that of many others, it may be easy to reach the top, but it is much more difficult to maintain that popularity and grow once you are there.

The phrase ‘It wasn’t easy’ comes to mind when we think of someone that in literally 48 hours had the way some fans perceived him completely changed. Was it circumstance that led to this change, or was it poor ratings? It may be a few things actually, but in the case of Roman Reigns having him change elements of his on-screen character has contributed to his new found role as WWE champion. It really is amazing how Reigns went from beloved a year or so ago because at the time he wasn’t in line to be the champion, to being hated because the company had him on a trajectory to being the heavyweight champion. So now the argument that fans don’t want to have someone dictate who they will or won’t like, and that they will decide that on their own, isn’t necessarily applicable anymore. Was the change because Reigns was a work in progress, or was this just the company attempting to play with different facets of the character to see what would and wouldn’t resonate?

The idea of Reigns being a monster that would snap at any given moment was something that appealed to fans. In fact that was what fans liked about him initially. He was brooding and silent. But it was his actions that fans were drawn to the most. However, that can only last for so long, and often giving a character more personality tends to carry them further. The problem, however, in the case of Reigns was that giving him depth and making him vulnerable wasn’t what fans wanted to see. They wanted to see someone come in and clean house. At times it seemed as though he was going to do just that, but more times than not he was on the opposite end of a fight and was left lying. Even when he was on the winning side of things, it seemed as though he had to sell the beating he took in order to remain more relatable to the audience. This can work for some, but for someone that is 6’5 and over 260 lbs it isn’t believable that he can’t endure more punishment and still give more than he could take. It was understandable as to why the company would be hesitant to have Reigns be this way; they didn’t want Reigns to endure any more comparisons to John Cena. However in the case of Reigns it was better that he continued to run through opponents.

What exactly happened over the course of 48 hours that changed fans perspective of him? Was he the lesser of two evils between himself and Sheamus? One of the most successful times for the WWE was when Stone Cold Steve Austin was feuding with Vince McMahon. The reason that has often been talked about, but the short answer is fans wanted to see someone get back at their boss. There is something about fighting back against injustice, and we enjoy the idea of sticking it our employer. It is no different in the WWE. When Roman Reigns took out all his angst and frustration on Triple H after losing to Sheamus at TLC, it made the crowd take notice. It was done in a way where it was completely directed and relentless. This was what fans wanted to see. They wanted to have a reason to believe in Reigns, and on this night they did. He had enough, and didn’t care anymore what the consequences were for his actions. He just knew it felt great to finally be able to lean into Triple H because of all he’d have to overcome.

Fans that were not in favor of having Reigns succeed may have changed their perspective now. They may have been among the group that were critical of each and every promo he gave, and complained he was overused during each episode of Raw as well. At times, over exposure tends to taint how enjoyable a wrestler is to watch. In fact, that argument may soon be applied to The New Day, but that is a discussion for another day. As it pertains to Reigns, it will be hard to separate him from having values and being a dad. That is what makes him who he is. Does it make him vulnerable because others may try to capitalize on that, like Bray Wyatt? Certainly. However, as champion he needs to look strong.

A good friend and I recently had a chat about Reigns winning the title. His argument was that it is now on Reigns to succeed. It’s hard to dispute that because putting someone in a position to achieve is only part of it. What they do while they hold that role is another conversation altogether. Will Reigns give fans compelling television? Will he be able to constantly earn cheers from the audience where others haven’t? He is too strong for fans be asked to see him as a wounded warrior. He could be a warrior, but one that is more capable of causing massive destruction like he did at TLC, and the night after on Raw. He could be put in circumstances where odds are against him, and overcome that. While we could spend an exorbitant amount of time booking what would work best for Reigns, the question is how much rope will he have to develop this new extension of a character?

The change in champion could be related to a drop in ratings for Raw as well. Is it coincidental that the change in title direction was an instant decision that was made? That isn’t likely, as the push to have Reigns sit atop of the company as the champion has been something that was in the works for some time. We can trust that there was a conscious effort on his part to be successful. He wouldn’t deliberately try to blow his opportunity, so the changes have to also come from him.  He really has tried to earn his stripes and had to overcome a lot to be where he is. Some may feel that he isn’t deserving of a title shot after only being in the industry for a few years, but is that really fair? His family is so deeply entrenched in wrestling, though it’s not fair to say that he has to live up to the expectations of the Anoai name. There weren’t any keys he was given to the kingdom because of whom he is related to, or what his family has achieved in the past. It becomes about what he can do now now to push his character forward so that people care.

There will unquestionably be repercussions for his actions, as you can’t simply strike the boss or owner and not have some punishment come your way. The great part about something like this is it allows for Reigns to be creative, or at least work with the writers on how he could overcome other obstacles in his way. The placing of the title on Reigns and having a face champion could also mean a change in direction for the company.

What stood out about having Seth Rollins as a champion was that he was really good at getting on your nerves. This isn’t the direction with Reigns. He can’t play up to those that will jeer him either likes John Cena does, and tell them each week it’s great that you are free to share your opinions about what you like and what you don’t like. He will have to stand out from the rest of the roster and be more. He will have to represent something greater yet believable. Making this effort would be time well spent by him, as this is finally the validation for this work in progress.

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