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And so, the Hero’s Journey continues. Yet, what if a significant portion of the audience does not care for the latest hero’s journey?
WWE’s business model is built on the Hero’s Journey, as identified by financial executive George Barrios at a media conference last week in New York City.
Speaking to a group of people with zero to complete knowledge of WWE’s product, Barrios identified WWE’s core content a “story about heroes.” He identified the ring as the means of telling the story and competition being the nature of the conflict. And, WWE adds in grandeur and spectacle to complete their entertainment package.
John Cena is/was the latest hero going through various conflicts from the likes of Great Khali to how handle a Nexus invasion to perhaps circling back to Rusev on Memorial Day.
Now, it’s Roman Reigns. The flaw in the story is a lack of bond; a lack of milestones along the way; a lack of documented upbringing connecting to The People.
The chant capturing this Sunday night at Extreme Rules was “You Can’t Wrestle.” People are fixated on the content of the chant, but the content is not what matters. It’s the message behind the chant.
It’s the audience saying we do not have a bond with you…and we really like wrestling. You, sir, do not match in our eyes.
Reigns did not come from the independents – paying his dues by hustling on the road and wrestling for ROH, PWG, or a small-time show in a high school gym. He came from football, went straight to WWE Developmental, toiled in a dark period for FCW/NXT as Roman Leakee before NXT was cool, and suddenly was part of The Shield on WWE TV.
Reigns was cool as an ensemble player delivering the triple powerbomb with Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. But, there was not an individual bond with the audience. When Reigns was thrust into the spotlight as the Next Big Thing for WWE, the hardcore audience recognized what was going on and said, “Whoa, hold on a second, can this guy even work a match by himself?”
Along the way, WWE has given those fans more reasons to reinforce their dislike of Reigns’s presentation, character, and in-ring abilities. Instead of attempting to re-trace Reigns’s journey to his position and create a bond with the audience, WWE pushed through with simply reinforcing the traits that casual/non-hardcore fans enjoy.
Sunday night at Extreme Rules, Reigns kicked out of Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows’s finisher, a Styles Clash, a Styles Clash into a chair, and then speared A.J. Styles to win the match after taking several chair shots. The Super Cena treatment for a wrestler the audience believes is not deserving of being L.O.D. no-selling everyone’s stuff creates even more of a gap between the hardcore audience and WWE’s next top hero.
But, to casual fans, they like Super Reigns. WWE believes they are drawn into the story of the super-hero Reigns conquering the stacked deck, the “extreme rules” attack, The Club’s involvement, etc. After all, WWE’s product is built on the hero’s journey. And, Reigns is the latest hero to be given the best horse, sharpest spear, and sturdiest body armor.
The gap is wider and wider and wider for the audience that never felt a bond with Reigns, though. A.J. Styles was the antithesis of Reigns as someone who toiled on the independents, finally arrived at the big-time, and has the in-ring skills to earn the respect of the audience. Seth Rollins is next to fill that role.
It’s partly why you see WWE working with independent promotions to strengthen the “undercurrent of the wrestling business,” as WWNLive’s Gabe Sapolsky describes it. WWE needs their next top star(s) to have a bond with the hardcore audience. They’re still recruiting stars with zero pro wrestling background going straight from weightlifting, rugby, or whatever other background to the Performance Center. But, WWE has two options now. (a) Send them to WWNLive to get seasoning and be part of the “undercurrent” to start the journey. (b) Be part of “Cool NXT” developing and bonding with the audience before being called up to the main roster.
The wrestlers just have to back it up in the ring. That’s where NXT is hit or miss on their developmental program, as evidenced by Baron Corbin, who shows glimpses of improvement, but also signs of not being ready. Hardcore fans are taking note, and they’ll let WWE know if he’s being spotlighted too much before he’s ready. Roman Reigns knows all about that.
So, why does WWE keep pushing forward with Reigns? The hero’s journey. WWE isn’t going to bump him off the horse anytime soon. They pushed forward at WrestleMania and they will continue to push forward because they feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. WWE is going through a dark hallway trying to get there with Reigns.
Part of that dark hallway is WWE’s own doing by watering down heels/faces with their muddy storytelling. What’s the point of having a hero if he’s not saving anyone from anything? Or, if the bad guys really aren’t that bad, just kinda not nice? And, when was the last time Reigns did anything heroic besides kicking out of finishers?
But, as long as hardcore fans keep spending money and buying tickets, WWE won’t mind the process of taking Reigns through the darkness to get to the other side. They believe there is a pay-off on the other side that is worth the angst from hardcore fans at the present time.
The issue for Reigns is whether his in-ring skills will advance or if his character’s personality will eventually change to a more favorable presentation to make up for the lack of a built-in bond with the audience. It will have to be manufactured because of how WWE haphazardly introduced this journey, featuring a hero the vocal audience rejected long ago.