CRAIG’S MUSING: Reigns still coming up short despite attempts last two weeks to give him more of a realistic edge against Cena

By Craig Elbe, PWTorch contributori

Roman Reigns (photo credit Wade Keller © PWTorch)

On the Aug. 28 Raw, John Cena was tasked with speaking for himself, Vince McMahon, and anti-Reigns WWE fans. All perspectives carried an intended and improvised tough love message. Perhaps the reset button was pressed by Vince. Whether that leads to a hot heel run for Reigns remains to be seen. I am in the large camp that believes a babyface Reigns needs to be a hated heel for a lengthy amount of time before being beloved as the face of the company. It was nice to see the shred of awareness Vince showed by shoving Reigns out there and having Cena rip him apart. Equally frustrating was the revelation of how stubborn he has been. What took him so long! Vince has always been resistant to letting fans choose their top guys and gals. Somehow, an insulated 72-year-old with a long rap sheet of creative logic gaps and hardly a care for continuity still thinks he knows what the world wants to cheer for and pay money to see.

The match won’t live up to the build. I have yet to see a Cena or Reigns led match result in something I’d call good to great. I doubt I ever will. They both need great leaders to have a great match. An agent or a collection of respected minds can’t do it ahead of time either. Daniel Bryan and C.M. Punk have pulled great matches out of both men. Years ago, Edge and Shawn Michaels were among the first guys to get Cena to the great match level. To this day, his best matches are with opponents that are more athletic than him to create the action and movement. An older, slower, more beat up, and out of practice Cena needs those dance partners now more than ever. Reigns isn’t the answer, nor is any attempt of a gimmick match that has been a hallmark of what has protected Reigns for years now. He was even carried by a still green Braun Strowman!

I love what can become of this, but must concede only a speck of optimism. When Vince sees money, he’s not afraid to show some ass when necessary. One example I found was the Nov. 18, 2013 episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. C.M. Punk was the guest. It was two full years after Punk’s pipebomb promo in July of 2011 and, interestingly, about two months before Punk abruptly left WWE the day after the 2014 Royal Rumble.

During the interview, Punk was forthcoming on some personal and professional matters. He kept many other WWE issues close to his vest that he was going through. He later revealed all those in his now infamous tell all podcast on Colt Cabana’s “Art of Wrestling” a full year later. He also mentioned falling in love with doing Jiu Jitsu around 1993 or 1994 to win fights due to being a bullied outsider. At the time, Punk pondered an MMA career if UFC was bigger. Maron has a knack for getting people to spill their guts with his unique interview/conversation style and garage environment. Punk was too smart to get pulled into the usual lull Maron puts his interview subjects into. He still had money to make for the duration of his contract and was likely thinking of life after WWE.

The most notable comment Punk made on WTF was when Vince told him in the Gorilla position, after his pipebomb promo in 2011, that he “smells money.” Vince was right. At the time, Punk was very vocal to Vince about his dissatisfaction, to the point of many screaming matches. Vince had to know what Punk was going to say when he gave him free reign and smelled money ahead of the actual promo. According to Punk, Vince wanted his message ahead of time. Punk wrote some BS down he knew was not planning to say on that stage in Las Vegas, and Vince approved it. Punk also divulged he had a comfort level knowing his microphone would be cut at some point, which was after he said what he wanted and was stalling.

That gave me one more example that Vince cares more about making money than having his feelings hurt. At least in the moment. He and Paul Levesque did their parts to stall Punk’s rise despite how great and over he was. Punk didn’t help himself by demonstrating his black and white, all-or-nothing attitude that wasn’t representative of what WWE was looking for. Despite the obstacles, Punk and WWE printed money together. Too bad Vince wasn’t desperate; it could have been much better for everyone. Mutual insecurities never accomplish a team goal, notably when it’s an employee and employer situation.

Still, I believe the Aug. 28 Cena-Reigns promo could be a great beginning to a more realistic and desired Reigns character. On last week’s Raw, we saw a softer second part. Cena seemed to knowingly lower his abilities while Reigns thought he raised his game. Reigns was gifted tighter scripting or at least chose easier words from watered down bullet points. Patently obvious planned improv and Cena’s “refusal to fight” to make Reigns look like “the man” missed the mark. “Fake ass bitch” rang more hollow than the first one. Reigns bragging about his Big Dawg busting his zipper lowered him another level of desperation. Assuming Cena wanted to see his balls was an even lower level. Homophobia is always telegraphed desperation. That isn’t heel heat or even the currently common promotion heat.

Then there was the absurdity Reigns hurled at Jason Jordan. Jordan is far from a rookie. Let’s pretend the six-year NXT and WWE veteran is a rookie; he’s too talented to be talked down about. Again, not heel heat. The match between Jordan and Cena wasn’t over 20 minutes! Bell to bell, it was 11 minutes, 42 seconds. Reigns’s demeanor and posture revealed laziness from what he presumably learned in the acting classes he took during his hernia surgery recovery in the fall of 2014. The guy was thinking too much about how to appear cool and relaxed. It looked too forced. My scorecard reads Cena 2, Reigns 0. Cena barely had to lift a finger. Reigns simply lacks the wrestling IQ a second generation wrestler should have along with a large family lineage to help educate him.

The human condition is an interesting observation. Reigns fell flat on his face on Aug. 28; last week was a failed redemption while he further cratered the cement. Overcoming adversity under a large microscope while still practicing is daunting. He is so close to failing totally while led to believe he’s a success that it’s unprecedented. I agree with those who surmised Vince would have turned anybody else heel at least a year ago.

Reigns’s exposure should lead to less scripting and more talent input. If someone refuses that and wants a full script, it should be viewed as an unwillingness to be their best in all facets and subsequently release that person. That means I’m against keeping people around to bury on the mid and lower card to make examples out of. The example ought to be the release, not poor treatment. Or imaginary death hills.

I hope Leati Joseph Anoa’i feels the fire that was lit under him by all parties involved that he’s nowhere close to being great. He needs to take these hopefully-learned-lessons to be the best Roman Reigns going forward. We still don’t know his full wrestling IQ and aptitude, but we have evidence he lacks great instincts, i.e. his busted zipper from his Big Dawg. Now it’s time to sink or swim and for Vince to extend more liberty for Reigns to do one or the other on his own merits. The comfy corporate hammock he’s grown accustomed to, but shook out of in front of the world, should now be gone.

I brought up C.M. Punk earlier. He’s unspoken of by WWE, but part of this equation. These Reigns and Cena promos seem to be WWE’s attempt to replace and replicate Punk’s 2011 pipebomb promo. Funded by WWE or not, I bet Punk’s ongoing lawsuit with Dr. Chris Amann is helping their motivation. The post -Pipebomb episode of Raw isn’t notable. Punk’s follow-up saw an already cracking foundation when he repeated the buzzworthy parts from the previous week. I’ll call it corporate approval, sanitization, and dilution. WWE just couldn’t help themselves. Neither could Punk, who was smelling money and/or freedom. With Reigns, it’s the same WWE crap all over again. Cena was happy to put Punk over in 2011, but now he has to put Reigns over. The ass Vince eventually will show isn’t the money-drawing kind, unless Reigns very quickly steps it way up and makes Vince look like the genius he really isn’t.

Time will tell what the next installments will bring. The first two don’t have me yet. I’ll be waiting.

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