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Roman Reigns is the guy for WWE. Go ahead and wince, as the pun was 100 percent intended. The guy is a major star. He’s main evented three straight WrestleMania’s, weekly programming is written with his character bombarding the narrative, he sells the most merchandise, and other popular acts on the roster are utilized and often sacrificed in an effort to make him the star. Even as a major star, Reigns hasn’t achieved WWE’s vision for him. The audience doesn’t fully embrace him and because of that he’s flopped as the company’s lead babyface.
2017 has been designed to fix that. Every move in the main event picture this year is a brush stroke in Vince McMahon’s attempt to complete his Roman Reigns masterpiece. Some moves have been indirectly tied to Roman, like the build of Brock Lesnar to astronomical heights for an eventual crowning victory for Reigns over The Beast.
Moves have also been directly tied to Roman, such as the reuniting of The Shield to ward off negative heat and garner cheers by association. Most recently, Reigns became the WWE Intercontinental Champion with a win over The Miz in what will end up being the most significant brush stroke yet.
This Intercontinental Title run is paramount for Reigns and the WWE’s march to make him their true star babyface. If he treats the run as an opportunity and has epic matches, shows passion and vulnerability within it, and lets the audience in with him, the reign will be a successful means to an end in him finally becoming the babyface WWE has dreamed of.
Historically, the Intercontinental Championship has been a title that is a pedestal to the main event scene within the WWE. Wrestlers such as Ricky Steamboat, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, C.M. Punk, Edge, Randy Orton, Eddie Guerrero, Kurt Angle, and a host of others have held that belt on their ascent up the WWE ladder. Along the way, they each had tremendous matches with the belt on the line that got them more over while giving the title the prestige of being the company’s workhorse belt. The stigma was, if you had that title, you could work and were therefore respected by fans.
With Reigns as Intercontinental Champion now, he needs to work and have epic matches week after week. In doing so, he’ll earn the respect of the audience as other stars of his caliber have. The good thing for Reigns is we all know he can work. He’s already had great matches with the likes of Daniel Bryan, A.J. Styles, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, and Rusev. During this title run, he can further solidify that opinion to those who believe it and turn those who don’t. This week’s Raw match against Elias was the perfect start. Because of the WWE’s bullish and stubborn push of Reigns to the main event, he missed out on this step in his career. With consistently great matches inside this championship run, he can reset and right that wrong. In turn, he’ll endear himself to the audience by gaining their respect once and for all as a big time, main event level, in-ring performer.
Roman Reigns can convey his passion for the wrestling business throughout this title run too. This ingredient has been a missing one throughout his push. Reigns has come across as being involved in the wrestling business to simply get rich and be famous. As bad as it sounds, that attitude has seeped into his performances. At times it appears as if he’s simply going through motions via a script instead of being the character through and through on television.
As Intercontinental Champion, he can rectify this stigma. Being attached to a historic championship like the Intercontinental Title as a fighting champion will show enhanced passion as it is. Reigns needs to take that a step further. Through being a fighting champion, he needs to continuously convey how much the belt means to him and how it will be a monumental pillar within the legacy of his career. In doing so, fans will begin to attach themselves to Reigns in a defined way. Laying this groundwork as the Intercontinental Champion ahead of his run as WWE Universal Champion is an effective strategy to get fans on his side for the long run. The audience will have the chance to go on the journey with Roman and buy into him with a deeper passion themselves before his true run on top begins again.
As Intercontinental Champion Reigns can add another missing ingredient to his arsenal – vulnerability. It’s hard to cheer for someone who comes off as unstoppable as Reigns does. He’s been booked in a way that has made audiences roll their eyes. Reigns regularly gets hit with everything, but overcomes each time with a silly smirk on his face. That’s not real or relatable, and now’s his chance to shift gears on it.
Reigns doesn’t always need to be an emotionless superman-robot. When he gets his weekly challenger for the title, he should show some doubt and concern. That puts him over as a real person and enhances his opponent. That’s a real and relatable action that audiences can connect with. Real is showing confident concern and then overcoming the obstacle. This vulnerability will allow fans in. Like being passionate, it allows the audience to take the journey with him. People will relate to and therefore feel Roman’s weekly struggle to retain a title he’s passionate about. With that emotional equity built up via this title reign, his eventual reign as the top champion will be smoother and more successful.
If executed properly, this Intercontinental Championship run can reset the Roman Reigns character with fans. With it, he has an opportunity to find missing pieces to his act and undo past mistakes while cultivating a relationship with an audience that wants to see him as the focus of the company rather than just deal with him as the focus of the company. When John Cena was the WWE United States Champion, he had the best matches week in and week out with that belt on the line. Because of those matches, Cena elevated the title to a level not seen since and gained respect from diehard fans that had been booing him for years. Roman needs the same thing.
WWE wants Reigns to be John Cena’s successor. They want the keys to the kingdom in his hands. As an accomplished Intercontinental Champion, he can prove to his audience that he actually deserves them.
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