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Art is the creation of something from nothing that elicits a reaction. Pro wrestling embodies that definition. In wrestling, men and women step inside the squared circle and create with their actions, expressions, words, and bodies to garner a specific and distinct reaction from their audience. In turn, the audience responds to, engages with, and affects the work. No other art form in the world carries that uniqueness. In this column, we explore that art form inside real and relevant examples. Enjoy.
Roman Reigns is the most dissected character in the history of the pro wrestling business and his unique rise to the top of the industry has been analyzed in every direction possible. As it stands and as it’s stood for a while, close to half the WWE audience hates him intensely and the other half loves him and passionately defends him against his critics. Such is life in Roman’s WWE. Obviously, Reigns himself is a major factor in terms of how over he is with the audience. He succeeds from an in-ring perspective as he puts on fast-paced, high-action, and exciting matches. Where Roman fails is with his character and on the microphone. Historically, he’s come across as lackadaisical and too cool, which loads his critic’s gun with bullets to fire back at him.
Reigns turned a corner this week on Monday Night Raw when he opened the show with a promo. The artistic choices he made throughout that segment made him appear to be infinitely more likeable and identifiable to the audience that is conditioned to boo him.
As soon as Roman’s entrance music hit, the Memphis arena lit up and popped with a typical Reigns response. The boos were noticeable at first from the male 18-34 audience and then they were batted away and drowned out by the younger kids and women who make up the majority of Roman’s fan base. By the end of the promo, Roman turned many of those boos into cheers.
When Reigns walks to the ring, he typically saunters and moves slowly through his entrance. His walk to the ring for the promo on Monday night was no different. Reigns needs to rethink this choice as the walk feeds into the reasons some of the audience hates him so much. He looks arrogant when he does it and, because it’s so slow, it shows that he has no urgency. It also gives people extra time to react negatively. The Reigns saunter contradicts his in-ring style which is what makes him a top-level performer. In the ring he’s hard hitting, fast, and to the point. His entrance should mirror that. This is a drastic change from a performance standpoint, but it would go a long way in getting his character lined up and consistent with itself.
On Monday, once Reigns picked up the mic, he was money. First and foremost, Reigns was able to successfully settle – before he even said a word – some of the typical negative reaction he gets. His pacing around the ring and the way he engaged with the audience – without saying a word — garnered louder cheers from his side of the fan base. Roman’s timing on when to start talking was pristine in that it lined up perfectly with the cheers. From then on, he was clear and concise with his message.
Reigns was able to quickly run down his recent history with Samoa Joe and then emphatically said that “when it was time to put up or shut up, Samoa Joe got silenced.” The delivery of this line by Reigns made the promo. He said, “put up or shut up” in a tone that was serious and confident, but not arrogant. That’s key. Then he was able to drop the hammer on the word “silenced” while expressing extra intensity with his look and volume in his voice.
In addition, throughout this line, Reigns was able to deflect the vaunted “what” chant by picking up his cadence so as to alleviate breaks in which the audience could interject. Surely Reigns did that strictly to end the chant, but that choice made the lines he was saying have more impact. From there, Reigns put a bow on the Joe story by directly and simply saying that he was “still the Intercontinental Champion.” Once again, Reigns delivered the line in a way that dismissed Joe as a contender while positioning himself as “the” guy in a confident, but not arrogant, way.
Reigns then went on to address the fact that he was able to win the match because he was fighting for something. That something was his Shield brother, Dean Ambrose. This is where Roman really looked good and was especially effective. As soon as Reigns said “Dean Ambrose,” the crowd popped and Reigns tapped into that positive reaction by silently nodding along with the crowd as they cheered. This was a brilliant move on his part because that simple nod put him and his booing audience on the same plain. The nod lined up his interests with those of his audience.
From there, Reigns capitalized on that alignment. He proceeded to intensely and confidently say that he had a message for the locker room which was, “If you mess with any member of The Shield, you mess with all of us.” His delivery of that line was smart in that he essentially said it directly to everyone in the back, but also to everyone in the arena and everyone at home, because throughout his delivery, he moved his body around the ring. At one point he was facing the locker room, at another point he was looking at the crowd, and to finish it off, he was staring a laser-like hole through the hard camera.
Lastly, the promo ended with Jason Jordan interrupting Reigns and acting like a petulant child while in the ring. Reigns didn’t say much at all during this interaction, but he didn’t have to because his expressions and demeanor said all he needed. With Jordan whining, Reigns looked and came off as the adult – a likeable quality he was able to portray by simply expressing concern and bewilderment with his face and eyes. Those expressions would not have worked in a vacuum separate from his initial promo. They worked because of the choices and successes that Roman had earlier in the segment. In the end, members of the booing audience were cheering Reigns. Job well done.
Roman Reigns can be a good talker when he wants to be. Too often, his arrogance overshadows the words he’s saying so much that the audience can’t and doesn’t want to hear what they are. That hurts his character and his ability to connect with the crowd.
Reigns left all that in the locker room on Monday night. In that promo he was very good, got his point across effectively, and was able to turn the fans to his side. The successful decisions that Reigns made and the reaction he got from them within this promo should serve as clues to what part of him clicks with the audience. If he can continue to capitalize on those things and give them the artistic attention like he did with Monday’s promo, the crowd will continue to move in his favor.
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