Much like Roman Reigns himself, this will be a polarising topic. Right off the bat, in no way am I implying that Reigns is a buffer – a transition of sorts, between the “reality era” that persists today, and the Attitude Era back in the mid 90’s.
However, if we analyse the continuity of Reigns’ storylines right from 2014, we can easily understand just how much of an effort the promotion has put into building Reigns.
Whether it was his rivalry with Bray Wyatt, the brief anti – establishment run he had going into WrestleMania or his inconclusive feud with Brock Lesnar, there was always a method to madness as to how Reigns was booked.
This is in stark contrast to how other Superstars are booked today. If we dissect the way Roman was booked into individual rivalries, and reverse engineer the anatomy, one thing is quite clear. The WWE Creative always had a specific reason – an agenda they wanted to accomplish, with Reigns’ feuds.
This is quite similar to what WWE did back in the Attitude Era. Unlike today, the creative team had certain ideas as to what Superstars would do months in advance.
A closer look at how Roman Reigns has been built since 2014
At the turn of the new year, it was obvious that WWE wanted to build ‘The Big Dog’ as WWE’s next big babyface. However, they did so methodically, putting the idea into the fans’ heads that Reigns was their chosen one. One of such instances took place during the Royal Rumble match. Reigns was one of the standout performers during the Rumble match in 2014, setting a new record for the number of eliminations in the process.
WWE booked Reigns as the second last man standing, along with Batista. However, with the fans turning on ‘The Animal’ for costing Daniel Bryan his place in the main event of WrestleMania, they immediately sided with Reigns.
While WWE’s plans of booking Batista as the babyface going into ‘The showcase of the immortals’ backfired, Vince McMahon wasn’t necessarily angry. In Reigns, the fans embraced the idea of their next breakout star – their new representative.
After The Shield dissolved, Reigns was put into the main event picture, but wasn’t booked to win. WWE understood the importance of laying proper groundwork for Reigns, and hadn’t he been injured, 2015 would’ve been Roman Reigns’ career defining year. As it turned out, CM Punk made all the difference in the world, even after he quit the company.
Reigns went on to win the Royal Rumble in 2015, and main evented WrestleMania 31 against Lesnar. However, with the fans turning on Reigns, his path to the top was stretched, with him having to overcome a host of Superstars.
Had Rollins not gotten injured at that point, the idea was always to have a Reigns – Rollins showdown for the WWE World Heavyweight title. Reigns was then inserted into a program with Triple H and the McMahons – a composition which worked with Steve Austin in the mid 90’s.
How Reigns’ push is similar to the stars of the Attitude Era
The keyword here is continuity. For years, Vince McMahon believed that the fans have short attention spans. This usually resulted in haphazardly wrapped up storylines and contrived angles. However, the Roman Reigns experiment has been the only reminder of how the angles unraveled during the Attitude Era.
Whether it was the entire Austin – McMahon saga, or the highly acclaimed rivalry between The Rock and Austin — or any top star who won the WWE title really; every move was made with a purpose. Every jigsaw piece put into place with a bigger picture in mind; while WWE did embrace car crash TV, with storylines popping out of nowhere, and just as quickly being brushed under the rug, the top stars were given time to tell a story.
In professional wrestling, a larger emphasis is placed on storytelling, rather than the technical know – hows in the ring. A good wrestler can only be a good worker; however, a good performer, with even average in – ring skills can become a main event – calibre Superstar. This has always been the philosophy of wrestling in North America.
The reason why the likes of Jim Crockett, Verne Gagne and Sam Muchnick aren’t as popular as Vince McMahon as promoters today was because of McMahon Jr.’s vision, to put more emphasis on the performance rather than the in – ring expertise (although, to be fair, Muchnick was arguably the pioneer of modern day wrestling, and was years ahead of his time in the 40’s and 50’s).
In the end, Reigns has been able to withstand the ire of the fans, mostly because of the continuity in how he was booked. Had there been gaps – the persistent lows and highs, a dithering of minds adversely affecting his character development, Reigns wouldn’t be a main eventer in the company. However, because WWE chose to invest in Reigns, not just as a performer, but as a character, he has been able to claw his way back to the top, just when it looked like someone else would push him off the zenith.