Welcome to the finals. You made it this far because you are the best of the best. Now it's time to prove it. The finals get the hardest topic in the hardest method to argue it. Have fun, boys.
The coin toss dictates that Psycho will go first.
We've all been there. Whether it was a brief stint or a reoccurring stance, we've all thought that Roman Reigns was being forced down our throats and getting more opportunities than his crowd response warranted. And it's nigh impossible to argue against the former point. For far too long, Roman Reigns has been given the torch to lead the company, but it's not because he doesn't deserve it. In fact, the man's ring work has improved immensely, and he's even managed to find his stride on the mic more times than not. He has been a part of multiple classic matches. The only thing that hasn't really improved about Roman is his crowd response. Due to this, it's been repeated ad nauseam that he should turn heel. It makes sense. Despite the modern thinking, it's ideal to have a babyface who the crowd universally supports in nearly every city. But to say Roman should turn heel ignores the actual issues. Roman is not an unlikable guy; he's a victim of horrible booking.
For this reason, I'm here to say that Roman Reigns should remain a babyface with a proper revamp.
In fact, they are already doing that. Now that The Shield has reunited - whether temporarily, too soon or forcefully - Roman is back to getting de facto cheers by being a part of one of the greatest stables that has ever stepped foot in a WWE ring. This team-up also allows him to focus on his strengths and allow his partners to cover his weaknesses, so the crowd can focus less on what they don't like about Roman Reigns and back to what they love. History shows that despite fearing Roman getting the golden boy push in the long run, the majority were in love with Roman as a part of The Shield. We popped huge for his moves, marveled at his Sole Survivor performance at Survivor Series, and even feverishly cheered for him to win the Royal Rumble over a returning Batista. This is because he was in a comfortable environment, allowed to be himself, and able to focus on the things that makes him over. Some of the greatest stars have seen success due to these reasons. Take a look at the transformation of Braun Strowman, or for an older example, the rise of Yokozuna. So if he was so over in The Shield, where did it go wrong?
When they tried to mold him into John Cena.
He became the guy who would fight against all odds and stand up for what was right, putting a focus on never giving up and believing he can and he will. It's a vehicle for children to cling to and feel motivated to deal with all of life's trials. He was essentially a baby-kisser who was supposed to be charming and sexy. Well, they got the fighting against all odds part right, ignoring the victimized light in which they portrayed him. That's because that and everything else I mentioned worked against everything that he is. Roman Reigns is built to be an ass-kicking machine of few, but poignant words who only cares about carving his path to the top and taking out anyone who tries to stop him. THAT'S the Roman Reigns that people fell in love with, and it's been proven that he gets great reactions when they let him be this. Remember when Sheamus cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase on him?
Even recently, since they've let him stop caring about the fans and being a role model, he's had stronger reactions to his matches and segments, whether as heat or cheering. When he's not being forced into a mold, he shines, and proves that The Big Dog belongs in the main event scene. It's not a matter of turning Roman Reigns heel. They shouldn't. They should refine his booking so that he can be one of the biggest babyfaces of all time.
WWE fans, like traditional sports fans, are passionately loyal and opinionated. With that, one thing is clear: Roman Reigns gets booed a whole hell of a lot.
To be clear, Reigns deserves to be where he is on the card. He has the look of someone you want to be a top star of your company. He can hit all of the demographics. He’s extremely competent in the ring and still has room for improvement on the mic. The problem is that creative fast-tracked Reigns’ ascension. Initially, there weren’t any flirtations with mid-card championships. Once The Shield was no more, he was well on his way to moving towards the top of the card. That cancels out the opportunity to build any kind of depth or substance to his character. We’re just seeing someone who wins or stands tall most of the time. The lack of layers within the character doesn’t allow the full ability for fans to relate to him, thus creating an inability to build stronger support or love towards him. It just creates dissonance or resentment.
What isn’t clear is why Vince McMahon and the creative staff want to continue looking a gift horse in the mouth. Reigns has been forced down the throats of the audience. Creative has tried to do everything imaginable to make him more appealing and none of them have worked. The closest thing to success is having him associate with Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. When he’s interacted with them individually in the past, it has led to mixed but improved results via association. With the reunion of The Shield, the sample size has been too small, based off the fact he’s dealing with a medical issue.
The dynamic between Reigns and the crowd presents a major issue. The product is better when the crowd’s responses match the performer’s heel/face alignment. If they’re set on booing Reigns, it creates an entirely different dynamic if you turn him heel. Creating an obligation to cheer for Reigns simply because the people in the back want the crowd to cheer just isn’t working.
Remember the struggle of making AJ Styles a heel? Even when he cheated to win the WWE title over Ambrose, he was still cheered. There’s a certain level of respect Styles has earned due to his ability to perform that superseded being a heel. After Wrestlemania, he became a face and all was right with the world. It’s becoming a struggle in today’s landscape to get heels booed. It didn’t work for Styles and is a continual struggle guys like Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe. Reigns presents a rare opportunity to get a heel legitimately booed because half of the battle is won.
Reigns is ultimately a victim of today’s internet community of wrestling fans. The push doesn’t work for because it has been established through sources that he’s been anointed as the one by McMahon and other decision makers. Fans are being told what’s for dinner rather than having the option to choose, and they are rejecting that.
Management had the same opportunity for a turn with John Cena at one time, but it didn’t capitalize on the situation and settled for mixed reaction. If WWE is good with not making as much money as they ultimately could, good on them. There’s money in making Reigns a heel.
In boxing, Floyd Mayweather is a traditional heel. UFC has Conor McGregor, someone who riles up fans. Both are successful and people pay to see if the person they hate gets his comeuppance. WWE can have their version in Reigns.
There’s a simple blueprint in terms of a persona that fits for him being a heel. The Brock Lesnar of today is relatively different to the Brock Lesnar of a few years back. Other than the obvious case of him not being on television as much, he appears much more vulnerable in the ring. Despite that, he still wins. With some tweaks, you can have a new-day Brock Lesnar who gets booed but still looks imposing with Reigns turning heel. He doesn’t have to work against script and can ditch the underdog role. Looking dominant, a heel Reigns can stack up wins, rarely cheat, rarely back down, and keep moving down the trail.
He doesn’t have to stay a heel permanently, but playing into the boos and letting Reigns play as that type of character can add an element that is truly needed for him and the rest of the roster.
I'm happy to see you agree with me about Roman's booking being the source of his heat. There was absolutely no opportunity for the crowd to organically grow with him post-Shield. There was only accepting him as the guy or growing increasingly frustrated. Obviously, we disagree where you say this results in a need to turn heel, whereas I know he's fine where he is. They only need refinery and better direction, which they've been showing signs of over the last few months. He hasn't been beating absolutely everyone in his path, and has had decent stretches of time where he isn't the main spotlight since WrestleMania. And most importantly, you say nothing creative has done has worked for Roman Reigns, but I just proved that some of it has. That run where he had to get the title back from Sheamus might have been the hottest Roman ever was with the crowd. And the reason for it's success was because they didn't portray Roman like a hero. They portrayed him like a man pissed off about being screwed. When he won the title back, the crowd actually cheered his victory. The only reason it failed is because they thought that was enough to make the crowd permanently care, but the next week it was back to the same old "I Can, I Will" schtick, and the crowd saw through the cheap cash-in.
You speak strongly about the crowd dynamic with Roman, but I think you understate the power of his reaction. Despite which direction the crowd is leaning, Roman always gets one of the loudest responses in the arena. When he's turning out good to great matches, and the crowd actually gets excited to cheer against Roman, that creates interesting television. It allows for moments like his microphone showdowns with Cena to feel that much more real. Roman can interact with the crowd in a way many wrestlers can't. Perhaps a year ago, you could say that the heat was unhealthy. But what they've crafted Roman into since becoming THE Guy, and even more so as The Big Dog has been legitimately compelling. And the reason is simple: they crafted him into an ass-kicking machine of few, but poignant words who only cares about carving his path to the top and taking out anyone who tries to stop him. They've circumvented the crowd reaction, therefore circumventing the need to turn him heel.
You bring up John Cena and mention how they failed to turn him heel when the opportunity existed, but that is only if one fails to realize that he transcended onto another level of performer. He may not be the greatest wrestler or the most beloved, but there's no denying most of our favorites have had their best WWE match with Cena, and much of that is due to the reaction and emotion fueling the build and storyline. And while Mayweather and McGregor may be "heels," there are still many people who love them for what they do. McGregor in particular has always come off as a popular superstar amongst my social and internet circles.
Lastly, I would like to highlight your last big paragraph:
"Looking dominant, a heel Reigns can stack up wins, rarely cheat, rarely back down, and keep moving down the trail."
Sounds like you described the recipe for a babyface new-day Brock Lesnar. Something we're already getting right now. All they need at this point are a few more tweaks if they want to clean up the reaction into a pure cheer, and not let him get the golden boy treatment. One year leading up to a WrestleMania where he's not in the main even can clinch that. Don't believe me? Well let me flashback to my previous debate to show you what can happen when a hated superstar gets a long break from the spotlight:
My point rests that there is absolutely no need to turn Roman Reigns heel.
Think of this list: The Rock, Daniel Bryan, The Undertaker, John Cena. Each of these stars will go on the highlight reel of Roman Reigns’ career simply due to the fact they were placed next to him in order to give their seal of approval of Reigns. The torch was being passed, the message was that Reigns was the man. Each instance was met with resistance by the audience. If four of the most important performers the company has seen in the last 20-25 years can’t get him over as the top face, you’re being stubborn and foolish not to look at the alternative.
What do most or all wrestlers say? It’s much easier being a heel. I’m sure Reigns has plenty of ammunition he could spew when it happened. It would be natural, and the crowd would boo because they already are doing that. They’d just have further reason to do so now.
The company is in dire need of top-level stars. Reigns hasn’t been able to do the job of carrying the flag for the company as the top face. Nothing we’ve seen lately shows any real directive that they plan to steer away from their creative action of portraying him as an overcoming-the-odds face. Vince McMahon has his idea in mind for getting Reigns over as a face. It’s a stubborn approach, and McMahon is a stubborn man. To think he’ll radically change his approach while keeping him a face seems like a stretch. It feels like you have to take the wheel and change the course for the destination.
You can mention the time with Sheamus. I’ll mention a counter to show he doesn’t check all the boxes. Case in point: Reigns and Dean Ambrose separately confronting Triple H prior to Wrestlemania 32. With Reigns being taken off TV, Ambrose stepped in and handled being defiant, sympathetic, and an underdog better in that moment than Reigns has ever been able to. Ambrose was able to because stories and scars have been established for his character, while they haven’t been established for Reigns. Creative is too far down the road to try new approaches as a face. More importantly, they haven’t shown anything to suggest they’re willing to do consistently.
Turning him forces the need to establish or accentuate facets of his character. With a continued face push, you’re still pretty much treading water. By turning him, you’re generating more interest to see what ultimately happens.
Look at Sami Zayn. He seemed destined to be a face for the duration of his career. With his recent turn, those subtle tweaks made to his character made a person who was universally loved now loathed. Now with a new outlook on things, you want to see how the story progresses with Zayn. That is a general blueprint for Reigns. On the surface, Reigns generally conveys an attitude that he’s being bothered to interact with people or he’s above everyone else outside of Ambrose and Seth Rollins, whom he respects. That’s being cocky and arrogant. If you turn the volume to 11 on that, you’ve got an easy-to-build heel.
You mentioned the crowd gets excited to cheer against Roman and that creates interesting television.You can be a villain and still create interesting television. You cite reactions and volume, but there’s a distinct difference. Let’s look at chants. “Let’s Go Roman, Roman Sucks” and “Yes! Yes! Yes!” You have the audience split with the first and united in the second. I don’t believe you can convincingly suggest the first is more impactful or potentially louder than the second.
Again, it’s about stars. You’ll have a “big bad” which this company doesn’t have. Taking the ambiguity of Reigns out of the picture, who is the biggest heel in the company right now? Whoever it is, turning Reigns heel makes them a distant second. By turning him heel, fundamental principles in wrestling suggest you have the chance to create two stars. You’re creating the potential of a second star when someone actually takes him down a peg. Heels are built to eventually be fed to someone. A heel Reigns would eventually get his and based off how dominant he’s become, the person that delivers that comeuppance could become a made man.
You speak of the golden boy treatment and an upcoming Wrestlemania. Do you seriously believe Reigns will not get another coronation at this upcoming Wrestlemania?
As I continue to push, looking at that list of wrestlers is a sign of the erroneous booking that has been the only detriment to Roman Reigns' run as a babyface. It was when they forced him to be something he's not. It doesn't matter who you pair him with, if the program isn't booked well, it's going to fall short of its intention. And with Taker and Cena, the intention was to build credibility, which it did.
You mentioned in your first post that the product is better when the crowd reaction matches the face/heel dynamic. If that's true, then a major problem with turning Reigns heel is the crowd would naturally start liking him, because as you yourself stated, the crowd eats up the antics of good heels. That would absolutely nullify his heat, or at best, get a split reaction. Something you speak adamantly against, but I disagree about it not being impactful or louder than a crowd united. Many people enjoy the friendly "us vs. them" nature of chanting. It promotes crowd participation and creates a stronger energy to feed from, which is fuel for any match or segment. Besides, if it's much easier being a heel, what does Roman learn from that?
To quote your last post: "The company is in dire need of top-level stars. Reigns hasn’t been able to do the job of carrying the flag for the company as the top face. Nothing we’ve seen lately shows any real directive that they plan to steer away from their creative action of portraying him as an overcoming-the-odds face. Vince McMahon has his idea in mind for getting Reigns over as a face. It’s a stubborn approach, and McMahon is a stubborn man. To think he’ll radically change his approach while keeping him a face seems like a stretch. It feels like you have to take the wheel and change the course for the destination."
But they have shown signs of him being portrayed as something other than an overcoming-the-odds face. Because now he's about staking his claim, not pushing through adversity. And if we're bringing Vince's stubbornness into the argument, what makes you think he'll turn Roman heel before trying new things as a babyface? It would more likely prompt him to do anything to prove being a babyface was the right choice, not drastically changing him to a heel to admit that he was wrong.
Your comparison to Ambrose is faulty. I explained Roman is best when he's not sympathetic or an underdog. Of course Ambrose pulls off that role better. My entire point is the only thing wrong with babyface Roman is the way he used to be portrayed, which was a sympathetic underdog. If they stop trying to force him into a mold he doesn't fit, the crowd will follow along. Hence my mentioning of his feud with Sheamus.
Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman, and hell, even Samoa Joe could easily slot into the "Big Bad" scenario. In fact, if you gave Roman's current destiny of dethroning Lesnar to another star the crowd was behind, Lesnar would be strongly booed, especially if they booked him as a heel. And that rub would be just as good, in fact BETTER than a heel Reigns in that position.
You know, it's interesting you mention Sami. While turning Sami might have built intrigue, that was the problem: Sami had no intrigue left. His reactions were very mild, so a turn was necessary. Roman still gets strong reactions, showing there is no reason to do some shocking event to build intrigue. And this really opens up a point that I had been softly alluding to throughout much of this debate:
Roman Reigns is already a heel.
Case in point:
This is the modern era. The reason John Cena was never turned was because the heat was bigger for him when he was constantly being a model citizen. The majority of the crowd was sick of him, and the moment he did something cool like turning heel, the crowd would erupt in pure elation that it finally happened. Even the biggest heels have a smattering of their hardcore supporters that cheer them no matter what, as you kindly pointed out with Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe. Roman is able to control the crowd when he's given the "reigns" and cocky about it. And the longer he plays that up, the more the crowd will ultimately grow to love him, and make him a successful babyface again.
It's simple. Roman Reigns is either a babyface that is only ruined by booking that can and has been fixed, or is already a heel. Either way, there is absolutely no reason to turn him heel.
This feels like correction corner, somewhat. I didn’t say fans eat up good heel antics. I was mentioning the fact the heels I mentioned who are extremely talented can’t seem to generate consistent heat. Reigns is already winning that battle, so having commentary actually hammer home the point of him being a heel when he turned would resonate and stick.
The “us vs. them” nature of chanting works in proper settings. ECW’s One Night Stand is a great example of that. That said, the Superdome being united in chanting “Yes!” when Daniel Bryan won the title will go down as one of the memorable moments in WWE history. That makes my case for me that while the “us vs. them” may be cool, it doesn’t mean it’ll be more impactful consistently. Cena vs. RVD in that environment is a cool moment and might stand out, but the championship arrival of the Yes! Movement will age much better.
Being okay with strong reactions, while relatively beneficial, is short-sighted. If something is just going through the motions and continuing on that path, it’s settling. Based on the metrics of ratings and subscriber numbers, WWE sure as hell needs to do something in order to build intrigue. The idea of fully embracing him as a heel and having the machine get behind him THAT way is staring them in the face. There’s plenty of intrigue to see how it is handled. Like I’ve said, if they’re okay just making a decent profit and playing it safe, continue with the status quo. If you want to build intrigue, fully establishing him as a heel is the way to go. Also, I’m not in the process of making Roman learn from being a heel. I’m in the process of having a more enjoyable product.
There’s a pretty easy way to do it in the future. I can see another match between The Shield members down the road. Instead of Ambrose winning again, Reigns can win. The two brothers who lost could try to play up what Rock, Bryan, Taker, and Cena did but Reigns walks off. He’s over it, and over them. If there’s any more insurance you felt like you needed to put down with the theory of fans starting to cheer him as a heel, having him blow off his brothers will hammer the “boo this man” and “he’s a heel” points home.
In regards to your Vince question about being stubborn, the question for this debate was: should WWE turn him heel? I’ll play along, though. Vince’s stubborn mentality relies on formulaic booking. If they’re unwilling to change, they’re just spinning their wheels. Honestly, I don’t have any reason to believe Vince won’t revert back to portraying him as the face that has gotten him booed for the last three years.
Lesnar, Strowman, Joe, Owens, Miz, etc. are all going to have issues being the “big bad” because they already are struggling in their current form if they’re heels. Specifically, Lesnar is not booked as a heel, so the fans are even more into him. Having Reigns, as is, on the path to dethroning him will just have that character stuck in the mud that much more than he is now. As currently constructed, I can’t envision this current path leading to the crowd backing him fully after the bell rings and he’s announced as the champion at Mania.
You lost me with your last point. You say you’ve softly been alluding a point that Roman is already a heel. That soft implication throughout the debate has to be softer than Charmin because your posts have said “Roman Reigns should remain a babyface with a proper revamp,” and “it's not a matter of turning Roman Reigns heel. They shouldn't,” and “my point rests that there is absolutely no need to turn Roman Reigns heel.” Now you’re creating a conflicting product, like WWE with Reigns.
We’re three years in for Reigns playing up the control of the crowd like you mentioned and where are we? We’ve seen him play it out for quite a while, and I’m not seeing the crowd loving him like a face should be loved. If the WWE is smart, they will allow Reigns to turn and see an entirely different dynamic to their product. If you ask the audience, most will suggest that turning him heel is the way to go. Vince says he listens to his audience. He should put his money where his mouth is.