As I sat in front of my television last night listening to Roman Reigns crack jokes about tater tots, I couldn’t help but shake my head. Here is a man who certainly has all the tools to be a top performer in WWE. In limited doses, when you put a microphone in his hand, he does just fine (key word there is limited). Outside the ring, he’s affable and articulate. He’s got the size and the pedigree that the company seems to love, and despite what some may say, he’s grown quite a bit as a performer in the ring. Being a top performer, though, and being “THE GUY” are not one in the same. Truth be told, I don’t know that Reigns is ever going to be that guy, no matter how hard they try to brand him as such. But, that’s not really what this column is about.
I want to spend some time on this concept of “THE GUY” because I think it’s incredibly counterproductive, and it puts WWE in a potentially dangerous position should something bad happen to Roman Reigns. After all, it was little more than a year ago that Reigns underwent emergency hernia surgery that kept him on the shelf for three months, sending their plans into disarray. Dolph Ziggler turned out to be the beneficiary at Survivor Series, until he wasn’t when they failed to capitalize on his momentum. Why? Because he wasn’t THE GUY. You could argue John Cena still owned that title, and continues to do so, but the point is, it was never about Dolph Ziggler and it was always about Roman Reigns. The rest of the roster be damned!
Vince McMahon’s mentality hasn’t changed much over the years when it comes to this sort of thing. Earlier this year, Vince Russo, in an editorial for Wrestlezone.com, shared a story about the tension between McMahon and Shawn Michaels in the weeks leading up to WrestleMania 14 where Shawn was to drop the title to Steve Austin. Things had gotten so bad that Russo was forced to act as a messenger between the two of them because they would not speak to one another directly. Russo claims the night after Austin won the title, McMahon came to him and, in no uncertain terms, explained that Russo’s priority going forward was Austin and that “nothing else matters.”
Fast forward several years to WWE’s failed ECW revival. McMahon was hell bent on anointing an inexperienced Bobby Lashley as THE GUY, despite the fact there were others at the time, like CM Punk, who had greater fan support. Paul Heyman recognized this and pitched an idea for Punk to win the ECW title in the Elimination Chamber match at the ill-fated December to Dismember show. Vince, stubborn as a mule, stuck to his guns and put the title on Lashley. According to Scott Williams’ unauthorized ECW biography in 2011, the following day, Heyman pitched opening the next episode of ECW TV with Lashley, Punk and Rob Van Dam, an idea that McMahon vehemently rejected for fear that fans in the building would chant for Punk. “Get this through your thick f*cking head,” he allegedly told Heyman. “My focus is on Bobby Lashley and only Bobby Lashley! He is ECW and he will be, at the expense of [RVD], CM Punk, Test and everyone else, and you can hit the door if you don’t like it!” In the end, that is exactly what Heyman did.
WWE was very fortunate to have the level of depth they did at the top of its roster during the Attitude Era. Having Steve Austin and The Rock, as hot as they were at the same time, was like hitting the lottery twice. When Austin went down with neck surgery and was out for nine months, the company didn’t miss a beat. Sure, they may have lost some of the inflated audience they enjoyed throughout much of 1999, but they were lucky to have Rock to plug into that spot as the top babyface, and together, he and Triple H carried the company on their backs, with a strong supporting cast, for much of 2000. What would they have done without Rock? When Austin went down, Undertaker was out of action himself nursing an injury, and he was a heel at the time anyway. As much as I love Mick Foley, he would not have been the answer. The company benefited by having multiple guys they could potentially build around instead of relying on just one person.
Which brings me back to this whole concept of THE GUY. There is nothing wrong with having that one person as the “face” of your company. Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin and others have filled that role at different points in history. The thing is, where there was Hogan, there was Randy Savage, or The Ultimate Warrior. Where there was Bret Hart, you had Lex Luger, or The Undertaker, or Shawn Michaels. The company had options, and for the most part, none of those guys were pushed to the detriment of everyone else on the roster. I believe this concept of relying on just ONE GUY is as antiquated as it is foolish, particularly at a time when WWE has been devastated by injuries. Top stars like Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Sting and Randy Orton are out for extended periods of time (if not for good in some cases), while Cesaro, who appeared to be building some momentum, is also out for several months. Of course, we’ve been down that road before with Cesaro, so I’m not so naïve as to believe things would have turned out any differently for him this time around. Even still, his loss is yet another blow to an already thin roster.
This Sunday, Roman Reigns challenges Sheamus for the WWE championship at TLC in a tables, ladders and chairs match. It was in a similarly dangerous Money in the Bank ladder match a couple of years ago that Sheamus suffered a torn labrum, an injury that later required surgery and kept him out of action for several months. What would happen if Roman Reigns were to get hurt this Sunday? That would paint a very bleak picture heading into WrestleMania season given how poorly they have positioned their other top babyfaces in recent months. Dean Ambrose is still quite popular and would be a logical fallback, though I’m sure Vince McMahon would be quick to tell me that I misspelled “John Cena” as Dean Ambrose. For all the times they failed to elevate men like Ambrose, Ziggler and Cesaro to that next level when they had the chance, not necessarily as THE GUY but as top-tier players who are protected and treated as such, if something were to happen to Reigns, they would have nobody to blame but themselves.
I hope Roman Reigns stays healthy and becomes everything they want him to be. He is clearly Vince McMahon’s chosen one. No matter how hard he may try though, that doesn’t make him THE GUY. And really, is that such a bad thing?
Jason Solomon is host of the “Solomonster Sounds Off” podcast, which can be heard weekly on thesolomonster.com, Stitcher Radio and iTunes.