Since my last PWI blog entry, the main event picture of WWE has slowly morphed into a state of chaos. After a memorable championship win at WrestleMania, Daniel Bryan seemed poised to be the face of the company for the rest of 2014. Then, a particularly untimely injury forced Bryan to vacate the WWE World heavyweight championship back in June. John Cena won the vacant title at Money in the Bank, only to lose it in a lopsided match with Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. Seth Rollins interfered in Cena’s guaranteed rematch at Night of Champions, costing him the belt in a controversial disqualification finish. Cena’s attention quickly shifted to Rollins, who was already embroiled in a bitter rivalry with Dean Ambrose. Now, Ambrose – who was recently sidelined for five weeks by Rollins – is set to face Cena for the mere right to pummel Rollins at the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view. Ambrose is quickly becoming one of the most popular wrestlers in WWE, which should be of concern to his former Shield teammate, the currently incapacitated Roman Reigns.
When Brock Lesnar so decisively won the WWE world title from Cena at SummerSlam, talk quickly centered around just who would be able to unseat him as champion. With Lesnar only contracted to appear for WWE on a limited basis, he would be able to spend most of his time training – making himself into an even more formidable opponent than he already was. Many observers predicted that Reigns, who seemed poised to dominate in singles competition, could be the man to take down Lesnar. With size, strength, and charisma in spades, Reigns would ride a wave of fan adulation to the top of company, eventually taking down Lesnar sometime in 2015. Or so it seemed, anyway.
As Daniel Bryan found out earlier in the year, the inability to compete is the biggest deterrent to staying on top in WWE. Reigns was diagnosed with an incarcerated hernia in September and immediately underwent surgery. Doctors estimated Reigns would be out for at least six weeks. In the meantime, Ambrose has stepped up in a big way. The former mouthpiece of The Shield has used his verbal skills, twisted sense of humor, and penchant for relentless brawling (particularly against his number one target, Rollins) to garner arguably the biggest fan reactions of anyone in the company. When Reigns is healthy enough to return to the ring, it’s entirely possible that fans will have decided that they simply like Ambrose better. If the increasingly vocal WWE fan base, comprised largely of males in the very loud 18-49 demographic, refuses to accept someone as a top fan favorite, that guy won’t be
a fan favorite for very long. Just ask Batista.
What can Reigns do to avoid this potential backlash? Well, he needs to stand out. One way to do that would be to intentionally not compete with Ambrose for fan adulation. He may never be as unpredictable or bitingly funny as his former teammate, but Reigns (like Liam Neeson in Taken) has a very specific set of skills. If Reigns focuses on being a sort of anti-Ambrose, he just might garner a different, yet equally valuable form of fan reaction. He’ll need a mouthpiece, though, and I know exactly who that should be.
As a “Paul Heyman guy,” Reigns won’t have to worry about what some perceive as his verbal shortcomings on his way up the WWE ladder. Brock Lesnar was an instant monster in 2002, and he barely had to say a word. When words needed to be said (read: screamed), Heyman took care of business for him. Heyman will be a great business advocate and vocal presence for Reigns, who will be learning from one of the best every week by simply being in Paul E.’s presence. Meanwhile, Reigns won’t have to worry about winning a popularity contest with the inherently likable, if abrasive, Ambrose. When the time comes for Reigns to get a major, one-on-one title shot, it won’t matter who the champion was. Lesnar, Cena, Ambrose, Bryan … he’ll be ready for the challenge, and fans will be along for the ride.
PWI Contributing Writer
@OfficialPWI Twitter Contributor