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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business: Understanding Roster Positioning: Roman Reigns is Succeeding The Undertaker
By Samuel 'Plan
Sep 24, 2017 - 6:50:01 PM

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Just Business: Understanding Roster Positioning: Roman Reigns is Succeeding The Undertaker

Roman Reigns fits into neither of the two elements of WWE’s main event make-up explored in my preceding two columns.

His closest contemporaries still feel uniquely ill-equipped to claim a status similar to that of Reigns’ heavily front-loaded early singles career, meaning that Reigns’ relationship to his peers goes beyond simply having a lion’s share of favourable treatment; thereby denying him a part of his Era’s ‘Trinity.’ So too is Reigns a thorough-bred WWE star, having come up through FCW, then NXT and having known no other pro wrestling environment, thereby denying him any claim to the title of his Era’s ‘Anomaly.’

So does he fit the third element?

That third element I have opted to name ‘the Attraction,’ though ‘exception’ may be equally as useful a term. Put simply, there is no greater position to hold in the company. It is a position that sits apart from the rest of the roster, and is not subject to the same demands as any other. It is also incredibly rarefied air, to such an extent that winning World titles feels like a step sideways, or sometimes even backwards, for any ‘Attraction’ of the day; and even any member of the blockbuster class of part-time elite is lucky to find themselves involved in a programme opposite ‘Attraction.’

Now I have to accept, and willingly do, that for the longest time WWE’s well-known intention was to have Roman Reigns occupy a spot as the foremost member of his Era’s ‘Trinity’ of top stars, enjoying the lion’s share of that privileged spotlight so that he might add his name to the line of torch bearers otherwise including Hogan, Michaels, Austin, Cena and Bryan. You don’t need me to recount to you how WWE failed in trying to achieve this. Nor do you need for me to recount how WWE failed several times over when it didn’t seem to work.

Roman Reigns as he stands today is the product of those repeatedly disastrous pushes and WWE’s hard headedness in repeatedly returning to the well. It is perhaps as much through coincidence as it is through design, then, that, even at this early stage in his singles career, he can boast a resume of kayfabe accomplishments few other characters in history can match.

All this defines Roman Reigns as a singular example of WWE putting a great deal of effort into trying to create a contemporary star equal to the value of the stars of yesteryear. What is tragic about that is that it is a singular example; that it has led Roman Reigns to the exceptional position he is in; that all of his accomplishments haven’t been shared out, mirrored or otherwise rivalled by anyone else in the locker room he presumably has a hand in leading.

Chasing and winning more World titles for Roman Reigns is an inevitability, and I cannot escape the feeling that doing so would be like treading water for the Big Dog; if not regressing a little. This supported by two facts: the aforementioned fact that no other contemporary star looks set to be moved to a level anywhere near the one currently enjoyed by a heavily pushed Roman Reigns; and by the personal history of his opponent later tonight.

Consider that, if the rumour is true, Roman Reigns will be wrestling – and presumably defeating – Brock Lesnar in the main event of WrestleMania 34. That will be his fourth main event in a row at the Grandest Stage of Them All. This time, it won’t be like at WrestleMania 31 either. Roman Reigns won’t be entering as a definitive underdog but as a perceived equal to the Beast Incarnate, at least in the company’s eyes (a concept already visited during the two men’s encounters throughout the summer). That’s incredible; even more so when you consider that his singles career won’t even be four years old.

Now consider John Cena’s fourth WrestleMania main event in a row. He went in as WWE Champion against Shawn Michaels in a storyline built around experience and big match pressure, where Cena was undoubtedly presented as the underdog fighting an uphill battle. It was categorically the opposite of a battle of equals, and something of a transition for the Cena character who would, subsequently, move into his first feuds that summer where he portrayed the veteran. At the time, his main roster single’s career was already four and a half years old.

This comparison makes it abundantly clear that Roman Reigns’ career is already radically different to John Cena’s. When you consider the favouritism consistently shown to John Cena’s presentation even throughout the early days of his tenure as WWE Champion, you suddenly gain some rather shocking perspective on how exceptional Roman Reigns is in comparison to his peers too. Such comparison substantiates my earlier claim: chasing and obtaining further World Championships for the Big Dog will, at its very best, feel like treading water and, if not already then certainly within the next two to three years, is more than likely going to feel like something of a curious step backwards for him.

Only two other men in the history of WWE can claim to have enjoyed such mind-blowing privilege in their careers – only two others can truly claim to have occupied that spot as the exception or ‘Attraction - and I am left with no choice but to seriously consider whether Roman Reigns is their successor, rather than John Cena’s. It might be a tough pill to swallow, but it could be Roman Reigns is following in the footsteps of André the Giant and The Undertaker.

I know that’s a stretch, and I understand if you might approach the notion with a deal of disbelief, but when you begin to more closely inspect the unique careers of those two mythical figures you begin to flesh out the definition of ‘Attraction’ and, in understanding Reigns’ position relative to his contemporaries today, realise he is starting to fill that niche.

There are certain elements of symmetry in the careers of both André the Giant and The Undertaker of course. Both were presented as undefeated within specific contexts: André generally within the confines of the WWF, The Undertaker at WrestleMania. Both were universally respected by the locker rooms throughout their time in the company. Both wrestled with incredible longevity, relative to their circumstances. Due to their size, both often found themselves pitted against ‘monster’ characters. Finally, and quite obviously, both seemed to be largely set aside from everyone else they shared a ring and locker room with and, only intermittently (though, in the case of The Undertaker, with increasing frequency as his career aged) vied for World title gold. All of these are traits Roman Reigns seems to be taking on.

Stories and interviews have revealed the position of leadership Reigns already occupies within his locker room, and the way other contemporaries talk of him reveals a growing amount of respect for the performer. As mentioned, because of the peculiar nature of his singles career thus far, he already feels excepted from the rest of the roster too, and in actuality has only drifted intermittently in and out of the World title scene during his tenure. So too has he been something of a monster slayer in his time: Lesnar; Wyatt; Strowman; and, of course, The Undertaker. Though his defeating The Undertaker at WrestleMania will only take on true symbolic significance as time continues to pass, his adoption of The Undertaker’s famous catchphrase has most certainly felt like something of a powerful signal that a torch-passing has occurred.

But there are two flaws in this particular theory that cannot go ignored. Firstly, time is needed before we can fully justify the comparison, because it is largely through the passage of time that André the Giant and The Undertaker both attained their vaunted statuses each. It was with time they obtained their unprecedented respect among the locker room and fans, through time that they compiled careers of impressive longevity and prominence and through time that they matured into the monoliths they have become within the annals of WWE’s modern history. Roman Reigns’ rapid ascent in the first four years of his singles career might be a strong argument for proclaiming him the ‘Attraction’ of his Era by virtue of the exceptional position it grants him, but the relative youth of that ascent posits as strong an argument for caution in making the proclamation in the first place.

It is the second flaw that really proves difficult to explain away, though. André the Giant and The Undertaker both, at times in their careers, played villains; but even when they did, and even if expressed through the willing pantomime of fans reacting negatively to wrestling bad guys, both remained universally ‘over’ among the fan base; or to put it another way, universally beloved. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that such a claim cannot be made about Roman Reigns, whose own exceptionalism is heavily defied by the complete opposite: near universal rejection among fans.

So, if the theory of the ‘Attraction’ is based on patterns defined by the exceptional careers of André the Giant and The Undertaker then, right now, most especially because of the latter-most fact, Roman Reigns cannot be reasonably labelled the ‘Attraction’ of his locker room.


Though I cannot currently feel justified in lending Roman Reigns the moniker of the third ‘Attraction’ in WWE history, the truth is that he is most certainly on the path to obtaining it. I have long held that all Reigns needs to do is continue having good to great matches on a consistent basis and gradually, eventually, fans will be won over in large numbers. It happened with John Cena, after all, and we have already seen how Roman Reigns has achieved one thing much faster than John Cena did: transcend the contemporary main event plane.

In the worst case scenario, where that same universal popularity so key in comparing the Giant and the Phenom to one another never comes about for the Big Dog, there will, I believe, still be enough of the other traits that define the ‘Attraction’ to justify his taking up that mantle; most specifically, his exceptionalism when compared to other stars of the day.

Granted, that has and will continue to come without anywhere near the same degree of conscious purpose of design as it did with André the Giant and The Undertaker, but it has and will continue to come all the same, in its own guise. Be it the product of an imbalance of attention or mistaken creative direction, WWE’s intention remains very clear: make Roman Reigns something special. They already have done, and that’s going to continue for a long time to come (that it has occurred because of cynicism and negativity speaks only to the state of the post-truth world we now live in, I’m afraid).

Hence, we come to understand why this Roman Reigns / John Cena feud feels so oddly hollow. It’s built on themes of inheritance and opportunity, but truthfully Roman Reigns is already beyond the need for any of that. It might even be why, whether WWE realise it or not, the promotion is so comfortable putting this huge match on at No Mercy rather than at WrestleMania. Put simply, because of his attempting to occupy the ‘Attraction’ spot, Reigns doesn’t need a match at WrestleMania opposite John Cena to keep himself relevant; even if John Cena, the former poster-boy, might need one opposite Roman Reigns. Isn’t that telling?

Then there’s the proof in the pudding, of course. John Cena isn’t a fully fledged Monday Night Raw superstar, meaning their match is literally set apart from the rest of what’s going on. There is no title on the line and no physical stakes up for grabs, meaning their match is also figuratively set apart from the rest of what’s going on. What might we best call it? A special attraction match….

So it might be disquieting to consider, but I believe, at least as it stands currently, that though he cannot quite claim it comfortably at so early a stage in his career, Roman Reigns will eventually take up the mantle now left behind by the Dead Man to become the next ‘Attraction’ star in WWE, who transcends any contemporary locker room and earns a truly singular spot in company lore.

Amazingly, he’s already built a foundation for it; defeating John Cena tonight will only serve to make that foundation stronger still.

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, from the LOP Store or Amazon today! Simply click here to find mine and a host of other books and merchandise on offer, all courtesy of LOP, or on the icon to the left to be taken directly to Amazon!

Click here to add me on Facebook!

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