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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business: Understanding Roster Positioning: Roman Reigns isn’t The Guy
By Samuel 'Plan
Sep 16, 2017 - 4:59:21 AM

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Just Business: Understanding Roster Positioning: Roman Reigns isn’t The Guy

I struggle sometimes, as a wrestling fan, when I hear pro wrestlers or promoters lecturing the fan base on the importance of just sitting back and enjoying a story, rather than over-thinking. I struggle not because I disagree. On the contrary, I’m on board with that philosophy and strive to adopt the mode of thought whenever I can. I struggle only when WWE don’t provide any story to enjoy. Such is the reason why I have found the Roman Reigns / John Cena feud – and I deliberately choose not to use the word “storyline” – so eye-wateringly boring.

Rather than fashioning a compelling fiction out of the two characters that plays to their fictional continuities, we have had to endure weeks of constant back and forth sparring sessions on the microphone designed to walk the ‘edgy’ line between ‘work’ and ‘shoot.’ It is the very kind of feud that encourages fans to do the exact opposite of what so many pro wrestling personalities are always asking them to do: sit back and enjoy the story. It does this because there is no story; there is only the notion of playing on perceptions of roster positioning and personality clashes that, really, we all know are being purposefully exacerbated for the sake of TV drama. Only, it’s not very dramatic; just unbearably smug.

In the absence of having any real story to sink my teeth into, then, their ongoing confrontations have had me turning my attention to something else. I do not know if I am alone in this line of thinking or not, but this feels like a clash that has come rather too late. John Cena, from an empirical standpoint, is far removed from his undisputed status as the so-called Guy, and Roman Reigns has only ever struggled to climb into that position. The result is a series of proclamations by both parties, in the process of the build to their match at No Mercy, that have rung rather hollow with me. This indicated one thing: at this stage, neither man is really ‘The Guy.’

So if not ‘The Guy,’ then what?

That question pushed me in the direction of taking a look through WWE’s past Eras and considering the nature of roster positioning in each, in the hopes that the results would lead me to some means of identifying what John Cena and Roman Reigns really are in relation to their fellow superstars. In doing so, a pattern emerged demonstrating that the highest echelon of WWE’s roster over the decades has always been constructed from three elements.

The first of those three elements is what we might term ‘the Trinity.’ From the Golden Age to the Reality Era, WWE’s roster has had three top male talents above all others. They each share an element of being ‘The Guy’ – though more often than not one gets the lion’s share for himself – meaning that, whenever two of them clash, it feels, sometimes is presented, as the biggest of big deals. Further, often, of the three possible feuds between ‘the Trinity,’ one will emerge as the poster feud of its generation and another, the go-to feud. Though not all of these identifiable patterns recur in their full form in each Era of WWE’s modern history, enough of them do for us to be able to call it a trend.

The trinity of the Golden Age, for example, was Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Ultimate Warrior, and each of them had their opportunity in the spotlight to be ‘The Guy.’ Hogan vs. Warrior was undoubtedly its poster feud but, considering the longer running nature of the product at the time, there was no real go-to feud for the Era. This is in contrast to the Attitude Era, though, whose trinity was Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and Triple H, and again each of them had an opportunity to be ‘The Guy.’ The former two presented the poster feud of its age, and the latter two the go-to.

So what of this new Era in WWE, then, that I refer to as the Renaissance? Well, I have long held that ‘the Trinity’ of this age was The Shield: Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. The John Cena / Roman Reigns feud has had me reassessing this.

Roman Reigns is a top talent, most certainly, but the unique story of his career thus far sets him apart from his contemporaries, and has done so at a speed we have not seen since the early days of The Undertaker’s career.

WWE and many others are of the belief that there are no real stars in the company today, hence the heavy use of part time talent, but that Roman Reigns is the one guy who has bucked that trend, eliciting a reaction like nobody else can. The uncomfortable, disappointing truth is that this does not boil down to greater inherent ability; only to the mitigating circumstances of his five or six failed pushes.

When you let one individual break the record for most eliminations in a Royal Rumble, win a second Rumble and place second and third in two others, close out three successive WrestleManias, take the superhumanly presented Brock Lesnar to the limit, win three WWE World Heavyweight Championships, beating Triple H in the process of attaining one, retire The Undertaker and quite possibly go on to be the one modern day star capable of beating Lesnar one on one, is there any wonder fans react differently to him than they do everyone else? Exacerbate all of that with the post-modern fan’s mindset and the result was always inevitable.

The end result, though, I believe, is undeniable: regardless of the reasons why, and regardless as to whether they are justified or not, Roman Reigns is unique among his generation. This sense of the singular prevents us from being able to call him one of his Era’s ‘Trinity’ – a conclusion supported by the historical trend itself.

Consider Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin; both individuals who, pretty much universally, are recognised as the respective ‘Guy’ of their age. They both enjoyed the lion’s share of that status during their respective Eras but, vitally, neither felt singular. While Hogan was undoubtedly front and centre throughout his tenure, Warrior enjoyed similar treatment, even if it was a little more short-lived. While Austin was clearly the top name of his day, The Rock was never far behind and, eventually, caught up; indeed, one could be forgiven for historically reassessing Austin’s status because of The Rock’s success rate. So, while both Hogan and Austin were at the top of their rosters, both had a contemporary rival who enjoyed the same treatment, if not the same longevity of that treatment.

This formula does not apply to Roman Reigns.

Seth Rollins would perhaps be the closest to that same status, but even The Kingslayer is a long way off. The trick in understanding this is to look at how part-timers have been deployed and utilised over the course of the Reality Era and, now, the Renaissance.

During the Reality Era, there emerged a new class of competitor, placed above the established ‘main event scene’ as we call it: the blockbuster class, consisting primarily, though not exclusively, of part-time talents. That fresh division, which still exists now, has hosted a number of individuals, some of whom had only a fleeting presence, others who remain entrenched to this day. They are The Undertaker; Triple H; Brock Lesnar; The Rock; Sting; Goldberg; John Cena; Chris Jericho, to a lesser extent; and, frustratingly, Shane McMahon. For a contemporary talent to wrestle any one of these individuals, it has been proven by history, is recognition of their status as an established main event player of their day. Programmes with the blockbuster elite are few and far between, and revered, in the company’s mind if nobody else’s, like gold dust.

It is important to understand that latter notion, because during the Reality Era CM Punk became the only contemporary star of the day to break through from main event player to member of the blockbuster elite; the only one. At the time of his departure, he had been placed into programmes opposite Cena, Jericho, Triple H, The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar and The Rock. Regardless of the outcomes of those matches, Punk’s consistent positioning opposite the ‘better than the best’ was unheard of, and enjoyed by no other member of the Reality Era’s own locker room. Throughout the entire Era in which the blockbuster elite took full form, no other individual was able to make that leap; it took CM Punk seven years to do it himself, it was so leviathan an achievement.

Now consider the Renaissance’s locker room. Who enjoys the status CM Punk enjoys? Seth Rollins has feuded extensively with John Cena, and has wrestled Chris Jericho, Sting, Triple H and Brock Lesnar, for sure; but wrestling Jericho was a time-killing move, at a time when Jericho was really a permanent roster member anyway, and wrestling Lesnar was inconclusive and without a finish, unfolding as Lesnar’s gateway into what was ostensibly considered, on the company’s part, as a ‘bigger feud.’

Dean Ambrose has rubbed shoulders with The Undertaker, Triple H and Brock Lesnar, but the first was on television, the second not even on a traditional pay-per-view and the latter was considered an ill-advised improvisation. While these programmes cement Rollins and Ambrose undoubtedly as two of their own Era’s ‘Trinity,’ neither can make the same claim to consistent blockbuster status as CM Punk could.

Once again, Roman Reigns stands apart from his brethren. He has wrestled Brock Lesnar in the main event of WrestleMania. He was wrestled Triple H in the main event of WrestleMania. He has wrestled The Undertaker in the main event of WrestleMania. He has rubbed shoulders with Goldberg, been endorsed by The Rock and now stands ready to wrestle, and presumably defeat, John Cena. While it isn’t as straightforward a break through as CM Punk’s own was, it is nevertheless evident of how Reigns is allowed to mix in with the blockbuster elite in a way no other roster member of the day is. At this stage, he pretty much is a member of that blockbuster elite.

So presuming that Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose make up two thirds of the Renaissance’s ‘Trinity’ – I feel comfortable in saying that not only because of each man’s aforementioned encounters with the blockbuster elite but also because of their relationship standing as this Era’s clear go-to feud – it seems clear that Roman Reigns is not the third wheel. His achievements, roster positioning and treatment by the company thus far set him too far apart from the other Hounds of Justice for us to justifiably make that claim.

This conclusion has a massive impact on how we might understand Roman Reigns’ role in the coming years, as his own Era progresses, and clarifies just why he is not ‘The Guy’ and, by extension, why the so-called storyline behind his feud with John Cena feels somewhat hollow; or misguided at best.

This is because ‘The Guy’ of any Era has always been entrenched within that ‘Trinity’ of top stars. Sure, they might have been the number one guy on the roster at points, but Hogan, Michaels, Austin, Cena and Bryan were all, in their heyday, only ever first among equals. When it comes to the contemporary locker room and how WWE are utilising them, Roman Reigns has no equal.

This brings me back to my earlier point: that the roster of any Era has three elements making up its main event scene, with the ‘Trinity’ being only one of them. The question, then, is whether Roman Reigns’ already exceptional status fits one of those other two elements instead: the Anomaly or the Attraction. I’ll be looking at those as the week goes on.

Until then, let me ask you this: if Roman Reigns is not the third member of this Era’s ‘Trinity’ of top stars, who do you believe is? Let me know your thoughts down below, or over on social media!

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

Click here to add me on Facebook!

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