WrestleMania is about moments. This is something often brought up with derision by the absolute most hardcore of fans, and usually countered with the reminder that WrestleMania is for everyone, not just the smarks; casuals deserve their feel-good moments, too. The trouble is, sometimes these things are diametrically opposed.
If there’s such a then as a casual smark, that is how I would describe myself. Clearly I’m into wrestling more than a casual fan if I’m writing articles! But I have to admit this isn’t how I choose to label myself, because of the negative associations I have with the word. More often than not, I call myself a “Reigns mark”, representing my willingness to buy in to the story being told.
I wish this is how I could watch all the time, but I know too much. Last night is the perfect example. Rather than enjoying Roman’s win, I found myself analysing it and everything leading up to it. Did they play his Chronicle before the Kickoff shown to remind people of what he’s been through, to remind them of the sympathy and joy they once felt for him? How much of the crowd was booing compared to those who remained silent; was that worse, or did they just not want to boo a cancer survivor? Did the announcement of a second Chronicle make the online reaction worse? There was anger on the other side, too. Vince has given the hardcores everything they wanted: Seth winning the Universal title, Kofi winning the WWE title, and later, Becky would win both Women’s titles. From some perspectives, especially those who believed that Vince would never give the fans three feel-good moments, it seemed like he had traded all of that for Roman’s win—and it still wasn’t enough.
Could Roman have survived the loss? Undoubtedly. They had leaned heavily on the fact that even though he was back, he wasn’t one hundred percent. Drew got the advantage of him time and again, and Roman kept clawing himself to his feet. He could have done so again. There are even benefits, booking-wise: Drew looks like a monster heel, and they potentially build more sympathy for Roman.
But what about the feel-good moment for every cancer patient, every Make-A-Wish child, every person that WWE was telling that you could overcome incredibly difficult odds and fight your way back? What about the optics of letting someone say that they are stronger than leukemia and letting them win? Not the best look for a company affiliated with numerous cancer charities. For many people, this was the feel-good moment they were waiting for. Do they throw that away because the hardcore set won’t be satisfied unless Reigns is demoted to a jobber?
Things to consider. People wanted a change to Reigns’ character, but doing a complete overhaul is not a practical decision. Nonetheless, they made small tweaks. While the only change to his ring gear was the design on his vest (updated to reflect his association with the Leukaemia Society), his regular attire became more casual, including athletic pants, Jordans, and sometimes jewelry. His manner of speaking became more natural; more of “Joe” in the background of it, than merely Creative writing for Roman. He also showed vulnerability, falling to McIntyre again and again, at least once a victim of his own righteous anger. Through it all, he never gave up, but since when is that a bad trait to have? From a booking perspective, too, they did a lot of things right. He was not immediately inserted into the Universal Title match (even though Seth offered it to him); all he asked for was one last fight with The Shield. He didn’t steal anyone else’s spot on the card, no one was shoved aside to make room for him. In fact, it could be argued that Drew McIntyre was given a prominent place on the card because of his match with Roman. He had five months to elevate himself, and really only garnered attention when paired with others. Would a win here really make that much of a difference?
In the end, despite how WrestleMania is presented, the crowd for it and the Raw immediately following are not your average crowd. People have paid hundreds, even thousands of dollars, travelling from all over the world, to partake in this event. They are dedicated, and passionate. But do they represent the majority, or is this the IWC made flesh? I can’t say how much stock Vince McMahon and company place in them, what sort of booking of decisions they make because of them. What I will say is this: if that particular subset is determined to reject Roman no matter what, they company may as well go ahead and make use of him as they see fit. The Roman Empire will still support him.