It's happening. The Reality Era, staying true to form, is beginning to turn on yet another heavily promoted phenom, and its latest victim is Roman Reigns.
WWE has slowly but surely built Reigns as an up-and-coming star. Reports of his impending rise, most recently from Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t WrestlingInc), have been blossoming across all the dirt sheets. Reigns eventually becoming WWE World Heavyweight champion is WWE’s worst-kept secret.
And that’s why the Internet resents him.
I like how they've booked Roman Reigns as a mock of John Cena, and literally gave him five moves of doom as his entire offence.— Stephen (@TwerkingStephen) August 18, 2014
I AM GETTING SICK AND TIRED OF THE WAY THEY'RE SHOVING ROMAN REIGNS DOWN OUR THROATS, AS IF HE IS SET TO BE THE NEXT SUPER CENA.— DEATHTOCENA (@DIEJOHNCENADIE) August 19, 2014
Casual fans view Reigns as a wrestler to watch. He wins big matches and is made to look like a force to be reckoned with. “This kid could be a big star one day,” says the casual fan.
Then there's the hardcore fanbase. This group devours backstage headlines like Brock Lesnar does red meat at Morton’s Steakhouse. "This guy is overrated," says the more jaded fan.
You see, fans who following the backstage news have already been fed so many rumors and so much gossip about Reigns being the heir apparent to John Cena that it’s as if they’ve already lived through his entire push.
Reigns just wrestled his first pay-per-view main event match this past Sunday at SummerSlam, yet some fans are already claiming to be sick of him. How did that happen?
Access. That’s how.
The Reality Era is defined by a cynical online fanbase that knows too much for its own good. Since its base is on the Internet, which typically adopts a more underground mentality through niche message boards and forums, any indication of Reigns becoming a poster child makes him the enemy.
Reigns is destined to receive the same mixed reactions that Cena does. Sure, Cena is the first top star to receive consistently polarizing responses, but he’s not an outlier.
He’s a sign of the times.
The Information Age has begotten a different breed of wrestling fan. It's a know-it-all breed that refuses to go along with the storyline now that it’s available for scrutiny on a web browser.
If Vince McMahon pulled wrestling’s sacred curtain back with this promo—describing WWE’s initiative to produce more real-life content—the Reality Era sneaked into the locker room.
Access is just half the fun. The reaction (and overreaction) to rumors is what makes this generation of fan tick. From here on out, anybody perceived to be groomed as WWE’s next big thing will be met with resentment and skepticism.
Resentment toward Reigns has fueled fervent support for Dean Ambrose, who is easily comparable to Reigns as he is also a former Shield member being booked near the main event scene. Ambrose’s background as an independent wrestler, mixed with a common-man appeal, makes for an interesting juxtaposition to the mainstream star qualities that make Reigns a front-office favorite.
The Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t WrestlingInc) recently reported WWE officials don’t view Ambrose as being ready for the main event. I wouldn’t be surprised if WWE COO Triple H himself is planting these reports just to throw Twitter into a frenzy and manufacture more emotional investment in both characters.
If that conspiracy theory is accurate, it’s working like a charm:
How is Dean Ambrose not thought to be of main event status? Ridiculous. The guy is just ridiculously talented.— ᵈʸᶫᵃᶰ ˢᵗᵉᵛᵉᶰˢ (@TheySee_MeDolan) August 21, 2014
Wwe has said that they don't see @TheDeanAmbrose as a main event talent. Wwe is so stupid sometimes.— Dolph Ziggler (@TheShowOff__) August 22, 2014
Ambrose’s anti-authority persona makes him a hero to the Internet Wrestling Community, even more so in the absence of Daniel Bryan.
On the contrary, the broader Reigns’ appeal becomes, the more vicious the tweets. The Reality Era represents a counterintuitive parallel universe of emotion. Reigns started out wearing black to symbolize his status as a villain, but as he continues to add different shades of neon piping, he’ll lose support from the loudest segment of WWE’s audience.
Reigns won’t truly be entrenched as a top star until vocal protests follow him to every arena and are acknowledged on the air.
These days, a mixed reaction is how a top star gets over.