John Cena 2, Roman Reigns 0.
As Cena and Reigns barrel toward their clash at No Mercy, their war of words continues to escalate. And Cena is clearly out in front.
That, by itself, is not surprising. Cena is one of the best mic workers in the company; it would be difficult for anyone, even a great talker, to take him on and win. Whatever critics say about Cena's ringwork (which has steadily improved), his promo work has always been undeniable. Even The Rock failed at taking Cena down, and was left stammering in the ring during the buildup to WrestleMania XXVIII.
The Miz has come the closest to holding his own against Cena in recent years. And why does Miz excel where others have failed? It's because Miz, more than any wrestler since CM Punk, has had the intestinal fortitude to go there—to that below-the-belt area where the best, most vicious digs are generated.
Reigns is not a great talker. He's acceptable when he has a line or two to deliver menacingly, but extended monologues are not his forte. Reigns doesn't have enough variance in his delivery; it's a drone, and fans can tell he's reading off a script. He got exposed recently, when Cena called him out for forgetting his lines.
It would be nice if WWE Creative let Reigns speak from the heart—deliver a promo with bullet points instead of lines. He can't forget what he doesn't have to memorize.
But that's an unrealistic ask; as much as the smart fans desire that old-school, flying-solo improvisation, the writers are here to stay. WWE is a massive, global company, with stockholders to keep happy and a diverse fanbase to engage. The company will not allow its wrestlers total creative freedom, with so few checks and balances, when there is so much on the line.
But what the writers could do, if they're going to control Roman's every word, is feed him better lines. Roman is slinging the same, tired barbs that fans have heard for well over a year. Part-timer. Phony. Cena has his comebacks ready to go before Reigns is even done talking.
Reigns isn't going to out-talk Cena or win the crowd over with his natural charisma. He has to win on the meanness of his insults. And to do that, he has to go lower and get more specific.
Too much of what Cena throws out there goes unchallenged and uncontested. Like this rant: "I was honored and privileged to earn the U.S. title at this stage of my career and use it as a beacon of opportunity to introduce new superstars like AJ Styles and Kevin Owens, just to name a few."
This was the perfect chance to call Cena out. Point out that Owens lost his feud. Point out that AJ Styles also lost his feud. Reigns could point out other superstars who have lost to Cena and consequently seen their stocks take a dive. Bray Wyatt, for example, never recovered from his one-sided feud with Cena. More recently, Baron Corbin lost his Money in the Bank briefcase and his SummerSlam revenge match. And afterward, Cena jumped ship to Raw, leaving Corbin with nothing.
And what about Cena's recent false claim, about not main-eventing WrestleMania in five years? It's been four years; he main-evented the pay-per-view in 2013 with The Rock. That would have been a great moment to draw a parallel between Cena vs. Reigns and Rock vs. Cena. Instead, it's a missed opportunity.
If the writers want to go low, they could name wrestlers who left the company on poor terms, like how CM Punk name-dropped Luke Gallows and Colt Cabana in 2011. Bring up Ryback. Bring up Damien Sandow. Bring up Cena's burial of The Nexus.
But Reigns' biggest insult is calling Cena a "bitch." It's shocking, sort of. But that shock will wear off in a hurry. Instead of tweaking fans with base profanity, tweak them with content. Cross the lines fans think are uncrossable.
Cena is on his way out the door. But WWE is still protecting him and insulating him from the worst possible barbs. If Reigns really is the guy, the one WWE wants to be the undisputed face of the brand, then go hard with his promos. Write meaner insults, and give the Big Dog the verbal weapons to succeed.