Wrestling fans can be a fickle bunch. I know because I’m one of them. I love the business and have for decades. I’m the guy that jumped on the WWE Network as soon as it was announced, and also subscribes to Ring of Honor, New Japan World, and tries to catch as many forms of wrestling as possible on Youtube. I’m pretty sure there are millions of other wrestling fans like me out there; people who are simply passionate about this form of entertainment.
So why are fans so irate over the outcome of the Royal Rumble last night? Without going into a mountain of details (which would take forever to outline), here’s the jist of the issue: the WWE, which has a loud, vocal, and strong fanbase, and has been ignoring fan’s wishes and pursuing their own agenda for what they deem to be compelling TV. With the internet wrestling community, it’s been rumored for a while now that the WWE sees Rumble winner Roman Reigns as its golden boy and had every intention of having Reigns win the Rumble. Reigns is well liked enough, but a large majority of fans don’t see Reigns as being a polished enough performer to become the face of the WWE. Moreever, we’re upset at the fact that a number of more talented performers (Ziggler, Cesaro, even Daniel Bryan to an extent) are being misused in their storylines simply for the company to “force” Roman Reigns onto the fans as “the guy” just because he fits the look of a prototypical WWE champ.
Visit any online forum in the past few months and it’s clear that passionate fans are not enamored with Reigns’ performances. His promos are constantly being poked fun of, and his moves repertoire has been picked apart as another example of “the five moves of doom.” He’s not a compelling character, and he’s being shoved into the fans’ faces too quickly and too much. Ever wonder why John Cena, the face of the company for nearly a decade, gets booed so loudly everywhere he goes? It’s because fans are tired of him. His character hasn’t evolved in years, and it’s painfully obvious that the WWE is simply content in riding the John Cena wave to more t-shirt sales and “Let’s go Cena!” chants from kids.
It seems that the WWE is intent on passing the torch to Reigns, and intends to continue the “Super Cena/Cenawinslol” mentality with their new poster boy. To an extent, I get it. I know in the 80s they had Hulk Hogan as the face of the company, catering to families and sending kids into a tizzy every time he appeared. And I also get that the unprecedented creativity and line-crossing of the Attitude Era probably cannot be replicated due to sponsors and the WWE now being a publicly traded company. But with the power of the internet, it’s clear that many MANY fans gravitate performers like Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro, Zack Ryder, Rusev, etc. Just listen and watch the reactions they get whenever they appear on TV. It’s enormous.
Take a look at the fans’ reactions when Dolph Ziggler single handedly defeated Team Authority at Survivor Series. Look at the crowd reaction when Daniel Bryan won the titles at Wrestlemania XXX. We LOVE these guys. Excellent mat skills and compelling mic work goes a long way in gaining fans. I see it, the Reddit fans see it, 411mania sees it, Dave Meltzer sees it….so why can’t the WWE see that these are the guys we want to see on TV? Is it simply because they don’t fit Vince McMahon’s “WWE look?”
#CancelWWENetwork is about fans no longer wanting to pay for a product that they don’t like. I’ve seen lots of online comments stating that fans who are cancelling their subscriptions are acting like spoiled children. Some of them are, sure. There are always the few bad apples in any given situation that take things too far, but would YOU continue to pay for a product that you dislike? If you’ve stopped liking New Girl, for example, and tune in every week only to roll your eyes and wonder what the heck is going on with the show, and this continues for months, wouldn’t you simply just stop watching? What happened with WCW towards the end? Fans voted against the poor product by switching to WWE and stopped watching WCW. Why continue to watching something that you don’t like?
Last night, Roman Reigns entered the Rumble at #19, and the Philadelphia crowd started to boo. Then fan favorites like Dean Ambrose, Ryback, Cesaro etc. started to get eliminated, and the booing got more intense. The crowd knew it; they’re not dumb. They knew Roman Reigns was going to win the Royal Rumble before the match was even over. The last entrant at #30 was fan favorite and longtime IWC darling Dolph Ziggler, who was unceremoniously eliminated moments later. The crowd started to get more irate. Then, out came The Rock, Roman Reigns’ cousin in real life, to clean house and help secure a victory for Reigns. The Philly crowd booed. The Rock’s appearance reeked of company endorsement for Reigns, and the crowd did not appreciate the attempt at pandering (which backfired). When Reigns finally eliminated Rusev and won the Rumble, the arena was filled with boos.
The end of the PPV was an image of Roman Reigns, who now will main event Wrestlemania XXXI, with arms held high in victory, trying his best to hide his disappointment as the crowd showered him with boos. Is it Reigns’ fault? I don’t think so. I honestly like the guy a lot. I’m sure 90% of the upset fanbase will also tell you that they don’t have an issue with Reigns. But he’s too raw and not a polished enough performer, and the fans simply don’t think he’s ready to carry the company YET. There are many performers that are there already, or at least are closer than Reigns, but the company is set on its vision. The fans don’t matter; the t-shirt sales do, and as long as the WWE can still sell out arenas with screaming kids who beg for a Roman Reigns t-shirt and keep the shareholders happy with a champion with movie star good looks, they can hope and pretend that everything is ok.
#CancelWWENetwork might change their minds, though. Casual fans and kids aren’t the ones who will subscribe to the WWE Network. The passionate fans are. And right now, the passionate fans aren’t liking what they see.