But if you went solely on the reaction of the Philadelphia crowd you wouldn’t necessarily think this. In the arena the result was panned in spectacular fashion. There were two reasons for this. Firstly the Philadelphia crowd wanted Daniel Bryan to win. Secondly certain towns have reached the point where they can be expected to boo anyone management gets behind who haven’t been blessed as deserving beforehand.
The first is understandable. I imagine most people watching the 2015 Royal Rumble would have liked a D-Bry victory. He was a popular man making his return from serious injury. Had he won he would have earned his second consecutive WrestleMania main event and wrestled Brock Lesnar in one of the most perfect David versus Goliath bouts pro wrestling has ever been able to offer. It would have felt like WWE moving in a bold new direction with Bryan as the top star.
The second reason is not one I agree with. I think fans are entitled to react to what WWE produces in any way they see fit. That’s something that paying admission to the building should entitle you to. But that doesn’t necessarily mean fans are entitled to expect certain results and lash out when they don’t get them, which is what happened with the Reigns victory. We can expect WWE to create new stars and react to audiences, but anything beyond that is too much. Wrestling is, after all, meant to have an element of unpredictability to it, just as non-predetermined sports do.
|He may not have been the ideal winner, but it's nice to see someone new on top.|
My view is that people should stop expecting winners and expect more in terms of match and overall storyline quality. We don’t have the right to just state the Reigns win was wrong because we don’t know what the full plan is. WWE have done something right in giving a new guy a shot. New guys are only going to get to succeed if they get to win. Daniel Bryan wasn’t even entered in last year’s Rumble. WWE learnt from that mistake by adding him to the WrestleMania main event anyway and having him win. They’ve also learnt that they need to concentrate on youth, which is what they’re doing with Reigns, along with Rollins, Ambrose and Wyatt (and nothing has happened to make it seem as though Bryan’s push as stopped).
The reaction the Reigns victory earned from the Philadelphia fans was always going to come. But I don’t think it as destined to be as vehement as it was. At least part of the reason Reigns’ win got the reaction it did was in protest to the way it come about.
The audience had seen their favourite, Bryan, eliminated after only ten minutes in the match. The logic behind this booking decision was sound: he was ousted by Bray Wyatt, who had dominated the first third of the Rumble and has historically been pretty capable at getting the better of ‘The Bearded One’. The idea was that Bryan would get his time to shine and then leave, with a cool down period between his exit and Reigns’ arrival designed to let the audience blow off steam about the development.
Obviously things were viewed differently in the building. They saw Bryan eliminated, booed because they wanted him back, saw Reigns enter as the obvious lead candidate to win, and booed more because they still wanted Bryan. Had Reigns been allowed to come in later, or with a greater number of disposable guys in the ring to immediately storm through, I think he would have had an easier time of it. Let’s not forget that Reigns was presented in this fashion as far back as the 2013 Survivor Series and got a good response there. His performance in last year’s Rumble, also matching the model I’m proposing, saw the crowd warm to him too.
People do not just want to see a babyface struggling with an uphill battle. That’s a very 80s and 90s mentality to wrestling booking. What people want now is someone who carves through his opponents with relative ease or who is talented enough to wrestle a lengthy, energetic and exciting match. Reigns is incapable of the latter in a singles setting, leaving only the former an option. WWE do not seem to want to present him in this fashion and so he’s suffered for it.
The closing moments, which saw Big Show and Kane team up to battle Reigns, were massively anti-climactic. Had Reigns shrugged them off and dynamically tossed or Superman punched them from the ring a portion of the audience would have been won over. The plodding pace was a turn off and only attracted boos. As did the casting. Had Wyatt and Rusev, who had dominated the majority of the match before the arrival of Big Show and Kane, been cast as the two men Reigns had to overcome the match would have seemed far more dynamic. They are capable of more physically and don’t carry the stigma of being part of the old guard. It would have been three young guns closing out the Rumble, two of them happening to be heels and one a face.
Reigns is a good choice to headline ‘Mania. Closing out the company’s most important show will do a lot to elevate him. Winning, which is what I’m expecting him to do at this point, will only elevate him more. But one match alone can’t and won’t have the effect WWE needs. They need a sustained effort presenting Reigns as someone of importance but in a way that benefits him. What they went with at the Rumble wasn’t it.