What's the story?
Roman Reigns, one of the most heavily pushed stars in the past decade and Vince McMahon’s hand-picked golden boy to be the new face of WWE was voted ‘Most Overrated’ in 2016 by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s fanbase.
This comes shortly after he made history as the first babyface to ever be voted ‘Most Hated Wrestler of the Year’ for 2016 by Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
In case you didn't know...
The Wrestling Observer Newsletter has its annual ‘awards’ that it gives out for different categories, from Wrestler of the Year to ‘Most Disgusting Promotional Tactic’. The Observer is spearheaded by Dave Meltzer, who looks at wrestling events and promotions around the world from a critical, analytic and skeptical perspective.
He is, in essence, the closest thing professional wrestling has to an unbiased journalist.
That said, Meltzer and his WON are not perfect. There’s a perception of strong bias towards NJPW (especially after he awarded Okada-Omega 6-Stars out of 5), while no WWE match has earned a 5-star rating (despite the fact that AJ Syles, who was named Wrestler of the Year by Meltzer and his Observer, spent most of 2016 in WWE).
The award for ‘Most Overrated’ usually goes to a wrestler that’s featured very prominently, both in terms of regular appearances and booking, yet does not live up to the hype. These are usually wrestlers that are given top billing but don’t put on matches or promos that meet the quality expected of a wrestler in such a spot.
Previous winners have included: Hulk Hogan (won the award seven different times), Triple H (won it three times), and Kane (won it twice in 2014 and 2015).
What makes this award worse for Reigns is that he has been awarded this distinction by both the Observer AND PWI. While the former has always been the more ‘critical’ wrestling magazine, Pro Wrestling Illustrated has always given its awards by following kayfabe.
In other words, PWI would award someone based on their (scripted) booking while WON would look at more objective factors like work rate.
For Reigns to have been given two of the most negative awards for 2016 by two of the most influential wrestling publications in the United States is a major indictment on his current character.
The heart of the matter
There were several wrestled nominated for this dubious award, but Roman Reigns was the leading candidate by a wide margin. Here are the total results, courtesy of Cagesideseats.com:
1. ROMAN REIGNS (242) 1,516
2. Braun Strowman (72) 719
3. Baron Corbin (57) 564
4. Cody Rhodes (52) 519
5. Sexy Star (53) 481
6. Timothy Thatcher (48) 332
7. Brock Lesnar (25) 247
8. Sheamus (26) 240
9. Dean Ambrose (21) 234
10. Seth Rollins (17) 190
As you can see, Reigns received more than twice the amount of votes runner-up Braun Strowman received. Many of the other wrestlers on this list are there because they’ve been hyped so much or have been given major pushes yet have not done enough to fill that role.
Both Strowman and Corbin were rather unimpressive in 2016 (though they have made significant improvements over the past few months).
Brock Lesnar was on the list most likely because, despite being a huge box office draw, his three biggest wrestling matches of 2016 were big disappointments from the perspective of match quality.
Finally, Sheamus, Rollins and Ambrose didn’t perform to a standard they had been working at before, especially Rollins, whose 2015 was many times better than his 2016, even after he returned from injury.
Despite the never-ending stream of rejection of the Roman Reigns character, Vince McMahon seems determined to continue to feature him prominently going forward.
He’s scheduled to face Braun Strowman at Fastlane this upcoming weekend, and the biggest rumour circulating right now is that this will be the starting point for a feud between Reigns and the Undertaker, which will culminate at WrestleMania.
The truth is, Roman Reigns is actually a pretty good worker. He has actually had many good matches since debuting on the main roster at Survivor Series 2012. In fact, according to an online database associated with the Wrestling Observer itself, many of Reigns’ most high-profile matches have been really high-quality.
Not necessarily at the same level of quality as someone like AJ Styles, but high-quality nonetheless.
The problem with Reigns is his character. It’s the on-screen persona Joe Anoa’i portrays that aggravates so many people. He was very well-received when he was the silent powerhouse of the Shield, and in 2014, he was still popular when he was wrestling on his own because he was still in that role.
Then, by early 2015, he started to change into the same character he portrayed all throughout 2016: a John Cena knockoff that smiles all the time, makes corny jokes and lost all his cool factor in order to appeal to younger children.
Throughout both 2015 and 2016, and now into 2017 as well, this character change of Reigns’ has followed him like a dark cloud. He gets booed by large swaths of the audience, regardless of his alignment.
Add to the fact that he has been known to snap at fans when the cameras are off, and you have a guy that the more hardcore fans, arguably WWE’s biggest demographic in terms of money and product loyalty, simply do not want to see.
The reason this makes Reigns ‘overrated’ is because his position on the card affects the quality of his matches.
No matter how good his matches in 2016 were, large chunks of the audience simply wanted nothing to do with him. Reigns’ matches on RAW have likewise become formulaic and predictable, to the point that whenever he prepares his Superman Punch or his Spear, the audience boos loudly.
This was especially true at WrestleMania 32. When Reigns won, the audience booed so loudly, no amount of sound editing could hide it. The fans left WrestleMania upset that Reigns had won. I don’t think something like this has ever happened before in WWE history.
WWE has tried several tricks to try and change this reaction. They’ve tried muting the boos and censoring fan signs critical of him. They’ve tried to put him in the US title picture in the hopes of convincing the fans to cheer him if he’s not in the main event.
They’ve even tried to align him alongside guys like Goldberg, hoping the fans would cheer Reigns by the virtue of association with a legend like him. All of these things have failed.
If Reigns has any hopes of succeeding as a wrestler in the future, he should at least consider turning heel, just to see if he’s more suited for that sort of role.
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