Roman Reigns needs to stop expecting fans to respect him and start demanding.
In a now infamous non-wrestling feud that occurred just over a week ago, retired NBA legend Charles Barkley had some choice words about the recent gameplay of three-time NBA champion LeBron James. After hearing Barkley’s criticism, the normally reserved James was quick to respond:
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“I’m not going to let him disrespect my legacy like that. I’m not the one who threw somebody through a window. I never spit on a kid. I never had unpaid debt in Las Vegas. I never said, ‘I’m not a role model.’ I never showed up to All-Star Weekend on Sunday because I was in Vegas all weekend partying. All I’ve done for my entire career is represent the NBA the right way. Fourteen years, never got in trouble. Respected the game. Print that.”
His response was unusual because James rarely uses his enormous public platform to directly attack a single person. Few people outside of Miami would categorize LeBron as a villain despite his venomous (albeit accurate) comments about Barkley. Roman Reigns could take a cue from King James’ statement and clap back at critics and fans without going full heel. Imagine Reigns coming out to the ring and laying down a one-way conversation from him to the WWE Universe that doesn’t ask anyone to respect him; he demands they do:
“You want to boo me? That’s fine. At WrestleMania 33, I’ll take your icon and I’ll beat him just like I did at the Royal Rumble. I’ll take your hero and I’ll break him. I’m younger, stronger, and faster and he knows it. When I defeat The Undertaker on the biggest stage of them all you might still boo me but you WILL respect me. Believe. That.
The key to the impending Reigns-Undertaker feud is that Roman cannot flinch. When he stands in the ring with the Dead Man he cannot waver – not even once – or else all credibility is lost. The WWE has to know that continuing to put Reigns over popular stars hasn’t worked for the better part of two years but a strong showing (or even a win) against one of the last remaining legends in this business would be huge but it all hinges on how Reigns is presented to the fans.
During an appearance on The Statement Show, Kurt Angle was asked to weigh in on the Reigns heat and he didn’t hold back. Angle is not only a veteran of the squared circle but he’s smart enough to understand the backstage dynamics of what works and what doesn’t as far as putting a wrestler over:
“Roman Reigns is talented. I don’t care what anyone says. You can’t deny that the kid knows how to work. I believe what happened to him was that they didn’t have him go through the ringer. They didn’t have him win the European title, or I should say, the Intercontinental title, U.S. title, King Of The Ring [tournament]. They just threw him up there right away and the fans don’t like that. They want you to earn your keep. If any wrestler has ever done that, I don’t know of one. It seemed like they were really trying to push Roman faster than he should have been pushed. I think he will earn the respect of fans, but it’s going to take a little bit more time.”
If praise from Kurt Angle isn’t good enough for you, perhaps you’ll listen to someone who also knows how to hold a crowd in the palm of his hand. On a recent episode of the Steve Austin Show, the Texas Rattlesnake had this to say about the Royal Rumble finish:
“I smelled a rat from the beginning and I just couldn’t believe what I was going to end up seeing. He goes to charge Randy Orton, spear, and, of course, Randy Orton connects with an RKO. Boom. Over the top rope. Randy wins. I thought Roman Reigns in the 30 spot was a fantastic idea and great booking.”
There were plenty of fans who felt that the Reigns/Undertaker match could have been built without Roman taking the 30 spot in the Royal Rumble but what’s done is done. With less than two months until WrestleMania 33, both RAW and Smackdown will begin to formally set up those matches that don’t involve championship gold. It would be a mistake to once again portray Roman Reigns as the plucky underdog who never addresses the hatred directed his way. Instead, Reigns should be the defiant warrior who no longer says “I can. I will.” to the Authority or even to the Undertaker; he’s saying it to us and he doesn’t care if we like it or not.