The advantage of a pre-determined sport like pro wrestling is that promoters can book the ideal storylines. Usually, that means you'll get a Wrestlemania main event the crowd is excited to see, though usually they're not supposed to be booing the good guy a few days before the big show. Good thing you can edit out some of the boos!
What you'll see below is the lacklustre ending of last night's episode of Monday Night Raw, as it aired a little past 11pm ET. You're seeing bad guy manager Paul Heyman finish hyping Brock Lesnar, arse-kicking current WWE champion, destroyer of the beloved Undertaker and kid-favourite John Cena. Ostensibly, Lesnar is the baddest of the bad guys, the unbeatable heel champion who some hero will finally dethrone at the main event of Wrestlemania 31 this Sunday.
Entering the ring after Heyman stops talking is Roman Reigns, the fairly green but physically imposing man who WWE promoter Vince McMahon has been trying to position as a Lesnar-slaying crowd favourite for about a year. (It hasn't been working very well.)
In this clip, you're listening for how the crowd reacts when Reigns gets in the ring and, again, how they react when he grabs the world title.
Next, listen to the version of that moment that WWE published to YouTube last night. I'd advise you to listen to how the crowd reacts when Reigns enters the ring, except that -- hey! -- they cut that part out.
Jump to 3:25 or so.
For a lot of us who like watching WWE, half the fun is trying to figure out the script and cheering when the men and women we like get elevated into starring roles in pro wrestling's never-ending drama. When we don't like how the drama is going -- when we think we know a better way for the story to be told -- we boo. To our detriment, we don't change the channel, because we hold out hope that if we boo long enough, the show's writers will change the script, as they have in years past.
If you asked me, crowds boo Reigns for a few reasons:
- Some of them (like me) are fans of beloved underdog Daniel Bryan and wanted to see the smaller, athletically gifted and arguably most-loudly-cheered WWE performer face the giant Lesnar in a ready-made David vs. Goliath comeback story in the main event of Wrestlemania 31. Reigns appeared to get in the way of that.
- Lesnar's shocking defeat of The Undertaker at last year's Wrestlemania -- breaking the historic performer's 21-win Wrestlemania winning streak -- appeared engineered to paint Lesnar as WWE's ultimate villain and therefore set up whoever finally beat him as the ultimate WWE hero and a successor to The Undertaker's legacy. That would be a lot of pressure to put on any young performer, including the still-developing Reigns and has probably hurt him in fans' eyes. I bet Reigns would be booed less if he wasn't essentially being set up to beat The Streak by proxy.
- Reigns is indeed new blood, a fresh face in a main event scene that's been too full of Cena and Randy Orton for the past decade, but he's relatively untested as WWE competitors go. He has wrestled too few major singles matches to convince crowds he's going to be able to put on a fun main event, let alone be a compelling champion.
- Reigns has the stink of being what management seems to like, a handsome, hulking super-hero of a man who happens to be related to all-time great The Rock. WWE management has never seemed to care all that much if their giants can wrestle well, if they can move around the ring dynamically and do more than the same five moves, as long as they connect with the crowd and look cool. Reigns may not be connecting with a lot of the crowd, but he appears to be the chosen one. Fans tend to prefer guys they imagine struggled to get to the top. That's not Reigns' scripted persona.
- Lesnar is rumoured to be leaving WWE after Wrestlemania, which would seemingly make it certain he's going to lose. That makes a Reigns win feel all the more inevitable. It also makes some of the matches some fans wanted for Lesnar (vs. Bryan, vs. Orton, etc) seem like virtual impossibilities. UPDATE - 6:58pm: Brock Lesnar just announced on ESPN that he is not going back to UFC and is re-signing with WWE.
Reigns certainly gets some cheers, but anyone who has watched WWE long enough know that it's highly unusual for any supposed good guy other than Cena to get booed like this going into the main event of a major show, let alone the main event of Wrestlemania.
WWE management has been trying to blame crowd rejection of Reigns on rogue cities. Reigns -- along with his cousin The Rock -- was loudly jeered when he won the Royal Rumble in January to earn his shot against Lesnar. WWE pinned that reaction on a
Pittsburgh Philadelphia crowd that, they said, liked to cheer villains and boo heroes. How to explain last night? The L.A. crowd cheered a cameo by Hulk Hogan, cheered WCW stalwart Sting, booed bad-guy executive HHH, and even did the old "U! S! A!" chants against talented Russian-sympathizing bad-guy Rusev. They were perfectly happy to play their expected role in the script all those other times. They just didn't want to play along when Reigns showed up.
All of this leads to Wrestlemania this Sunday and a potential train wreck of a main event. It's funny how it loops around like this. The biggest match at the year's biggest wrestling show won't be must-see because the fans demanded to see it. It's must-see because so many fans demanded not to see it. What's going to happen?
Will WWE dare given Reigns the win and risk having fans boo him out of the arena, as they did The Rumble? That would seem to be a very bad move. Bad guys rarely, rarely win the main event in Wrestlemania -- only three times in the show's history, I believe, and that's if you count Stone Cold turning heel in Texas (the crowd still cheered) and The Miz beating Cena only to get shown up by The Rock. The WWE does not want their version of the Super Bowl ending with an angry crowd.
But, after last night in L.A., how could they engineer an ending that has the crowd cheering?
- Have Lesnar retain.
- If Reigns wins, have him get defeated by Seth Rollins, a bad guy who the crowd loves to hate and has a contract to have a title match any time, anywhere, even in the final minutes of Wrestlemania 31. If Rollins cashes in and wins, he might be cheered as a saviour, of sorts.
- Have Reigns win in some fashion that reunites him with legit crowd favourite Dean Ambrose and the hated Rollins. Together, Reigns, Ambrose and Rollins were in a popular faction called The Shield, before Rollins turned on them last spring. Fans would love to see them together again and would probably even retroactively appreciate Reigns curious rise to the top. It'd be easy for WWE to say that the trio secretly decided to get back together to win all the championships in WWE and dominate the company, to say that Rollins and Reigns both played WWE management what with Rollins kissing their asses every week and with Reigns acting like the chose one, all the while pursuing an agenda of their own.
I think option three would be best, and it will be telegraphed if Ambrose wins the Intercontinental title earlier Sunday night.
If, instead, WWE simply decided to have Reigns win this Sunday and stand tall, well, they're going to have to edit out a lot more boos.