Arguably the best thing going right now in WWE is the feud between John Cena and Roman Reigns. Any time a pro wrestling storyline blurs the lines between reality and fiction, you’re going to get something worth watching. As the two most polarizing...well, let’s be real...two of the most disliked babyfaces in WWE history, this makes for a unique dream match of sorts.
I’m not sure if it even qualifies as a dream match. I don’t know anybody who would have been interested in a Roman/Cena feud up until last week. Unless you’re the markiest of marks, there didn’t seem to be a potential spark there. Just two guys who the fans could never make up their minds about. If there’s one certainty, it’s that Cena was and is the face of the company, and there was little anyone was going to do to stop that. And while Cena can be shamelessly pandering and obnoxious on the mic, he’s an undeniably talented talker. And right now, he’s quite literally schooled Roman Reigns on the mic two weeks in a row.
We’re seeing a lot of tough love for Roman. John Cena has been relentless with his harsh criticism of Reigns, more or less saying what we’ve all been thinking. Every time the Big Dog opens his mouth, he’s cut down by another insult or bitterly honest jab. At times, it almost sounds like a father scolding his teenage son for getting an F on his report card. But what it mostly sounds like is what it’s intended to: an older veteran wrestler trying to motivate a younger wrestler. And it’s working. Even though Roman is getting verbally humiliated, it’s still some of the best mic work we’ve seen out of him. It’s not saying much, but putting Reigns’ feet to the fire will pay dividends.
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It’s the sports entertainment equivalent of throwing your kid into the pool to teach him how to swim. Roman is getting better on the mic not only out of necessity, but out of survival. Sure, leaning heavily on calling Cena a “fake ass bitch” may not seem like the best defense mechanism, but it’s something. Meanwhile, Cena casually throws in that it took Roman five years to cut a decent promo and that the only reason he had to return to Raw was because Roman can’t do his job. Cena has been spewing a lot of truth, and it’s cutting deeper than an Abdullah the Butcher blade job.
Now, of course Cena must realize that much of his criticism comes off as hypocritical, or at least pulled from his own experience. Being hated by fans while you’re supposed to be the over-pushed golden boy is something that Cena isn’t a stranger to. With some of his zingers, Cena might as well be talking into a mirror. And in a lot of ways, he is. Even though he called Roman a cheap John Cena knockoff, it’s essentially what WWE is attempting with Roman. The common misconception (which once again was brought up in said promos) is that Cena intends to bury young Superstars so he can stay on top. To Cena’s point, he hasn’t headlined a WrestleMania in years and his U.S. Championship open challenge was one of the best showcases for new talent. From NXT to the bottom of the card, the man puts people over.
From the outside looking in, Roman looks like he’s already in the ground. If Cena wins at No Mercy and their feud isn’t continued through the following months, that may be the case. But all this is doing is making Roman stronger. He needs Cena to embarrass him, so he won’t rest on his laurels. Reigns hasn’t had turbulence like this yet in his career trajectory. But the end of last night’s promo showed something interesting. It showed Cena seemingly backing down from a fight. In what looked like an effort to bail himself out of talking more, Roman did the whole “Well then let’s do this thang” deal, and Cena backed against the ropes and declined. This is unusual of Cena, who is usually the one who puts up or shuts up. Perhaps a mild victory for Reigns? Maybe, maybe not. And at the same time, a rare heel move from Cena to decline the fight. Something is amiss!
While these promos are almost uncomfortable to watch in all their honesty, they’re hard to look away from. The might even be taking a few pages from the Mayweather/McGregor promotional playbook, since everything they’re saying hits close to home and is borderline uncensored. It all feels a bit Attitude Era-y. And the outcome of this feud will provide a lot of clarity on what the company is deciding to do with Roman’s character. With three more weeks until No Mercy, hopefully the hits will keep on coming. At this rate, I’m hoping they make this a Buried Alive match, just to drive the point home.
Nathan Burke is a standup comedian based in Boston and can be found on Twitter @IamNathanBurke