The conclusion of Monday Night Raw raised an awful lot of questions. Not your standard, open-ended, anticipatory questions borne out of excitement, but questions which have right answers and wrong answers.
Out of that dramatic display, fans have been left with at least two solid answers: Seth Rollins is turning babyface (that pop when Triple H set him up for the Pedigree wasn’t because they wanted to see the bad guy get his, you know), and that Kevin Owens will now be the designated kayfabe management anointed champion, protected at every turn in a heavily vetted and protected championship reign.
How can the WWE get something so wrong and so right in the space of two Pedigrees?
Seth Rollins never quite clicked with the fans as the coddled corporate champion. No matter how hard he tried, how insulting he became with the audience, or how gleefully he boasted of injuring Finn Bálor, fans could never bring themselves to boo him because he was a rare unique wrestler who emerged during an era where John Cena was long outstaying his welcome. There are some guys who enjoy such a meritocratic appreciation from starved wrestling fans that making them act like they ought to be cheered is the only way to go. It’s easy to see where the story will go in terms of Rollins; having failed repeatedly to return the WWE World Championship to The Authority, he has well expended his usefulness to Triple H, who has summarily discarded him.
But making Kevin Owens the nurtured corporate champion seems a disastrous turn. He too is a guy whose heel persona is impossible to boo, simply because he is so well respected and appreciated both on the mic and in the ring. At the very least, he ought to be a tweener. Turning him into a crying daddy’s boy for Triple H is completely unbecoming of a man like Owens, who has always been the swaggering punk who knows he only needs his ability to succeed.
Monday’s main event theatricals were also confusing because, for a company that has adopted a lot of self-aware storytelling, it sure is repeating a mistake when an opportunity to excel has been staring it in the face for a number of years.
The whole idea behind The Authority’s anointed wonderchild is that they’re supposed to be wrestlers who are elevated based on nepotism, intensity of ass kissing, and brand-friendliness. The trouble is, the guys who have held that honor in recent years — Seth Rollins, and now, Kevin Owens — are regarded as people who got over under their own steam, rather than solely with the machine behind them. There is nothing that the WWE Universe hates more than a chosen posterboy forced down their throats, and they can’t be expected to boo somebody who got over with the fans in an era where wrestlers are so carefully vetted, controlled, and elevated by the company.
The most obvious way to address this, as part of WWE’s shift towards blurring kayfabe with real-life fan animosity, would be to make Roman Reigns the guy who is embraced on TV by the management and given chance after chance, who is elevated to the top based on corporate cronyism and stooging rather than their connectivity with the fans. It’s what everyone watching at home sees him as in real life, and he is summarily booed for it. The way the fans expect their heels to behave has evolved, and positioning Roman Reigns in that way would eliminate the need for commentators to desperately move mountains in an attempt to explain why the fans hate him so much.
This author wants the unlikable guys (and Roman Reigns is highly unlikable) to be the bad guys, and the likable ones to be the good guys. When The Rock’s initial push as a babyface resulted in fans calling on him to die, they took the initiative and moved him to the dark side. That they still haven’t done that with Reigns beggars belief, especially since they’ve essentially abandoned the mid-card opportunity he had to build up some sort of entertaining personality.
Something just feels off when the cheering and booing is all back to front, and the WWE is shooting itself in the foot if it really expects fans to fall in line and start resenting Kevin Owens for the reasons they resent Roman Reigns in real life.