What is an underdog? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word “underdog” (n.) as such:
: a person, team, etc., that is expected to lose a contest or battle
: a less powerful person or thing that struggles against a more powerful person or thing (such as a corporation)
Right now on WWE.com, they are featuring this piece about underdogs. I read through all eight of their listed underdogs – some I completely agree with like Daniel Bryan and Mick Foley, while others I take issue with like The Miz. But after reading and bouncing these names around in my head suddenly I started to think about why a piece like this is even on WWE’s website at all.
Now I am no marketing analyst, but I don’t think it takes a four year degree to figure out the subliminal message WWE is trying to send us right now. If you’ve watched the past two episodes of Monday Night RAW, you’ve actually heard announcer Michael Cole refer to Roman Reigns as an underdog on more than one occasion. I think Reigns even referred to himself as one, which is funny considering he used to be the Big Dog. It seems WWE has taken everyone’s favorite joke about Reigns’ love of overcoming and turned it into his reality.
If we look at the above definitions, it’s hard to put the label of “underdog” square on the shoulders of Roman Reigns. The first definition really doesn’t apply. When you look at Reigns, you don’t expect him to lose. He is a big dude and powerful inside the ring. When you picture The Shield and their trademark triple power bomb, who was the base – the real power – behind that move? Roman Reigns. He was completely believable in the 2014 Royal Rumble match when he set a new record with 12 eliminations. He’s not someone I would bet against just based on his look. He’s good for a hot tag or just to clean house when everyone else has had enough.
Roman Reigns is also not someone you expect to lose when you consider that WWE seems to be banking on him to be their next big babyface. From the perspective of someone sitting outside of kayfabe, it’s clear that regardless of how his matches end, Roman Reigns is going to come out victorious in the industry. They’re going to book him into powerful positions, main event matches, and place him in feuds with top-tier superstars. Something would either have to happen in his personal life that was so horrible WWE felt the need to distance itself from him or he would have to get injured for this to all get derailed.
If we look at the second definition, the idea of a less powerful person struggling against something more powerful than them, we can maybe see an argument. The current storyline surrounding the WWE World Heavyweight Title is not even what I mean. Roman Reigns has routinely done just fine against the members of both The League of Nations and The Authority. Where Roman Reigns appears to be an actual underdog is with the WWE universe.
To my great dismay, one of the most powerful entities inside of the WWE at this point is the audience. Regardless of product or region, time and time again we see audiences cheering more to hear themselves cheer than to respond in any useful way to the action going on in the ring. It is to the complete detriment of the product that the live WWE audience at their most vocal is simply trying to put themselves, and not the wrestlers OR the wrestling, over. I’m not sure anyone is suffering for this more at the moment than Roman Reigns.
For just a quick memory jog: Roman Reigns was super over as the brute force behind The Shield. And he was still over when The Shield broke up. But the second the audience was forced to choose between him and their actual underdog hero, Daniel Bryan, Reigns became The Most Hated Man In Sports Entertainment. The crowd turned on him, and the bad reviews came rolling in.
“He can’t cut a promo.” Okay, fine, but I’m not entirely sure that isn’t because they’re scripting everything he’s saying. Maybe if he was given a chance to speak more as himself and less as a dopey caricature, he wouldn’t sound so – well – dopey.
“He can’t go in the ring.” Well, now we know that’s not true. If anyone deserves credit for figuring out how to go from The Hot Tag Guy to someone who can actually wrestle, it’s Roman Reigns. That match with Cesaro to advance to the semi-finals in the recent WWE World Heavyweight championship tournament was a thing of beauty. You couldn’t say that about his singles matches a year and a half ago when he was first working without Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins.
“He’s being booked poorly.” Alright, now whose fault is that, really? His? I don’t think so. Because the audience wants to share their disdain for a storyline, they boo. But in the moment they’re not booing the storyline, they’re booing the wrestler who – in reality – is only guilty of getting better and then being booked to death.
Is Roman Reigns an underdog – I would have to, unfortunately, say yes. And I say unfortunately because it’s not through good story telling, and it’s not because of his stature or inexperience. He’s an underdog because he has found himself, less powerful, struggling against a more powerful entity:
The Lady J Says