One thing Vince McMahon has been exceptionally good at since the end of the Stone Cold era in the WWE has been establishing new, likable and universally adored babyface stars. When Vincent Kennedy McMahon takes an interest you, decides you’re his next Top Guy Project, rarely does it end failure. If that were the case, wouldn’t the John Cena years on top be masked with mixed reactions, or wouldn’t Sheamus be spending years tucked away in the tag-team division after his immediate push to the top, wouldn’t Big Cass not have had a memorable program with the best wrestler in the world, wouldn’t Alberto Del Rio not be around in any capacity after years of trying to make him a compelling and quality babyface, wouldn’t Eva Marie not be the biggest star in the women’s division who isn’t named Ronda Rousey, or, perhaps most notably, wouldn’t Roman Reigns not be universally adored following one of the best sports comeback stories of the last decade?
There may not be a bigger roadblock in being a universally adored babyface in 2019 than fans knowing Vince likes you. That’s what I meant. When that first report leaks out to Pro Wrestling Sheet, PW Insider, whoever, that Vince McMahon likes you, any hope of getting a fair shake from pro wrestling fans is out the door. Fans read the news, or, perhaps more accurately, read the headlines. Fans are also just smarter, they know when a guy gets called up to the main roster whether or not he or she fits what Vince McMahon has been looking for in a top superstar for the last decade-plus.
Take Lacey Evans, for instance. Who really knows how good the Southern Belle can be on the main roster, but she is DOA as a future top babyface act. Evans could have the feud of the year against Becky Lynch, but it wouldn’t matter. Reigns had a memorable, fantastic feud against Braun Strowman, too. That isn’t enough to get past the “Vince Loves This Person, Let’s Shit On This Person” issue.
Veteran pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer showed illuminated the problem perfectly by saying on an episode of Wrestling Observer Radio,
“Lacey Evans — you have no idea how big they want Lacey Evans to be. You know we talked about Asuka and Lacey Evans which I don’t think is going to happen, but that was the idea.”
You. Have. No. Idea. How Big. They. Want. Lacey. Evans. To. Be.
Dead on arrival.
With this kind of quote, heard by wrestling fans all over the world, Evans’ chances of ever getting universally cheered went out the window because she is forever in the “Vince Loves This Person” club. There is a reason fans by and large were most invested in the Kofi Kingston ascent to the top of the Smackdown Live pecking order -- because it didn’t feel like this is something Vince McMahon would ever want. (The company even played into it!) Had Mustafa Ali had never gotten hurt, the best pro wrestling moment of the year doesn’t happen. Kingston got lucky, found a hole, and ran through it like he was Todd Gurley -- he was going to find that end zone. Had Ali not gotten hurt, we probably see Kevin Owens versus Daniel Bryan for the WWE World title, we see Bryan retain, and we see Captain Planet keep the title until Vince decides to place the title on Lars Sullivan at SummerSlam.
Fans wanted Kofi because it was clear after a decade Vince did not. Fans wanted Daniel Bryan because Vince did not. Fans wanted Rob Van Dam because Vince did not. Fans wanted CM Punk because Vince did not. It is a theme in the WWE that the most memorable moments for the most vocal fans involve superstars who weren’t picked by the boss. (Note: If you’re expecting Kona Reeves’ first world title win on the main roster to go over universally well, you are mistaken.)
This is why fans shouldn’t have expected Vince and the decision-makers to change course with Reigns following his amazing return for another bout with cancer. Had Reigns not getting sick, he was in line to main event the most consecutive WrestleMania’s since Hulk Hogan. Hulk. Freaking. Hogan. Vince may adjust and have Bryan drop the title for Kingston. Vince may even adjust have Rousey drop the title for Lynch. Vince will never adjust and drop the bad Roman Reigns character.
Reigns has been Vince’s Guy.
Reigns is still Vince’s Guy.
Reigns will continue to be Vince’s Guy.
The WWE missed a huge opportunity in his triumphant return to the ring by not making one simple adjustment -- change his entrance music. Pro wrestling fans are easily conditioned. They hear John Cena’s music, they boo. They Kurt Angle’s music, they chant “You Suck!”. They hear Jinder Mahal’s music, they head to the concession stand. With Reigns’ music, they groan. They are conditioned to boo, or, even worse, sigh once the slightly altered Shield music blasts throughout the arena. For example, TNA Impact made the mistake of changing AJ Styles’ music years ago in a convoluted and very bad feud with Aces & Eights, but all of that character damage was undone by simply reverting back to the “Get Ready To Fly” music that had fans fall in love with him in the first place. The WWE messed up here. (Seriously, could they not have called Migos, or Wale, or whoever, to record a new theme for the Big Dog? Really?)
They didn’t change anything because they don’t have a reason to change anything. Reigns is still selling a bunch of merchandise. The WWE is more profitable than ever. The company could have changed and learned from past Reigns mistakes, but why change and adapt when you’re still going to make an insane amount of money regardless of how terrible of the Roman Reigns on-screen character continues to be. You can do another iteration of Reigns vs. Vince and the Corporate Suits because the ratings won’t change, because those same fans who roll their eyes into the back of their head are going to keep watching, and, perhaps most importantly, are going to log on to Twitter, Facebook, wherever and complain about how insane it is that the WWE is still trying to trying to make you think the most important people in the company don’t love him.
None of it matters.
If this sounds nihilistic, it’s because it kind of is. Vince McMahon can afford to be stubborn and bad at creative -- shoutout to the Viking Experience! -- because Vince McMahon made a lot of money in 2018. What he does character-wise with Roman Reigns doesn’t matter because the WWE is going to make a lot of money in 2019 and a better or worse Roman Reigns character isn’t going to change that. Nobody moves the needle in that company anymore. They don’t have any competition. If they’re not satisfied with their monopoly, they can go to Saudi Arabia.
The WWE is a machine. The WWE will be fine even if Kofi gets a raw deal in his title run on Smackdown Live. The WWE will be fine if Ricochet and Aleister Black never develop any actual on-screen characters. The WWE will be fine Johnny Gargano gets sentenced to a two-year stay on 205 Live. Vince McMahon won a long time ago, so why change?
Chase Thomas is an independent sportswriter and podcaster. You can email him at chasethomaspodcast[gmail].com and follow him on Twitter at @chase__thomas.