When you wonder if Roman Reigns’ Leukaemia battle is real then it may be time for a change
When I saw “#ThankYouRoman trending on Monday night I knew that it meant his career must have ended, but it was worse than that. As everyone knows, Roman Reigns has Leukaemia, a form of cancer which attacks bone marrow amongst other things and this is one fight that’s going to be about as real as it can be. Reigns didn’t look well as he broke the news to the crowd live on Raw and this was pretty clearly real life.
Two thoughts crossed my mind –
#1 How long until some asshole takes a pic of Roman when he was known in NXT as Leakee and alters the screen caption to ‘Leakeemia’ and
#2 This better not be a sick work to get him over.
At the 2014 Royal Rumble, Roman was super over with the crowd which was something WWE took note of. This was the beginning of a face turn and major push for Roman as WWE owner Vince McMahon failed to realise that the crowd were cheering him because they didn’t want Batista to win. When WWE turned him into Super Cena Mark II, Roman Reigns completely lost his appeal as he was rammed down our throats as the new face of the company. By the time he won the 2015 Royal Rumble it was necessary for his non biological cousin The Rock to come out and give him “the rub” which ended up with fans booing The Rock. Despite this Reigns has headlined 4 Wrestlemanias in a row, is a triple crown and grand slam winner, sort of retired The Undertaker who decided to not retire after all and has had every possible push imaginable. And because of it, the crowd hate him even more. When the face of the company prompts chants for CM Punk during the main event of Wrestlemania when Punk retired 4 years earlier, then something has gone terribly wrong.
When Reigns announced that he’d be facing a rematch he never wanted with Leukaemia, I wasn’t sure if there was something wrong with me for thinking it may be a work. Thinking that the WWE would fake a star having cancer just to get him over? The crowd have booed every heel against Lesnar but cancer is the one foe they’d never cheer. Plus this is WWE, the company that has featured:
- Triple H drugging, abducting and marrying Stephanie McMahon with the idea being he was about to rape her while she was unconscious to consummate the marriage
- Vince McMahon in a skit where he “performed surgery” on JR to remove Ross’ head from his own ass while Jim Ross was out having legitimate colon surgery
- Triple H pretending to have sex with a corpse in a coffin and banging her brains out
- An Al Qaeda group abducting The Undertaker on the same day as the London bombings
- Sergeant Slaughter declaring his loyalty to Iraq during The Gulf War
- Brian Pillman pulling a gun on Steve Austin
- The Undertaker crucifying Austin
- Trish Stratus being forced to bark like a dog
- Endless Eddie Guerrero references after his death including Randy Orton declaring that Guerrero was in hell
- Vince McMahon using the phrase, “whaddup ma nigga” to Booker T
- Plenty of mocking of Jim Ross’ Bell Palsy
Let’s just leave the list there because there’s a lot of poor taste angles that have happened in the past. WWE also have a history of worked shoots where they take real life and blend it into reality:
- CM Punk’s Pipe Bomb promo
- The Brock Lesnar/Randy Orton SummerSlam 2016 stoppage
- John Cena’s promo on Roman Reigns
- Joey Styles ranting and quitting WWE
- The Miz argument with Daniel Bryan that everyone thought was real
- A number of Divas cutting “shoot” promos on their co-workers
- Paige bringing up Reid Flair’s death during her feud with Charlotte
- The Rock and John Cena trading promos which led to genuine ill will between them
Some of those were pretty damn convincing and had fans talking for days afterwards but recently there have been two very convincing situations that have drawn fan attention.
Firstly there was the war of words between Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega on Twitter which had fans 100% convinced there was a legitimate problem between them. It was only when Jericho showed up in New Japan to attack Omega did people realise it was a work.
Over the last month we’ve seen a heated rivalry between Austin Aries and Johnny Impact which saw Aries “fat shaming” Impact’s wife, Tara Valkyrie, an angle that seemed so real that TMZ interviewed Johnny about it. Then at the Hall of Fame ceremony Aries had some very explicit words for Impact before a realistic looking pull apart separated the two men. Even though it was now obviously a work, there was still a lot of speculation due to Aries’ language. At Bound For Glory Impact pinned the champion only for Aries to get up, no sell the match then walk out while giving the finger to Don Callis. Callis has since stated that Aries’ social media comments and the pull apart at the Hall of Fame were unplanned with both talents being told to take their tweets down. Brian Cage, who also wrestled at Bound For Glory, has said that the match between Aries and Impact was snug and it looked like they were working but the end had him guessing as he sees Austin as a traditionalist who would be angry if an opponent stopped selling the finish. Aries’ contract also expired at Bound For Glory leading credibility to the theory that this was actually a shoot. Except Aries had appeared on Chris Jericho’s podcast 4 days earlier on the 10th of October and confirmed he was very happy at Impact Wresting.
Clearly Roman’s illness is very real but the fact that I got messages from other people asking me if it was a work tells me that wrestling is perhaps blurring the lines between real and work a little too often. Realistically if you have a team of writers who are good at their jobs then they should be able to write compelling TV without the need for worked shoots, which are essentially a lazy shortcut to getting fan interest. Don’t get me wrong, they are incredibly interesting to watch and a lot of fun to speculate about when done well but they should be saved as an occasional event to give gravity to a major angle rather than becoming a crutch; one that loses its power the more often they are used.
Maybe it’s time to revert to the 80’s way of doing things where there aren’t worked shoots and when a wrestler is injured or their career ends they quietly disappear from TV or are written out in an angle. That way, if it is necessary for a wrestler to give a farewell speech that breaks character then everyone will know it’s real.
I think it’s important to mention that Roman’s second cousin, Samu of The Samoan SWAT Team, The Headshrinkers and The Samoan Gangster Party is waiting for a liver transplant as he has stage 4 liver cancer. This is a difficult time for the Anoa’i family who are a wrestling dynasty.