WWE knew it had a problem. Roman Reigns was going to win the Universal Championship last night at SummerSlam — it has been preordained for months — and the older, largely male fanbase that traveled to the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn was going to mercilessly boo Reigns out of the building.
WWE solved that problem … for a night, anyway.
Reigns won, taking out Brock Lesnar after Lesnar took out Braun Strowman, who came to the ring prior to the opening bell and announced that he would cash-in his Money in the Bank contract after the match for a title shot.
That cash-in never happened, because Lesnar hit Strowman with an F5 and then repeatedly beat him over the back with chair shots to leave him unconscious at ringside.
Meanwhile, as soon as Lesnar stepped back into the ring, Reigns met him with a spear and a 1-2-3 to end Lesnar’s title reign.
WWE solved its Reigns problem, in the sense that the crowd didn’t hijack the show or even boo the title change. Fans were too busy waiting for the Strowman cash-in … WWE left Strowman out there as the dangling carrot, to prevent fed-up fans from booing Reigns, or worse yet, leaving the building before the main event ended.
You would think that WWE, knowing it had an issue that it had to hide with Reigns winning, would rather look for a finish that wouldn’t get that response, instead of masking a bad finish to cover up a negative reaction.
WWE thinks it solved a problem, but all it did was pretend the problem doesn’t exist. That doesn’t solve anything.
The bait-and-switch was a genius move by Vince McMahon, if he only needed to solve a one-night problem. In Vince’s eyes, the issue of Reigns being rejected is only a problem at WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and in bigger markets like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston.
But the truth is, the Reigns character has not connected with the fanbase. Television numbers might be good enough to rake in $2 billion in television rights, but in reality WWE’s viewership is on a steady decline. WWE got paid, for no other reason, than it’s 52-week original programming, and even more importantly, it’s live-event programming.
Vince McMahon wants Roman Reigns to be his top babyface, and with his stock price at a near record high, and the television rights fees soaring, the fans rejecting Reigns does not matter. Vince is betting — and he’s probably correct — that the fans rejecting Reigns is not a large enough portion of the audience to make a dent in WWE’s bottom line. Or, he believes that the fanbase that rejects Reigns will still buy their tickets regardless of whether or not Reigns is pushed as champion. He might be correct on the latter.
The Reigns rejection is nothing new. He was rejected a the 2015 Royal Rumble in Philadelphia, even though the Rock came out and endorsed him to end the night.
Yet here we are, three years later, and that same fanbase continues to fill up WrestleMania stadiums and venues like Barclay’s Center for SummerSlam last night.
Vince doesn’t need to cater to the hardcore fan, because truth is, he already has that audience. That’s what he’s betting on, anyway, and his defiant push of Roman Reigns proves that.
Now, I’d make the argument that Reigns isn’t even connecting with the more general fan, and I think there is some data to support that. Reigns as a heel seems to be the best — and perhaps, only — option at this point. It gives the hardcore fanbase the turn they’re looking for, and to the general fan, they go with the flow for the most part anyway.
Will it ever come? Probably not. At least not until Vince gets this out of his system.