THE RAW REVIEW
That’s the number of times the word “respect” was used in the final RAW interview segment featuring Paul Heyman, Brock Lesnar, and the 2015 Royal Rumble winner, Roman Reigns.
“Respect”, the word of the snow-day, slithered into your subconscious thanks to the oratory stylings and the storytelling savvy of Paul Heyman (and anyone else who may have contributed to the structure of that interview). That word was purposefully planted in the back of your brain, and there that word remained throughout this interview.
“I’m proud of you…you know I’ve always respected you,” Paul Heyman crooned to the young, humble and hopeful Roman Reigns at the beginning of this scene. “I respect you…” and “With all due respect…” was Heyman’s refrain, luring Roman, and viewers, into a false sense of security. This is the devious, magical power of the Heyman character. He makes his enemies feel like his friend. He praises them, he treats them well, he makes them feel good about themselves, and then he mentally skins them alive with a few carefully selected phrases, reducing them to wounded, emotionally destroyed messes. And that's when Lesnar arrives to do the same to their body.
Heyman, devil that he is, haloed by a crimson curtain, grinning with seeming sincerity, detailed the proud Samoan lineage of Roman Reigns, connecting the young athlete to a deeply emotional, familiar history that has defined generations of the wrestling business. This served a few purposes.
Firstly, it explained why The Rock showed up at The Royal Rumble to help Roman.
Secondly, it put Roman over, tying Roman to the fabric of professional wrestling itself, establishing him as the latest in a long line of warriors. Earlier in the night Roman humbly explained that he always kept this to himself because he wanted to carve his own path. The combination of these two pieces of essential information not only helps explain Roman’s place in the world of professional wrestling, it asserts Roman as a force to be reckoned with. The character is humanized. To the open-minded, he appears sympathetic for not only does he need to win over a crowd that hates him due to bad booking, he has to live up to his family legacy (an important point made in the end of Heyman’s promo, and the way Heyman attacks Roman). We are watching a young man tossed into “the deep end”, the weight of the world, the weight of a corporation and the entire “WWE Universe” bearing down on him as he attempts to rise to the occasion and take on the most powerful, destructive force in the history of the WWE, Brock Lesnar.
Heyman went into detail about Roman’s cousin, The Rock, and how The Rock had been The One, just like Brock is now The One, laying the smackdown the world over: “…and everybody’s fantasy was that was going to last forever until that fantasy ran up against the reality in a new guy, like you’re the new guy, the next big thing, like I think you’re the next big thing, in a rookie by the name of Brock Lesnar.”
(Note: I've been thinking about and writing about the Cena/Lesnar rivalry as "fantasy" or WWE gimmick-fighting versus "reality" or UFC legitimate athlete fighting since SummerSlam. Many readers have commented that I was grasping at straws, wanting to see something that wasn't there. To hear Heyman incorporate these specific words into one of the most important moments in WWE history, and now apply this dynamic to Reigns vs Lesnar, to have this concept forever attached to Brock Lesnar and the booking of this incredibly important match, brings a wide smile to my face)
And so Roman and Lesnar are bound together. Their past is united, for Roman is that new rookie, going up against a seasoned, dominant veteran. And that dominant veteran is someone who hurt Roman’s family, someone who hurt Roman Reigns and will hurt him again at WrestleMania. Brock is reality come to destroy the hopes and dreams of the children, and Roman is that child who fantasized about headlining and winning in the main event of WrestleMania.
And that is when Heyman finally asks his one and only question for Roman Reigns, “My question sir, Roman, with all due respect, how are you going to handle disappointing your family when you lose to Brock Lesnar, because you can’t beat Brock Lesnar, not today, and certainly not at WrestleMania? How are you going to handle that disappointment when you lose in the Main Event at WrestleMania?”
The devil (and the genius) reveals himself. Roman was seduced into thinking Heyman was a friend, someone who knew and respected him and his family. And then, with that one question, the sadistic, manipulative power of The Advocate is revealed. Heyman becomes the timeless serpent, weaving his way through history. He is inescapable. He is, undoubtedly, Satan incarnate. And no one plays a better Satan.
“With all due respect, I’ll answer that to Brock Lesnar,” replied Roman. Roman carefully, calmly, and realistically responded to Lesnar stating that he would take the title at WrestleMania and that if he couldn’t, he would take a “piece of Lesnar with me”.
Lesnar then shot up out of his chair and the young Samoan warrior and The Beast came face to face. Brock extended his hand, a traditional show of respect. Roman took the hand, and Brock yanked him in closer.
“Unlike him (referring to Heyman), I don’t respect you,” Lesnar said, glaring into Roman’s eyes.
“But you will.”
And so Roman Reigns has arrived. And it’s all thanks to that word, “respect”.
I’ve watched this scene about five times now. The first time I watched it, I didn’t even notice the word “respect” was used until Roman finally said, “But you will.” And I popped big time, because I heard a realistic response from a man in a fight, a young man who wants to prove himself. And that’s exactly the way it should be.
Recently, on The Steve Austin show, Heyman talked about commentary and the power of suggestion.
This superb scene is a perfect representation of the power of suggestion, and how the carefully chosen use of a carefully selected word at a pivotal moment can sell you on an idea, a talent, or a product.
After this scene, not only did I completely forget the bad writing and the bad booking that led to that Philadelphia crowd booing Roman Reigns out of the building, I want nothing more than to see Roman Reigns take on Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania.
What’s more, despite whatever outcome I might think is most interesting, I’m rooting for the kid within the fiction. Roman has so much stacked against him in this story, and the WWE cleverly integrated the crowd’s Royal Rumble reaction into this special “snow day” Raw. This episode effectively humanized Roman, building sympathy and intrigue, and interest in what happens to him on his road to Brock Lesnar.
Many criticized this RAW for giving the championship match and The Royal Rumble match away for free. Prior to having seen the episode, I made a snap judgment and took offense to this idea as well. It sounded like a disgusting slap in the face to all those who booed Roman. Then, when I actually saw the episode for myself, I realized that not only did it make sense to show those matches because a cancelled RAW is unprecedented, everyone needed to see those matches to appreciate that final encounter between Roman and Lesnar and believe that a ‘Mania main event between the two made sense.
Following this scene, so long as Roman doesn’t cut more “Jack & The Beanstalk" promos, if the crowd boos him, it’s their own fault for not enjoying what they’re seeing.
This format, these promo interviews are what the WWE desperately needs to keep doing. Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, and even Dean Ambrose's fun little promo about hitchhiking gets guys over. And it’s because it’s real.
We want to believe.
We want to believe.
We. Want. To. Believe.
And I’ll be damned if I don’t believe in all these guys after this show.
Rollins was especially convincing, putting himself over with absolute confidence. His refusal to leave before meeting Lesnar face to face was yet another logical encounter that would naturally take place in a competitive world. And Lesnar's response to Seth tossing the chair out of the way and storming off, "I see someone's upset because they got their ass beat last night," is exactly the kind of believable bravado that ramps up the intensity in these stories, but works within the confines of a PG-rated broadcast.
As for Roman; I’ve always liked him, and I’ve always rooted for him, but I’ve also cringed at the bad booking that has threatened to destroy his relationship with the WWE fans.
Following The Royal Rumble, the WWE needed to save this kid, and they needed to convince you that Roman vs Brock at WrestleMania is the most important match you’ll ever see.
In this seven minute interview, these three men, Roman, Brock, and Heyman (with a nod to Michael Cole) achieved what six months of wayward booking could not.
And it’s because this was intense, believable, emotional, and real. Honesty is ultimately what gets over in this world - even highly stylized, fabricated honesty.
I’ve never been more convinced by a heel, in particular, than Brock Lesnar. This is clearly due in large part to Paul Heyman, but I imagine even Heyman would give Brock his due.
Not enough is said or written about the quality of the character work Brock Lesnar is turning in.
Way back in SummerSlam of 2014 the WWE had these same sit-down style interviews with Brock and they were the best promotional packages we’d seen in years.
Brock has clearly gained in confidence throughout the year, and his style of response is entirely believable and excellent because of his focus on realism.
His smarmy grin during his individual interview with Michael Cole when he first heard the name "Roman Reigns" was perfection. He says, “I respect no one,” and everything about the way he carries himself, responds to questions, and looks at people is in keeping with that villainous mantra. He seems genuinely annoyed by the mere existence of Michael Cole. Brock, not a natural talker and famous for not even wanting to talk, is truly “on a roll” both in the ring and during his brief stints on the mic. He doesn’t need to say much, and that makes the moments he does speak positively spine-tingling.
"I should meet this kid," takes on a great deal of significance, a simple phrase that draws viewers in, makes them to want stay glued to the screen to see what will happen, and it builds that WrestleMania match.
He and Heyman exude destruction and pain. Heyman’s quick, angry response to Michael Cole, “What else you got?”, and the way he “politely” took over Cole’s role as interviewer in the final segment representative of the hypocrisy of evil. Heyman continually states how much respect he has, as if he’s brimming with respect to give away, but he actually treats human beings like worthless gnats, especially those who represent no threat to himself or his client, like Michael Cole.
May we be blessed with Snowmaggedon every Monday.
Mother nature forced the WWE to be genuinely creative, and they worked with the elements in a truly enjoyable, innovative way.
There was an intimacy to this RAW that fluctuated between the upbeat, hopeful enthusiasm of Daniel Bryan to the slithering, heavy-breath-filled darkness of Heyman & Lesnar. It was an almost animalistic experience, working on the pure, testosterone-fueled emotions of a world founded on competition and pain.
It was a tactile RAW. You were pulled into the world of these characters, of these athletes. You understood who everyone was and you were sold, both in the esoteric meaning of that word and in the monetary meaning of that word, on the most important event in the WWE’s calendar year.
Many fans claim that the WWE does not listen.
Often, it is clear, they do not.
Many will feel as though pushing forward with Lesnar vs Roman at WrestleMania 31 is the WWE not listening.
That is not true.
This special edition episode of RAW represents the WWE listening to that Philadelphia crowd.
The WWE heard that chorus of boos and devised a plan to address those boos, to incorporate them into their fiction and find a way to make the planned main event something that actually makes sense and is “must-see, can’t-miss.”
Going forward, I hope the WWE stays the course, presenting this story in this realistic fashion, limiting Roman’s time on the mic to pre-tapped, realistic segments that highlight his humility, his intensity, and his history while having him take on reviled opponents in the ring over the next few months.
The WWE needed to fix the bad booking that led to that crowd’s Royal Rumble boos, and this is an excellent first step in mending those broken fences. It’s too easy to make the main event at ‘Mania a triple threat or to take Roman out of the equation. It’s harder, but much more powerful and creative, to convince you that Roman vs Lesnar is the best possible main event for ‘Mania 31.
And that’s what people really want. They want to be sold. They want to be convinced to spend their ten bucks no matter how many times they Tweet #CancelWWENetwork.
And Paul Heyman is the man for the job, aided by this very specific, believable, unique format and presentation.
If I may break analyst kayfabe in the finish of this review, I want to address professional wrestling fans and the internet wrestling community directly:
I now want nothing more than to watch Roman vs Lesnar at Mania 31 so long as it continues to be booked in this brilliant fashion, and I’m relieved that I feel this way. A little bit of my faith in the WWE is actually restored, because I regard this segment as them hearing us fans, and addressing the actual issue with that Royal Rumble finish (because the issue was not Roman Reigns himself).
I would never boo Roman Reigns, but I would boo bad booking. I encourage you, dear reader and pro-wrestling fan, to consider this approach when reacting to what the WWE does and does not do.
You were heard. And they did something good about it. They recognized a problem and they’re working to solve it.
From here on, as my friend Al Monelli said on my podcast, cheer The Good so that the company understands what you want. Booing everything willynilly, complaining relentlessly achieves absolutely nothing. Do not senselessly boo a talent who you have decided to pin all of your aggressions on. If you feel like there’s no other way to get your voice heard, then I suggest you think outside the box and develop a new way to provide the WWE convincing, positive feedback.
This website is my way.
Cheer this segment.
Cheer Paul Heyman.
Cheer Brock Lesnar.
Cheer a properly booked Roman Reigns.
Believe that things can get better through that positive reinforcement.
Because I’ll be damned if I’m going to let negativity change a main event that could be truly remarkable.
I know there are some who will go on booing Reigns, and regard that as a positive way to change things (I can already imagine detractors calling me a hypocrite or wrong for whatever reason, stating that the boos led to this positive change on this good RAW).
But, for those who are open minded, I encourage you to withhold that judgment and come up with a more inventive, creative way to let the WWE know your thoughts. We all want to move on from the decade of discontent that revolves around the divisive John Cena character.
Even people who appreciate Cena, like myself, want to enjoy a more positive WWE defined by a wide assortment of likable characters (both heel and face). We have a responsibility to help shape the future of this company and the future of Roman Reigns.
Are we just going to keep on being angry all the time? Do you want that to be the way you watch pro-wrestling? Has watching in that way typically changed anything in the long-term?
If the WWE responds to good criticism by attempting to better book Roman versus Lesnar, then we should be aware of this and cheer or boo accordingly. We can create another “Cena Sucks, Let’s go Cena” character. We, with our "amusing" labels like "Three moves of doom" set ourselves up for frustration and anger and dissatisfaction.
If we allow negativity to influence our response to the Roman character instead of the booking of the Roman character then we will lead ourselves down a destructive path for the next decade.
Let’s all change together. You, me, and the WWE.
We are family. We very much want to love each other.
And it’s time we remembered that.
Thank you for reading. Like this review. Comment on this review. Share this review. Repeat.