Four months ago, Monday Night RAW played host to one of the most shocking moments in pro wrestling history. After multiple years as the promotion’s centerpiece, Roman Reigns opened up in stunning fashion, announcing that his previously private struggle with Leukemia had returned. As those unforgettable words left Roman’s mouth, so much suddenly changed. In an instant, every creative debate was rendered irrelevant. This may have been a pro wrestler talking on a pro wrestling show, but its core message and meaning represented much more than that.
As the man said himself, this was Joe talking and as a result, the news was greeted in fittingly human fashion. It was now even harder not to admire the man being behind those words, a reminder of the truth that can so often be forgotten within WWE’s fantastical landscape. These may be characters but at times, that line couldn’t be more blurred. These aren’t actors shifting from one role to another but instead, flowing characters that through ups and downs, remain forever linked with the people portraying them.
This is a never-ending morality play and considering that, its performers are bizarrely defined by their presentation. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of negatives that come with that reality but as of right now, it remains the result of pro wrestling’s rather unique format and approach. On the other hand, that element brings some positives too. The access allows fans to grow with not just a wrestler’s character but moreover, their performance itself. We watch their every professional facet develop all at once and as a result, become unfathomably connected with their fate too.
In some ways, that description furthers wrestling’s well-established “male soap opera” description but realistically, even that comparison falls short. We are often exposed to the genuine low points of far more than just the characters that we boo or cheer every week. This Reigns example is obviously uncommon by its nature but whether it’s witnessing real-life injuries or to a much lesser extent, following a performer’s struggles with their own on-screen direction, we really experience a great deal of the pro wrestler’s journey.
If you are reading this, I’d imagine it’s fair to assume that at some point in your fandom, you’ve inexplicably cared about a wrestler’s prospects too. It’s that connection that keeps us watching, the chase for a pay-off to the story that for better or worse, you’ve been following every week. Roman Reigns fans have experienced a bizarre journey in that sense. Considering his spot on the card, a real range of factors have always surrounded Roman’s week to week handling. Creatively, it’s covered every emotion imaginable but in Reigns’ tale, it’s the many stories within that story.
The weekly reports surrounding Roman’s future, his constantly debated standing within WWE’s totem pole and moreover, his polarizing performance along the way. The Roman Reigns story extends far beyond the one that’s been told live on RAW. This has been a battle of perception, a fight for the respect that through hard work and perseverance, Reigns has quite obviously earned among his peers. This has been a journey and a six plus year journey at that. In that time, wrestling fans have seen and said it all. Optimism, cynicism, criticism and everything in-between.
Considering that, this past Monday provided a rather uplifting sight. Roman Reigns was back and for that brief moment in time, the wrestling world felt united. This was a human moment, a courageous feat showered with pride and joy. Together, fans collectively erupted in their support and it was impossible not to smile in response. On TV, Roman Reigns has been a superhero for years now and I don’t at all mean that as some form of smarmy criticism. This character has been an inspiration to many fans and in my mind, that’s a beautiful thing.
In truth though, that character pales in comparison to the man himself. As he said this week, Reigns’ purpose is now far greater than title triumphs and that message really encapsulates wrestling’s potential reach. In the modern world, this form of entertainment can feel as though it’s in transition at times but the Roman Reigns story has proved an encouraging one. For years, Reigns has been a courageous, fearless fighter and while that presentation may have been polarizing, those very same traits can only allow admiration for the man behind that role.
It’s important not to trivialize the root of this story or what it represents. This was a battle with cancer and regardless of its outcome, that’ll always be more important than a man’s pro wrestling perception. Even still, RAW allowed us a reminder of this fan-base’s power. Reigns’ most ardent supporters will have found the last few months nothing short of bewildering. This is a frightening topic and after years of seeing Roman every week, he was suddenly absent with a future shrouded in mystery.
In the end though, this moment in time allowed for some much needed reflection. Though it may be easy to forget at times, these men and women are real people. As a result, these larger than life characters are exposed to experiencing everything that comes with that unnerving vulnerability. It’s pivotal to remember that and in Reigns’ case specifically, this period only spotlighted the man’s importance. A prolific in-ring performer with charisma and presence, Roman is an immense asset that frankly, has been missed. In that sense, Reigns’ most famed journey has now experienced some closure.
When the time arrived, wrestling fans understood what mattered most and as a result, they rose in adulation of this real-life superhero. We are in the midst of one of wrestling’s most unique and captivating journeys, the story of a performer that divided fans unlike anyone that’s ever come before him. Considering that, it feels oddly fitting that over these last few months, that same man has united wrestling fans too.
A loud minority will always exist but pro wrestling’s power was clearer than ever this week and honestly, it spoke volumes.
Welcome back ‘Big Dog,’ you’ve been missed.