In many ways, wrestling is built on the illusion of what's real and what's not. A great display of in-ring athleticism can be breath-taking but if you can make people believe with your words before the first bell even rings, that's magic. Considering that, taking something that has some truth at its core and building around it is often the route to making people truly believe, and more than that, care. Very little mystery surrounds what goes on inside the ropes these days but with fans 'smarter' than ever, some would and have argued that the real hook in modern wrestling is found by referencing behind the scenes ‘truths’ that are usually kept far away from TV cameras.
Though it was in just their first verbal confrontation, it was very clear which direction the John Cena - Roman Reigns program was headed as soon as the 16-time champ referenced his own elusive “heel turn.” Now to be clear, the last thing I want to do here is insert myself into the debate of who’s right and wrong in this professional wrestling feud and I’m definitely not against its current direction as frankly, I’m thoroughly enjoying the whole thing. I’d be lying if I said that it was all completely in line with my tastes but overall, it’s making for fun TV and that’s what really matters at the end of the day.
However, that doesn't make the situation any less fascinating to me. The two biggest stars in the industry, or very close to it, are talking to each other like they’re exchanging outrageous hot takes on a forum and no matter how you slice it, that’s pretty wacky. I suppose my issue though is that at times we’ve veered so far into the ‘shoot’ category that it’s almost lost its wrestling narrative inside the WWE’s own ‘universe’. For example, in the narrative that a match is a real athletic contest between two rivals, how does someone “bury” another? Reigns isn’t the first guy to take the “he buries guys” route in a promo on Cena and I felt similarly when AJ Styles did the same thing.
I appreciate that this route works though, even if admittedly more so with AJ, because it plays into a perception that has rightly or wrongly surrounded Cena for years and that’s why this is legitimately effective. It was the same with Reigns’ comment about him having better wrestling matches than John. It furthers and leans into that always odd “Cena can’t wrestle” narrative and in an ideal world gets that particular audience more invested. Is it something you’d ever hear a prizefighter say before fighting the biggest name in his sport? Probably not, especially considering that name’s kayfabe and probably real-life status as an undeniable all-time great.
This trend hasn't been one-sided by any means though with Cena taking shots at Reigns with a plethora of stereotypical insults. Mentioning Reigns’ failed drug test is one thing but discussing that he’s not a good “promo” seems less useful in the grand scheme of things. Now again, this is all fine because, in many ways, it has absolutely worked. People are passionate on either side but I can’t help but feel like much of this is somewhat short-sighted and unnecessarily insider. Sure it’s an attempt to capture the audience and make them ponder if this beef is legitimate but I have to question the impact that it has on the rest of the show.
It’s almost scrapping the whole foundation that every other feud on television is built on and more than that, these two guys would stand out from the pack without any of these elements. I could be wrong but to me, the core story can be just as impactful. It’s the oldest tale in the book: the ageing great trying to maintain his spot against his natural successor. Then again, while that would fit more inside the wrestling narrative, perhaps it wouldn't engage people quite as intensely. It’s impossible to say really. What is interesting though is that the pair’s segment on Monday wasn't completely alone in its style as we also saw The Miz take a stroll down ‘shoot’ street so to speak.
In a Miz TV segment with Enzo Amore that seemed to have a questionable purpose, the Intercontinental champion cut a quite incredible promo on Amore, almost pleading with him to stop wasting his potential. Just like Reigns and Cena, Miz referenced some of behind the curtain stories making the news but he did it very differently. When Miz mentioned Enzo’s supposed backstage heat it wasn't to make the hardcore fans feel smart. Instead it was to symbolize Amore’s flaws as a character, and in this case person, and how they are hurting his in-ring performance and more on point, his ability to actually win wrestling matches.
Whether it be the character or the actual person, Enzo Amore annoys people backstage and in the show’s narrative, it’s due to his lack of focus and concentration on what really matters: the wrestling matches. Add to that the parallels between Miz and Amore and the whole thing becomes even more impactful. Just like Enzo, Miz was expelled from the locker room and despised, but his point was that he changed for the better. This was Miz desperately trying to get through to Amore, almost overflowing with passion. To sum it all up, Miz took something that a portion of the audience believes to be true and turned it into a layer that alters Enzo’s character completely, for better or for worse.
To conclude, it’s certainly interesting to see WWE frequently using ‘shoot’ comments in promos on their flagship show. Personally, I think it comes with good and bad but overall, it seems to have a knack of making people care and that isn’t really an easy feat in the modern era. Every week, great technicians go out and perform in front of silence so if pulling back the curtain, even if only a little bit, every so often can hook the people to that next level, maybe it’s a worthwhile experiment. Wrestling is at its best when we as the audience truly care about the result and that will never change, maybe the method of getting there has though and in that case, I’m all for mixing up the format.