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Lengthy program with Samoa Joe risky for Roman Reigns

Jul 15, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Professional Wrestler Roman Reigns during the 2015 ESPY's award show at Nokia Theater. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve discussed it in this space a few times over the last several weeks, but Roman Reigns appears to finally be getting over with WWE crowds. Reuniting with Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins hasn’t hurt one bit, but The Big Dog has been getting plenty of positive reactions during the last few editions of Monday Night Raw.

Two weeks ago, we asked if Reigns was actually getting over. The jury was still out at that juncture, but the response to him winning the Intercontinental Title was excellent. Timing is everything in wrestling, and this was the right time to put the strap back on Reigns for reasons we explained in detail here.

A photo of Reigns holding the IC Title generated more than half a million “likes” on WWE’s Instagram page according to the announce team on this week’s Raw, making it the most-liked piece of content that the WWE has ever placed on the mega-app. Prior to last night’s showdown with Elias, the crowd could be heard chanting “We Want Roman” throughout.

Crowds are popping for the spear. They’re popping for the superman punch. They’re popping for Reigns victories. This stands in stark contrast to the way things were even half a year ago when Reigns couldn’t even get in basic offense without getting booed.

After years of trying, it seems that the WWE has finally found the right way to get Vince McMahon’s handpicked champion and face of the company positive reactions. Which is why immediately plunging him into a feud with Samoa Joe is so, so risky.

Roman has been getting reactions for years, but they’ve been polarizing. There are still some boos mixed in with the cheers, but it isn’t the same as getting booed out of the building. If WWE wants Reigns to be the guy then he needs to feel like the guy when he’s in the ring. A.J. Styles can barely get a word out, promo-wise, because the crowd won’t stop cheering for him and chanting his name.

That’s the kind of reaction the WWE should want for Reigns.

He’s slowly but surely getting there, but Joe isn’t just some other superstar, ripe to be picked off and taken down easily. The Samoan Submission Machine is one of the most beloved Indie Darlings on the main roster today. No matter where he goes or who he wrestles, he’s met with chants of “Joe, Joe, Joe!’ and “Joe is gonna’ kill you, Joe is gonna’ kill you.”

Reigns going over on the Miz and Elias is one thing. Reigns actually getting over with the crowd while working with Samoa Joe is another thing entirely, and will be a true test of Roman’s ability to generate positive reactions while working as a face.

It won’t all be on Reigns to do the heavy lifting in this feud, though. If Joe plays the role of a tweener, it could spell disaster as far as Roman continuing to get over as a good guy. If fans are left to pick between cheering for cool heel Joe or Reigns as-is, it won’t be long before we see the former getting cheered and chanted for while the latter is getting booed for landing punches (again).

That’s why it’s so important that Joe be as despicable as possible during this feud. He needs to do everything he can to generate heat, and not give the crowd any reason to like him whatsoever. In years gone by, attacking Reigns from behind would have been enough for a performer to get cheers.  On Monday night, fans seemed legitimately shocked by the aggressiveness of Joe’s attack, and they were left stunned.

It’s that kind of emotional response WWE needs to strive for as this story unfolds. Joe can’t be relatable and he must come off as cold, calculating and uncaring. Pitting a likable Indie Darling against McMahon’s hand-picked successor to John Cena is risky at this stage of the game, and it’ll be on Joe and Reigns to sell their side of the story to the best of their abilities.

Franklin Steele is the assistant editor and featured writer of FanRag Sports' NHL side. He also covers the WWE for FRSSLAM.com. Steele, who joined FanRag Sports in October 2013, has been watching and playing hockey since the age of 6. His work has also appeared on TheHockeyWriters.com, FanSided.com and Bleacher Report. All told, he has more than 3,000 bylines to his name and more than six million people have read his work since 2011. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @FranklinSteele (NHL) and @SteeleTheHeel (WWE).

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