Never before we have witnessed a push this contrived.
Roman Reigns debuted as part of The Shield faction with a certain insidiousness. Flanked by two internet darlings, with his limitations obscured in the awesome six-man tag thrillers his powerhouse cameos finished off with spectacular aplomb, Reigns hid in plain sight as Vince McMahon’s next fetish.
It was clever.
Was; past tense.
The very second the Shield disbanded, WWE could not have made their intentions any clearer. Roman Reigns went over Randy Orton at SummerSlam 2014 in what was a good match - but, in parallel, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins elevated the tired TV special that is the Lumberjack match into something genuinely heated, personal. and special. Their brilliant feud only served to underscore that Roman Reigns wasn’t the top guy in WWE. He wasn’t even the top guy in The Shield.
The way in which Roman’s character was framed did nothing to help his cause. Decked out in the remnants of his Shield gear, making his entrance to the same theme, the presentation both symbolised the lack of imagination at the dark heart of the push, and triggered an irritating feeling of misappropriation within the fandom. By now, we knew the Shield existed as a vehicle to drive Reigns to the main event - but the sight of Roman, in his old riot gear, rubbed our noses in it. Already, parallels were drawn with one John Cena - and now, here was another absurdly strong babyface totally allergic to character progression.
The vehicle stalled as Reigns suffered a late summer incarcerated hernia. This sparked a certain schadenfreude-fuelled relief for those who knew exactly the direction in which Roman was headed. Injuries are as damaging to the prospects as they are to the body in WWE - a sign of weakness. But, as we later discovered, the normal rules did not apply. Reigns wasn’t perceived as weak for suffering the injury. His push resumed unabated. Nor was he perceived as a liability for failing a Wellness Policy test in 2016. His push resumed unabated. Nor was he asked, unlike every other member of the full-time roster, to dress up on RAW as a glorified t-shirt salesman.
He was only ever perceived as The Guy.
Even worse than the contrivance of the push was its inevitability. It was bereft of both drama and grassroots support. The preferential treatment afforded to him only served to repel his growing legions of detractors, the cynicism within whom was drip-fed by the week.