We’re almost up to “Wrestlemania XXXIV” and that means you might be having some mixed reactions. There’s little secret that the main event is going to be Roman Reigns challenging (and likely defeating) Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title. As you can probably guess, this presents a major problem: how to get Reigns over as the superhero that WWE wants him to be rather than having the crowd boo him out of the building. If you’re sick of hearing about how to get Reigns over as a face, you’re in luck, because that’s not what we’re looking at today.

You might want to see how Reigns has been going about doing this. Check out these recent “Raw” results.

Instead, we’re going to change things up a bit and look at the crowd. WWE tends to go with this idea of one size fits all booking, but that’s really not something you can make work. What if the crowd wants to see something different? What if you’re completely missing the point and it fails miserably? Today we’re going to take a look at how you need to consider your audience and not just plow ahead with what you want to do, as it might not be what the fans want to see.

I grew up as a Hulkamaniac. When I was a kid, Hulk Hogan was the coolest thing that I had ever seen and I couldn’t get enough of him. I would watch as Hogan faced off against a monster of the month (Big Boss Man, Kamala, One Man Gang, King Kong Bundy etc.), get beaten down for a bit and then Hulk Up for the big win. Everything was right with the world and I was happy.

The fans liked this.

A look back at the birth of Hulkamania

Now jump forward to the Attitude Era with Steve Austin on top of the company. In short, the fans were ticked off in general. The spirit of the 1990s was one of rebellion and fans wanted to see the old guard, or the bosses in particular, get flipped off and beaten up. That’s where Austin came in and excelled, because he was ticked off and throwing punches every chance he could. It was a rebellious character and someone people related to because he got to do what so many people wanted to do.

One more flash forward brings us to the Reality Era. This would be the place where we have performance evaluations, bosses who want to do what’s best for business, contracts for everything and the company being publicly traded, meaning we can’t be too mean because people might not go home happy. It might not make the most thrilling TV at times, but it’s made a fortune for the company and that’s what matters most, at least from the company’s perspective.

What we have here are three distinct eras and three VERY different directions for the company. They also took place in front of three very different audiences and that’s what I want to focus on here. All three eras were successful (in different ways) and a lot of that was due to how the shows were presented to the fans. If they didn’t go the way the fans wanted, it wouldn’t have worked at all. Let’s think about this for a second.

Like I said, I was a Hulkamaniac as a kid and grew up during the end of Hogan’s glory era, meaning I watched a lot of the Coliseum Videos from the earlier years. There were several other fans around my age and Hogan was a hero to a lot of wrestling fans of that era. Now imagine Hulk Hogan having a performance evaluation, or being told that his pay was being withheld or that this was all his job.

How well do you think the younger fans would have understood or accepted this? To me, Hogan didn’t work for the WWF. That’s just what he did because what else was he supposed to do? Hogan was a wrestler, not an employee of a wrestling company. What else would you expect a five year old wrestling fan to think of someone who they watched wrestle every week?

The same idea holds true for the other two eras. Imagine Reigns as Beaver Cleavage, Seth Rollins as a member of the Mean Street Posse or Dean Ambrose as part of the Corporate Ministry (Mideon anyone?). What about Austin being told that he had to smile as he went up the ramp because fans had to be happy? See how those things don’t exactly fit together all that well?

Can you picture Hogan doing this?

"Stone Cold' drives a zamboni to the ring

In addition to the big idea for the whole promotion, the same thing holds true for individual shows, which brings us to “Wrestlemania”. There’s no secret that the annual Wrestlemania crowd and post-Wrestlemania “Monday Night Raw” crowds are….uh…..different. Be it them chanting all night long, going crazy with the beach balls (erg) or just not wanting anyone but their favorites, you can’t treat them like they’re a regular, run of the mill crowd. So why does WWE seem to think that’s the case?

Lately, WWE has been trying to present Reigns as the man who defends the fans’ honor while Lesnar is the guy who blows everything off. That might be something that the fans will accept on the way to New Orleans but once they get to the big show, there’s no way around the fans rejecting Reigns. I can appreciate WWE trying to make this work and they’ve done a fairly decent job so far (if you ignore REIGNS being the guy complaining about someone being given special privileges) but it’s going to come crashing down at Wrestlemania.

It’s a situation where changing things up a little bit can go a long way. Look at how WWE is currently John Cena vs. the Undertaker. This week on “Monday Night Raw”, Cena called Undertaker out for hiding behind his ego and not giving the fans what they wanted. It makes the match feel more like a match people will want to see while also catering to the Wrestlemania crowd. In other words, play towards the strength of the people instead of trying to tell the fans what they want to see.

That’s the happy medium that WWE needs to find with its bigger matches, especial in the Reigns match. There’s virtually no way that WWE can make the fans boo Reigns, but turning Lesnar into more of a villain is a good idea. I don’t exactly buy the idea of Reigns defending the fans but at least they’re trying to do something to make it work. Focus more on taking away the fans’ love of Lesnar and Reigns won’t look so bad. That’s what WWE is doing, but they still need to tone Reigns down a bit. Again: it’s all about finding the right mixture for the crowd, which WWE isn’t exactly hitting so far.

This worked quite well, at least for now.

Roman Reigns lays into absent, “entitled” Brock Lesnar: Raw, Feb. 26, 2018

This is something that WWE could screw up very badly if they don’t run things just right. The disaster that was “Wrestlemania XXXII” when Reigns defeated Triple H needs to be avoided at all costs. That match was a major waste of time with the fans completely turning on every single aspect of it (save for Stephanie McMahon getting speared, which was exactly what they wanted to see).

There’s almost no way to make the “Wrestlemania XXXIV” main event go perfectly. WWE has spent so much time turning Reigns into someone the hardcore fans don’t want to see that he could give out free cookies and rescue a bus full of nuns that it still wouldn’t be enough. They can find something that works a bit better, but if they completely ignore what the audience wants to see, it’s not going to work no matter how hard they try again.

Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his Amazon author page with 26 wrestling books. His latest book is the History of the WWE Championship.

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