A Mark’s Eye View is a weekly look at some of the things that made me a huge fan of professional wrestling.
This year marks the fifth time in six years that WrestleMania will be Roman Reigns’s big night. Fans are just as excited for this one as they are for any other. There may be less vitriol — surviving cancer can go pretty far to rehab someone’s image — but for the most part, people do not really seem to care.
Roman has to be asking himself, how did Hulk Hogan manage to do it?
From the first Mania in 1985 through Mania IX, Hogan was in the main event of the WWF’s biggest show in all but one. Even though he was not advertised as the headliner, Mania IX saw the Hulkster featured in a prominent role and end the night with the company’s top belt. Through them all, fans seemed content to see Hogan at the top of the card. It is an incredible run that is arguably as impressive as Undertaker’s streak.
Before WWE fans get upset that someone dare question the current product, I want to make some things abundantly clear. Comparing the two is almost laughable. Hogan is an all time great who is known the world over. Roman is a future WWE Hall of Famer, which means just a little more than nothing. Hulk was at his peak during one of the hottest periods in the sport’s history. The Big Dog has been force fed as the face of the company in a time of cynical fandom and dwindling ratings. An exploration of Hogan’s amazing Mania run is not so much a comparison of two wrestlers as it is a defining statement of how much professional wrestling has changed.
Much like the promotion he ruled over, Hogan was polarizing. He packed arenas and his face was all over mainstream media, but the hardcores did not really care for him. Though the narrative has been kinder to him in recent years, Hogan was considered a poor worker. His matches were formulaic, his offense was milquetoast, and he had a limited moveset. On paper, it seemed like he had nothing going for him.
What the workrate freaks were so quick to discount was Hogan’s off-the-charts charisma. Though his selling could sometimes enter the realm of ridiculous, he had a great sense for timing. He was a master at engendering sympathy even from those who did not like him. And while he was never exactly Bret Hart between the ropes, his Japan matches show he knew his way around a wrestling ring.
Fans were willing to accept an orange goblin in nine straight Mania main events because he deserved to be there. (To be fair, Mania IX was met with an overwhelmingly negative reaction while Hogan was booed in the lead up to his match against Sid at Mania VIII.) He wasn’t a master technician, but he could put more asses in seats.
Roman is a superior in ring worker. He has been in better matches than Hogan against a wider variety of opponents. While he does not have a deep arsenal of holds, what he can do is more spectacular and explosive than the Hulkster. He has the look and ability to be the top star of today.
The problem is, he is a charisma black hole. His promos are wooden. At times, he seems to be detached from his character. He is obviously reciting lines that were written for him. His selling is adequate at best and many times he looks like he is just relaxing. In today’s era of every single moment being put under a microscope, Roman just does not meet fan expectations.
People trapped in the WWE bubble will be quick to say it is only the AEW or New Japan fans who do not get it. “It is not Roman’s fault; it is the booking that prevents anyone in Vince McMahon’s company from being a true Superstar.” There is some truth to the argument. Casual fans couldn’t care less about workrate or proper selling. They just want someone to captivate them. Scripted promos and Main Event™ style is not cutting it.
Booking is only part of the problem with WWE, though. The wrestlers come off as geeks who care as much about video games and social media than being the best; the willingness to rely on the past while refusing to make new stars; bad announcers. In a vacuum, any one of these things can be overcome. Together, they are insurmountable. Just ask Hulk Hogan and Roman Reigns.
Next week: A tale of two kickouts.
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