This past Monday night on Raw, Roman Reigns shocked the sports entertainment world by announcing that his previously private fight with leukemia had resumed after eleven years of remission. Reigns, real name Joe Anoa’i, understandably vacated his Universal Championship to focus on his health.
Reigns’ absence from WWE’s flagship show would always be notable, but it is especially magnified given WWE’s lack of young talent with drawing power. Look no further than the match card for the controversial Crown Jewel PPV event, which features a tag-team match whose competitors are a combined 206 years old.
Crown Jewel also features the WWE World Cup tournament, which boasts Rey Mysterio, Kurt Angle, Randy Orton, and Jeff Hardy. You know, guys that competed before the average twenty-two year old viewer hit puberty. John Cena, who was the first superstar announced for the tournament, backed out due to mounting controversy surrounding the Saudi government.
Daniel Bryan also announced he would not perform at the event, leaving the lineup bereft of the three biggest stars the company has produced in the last ten years.
Crown Jewel is perhaps the most glaring example of WWE’s inability to create interesting new characters, which has necessitated Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker stepping away from retirement or part-time usage to be weekly performers.
When WWE does lean on its young talent, they tend to get lazy and churn out episodes like the installment of Raw we saw two weeks ago in Philadelphia. If you don’t remember it, that was the episode which might as well have been titled “The Shield vs. The Dogs of War, Four Times in One Night, Because We’re Completely Out of Ideas”. Doesn’t roll off the tongue, but at least it’s accurate.
Reigns’ announcement last week, sobering as it was, forced writers to get creative. Viewers witnessed face turns from Elias and Braun Strowman while Dean Ambrose finally turned heel in brutal fashion, dispatching Seth Rollins following their emotional tag-team championship victory.
While it appears that Strowman is on a collision course with Drew McIntyre after he becomes Universal Champion at Crown Jewel, Elias may be the true breakout star Monday Night Raw will need while Reigns recovers. His segment a few weeks ago in Seattle had fans as loud as they’d been since Reigns stepped into the ring the night after defeating the Undertaker at WrestleMania 33. Elias is a rising star in the company who became beloved by the crowd as a comical heel similar to The Rock. While he’ll never be The Rock, he’s in line to become a major player over the next few months.
Meanwhile, Ambrose is likely to become the top heel in the company while feuding with Rollins. Behind that, what else is there?
Perhaps it’s time to revitalize Bray Wyatt and Kevin Owens, or maybe Sami Zayn finally gets his shot once he returns from injury. In an unpredictable time for WWE, one thing is absolutely certain – relying on nostalgia to keep ratings high will only hinder the development of the next wave of WWE stars. Until Reigns hopefully returns, it’s up to the young guys to pick up the slack.