One More For the Protagonist (John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Roman Reigns)

WWE Daniel Bryan vs Roman Reigns

Wrestling is athletic. It’s dramatic. It is story telling. The beauty of professional wrestling, or sports entertainment, is that it encompasses so many great elements of stories. The key role in these tales, or feuds, is the protagonist. In the wrestling world the protagonist is more often than not the baby face. Of course in writing the protagonist isn’t always the good guy, he or she must however undergo important changes, be it emotional or philosophical, with their struggle against the antagonist.

In wrestling the protagonist is usually the under dog in the feud. The bad guys can come in a variety of ways; notorious cheaters and scoundrels like Seth Rollins or the Miz, monstrous overpowered villains like the Big Show, or strength in numbers like the cultish Wyatt Family or League of Nations. The numbers are often stacked against the protagonist and they garner sympathy from the fans.

In novels it is often the same quality. The protagonist is the emotional crux and helps the audience connect to that story. S/he presses forward in the story at a goal and must overcome the antagonist’s obstacles. In wrestling, the biggest goal is often the championship title or revenge. If we consider the current state of WWE, protagonists like Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and the fresh-in-mind Daniel Bryan run had a goal to win the world championship despite the Authority’s obstacles. Lower and mid card feuds often deal more with revenge, like Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, have a long stemming feud bent on revenge.

Writing heavyweight Stephen King once said, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” And Kurt Vonnegut also said, “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” In wrestling it seems that the bookers and writers often forget this aspect with their eagerness to get the next big thing over. By stacking the odds against our protagonist we see their struggle and we can relate to it because everyone struggles.

In Daniel Bryan’s WWE tenure the fans were immediately introduced to his struggle of being a minor player, too small, a…darling. WWE portrayed Daniel Bryan as such a white meat baby face that the big league WWE would eat him alive. Compare that to Roman Reign’s failure to completely connect with the audience. Upon Roman Reign’s return, creative wanted his speech as impeccably bad ass as his stoic demeanor in the Shield. Despite Reign’s ability, the writing didn’t explore his character, but attempted to emulate bad asses of the past, like the Rock. It didn’t connect with the entire audience. We can also look at the exploration Dean Ambrose’s character with his never-say-die attitude and his loyalty to Roman Reigns, two qualities the audience can connect with and admire. With Dean Ambrose, much like Daniel Bryan, he is always knocked down by his obstacles, but gets back to his feet and presses forward. The audience relates more to that than the predictable matches of Roman Reigns and John Cena.

The current Roman Reign’s chase of the world championship, even with the odds seemingly stacked against him, appears cliché and almost verbatim of the Daniel Bryan story line, and as such comes across ingeniune. Unless WWE fears a major backlash or senses a bigger response with a different direction, it seems inevitable that Roman Reigns will walk away from Wrestlemania as WWE champion. On paper, it looks convincing, but in reality it would be like a novel sequel being exactly like the first book in every way. And in turn, the wrestling audience becomes disassociated with the protagonist. Wrestlers must be loved or hated by the fans. Anything in between is a failure. The audience must feel sympathy for a protagonist. In writing clichés will kill a novel and in wrestling-while everything is almost cliché, a story line used too soon can also kill any empathy.

The outcome of the protagonist’s journey, whether major feuds or minor, often shows change. If a baby face is built up for a run against the champion, each feud along that path shows the face gaining more experience and confidence. A failure can be a learning experience. They pick themselves up and keep moving forward. The protagonist can at times be heel in the midst of being a “tweener” and the resulting change is becoming a baby face like the current New Day plot (whether successfully done or not is up for debate). The protagonist must always undergo a change, or a good reason shown if not undergoing change. But that’s another article for another time.

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