You Can’t Put Diesel in a Petrol Engine; Comparing Roman Reigns to Kevin Nash

roman reignsChosen very early on by Vince McMahon as his next big thing.

The weakest worker in his team.

Long, black hair.

Says a lot by doing very little.

Broke the record for most eliminations in the Royal Rumble.

His role in the Wrestlemania that followed lasted just minutes.

Received babyface reactions working in a heel team.

Broke away from his group as a babyface.

Then they started giving him promo time.

Roman Reigns. Diesel. Two men with alarmingly parallel careers (well, up until the same stage of course). Reigns stands on the precipise, just like Diesel did 20 years ago. The Diesel run had already begun, defeating Bob Backlund in November 1994 to win the WWF Title. For Reigns, the dye is cast for him to explode from the future to the present in three short months between the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania 31.

Diesel failed.

The Diesel demise began the Raw after his title win. It’s not that Diesel never spoke in his partnership with Shawn Michaels, but he was often awkward when he did. The strength with Diesel was what he did in partnership with Michaels. The break up at Survivor Series was excellent, as their relationship finally snapped Diesel looked incredibly dominant, by the time he was next on TV he was carrying the World Title.

Then he cut a promo.

Reigns was paired with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. I’ll save you a modern day history lesson, but suffice to say the trio was designed to protect Reigns, leaving him to work in short, sharp bursts while being “carried” (if you want to call it that) by his more experienced and some might say more talented partners. While Reigns wouldn’t be winning the WWE Title in the aftermath of the Shield, he did get a big, clean, singles victory over Randy Orton on pay per view at Summerslam. In a titleless WWE Universe, that was Reigns’ 8 second title win.

Then he cut a promo.

It wasn’t so much Diesel’s awkward execution on the first Raw after Thanksgiving, it was what they gave him to say. Diesel had been built as this ass kicking machine, letting his actions do the speaking and when he did communicate verbally, it was usually brief. In a long-for-1994 seven minute promo Diesel spoke of the respect he had for Bob Backlunds, and “wanting to be like Bret Hart”. Why did Diesel want to be like Bret Hart? Because Diesel was on the path of being the next Hulk Hogan. If you want to identify the tipping point for Kevin Nash it was that night. In the following weeks he was cutting happy go lucky babyface promos across every WWF TV show you could find. It was like they’d replaced him with another guy – they eventually did that, too.

For Reigns the nadir came at TLC on Sunday. Having received a massive pop on his return, Reigns cut a brief backstage promo backstage like thousands had before him. All he had to do was announce that he was back, and that he was going for the Royal Rumble.

Then he forgot his line.

It’s a simple mistake to make, but it’s the reality of two things. Firstly, Reigns promos are not his strong point. They weren’t for Diesel, either, who called Bob Backlund’s devastating finishing move the “cross wing chicken” during that first promo. Reigns has worked in soundbites since joining us on screen, usually as the exclamation point on segments carried by Ambrose and Rollins, this wasn’t his game.

The other issue is a simple one – Reigns forgot his line. A simple mistake to make, but illustrative that promos of 2014 don’t come from the hearts and minds of lyrical geninuses like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, but from paragraphs of pre-written scripts from writers who probably didn’t watch wrestling before joining the company. In the myriad of reasons why WWE is struggling from an onscreen perspective, scripted promos is definitely one of the most underrated.

Why does this all matter? Because Diesel and Reigns both have one thing in common – neither was ever that good. The remit was to hope their few major assests would carry them through. But when Diesel got to the top, the WWF stopped the truck and steered it through ninety degrees. This wasn’t the Diesel I recognise. This wasn’t Kevin Nash. The concern with Reigns is that if they try and turn into not only something he isn’t, but something he never was, the same thing might happen. Diesel’s seven minutes on Raw was rare at the time, now the faces of the WWE need to be able to carry a 15 minute promo segment.

Kevin Nash“Execentuate the positives, hide the weaknesses.” It’s worthwhile praise of Paul Heyman’s ECW but it’s also what the WWE did so well with Reigns when he was part of the Shield. He was hidden. Now he’s out in the open and he’s forgetting his lines. The Rock didn’t forget his lines, John Cena, for all his faults, doesn’t forget his lines. Reigns, in more ways than one where the Rock is concerned, is viewed as the next in line.

What’s more alarming for Reigns, and something that Diesel didn’t have such a big issue with, is the WWE has changed a lot in 20 years. In 1995, it wasn’t all that uncommon for your Champion to miss weeks on end of Raw (come to think of it, it’s not all that uncommon in 2014). Diesel’s main worry was transitioning from quarterly PPVs to monthly PPVs with the introduction of In Your House.

For Reigns the formula is a lot more complicated. Firstly, he must fight with a company grossly overexposed across five hours of first run television each week. The injury that has kept him off TV the past couple of months has probably been a blessing in disguise, but four months between now and Wrestlemania is a long time.

The second, most worrying, is an audience that’s pissed off with the system. Reigns knows better than anyone – he was in the ring when Daniel Bryan didn’t come out at number 30 in the Royal Rumble in January. It should’ve been Reigns’ moment, breaking the record once held by Diesel for most eliminations. Instead we were all talking about Rey Mysterio.

Will the crowd, people like you, embrace Reigns as the next babyface over favourites like Ziggler, Cesaro, Rollins, Ambrose? If he makes it to Wrestlemania, will they turn on a main event featuring a guy they don’t like and a guy on his way to UFC (Lesnar, not Punk) like they did with Lesnar and Goldberg at Mania XX?

Diesel was a black mark on the WWF in 1995. It wasn’t all his fault (in fact, you might say much of it wasn’t), but he was on top in the year WWF hit its nadir. The WWE are in a very different but somewhat similar predicament, after the financial disaster that has been the WWE Network. Punk has gone, Cena is fading, Bryan forgotten.

Would you have gone with Diesel in 2015? I wouldn’t have.

Bob Bamber is the former social media guy for Wrestlezone. These days you can find him reviewing wrestling from a different era on the Wrestling 20 Years Ago Podcast. If you’d like to respond to this piece tweet him @BobbyBamber, email [email protected] or just post a comment below.