Last Sunday, HHH won what was maybe the most important Royal Rumble in history, outlasting 29 other wrestlers to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. My initial reaction was, “At least it wasn’t Roman Reigns.” After a few days to think about it, and hearing a lot of people’s very different opinions about it, what do I think about HHH’s win?
Short answer: I don’t like it. But not for the typical “HHH is putting himself over” reasons. No, my distaste goes further, so strap in as we peel away all the layers that are involved.First, there’s the gut reaction. “It could have been worse. Roman Reigns could have won.” That line of argument quickly fades when you realize the only reason Reigns didn’t win was so he could win at WrestleMania instead. I was dreading Reigns coming back in and winning the Rumble, and that actively took away from my enjoyment of the match, but at least he was thrown out, and didn’t even make it to the final two. So on one hand, all hail HHH for saving us from the most mediocre wrestling superman in recent memory.
On the other hand, after the show went off the air, there’s a definite sense of “Here we go again.” This is where a lot of people stop. HHH’s as never been shy to put himself over other people. There are dozens of examples of HHH burying guys on TV and making them look like crap for no reason. He doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt anymore when it comes to these things. He puts himself over at other people’s expense, and has for the last twenty years.
It’s done in subtle and not so subtle ways. HHH is always portrayed as the baddest, smartest, coolest person in the room. He’s a heel because to be a babyface is to be lame. HHH will not allow himself to be portrayed as lame. He’s the cool heel, the bad guy who gets cheered, so he gets the best of both worlds. He always as a comeback ready, and if he doesn’t, he’ll just Pedigree you. The Pedigree is, of course, the most dangerous finishing move on the roster, a guaranteed match-ender. For someone who’s been watching HHH do this since the 90’s, it’s a worn, tiring act. It’s your dad bragging about beating you in basketball, except you’re scripted to look like a loser no matter how much talent you actually have. Many, many, many wrestling fans are over it.
But! There’s a counter argument, and one that is appealing at first listen. HHH knows all the above. He knows what people think of him. He knows people are tired of him being the best. HHH clearly knows the wrestling business, and he knows what people want. Just look at NXT for an example of how he can tailor a product to an audience. HHH is indeed one of the greatest of all time, there’s no doubt about that, and he currently is playing all of us like a fiddle. HHH knows these opinions are out there, and have been since the early 00’s at least.
HHH is a heel, and his job is to make us not like him. What better way to make us not like then to play into all the negative sterotypes about him? He pretty much said it on Raw. “I don’t need to be WWE champ, I just want to be.” It’s very meta, since he is explicitly telling us that he gets whatever he wants. Vince McMahon and Stephanie played into it as well, each of them hamming it up to live up to whatever awful things are said about them. In a world with the internet, where backstage rumors run rampart, the greatest heel is the one who can play on all the chatter. After all, if we “know” HHH is putting himself over the rest of the roster just because he can, doesn’t that mean we’ll cheer for anyone on that roster to get rid of him?
Eh, not really. There’s a few things the people defending this story are forgetting. The first, and most obvious, is Roman Reigns. The WWE is still telling us that Roman Reigns is “The Guy” despite every sign that he isn’t. The story of him being an underdog is in complete opposition to the information available. If we have the meta information to know we are supposed to dislike HHH, we’re also going to have the information that tells us the WWE is determined to make Reigns the face of the company. Which is in stark contrast to the story being presented to us.
The story is that the Authority doesn’t want Reigns to be champ, when every bit of information tells us that the WWE desperately wants Reigns to be the new Cena. This is the same information that we need to know about to dislike HHH. In the end, we end up liking nobody. Which brings us to the second problem with HHH as champion: the pure, unyielding, apathy felt by the crowd.
Sometimes, I think apathy is what WWE is looking for. After two years of crowds booing their heir apparent, deafening silence must be a bit of a relief. And even if we look at HHH, there is more resignation then any real hatred. Instead of “Fuck HHH for putting himself over again!” it’s more like “HHH won again? Wonder what else is on…” Because if we have meta information about HHH, we are also aware there are other options available. Which reminds me… Lucha Underground Season 2 just started, and if you aren’t watching and loving that, you and I cannot be friends.
If the WWE wants to play with people’s knowledge of backstage information, then there’s only one solution going forward. Stop making Roman Reigns look like the underdog, stop stacking the odds against him, and make him the Corporate Champ that he really is. In this case, Reigns should have won the Rumble, aligned himself with HHH, and made sure to throw out every fan favorite along the way. Go all in, because the WWE can’t have HHH be a meta heel while Reigns stays a traditional babyface. These ideas are incompatible.