Those in the WWE Universe who watched Raw on Monday night saw something that seemed a bit out of the ordinary. In fact, it was an in-ring promo that appeared as if one talent was openly burying another by going off script (shooting) and discussing topics that felt all too real.
John Cena and Roman Reigns squared-off in a verbal battle to set up their match at No Mercy. Most watching will tell you that Reigns left the exchange looking less like the "Big Dog" and more like a wounded puppy and that Cena took a few unnecessary liberties by referring to behind the scenes issues in front of the world. While he held his own, Reigns didn't seem to know how to respond, and by the time the smoke had cleared Cena had potentially buried another star. Or so the WWE wanted you to think.
What appeared like a promo that went off the rails was actually a fully scripted segment with only minor variations according to Wrestling Observer (subscription required). What the WWE Universe saw was exactly what the WWE wanted the WWE Universe to see and both wrestlers did a tremendous job of blurring the lines and getting people talking. Their match at No Mercy is now a must-see event and that was the entire idea.
Having Cena jump all over Reigns serves a few purposes. First, some in the WWE Universe might actually feel sympathy for Reigns. As the future star of the WWE, the idea is to groom Reigns into the next John Cena. That said, the polarizing stature Cena has with the fans is not necessarily something WWE wants for Reigns as they build him into a huge star. If people who hate Cena start to side with Reigns, they make a Reigns a fan favorite again. If people side with Cena, the WWE can go full blown heel with Reigns character. Second, this teaches a valuable lesson to Reigns who is learning by being thrown into the fire with one of the best.
Dave Meltzer reported on his Wrestling Observer Radio show that the WWE was taking a calculated risk going this route. He said (transcribed by Cageside Seats), “This whole thing I mean it was all completely scripted, this was not John Cena and Roman Reigns shooting on each other or trying to have a verbal duel... I mean this thing was completely scripted by the writers, it's not something where you know they let the guys go... this was a great John Cena promo, but this was exactly what they wanted.”
If anything was off-the-cuff, it was the moment Cena urged Reigns to "find it", when referencing Reigns getting stuck on a couple of his talking points. The further reference to Reigns needing to learn how to do a promo if he wants to be "the man", was a Cena thing. It was touchy, but it kept with the flavor of telling Reigns he was bad at his job, so in a way, fair game.
At the end of the day, it's unclear as to what this will mean for Reigns, and how the fans respond. They'll either side with him out of their hatred for Cena or they'll be excited Cena finally said what everyone was thinking. Either way, both competitors made No Mercy a much better pay-per-view than it was going to be before these two went at each other.