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Sport and Outdoors

This weekend WWE will face its toughest opponent: The wrestling audience

Professional wrestling is often criticised for being fake, but this ongoing fan rebellion shows how things can sometimes not go to plan in a predetermined sport.

You're probably familiar with names like Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and John Cena, even if you're not a wrestling fan. For the past two years, WWE has been moving heaven and earth to get their next big star, Roman Reigns, to that level of recognition.

Professional wrestling isn't built on predetermined wins and losses. As with TV and film, it's built on storylines designed to get the audience emotionally invested in the show's heroes and villains, and right now the biggest story in WWE is all about establishing Roman Reigns as the top babyface, the protagonist who will be the face of the company for -- if WWE has its way -- the next decade.

The culmination of this effort will come on April 3 at WWE's biggest show of the year, WrestleMania. Reigns will be contending for the WWE World Heavyweight title in front of a projected 100,000 people at Dallas' AT&T stadium, against legendary current champion (and real-life Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative) Triple H. It's expected that he'll topple the villainous H and become champ, with the hope being that his victory will propel him to superstardom.

A fine plan on paper, but there's one problem -- WWE tried the same thing at last year's WrestleMania and the fans revolted. They booed Reigns in arena after arena, so much so that it's reported (behind a paywall) that WWE CEO Vince McMahon had to make drastic last-minute storyline changes.

The WWE has spent the last year trying to get the audience to embrace Reigns, but despite being positioned as the sympathetic main character, he's just not clicking. At least not with the hardcore WWE fans.

Roman Reigns, who WWE hopes is its next huge star.

WWE

This brings us to Saturday night's Roadblock, which will be streamed online live from Toronto, Canada on the WWE Network, starting at 5 p.m/8 p.m. ET (that's Sunday 1 a.m. UK and 12 noon AEST).

Most of WWE's big monthly events are available on pay-per-view, but not Roadblock. This one is exclusive to the WWE Network, the company's Netflix-like streaming service, which will set you back $9.99 a month. As with many subscription services, you'll get your first month of the Network for free -- that means if you order now you'll get both Roadblock and WrestleMania for no cost. Outside of new monthly special events, the services also offers every WWE pay-per-view ever as well as a huge catalog of vintage wrestling matches.

Saturday Night's Main Event

Roadblock is the last big show before next month's WrestleMania. The headlining match on the show will see Triple H take on Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns' on-screen best friend, for the championship. In theory, this is a warm-up match for Triple H.

Unfortunately for the company, the same fans that rejected Reigns love Ambrose.

Ambrose hasn't been positioned in the plot like a top star; he's been written more like a supporting player than a leading man. Meanwhile, Reigns is made to look like the ultimate underdog in the storylines, forced (and routinely able) to overcome increasingly insurmountable odds.

Many fans are aware that this isn't the case -- that Ambrose, as a physically smaller performer in a land where giants are preferred, is the true dark horse, both on camera and behind the scenes.

"Roman is certainly not the best all-around wrestler in the company," says The Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer, revered wrestling journalist and historian. "I think the people know that he's getting it [opportunities] because he's a good looking guy and a lot of the fans are resentful of that."

Who would you rather cheer for? The WWE thinks it's the guy on the left.

WWE

Still, Reigns has his supporters. He gets cheered at un-televised live events (generally taking place outside of the storyline), and last November Reigns was the second biggest merchandise seller in the company, according to the (paywalled) Wrestling Observer, likely thanks to his popularity with younger fans. But the more vocal, hardcore crowds that come to televised events boo him mercilessly. They say that McMahon is out of touch for refusing to see that the audience as a whole just won't accept Reigns.

"I think it's the puppet vs. the puppeteer," said Meltzer. "I think Vince McMahon wants to be the puppeteer and not the puppet...if they [the WWE] feel they're not one step ahead of the audience, there's a superiority feeling that goes away."

Odds are that Triple H will win at Roadblock and go on to battle Reigns at AT&T Stadium. Most fans also assume this, but that won't stop them from voicing their displeasure with an Ambrose loss. That displeasure, more than likely, will be directed squarely at Reigns.

Dean Ambrose takes on Triple H at Roadblock, but the real battle here is between WWE and its audience.

WWE

In the WWE though, nothing happens until it happens. McMahon, despite sometimes being fixated on a goal, has had a day-of change of heart in the past and may very well again.

"[Vince] may, nine days out, go, 'well, it's not going to work,' and then he may reverse everything," Meltzer said, explaining that's exactly what happened at last year's WrestleMania. In a match between Reigns and human destruction machine Brock Lesnar, a third competitor, Seth Rollins, was injected into the match last minute. Rollins, not Reigns, came away the victor.

With the title up for grabs on Saturday, it's possible -- though improbable -- that the fans have once again had their way, and Roman will miss out on another championship victory.

Roadblock's main event is a battle between fans and the WWE. If the company doesn't give them what they want, the audience will fight back at WrestleMania. That massive event may be pencilled in as Roman Reigns' crowning moment, but it may also be one drowned out by the sounds of 100,000 boos.