The Hot Tag w/Steve Russell: Uninspired? How Roode.

On the 400th episode of NXT, Bobby Roode successfully defended his championship title against a game Roderick Strong. It was during this match that my opinion on Roode became resolute; all my thoughts over many years, different promotions and title runs crystallising as I witnessed him retain the gold.

A question, however, formed: does Roode deserve his current standing, or is he simply riding the popularity of a theme song intended for someone else?

I, like most, have been familiar with Bobby Roode for quite a while. I enjoyed his work in TNA during the Team Canada days (yes, I go that far back with TNA), followed him through his Beer Money iteration, though, to be candid, I wasn’t watching the product during arguably his most formative years when he went solo and evolved into the IT Factor, Bobby Roode – that whole Sting/Jeff Hardy debacle of Victory Road ensured that I fell away from the product, and despite checking in every now and then, nothing has grabbed my attention and convinced me to reintroduce TNA into my weekly wrestling watch list.

Roode has always been a fantastic team player. Whether it was the muscle for Team Canada, essentially the Arn Anderson enforcer role, or the beginning of his more arrogant streak, taking unabashed influence and inspiration from The Million Dollar Man, Flair, and JBL gimmicks as he suddenly became flushed with cash, Roode has always fit well within a stable. Arguably, he always stood out within an ensemble, so it’s only natural for people to have singled him out for big things in the future.

The IT Factor, Bobby Roode.He eventually found success within TNA as a singles competitor, becoming their Heavyweight champion on two occasions whilst under the IT Factor gimmick, though it’s telling that during his time there, he always seemed to only be a step or two away from another tag run, normally with a tag title reign in tow.

Since moving over to the WWE and, specifically, its NXT brand, it feels as though Roode has yet to live up to the potential that his previous iterations and TNA singles run provided. His recent feuds with Roderick Strong and, crucially, the mega-star that is Shinsuke Nakamura have both failed to deliver in the way the storyline reads on paper.

Perhaps it’s two competitors simply not gelling. Like life, sometimes people just don’t get on, and in the ring, sometimes people just don’t click. But when you start to run the list of the people Roode has faced in NXT, let alone his long-term programs, the issues become apparent.

Making his appearance debut at NXT TakeOver: Dallas (which your humble Hot Tag columnist was in attendance for), people were clearly excited to see Bobby Roode. Hell, I was excited to see him. I had heard about the IT Factor run, had watched the odd match with him featured, so I was familiar with his continued work, and now he was here in the WWE, fans were anxious to see what he would bring to the ring.

What followed were minor feuds with Andrade Almas and Tye Dillinger; mid-card affairs, at best, that did little to establish Roode as a main event player. Worse, he wasn’t able to provide any sort of rub for his opponents, causing their matches to be serviceable affairs that ultimately led to little and thus meant nothing. The lack of narrative progression and character depth began to pale in contrast to the overt, undeniable popularity of his ‘Glorious’ theme song.

Then came Shinsuke.

The Nakamura feud was a defining moment in Roode’s WWE career. A chance to wrestle an internationally proven commodity that had arrived with a mighty cavalcade of hype and hyperbole – all of which Nakamura managed to live up to in those first few months.

This was Roode’s chance to break away from the mould that had previously shaped him and propel himself forward as a high-level WWE Superstar. The only problem is that, like with the most recent outing with Strong, the reality didn’t quite meet the expectation.

Roode isn’t a bad talent. He’s not a mediocre talent. He brings a wonderfully old-school aesthetic to the table; heel work that modern day audiences, especially those that tend to fill Full Sail University, can appreciate. They, once children who bought into the product hook, line, and sinker, are now the same fans, marks, and smarks that delight in the old-school, throwback mentality of Roode’s overt, in-your-face heel.

Spinning slowly on a pedestal, permitting the audience to bask in his aura before breaking the spell in perfect time to the music, his entrance is exactly what it attains to be: glorious. It’s perfect characterisation.

Roode’s wrestling style reflects this character mentality. It’s slow. Methodical. He doesn’t rush for anyone, let alone the audience. He does it for himself. And when he sees an opportunity present itself to him, he grabs it. In this day and age of flips, speedy sequences, and…dives…well, it’s almost a culture shock to watch a wrestler slow it down the way he does. It can often lead to a match that some might find difficult to get into.

Despite a solid series of matches with Nakamura – gifting him his first clean loss before Shinsuke then departed for the main roster – and a convincing feud with Roderick Strong, his recent feuds have suffered due to a lack of character progression in relation to greater story depth.

Roode vs Strong

Roode is an interesting character to analyse, as he seems to have embraced an accidental niche that has helped to propel him out of the tag/stable sphere he used to inhabit. The reaction his entrance garners has put him on the map in a way that any other theme would be incapable of replicating.

So is his popularity, his championship reign, attributed then to fortuitous timing and circumstance – his theme music having originally been intended for someone else? Is his purposeful style and amalgamation of old-school heel characteristics just not captivating enough for an audience that now, generally speaking, demand more from wrestling as a story, as a product?

His tenure at NXT has been underwhelming so far, despite good showings and solid matches. But with the years ticking by and time, cruelly, never slowing down, does Roode’s tenure in the WWE amount to an NXT title run and a series of lukewarm feuds?

Nobody wants their contribution to be remembered as serviceable; adequate; moderate. They want their legacy to be Glorious.

–  Steve R // @stevetendo

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