Yesterday, WWE lower-carder Titus O’Neil got a lot of attention from fans when he tweeted a photo of Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, himself and a few other wrestlers in Rome as they prepared for their latest European tour. While O’Neil has since deleted the photo, it’s nonetheless made the rounds, and the WWE Universe is seemingly divided as to whether Titus messed up or didn’t, given his outright violation of the time-honored tradition of kayfabe.
For those who aren’t aware of the term, kayfabe is wrestling jargon derived from the words “be fake” — it means babyface and heel characters, or onscreen heroes and villains, should pretend to hate each other while offscreen, selling any injuries they suffered in storyline and even refusing to break character in many an instance. For decades, any violation of this “golden rule” of kayfabe was seen as tantamount to heresy, but with wrestling fans now much “smarter” to the business than the fans of yesteryear, it isn’t unusual these days for wrestlers of different alignments to be seen acting like the best of friends while in public.
— Dylan Matthews (@DylanMatthews91) May 3, 2017
— wrestling_official2 (@chitreshkaushal) May 4, 2017
Looking at Titus O’Neil’s photo, it’s clear that such an image of sightseeing wrestlers would have caused outrage among purists had it been taken more than two decades ago. Aside from Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman, who play face and heel characters respectively, the photo also includes the villainous O’Neil and babyfaces Sami Zayn, Matt Hardy, and Curtis Axel. A second, less-circulated photo features Roman and Braun walking in single-file like a pair of unusually large tourists, with Reigns holding up his phone and taking pictures of his own.
Since the first image has gone viral despite Titus’ efforts to quickly delete it, fans have been criticizing the 40-year-old WWE veteran for sharing a photo that portrays bitter onscreen enemies like Strowman and Reigns as good friends in real life, not to mention looking relatively unharmed despite their storyline injuries. According to WWE’s website, Reigns “re-aggravated his injured ribs,” while Strowman suffered a torn rotator cuff following their match at the Payback pay-per-view on Sunday.
— Stephen (@totsky_stephen) May 4, 2017
— Joshua Salhoff (@sizzlinsalhoff) May 4, 2017
The WWE wishes Titus O'Neil the best in his future endeavors. https://t.co/Yzwe1DHKsF
— Binit Ghimire 2 (@iNetHeroBinit) May 4, 2017
The above tweets are just some of those that were sent Titus O’Neil’s way after he had posted the photograph in question, and all of them accuse him of breaking kayfabe by making it seem that two men who hate each other on television are cool with each other away from the cameras. Some have even been suggesting that WWE should fire Titus for this perceived transgression, or “wish (him) the best in (his) future endeavors.”
On the other hand, Sportskeeda believes that WWE might not be too happy with O’Neil sharing such a kayfabe-breaking image, but also noted that the rule of “any publicity is good publicity” still may apply, due to the passionate reactions many members of the WWE Universe had to the photo.
“Maintaining kayfabe is getting tougher by the day and Titus O’Neil did the WWE no favours by posting a photograph of the two on-screen rivals – Reigns and Strowman – all while the duo is in the midst of an extremely intense rivalry.
“Nevertheless, judging by the buzz the picture has created online, the Titus brand sure does know how to stir things up, and as they say – any publicity is good publicity. Never change Titus, never change!”
— smholla (@cthrilla9) May 4, 2017
@WWE___Ryan We ALL knooowww kayfabe has been dead for years since the internet has become big. I think it's pretty cool lol.
— ????ૐthornedbeautyૐ???? (@thornedbeauty) May 4, 2017
Similarly, there have been fans defending Titus O’Neil, suggesting that fans have long since known that pro wrestling is pre-determined “sports entertainment,” and that kayfabe is an archaic concept that essentially died out when WWE switched to more realistic characters and storylines in the mid-late ’90s.
Should O’Neil be punished for the Roman Reigns/Braun Strowman picture, it won’t be the first notable time he gets sanctioned for a rather unusual reason. Last year, Titus had been seen grabbing WWE Chairman Vince McMahon’s arm following Daniel Bryan’s retirement speech, to which McMahon reacted by angrily shoving him. According to Wrestling Inc., this earned Titus a 90-day suspension that was ultimately reduced to 60 days.
What are your thoughts on seeing Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman getting photographed as good friends despite their fierce rivalry on Monday Night RAW? Do you believe Titus O’Neil should be punished for insulting, or even “killing” the concept of kayfabe by sharing such a photo? Your voices are much-appreciated, so comment away if you’ve got something to say about this issue.
[Featured Image by WWE]