Looking At Roman Reigns’ Role As WWE Champion by Ron Pasceri

Roman Reigns is not a good guy. He’s not a bad guy. He’s THE guy. That is what WWE is trying to make us believe anyway. The saying goes that actions speak louder than words and WWE’s actions are speaking louder than the words they are making Reigns say on television. Sure he is the WWE World Heavyweight Champion and he won that championship in the main event at WrestleMania 32 over Triple H. Unfortunately, that storyline and that match were among the least compelling and least anticipated going into the biggest show in the history of the company. The end result was predictably the most poorly received match on the card as WWE had to actually manually eliminate crowd noise in hopes no one would know THE guy was being booed. For the record, they weren’t fooling anyone.

I know WWE wanted to avoid a repeat of the embarrassing ending of the 2015 Royal Rumble in Philadelphia. I know that ending has been talked about to death, but WWE has found ways to keep those feelings alive. After that debacle, WWE decided to put a hold on Roman as the champ, instead giving the belt to Seth Rollins. While Seth was busy carrying the show on his back, Roman was just kind of wandering through. Rollins would often get cheered as a heel, only to find ways to get the heat he was seeking. On the contrary, Reigns continued to get trotted out as John Cena 2.0, getting booed when he’s supposed to be cheered. This isn’t so much the fault of Reigns as it is on the writers. They put him in front of the crowd in a role that doesn’t suit him at almost every turn. Instead of continuing to be a man of action, like he was as the enforcer of The Shield, he was cutting wordy promos that only turned the crowd on him more. Aside from the fan reaction, I’m sure this wasn’t easy on him. I can’t imagine he believed in what he was being sent out there to do, which only causes more dissent from those watching.

While the disdain for Roman has been incredibly well documented for the past year and a half, there was a brief twist in this story. At TLC, after having been screwed once again, Reigns took out every ounce of his frustration on Triple H. I’m not sure why exactly in hindsight, possibly because it was the first time in months that Roman was portrayed as a man of action and doing something that actually made sense. Regardless, that night the crowd in Boston ate it up. The following night on Raw, in Philadelphia once again, less than a year after the infamous Rumble incident, Reigns had completed his turnaround in just 24 hours. No one would have believed it if you’d told them it would happen, but the crowd in Philly went nuts for Roman as he held the belt high in defiance of The Authority and Mr. McMahon. Roman acknowledged the change, WWE acknowledged the change and briefly, we the fans acknowledged the change. Somehow WWE managed to mess this up.

A combination of long, boring and repetitive promos, goofy jokes and a reliance on his friendship with Dean Ambrose led to the fans turning on Reigns once again. Not only did the fans turn, but it was probably even worse than before. The crowd was never pro-Reigns at the 2015 Royal Rumble, but you can point to specific things that led to Roman and The Rock being booed. Mostly it was the unceremonious elimination of Daniel Bryan and the feeling of inevitability of Roman’s victory. In Orlando, it was just hate from start to finish. He was booed mercilessly when he entered the ring as the first entrant. He was booed as he took an ill advised break from the match. He was booed even more when he ran back in toward the end of the match. Even worse, Triple H was cheered like a hero when he sent Roman over the top rope. Over the next few months, WrestleMania season saw Dean Ambrose rise into the WWE World Heavyweight Championship picture. Many believed this would lead to a heel turn for one of the two, but instead it lead to Reigns beating Ambrose and securing a spot in the WrestleMania main event for the second consecutive year.

Despite a change in character in the final weeks leading up to WrestleMania, the fans had made up their mind. They were not going to get behind Roman no matter what. Gone were the long promos, the forced appearances with Ambrose, and the silliness. He was acting like the badass he is supposed to be. He hunted Triple H down every week on Raw. When he spoke he stuck to the bare minimum that needed to be said, but it was too little too late. That brings us to now, a WWE Universe where Roman Reigns is the champion. A WWE Universe where he isn’t hanging around with Dean Ambrose. A WWE Universe where he doesn’t care if we like him or not, because that isn’t what matters to him. All that matters is that he is at the top of the WWE heap. That makes him a little more compelling and a little more believable. While those are good things, he isn’t doing anything memorable or impactful. I honestly feel almost as if he’s barely been on Raw since he became the champion. He’s had just one match on Raw since WrestleMania, when he tagged with Bray Wyatt and was overshadowed by Bray. He’s had a few promos where he started his “THE guy” catchphrase. But that has really been it.

Last week he was relegated to the middle hour of the show. He was attacked by Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. He confronted AJ Styles backstage, saying he can bring all his friends if he wants because it’s one versus all. Then he was gone. WWE anointed Roman Reigns as THE guy, but he has been consistently in the background behind guys like AJ Styles, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose and even Chris Jericho. Part of this is part of the story of Shane McMahon’s control over Raw. Shane has acted as the voice of the vocal fans, giving that group the performers they want to see. Roman Reigns is clearly not among the performers the fans are clamoring for. Even still, it seems odd that the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, the hand picked guy has been almost an afterthought. Even his match at Payback with AJ Styles seems centered mostly on the idea of the Bullet Club. Will they help Styles? Will Finn Balor join them? Will they cost AJ the match? It almost doesn’t even matter that it is a championship match and it seems to matter even less that it is a match against Reigns.

The one part of this that makes some sense to me is that WWE may have finally realized they were doing Roman no favors. I know fans love to think WWE doesn’t listen to us, but in the three weeks since WrestleMania they’ve delivered a show that seems much more to our liking. WWE may be putting Reigns on the back burner and used some slight of hand in the form of Sami Zayn and AJ Styles to make us forget that they jammed Roman down our throats for most of the last two years. They may even do something cool like have the Bullet Club become the Roman Empire. I don’t know if the steps WWE is taking is to increase fan enjoyment, if it is just a plot device for Shane McMahon’s temporary role or if it is ultimately a total change in direction that will lead to the much anticipated end of The Authority.

It may also be none of those things. It may be nothing more than a plan to re-brand Roman Reigns into something WWE thinks the fans can get behind. Roman isn’t Dolph Ziggler or Wade Barrett. He isn’t a talent WWE is ever going to give up on. They see him as the next huge draw both in North America and internationally. I know many WWE fans have been suffering from John Cena fatigue for years and the idea of the second coming is hard to deal with.

Despite Seth Rollins’ claims that he is the future, the foreseeable future of WWE remains Roman Reigns. No matter how much any of us may not want to, we have no choice but to believe THAT.

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