The Return of Roman Reigns: A Big Boost to WWE Smackdown’s Universal Title Picture – by Mike Sanchez

The Big Dog is back. Yes, after many months, Roman Reigns has returned to WWE. For those of you who aren’t aware, the ending of SummerSlam saw “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt topple Braun Strowman to become WWE Universal Champion once more. Once the bell had rung to end the match, Reigns appeared from ringside to spear, then beatdown the Fiend before turning his attention to Strowman. Both men had already been through a tough match, but Reigns didn’t care. He whooped them good and the show ended with Reigns holding aloft a title that he never had a chance to compete for. If you’ll recall, Reigns was scheduled to face Goldberg at Wrestlemania for the belt prior to the pandemic but pulled out due to health concerns.

Happily, it now appears that Reigns is good to go and be part of the main roster once more. Personally I don’t think the pandemic is over, but it’s his choice I suppose. Within a day, WWE announced that Reigns would get his long-awaited title shot at Payback this Sunday, a match I fully expect him to win, when he takes part in a triple threat against Strowman and The Fiend. Reigns may have his detractors, but there is no doubt that WWE and many fans see him as a very important player. He is a credible, believable champion and a face to carry the company forward. That is something Smackdown has been lacking when it comes to the top men’s title.

I’ve said this before, but the Universal and Heavyweight Title runs from Drew McIntyre and Braun Strowman have been chalk & cheese – two totally different contrasts. McIntyre has taken every opportunity to get the gold on TV and has taken on all comers in his quest to hold the title for as long as possible. His whole demeanour and aura changed after Wrestlemania and he became a proud, fighting champion. His run has been successful, and he’s managed to keep the Universal title in the spotlight and relevant. Call it good booking, more opportunity or whatever, but Drew’s run has been a positive in trying times.

Contrast that to the run of Braun Strowman. See, this is where I find it confusing. If you would have asked me who would struggle more between McIntyre and Strowman after Wrestlemania, I’d have picked Drew every time. Strowman shares qualities with Brock Lesnar in that he’s big, strong, intimidating, extremely tough to beat and can dominate opponents from start to finish. He may not have the same aura as Lesnar, but he should be a dominant champion. For whatever reason, it just didn’t happen. I don’t blame Strowman for that, more the booking office for not giving him credible opponents or anyone really to challenge his dominance. On Raw, McIntyre has defended his title against Big Show, Seth Rollins, Bobby Lashley, Dolph Ziggler and Randy Orton. Strowman has had two successful defenses of his title, once against The Fiend and the other against the duo of Miz & Morrison.

I think this highlights the need for Roman Reigns to be back, and more importantly, on Friday Night Smackdown. The top of the card on the men’s side lacks star power, and Reigns will hopefully bring that back. The Fiend is an interesting character but has had little interaction with anyone outside of Strowman recently. Their feud has almost eclipsed the need for a title to be on the line as it is so personal. This has happened on occasion before when the feud is more interesting than the title, and if this happens, I believe the gold should be moved on to allow two stories to grow rather than focus on one. For example, the current Seth Rollins vs. Rey/Dominik Mysterio feud doesn’t need titles to be interesting, the added bonus being that it keeps Rollins out of the title picture, allowing Drew McIntyre to blossom.

Roman Reigns needs to be the WWE Universal Champion purely to elevate the title on TV, have it on screen more and be involved in feuds to make the belt more high profile, much like Raw. For Strowman and the Fiend, I think they may have to take a step back for a while. Strowman’s title run (and I’ll admit I really wanted him to have one last year), has been disappointing to say the least. It just didn’t click for him and hopefully some time out of the title picture and a focus on turning heel (?) may allow his character to go in a different direction and appear fresh. Reigns may go on to feud with The Fiend, but I think that will be short-lived before the inevitable shakeup of superstars happens between the brands. Reigns may be a popular and credible champion, but WWE must ensure they don’t make the same mistake they did with Strowman and allow a variety of opponents to feud with Reigns until things return to some sort of normality.

For Reigns himself, I don’t think he needs to make drastic changes to his character to do this. Some internet commentators were saying he’d turned heel, judging by his actions at SummerSlam, but I doubt that is the case. A heel Roman Reigns is not what Smackdown needs right now. If Strowman has turned, plus you have AJ Styles, Sheamus, Miz and Morrison who are all heels right now. That’s too top heavy.

Reigns may have made tweaks to his approach in that he’s more of a badass. This is what could work in his favour. The ‘Tweener’ is a term usually heard in wrestling but notoriously difficult to pull off. The delicate blend of heel and babyface that a lot of fans respond well to. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was the master of this gimmick, but it also worked well for The Rock, Shawn Michaels, Triple H and others. It may be the path Roman Reigns wants to pursue in the coming months.

In closing, I’d like to say that even though this time in wrestling will sadly be forever remembered as the ‘Pandemic Era’, there have been some positives to take from it. For all their faults, WWE has insisted on providing us with entertainment. They’ve evolved, grown and put out a product that is still entertaining when it all works. SummerSlam was a prime example of this.

I’m happy to see Roman Reigns return and make no apologies for being a staunch supporter of his. I’m glad he feels it’s safe enough to return and wish he has the opportunity to stay for a long time.