It can be argued that RAW’s current Heavyweight title scene is the best wrestling has seen in quite some time and frankly, there are multiple reasons for that. Firstly, Braun Strowman has been a complete revelation in 2017, quickly emerging as one of the roster’s most consistently popular and dynamic performers. Elsewhere, Samoa Joe’s recent form has been nothing short of spectacular as his promo work has elevated to him to the absolute top of the card. There’s also Brock Lesnar, of course--the beast that brings a level of spectacle and grandeur unparalleled in the entire industry. Oh, and then there’s Roman Reigns.
I think it’s fair to say that amongst wrestling’s most ardent fans, Reigns has been the least discussed of this group with many almost begrudgingly accepting Reigns’ position at the top of the card. For years people have lambasted and critiqued the chosen methods of Reigns’ persistent push. Many felt and still feel that Reigns has been ‘forced down their throats’ as the chosen top guy from day one. This argument is nothing new and probably has some merit as well as some holes but that’s not I want to discuss here. Instead, I want to discuss the performer himself as well as the path his character currently walks on.
Most wrestling promoters throughout history would see big money in Roman Reigns and as has been very apparent over the last few years, Vince McMahon is no different to them. It’s obvious that the company wants him as one of the key players and with that information obvious, let’s consider his performances since then. Firstly it should be noted that from the very start of his main roster run, Reigns has delivered in the ring. As a trio, The Shield were absolute dynamite bell to bell and as a team, Rollins and Reigns consistently had spectacular tag team matches against a variety of opponents.
The narrative at that time, of course, was that Rollins was the real key to the high match quality but regardless of how valid that analysis was or wasn't, I think it’s interesting to note that even back then, Reigns’ matches were very good on a regular basis. Regardless, it wasn't too long until Reigns singles ascension began and no matter how you feel about that decision, it can’t even be argued that Reigns continued to deliver bell to bell, constantly rising to the big occasions he was positioned in. On his road to the WrestleMania main event, Reigns received a lot of boos but that didn't stop him from having standout singles matches with Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan.
Now I’m not going to play dumb here, I understand why some people booed Reigns. Other performers had captured the audience in the time that Reigns missed due to injury in 2014 and people somewhat understandably rebelled against his Rumble win for that reason. We all know this story and it’s been told a thousand times but one aspect that’s often forgotten in my mind is what Reigns did with that lucrative WrestleMania main event spot. Paired with the box-office Brock Lesnar, Reigns performed incredibly as he and the champion put on a tremendous display that consisted of real drama, gripping storytelling, and immense physicality.
Reigns’ moment wouldn't come that night with Rollins instead cashing in but he certainly proved himself as an absolute top tier player anyway, even if he was perhaps miscast as a character. In hindsight 2015 would be a pivotal year in Reigns’ career as he cemented his place as a guy that can be trusted to deliver against a range of opponents. Whether it was Bray Wyatt, Cesaro, Sheamus or even the Big Show, Reigns stepped through the ropes and delivered. People can discredit this aspect all they want but the truth is, to be a top guy you need that quality and it’s one of Reigns’ absolute best skills.
As he headed into another WrestleMania event, the negative response for Reigns only continued and it’s fair to say that his eventual main event match with Triple H didn't go great all things considered. I understand the desire to have your ideal match on the grandest stage but after a long show like WrestleMania 32, a slow paced 30-minute main event just isn’t ideal. It was fine but just not particularly representative of what Reigns can really do. The following night Reigns’ career would shift regardless though as he uttered those oh so famous words:
“I’m not a bad guy, I’m not a good guy, I’m the guy” – Roman Reigns.
This new attitude followed Reigns into his critically acclaimed feud with AJ Styles. Fighting AJ and his mischievous friends Gallows and Anderson, Reigns wasn't looking to pander or be overly respectful and had no problem getting nasty and vicious because frankly, he didn't trust Styles and why should he? This wasn't some white-meat babyface, this was a man on his own path, a new path. By the way, that Styles feud would involve two excellent matches, both of which Reigns received minimal credit for even though he’d already proven himself as a great worker in the eighteen months prior. Nonetheless, I digress.
A Wellness Program violation would halt Reigns’ surging momentum and he’d float around a little after returning before entering an admittedly forgettable feud with Rusev (machka). The matches were still solid though and Reigns would soon be matched with the best friend duo of Jeri-KO in a program that, while not exactly riveting as a story, delivered some very fun in-ring showings. En route to retiring The Undertaker at WrestleMania, Reigns would meet his greatest foe: ‘The Monster Among Men’ Braun Strowman. The pair rocked it at Fastlane but in hindsight, that was only just the start and their matches since have created a truly special dynamic unique in the current product.
Reigns and Strowman have made a habit out of absolutely battering each other. On PPV, on RAW, in an Ambulance Match, a Last Man Standing Match, all of the above. No clear good vs. evil narrative, just two destroyers…destroying each other. Reigns has taken his experience at the top of the card and used it to help Strowman exponentially in a way that will probably only be appreciated years down the line. That’s how special this feud has been and how important of a role Reigns has played in developing a talent with the potential to be an all-time great superstar in this business. Is that hyperbole? Compare the Strowman of today to the same man just a year ago, he’s that good and Roman is genuinely a big part of why.
Believe it or not, there are fans out there that will point to Reigns’ ‘limited move-set’ in order to explain his supposed lack of in-ring skill. You know what makes Roman a great worker? The same things that make all the other greats so special. It’s not their moves or flashy sequences. It’s their ability to connect with people one way or another. The ability to sell so sublimely that every little moment matters. Of all the talents that we see every week, Reigns is one of the few that brings a genuine big fight feel and true emotion to the ring with him. Do you really think that’s a coincidence? “Bringing the big fight” isn’t just a catchphrase folks.
So what was the point of all this? Well, I guess at its core, this is my argument that in reality, Vince and co are correct and that they’ve actually chosen the right guy. You absolutely don’t have to like that but at the very least try to understand it. Look at this man’s track record over the last three years. Look at how he’s thrived under the brightest lights and the biggest scrutiny. From my vantage point, it’s simple: Roman Reigns is THE GUY to lead this roster into a ‘new era’. Why? Because when that music hits you'll see a superstar, you’ll see you'll see a great performer and you’ll see a man that simply put, delivers. Whether or not you see a hero or a villain? Well, I guess that's entirely up to you.