There has been no character more divisive to the WWE audience, or any wrestling audience for that matter, in 2015 than Roman Reigns. The dissenters were already in place, albeit quietly, as the tide of opinion began to go against him for some time. One could notice the first noticeable signs of fan unrest occurring in the months following the break-up of The Shield, especially from late 2014 to early 2015, with the fans just waiting for their voices to erupt in full force against the notion that Reigns was in line for a monster push. It did not take long for that predicament to arise and when it did, it was nasty and brutal in the extreme.
The outright hostility all started at the Royal Rumble event. His Royal Rumble victory came as no real surprise considering he had in the previous year broken the record for most eliminations in a Royal Rumble match with 12, only to be the last man eliminated by a returning Batista. But the win was also greeted with unanimous vitriol, possibly even more so than Batista’s win, which is saying something. And that was with the endorsement of Reigns’ legendary cousin, The Rock, who was booed also. Judging by the universally negative reaction at the Wells Fargo Centre in the wrestling mad city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, you might well have been of the thought that Reigns was the WWE’s top villain, and not the heroic babyface he was portrayed as. It meant a very hard road ahead for Reigns and this is exactly how it would all pan out.
The reaction during his entrance at WrestleMania 31, before his main event match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against Brock Lesnar, was equally, if not more vicious than the Royal Rumble event, to the point where he had to be escorted by security for his characteristic walk through the crowd. Even so, he more than proved himself in the match, putting up a fantastic showing against a backdrop of hatred before ultimately falling short due to the genius move of Rollins cashing in his Money in the Bank contract while the match was in progress. It was rumoured that Reigns was supposed to win the title, but the plans were changed which was a smart move as it was far too soon in Reigns solo career to become the company’s top champion, and with the amount of scorn already upon him, it was also clever to not risk raising the fans ire even more.
Since that time, he has wisely been kept mostly away from the main event scene, presumably to provide him with a slower build in order to let his character grow in the hope of gaining, or more to the point, regaining goodwill from the fans. There is nothing really wrong with his in-ring ability and even his greatest detractors – and there remain many of them – have, albeit with great reluctance, been forced to concede that he has made massive strides to improve his in-ring performances to the point where he can put on consistently good matches – indeed it would be difficult to spot a bad match from him this year, even going so far as to get an excellent match out of a declining Big Show of all people, in a thrilling Last Man Standing match at Extreme Rules, far and away the best match at the pay-per-view.
Despite the disquiet over his push subsiding greatly, the fans have just not quite taken to him with the unanimity that Vince McMahon and the rest of creative would have hoped. It seems that whatever he does, it is never enough to please the fans. As we well know, fans can be most fickle at the best of times and will cheer for who they want, not who they are told to root for. And it is not his fault entirely. Being pushed heavily before he was really ready to justify such lofty expectations did nothing to help his cause, nor did WWE’s insistence on positioning Reigns as the next top babyface after John Cena, to whom there are similar parallels. The prime example comes from creative saddling him with the very same match formula used for Cena: taking a beating for the majority of the match (Reigns plays the victim much more convincingly by the way), only to come back at the end to pull off a miraculous victory, utilising his own “five moves of doom” moveset. Also rubbing people the wrong way, and this is something that Reigns badly needs to work on, his mic skills still feel forced and scripted, lacking the conviction much needed to come across as the threatening beast he should be. Longer promos especially have exposed his limitations, particularly the dodgy catchphrases – ‘sufferin succotash’, ripped straight out of Looney Tunes cartoons, being one of the lamest insults ever spoken – when using the ‘less is more’ approach, which worked perfectly when he was part of The Shield, is much better suited to his personality.
Since it is obvious that he will never get the fans 100% on his side at this stage of the game, a major shakeup must happen in the near future, ideally at the conclusion of the tournament for the now vacant WWE World Heavyweight Championship at the upcoming Survivor Series in a little over two weeks time. Turning Reigns heel at Survivor Series, rather than holding off to the next night on Raw, might be the smartest move to make. Attacking a fellow face, Dean Ambrose being the best and most logical option, then angrily ripping off his riot gear ring attire before launching himself in to a vicious and scathing promo lashing out at how the audiences are vultures for never being there for him when he needed them the most and chose to turn on him at the drop of a hat for only trying to please them, would be a step in the right direction to solidifying a villainous Reigns. It may be discovered in one fell swoop that he is more natural at cutting angry, cutting promos in short bursts as opposed to the cookie cutter babyface style he has been known for in the past year. To further emphasise the change of character the very next night on Raw, he should rid himself of the final remaining remnant from The Shield and come out with a brand new theme song. The changes will succeed in giving him a whole new direction, breathe fresh life into a relatively stale persona and get the people invested in him in a way that previously has not been altogether possible.
Roman Reigns as a fully fledged heel? To quote from the man himself: “Believe that!”