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REQUESTING FLYBY: The Definitive Roman Reigns Column (Part 2)
By Maverick
May 25, 2016 - 4:16:27 PM

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The Definitive Roman Reigns Column (Part 2)

Last time around in this column (see The Definitive Roman Reigns Column: Part One), we looked at Reigns’ progress with The Shield, and his rise to prominence as the badass, name taking spear machine. Having turned heads, it seemed only a matter of time before he flew the nest, so to speak. The way it all played out was stranger than anyone could’ve imagined…

January 2014- The Shield tensions continue, with CM Punk trying to create deep fissures within the group. At the Royal Rumble, Roman Reigns eliminates a record 12 competitors, including his buddies Rollins and Ambrose, who were squabbling when Roman dumped them over the top. In the final two, in the wake of Daniel Bryan’s non appearance and the fans rejecting the idea of a Batista vs Orton main event in New Orleans, Reigns is cheered vociferously by the Pittsburgh crowd. Revisionist history has painted this as only an “Anyone but Bats” type of deal, but as previously asserted in part one of this column, Reigns had been popular for a long time by the point where this incident happened. Although we cannot ignore the importance of the fan rebellion regarding Bryan, Reigns was certainly cheered only because Batista stood on the other side of the ring. The receptions Roman got on the Raws following the Rumble should be proof of that.

February 2014- The kayfabe infighting between Ambrose and Reigns continues to undermine the Shield, a storyline which culminates in the Wyatt Family interfering in a six man which would have seen all three Shield members enter the Elimination Chamber, had they won. In the face of this new threat, Seth Rollins brokers peace in the stable, and they go on united to face Bray and his cronies at the pay-per-view. In an instant classic which had the audience chanting “this is awesome” during the pre match staredown, Ambrose disappears into the crowd not to return and Rollins goes through a table, leaving Reigns to face three on one odds. Although his efforts are doomed to failure, the moment where he powers out of Sister Abigail elicits the pop of the night. The next night, Reigns and Wyatt face off in singles action and the fans are eating out of the Big Dog’s hands in another chaotic encounter which sees Dean Ambrose return to save his brothers. A second six man between The Shield and the Wyatt Family follows a week later, and although they lose again, the group are once again united in kayfabe. Backstage, the three men ask to remain together for a babyface run and are granted their wish.

March to May 2014- At Wrestlemania XXX, The Shield dismantle Kane and The New Age Outlaws in three minutes. On the post-Wrestlemania Raw, they launch themselves headlong into a feud with a reformed Evolution. The results are spectacular and all three Hounds greatly benefit from the rub given them by the veteran. Reigns is the man to pin Batista in the first match at Extreme Rules after Rollins and Ambrose fight Triple H and Randy Orton all the way into the stands. In the second match, The Game singles Reigns out for special punishment, putting him through a table and having him whipped with kendo sticks until his back is raw. Nevertheless, the Hounds win a decisive 3-0 elimination victory that puts them into the automatic headliner territory they richly deserve for their efforts over the past 18 months.

June 2014- Seth Rollins shocks the world by turning on his brothers with a vicious chair led assault to reveal himself as Triple H’s “Plan B”. This is where the first missteps in Reigns’ so far excellently plotted career occur. While Dean Ambrose froths at the mouth to avenge himself on the Architect, Roman Reigns wins a battle royal to win a place in the ladder match for the vacant WWE Championship. While Dean and Seth change gear, music and even in ring style to a degree, Reigns retains the identity of the Shield, with the theme and the combat gear. This is a horrible mistake on creative’s part.

July 2014- Reigns calmly targets the WWE Championship fatal fourway at Battleground by drugging Stephanie McMahon’s drink and sneaking into qualification. This deeply jarring piece of character writing immediately sets him further on the wrong foot from a singles career point of view. During that match, although he fails to win, the crowd is very much behind his efforts, though I won't deny that part of that was the virulent anti Cena sentiment running through that title run.

August 2014- A feud with Randy Orton based on the leftover tension from the Evolution vs Shield rivalry falls flat aside from one epic beatdown by The Viper. Their match at Summerslam and the subsequent Raw rema atch are also fairly tepid. While popular narrative has seen this as a consequence of Reigns being too green, I have always thought the agent in charge of the match and Orton should've known not to work a methodical match when Roman had always specialised in explosive brawls. Around this time, rumours surface that WWE intend to push Reigns hard over the next six months with a view to turning him into Cena’s successor. The booking seems to support this, with the third generation star winning a lot of semi squashes against lower tier midcarders. Fan opinion begins to decisively shift around this point. I won't deny that, at this point, barrages of Superman punches make Roman TV matches a tough watch. In his defence, I can only assume that the higher ups had instructed the agents to guide Roman towards a more “Cena esque” style of working.

September 2014- Seth Rollins curb stomps Dean Ambrose through a pile of cinder blocks, writing him off television. During a gloating “funeral oration” the next week, Reigns invades the segment and finally takes issue with Rollins’ betrayal, with an element of avenging Dean as well as the initial betrayal from June. After three months of treading water and being badly mishandled, Reigns is finally in a position to succeed as an organic singles performer. Sadly, well never know how things might have gone had the Rollins vs Reigns feud happened, as a hernia forced Roman to pull out of Night of Champions.

December 2014- Reigns resurfaces at TLC, attacking Big Show. The crowd pop for this, but in being booked against Show and Kane, it becomes obvious that they are being set up as giant enhancement talent for him to knock down. Even worse, around this time, Vince McMahon allegedly took personal responsibility for writing Roman Reigns’ promos, and horrific they are too...Jack and the Beanstalk references? People are right to critique these, and it is true that Reigns could not deliver them effectively, though I do question whether anybody could've done. Nevertheless, huge damage was done. Fans were turning against him in droves, fearing what might lie ahead.

January 2015- The sense of unease around Reigns explodes into an atomic bomb of controversy as a terribly booked and performed Royal Rumble ends in a depressing and cynical “next guy” victory for the former Shield man. After the previous year with Batista, WWE should have known what a bad idea this was; after the Shield breakup going the way it did and after the injury lay off, Reigns just did not have the momentum to do what WWE wanted him to do. Even if he had, the return of Daniel Bryan, and the fact he was entered into the match officially having not been in it the year before so controversially, meant that anyone else who won was going to get a lot of grief. Stupidly, Bryan was eliminated early, and that was that. The fans rejected the match, and Reigns with it. The cynical use of the Rock to clear the ring of Show and Kane made matters worse still, and at the conclusion of the match, just as fans had cheered on Reigns in 2014, they now cheered on Rusev...because he wasn't Reigns. Fans epically reject his victory. The next night, Raw is snowed off, and an impressive face to face interview with Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman repairs some of the damage. But WWE are soon up to their tricks again.

February 2015- Daniel Bryan is booked in a “title shot on the line” match with Reigns, due to the fact that he never actually lost the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Inevitably, it's presented as a face vs face match, though both men do some heelish things in the build up. Although the crowd at Fast Lane leans towards Bryan, it is certainly not universally so. Reigns also blows doubts about his wrestling ability out of the water by wrestling an instant classic with The American Dragon. Bryan shakes his hand and tells him to kick Lesnar’s ass.

March 2015- The Wrestlemania title feud with Brock Lesnar resumes, but is a tepid affair, harmed by the seeming inevitability of the outcome and the part time nature of the champion (Heyman had to do an awful lot of water carrying). However, just a few days before the big dance, Brock Lesnar shockingly re-upped with the company rather than go back to MMA, throwing the result of the Wrestlemania XXXI main event into doubt. As he enters the lion’s den, Reigns gets a hostile reaction from the Santa Clara crowd, but as an intense, gladiatorial spectacle unfolds he wins their respect, and by the time Seth Rollins’ amazing cash in occurs, he has them eating out of the palm of his hand. Ultimately, the correct decision was made in not putting the title on Roman at that point, and WWE seemingly had a chance to start again with the experiment and not make so many errors. But, of course, this is WWE we’re talking about.

To me, the second year of Reigns’ time on the main roster was marked by extreme promise and frustrating creative idiocies that helped create the current hostile climate. Key mistakes were made with his character: his level headed response to Rollins betraying he and Ambrose and a heavy handed, obvious Rumble push after his injury lay off chief among them. Putting him in in ring talking segments that didn’t suit his skill set and booking “Super Reigns” type TV matches hardly helped, either. Still, after the Bryan match and the Lesnar match, good will was returning amidst the internet, or adult male, fanbase. The opportunity was there to rebuild him. This would become a common theme with The Big Dog post-June 2014: popular rejection, followed by redemption, followed by a WWE inability to follow up on his progress. And that’s where we’ll pick things up next time.