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REQUESTING FLYBY: The Definitive Roman Reigns Column (Part 3)
By Maverick
Jun 12, 2016 - 6:28:09 PM

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The Definitive Roman Reigns Column (Part 3)

Last time around, we talked about how Roman Reigns’ ill advised push to the Royal Rumble win and the subsequent fall out showed that he was not ready for the position WWE wished to place him in, not least because his popularity had taken a nosedive from the heights it had reached in The Shield. WWE seemingly had the perfect platform to rebuild and remodel the Roman Reigns experience, channeling what he was good at (fast paced, intense matches) and minimising what he was not good at (lengthy in ring promos). As we shall see, Roman Reigns in 2015 was very much a mixed bag, whilst 2016 has been nothing short of bizarre. One constant remained though...more often than not, the man delivers in the ring.

April 2015- While Seth Rollins, the man who “stole” Roman’s title opportunity away from him, deals with Randy Orton, Reigns finishes his pre-Wrestlemania business with The Big Show in a Last Man Standing Match of surprising quality. In fact, most scribes saw it as match of the night. Even the notorious Rosemont crowd get behind the effort.

May 2015- A fatal fourway is booked for the title between the three former Shield men and Randy Orton. In an excellent example of the genre, the undoubted high point is the moment where The Shield briefly reunite to powerbomb Randy Orton through the announce table, before Dean and Roman turn on, and pummel, the champion. Shortly afterwards, Reigns shows some comfort inside his own skin by making a “loser buys the beers” bet with Ambrose. In the final analysis though, Rollins sneaks a victory, and Reigns ultimately ends up taking a backseat to The Lunatic Fringe, who proceeds to pursue Seth and his title with great vigour. By the way, for anybody thinking that Roman “wins too much”, his pay-per-view record at this point in 2015 was 3 and 2.

June 2015- In the Money in the Bank ladder match, The Big Dog seems poised to take the briefcase, but the sudden appearance of Bray Wyatt ends his hopes. Wyatt’s justification is “anyone but you, Roman”, a line which would define his summer, and which cleverly played on the fan reaction following the Royal Rumble. Reigns would find it extremely hard to even get his hands on the mysterious Wyatt, who continually left cryptic notes and a creepy shrine to his hatred for the former Shield man. Most writers agreed that this was the exact feud needed to finally rid Reigns of his doubters.

July 2015- The first pay-per-view match between Wyatt and Reigns at Battleground is a critical success, a vicious back and forth war which only ends when Luke Harper ambushes Roman to allow Bray to gain the victory. The Wyatt Family reunite and thus Reigns is forced to call on his brother, Dean Ambrose, for back up. This is an interesting twist on the feud as it breaks with the typical WWE cycle of match one, match two, match three…

August 2015- At Summerslam, the team of Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns- a neo Two Dudes With Attitudes if you like- defeat Harper and Wyatt with the trademark teamwork which marked their tenures in The Shield. The popularity of Ambrose with fans is starting to rub off on Reigns at this point. After Summerslam, the sudden arrival of the debuting (and hulking) Braun Strowman forces the two brothers onto the backfoot. Once again, Reigns is not booked overly strongly. In fact, Strowman dominates him.

September 2015- The mystery partner recruited to the side of Reigns and Ambrose turns out to be Chris Jericho and this makeshift group take on the reconstituted Wyatts at Night of Champions. The lack of team chemistry with Jericho leads to the Wyatts gaining the win, and an uncomfortable moment between Ambrose and Jericho which was perhaps the germ of an idea for the feud they’ve just had. Meanwhile, Reigns and Wyatt continue their feud, with Hell in a Cell looming.

October 2015- At Hell in the Cell, Wyatt’s pursuit of Reigns is finally brought to an end with a definitive Reigns victory inside the cell, a match which is unfortunately eclipsed by Undertaker and Lesnar having a better cell match in the main event. All in all, the Wyatt and Reigns feud, while more creatively booked than a lot of WWE feuds, never really hit the heights that some thought that it could and should have. It just wasn’t extreme or violent enough, and in terms of getting Roman to a place where he would be an accepted high level babyface, it never really did the job.

November 2015- A prospective title match against Seth Rollins is wiped out when The Architect tears his ACL and MCL on the first night of the European Tour. Instead, a tournament is created for the vacant belt, conjuring memories of the famous Deadly Game tournament from Survivor Series 1998. The stage seems set for swerves and screwiness, perhaps even the Reigns heel turn that many believed would get him where he needed to go, but instead WWE play it ultra straight, with Roman seeing off Cesaro, Del Rio and his brother Dean Ambrose to capture the top belt for the first time, rejecting Triple H’s patronage in the process. WWE were sticking to their guns. A Sheamus cash in straight after led to the most lukewarm first title feud possible, which certainly felt like a mistake at the time and still does. If many fans were indifferent to Reigns, a feud with the Irishman was unlikely to do that.

December 2015- The Sheamus match at TLC is a bore fest; the two men with physical styles somehow or other don’t mesh with each other, and the result is a poor match where The Authority and The League of Nations assure The Celtic Warrior of victory. So far, so dull...but then The Big Dog finally snapped and absolutely molly whopped Triple H all over the arena as Steph screamed the house down...and the crowd went wild for it. Many of us had been saying for some time that Reigns needed to be a punch first, speak later type of character, and here he finally became that. Fans ate it up. The breakthrough was here! The next night, Reigns manipulated Vince McMahon into giving him a return title shot, with the caveat that his career would be on the line, and in one of the through the night stories of the year, he defeated Sheamus to regain the title he had lost so quickly the last time. And again, the fans went wild. Now that WWE had what they wanted, surely they would capitalise…

January 2016- Except, of course, they didn’t. Roman was forced to put his title on the line in the Royal Rumble match, a dramatic first which seemed a great idea, so long as there were thrills and spills along the way. While some feared a “Roman wins LOL” result, I never saw it that way at all. It was obvious he would be screwed. The only question was how. In the event, it was Triple H who re-appeared at number 30 to dethrone the Samoan rebel who had dared defy him. So far, so good, except that the match was booked extremely strangely, with Reigns taking a twenty minute break in the middle and then forgetting to sell the injury when he came back. It didn’t help either that his brother Dean Ambrose had a superlative night where his final two duel with The Game had the world on its feet. Any momentum Roman had coming out of TLC was once again squandered.

February 2016- With the fans on his back again, Reigns competed in a triple threat match with Ambrose and Brock Lesnar for the number one contendership to the title. It turned out to be an early match of the year contender, with a neat story featuring the former Shield boys burying Lesnar in rubble before duelling together. In the end, a spear saw Reigns book his place in his second consecutive Wrestlemania main event, but it was Ambrose who left the match with all the momentum.

March 2016- Whilst the Triple H feud flounders due to one or other of them not being around, Ambrose and Hunter wrestle a barn burner at Roadblock. Anticipation and interest for the Dallas match between The Cerebral Assassin and The Big Dog is at a real low, with the best they are likely to achieve being a “that was better than we thought it would be” from critics. In the event, they wrestled a lukewarm stinker that made the hyperbolic rantings of Michael Cole on commentary sound utterly absurd. Reigns was now a three time champ...but where would he go from here?

WWE had three chances in the year between Wrestlemania main events to “fix” Reigns’ popularity, and they stepped all over all three. Firstly, the Wyatt story had potential to elevate them both, but ended up being, as a lot of Wyatt feuds are, confusingly pieced together so that it was difficult to get emotionally invested in it. Secondly, the title tournament was the ideal opportunity to “do a Rock” and fix Reigns as a mega heel, allowing his natural charisma and badassery to come to the fore as in The Shield days and gradually turn him face. Finally, the post TLC storyline was squandered when Reigns was so strangely booked in the Rumble main event and the company stubbornly stuck to their plan to give him to Trips in a ‘Mania main event which was tepid compared to their supposed kayfabe hatred for each other.

In the last part of this mini-series we will examine Reigns’ future, so join me then!