At 6 foot 3 inches tall and with aesthetic appeal, Joe Anoa’i, aka Roman Reigns, has long seemed a shoo-in for super stardom at the top of the wrestling industry, but fans have been reluctant to accept the 30 year-old as the new face of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
As part of the infamous Samoan Anoa’i tribe, a bloodline that counts wrestling royalty such as Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Rodney ‘Yokozuna’ Anoa’i among its extended branches, Reigns was always destined for a career in the squared circle, and having worked his way through developmental he debuted as part of the main WWE roster in November 2012, flanked by his Shield colleagues Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins.
Immediately catching on with the fans, the Shield faction captivated for the subsequent 19 months, with Reigns allowed to shine individually in the 2014 Royal Rumble with a record breaking 12 eliminations, before the group’s dissolution courtesy of Rollins’ betrayal and alignment with lead heel faction The Authority.
Reigns’ solo career progressed serenely enough, propelled by that Rumble booking and swelling popularity among the fans, although his lacklustre delivery of dialogue coupled with some seriously lousy scripts meant that the big man’s impetus was stifled as he headed into the 2015 Royal Rumble.
Poor Booking = Fans Booing
WWE’s ill-judged decision to have the incredibly popular fan-favourite Daniel Bryan eliminated midway through the match meant that fans lost interest in the main event early on. Worse was to follow; as the numbers dwindled it was clear that Reigns was the chosen one, as a result he was vehemently booed out of the building.
Even his ‘blood brother’, The Rock, a wrestling icon beloved by fans around the world, couldn’t salvage the situation – heckled as he raised the winner’s hand, much to the obvious chagrin of the movie star, who had also assisted his young brethren during the match.
From there a struggle ensued between WWE’s creative team and fans in arenas around the globe. Roman was being rejected, and the company couldn’t get him over with audiences despite his consistently entertaining matches and gradually improving mic skills.
Main event of ‘mania
The Wrestlemania 31 main event pitting Reigns against Brock Lesnar was a glorious example of the former’s toughness and ability to stand toe-to-toe with a legitimate fighter (Lesnar had won the UFC heavyweight title in his fourth MMA bout.)
That ended when former ally Rollins cashed in his ‘money in the bank’ contract to make the match a triple-threat, to ultimately taste victory after Lesnar had delivered an F-5 to Reigns, only to be curb-stomped out of the ring as Seth made the cover on the fallen Roman.
While Rollins experienced a mixed 7-month run with the championship, Reigns had to settle for a short-term role as bridesmaid, all the while producing thoroughbred displays between the ropes, and inconsistent ones with microphone in hand.
Second bite of the cherry
With Rollins shelved through a serious knee injury in early November, the main strap was vacated, with a tournament created to name a new champion.
Reigns went on to win the belt at WWE Survivor Series, only for his ticker-tape parade to be halted in full swing by perpetual mid-card patsy Sheamus, who became the second wrestler to use a money in the bank cash-in to arrest Reigns’ momentum; defeating him only 5 minutes and 15 seconds after he’d secured his first World Title.
This all seemed to make little sense, with Sheamus having been mocked earlier in the show and portrayed as glorified comic relief. The overwhelming feeling was that the bumbling behemoth would see his cash-in thwarted as he became sacrificial fodder to the company’s next hand-picked headline attraction.
Finally getting over with the live audience
The turning point occurred three weeks later for Reigns, who had lost again to Sheamus, courtesy of a ludicrous amount of interference during the main event of the throwaway Tables, Ladders, Chairs (TLC) Pay-Per-View (begging the question of why Roman’s own allies, namely Ambrose and the Uso twins didn’t swing by to aid their pal… but hey, logic.)
Snapping at this latest injustice, Reigns first speared two members of Sheamus’ League of Nations collective as they paraded the champ on their shoulders, and then laid siege to the fallen victor with numerous chair shots to his back.
As ‘big red’ lay prone, Triple H walked down the ramp in an effort to stop the attack, this he achieved temporarily, only for Reigns to Superman Punch the Chief Operating Officer of the company, but he wasn’t done there.
Not content with laying out ‘Trips’, the outraged grappler slammed his boss through the announcer’s table in a spectacular spot that had fans in the arena buzzing. As medical staff assisted the fallen ‘King of Kings’ (yes, everyone has about 13 monikers in wrestling), Reigns decided to charge back down the ramp and land one final, definitive, supercharged spear. Fans were on their feet cheering, finally Roman had turned the tide.
Repercussions and Future Endeavours
The following evening on Monday Night Raw, Triple H’s wife Stephanie McMahon landed eight lusty slaps onto Reigns’ face, with his cheek immediately inflaming as the blood rushed to the surface.
Papa bear Vince McMahon was next to offer his five pennies worth, agreeing to grant Reigns’ request for a WWE World Heavyweight title shot, but only on condition that if he failed to succeed this time he would immediately be fired. He then kicked Reigns in the balls for good measure.
In the main event that night Roman Reigns overcame the odds to finally vanquish Sheamus and begin his second run as the company’s top man. Fans cheered in the same building where they’d booed him at the Royal Rumble earlier that year.
WWE had finally achieved their goal, to rehabilitate a wrestler who has shown a willingness to improve, and seems well placed to succeed John Cena as the face of the company.
And why not? Reigns has the look certainly, his in-ring skills are at least on a par or close to all of the active full-time wrestlers on the main roster bar the brilliant Rollins, under-utilised Cesaro and ultra-authentic Kevin Owens, the first two of those sidelined with long-term injuries.
A lengthy run with the belt would also slide open new doors, with a Brock Lesnar rematch touted for ‘mania on the first Sunday in April, and possible Shield triple-threat or unification match later in the year (Ambrose having recently won the second-tier Intercontinental title).
First Roman must win a second consecutive Royal Rumble later this month, with WWE announcing an intriguing twist, with this year’s victor taking the World Title, the big Samoan effectively defending it against 29 other men in the main event, something not permitted since Ric Flair secured the gold in 1992.