Superstar Breakdown: Roman Reigns
Roman Reigns is the most controversial wrestler of the past decade. It’s unthinkable, but Reigns has actually managed to steal that title from John Cena, a man who was once so polarizing that when he appeared at ECW One Night Stand 2006, he was met with multiple expletives and one fan held up a sign that read, ‘If Cena wins, we riot’.
Reigns has managed to obtain a similar level of heat from many fans and has become one of the most debated wrestlers of the past decade. Of course, not all of this is his fault; much of it rests on the shoulders of one Vincent Kennedy McMahon, who has made it his goal to turn Reigns into the next face of the company, fan reaction be damned.
So with that, let’s look at Roman Reigns, and see how he measured up against everyone else.
There’s no denying the fact that Reigns has the look of a star. If children and female fans are to be believed, Reigns is a very good-looking wrestler that those segments of the audience like to watch. He fits the classic television trope of, ‘tall, dark and handsome’ almost perfectly, which makes him very popular with certain segments of the audience.
Aside from that, he also stands out from the majority of his peers with unique wrestling attire. He’s the only former member of The Shield that still wrestles in a flak jacket, and the combination of all black clothes with red highlights makes him look like a badass.
With WWE being far more image-focused than their biggest competitors, these assets work heavily in Reign’s favour. But being a WWE superstar is about more than just the look; one must be able to prove that looking like a badass isn’t just for show.
Reigns’ wrestling ability is an interesting situation. On one hand, he can actually have a great match when necessary, and several of his most high-profile matches to date have proven that.
Reigns has had excellent matches with the likes of Daniel Bryan (Fastlane 2015), Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania 31), Cesaro (RAW, November 16, 2015), A.J. Styles (Extreme Rules 2016), Kevin Owens (Royal Rumble 2017), just to name a few.
In terms of his actual move-set, Reigns isn’t as bad as most people think. When the need arises, Reigns can and does show off some great moves that actually complement his persona as a badass quite well.
His apron drive-by kick is very impressive, especially for a man of his size. He does the Niagara Driver (Sitout Crucifix Powerbomb) very well, and his Spear – despite being the most overused move in WWE history – has been executed very well on several occasions.
However, there are some moves that Reigns does that still fail to get the right reaction. Chief among these is his Superman Punch, which is so unbelievably phoney and cheesy in its execution that it elicits more boos than any other of his manoeuvres, including the Spear.
The reason so many fans lambast Reigns for his wrestling ability (or lack thereof) is that his matches are often one-sided, and he doesn’t show off as much dynamism or versatility as many of his peers.
Yet while the ‘less is more’ philosophy does work with some wrestlers (like Brock Lesnar, for instance), it doesn’t for Reigns.
But the worst aspect of his wrestling comes from his selling and the booking of the actual matches, many of which feature him showing little-to-no weakness and being booked as an actual superhero without vulnerability. But we’ll get more into the nitty-gritty of Reigns’ booking shortly.
Promo skills & charisma
Roman Reigns does have charisma, just not as much as he used to. When he was a member of the Shield and when he was still the silent powerhouse character, fans liked him…a lot.
He had an aura of mystery about him and carried himself with such confidence that people gravitated towards him. He didn’t need to do very much and made a lot out of very little. This translated into great success and growing popularity for him at first.
But WWE screwed things up with Roman Reigns when they started to move away from what made him popular in the first place and began transforming him into something different altogether.
The first aspect of that transformation was making Reigns speak more. Unfortunately for WWE, Roman Reigns is not John Cena, nor will he ever be anything like him. Cena is a fantastic speaker and can really control an audience and make fans invested in his words when he’s not overly scripted.
Reigns, however, doesn’t have that ability. His promos up to this point have been, on average, disappointing, and in some cases, he has cut some of the worst promos ever heard from a main-eventer. Vince McMahon scripted some truly awful promos for poor Reigns, including that infamous “Sufferin Succotash” promo that did considerable damage to his character.
Reigns hasn’t done very well in improving his promo skills in the last few years, either. His tone of voice is far better suited for a heel, and his facial expressions don’t make him come across as a hero.
If anything, he would be much more comfortable and realistic as his first character from developmental: a smart businessman whose time was more valuable than what anyone could afford.
It also doesn’t help him that in his promos against John Cena, for example, Reigns does still flub his lines and has to resort to name-calling and expletives to make himself sound cool (it doesn’t really work, even if those that script his promos think it does).
But as bad as these things are, none of them is more of an indictment against Roman Reigns than…
The lengths to which WWE have tried to convince fans and themselves that Roman Reigns is their next big star are staggering and in some respects infuriating. While he was something of a protected star during his Shield push between late 2012 and mid-2014, things took a massive downward turn around the 2015 Royal Rumble.
When it became apparent that Vince McMahon was going to turn Reigns into a new version of John Cena, fans feared the worst: that Reigns could become a goofy, smiling, annoying catchphrase-repeating corporate machine that did whatever the head office wanted of him.
Unfortunately, these fears came true. Reigns started talking like John Cena, began demolishing other wrestlers and fan favourites and was catapulted to the main event far quicker than anyone had anticipated.
He was being given the Lex Luger push, despite many observers and veterans – including Stone Cold Steve Austin – claiming that Reigns was not ready.
Since then, Roman Reigns has been a living symbol of Vince McMahon’s unrelenting stubbornness and arrogance in the face of a vocal crowd. No matter how loudly fans booed, Reigns was pushed harder and harder.
There was a short reprieve in this push when Seth Rollins won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 31. Rumors had it that this was a last-minute decision so that the WrestleMania audience wouldn’t leave the show angry.
Unfortunately, this was nothing more than a speed bump in Vince’s quest to make Reigns the new face of the company. Reigns has been portrayed as an invincible superman since then, and many fans have done anything in their powers to show the world how much they hate him.
Reigns has been hated for several reasons: many of his regular matches have seen him demolish other wrestlers with ease (especially Gallows & Anderson), in order to maintain this artificial image of being an invulnerable powerhouse.
He has been hated for cutting terribly scripted promos, and in some cases saying genuinely irritating things about the fans that boo him. Some reports have argued that Reigns actually mouthed off at those same fans after the cameras were off, which is behaviour that is unbecoming of a champion, especially a babyface hero at that.
But most importantly, Roman Reigns is hated because of the despicable lengths to which Vince McMahon and company are willing to go to get him over.
From purposefully sabotaging other wrestlers’ booking to benefit Reigns (see Seth Rollins’ 2016 return and subsequent booking), to muting and censoring the fan reactions towards him, to confiscating fan signs critical of him, to even manipulating crowd reactions to conceal this opposition to him.
This approach was taken one step further the night after WrestleMania 33, as the commentators (most likely under Vince’s orders) labelled the post-WM crowd as ‘non-traditional’ who cheered and booed whomever they wanted for fun.
This was a blatant attempt for the power-brokers in WWE to discredit the WrestleMania crowd still in attendance by trying to tell everyone else watching, ‘these fans here are crazy, they don’t represent the ideals we do, so ignore them as much as you can, because their opinions don’t matter anyway’.
All of these decisions and manipulations scream of censorship and propaganda, both of which are chilling to see, especially in a company based in a country that prides itself so much on freedom of expression and refusing to conform with what those at the top demand.
So even though Roman Reigns himself is just doing what he’s told to, he becomes a magnet for fan hostility anyway. Since these loud and critical fans can’t actually get to Vince McMahon, they do their best to make their voices heard at the expense of Vince’s new pet project, Roman Reigns (ironically, these same fans that voice their loud disapproval for Roman Reigns’ booking – which is controlled by Vince McMahon himself – cheer Vince loudly whenever he appears and even bow to him as he walks by).
The results of these booking decisions are relatively bad news for WWE. Fan rejection of Roman Reigns has become so widespread that WWE appear to have given up on trying to silence the boos completely (though they still try and weaken them through sound editing and on their YouTube pages, which are often edited beyond belief).
Reigns has not proven himself to be as big of a draw in many respects, despite growing popularity in some markets (such as Europe).
But most importantly, the audience has adopted an ‘anyone but Roman’ approach to cheering. Many fans hate Reigns and what he represents (which, as we’ve touched on, is Vince McMahon making his own creative decisions to spite some fans) that they’ll cheer for anyone that opposes Roman and will fall in love with whosoever actually defeats him.
Case in point: Braun Strowman has been destroying Reigns since January, and now he’s one of the most loudly-cheered wrestlers on the roster. In a bizarre twist, Strowman became a beloved powerhouse wrestler simply because he defeated and beat up Roman Reigns, despite playing an obvious heel more often than not.
This is a major indictment against the character and booking of Roman Reigns, though many of these things aren’t things over which he has control.
There’s a good chance that if Vince McMahon hadn’t tried to turn Roman Reigns into the Samoan John Cena three years ago, Reigns would be in a very different place right now. While there’s no doubt that he would’ve definitely reached the world title level (after all, look at the guy), the circumstances would’ve been markedly different.
Had Vince simply let Reigns get over on his own by sticking to what worked in the first place, Reigns would’ve in all likelihood remained popular as the silent powerhouse that led his actions to the talking for him. His aura of mystery and brooding look would’ve kept people interested in what goes on in his head, as opposed to forcing him to cut awful promos.
But most importantly Roman Reigns should’ve become a traditional heel at some point. His face, voice, and mannerisms are all ideal for someone that’s meant to get booed. Reigns has spent the better part of the last two years fighting and resisting fans’ hatred towards him instead of embracing it.
Had he turned heel at some point in the past, there’s a guarantee his career and his legacy among wrestling fans would be much better than how it is now.
If a different Roman Reigns existed now – i.e. one that wasn’t, as John Cena put it, a corporate bootleg of himself – I would’ve given Roman Reigns around an ‘A’. Unfortunately, the way in which he has been booked has been so devastating and has done so much damage in the eyes of many fans, that he simply has not earned such a grade.