It’s been three years since Roman Reigns officially became a singles performer in the WWE. The gray hairs on my 30 year old head make it seem like a lifetime ago. Ever since the cold steel of Seth Rollins’ betraying chair bashed him in the back, Reigns has been “the guy” for Vince McMahon and the WWE.
Reigns has main evented WrestleMania three times in a row, held the WWE World Heavyweight Championship three times, and is a self-proclaimed peacock. We all know the story, though. Roman Reigns never received a reaction that warranted his mega push. Now, because of the undeserved and forced push, much of the reaction Reigns gets is rejection.
Whether WWE wants to admit it or not, the rejection of babyface Roman Reigns hurts their product. It ruins their good vs. evil narrative structure as heels regularly get cheered over him, Vince’s hero peacock. More importantly, though, the forced push and subsequent rejection of babyface Roman Reigns is detrimental to others on the Raw roster. The tunnel vision by Vince McMahon on Reigns in effect holds other potential top stars hostage by casting an unnecessary glass ceiling on their characters and their money-making ability with the company.
Dean Ambrose was first in the line of fire. Ambrose is a star that has a natural connection to his audience, which was obvious even before The Shield cracked. After the split, Ambrose tapped into that connection and took his character to the next level. His subsequent summer-long feud with his turncoat brother in arms, Seth Rollins, featured it all from Ambrose including stellar mic work that further got his character over and fluid matches that each told their story within the big picture of the Ambrose vs. Rollins saga.
The organic popularity and rise that Ambrose received at this time is the same kind of rise that some of the biggest babyfaces in the history of the business received. Wrestlers such as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, and John Cena all slowly built themselves up and then caught fire with the WWE’s backing. Instead of embracing Ambrose as his featured babyface due to his newfound popularity, Ambrose was sacrificed as McMahon preordained Roman Reigns as his guy and the one that needed to wrestle Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 31.
Peacock or not, Dean Ambrose had the fans and the reaction that merited a push to the main event and McMahon instead gave that push to Reigns. The result was a loss, loss for all. Ambrose cooled off in the eyes of the fans when he should have been catapulted to the next level and Roman Reigns took it on the chin from fans because he wasn’t over enough to be getting the push he received.
Fast-forward a bit through time to 2016. Dean Ambrose is still a victim and now Seth Rollins is suffering from the Roman Reigns syndrome as well. There was not a bigger babyface in the company than Seth Rollins on the day he returned to WWE from injury at Extreme Rules. His pop upon entering the arena was deafening, but soon his popularity and momentum would come to a screeching halt. Thank you Roman Reigns.
WWE should have had their entire year mapped out once Rollins came back. He was a big time babyface with an incredible and obvious story of reclaiming the WWE World Heavyweight Championship he never lost. It’s simple, but the audience was dying to see him do it. Redesign. Rebuild. Reclaim. Remember that? That was the story that needed to be told as it was important to the development of who Seth Rollins is. Instead of hitting on Rollins during that period, Vince cooled him off by technically not even turning him babyface right away and stalled him out for months while he waited for a match with Triple H at WrestleMania 33. In the meantime, Roman Reigns ate up the lead babyface story arc on Raw and did nothing with it to get fans on his side. Another loss, loss for all involved.
See the trend here? In the current day WWE landscape, a proven new star like Finn Balor isn’t safe from the Roman Reigns debacle either. Like Seth Rollins, Finn Balor is and was primed for a layup storyline that involved his path back to the WWE Universal Championship after having to relinquish it due to injury. At the post-WrestleMania 33 Monday Night Raw, Balor returned to the WWE to an amazing babyface reaction from the WWE Universe. Since then, that reaction has softened and Balor has cooled off. He hasn’t been able to be a centerpiece babyface because of Roman Reigns needlessly occupying that spot. WWE didn’t capitalize to get the best payoff possible with Finn as a returning star because they mistakenly shined their light in the direction of Roman Reigns.
Heels can’t hide from the Reigns effect, either. Braun Strowman is a performer who came on very strong since the brand split in 2016. He is positioned as a monster heel and has destroyed nearly every babyface that’s been put in his path. His position and character waivers when he’s working with Roman Reigns because the story being told doesn’t make sense. For as great as Braun Strowman is, he’s still green. He needs the correct story so he can learn how to play his role properly inside of it. When fans are cheering Strowman as a heel instead of Reigns as a babyface, he can’t fully embrace, develop, and tap into his heel character.
Through all this, it would be silly and incorrect to say that Vince McMahon hasn’t created a premiere star in Roman Reigns. He certainly has. At what cost has he created him, though? There is only so much time on a weekly Monday Night Raw to feature a top babyface. McMahon and WWE have used that time to force-feed the fans someone they haven’t asked for. As a direct result, they have turned a blind eye to other acts that are on the cusp of superstardom. Because of the Roman Reigns push, we’re in an uncharted territory where for the first time in the history of the business the WWE Universe could miss out on something great.
What would the WWE be like now if Dean Ambrose had gotten the push he deserved and that the audience clamored for after The Shield imploded? How big of a star would Seth Rollins be if Vince McMahon pushed him after the reaction he got upon his return from injury? The tunnel vision on Roman Reigns has prevented both of those scenarios from playing out and therefore prevented Rollins and Ambrose from reaching the next level.
Imagine a world in which Lex Luger kept receiving his miscalculated push in the early ’90s. We would never have seen just how great and just how popular Bret Hart would become. How ludicrous would it have been if Vince McMahon ignored the cheers for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in 1997 and pushed someone else that he already had pre-programmed into his mind, like going back to Sid because he “looked the part”? Austin vs. McMahon would cease to exist today. I can feel my hair getting grayer just thinking about it.
This miscalculation of Roman Reigns affects more than just a story on Monday Night Raw and Roman Reigns as a character himself. It’s halting, shackling, and outright sabotaging other potential top stars who are getting the audience reaction that truly would merit a Roman Reigns sized push.
The babyface push of Roman Reigns is like going all in on a poker hand with just the blinds in the game. The audience rolls their eyes, the blinds fold their cards, and the winner foolishly feels like a big shot because he won a hand. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Finn Balor? They’re the slow play. You wait for the opportune moment to play those cards, bet correctly, and the payoff is huge. Pass on it and the moment may never come again. Your turn to bet, Vince.
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