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I always open the Reigns-o-Meter by calling Roman Reigns himself divisive. It wasn’t always this way. In the days of The Shield, Roman Reigns was a big name, a strong draw. He was the muscle behind one of the most popular factions in recent history. It’s no coincidence that all three members are former WWE world champions.
Reigns might be more unpopular than ever right now, but his stock hasn’t actually fallen. If anything his name has become more and more synonymous with WWE. He is a major draw right now and, despite many people blindly saying otherwise, he has performed in some very good matches as long as his competition is able to mask his lack of range. He is a brawler, similar in style to a Brock Lesnar or a Goldberg. In fact, had Lesnar not returned to the company, I imagine that Roman Reigns would be booked as Brock Lesnar is now.
His unpopularity stems from being pushed too far too fast. Another reason is his dull and predictable babyface character – like Rocky Maivia before he became The Rock or John Cena now but just without the charisma. There is no denying that Reign’s mic skills are paltry at best.
These are all good reasons. It’s also worth mentioning that the WWE in general right now is in a phase where the rich vs. poor, big guy vs. little guy battle is back again. Look at C.M. Punk or Daniel Bryan or even Sami Zayn and you can see that underdogs are in vogue again and monster faces are not. Let’s be honest, the last real monster face was Hulk Hogan.
A lot of fans scream that Reigns should be a heel. He should play up to his unpopularity, forget the talking and just beat people up. This has happened on several occasions and has garnered the best positive reactions. The attack on Triple H after a loss at TLC resulted in a real solid positive reaction the next night on Raw and a storyline that took him all the way to WrestleMania, but it is always over too fast with nothing really to show for it.
Lately though, there’s been a change of tactic and I think it’s a very positive one. When Roman Reigns appeared in the Royal Rumble, he was essentially placed amongst the elite by the company. He came in at the moment when Lesnar, Goldberg, and The Undertaker had been clearing house and he stood on their level. On the most blatant level this is heel work, and good heel work at that. That said, earlier in the night he had been booked as a sympathetic face against Kevin Owens.
I should add a quick disclaimer here. It’s hard to say how the story would have gone if Finn Balor had not gotten injured. Rumours were that Rollins and Reigns would be kept out of the main event for a while, with Balor-Owens being the next big feud. How much of that is true is anybody’s guess, but it could explain the blatant double-booking.
So what’s the big change? Simple enough, really. At the Royal Rumble, Reigns was booked as an anti-villain. If an anti-hero is a babyface happy to cheat and do unspeakable acts to their opponent, then an anti-villain is a heel who prefers to win by honourable methods. That right there is Roman Reigns.
Let me give you some examples.
Since WrestleMania, Roman Reigns has been a major focus of the company. Two back-to-back PPV main events against A.J. Styles went a long way to really establishing him. They were both very good matches and in both of them Reigns was booked as an anti-villain monster. He was a smug, arrogant brawler. His line about “I’m not a bad guy…” was the perfect way to launch this.
And yet, despite unending interference, he won both matches clean. In a sense, honorably. He was booked as a heel and yet finished in face fashion.
On the first Raw after the brand split, the anti-villain persona really began to take shape. As a villain we actively root against Roman Reigns. As an anti-villain, we root against him while actively expecting him to win.
You want him to lose, but you know better. At no point do you count the three when Roman is being pinned.
Then he loses. Watch the video and tell me that Roman doesn’t wrestle as a heel. Tell me that the crowd really expected Roman to lose. A victory over Roman Reigns isn’t just an endorsement by Reigns, it’s an endorsement by the entirety of the WWE management. It’s an endorsement by all the McMahons and Mr Levesque himself.
The result is an enormous boost for whomever goes against him, either face or heel. If Roman put over Titus O’Neill, then Titus would get a huge pop. That’s how the anti-villain works.
Fast forward to Survivor Series. After months beating Rusev, Reigns re-establishes his unbeatable aura by coming out with the win unendingly. He infuriates the fans during their Hell in a Cell match by getting out of The Accolade, even with a chain in his mouth. The heat is huge and he’s ready to hand it over to someone else.
The Survivor Series match comes down to Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt, and Roman Reigns. Tell me that you didn’t expect Roman to win that match. Reigns was already packing monster heat for eliminating Shane McMahon (after a fashion) and the crowd is suddenly tense the moment that Reigns is alone on the Raw side. We expect Roman to win regardless of the odds and so it comes as a huge shock when he doesn’t. Bray Wyatt gets the pin to a massive pop. Bray Wyatt is a heel.
Maybe. That’s a different Friday Feature, I think. Anyway, this brings us to the Royal Rumble.
There were no major surprises in the Rumble this year. I’ve got to be honest; I think WWE was afraid to have a new major name come in at all. Samoa Joe could reasonably have been expected to win. So too Shinsuke Nakamura. If Kenny Omega has debuted, would the fans not have been desperate to see Omega vs. A.J. Styles at WrestleMania? Yes, yes they would. Knowing how badly the fans turned on the Rumble in 2014 when Daniel Bryan was not entered, they could not risk a backlash at the death. So what do they do? They guarantee themselves a big pop.
They send our their anti-villain. They feed The Undertaker to him to build up the heat. They line him up in the final four to make almost everyone certain that he is going to win and then he goes out as the runner-up and the crowd goes wild for Randy Orton.
He served his purpose beautifully and distracted from what, all in all, was a rather weak Rumble match. There were four major stars booked like all conquering destroyers. The major fan favorites were all eliminated by these four major stars. The only reason the end was well-received was because, for a moment, we realised just how much worse it could have been.
I like Roman Reigns. There, I said it. He’s a unique element. He’s part of the ecosystem. In the media, we often boil things down so that things are hard to argue with. The Bears are the best American Football team in Chicago is hard to argue with. Chris Jericho is the most decorated Intercontinental Champion of all time is another. With Reigns you admittedly have to boil it down further, but he might just be the best currently active wrestler, of Samoan descent, named Joe.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S ARTICLE: FRIDAY FEATURE: The Miz – The A-Lister, not just a gimmick