When Roman Reigns first appeared alongside Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose as a member of The Shield, I remember finding myself somewhat disappointed. Chris Hero, as Kassius Ohno, had been in WWE’s developmental system for several months by this point, being signed amidst much the same fanfare as Rollins and Ambrose having all successfully made names for themselves on the independent scene. I thought he surely deserved that third and final spot in the group. Apparently, CM Punk felt the same way having pitched Hero for that spot before being overruled in favor of Reigns.
Three years later, I’m happy to say I was wrong. In fairness, it’s impossible to say how things might have turned out had Hero been chosen, but it’s not hard to see why WWE made the choice that it did. While Hero clearly had the experience advantage, that is precisely the reason why it was so important to marry Reigns to the other two Shield members, on the road, night after night. The best way to gain experience is to learn from those who are better than you, and then be able to apply what you’ve learned in front of a live audience. Some guys, like Tyler Breeze, who debuted on Smackdown last week, can spend years toiling away in developmental wrestling in front of a few hundred people before getting the call up to the main roster, if that call ever comes at all. Of course, Reigns was no ordinary prospect at NXT.
Reigns was clearly the chosen one, someone who had the size and the look that would make Vince McMahon break out in a cold sweat. It stands to reason that someone like that would be afforded more opportunities than most. But it would unfair to suggest that Reigns has not worked hard to get to where he is today. When he arrived, he was clearly positioned as the enforcer of The Shield, the silent assassin who stood with a pissed off scowl on his face. All three members complimented each other well – Rollins brought the flash; Ambrose brought the crazy; and Reigns supplied the muscle. If you are like me and feel those Shield six-man matches helped carry Monday Night Raw throughout 2013, and into 2014 (along with Daniel Bryan), you cannot give credit to some, but not all. All three played a pivotal role in the success of that faction, and the quality of those TV shows was elevated as a result.
For his part, Roman’s ring work has improved greatly in the three years since The Shield’s first encounter with Bryan, Kane and Ryback at that TLC show in Brooklyn (which, for my money, was WWE’s Match of the Year). Since then, he has only gotten more comfortable in his own skin – that is, when WWE allows him to be.
As much as the company is clearly positioning him, long-term, to supplant John Cena as the face (and hair) of its brand, it’s equally clear they have made some glaring mistakes with the guy. Was it too much, too soon? Perhaps. But if you recall the end of last year’s Royal Rumble, the crowd was firmly behind Reigns before he was finally vanquished by Boo-tista. Sure, you could argue the only reason the crowd was behind him was because they wanted anyone but Batista to win, which is true, but I think there was more to it than that. I think there was a thirst for something different. Reigns represented something new. Their major mistake this year was bringing Daniel Bryan back when they did instead of making it clear he would not return until after the Rumble. Instead, he was disposed of quickly, like an afterthought, which the fans took as disrespect. That only served to anger them, and they proceeded to take their frustrations out on WWE’s Samoan Savior.
Since then, it’s been an up and down year for Roman Reigns. He headlined his first Wrestlemania for the WWE title and fell short, but the match with Brock Lesnar was excellent, as was his recent Hell in a Cell battle with Bray Wyatt. His matches are not the problem. The overly scripted nature of his promos, however, continues to be a big problem and has done a great deal of damage. Granted, it was far worse six months ago when Vince McMahon reportedly decided to make Reigns his pet project and took a more hands-on approach with his promos (Sufferin’ Succotash, anyone?). I’m still not sure he’s fully recovered from that. But even now, while things have improved, they’ve got it all wrong. Part of the problem is that people don’t care to see Reigns come out and recite lines like everyone else on the roster. It’s not real, no matter how “real life” he claims it to be. He still has that badass aura about him from his Shield days, but the moment he lifts that microphone to his mouth, it evaporates.
Reigns now finds himself in line for a WWE Championship match with Seth Rollins at Survivor Series. I think winning the championship now, as opposed to Wrestlemania, would be a big mistake (short of Reigns and Rollins swapping roles with Reigns winning the WWE Title and joining The Authority, but that may just be wishful thinking on my part). Whether it involves a Dean Ambrose betrayal or not, something truly scarring needs to happen to Reigns that drives him into a prolonged period of silence, like a tortured soul. As in, don’t put a microphone in his hands for at least six months. Let him get over by not saying a word. Silent but deadly is the only chance (I stress chance) WWE will ever have in gaining widespread acceptance for Reigns as the guy they want him to be. And for all the progress they’ve made with him, putting the title on him now could undo all of that.
I know there is a lot of hate out there for the guy (much of it unjustified), but I want to see Roman Reigns succeed. And I believe that he can. But if he does, it might end up being in spite of WWE’s efforts, not because of them. Believe that.
Jason Solomon is host of the “Solomonster Sounds Off” podcast, which can be heard weekly on thesolomonster.com, Stitcher Radio and iTunes.