Let me rewind to January 25, 2015, the day of the most recent Royal Rumble in Philadelphia. Keep in mind that at this time my second run as a WWE fan was about 10 months old and up until that day it was very casual in nature. This was the day I truly dove all the way back in. It wasn’t any particular part of the event that sucked me back in, I just realized how much I loved pro wrestling and that I’d never leave it again.
Although that was the most notable thing that happened that day for me, there were plenty of more notable events for every other wrestling fan. For fans in attendance, they witnessed what was arguably the match of the year in the Lesnar-Cena-Rollins Triple Threat Match. For some fans it was the night they gave up on WWE with the unceremonious Rumble exit of Daniel Bryan. For Roman Reigns it was the greatest accomplishment of his professional career. It was probably one of the most difficult nights of his life as well.
The great accomplishment was obviously winning the Royal Rumble and seemingly earning a spot in the main event of WrestleMania. The downside was, of course, the deluge of boos that were rained on his awkward victory celebration. I admit I was among those voicing their displeasure. I was aboard the train of people who thought Reigns didn’t deserve that spot. I thought it was a slap in the face to the fans to force him upon us.
Now almost ten months removed from that night, I think I have changed my mind. More importantly, I don’t think I’m alone. But before I get into the idea that things have turned around, please indulge me in rewinding to when I first dipped my toe back into WWE in March 2014.
In the run-up to WrestleMania XXX I definitely started to get caught up in the “Yes! Movement” and decided to subscribe to the WWE Network (before the free month was offered) so I could see Daniel Bryan hopefully crowned WWE Champion in New Orleans. I had heard of The Shield before and even seen them in passing but didn’t think much of them.
Their squash match at WrestleMania didn’t really impress me, but I was sold by their subsequent performances against Evolution at Extreme Rules and Payback. I was especially sold on Seth Rollins, but I thought all three were in store for huge things. As much as I was on board with The Shield, they disbanded just three months after I started watching. I was excited that Rollins was likely in line to get the first big push of the group, but I wondered if they were ready to thrive outside of the group.
A couple months later Roman had his first singles match on a pay-per-view at SummerSlam against Randy Orton. It was around this time that I started to read rumors again and get back in touch with some old wrestling friends. Everything I read and heard was that Roman Reigns was going to win the Royal Rumble and become WWE champion at WrestleMania 31. He promptly got injured and missed his match with Rollins at Night of Champions.
Despite being on the shelf for three months, and not competing on a pay-per-view since SummerSlam, the rumors of his anointing persisted. Even though I hadn’t been fully invested in the product, I just didn’t see how this was a good idea. I was completely turned off to the fact that someone who’d had literally one singles match on a PPV and who hadn’t been on TV in three months would be thrust into that lofty position.
I know I wasn’t alone as seemingly everyone in the Wells Fargo Center left the Royal Rumble disappointed. Unfortunately for Reigns and WWE, you can’t really satisfy wrestling fans anymore. There is too much information and too much knowledge of the business now to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. Everyone knew Reigns had significantly less experience than his Shield partners, and everyone believed that he was getting too much too soon. And it was obvious to everyone that he had been handpicked by Vince McMahon despite his obvious shortcomings. I know I felt that way.
Reigns had a fun program with Daniel Bryan between the Rumble and WrestleMania and the two had a really good match at Fastlane. Although this was supposed to build Reigns up for his big match with Brock Lesnar, the last week or two leading up to WrestleMania 31 were clunky and awkward and left the fans even colder to Roman.
That night I honestly dreaded that Reigns was walking out with Lesnar’s belt. I actually was almost hoping the main event would never come that night. There was no avoiding it, but when it finally did come, it was tremendous. And not just for the fact that Seth Rollins cashed in to win the WWE title. The match that preceded that moment was excellent.
It bore similarities to Lesnar’s destruction of John Cena from SummerSlam, but it also had a unique feel of it’s own. Reigns didn’t lay defeated and with no answers like Cena did. He sold the beating while also laughing off the pain. He fought back after busting Lesnar open, but it wasn’t quite the Super Cena-esque performance I feared. They did a great job of truly leaving fans in doubt of who would be the victor right up until the second Rollins actually got the pin.
I still figured it was only a matter of time before Rollins would lose his new prize to Reigns, which kept me from fully buying back into him after his performance at WrestleMania. Then he actually pulled a really good match out of Big Show at Extreme Rules. After that I attended Payback in Baltimore, the night of the Fatal 4-Way. Being just feet away from his entrance through the crowd was cooler than I expected and he actually put on another great performance in the ring. It was the first time I was truly captivated by him.
Reigns spent the rest of the summer in an up and down story with Bray Wyatt. As a Wyatt fan, this sort of pitted me back against Roman. I would find myself nitpicking every little thing because I wanted Bray to come out on top. After the widely panned promo on Raw a few weeks ago, I was almost back to where I was at WrestleMania time. I felt this guy shouldn’t come out on top of what’s supposed to be the company’s most ruthless villain in a Hell in a Cell match. Of course, I knew with John Cena dropping the U.S. title and taking time off, Reigns was going to be the new Superman.
Then the match happened. Both competitors left everything in the ring and inside the steel structure. They didn’t go on top of the cage. No one was thrown off the top. No one was bleeding. And honestly, they didn’t need to. They were innovative. They were violent. They kept the outcome of the match in the balance for the entirety and told the story of two men who will be battling for years to come. It reminded me of the Joker in The Dark Knight telling Batman “I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”
I was so impressed with the performance that I once again examined my thoughts on Roman Reigns. The man comes from a very respected wrestling family. It’s in his background and he has a love, passion and respect for the business. He is young and still improving. He’s a phenomenal athlete with a character that has room to grow. He still has to find a way to connect his character with the fans, but he is capable of putting on great matches. Unfortunately a lot of young performers spend this part of their career in the mid card, building their way into the main event picture, but Reigns was thrown right to the top.
Now that he is there he is starting to seem more comfortable. The night after Hell in a Cell, Roman had two great performances in the ring and earned himself the number one contender’s spot. This time it didn’t feel forced. This time it didn’t feel like WWE was pushing something on me. It felt like the best guy left his baggage behind to stake his claim to the game’s biggest prize.
His stare down with Seth Rollins to close out Raw last week gave me goosebumps. Rollins had a great feud with Dean Ambrose, but he’s yet to truly have to face the other guy he betrayed last year. I don’t know if WWE is going to do a title change yet, but if Roman wins, Ambrose could be upset that Reigns did what he couldn’t. It could be the impetus for The Shield Triple Threat WrestleMania main event that everyone wants to see. Or Seth could retain, allowing Reigns to chase him for a while.
Either way, Roman Reigns won me back at Hell in a Cell. I respect his athleticism, his fire, his charisma and the fact that he doesn’t need to talk a lot to be entertaining. Isn’t there already enough talking in WWE? Isn’t it possible more people would like John Cena if he talked less? I know I probably would.
Roman Reigns is just 30 years old and hasn’t even reached his peak yet. He has the look and the ability to make a huge impact in WWE. He isn’t a finished product by any means, but he’s getting there. With John Cena absent, the limelight is there for the taking and it feels like Reigns is gravitating toward it. He is in the main event picture to stay. Luckily, he finally truly deserves to be there. Believe that.