Following a four-month hiatus from the ring in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Roman Reigns returned to WWE on August 23, 2020 at SummerSlam and laid waste to Braun Strowman and ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt, who had just defeated the ‘Monster Among Men’ to capture the WWE Universal Championship.
On the next episode of SmackDown, Reigns aligned himself with Brock Lesnar’s long-time Advocate, Paul Heyman, and set his sights on the Universal Championship. A few weeks later, at Payback, the ‘Big Dog’ got his shot at the title as a contender in a Triple Threat Match where he was pitted against The Fiend and Strowman. No longer one to rush headlong into battle, Reigns opted to pick his spot and was nowhere to be seen for much of the match, instead allowing Wyatt and Strowman to wear each other down. He eventually appeared when both men were seemingly incapacitated and attempted to pin both unsuccessfully. He utilised a steel chair to hammer both men before taking Wyatt down with a low blow and spearing Strowman to emerge victorious as the Universal Champion.
Since then, Reigns has continued to reinvent himself, becoming more violent and calculating. He has taken on the mantle of the ‘Head of the Table’ and demanded his cousins, the Usos, acknowledge him as their ‘Tribal Chief’, something Jey Uso eventually did after two brutal encounters with the champion, the first ending when Jimmy Uso threw in the towel as Jey could no longer defend himself, and then in an “I Quit” match, Jey uttered the words when Reigns refused to release an injured Jimmy from a guillotine choke.
Since solidifying his position in his family, Reigns has dominated everyone who has come for his championship over the last ten months, whether it be forcing Braun Strowman to submit, choking Kevin Owens out in a ‘Last Man Standing’ match, or pinning both Daniel Bryan and the winner of the 2021 Royal Rumble, Edge, at the same time in a triple threat match at WrestleMania.
Reigns has become the ‘Final Boss’ in WWE, and nobody has yet come close to toppling him, so who could be the one to do it? More importantly, who should be the man to take his place at the head of the table?
John Cena – The Champ Is Here?
John Cena has not been seen in WWE since his disappearance at the end of the bizarre ‘Firefly Funhouse’ match against The Fiend at WrestleMania 36 in 2020. Rumours have begun circulating that he will return for this year’s SummerSlam, and the man himself has said it’s a matter of “when” and not “if” he will return to the company. It isn’t unreasonable to think that his return could be spurred on by the desire to not only regain his place as the top star of WWE, but also to add to his legacy by claiming his 17th world championship, and so breaking Ric Flair’s record for most reigns in WWE history.
Reigns and Cena have only faced off once before, at No Mercy 2017. At the time, Reigns was being positioned as the future of the WWE and finding his feet in the main event scene, while Cena was still the top dog in the company. The two had an intense war of words in the lead up to the match, with Cena calling Reigns a “cheap-ass corporately created John Cena bootleg” while Reigns retaliated by pointing to Cena’s increasing absences from WWE and accusing him of attempting to hold young talent down so that he could maintain his position.
At the event, in a match widely regarded as a classic, Reigns emerged with the victory, and Cena raised his arm as a show of respect in a moment seen as a passing of the torch to Reigns. In an interview afterwards, Cena said that Reigns had earned his respect and the future of the company was in good hands.
A rematch based around the ‘Doctor of Thuganomics’ now regretting those words after seeing that Reigns has taken a darker path during his time at the pinnacle of WWE could be a huge main event for SummerSlam. However, while Cena is, without a doubt, one of the greatest Superstars in the history of the WWE, his time has now passed. Even though the match itself would certainly be a marquee event, the combination of Cena’s burgeoning movie career severely limiting how often he can appear for WWE, and the damage it could do to Reigns to be beaten by someone who has been away from the ring for so long just when he has finally hit his stride means that the ‘Tribal Chief’ remaining undefeated against the 16-time World Champion is the best outcome for all concerned.
Never say never in wrestling, though, as the allure of having Cena break Flair’s record might just swing the odds back in his favour.
Cesaro – The Swiss Superman
Since joining WWE in 2012, Cesaro has been one of the most consistent wrestlers in the company. Whether pulling off a shock victory in the inaugural Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal by last eliminating Big Show with a stunning body slam over the top rope or dominating the tag team division with Sheamus as part of The Bar, the ‘Swiss Superman’ has shown technical prowess and amazing strength throughout his tenure. However, while he had an impressive 239-day reign as US Champion soon after he debuted, he has been unable to translate his ability to singles success in the years since.
The tide may be turning for the ‘Swiss Cyborg’ though, as this year WWE has got on board with the ‘Cesaro Section’ of fans who have backed their man throughout his tenure. Since the beginning of the year, he has been on something of a winning streak and picked up huge victories over former World Champions in Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins.
At WrestleMania Backlash, he had arguably his most important match to date when he took on Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship. While the match ended with Reigns making Cesaro pass out to the Guillotine Choke, the ‘Swiss Superstar’ more than proved he belongs at the main event level.
When it comes to whether he should be the man to finally defeat Reigns, unfortunately, he may have had his chance. Now embroiled in a feud with Seth Rollins, it could be a long time before Cesaro is able to claim another match for the Universal Championship, and there are several other potential contenders who are likely to get their chance before him.
Brock Lesnar – The Conquerer Returns
Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns have a storied history going all the way back to their first meeting at WrestleMania 31 over six years ago. That match, for Lesnar’s WWE World Heavyweight Championship, came about as a result of Reigns winning the 2015 Royal Rumble. All signs pointed to him being crowned as both the champion and the next top babyface in the company. However, it was not to be, as Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank contract to insert himself into the main event and went on to Curb Stomp Reigns and claim the title for himself.
Over the following few years, Lesnar and Reigns fought several more times, but it would take until SummerSlam 2018 for the ‘Big Dog’ to finally slay the ‘Beast’ and claim the Universal Championship. That was the last time the two would meet in the ring, and Lesnar has not been seen in the company after he was defeated by Drew McIntyre at WrestleMania 36 in 2020.
There is a lot of intrigue to be found in a scenario where Lesnar returns to find his staunchest ally in WWE, Paul Heyman, is now the Chief Counsel for the ‘Tribal Chief’ and no longer available to advocate for the ‘Conqueror’. The result could be a sharp change in direction for Lesnar, who has been consistently portrayed as a monster heel since his return from UFC to WWE in 2012. Lesnar being presented as the good guy in a feud for the first time since his underrated turn in 2003 would be a refreshing change. The history between him, Reigns, and Heyman is a rich source of material for a WrestleMania-worthy feud. The more deliberately paced ring-style now used by Reigns would also be an interesting counterpoint to the raw power of Lesnar and could easily lead to the best match between the two yet.
There’s no reason why Lesnar could not defeat Reigns once again and take his title, however, the story of Reigns proving once and for all that he has surpassed the one-time ‘Next Big Thing’ would be a great way to symbolically show that WWE is now in a new generation which has gone beyond the superstars of the past. Therefore, while he was the ‘1 in 21-1’, he should not be the one to end Roman’s reign.
Big E – The Man Who Would Be Double Champion
Big E has been gaining momentum as a singles star since his New Day teammates, Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston, were moved to Raw during the last WWE Draft. From victories over former world champions such as Sheamus to capturing his first singles title in over six years when he defeated Sami Zayn to become the Intercontinental Champion for the second time, Big E has been revitalised in the ring. His renewed intensity in the ring is the last piece of the puzzle for the man who had already set himself apart as one of the most entertaining superstars on the WWE roster during his time with The New Day.
Now, with his first-ever chance at the Money in the Bank briefcase on the horizon, could it be the multiple-time tag team champion to set his sights on the top singles prize which is currently around Roman Reigns’ waist? We may have got our answer to that question earlier this year when, speaking to Paul Heyman on Talking Smack, he made the bold claim that he would successfully defend the Intercontinental Championship for a full year and then win the Universal Championship at WrestleMania 38 in 2022.
While the two men were involved in several altercations while Reigns was a member of The Shield, including a great bout between The New Day and The Shield at Survivor Series in 2017, they have never faced off in a singles match. There’s a great opportunity here for not only a fresh feud for Reigns now that he has defeated most of WWE’s best, but also for the company to crown a new Universal Champion who is beloved by fans and open up a lot of new avenues in the title picture. There are no negatives for Big E bringing down Roman Reigns when they do face each other, and it feels like the coming year is the right time for him to reach the pinnacle of WWE.
The Rock – A Family Affair
Roman Reigns has positioned himself as the ‘Tribal Chief’ and demanded his family acknowledge him as such. However, the Anoa’i clan’s most famous son has remained silent on the matter over the last few months. Is Reigns due a wake-up call from his cousin, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson?
Back in 2015, it was The Rock who made a surprise return to WWE to defend Reigns from Kane and Big Show, allowing him to eliminate Rusev and win the Royal Rumble match. Following the victory, the ‘People’s Champion’ raised Reigns’ arm, giving him his endorsement much to the chagrin of the people in attendance. Since then, the two have not appeared on WWE TV together, however, there have been tantalising hints that they will meet in the ring sooner rather than later.
Speculation began in earnest In September 2020 when the ‘Great One’ stated in an interview that if he came out of retirement, Reigns is the man he would do it for. He reiterated the possibility of the match in December when he said he was open to it happening given the right circumstances.
The ‘Head of the Table’, however, has responded to the possibility negatively, warning The Rock that he shouldn’t want to come back to deal with him, and telling him to stick to the movie business.
If the bout does happen, it will be a dream match for many. The basis for the match is already set up with the situation surrounding Reigns’ treatment of his family, especially his cousins the Usos, who he physically forced to acknowledge his position as the leader of the tribe. A major question would be whether the Usos would turn on Reigns and join forces with the ‘Most Electrifying Man in All of Entertainment’ to try to bring Reigns down, or if they would stand by the man they call the ‘Tribal Chief’.
Most likely, due to The Rock’s many other commitments, Reigns would come out of this match with his Universal Championship intact, which would be the right decision. However, Reigns could add a wrinkle to his conditions of accepting the match, including that Rock losing would not only mean he had to acknowledge Reigns as the ‘Tribal Chief’, but also that he would have to hang up his boots for good. This would add another layer of emotion to a match that could be a perfect send-off for one of the biggest stars ever seen in pro-wrestling. He could pass the torch to Reigns properly after the failed attempt in 2015, and also add more legitimacy to Reigns being the biggest star in wrestling today.