While Roman Reigns currently stands atop the WWE mountain, lauded for his performances in and out of the ring, fans will remember that it hasn’t always been that way.
After The Shield broke up in the summer of 2014, Roman Reigns was very quickly positioned to become the new top babyface in WWE. However, the fans rejected Reigns as a babyface, a move which came to a head at the 2015 Royal Rumble. Reigns won the Royal Rumble match with a helping hand from The Rock, but as the pair celebrated they were booed heavily by the crowd.
While Reigns wouldn’t win the main event at the following WrestleMania, he found himself challenging Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship a year later.
Reflecting on WrestleMania 32 where Reigns regained the world title, Arn Anderson has said that the fans just didn’t want to see Reigns as the babyface character that he was being presented as.
Speaking on his podcast, Arn, the Hall of Famer spoke about Vince McMahon’s unwillingness to alter Reigns’ character, making him a heel.
“The 100% faith in himself that he can make any idea he has a reality and everybody will accept it,” Anderson said. “That Roman Reigns was going to be the lead guy as a babyface for the company, instead of seeing way back when, years before that, that that’s not what they wanted Roman to be. Roman doesn’t have to say anything, all Roman has to do is come through the curtain and be an ass kicking machine.”
“They don’t want him to be a nice guy, they don’t want him to be clever, they don’t want him to be entertaining and they certainly don’t want to see him spear five or six heels in a given time.”
Anderson expanded further, using Kevin Owens’ early main roster WWE career as an example. The tag team legend explained that he learned from McMahon that you can’t shove a character down fans throats.
“One of the things I did learn from Vince early on is, don’t shove a baby face down the peoples necks if they’re not going to accept it because they’ll regurgitate it,” Anderson said. “We got away from that theory and we quit listening to our audience because they will absolutely tell you what they want.
“I used Kevin Owens as an example. When he beat Cena, the first show he was on, the audience was 90% behind Kevin Owens. That week, creative should’ve sat down and went: I don’t care what you have written down for the next week or month, this guy is a baby face next week. Doesn’t mean we change his style of work, just means that we put him in a position to be the favourite in the match. It was so crystal clear that was what they wanted, give it to them.”
Roman Reigns headlined every WrestleMania from 2015 until 2018 where he was beaten by Brock Lesnar. During this time he was very rarely away from the main event, or pinned in singles competition. Anderson closes by saying that this presentation made it look like Reigns wasn’t earning his position.
“The fact that Roman goes out there and spears five guys does not make Roman more of a baby face,” Anderson said. “It makes him a God, and he’s not earning his position or push. He’s just out there running through guys and the audience smells it and they don’t like it.”
After taking time away from WWE through the middle of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Reigns returned at SummerSlam a new man. He quickly aligned himself with Paul Heyman and became the heel character that fans had been calling for. The Tribal Chief returned to the main event at WrestleMania 37, defeating Edge and Daniel Bryan to retain his Universal Championship.
Meanwhile, in a recent interview, Reigns himself has said that he hopes to wrestle for another 15 years. Adding that he wants to make sure he maximises his potential.
H/t to Wrestling Inc for the transcription.