Last year, a heel turn for Roman Reigns seemed like a complete impossibility, a myth set to sit alongside that of John Cena becoming a villain – residing solely in the imagination of the WWE Universe.
Following The Big Dog’s return at SummerSlam, though, there arguably hasn’t been a better heel in WWE with the birth of ‘The Tribal Chief’ establishing that Roman Reigns isn’t a good guy, but he is both a bad guy and THE guy in WWE, in a departure from his previous character as the face of the company AND the babyface of the company.
Speaking on The Masked Man Show, former WWE writer Brian Gewirtz – who now works for The Rock’s Seven Bucks Productions – opened up about the decision to turn Roman Reigns heel, and why it was something that became a possibility, unlike with John Cena.
“When it came to Roman [Reigns], the model was John [Cena], right? Because there were plenty of times when the writers would come in and be like, ‘Can we just turn John heel?’ With the, ‘Let’s go Cena, Cena sucks. Can we do it? Can we pull the trigger?’ And it was something Vince [McMahon] never wanted to do. He considered it, he always considers all ideas but ultimately he didn’t wanna do it and I think in the end he was like, to put it bluntly he was like, ‘Thank God I didn’t listen to you,’ as far as turning John heel because John was the standard-bearer and made a ton of money for the company and Make-A-Wish and merchandise and everything, you know?”
Reigns, of course, would be firmly in that same slot with regards to both in-ring success, and philanthropy outside the squared circle. While Gewirtz says Vince considered Cena not turning heel a decision that “made a lot more money” for WWE with regards to “not taking the short-term approach” for a pop in the ratings, it was an entirely different story with Reigns.
“I think it was the, ‘Don’t listen to people, trust your gut, Roman’s a babyface, he’s the new face of the company. We don’t have –’ and I don’t know, I can’t speak to this exactly but like, whenever we wanted to turn John, it was like, ‘Okay, who’s going to replace him? Who’s gonna be the guy that’s gonna go on the talk shows and be able to be the face of the company and want to do that kind of stuff as well?’ Which is always a challenge so that might have something to do with Roman, but obviously at some point, you can’t ignore the reactions.”
Speaking of those reactions, Gewirtz would discuss the disparity between the boos John Cena got to those directed towards Reigns.
“It wasn’t, ‘Let’s go Cena, Cena sucks’ with Roman. It was pretty heavily boos even if you’d always get the reports from the live events and it would be like, ‘Oh, the crowd popped for the finish and they popped on his entrance and yeah, there was a section of people booing but blah, blah, blah.’ At some point, obviously that mindset of, ‘We gotta keep Roman babyface, we gotta keep John Cena babyface’ shifted and in this particular case, it’s like similar to when [Hulk] Hogan turned heel in WCW. It’s like that was the right move to make and teaming him with Paul [Heyman], that essentially established it.”
Brian Gewirtz went on to reference Roman Reigns’ ‘grey area’ promo where he said he was THE guy, and how the non-committal nature of that promo differed to the confidence of committing to his Head of the Table run the Universal Champion is currently enjoying.
“Do you remember that time where he was a tweener where he’s like, ‘I’m not a good guy, I’m not a bad guy, I’m just THE guy’ and it was neither here nor there in terms of what he was supposed to be. It’s like you come down with Paul Heyman and you just — again, it’s all about commitment and you commit to being a heel, that’s gonna have such a more highly effective way to convey that character than just kind of, ‘Let the audience decide.’ Sometimes, we need to decide and kind of plant the flag in the ground and let the audience react to it. So, I’m so happy for Roman to be able to be a heel now and thrive like that because you’re seeing it, he’s loving every second of it, you could tell. At least that is what it seems like.”
Gewirtz also discussed the resilience towards turning John Cena heel, and why Vince McMahon believes it was ultimately the correct decision.
Roman Reigns will defend his WWE Universal Championship at Elimination Chamber, with the challenger being decided inside the steel structure on the night. Elimination Chamber airs live on the WWE Network on February 21st.