He’s the most polarizing figure in the WWE and arguably their most so in over a decade. The former crowd darling who seemingly got shoved down our throats as being the next face of the company, with the majority of the male adult audience turning on him, showering him in vocal choruses of boos while the children and women continue to cheer for him as a Superhero. From the once favourable enforcer of the Shield, to the whipping boy of the internet wrestling fan, Roman Reigns has been the focal point of more scorn than anyone since John Cena in the mid-2000’s. But is Reigns’ long sought heel turn already underway? Has the lack of patience with today’s wrestling fan simply ignoring the road signs of his turn, or have they just become too jaded? Or perhaps today’s wrestling fan simply can’t acknowledge a heel turn unless it hits them over the head and Michael Cole (or Dave Meltzer) tells them? But all signs seem to indicate that Roman Reigns is indeed heading towards a huge heel turn, finalizing in a match with The Undertaker at WrestleMania 33. Here’s our CSI (Current Storyline Investigation) into the Case of the Reigns’ Heel Turn and what we’ve found.
Exhibit A. Roman Reigns Being Groomed To Be The Face Of The Company
Here’s where fans who are ‘smart’ on insider wrestling lingo – a face is the good guy and a heel is the bad guy – and transposing that meaning to more casual terminology of the word. Roman Reigns can still be a face of the company without being a wrestling face. Vince McMahon and Triple H have both gone on record in the past year that professional wrestling is beyond the time of eras gone by where there was one dominant character in the company. The days of Hulk Hogan or “Stone Cold” Steve Austin or John Cena are gone – technology and social media has made it far easier to follow your favourites, regardless of storyline pushes. Bo Dallas probably has more fans today than say Steve Blackman or Crash Holly had in their day, simply because they’re more accessible. While your favourites may not always get the Main Event push you think they deserve, it doesn’t mean they aren’t important characters in the grand scheme of the stories being unveiled. In today’s terms, being a face of the company is purely a marketing ploy. They want people who can become pop culture associations for the WWE and Roman Reigns has the crossover appeal to do that – the fact that nearly 90% of his popular fan base are more casual fans (who watch only WWE) or the young proves that. But you can still be a face of the company in marketing terms and not be a face in wrestling terms. Andre The Giant, Shawn Michaels, Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart, The Rock, Triple H, The Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens…all had significantly huge heel turns/runs with the company and all the while were still very much some of the company’s top two or three faces (marketing wise, not lingo wise) when used in marketing. Just because you still hear comments that they still want Roman to be one of the faces of the company, does not necessarily mean he’ll be a face in the company.
Exhibit B. Roman Reigns’ Verbiage Towards The Fans and Critics
Much like John Cena of late, Reigns is starting to single out the critics against him. In the past, they would ignore it (or in Cena’s case, say it was their right as passionate fans), but the past few months, Reigns has told interviewers that he doesn’t care what those people think, he’s “the baddest man in the WWE”. It’s subtle, sure, but keep in mind that Vince thinks everything matters when it comes to wording and acknowledgement – this is the man that prefers “sports entertainment” over “wrestling”, “championships” over “belts”. This kind of acknowledging the naysayers is not something Vince usually acknowledges – unless it was to show a shift in character.
Exhibit C. The Royal Rumble: Universal Championship Match
Where to begin. This year’s Royal Rumble provided the ideal motherlode of evidence that a full on heel turn for the WWE’s Big Dog is fully underway. It’s not here yet, but the airplane has definitely made it’s move to decent into the destination. First off, during his initial match-up at this year’s Royal Rumble, in his WWE Universal Championship match-up versus Kevin Owens, the WWE actually focuses on members of the crowd booing Roman Reigns. While the boos have always been audibly noticable throughout PPVs and televised events the past year, WWE has always directed their camera staff to focus the cameras on those fans in the crowd that were actively cheering for Roman Reigns. But throughout the match, from his entrance to the finale, they repeatedly closed up on sections of the arena that were very clearly anti-Roman Reigns. Again, Vince and the other producers guide and dictate the camera shots being used every segment, so this was done with full awareness and intent. Why would they show the WWE Universe turning on Roman Reigns finally unless it had some sort of a character development in mind? Why would they want to make sure you saw the WWE Universe becoming incensed with Roman Reigns’? Maybe it was to lay the foundation of hatred for even the most casual when the next act happened.
Exhibit D. The Royal Rumble: No. 30
The internet once again exploded when the final slot in the Royal Rumble went to Roman Reigns – a man who already had a match earlier in the night – came out at number 30, instead of any of the rumoured (or perhaps more accurately, hoped for) entrants. Instead of Finn Balor, Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, or Kurt Angle, the rabid internet fans got the man they singularly loathe more than Cena himself. But it seems that many people seem to have missed the storytelling device that Reigns’ announcement was meant to do – create a smokescreen for Randy Orton’s victory. While the WWE may not be telling the Roman Reigns story that most seem to want, they are not oblivious to the boos he’s receiving. They are fully aware that all the internet fans despise him and they are fully aware that that voice is growing louder and louder at live events. By inserting Roman in at #30 – especially with none of those big rumoured names showing up – they knew the reaction it would get by sending him out last. And their plan worked to perfection. Everyone got up in arms that Reigns was going to win the Rumble back to back years and now get his way into the Universal Championship match at WWE, because clearly that’s what WWE wants and did last year. But they didn’t. Instead, while the world was screaming their faces red, Randy Orton upended Roman Reigns and won the 2017 Royal Rumble. But not before Reigns’ heel reaction was enhanced. And not just by his No. 30 selection. But by what came after he entered the ring at the 30th spot.
Exhibit E. The Royal Rumble: Showdown With The Undertaker
Roman Reigns lasted exactly 5:05 in this year’s Royal Rumble (25 seconds less than The Undertaker), but he made those moments count. He first tossed out Smackdown Live‘s Bray Wyatt, but then turned his focus on the last living Legend in the WWE, the Phenom himself, The Undertaker. He was determined to take down the WWE’s iconic Deadman and was hellbent on making sure he was the one to remove him from the competition. The Undertaker – regardless of booking – has entered that hallowed stage of his career, much like Ric Flair was in his last years, where he will always be regarded as a face. He will always get the reaction and pop of the best good guy (whether his storyline is or not) because his career in the industry is so legendary that the respect outweighs the dedication to kayfabe. By that same token, anyone who disrespects said icon is immediately showered in boos and considered the bad guy in any given situation. And in this case, it was Roman Reigns. The fans were vocal in his attack and even more so when he eliminated the Undertaker. Roman Reigns added insult to injury with his words too. If you didn’t catch it during the initial broadcast, just as Roman eliminated Taker, he told the Deadman that it was “his yard now”. Why does this matter? For years during the Attitude Era (mostly during his run as the “American Bad-Ass” biker Undertaker), one of Taker’s catchphrases was “This is MY Yard”. Stories from past WWE wrestlers who worked with Taker always noted that the WWE ring was always considered Taker’s “yard”. That Taker was the Big Dog. Well, ever since Reigns threw Taker’s words back in his face, what has Roman been calling himself in his new yard? The Big Dog. And he followed up this disrespect on the Undertaker when he got backstage and hit his Twitter machine.
— Roman Reigns (@WWERomanReigns) January 31, 2017
Exhibit F. Fastlane vs Braun Strowman
Okay, some people may be thinking “This makes sense to a degree, but if he’s turning heel at WrestleMania, why he is fighting a heel at Fastlane in Braun Strowman?” Here’s the thing. Sometimes we as fans can think because we know what the foreshadowing is leading to that it means everyone else in the fantasy realm should too. But stories – whether it’s pro wrestling, comic books or fairytales – don’t work that way. Strowman is just another “big dog” in his yard that he needs to eliminate. Remember, when “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was a top heel in the WWE before becoming its biggest star, he would routinely take out other heels as well. You can’t boast to being the “Big Dog” and side step an obstacle just because they’re a “baddie” too. And it’s a chance to showcase more of Braun to the WWE Universe. Chances are the match itself will end with a distraction of sorts (perhaps just an ominous GONG near the end) that results in a Strowman win, to further push Strowman and set up the Reigns-Taker showdown at WrestleMania.
Exhibit G. WrestleMania 33
While it hasn’t been announced yet, every news source in professional wrestling has been saying for weeks now that the Undertaker’s opponent at WrestleMania is going to be Roman Reigns. The ending of the Royal Rumble match itself definitely seemed to set that up. While more and more reports of Taker’s failing hip and his necessity for more surgery incoming, more and more reports are piling in that this very well could indeed be Undertaker’s final WrestleMania match-up. With all of that in consideration – and accounting the crowd’s reaction to Reigns’ disrespecting and eliminating the Deadman in the Rumble – this match will be the final part of Roman Reign’s heel turn, gift wrapped in a passing of the torch by the Undertaker himself. WrestleMania is consistently a festival and spectacle more akin to the SuperBowl than a fighting match-up like Wrestle Kingdom, but that’s because the annual showcase of the immortals is more of a celebration of the WWE’s history itself than it is a showcase for the best matches (although some still do happen). It gains the most amount of casual fans attending and the most amount of casual fans watching – as in those who don’t normally follow the programming the majority of the year. But even if they haven’t watched in years, they will remember The Undertaker. And much like everyone else, they will all be rooting for The Undertaker as well. Having Roman Reigns not only pin the Undertaker but retire him, is a huge prop device that will turn everyone finally against the resident new Big Dog. While many argue that Undertaker should be passing the torch to someone more like Finn Balor, you have to realize that if Balor was to beat him, a lot of the casual fans would immediately look at Balor as the villain. He’s far too valuable as a face right now. But using Undertaker’s finale as a way to not only give the naysayers what they want (a heel turn) but to create a new villain in the eyes of the casuals, is simply too good to pass up. And that defeat will sting even more the following night when Roman Reigns – the new Big Dog, the new baddest man in the WWE, the man who claims that WWE’s ring is now his yard – gloats to the WWE Universe that it took the Superman Punch and the Spear from arguably the most hated wrestler in the WWE to finally make the Undertaker Rest. In. Peace.
Well, that’s entirely up to you, the reader now. Does all of this match-up? Do you think the WWE is finally unravelling Roman Reigns to become the company’s top heel for 2017? What do you think?
Main Photo: WWE.com