The art of story-telling has traditionally hinged on the fight between good vs evil. The conflict between the despised heel and the beloved babyface has been the basis for some of WWE’s most compelling rivalries, feuds, and stories.
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Vince McMahon, The Rock vs Triple H, Daniel Bryan vs The Authority and so many more of the WWE’s most satisfying conflicts have revolved around the aforementioned basis. While there have been instances of miscasting when it comes to the roles of hero and villain, the struggle between the two sets of ideals remains constant.
Breaking the mold
Enter Roman Reigns stage left.
Since The Shield broke up in 2014 and Roman Reigns embarked on his solo run at the top of the card, The Big Dog has had a rather love/hate relationship with the WWE fanbase. He was mercilessly booed at the 2015 Royal Rumble before and after he won the match, despite the involvement of The Rock.
The hatred felt towards Reigns resulted in the WWE effectively rewriting the WrestleMania 31 main event to have Seth Rollins pin “Rock’s cousin” for the WWE Title after cashing in Money in the Bank. Unfortunately for Roman, the hatred persisted, and he was booed by over 90,000 people at Wrestlemania 32 during his main event title match against HHH after being booed in his feud with The King of Kings in the buildup, despite being the babyface and HHH the heel.
While Roman has remained a very polarizing figure on screen, something has definitely changed when it comes to how WWE have been approaching him. Gone are the cookie-cutter, white-meat babyface promos which badly hurt Reigns chances of getting over with the crowd. The “sufferin’ succotash” scripts have been replaced with far edgier content designed to steer into the skid of fan resentment.
WWE hinted at this change in direction the night after Wrestlemania 32 when he dropped the line “I’m not a bad guy, I’m not a good guy, I’m THE guy!” The catchphrase did not catch on in the long run, but it is a line which perfectly encapsulates Roman Reigns as a character.
A lack of labels
While Reigns is not a heel in the traditional sense, he can not be characterized as a straightforward babyface either. His current character is exactly what the WWE fan base sees him as: The Guy. He no longer awkwardly panders to a crowd that refuses to embrace him, and the content of his matches are not designed to paint him as the underdog when he is anything but.
Roman Reigns is the no nonsense, bad ass, ass kicker that he was born to play. This brand-new approach to his character has brought new intrigue and complexity to Roman, as fans continue to speculate on whether he will finally turn to the dark side every time he walks that tight rope between good and evil.
The apex of this new look Roman Reigns came the night after Wrestlemania 33. Stood in the middle of the ring with boos raining down on his shoulders from fans who were still grieving from the supposed retirement of The Undertaker by Roman Reigns the night before, the Samoan would utter just 5 words which would come to define him: “This is my yard now!”
Setting the tone moving forward
It was a career-making promo. Defiant, confident and compelling, it was the talk of the wrestling world from the moment the segment ended. This alteration of the traditional character mold made him more interesting than he has been since the days of The Shield and made his appearance on the following week’s Monday Night Raw must-watch television for anybody wondering if the WWE had finally pulled the trigger on a Roman Reigns heel turn.
Ultimately, Roman did not turn heel and instead embarked on an excellent multi-month long feud with WWE’s 2017 MVP Braun Strowman. Fans continue to hope for that switch to the dark side but, in a stroke of creative genius, WWE has embraced this fan discontent by redefining Reigns in such a way that a heel turn is no longer important.
It is extremely unlikely that Roman Reigns will replace John Cena as the face of the WWE due to how poorly he was booked in the early stages of his solo run. However, due to this fresh approach to his babyface character, Reigns is more interesting and compelling than he has been at any point on his own thus far. It has taken 3 years, but Roman Reigns is finally fun to watch.
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