After the events of WWE Battleground and the first episode of RAW in WWE’s “New Era”, has the WWE finally given up on Roman Reigns’ mega-push?
By Sam Jones
So, this past week has been an interesting time in WWE land. The first episode of RAW of WWE’s now brand-split “New Era” proved to be a surprisingly awesome show: new talent was highlighted, Sasha Banks was finally crowned Women’s Champion after an amazing match, and the show on the whole felt more exciting than RAW has felt in an incredibly long-time.
But perhaps the biggest shock of the night was the main event. Said main event in question was to determine who would face Seth Rollins at SummerSlam for RAW’s new top title, the WWE Universal Championship (yes, thats what they’re actually calling it). It came down a match between RAW newcomer and top-tier NXT draftee Finn Balor and perennial golden boy Roman Reigns to determine who would get the Summerslam nod. In the end, Finn Balor would cleanly pin Roman Reigns to advance to the Universal Championship match at Summerslam.
Yes, you read that right: an indy darling pinned Roman clean as a sheet in the middle of the ring.
Now, one could dismiss this as an aberration, were it not for the main event of Battleground that took place only the night before, where Roman Reigns cleanly lost in the Triple Threat for the WWE World Championship. To Dean Ambrose, no less. And that’s not even mentioning his clean loss to Rollins at the previous month’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view.
So something’s up, clearly.
Now, the obvious reason one could point to is Roman’s slightly awkward (and highly publicised) violation of WWE’s Wellness Policy this past month, and no doubt the sudden reversal of his on-screen fortunes are, at least in part, a direct result of that. But I wonder, is that really the only reason that Roman is on a sudden downturn?
Ever since the day he debuted waaaaaay back in November of 2012, Roman has been the anointed one. He was protected heavily while in the Shield, often taking wins for the group and rarely taking losses, if any at all. When the faction splintered in 2014, Roman was immediately catapulted into the world title scene and engaged in high-profile feuds. All roads lead to the top for Roman, and damn it all if fans weren’t all too aware of the nature of Roman’s mega face push to the top.
And, for the most part, fans have rejected almost every second of it.
From Roman’s disastrously received 2015 Royal Rumble victory, to his equally disastrously received World Championship win at Wrestlemania this year, the audience has simply refused to get behind Reigns as a top face. And it seems with every transparent attempt to drum up support for Roman on the part of WWE, the audience has become more and more alienated for the man who was once legitimately the most over member of his former Shield teammates. But the events of the past month or so have been the first time since Reigns’ push began in earnest that there have been signs that the push is finally stalling.
Now, of course, there’s plenty of reasons why Reigns’ push has been such a disaster: questionable booking, a misunderstanding of how to utilise Reigns effectively, a lack of patience on the company’s part, general fan bitterness and spite toward what is viewed as an unfair and soulless system of “star” creation WWE has employed for far too long; whatever one you wanna pick, you’re probably right. But the point here is that despite all of these factors, WWE has been determined to push Reigns regardless: they had doubled down on Roman as the name and face of the future, after all, and they were determined to be proven right for doing so. But allowing Reigns to take three such high-profile losses consecutively suggests a great deal of doubt that wasn’t there before.
Equally as telling is who his losses have been to: Rollins, Ambrose, and Balor. Let’s think about this for a moment, shall we?
First off, Rollins: since the Shield’s split, Rollins has climbed the ladder to become the company’s top heel. That said, however, Rollins hasn’t exactly been made to look like much of a force in spite of that: his overall win/loss percentage in WWE sits at a hilariously bad 32%, which is only half of both Reigns’ and Ambroses’ (both of whom sit around 64%). While Rollins has always been appreciated and respected by the fans, WWE has never seemed overly interested in protecting Rollins or making him look good in the past, so why start now? And why do so at Reigns’ expense?
Then there’s Dean Ambrose: in spite of his popularity, Ambrose has always been the black sheep of the former Shield boys: since the tragic break-up, Dean’s really just floated around in random programs, with the occasional moonlighting in the main event. While its clear the company values him, its also clear they don’t view him as a true star like Reigns or even Rollins. And yet, just this past month, Dean not only won the WWE World Championship, but he cleanly beat both Rollins and, most tellingly, Reigns. Quite the turnaround, don’t you think?
And then there’s Finn Balor: having been the name and face of NXT for a few years now, there were likely high expectations for his debut on RAW. That being said, anyone who’s been following the product for the past year or so has likely been witness to the very scatter-shot booking of many of the NXT call-ups that have taken place, which would have likely tempered expectations. So based on that, having Finn debut to win two matches in his first night become one of the contenders to RAW’s shiny new top title was not just bold, but truly shocking. Having it come at Reigns’ expense was borderline fiction.
So, the big question: does all this mean Reigns’ push really is over? Honestly, I don’t know: this is all speculation on my part, but if I’m being honest, I really doubt it. WWE’s roster is way too thin right now for them to toss Reigns really far down the card, and doing so would be a complete waste of the last two years they’ve spent mega-pushing him to the top. What this might mean, however, is that Reigns is no longer being looked at as “The Guy” (as he so often claims to be). Whether that distinction belongs to Balor now, or Rollins, or Ambrose, or even someone else entirely remains to be seen.
But what I will say is that taking the foot off the pedal when it comes to Reigns will only help him: Reigns, in my estimation, has always been a victim of his own booking: a solid performer whose booking has done everything possible to accentuate his weaknesses and bury his strengths. So I think the breathing room will do him some good.
Or y’know, maybe this week he’ll just be added to the Summerslam main event anyway, who knows? After last week’s RAW, sky’s the limit.