WWE’s year long attempt to get their audience to accept the superstar they unflinchingly view as the face of the company will likely reach its climax this sunday at Summerslam, one of the company’s top three annual events. The only problem is the majority of the company’s fans despise him and have little to no interest in this, the longest and most excessive push the sport has ever seen. For right or wrong Roman Reigns has become the most divisive figure in sports entertainment; he does have die hard fans but for every one there seems to be a crowd of critics ready to tell them why they’re wrong. They claim that he has been handed opportunity after opportunity without earning them, his move set is possibly the most limited in the company and he has yet to improve in cutting promos in his 6 year career. There are numerous corporate shills WWE has convinced that refute these claims but it is not hard to see where they're coming from. As fans we are not insiders and can only go on what we have seen on TV and the WWE Network so what follows is an account of the past year of Roman’s never-ending push to examine if there is validity to the amount of hate Reigns receives from the WWE Universe.
Leading up to Wrestlemania 33, Reigns was in a fued with Braun Strowman; a beast of man, half a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier yet every bit as quick. At Fastlane Roman accomplished what no one in the company to that point had, pinned Strowman cleanly. As improbable as it was that's what babyfaces do they overcome insurmountable odds. He did this however using around 4-5 moves, depending on how you classify different types of punches, in what amounted to an average match with, at the time, the company’s biggest draw.
In the wake of this he was challenged to a match by a geriatric legend of the sport, arguably the greatest of all time, The Undertaker. The match was set to take place at the industry's biggest stage, the main event of WrestleMania, Roman’s third in three years. Rumors swirled this would be "The Phenom’s" last match and after a 15 minute long ring exit it was painfully obvious it was. He lost to Roman for only the second time in the history of the event, and just like that the "Big Man" was retired by the "Big Dog.” As was the case with the Strowman match Roman showed limited moves, this time added his Samoan drop, however he appeared incapable of lifting the Dead Man despite having months to prepare for exactly that spot. In the end the match was entertaining but underwhelming. Fans were left asking "was that really The Undertaker's last bump?"
After attempting to murder his coworker, Roman was rewarded with his first shot at the company’s newest most important belt, the Universal Title. He would have to pin one of three of the most intimidating superstars in the company including the aforementioned Strowman. He would ultimately get beat for the first time of many by the reigning Universal Champion, UFC crossover star Brock Lesnar.
From there the company decided it was time for the exiting biggest baby face in the company, John Cena, to officially pass the torch to Roman. This in spite of Reigns still being showered with thunderous boos at the mere opening notes of his entrance theme like some sort of bizarro The Rock, so much so that he once lead off a nationally televised show with 10 minutes of crowd boos. In this feud Roman was eviscerated and embarrassed on the mic he did however show a noticeable improvement in the ring in the two's match, being in the ring with one of the greatest of all time should do that. The original rejected baby face would ultimately do his duty and put Roman over falling victim to his spear.
With Roman still being peppered by overwhelming hecklers WWE threw a hail mary in the form of something wrestling fans had almost lost hope in seeing, they reunited him with his original stable The Shield. His “brothers” Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose had remained huge hits with crowds everywhere and so naturally the company hoped the good vibes would rub off on their golden boy by just being adjacent to them. The universe conspired against them though, as an illness prevented him from participating in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match at the pay per view of the same name. The Shield would also fight the New Day a month later at Survivor Series but with no compelling stipulation or a heel opponent the match was lost in the mid card of a subpar event.
When the calendar flipped to 2018 Reigns would be the runner up of the Royal Rumble avoiding a fourth year of him main eventing the industry's most watched event, or so fans thought. Though Wrestlemania’s main event was typically reserved for the winner of the Royal Rumble and the current champion, Roman was again given the spot. The match was mostly one sided, unentertaining and received horribly, on their grandest stage the company’s fans chanted “BOOOOORING” and “this is awful” as the unimpressive display dragged on. In the face of that mediocre result WWE allowed Roman to again fight for the Universal title this time in a steel cage in Saudi Arabia at the Greatest Royal Rumble. In a controversial finish Lesnar retained his title though Reigns would refute the result and start to refer to the title as his. The match was rated one star by Dave Meltzer, essentially the lowest achievable rating. While star ratings are not the definitive measure of a match many concurred it was again a middling affair that last all of 10 minutes and did nothing for either superstar. Lesnar would not be seen in a match since and Roman would go on to second-rate feuds with a few other superstars until this Sunday.
Crowds have started to become increasingly hostile toward Roman in recent weeks making a mockery of his matches by “hijacking” them with irrelevant and insulting things throughout all his matches. A solution to this problem many have called for is turning him heel and allowing him to lean into the jeers and capture the heat the crowd has for him. This route would possibly ruin the shine of him being a role model and complicate his public appearances but increasingly blurred lines of kayfabe due of social media minimize the importance of his purity. Reigns is not a bad guy or a bad wrestler but it’s clear he is a tier below the company's top talent. He doesn’t have the in ring capabilities of A.J. Styles or the promo prowess of The Miz and he never endeared himself on the indie scene to create fanbases like Fin Balor or Seth Rollins. While it may not be fair to hold this against him, he does not after all do the booking, it is also unfair of the company to keep pretending he belongs in main event after main event. This leads to an inferior product everywhere, one misplaced midcarder pushes other talent to the background and alienates fans, at the very least WWE could get him to stop cocking his fist.
All this build up could mean nothing, Roman could still lose on Sunday or the possibility that a Money in the Bank holder will cash in and leave Brooklyn with the champion is still real but all signs point to Reigns’ coronation. With an expanding reach the WWE seems prepared to risk another main event of one of their biggest events to hijacking en route to finally crowning the person they see best fit to lead them into the future. It is a big gamble to do this in the face of dwindling attendance numbers and decreasing ratings while independent wrestling promotions like New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor are rising in popularity. One thing is for sure, sport entertainment’s biggest genius Vince McMahon has seen a lot of wrestling promotions come and go but his is still standing tallest to the point of being traded publicly. How long that can last with a reviled champion will remain to be seen, the last time they went this route the company had to resort to airing on networks like SyFy.