Why Roman Reigns Struggles

Does anyone else ever get tired of talking about Roman Reigns? If you follow professional wrestling, you hear about Roman Reigns. Some people love him, some people don’t, but at the end of the day, everyone who enjoys the action of the squared circle has an opinion about da big dawg.

However, a lot of those opinions are negative, and people can’t seem to agree on why that is. In this article, I’ll attempt to dig into why Roman Reigns has had difficulty not only getting over, but remaining over with the audience, the fallacy that is the John Cena comparison, and why I think people really boo him.

Why Roman Reigns Struggles

Let me break down why people don’t like Roman Reigns, and I’ll provide adequate responses to each of them. Starting with the obvious, people think he sucks.

Roman can’t wrestle, he’s bad on the mic, and he’s just impossible to watch!

This is a very common response, because it’s the easiest one, and once upon a time, it might’ve been true. In 2018? It just isn’t anymore. He actually has a pretty decent catalogue of good matches. Sure, some have been with people that are more talented in the ring, like Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, or AJ Styles, but others have been against people with less experience than him, like Braun Strowman.

Sure, he’s not going to top any “best worker” lists any time soon, but that doesn’t mean he can’t work. He rarely has a bad match, and when everything is clicking, he can absolutely put on great shows. To prove this point, I’ve made a list of Roman Reigns matches that I actually quite enjoyed.

  • His Stuff w/the Shield
  • vs. CM Punk at Old School Raw, 2014
  • vs. Randy Orton at SummerSlam, 2014
  • vs. Daniel Bryan at FastLane, 2014
  • vs. Brock Lesnar (and eventually Seth Rollins) at WrestleMania 31
  • vs. The Big Show at Extreme Rules, 2015
  • vs. Cesaro on Raw, November, 2015
  • vs. AJ Styles at Payback and Extreme Rules, 2016
  • vs. Seth Rollins at Money in the Bank, 2016
  • vs. Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose at Battleground, 2016
  • vs. Braun Strowman at Fastlane, 2017
  • vs. Kevin Owens at Royal Rumble, 2017

And that’s just what came to mind. I’m sure there have been more that I’ve just forgotten. The guy can work, and though he was very green when he was called up to the main roster, he’s only improved over time. You can say those guys carried him if you want, but when Reigns is working his style of match, he’s exceptional, and one of these matches in particular comes to mind.

vs. Seth Rollins at MITB

That WWE World Heavyweight Championship match at Money in the Bank against Seth Rollins is a perfect example of both guys working their style of match. Seth Rollins had just come back the month before from his devastating knee injury, and hadn’t worked a match in seven months. When Rollins blew out his knee, he had to vacate the belt, which Reigns eventually won from Triple H at WrestleMania.

Coming into the bout, Rollins was supposed to be the heel and Reigns the babyface, but when the match started, it was a different story. Rollins clearly had some ring rust, and was light on his toes, while Reigns, a bigger wrestler, was being more physical and bullying Seth around the ring. Seth is the better seller anyway, but working his injury and allowing Reigns to just throw him around the ring made for a really good match. Rollins couldn’t have had that match with the likes of Neville or AJ Styles.

People will often target Roman’s limited moveset, but again, this is lazy. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, John Cena, and the Rock all had a limited moveset, and that didn’t stop the crowd from getting behind them. The variety of moves isn’t anywhere near as important as the timing and selling of them.

Reigns is a capable worker, and anyone who says otherwise is just looking for easy, lazy ways to take him down. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that Reigns is a better worker than Strowman, but that doesn’t prevent people from cheering Braun, does it? Next excuse.

“Roman simply can not cut a promo, he’s just a sack of sufferin’ succotash, son!”

This one is the funniest to me, because obviously these aren’t the words that Roman is choosing to say. The infamous “sufferin’ succotash” promo was three years ago, but it very well may haunt him for the rest of his career. And this isn’t even the only bad promo they’ve written for him. Remember “tator tots” from his feud with Sheamus? C’mon now.

The television writers that make up WWE’s creative writing team definitely didn’t help Roman’s rise to the top, as they completely missed the boat on what made him popular with the Shield and what he does best, because yes, lest we forget, Roman Reigns was extremely over during the Shield’s original run.

They tried to make him a silly babyface like Cena and the Rock, because that’s how they’re used to writing main event babyfaces. John Cena was basically a living, breathing cartoon, so it was okay to have him be silly. He was always going to appeal to younger fans who like more colorful, vibrant characters on their television.

Roman Reigns doesn’t have that same look. The guy comes to the ring, soaking wet, wearing combat gear, how is that consistent with someone who would ever say the words, sufferin succotash? The best Roman has been, and always will be, the strong, silent type that speaks softly and carries a big stick.

Creative writing failures aside, Roman definitely needed some work on the microphone, but he’s improved. I wasn’t a huge fan of how forced the “work-shoot” promos with John Cena felt, but they were still solid, especially for WWE TV. I really liked the build-up to the Brock Lesnar match at this year’s WrestleMania because it was different, he felt genuine, and he was talking about something the crowd could actually believe, Lesnar’s absence and disregard for the fans.

So is Roman Reigns a top five promo? No. He’s not on the level of his Shield-mates, The Miz, Paul Heyman, or even John Cena. But he’s improved dramatically over the last three years, and I don’t think he’s bad enough on the stick to generate a harsh reaction every time a crowd sees him.

Don’t worry, we’re almost to the actual reason people hate him.

“He’s been pushed down our throats! We want some variety!” 

This is probably the closest reason to the rule one. After all, Reigns has only been a singles competitor for four years and he’s already won the Intercontinental Championship, the United States Championship, the Royal Rumble, three WWE Championships, and main evented four straight WrestleMania. That’s right, as a singles competitor, Roman Reigns has never been in anything other than the main event of WrestleMania, while the likes of CM Punk, Ricky Steamboat, Kane, Bob Backlund, Eddie Guerrero, and Ric Flair never main evented one.

Maybe it’s because he’s been booked as an unstoppable juggernaut that almost never loses clean, maybe it’s because he’s pseudo-related to The Rock, or maybe it’s because Punk buried him on the infamous Colt Cabana’s “Art of Wrestling” podcast, but it’s no secret to the fans that the office is fully behind Roman Reigns as their next big star, by any means possible.

And therein lies the real problem. Because on the surface, I absolutely understand why the WWE brass see Roman Reigns as their guy. He’s talented, he’s good looking, he’s big, and when allowed to be himself, he’s charismatic. But it doesn’t matter how great someone is, if the crowd isn’t behind him, it’s not going to work, and that’s what WWE has encountered with Roman.

The Face of the WWE… Management

In all reality, people don’t boo Roman because he’s bad, they boo him because he represents everything people hate about WWE’s booking. Reigns is the face of a front office that has been downright antagonistic towards it’s loyal fanbase at points (See: The 30th entrant in the 2017 Royal Rumble). Have you noticed that the hardcore crowd has been a lot friendlier to Cena since he’s drifted away from the main event?

That’s not because fans are so incredibly fickle that they flip flop that frequently, despite what people who only see life one variable at a time might tell you. It’s because they don’t feel like he’s being forced down their throats anymore. Cena has drifted into the midcard, away from the main event picture, and suddenly fans can appreciate him again, especially as he’s been putting younger talent (like that Undertaker fella) over instead of going Super-Cena all the time.

So does that mean that by being WWE’s ace, you welcome some kind of automatic hate from the crowd? Does that mean that you’re doomed to get those dreaded 50/50 reactions from every audience if you’re a main eventer in WWE? Absolutely not, just ask Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, or even AJ Styles. If you’re over, you’re over. Sorry guys, your “IWC smark” strawman doesn’t exist, people just have different opinions than you. To see where WWE really went wrong with Roman Reigns, you have to go back to the very beginning.

Roman Reigns: Origins

Like I said earlier, Roman Reigns was wildly popular as The Shield’s enforcer. He was the strong, silent type, and actually complemented Rollins and Ambrose brilliantly. Ambrose was the crazy brawler, Rollins would take all the bumps and build heat for the hot tag, and then Reigns was the tank who would come in and run absolutely wild. That’s why those six-man tags were so awesome, because even though the script was almost always the same, those three just worked so well together.

If you remember, the crowd actually popped pretty hard when he eliminated Ambrose and Rollins at the 2014 Royal Rumble, and when it came down to him and Batista, the crowd was totally behind him. Unfortunately, he didn’t, and who did the crowd boo?That’s right, Batista.

Now, that’s not because everyone was completely behind Roman, it was because everyone, from the kids to the hardcores, was behind Daniel Bryan. The crowd was so behind Daniel Bryan that they booed Rey Mysterio. You know how bad things have to be that they boo one of the most beloved wrestlers in history?

Now, is Batista terrible? No. Batista is fine. If Batista came back next Monday, the crowd would go crazy. But the way he was booked, with the way he was brought back and the timing, it was horrible and crowds rejected it. Another example of half-ass booking ruining a good thing.

Where Things Went Wrong

Fast-forward to Rollins splitting up the Shield. This is where things went wrong for Roman. Because before the split, everyone was ready for Roman to be the breakout star. The holes in his work hadn’t been exposed, and whenever he spoke, the whole crowd reacted.

The first thing that went wrong was that while Ambrose was deadset on getting revenge on Rollins, Reigns skipped the line and his first post-Shield promo was about Randy Orton and Triple H. How does that make sense? Shouldn’t he want revenge on Rollins too?

Triple H and Randy Orton were evil, so he shouldn’t have been surprised that they lured Rollins away, but Rollins was his brother, and he betrayed him. With a single chair, he destroyed something that they’d built over the course of two years.

Look back, look how over Ambrose was at this time. The crowd desperately wanted him to win Money in the Bank, and were crushed when Rollins did instead, with the help of Kane. But where was Reigns? Oh, yeah, the main event, competing for the vacant WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Instead of giving the triumphant babyface a villain to chase, they used the break-up to get Reigns out of the midcard and into the main event.

Who is Roman Reigns?

The crowd was still behind Roman at this point though. His residual popularity from the Shield kept him hot, but this is where fans began to notice the little things. The holes in his singles matches were there, his promos were lackluster, and most importantly, his character didn’t get any definition.

Dean Ambrose got his own music and started running around in street clothes, Seth Rollins started dressing up like a power ranger and got his own music, but Roman? Roman came out in the same gear, to the same music, with the same shtick. It took years for him to stop coming out of the crowd like the Shield would.

Rollins became a cocky chicken heel that would do whatever it took to win. Ambrose became a wacky wildman that was just looking for a fight. And Reigns? What was Roman’s character? He didn’t really get one.

The problem with Roman was that his push was botched so horribly at the beginning that it’s going to be extremely difficult to reverse it now. They presented him without a character and pushed him to the moon without giving him a chance to become a better worker or more comfortable on the microphone, and now that’s all he’ll be for some people.

Roman Reigns: WWE’s Yoko Ono

Roman Reigns is a good worker. If he had received even mediocre booking, he could’ve been everything WWE wanted him to be, but instead, they tried to shape him into something he wasn’t, they ignored the reactions of the fans, and now, he’s the subject of resentment that doesn’t belong to him. He’s merely a symptom of a bigger, more frustrating booking problem. The Beatles had issues before Yoko Ono came into the picture, but now she gets all the blame.

I’d like to see a time when Reigns is allowed to spend some time away from the main event, being booked well until he organically starts picking up momentum and the audience can get behind him. Alas, I fear we’re stuck in a loop where Roman Reigns is chasing Brock Lesnar, a paper champion, until a payoff that lost it’s value a long time ago.

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