At the 2012 Survivor Series pay-per-view (PPV), in the main event between then-champion CM Punk, John Cena and Ryback for the WWE Championship, three men appeared in vests and beat the hell out of the challengers, allowing Punk to retain the title.
Those three men were NXT superstars Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. The three men would form a group known as the Shield, and they would go on to dominate the WWE for over two years, winning multiple tag team titles and having amazing feuds with the Wyatt Family and Evolution.
In June of 2014, Rollins turned on his brothers and joined forces with his mentor Triple H, turning heel in the process. Rollins would go on to win Money in the Bank the next month and cash in the contract at WrestleMania 31, becoming the first man ever to cash in Money in the Bank at the Show of Shows.
Who did Rollins cash in on?
Brock Lesnar and Reigns.
Reigns won the 2015 Royal Rumble, albeit with help from his cousin, The Rock, and reigning boos from the crowd. The 2015 Royal Rumble was supposed to be Daniel Bryan’s moment. Instead, WWE decided to strap a rocket to Reigns and force him down the WWE universe’s throat, the WWE trying to make Reigns the next face of the company.
It didn’t work.
WWE knew Reigns wasn’t ready to hold their top prize in the business, but Rollins was, and Rollins had a wonderful heel run with the title while Reigns teamed alongside his former Shield partner in Ambrose to fight the Wyatt Family.
In late 2015, Rollins had to vacate the WWE Title after legitimately tearing his MCL at a house show. Rollins’ injury forced WWE to change plans, and Reigns won the vacant championship at Survivor Series, defeating Ambrose. However, as the confetti reigned down, and Reigns seemed to be cemented as WWE’s top dog, Sheamus ran down to the ring, delivered a Brogue Kick to Reigns, cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and won the title in five minutes and 15 seconds.
Once again, Reigns’s moment was short-lived.
One month later on RAW, Reigns defeated Sheamus to win his second WWE title, despite interference from Triple H, the League of Nations (who could forget them?!) and the Chairman himself Mr. Vince McMahon. WWE’s attempt to make Reigns the next Cena seemed to be in motion, but plans changed again.
At the 2016 Royal Rumble, Reigns became the first man to have to defend the WWE Title in the Rumble, and he had to start the match as the No. 1 entrant. WWE hyped the match by stating that “a champion has never faced such odds before.”
In the match, Reigns was abused by the League of Nations and others, but he kept battling. Triple H entered the Rumble as the last entrant, and the final four came down to Reigns, Ambrose, Sheamus and Triple H. After eliminating Sheamus, Reigns was blindsided and tossed out by “The Game,” who also eliminated Ambrose to win World Championship No. 14. Reigns would defeat Ambrose and Lesnar at Fastlane to set up a match with Triple H for the championship at Wrestlemania 32.
In the main event of Wrestlemania, Reigns defeated Triple H in a lackluster main event. Reigns would go on to defend the championship against A.J. Styles before losing the strap to a returning Rollins at Money in the Bank. Reigns only held the championship for 77 days.
Reigns was not the top star yet WWE needed him to be. Fans were not buying Reigns. They wanted Reigns to be the one to turn heel in 2014 instead of Rollins, and now Reigns was stuck in neutral. Reigns had three WWE Championship reigns, but he had only held the title a combined 119 days, averaging only 40 days, or a little bit over a month as champion.
Then came the Undertaker.
Reigns eliminated “The Deadman” from the 2017 Royal Rumble, sending reigning boo’s his way and setting up a match between the two at Wrestlemania 33. Reigns would win the match, and at the time, retire the Undertaker, arguably the greatest wrestler in the history of the sport.
The next night on RAW, Reigns kicked off the show with the loudest boos possibly in the history of wrestling. The crowd would not even let Reigns speak for the first ten minutes of the show. Finally, Reigns uttered, “THIS IS MY YARD NOW!” before leaving the arena to boos.
This was the moment I thought Reigns had turned the corner. He essentially retired one of, if not the greatest wrestler ever, he was getting booed out of every building and he seemed like a legit badass. This was the perfect opportunity for WWE to strap a rocket to heel Reigns and push him to the moon.
Instead, WWE decided to keep him face, reunite The Shield and eventually book Reigns in a match with Lesnar for the universal title in the main event of Wrestlemania 34 in 2018, a rematch from Wrestlemania 31. Lesnar would retain the title over Reigns in a finisher-fest of a match, and Reigns once again did not receive the rocket WWE had been trying to attach to him for the last three years. It was like WWE was trying to find the point to attach the rocket to, and they couldn’t find it.
At SummerSlam 2018, Reigns faced off against Lesnar for the third time, and Reigns finally defeated Lesnar for the universal title thanks to some interference from Money in the Bank holder Braun Strowman, who had history with both Lesnar and Reigns.
I, and the WWE universe, were so disappointed by the ending of SummerSlam 2018. Strowman was the hottest act in the company at the time, and it was time to strap the rocket to the big man, but instead WWE decided it was finally time to give Reigns the keys to the company. After repetitive failed attempts from WWE, SummerSlam 2018 was Reigns’ moment.
Reigns finally had a decent title run, but it was cut short after only 63 days due to Reigns having to relinquish the championship because he had contracted leukemia for the second time.
When Reigns announced his leukemia diagnosis on the Oct. 22 episode of RAW, everything changed.
The WWE universe went from wanting Reigns to fail at everything he does to just wishing the man, Joe Anoa’i, survives leukemia. It was unknown if Reigns would ever compete in WWE again.
Miraculously, six months later at Wrestlemania 35, Reigns returned to the ring, defeating Drew McIntyre. For the next year, Reigns would be involved in feuds with McIntyre, Shane McMahon, Elias, Daniel Bryan, Erick Rowan, Murphy and Baron Corbin as he tried to regain his status as one of the top guys in the company. At Wrestlemania 36, Reigns was scheduled to compete for the Universal Championship for the first time since relinquishing the title due to his leukemia. Reigns was set to challenge Bill Goldberg in a dream match before COVID-19 hit, and even though WWE has continued on with programming through the pandemic, Reigns decided to opt out because his wife was pregnant, and he is a high-risk individual for COVID-19 due to his leukemia.
Reigns would return at SummerSlam following the Universal Title match between “the Fiend” Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman, Reigns decimating both men. I was shocked to see Reigns. I didn’t think he was going to return until early 2021 at the earliest due to COVID-19, so he was a welcoming site to see.
Five days later on Smackdown, it was announced Reigns, The Fiend and Strowman would compete for the universal title in a triple threat match at Payback, only a week following SummerSlam. Throughout the show, WWE official Adam Pearce was tasked by McMahon to get all three superstars to sign the contract for the championship match. At the end of the show, Reigns and Pearce were in Reigns’s locker room, Reigns refusing to sign the contract. Reigns uttered the phrase, “I’m going to win at Payback, and that’s not a prediction, it’s a spoiler (cut to Paul Heyman sitting beside Reigns)!”
BOOM! The heel turn was complete!
Not only was Reigns aligned with Lesnar’s manager, Heyman, arguably the greatest manager in the history of wrestling, but he was at 2017 badass level again. WWE finally pulled the trigger!
Reigns would win the title at Payback, signing the contract and coming down to the ring and picking the bones of Strowman and The Fiend after they broke the ring. Over the next month, Reigns faced off against his cousin Jey Uso, and at Clash of Champions, Reigns decimated Uso, screaming at him to call him the king of the household. Reigns’s intensity scared Jey’s brother Jimmy so much that he ran down to the ring on a torn ACL and threw in the towel.
The match was perfect. Heel Reigns is perfect.
WWE, this is the Reigns you needed five years ago!
It’s not too little, too late! Thank you for FINALLY giving the WWE Universe what we wanted!
Here’s to a lengthy title run from “The Tribal Chief”!
Brandon Lewis is a columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Hi, I’m Lauren Sasala, a senior journalism student from Toledo. I’m also the editor in chief of The Kent Stater and KentWired this semester. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important news about Kent State and the Kent community. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate.