At the top, I should state that I’m all for anybody making their bag with putting their body at less and less risk. If Roman Reigns wants to continue to make his millions by wrestling only 20 times a year, you get that, my friend. If he wants to do it by removing all risk and and just going to make movies from here on out, that’s cool too (same goes for Sasha Banks, who is more likely to do so, but my heartbreak at never seeing her in the ring again would be unmanageable).
I also was one of the bigger fans of Reign’s repackaging, which is now almost two years ago, as an all-conquering, ass-kicking heel who didn’t have to do anything else. It’s what he was always made for, and it only took a pandemic and lack of risk thanks to there being no live crowds for Vince McMahon to figure it out.
But everything has a shelf life, and it’s feeling like this Roman run has run its course. Except it’s not going to stop for a little while yet, and maybe even longer.
We know Vince wanted Reigns at the top of the company desperately for years. It’s why he crowbarred him into Mania main event after main event even though fans didn’t really want any part of it. But now that Vince has got what he chased, he’s made it clear he would sit on it. And sit on it. And he still is.
Now that Roman holds both titles though (both Raw and Smackdown), WWE has the same problem that it had when Vince let Brock Lesnar sit on the title for over a year. It’s not on TV. That doesn’t mean that Roman has to wrestle on both shows all the time, nor anything close. But Raw took place last week without any mention of the title or Reigns. It felt centerless, and even more so when the main event was one of these nonsensical and idiotic “Championship Contender” matches that forces a champ like Bianca Belair to wrestle a non-title match to see if she has to wrestle a title match down the road. Even Becky Lynch called out its stupidity on the show. And of course it had a non-finish, which made the whole show feel pointless.
But Roman needs to be a presence, and he needs someone chasing him to play off of. He hasn’t had that since Mania, and even that Mania build was skewed because, as fun as Brock was during it, no one thought for a second he’d win. And the actual Mania match left most cold, whether it was due to injury or not. There was no glow from it that Reigns could use to shine up the aftermath. He’s just been sitting there.
There’s still some confusion on what exactly Roman’s schedule will be now. He started the fifth gear rumor buzz at a house show in New Jersey, hinting he might not be back. Some thought he was leaving altogether. Some thought he was just scrapping house shows for the most part. It appears to be the latter, with Reigns only actually getting in the ring on PPVs (or PLEs, Premium Live Events, to use the parlance of our times). And again, that’s fine. It should be a BIG DEAL when Reigns wrestles. It should be an event, which means it shouldn’t happen that often.
But you still need builds, you still need anticipation, you still need story. WWE doesn’t have one, and having Roman run through everyone has left the field bereft of credible challengers. New York appeared to be starting Drew McIntyre on the road on Sunday’s PLE in a six-man tag with Reigns and the Usos, alongside perhaps WWE’s most popular performers right now in Randy Orton and Matt Riddle. It was a chance to show a crack or two. Reigns wouldn’t have even had to eat the pin, but it would have been so easy to start the crumbling of the empire with the Usos losing while being paired with Reigns and his dissatisfaction and paranoia starting to kick in and creating fissures. Instead, Roman pinned Riddle. We’re back where we started.
There’s still time here of course, if Orton and Riddle were to unify the tag titles over the Usos, but why not start on Sunday? Reigns losing the title has to be a big deal, built over months, so why not take some small steps? Reigns won’t be around when and if the Usos lose, and neither will McIntyre.
All of this ignores that New York eschewed the best angle it had going with Reigns in their desperation to put him with Brock. And that’s his feud with Seth Rollins at Royal Rumble. That match was borderline brilliant, and the non-finish worked because it exposed the chinks in Roman’s armor — his insecurity about his history with Rollins and the Shield, his inability to reconcile that his former buddies always got one over him, that he can’t face actually losing and panics. It’s also what Kevin Owens brought out in him in the dying days of the Thunderdome. It was all there, and made this unscalable monster that Reigns has become seem conquerable, if only for a minute.
And WWE went ahead and ignored it, chucked it in the dumpster in service of more Brock-Roman matches. Never heard about it again. Which turned Roman back into the same thing we’ve seen for over a year, “I’m the best no one can beat me this is my ring.” There’s no variation to the character. He’s little more than a cardboard cutout. You do that long enough and fans stop buying it or caring. And they can’t ignore how fiercely McMahon wanted to cement Roman as his next Hogan, which is all Lesnar was used to do. It’s too bland now.
Seth isn’t a possibility anymore, and WWE has never been interested in calling on its history, even recent history, to build a match. It could be they’re lining up McIntyre to win it in Wales, while ignoring that McIntyre is Scottish (there’s little chance that Vince knows the difference between Wales and Scotland). Still, that crowd will be near riotous and a Drew win there will feel monumental.
But not having Roman around much isn’t going to help that. And having no change in his character isn’t going to help that either. There’s four months to turn McIntyre back into a true titan again, but this is still a guy who’s spent the past few months chasing around Baron Corbin and Madcap Moss with a sword. It doesn’t exactly scream “wrestling icon.” Is Drew a strong enough promo to build to this partly, or mostly, on his own? Questionable.
Maybe it’s Cody Rhodes, another guy who’s only too happy to ignore giving his character any flaws or depth and can be the paint-by-numbers face to counter the paint-by-numbers heel that Reigns has become. Rhodes definitely is a good enough promo to do the amount of work on his own it would take, and WWE fans are more forgiving of someone being so far up their own ass they’ve come around again.
What’s clear is that this has gone on too long. Having Reigns carry the top spot on the card simply to have Reigns carry the top spot on the card has washed it out. McMahon got his validation, got his prize, but now it’s time to move on.