The Curious Case of Roman Reigns


Is Roman Reigns “The Guy” for WWE?

Sunday night’s Money in the Bank event saw Roman Reigns dethroned as WWE World Heavyweight Champion for a third time. And for a third time, the crowd in attendance erupted into jubilation, just as they had done when Sheamus cashed in last year’s MITB contract on him to close out Survivor Series 2015; as well as when Triple H dumped Reigns out of the ring during the “One Versus All” Royal Rumble match in defense of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

By all accounts, this should not be happening to the guy the WWE has chosen to be, not only, the next top star in the promotion, but by virtue alone, the WWE’s premier babyface. Vince’s four previous top guys: Hogan, Bret, Austin (though more of an anti-hero), and Cena, all had readily identifiable babyface qualities that won them the affection of the crowd. Yet, while Roman was indeed the WWE’s top star for three, albeit short, title reigns, he never got over in the desired role he was assigned to as the face of the company: the consummate good guy, the endearing babyface, and the everyman protagonist.

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In stark contrast, earlier in the card, the top babyface in the Women’s division, Becky Lynch, was attacked from behind by her teammate and friend Natalya, and the Las Vegas audience immediately empathized with Becky; they cheered heavily in support of her as she slowly got back to her feet. Becky was visibly confused by what had Natalya had done, as was the crowd. The fans care about Becky Lynch, and given their reaction to the attack, the fans are very much emotionally invested in her character and her journey in the WWE since she joined the main roster last summer.

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Roman Reigns has yet to truly achieve that near unanimous level of support in the way that Sami Zayn and Bayley have been able to capture the hearts and imaginations of the WWE universe, especially in this day and age when it is increasingly more difficult to be a white meat baby face. Not even the face who runs the place, John Cena, in all his years as the top good guy has been able to get a crowd 100% behind him; it’s always been 50-50, none more infamous than his own hometown of Boston divided in their reception of him during his rivalry with Edge.

John Cena, in an effort to explain why a particular group of diehard fans felt the way they did towards him, once compared to himself to LeBron James and The Rock (whom he was feuding with at the time) to Michael Jordan. Cena regards himself as still the face of the WWE and that the future must run through him. Ironically, on the same night as Money in the Bank, LeBron James captured his third NBA championship, defeating the incumbent reigning, defending champion and seemingly new face of the NBA, Steph Curry, and re-establishing his claim that he is still the King. WWE is currently looking for their next top star, their Steph Curry, and perhaps felt that Reigns was the man to take over the mantle from Cena into the next ten or so years. However, given the result of Sunday night’s PPV, the search continues as it appears that it is not Roman Reigns at this moment.

Who is “The Guy”? It’s been a brain-wracking question for WWE as they search for its next John Cena in the same manner that John Cena was discovered to be the next Hulk Hogan

Who is “The Guy”? It’s been a brain-wracking question for WWE as they search for its next John Cena in the same manner that John Cena was discovered to be the next Hulk Hogan. WWE has been expending a tremendous amount of time and money on this subject for the last five years, putting over and pushing forth individuals who would be undeniable leading men in any other promotion. Backstage politics led to the acrimonious departure of CM Punk, who many fans felt was finally the breath of fresh air from John Cena and the PG Era when he famously won the WWE Championship in Chicago five years ago and kicked off the Reality Era. And when “The Guy” wasn’t to be Punk, injury ultimately ended the career of arguably the biggest babyface the company had seen in years in Daniel Bryan, but not before capping off a memorable eight-month long angle against The Authority by winning the richest prize in the game at Wrestlemania XXX.

With Cena’s time in the main event slowly but surely coming to an end as he now establishes himself in the upper-mid card, WWE looks ahead to its future, both immediate and long term. Both Punk and Bryan did not work out in the top spot for a stretch of time for various reasons, and thus Roman Reigns ended up becoming what Paul Heyman eloquently summarized as “the right guy in the right place at the wrong time”. Fans were so emotionally invested in Daniel Bryan that anything less of Bryan being “The Guy” would be met with such resistance, and Roman Reigns symbolized every preconceived notion they had about WWE’s perception of smaller, non-cosmetically pleasing talents, despite how incredible they were in the ring. And so, Roman, fairly or unfairly, depending on who you talk to, took the blunt end of such negative reaction.

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So, who is “The Guy” now? Given the popularity of Dean Ambrose since the split of The Shield and the uproarious reaction he got Sunday night when he finally captured the WWE World Heavyweight Championship that had eluded him on several close calls, it would most certainly appear to be that the dark horse had been there the entire time, right under WWE’s noses. But is Ambrose “The Guy” long term? Given the tone of his incredible documentary on the WWE Network, is it a converted babyface in Seth Rollins? Or is it the small guy with the big heart whose roots are not with WWE but firmly in the underground independent scene in Sami Zayn?

In each of the three boom periods in WWE, there has always been three top stars: the top babyface, the top heel, and “The Guy” (or babyface 1A and 1B and the top heel). In the 80s, it was the Ultimate Warrior, Macho Man Randy Savage, with Hogan being “The Guy”. During the Attitude Era, the top babyface was The Rock, Triple H was the top heel, and Austin was “The Guy”. The PG Era designated Batista as the top babyface, Randy Orton as the top heel, and John Cena as “The Guy”.

A win means WWE is sticking with Roman and they are looking to him to headline Summerslam. A loss means that Roman Reigns may very well no longer be “The Guy”

While Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose have firmly secured their spots in the grand scheme of things off of pure talent and sheer popularity alone moving forward, perhaps WWE jumped the gun with its plans to christen Roman Reigns as “The Guy”. The next several months of Raw will prove to be an interesting time of change for WWE. A huge Wrestlemania-main event worthy triple threat match between the three former Shield brothers for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship has been announced for the upcoming Battleground PPV. The outcome of the match will weigh heavy on Roman Reigns and his position in the company, and could signify who will be WWE’s “Guy” heading into WWE’s second biggest event of the calendar year, Summerslam. A win means WWE is sticking with Roman and they are looking to him to headline Summerslam. A loss means that Roman Reigns may very well no longer be “The Guy”.

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If it is not Roman Reigns, that third spot could be filled by the likes of Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, or even future call-ups in Finn Balor. However, possibly the most interesting, unique, unpredictable, revolutionary choice; “The Guy” might not even be a male wrestler, but “The Girl” in the unanimous babyface of the people, men, women, and children of all ages: the overwhelmingly popular and beloved Bayley.

As of Tuesday, with the sudden announcement of Roman Reigns’ 30-day suspension for violating WWE’s wellness policy, look for the top spot of “The Guy” on the main roster to be most certainly up for grabs between Rollins, Ambrose, Zayn, and Owens.