At this time last year it was clear that WWE was gearing to push Roman Reigns as the guy who would end Brock Lesnar’s reign (pun not intended) of terror, win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, and cement himself as the new face of World Wrestling Entertainment. Wrestling fans, however, had a different idea and turned on Reigns, which culminated in him getting booed out of the building when he predictably won the Royal Rumble match that guaranteed him a chance to wrestle for the championship at Wrestlemania. The fans reaction forced WWE to slightly shift gears and postpone its plans to hand the keys to the company to Reigns.
Fast-forward to Sunday’s TLC (Tables, Ladders, and Chairs) event and Roman Reigns seemed to be in the exact same position. Reigns has spent the majority of 2015 trying to win back the same audience reactions that positioned him to be the company’s top guy, but he hasn’t reached that point because of a combination of fan’s trepidation, questionable booking, and the current creative direction of WWE storylines.
Roman challenged Sheamus for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on Sunday after weeks of uninteresting and highly criticized buildup. Last month, at Survivor Series, Reigns finally won the championship for the first time but only held the belt for five minutes and fifteen seconds after Sheamus cashed in his Money in the Bank contract to take the championship for himself. The buildup was centered on Reigns getting a rematch for the championship, but failed to play on these guy’s strengths – physicality. Every week, WWE audiences were treated (or tortured with) Sheamus and Reigns making silly jokes and not being the stone-faced brutes feasting on their desires to dish out beatings.
In a TLC match, the ring is surrounded with tables, ladders, and chairs (oh my!), and the championship belt is suspended high above the ring, allowing for the wrestlers to perform excitingly violent sequences. This match also allowed for Reigns nad Sheamus to ditch the jokes and emphasize the brutal lengths these competitors were willing to go to in order to capture the industry’s top prize. Several tables were broken, a ladder was snapped in half, and WWE told a compelling in-ring story – a story that the crowd, unfortunately, couldn’t be bothered to care about. That’s what happens with bad buildup to a supposedly important match, and it looked like WWE was going to disappoint the fans again.
However, WWE still had an entertaining trick up their sleeve when it came to the match’s ending and the post-match shenanigans. The match ended when Roman Reigns couldn’t overcome interference from Sheamus’ League of Nations partners (Rusev and Alberto Del Rio) and lost the championship. After the match Reigns snapped and laid out everyone in sight, focusing his chair-in-hands rage on the champion. This prompted The Authority (Triple H and Stephanie McMahon) to enter the arena to calm Reigns down and quell the situation. As is par for the course in professional wrestling, Triple H got a hurting put on him as well and Reigns won the crowd over against all odds. The crowd even unleashed a ‘thank you Roman’ chant that would have never happened if this post-match angle didn’t happen.
Roman Reigns walked out of TLC to the type of buzz he needed a year ago. If WWE runs with this momentum and doesn’t hinder it with the same silly portrayal Reigns is often faced with, he can finally be pushed to the top of the company as was originally planned. Wrestling fans see the potential in Reigns, but prefer things to happen organically. A year ago it was clear that Reigns was the ‘corporate choice’ to be the company’s next flag-bearer and fans rejected him. Now, fans might actually embrace the inevitable and get behind Reigns as a top wrestler – just in time for Wrestlemania season.
The Roman Empire is coming and fans might actually want it this time.
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