At the top, I should say that I’m for everyone who makes their bag by taking their body less and less risk. If Roman Reigns wants to keep making his millions by wrestling just 20 times a year, then understand that, my friend. If he wants to do it by taking no risk and just doing movies from now on, that’s cool too (same goes for Sasha Banks who’s more likely to do that but my heartbreak for never having seen her in the ring would be again unmanageable).
I was also one of the bigger fans of Reign’s repackaging, which is almost two years old now, as an all-conquering, ass-kicking heel that didn’t have to do anything else. That’s what he was always made for, and it only took Vince McMahon a pandemic and zero risk since there were no live people to find out.
But everything has a durability, and it feels like that Roman run has run its course. Only it won’t stop for a while and maybe even longer.
We know Vince desperately wanted Reigns at the helm of the company for years. That’s why he pushed him into Mania Main Event after the main event, even though the fans didn’t really want a part of it. But now that Vince has what he was chasing, he’s made it clear that he would sit on it. And sit on it. And he still is.
Now that Roman holds both titles (both Raw and Smackdown), WWE faces the same problem it faced when Vince Brock ditched Lesnar for over a year. It’s not on TV. That doesn’t mean Roman has to wrestle on both shows all the time, nor anything close. But Raw took place last week with no mention of the title or Reigns. It felt centerless, and even more so when the main event was one of those nonsensical and idiotic “championship contender” matches that forces a champion like Bianca Belair to wrestle a non-title match to see if she must wrestle a title match down the road. Even Becky Lynch called out her stupidity on the show. And of course it had a non-finish that made the whole show feel pointless.
But Roman needs to be present, and he needs someone chasing him to play him off. He hasn’t had that since Mania, and even that Mania build was warped because, as funny as Brock was about it, no one thought for a second that he was going to win. And the actual Mania match left the most cold, whether due to injury or not. There was no gloss Reigns could use to illuminate the aftermath. He just sat there.
There’s still some confusion as to what exactly Roman’s schedule will be like now. He sparked fifth-course rumors at a house fair in New Jersey, hinting he might not be back. Some thought he was going all the way. Some thought he was mostly just scrapping house shows. It seems to be the latter, since Reigns only actually gets in the ring at PPVs (or PLEs, Premium Live Events, to use modern parlance). And again, that’s fine. It should be a BIG DEAL when Reigns wrestles. It should be an event, meaning 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 running through all of them Roman has left the field with no credible challengers. New York appeared to have Drew McIntyre touring at Sunday’s PLE in a six-man tag with Reigns and the Usos, alongside Randy Orton and Matt Riddle, perhaps WWE’s most popular performers of the moment. It was a chance to show a crack or two. Reigns didn’t even have to eat the needle, but it would have been so easy to start the collapse of the Empire if the Usos lost while he was paired with Reigns and his dissatisfaction and paranoia were starting to kick in and create rifts. Instead, Roman Riddle was stuck. We’re back where we started.
There’s still time here, of course, if Orton and Riddle would unify the tag titles across the Usos, but why not start on Sunday? Losing the title to Reigns must be a big deal that’s been built up over months, so why not take a few small steps? Reigns won’t happen if the Usos lose, and neither will McIntyre.
All of this ignores the fact that New York avoided the best angle it had with Reigns in its desperation to set him up with Brock. And that’s his feud with Seth Rollins at the Royal Rumble. This match was borderline brilliant, and the non-finish worked because it exposed the cracks in Roman’s armor – his insecurity about his history with Rollins and the Shield, his inability to come to terms with the fact that his former friends always had one on him, that he can. You don’t have to face losses and panic. It’s also what Kevin Owens brought out in him in the final days of Thunderdome. It was all there, making this indomitable monster that Reigns has become seem tame, if only for a minute.
And WWE went ahead and ignored it, throwing it in the Dumpster in favor of more Brock Roman matches. Never heard of it again. Which brought Roman back to what we’ve seen for over a year: “I’m the best, nobody can beat me, this is my ring.” There’s no variation on the character. It’s little more than a cardboard cutout. If you do that long enough, fans will stop buying 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. It’s too boring now.
Seth is no longer a possibility, and WWE has never been interested in using her history, even recent, to build a match. They could be setting up McIntyre to win in Wales while ignoring the fact that McIntyre is Scottish (there’s little chance Vince would know the difference between Wales and Scotland). Still, that crowd will be almost boisterous and a Drew win there will feel monumental.
But not having Roman around often won’t help that. And the fact that his character hasn’t changed won’t help that either. There’s four months left to turn McIntyre back into a true titan, but this is still a guy who’s spent the last few months hunting down Baron Corbin and Madcap Moss with a sword. It doesn’t exactly scream “wrestling icon”. Is Drew strong enough to build on partially or mostly on his own? Questionable.
Maybe it’s Cody Rhodes, another guy who is only too happy to ignore adding any flaws or depth to his character and who can be the paint-by-number face to counter the paint-by-number sales, that Reigns has become. Rhodes is definitely a good enough promo to get the amount of work done on its own, and WWE fans are more forgiving of someone who’s so far in their own ass that they came around again.
It is clear that this took too long. Reigns holding the top spot on the map just for Reigns to hold the top spot on the map washed it out. McMahon got his endorsement, got his award, but now it’s time to move on.