I've not been the biggest supporter of the current WWE World Heavyweight champion.
On one occassion earlier this year, I was accused of actively trying to undermine the man's pro wrestling career.
But I'm here to sign up for the Roman Empire.
Sure, much of this has to do with the amazing bit of storytelling Roman Reigns, Sheamus, Triple H, Stephanie & Vince McMahon and the entire Creative staff pulled off from the TLC pay-per-view (PPV) to the end of the December 14 Raw. Even after that, however, I was still worried about the Big Dog's promos, creeped out by his smile and just generally not fully on board.
How did the throwaway, holiday-themed interview with Renee Young you see above change that?
Whether it's my boss Geno Mrosko's joking speculation that Romey is "high as f***" or our colleague Tonya Rodgers belief that the pressure of getting over is off him now that Vince & company did their job and wrote a story that actually helped him get over, the Reigns we see here is much more comfortable in his own skin.
Is he kind of big dork with cheesey smile? Yep. But the guy in this video owns that. He doesn't try to overcome it with forced cool or funny lines. When he realizes that the battle against League of Nations can wait until after Christmas, the "champ did it big this year" line feels like his, and not someone else putting words in his mouth.
Before that, his rush to want to immediately fight despite the fact that his cousins, Jimmy & Jey Uso, just took a beating and his "brother" Dean Ambrose still had a title defense later in the show, is an interesting character wrinkle, and a potential Achilles' heel for the McMahon's newest superhero. Having friends and family playfully rein him in also provides a more natural outlet for comedy than cartoon-y jokes and trying to impersonate The Rock.
"We fight as individuals...but when we come together..." serves as a mission statement for the character, and more of an explanation than we've ever gotten for why John Cena is the worst friend in kayfabe.
At the end, Roman turns on the charm that's always been there. His trusty flirting partner Renee "Baby Girl" Young is back, getting invited to tag on Monday night and blushing as she received a wink with her holiday well wishes from the champ.
Give me more of this. Even the tongue-out "hang ten" sign-off. It's goofy but not awkward, which makes it relateable...which was always going to be the wedge between a 6' 3" Samoan god of a man and wrestling fans. It's the trick that Vince's top guys have always pulled off. In order to root for Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin or John Cena, we have to think they'd give us the time of day even though most of us don't usually rub elbows with good looking, pro athlete-types.
It all makes times, like the end of the last pay-per-view (PPV), when Reigns does snap much more meaningful and cool. I was in the group of folks who wanted Roman to be a silent, Clint Eastwood-type. But that was the wrong template. The Big Dog is more (pre alcoholic racist) Mel Gibson...a loveable wisecracker who turns dangerously scary when pushed too far.
Am I reading a lot into a slightly-over-a-minute video clip that probably wasn't scripted? Of course. Is Reigns ever going to be my favorite performer on the roster? Probably not.
But the Roman Empire is upon us. And if they follow the blueprint we got in this Fallout interview, that might be a lot of fun.