Much has been said and written about Roman Reigns over the last two years, most of it true. His failed push and Vince McMahon's unwavering attempt to get him over despite all evidence to the contrary have been discussed at length. For all of his failings and the flack Roman receives from fans at various shows, there is one event that has defined his inability to get over, an event that brought the hatred for him to a fever pitch.
The Royal Rumble.
Former WWE creative team member and Brother Love portrayer Bruce Prichard presented an interesting theory on Steve Austin's Unleashed podcast that I would like to expand on. Prichard noted WWE essentially damned Reigns before his push got started by booking him to win the 2015 Royal Rumble. While I agree with that theory, I believe Reigns was really the victim of a no-win situation.
Daniel Bryan had achieved his dream at WrestleMania 30 and then led the Superdome in New Orleans in a raucous "YES" chant. A short two months later he suffered a neck injury that forced him to relinquish his title and kept him out of action for the rest of the year. When he returned in December and announced that his first match back would be the 2015 Royal Rumble match, fans, including me, immediately assumed he was going to win. It felt like a true Royal Rumble comeback story a la Shawn Michaels, or Steve Austin, or John Cena. In hindsight, given Bryan's health, it was a smart decision not have him win; however, on that night in Philadelphia, there was no way any winner of the Rumble match was getting over.
That's where Roman Reigns was done a disservice. He had the dubious distinction of being the guy who wasn't Daniel Bryan winning the Royal Rumble Daniel Bryan was supposed to win, if only in the eyes of fans who really wanted it. WWE wanted to push him as the next big thing but the crowd was still firmly behind their big thing and they were having none of it. They felt as if Roman's win was an affront to them and his continued push a slap in the face.
Fast forward to this past Sunday night at the 2017 Royal Rumble. Reigns lost his Universal title match to Kevin Owens thanks to some interference from Braun Strowman. That satisfied his detractors. Despite his sudden reentry into the heavyweight title scene, Roman was, in all likelihood, not going to main event another WrestleMania. His entry at number 30 into the Royal Rumble match came as a shock. Fans immediately felt they had been swerved again, hence the immediate boos; however, Reigns wound up being eliminated by Randy Orton en route to the Viper's second Rumble victory. At the sight of his biggest failure, Reigns' was sacrificed to the fans. He not only lost but he lost twice in the same night. The only thing that didn't happen was him being strapped to the Undertaker's symbol and hoisted in the air.
Now that fans have gotten their moment to see Roman fail when it looked like he was going to overcome again, now that he won't main event WrestleMania for the third year in a row, now that his position in the title picture is unknown at best, perhaps the fans will begin to forgive him. I think it's too much to think they'll get behind him again but maybe the booing won't be as heavy.
Roman Reigns may be on the road to redemption but I think it goes through Death Valley and a Tombstone Piledriver.