A lot of wrestling fans have been waiting a long time for the thing we’ve seen play out over the past week to happen - heel Roman Reigns.
The Big Dog was great as a bad guy in The Shield, and a loud portion of the audience has been treating him as a villain since the 2015 Royal Rumble. WWE did an amazing job keeping his SummerSlam return a secret, stunned even the cynical smarks by revealing his partnership with Paul Heyman in a SmackDown cliffhanger, and leaned all the way into the backlash against Reigns by giving him the Universal title for a couple minutes worth of work at Payback.
It’s been, as the man who wrote and/or approved it would say, such good shit.
But a couple questions stick in my mind about Roman becoming a reprobate: Why now? And was it necessary?
The first will fuel a million “what if?” scenarios, and almost as many articles that attempt to psychologically profile Vince McMahon. The answer, like most things WWE, is that Vince decided to do it now. We can make some pretty good guesses - it’s part of the Raw Underground, RETRIBUTION, ThunderDome efforts to recapture people’s attention, or it’s an angle that intrigued Reigns enough to get him to come back from his hiatus - but we’ll never know.
It’s also really only important as it pertains to the second question. Does the company in general, and the blue brand in particular, need Roman as a main event heel right now?
Disagreeing with my man Cain, my initial answer was no. SmackDown has AJ Styles, Sheamus, Miz & John Morrison, Sami Zayn & Artist Collective (even if they don’t stick together, they aren’t faces), and King Corbin. They just turned Braun Strowman. The plan to make Bray Wyatt baby is intriguing; he’s popular enough, but will playing the hero take away some of the edge that made him that way?
But with all due respect to Styles, none of those guys is a Brock Lesnar-level draw (AUTHOR’S NOTE: I wrote this before this news broke, I swear!). Reigns might not be either, but he’s the closest thing McMahon has. Everything about what we’ve seen of heel Roman says he’s plugged into the role the Beast has played for the last several years - including last night’s “show up late to win a multi-man match” booking.
For a variety of reasons, WWE’s only used the Lesnar monster heel gimmick to successfully mint one new babyface Superstar... Drew McIntyre. But you could argue that working with Brock helped Seth Rollins and the Big Dog reach their current level. Perhaps, with Reigns around for more than a handful of dates each year, this tweak in the formula is the key to building up the next wave of main eventers?
That’s where the need is made clear. There’s a crop of guys who could be to the next decade what McIntyre and the remaining Shield duo are to right now. Based on their Payback wins, Big E and Keith Lee immediately come to mind. There are lots of possibilities, though. Folks like Montez Ford, Murphy, Mustafa Ali or Adam Cole could emerge if the stars align with McMahon’s mood. Everybody’s going to have their pick for who they’d like to see get a run at the top as a good guy*. None of them are going to be worse off for going toe-to-toe with or beating a dominant heel Roman Reigns.
As is always the case, the success of Roman’s new character and any plans to use it to elevate future stars depends on execution. The track record there is... well, it is what it is.
It’s that, and personally feeling a little letdown we’re not getting a face anti-hero version of the Big Dog who talks trash and backs it up in the ring, that caused those questions to pop into my mind in the first place.
Rather than get bogged down by them, however, I’m gonna do two things - one that’s pretty easy, another that’s not.
I’m going to enjoy the great job they’re doing with heel Roman right now. And I’m going to try not to judge future possibilities based on failures of the past.
* And they don’t have to be on SmackDown, either. The upcoming WWE Draft, and the company’s willingness to rewrite their own rules to do whatever they feel they need to, means the current make-up of the Friday night roster is a temporary issue.