After weeks of rumors that he was on track for a huge push as the next big WWE star, based on last night at Survivor Series it looks like WWE is indeed in the process of strapping the rocket to Roman Reigns.
If you didn't know what was happening, the booking of the match seemed a little weird at first, as the babyface team of Rey Mysterio, The Rhodes Brothers, and The Usos quickly got an advantage against the heel team of The Shield and the Real Americans. Normally, heels overcoming adversity is counterproductive, but here it was the beginning of setting him up as an unstoppable force, eliminating most of his opponents on the way to turning babyface.
Roman Reigns is, right now, the poster child for the modern WWE developmental system. While he's a second-generation wrestler who comes from the huge Anoa'i wrestling family, he's almost completely a product of Florida Championship Wrestling and NXT.
When The Shield was called up to the main roster as a unit, there was a mix of glee and groans among hardcore fans. The idea of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose being brought up to the main roster as CM Punk's allies had been the subject of fantasy booking for over a year, but it was usually suggested with another former independent standout like Chris Hero/Kassius Ohno as their partner.
Reigns was seen as a mismatched partner to the point where he could drag down The Shield. He hadn't been especially good in developmental, but he was a huge second-generation wrestler with a great look, and clearly someone saw something in him.
When The Shield made their in-ring debut at TLC 2012 against Team Hell No and Ryback, it was one of the best WWE matches of the year. In a crazy brawl that went all over the Barclays Center, they quickly established their trademark frenetic style and ability to use teamwork to beat just about anyone in WWE.
Still, fans were skeptical of Reigns. After all, Ryback was in that match, too, and while the match was brilliantly laid out to get as much out of Ryback as possible, he hadn't suddenly turned into a great worker. Reigns, on the other hand, showed over the next couple months that he had dramatically stepped up his game when he got his spot and was more than worthy of his push.
At this point, Reigns may even be the best performer in The Shield. Dean Ambrose has disappointed in singles matches, and while Seth Rollins is consistently great, he doesn't have the personality of Reigns. Reigns is the only one with the potential to be the biggest star in the wrestling business.
In recent issues of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (subscriber only links), Dave Meltzer has noted that:
- Reigns is one of "the three acts the company is looking at elevating greatly next year" (with Summer Rae and Big E. Langston).
- "Reigns' turn is scheduled to be fast-tracked and they are looking at him as being the new young golden boy of the promotion."
- Reigns is the wrestler "who [WWE] see[s] as the closest thing to a second coming of his non-biological cousin, Dwayne Johnson."
While "the closest thing to the second coming of" The Rock is way too lofty a goal for just about anyone, so far WWE has done a good job setting up Reigns' eventual turn and singles push. His performance in the promo that planted the seed for the turn (where he made a subtle, dismayed facial expression as Ambrose noted he's now the only champion in The Shield) was strong. At Survivor Series, he got a huge reaction for winning by spearing Rey Mysterio and Goldust, two of the most popular wrestlers in the company.
The only area where Reigns is a little bit of a question mark is on promos. His speaking ability has been strong so far, both when he gets his promo time and when he does his awesome trash talking during matches, but with the way WWE does things, it's likely more would be asked of him as a top level babyface.
So far, he's risen to occasion, but to be honest, he's probably better off without WWE changing his character to the degree he'd be doing long in-ring promos. He's catching on because he's a charismatic wrecking machine who doesn't say much but makes it count when he talks. The worst thing they could do would be what they did with Diesel, turn him into an always-smiling geek.
While I want WWE to take its time with Reigns to get the push right, he would be a breath of fresh air as a main eventer, so I'd like for him to ascend sooner rather than later. He may not be the next coming of his cousin, but he's definitely WWE's best hope for a breakout star.