Roman Reigns faces one of the biggest tests of his WWE career at this Sunday's SummerSlam pay-per-view when he takes on Randy Orton in a heavily hyped match.
In fact, you could argue his performance at the Los Angeles show could determine whether or not his ascension up the card will continue. A solid in-ring performance would likely renew management's faith in him and ensure the flattering booking continues.
A terrible match, however, could set the wrestler back considerably.
First of all, the Orton feud is Reigns' first major solo program since The Shield disbanded back in June. So he absolutely needs to deliver here.
Indeed, it's hard not to see this rivalry as a big test for the star.
Orton is a former WWE champion, a respected veteran and one of the company's biggest names. If Reigns can't have a good feud with him—and churn out something decent at SummerSlam—then that will surely call into question whether he can ever make it as a main eventer.
Encouragingly, the signs have been good so far.
Orton's lengthy and violent beatdown on Reigns on Raw two weeks ago was a tremendous and gripping angle.
And Reigns showed he could take a beating. (It took Orton three attempts to RKO the star through the announcers' table before it finally collapsed, which you just know had to have genuinely hurt.)
But the SummerSlam match will be the real test. He has to have a good match with Orton in the Staples Center and prove he can compete at a main event level.
Crucially, he also has to pick up the victory.
Oh, OK. The Authority could get involved and help The Viper gain the win, thus giving Reigns a valid excuse for losing.
But should he really fail—even under tainted circumstances—in his first high-profile singles bout? Of course not.
Part of Reigns' appeal is that he's a dominate monster babyface who wins a lot. The fans believe in him, and they know that he's not going to get outsmarted by the evil heels and look foolish. You simply can't disappoint them.
Imagine if legendary babyface Bill Goldberg had lost in his first big match in WCW. It would have been hard for him to recover, wouldn’t it?
Even if Reigns did manage to best Orton in a rematch—at Night of Champions or on an edition of Raw—would it really fix the damage? SummerSlam is obviously a more high-profile event. That’s the one that will stick in people’s minds.
Besides, Reigns going over simply makes sense when you compare his status with Orton’s. He has far more momentum than The Viper right now.
Frankly, Orton's star power has fallen somewhat in the last couple of years—his character is stale, and he's often relegated to the role of mere Triple H henchman. He may very well have peaked in WWE.
He certainly doesn't need to be protected by the bookers like he is a huge draw or a big mainstream name.
With Orton's star power on the wane, there's really no valid reason not to have the younger star go over here—unless Vince McMahon is second-guessing his decision to push Reigns.
So Reigns is under a tremendous amount of pressure this Sunday. A good in-ring performance, as well as a victory, is necessary to secure his future in the company—any other result will just cause considerable damage to his blossoming career.