Just 48 hours after losing the WWE World Heavyweight Championship to Seth Rollins at Money in the Bank, Roman Reigns will watch from the sidelines as the company builds to its Battleground pay-per-view without him following the announcement Tuesday of a 30-day suspension for a violation of the WWE Wellness Policy.
WWE announced the suspension both on its official website and on Twitter, sending shock waves across the industry:
For the better part of two years, WWE Creative has thrown all of its effort behind putting the second-generation star in position to be the top babyface star well into the future. He has headlined two straight WrestleMania events, held the WWE World Heavyweight Championship three times and competed in the main event in 12 of the last 19 pay-per-view extravaganzas.
There is absolutely zero question about the sports-entertainment company's desire to promote him as its face, its franchise player and the man who would one day replace the wholesome, goody two-shoes John Cena at the pinnacle of the industry.
The announcement of the violation is certainly shocking, especially considering Reigns' clean track record. Minus a hernia suffered late in 2014, he had enjoyed a relatively clean bill of health and had never gotten himself in trouble with management, the law or any other entity that would bring shame to the company.
Allowing himself to get caught up in this controversy taints his image for the time being, if not forever. Still, the proud son of the great Hall of Famer Sika of the Wild Samoans, he took to his official Twitter account to own up to his mistake:
The violation and subsequent suspension could not have come at a worse time for WWE. Monday night on Raw, the company began airing the first wave of videos hyping the WWE draft that will permanently split Raw and SmackDown into two different entities, one of which Reigns was almost certainly tapped to head.
If that were not bad enough, the show closed with the announcement of a Triple Threat match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship pitting Reigns against Rollins and new titleholder Dean Ambrose.
Now, the company must step back and reevaluate the situation while determining whether its faith and trust in Reigns has been damaged.
Ramifications on the draft
Reigns is still a big enough star that he is going to be one of the top picks on the July 19 episode of SmackDown. The question becomes whether or not his slip-up causes hesitation on WWE's part to position him as the star on either show.
Does Reigns still headline Raw? SmackDown? Or does this mistake open the door for someone like Ambrose to usurp him on the proverbial totem pole?
|Superstars Who Could Be Drafted Ahead of Reigns|
|Superstar||World Title Reigns||Why?|
|1. John Cena||15||John Cena is the biggest star in the industry, recognized as much for his work away from the ring as for anything he does between the ropes. The most obvious No. 1 pick.|
|2. Seth Rollins||2||One of WWE's MVPs since 2014 and a star the show can be built around, as evidenced by his first title reign.|
|3. Dean Ambrose||1||The current WWE World Heavyweight champion and logical replacement.|
|4. Brock Lesnar||4||The biggest cross-promotional star in professional wrestling, Lesnar is recognized by fans and non-fans alike.|
|5. Triple H||12||A long shot to be drafted at all given his status as an authority figure, but the former champion is still a major draw when he sets foot in the squared circle.|
It all depends on how forgiving Vince McMahon and other key members of management are. There has been so much effort put into Reigns that one cannot see him simply going away after one mistake. As the details of his violation are made clearer, that could all change.
Still, a blossoming main event performer who has proven his worth in some of 2016's best matches thus far, Reigns is a valuable asset to the company and someone who will thrive regardless of whether he is taken No. 1 or 2 by whichever brand selects him.
Unfortunately, his suspension runs through the actual draft broadcast, ensuring that he will not be in attendance for the event. This despite the fact that his image was all over the marketing and ads for the show, as seen above.
What about Battleground?
Whether WWE officials knew of Reigns' violation before Monday's Raw or not, the 30-day suspension actually works out in the former champion's favor in one instance: it allows him to return to work in time for July 24's Battleground pay-per-view and his high-profile Triple Threat match against Rollins and Ambrose.
Assuming the suspension begins on Tuesday, June 21, he will be cleared to return to work on Thursday, July 21. While it may be a difficult task for WWE Creative to effectively build to a major championship bout without one of the participants, the use of video packages and the traditionally strong work of both Ambrose and Rollins will ensure that fans remain excited about the contest.
The toughest sell will be convincing fans that Reigns deserves to regain the title after 30 days off due to his own stupid mistake. A large portion already despises him for his lack of character development or what they, rightly or wrongly, consider a lack of in-ring talent.
Bringing him back off of a suspension that has been reported by every media outlet from ESPN to TMZ, and expecting the audience to buy into him as champion once more, without any sort of substantial change is character, is destined to be met with vocal resistance.
There is always a chance the match is held off until SummerSlam, an event with a stage big enough to host such an encounter. In fact, the match would be more than deserving of the enormity that said event brings with it.
Still, with the match already announced on television and the window for Reigns' return to action fitting the schedule, there is no reason the contest cannot go on as scheduled.
There is no sugarcoating it: Reigns interrupted the greatest opportunity any Superstar has had to succeed since Cena's initial push in 2005. He had the wrestling world in his hands and through fault of himself or ignorance of WWE's stringent Wellness Policy, allowed it to slip through his hands.
He will have to earn back the faith of his fanbase and his employers. He will have to prove that he can handle the spotlight. The top spot in the industry comes with a great deal of scrutiny as it it. The last thing he needs is to elicit any more via ignorance of any sort.
There is no excuse, something he made clear in his first public words through Twitter.
Now it will be up to him to come back better, more focused and determined to prove himself as a legitimate franchise star. Whether that is as a heel or babyface, on Raw or SmackDown, champion or not remains to be seen.
Taking into consideration the time that went into getting Reigns to the point that he has accumulated as many titles as he has, competed in as many marquee matches as he did and become one of the top stars in the industry like he did, the opportunities will still be there for the former Shield juggernaut.
Based on his hard work and the amount of great performances he has turned in over the course of his first full year as a legitimate main event attraction for WWE, expect him to rise to the occasion from the ashes of this setback.