Roman Reigns is back in time for WrestleMania 35—but it might be best for everyone if he takes a backseat for now.
His return announcement, mere weeks before 'Mania, will likely go down as one of the best promos of all time. The story is incredibly personal, heartfelt and relatable. Also impressive was Reigns' quick return to in-ring action. He's a bit rusty, but he's hitting the usual moves and has the fans behind him while putting on a show.
Just like old times.
But WWE does seem to be angling for a slow burn with The Big Dog—as it should. While one could argue the merits of the company throwing together another Shield reunion because of the speculation surrounding Dean Ambrose's seemingly impending departure from the company, the likelier angle sees the company ease Reigns back into the groove.
It's a delicate thing. Everyone knows about Reigns' struggles to get over with the fans. In the social media age, short attention spans rule the day, and it wouldn't take long for good reactions to fade if WWE doesn't handle him right.
Imagine Reigns came back and instead of the tag team match at Fastlane, got in the ring with Seth Rollins and said he wanted to gun for the universal title right away. He would have a point. The former champion didn't lose it, he already has the win over Brock Lesnar, it's his yard and it goes on and on.
But shoving Reigns into the main event at WrestleMania would have backfired. Returning with the same old character would have had his detractors souring on the whole ordeal quickly.
Luckily for all, Reigns himself told Sports Illustrated's Jimmy Traina he used his break to introduce more of the real him into the ring:
"But also with the storylines and character, because we have introduced Joe, especially last week, I felt like there was a lot of Joe within the promo of Segment One. Even with the interaction with Seth [Rollins], I just feel like with me integrating the characters and who I am in real life and who I am on stage, for me to kind of mix them, it allows me to laugh at Roman a little bit and have a little more fun and be a little more loose as opposed to the stoic brawler."
This new bit of character work is going to take time. He's been weaving it in, but it won't happen overnight. In the ring, he's been more of a trip down memory lane with The Shield.
Which isn't to say even the Roman-infused-with-Joe reset won't gun for the top title at some point. But he knows, just as anyone else does, that he hasn't been here for the majority of the extensive Road to WrestleMania. The storylines are already written. The feuds are mostly in place. The tickets are sold, and the merchandise is printed.
For now, it looks like WWE is angling to have Reigns take on Drew McIntyre at the show. If that's as big as it gets for him, it is probably for the best. The redemption and comeback arc for Reigns is only just beginning and doesn't need to feel forced.
And if we're being honest, Seth Rollins is likely taking the belt off Brock Lesnar at 'Mania anyway. Like Reigns said on Raw, Rollins has been the one holding it down in his absence. Rollins is going to get his moment. Then we can all ponder the idea of having Reigns back heavily featured in the main event scene.
Even if he isn't, it will be nice to finally have the top belt back on the program each week. Reigns will be in the mix at some point regardless.
But at WrestleMania, it's cool for the guy who has main-evented the whole thing multiple times and even beaten The Undertaker to take a backseat. It's not a punishment, and fans aren't going to forget he's lurking in the background.
Reigns, undoubtedly, will have his time at the top again. But a character reset, even an ever-so-slight adjustment, takes time. Other stories have organically materialized in his absence, and if we're picking and choosing his spot to pounce back into the thick of things, it's probably the Monday after WrestleMania at the earliest.