Roman Reigns' battle to win over his detractors has been well-documented over the years, and it wasn't until his shocking announcement one year ago on Raw that his standing with WWE fans changed.
After entering to a mixed reaction from fans in Providence, Rhode Island, on Oct. 22, 2018, Reigns quickly made it clear he was addressing them as himself and not as his on-air persona.
A hush fell over the audience after he revealed his leukemia had returned and he would have to immediately vacate the Universal Championship.
It was undoubtedly a turning point in the career of The Big Dog, especially since it was unknown at the time when, or even if, he'd be back in the ring. The overwhelming amount of support he received that night paved the way for his hot comeback just four months later.
It should be noted that no matter how he was booked or where he was on the card, Reigns was being booed more often than not for the better part of his run in the main event scene before his hiatus. He was never able to shake the negative reaction to his 2015 Royal Rumble win and was inexplicably disliked by a vocal minority of the WWE Universe from that point forward.
The 34-year-old went a full two years without holding a world title but was still constantly criticized during that period. Even when he finally vanquished Brock Lesnar for the universal title at SummerSlam 2018, fans continued to reject Reigns as the face of WWE.
His absence from programming played a pivotal role in the tides turning in his favor. Now, he's more beloved than ever before.
Reigns was out of action for four months before making his comeback on the February 25 edition of Raw. He was welcomed back with open arms and received a rock star-level reaction from the crowd.
It then became a question of how long his "honeymoon phase" was going to last, and unfortunately his WrestleMania 35 match with Drew McIntyre was mostly met with silence. Then again, that was due to it being a boring bout and not because of anything Reigns did to turn the fans against him.
The Big Dog continued to build off that momentum with more wins over McIntyre, Elias and Shane McMahon. His move to SmackDown in the Superstar Shake-Upin April and a string of solid matches with Erick Rowan, Buddy Murphy and Shinsuke Nakamura have only solidified his status as a fan favorite.
Eighteen months ago, an argument could have been made for the uber-popular Seth Rollins swapping places with Reigns in the universal title picture. Now that they have, it's fascinating to see how quickly the crowd has turned on the former while embracing the latter.
Of course, to not fault of his own, Rollins' reigns as universal champion this year have been disappointments. Similar to when Reigns was also at the peak of his push a few years ago, The Beastslayer has come across as completely unlikable as the face of the flagship show with nothing endearing about him.
Thankfully, Reigns has found new life on SmackDown and wisely been kept away from the WWE Championship scene for the time being. He's been a lot less overexposed and largely let his skills inside the squared circle do the talking for him.
This run for Reigns has perhaps been his best since The Shield days, at least in terms of how the crowd responds to him most weeks. The key will be him maintaining this goodwill he's generated with the WWE Universe throughout 2019.
Putting him in programs with wrestlers the fans already despise, such as King Corbin, will make it easy for fans to continue cheering him. The real test will be when he's feuding with Daniel Bryan, Nakamura or Bray Wyatt to see if fans are willing to stick by him then.
In the meantime, Reigns should enjoy the adulation from the audience while he has it. He may not be as adored down the road, but whatever WWE is doing with his character has been working wonders and eliminated the need for him to turn heel any time soon.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.