WWE was right: Nobody really saw that one coming.
Roman Reigns made a shocking return Sunday night as SummerSlam was going off the air. And from the jump, it felt different—draped in a tight-fitting "Wreck Everyone & Leave" shirt and fully-bearded, he brutalized both Braun Strowman and Bray Wyatt's The Fiend.
The Big Dog was livid, spitting-mad and throwing things out like, "You ain't a monster unless I'm around" and "I made you" while making a victim of two Superstars who have really made his life hell for most of his time in WWE.
And fans surely jumped right to the natural question: Is this the heel turn? Is Reigns a bad guy now?
WWE could always walk it back and make him play a little more of a tweener role where he plays with the line but never fully crosses it.
But outright ambushing two guys after an extended absence who haven't done him wrong lately and haven't really hurt anyone close to Reigns and beating them down with a steel chair? Assaulting Strowman to the point he can't move and interrupting The Fiend's big title win at the end of the show? That's all pretty heelish.
And to add to the above, there weren't any silly fist-cocks or oh-rahs, just a notably bigger Reigns dominating his "yard." No vest or smiles, just...wrecking everyone and leaving (sorry).
Call it a fitting turn of events, really. WWE fans haven't seen Reigns in a long time, and with audiences still limited amid the coronavirus pandemic, it was easy to think fans really wouldn't see him for the entirety of 2020.
Yet he happened to come back on what was arguably the best show of the year.
SummerSlam didn't exactly look loaded beforehand and to make it stranger for the second-biggest show of the year, WWE had oddly positioned another pay-per-view, Payback, only a week later.
But the card was downright stellar. There weren't any silly finishes or odd things that have hurt other marquee shows. The women put on dominating performances in all facets, Seth Rollins helped Dominik Mysterio look amazing, and Drew McIntyre continued his consistently refreshing title run (he's not a five-moves-of-doom champ) with a win over Randy Orton in a match where neither guy suffered and they look poised for a rematch. And Keith Lee's on his way, too.
That's merely painting with broad strokes about the show, too. Asuka's a champ again. There's some intrigue with Bayley and Sasha Banks. Even Strowman and Wyatt went a safe route that, if Reigns didn't return, would've continued to be interesting.
But the Reigns thing just sort of towers over everything, and rightfully so. It's a momentous occasion and the early hints are he is finally embracing the character fans have wanted for a long time—the badass with a mean streak who doesn't overly lean into the do-good babyface stuff to the point it turns audiences off from him no matter what he does.
It's the character Reigns has deserved for a long time. Fans have seen flashes of it in the past, this take-no-prisoners type of guy who doesn't say much but terrifies opponents. If the hints Sunday night are right, there won't be any more "Sufferin' succotash" moments. Maybe he's finally moving past The Shield, ditching the vest and the entrance music, too.
Granted, WWE and The Big Dog had no other choice, right? If he hit the ring for his big return Sunday in a vest, did the hoo-rah thing and smiled as the show went off the air...ratings aren't going to bump a whole lot. And he's feuded with Strowman and Wyatt endlessly, so the same old Reigns coming back to fight them again would be shrug-worth at best.
But this? This is new. This is the type of Reigns that could create some palpable fear from a monster like Strowman. It's the type of Reigns that can bang with a supernatural Fiend without a problem. It's the roster-topping, potentially transcendent to the broader media type of headline champion work with amazing potential.
Perhaps most importantly, it might just resemble a potential turning point for WWE. Ratings have been down, the pandemic oddities as far as attendance and pre-taping have hurt the product and kept things in holding patterns.
Reigns coming back and having the all-clear to flirt with heel work is a good sign. That it happened on the best non-WrestleMania show of the year so far is even better. WWE has always wanted The Big Dog as the face of the company and the Superstar leading the charge but flopped repeatedly by shoving him down fans' throats to the point of exhaustion.
But Sunday night, WWE hinted at giving fans what they want with Reigns, which in turn would easily mean the company gets what it wants out of it.
And given the quality of SummerSlam, it couldn't have happened at a better time.