Exclusive: Roman Reigns on the Genius of Brock Lesnar, WWE SmackDown and More

Graham GSM Matthews@@WrestleRantFeatured ColumnistOctober 15, 2021

Exclusive: Roman Reigns on the Genius of Brock Lesnar, WWE SmackDown and More

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    Universal champion Roman Reigns is at the head of the table and the top of the WWE mountain heading into a super-sized SmackDown.
    Universal champion Roman Reigns is at the head of the table and the top of the WWE mountain heading into a super-sized SmackDown.Credit: WWE.com

    Friday nights belong to Roman Reigns, and tonight's super-sized SmackDown, airing on FS1 from 8 p.m. ET to 10:30 p.m., will be no exception.

    The universal champion of 400-plus days is intent on making a statement ahead of his upcoming title defense against archrival Brock Lesnar at Crown Jewel on Thursday. It's been a rocky road for Reigns en route to Saudi Arabia, but he promises to prevail and ensure he stays put at the head of the table.

    It's been a career year for Reigns on SmackDown, a show he has carried on his back since returning at SummerSlam 2020 following a five-month hiatus. He captured his second universal title a mere week later and has conquered every challenger who has stepped up to face him.

    Having been synonymous with the success of SmackDown on Fox for the past two years, Reigns remaining on the blue brand in the recent WWE draft was academic. From the exceptional promo work to the masterful storytelling to the amazing matches, everything about his character is firing on all cylinders, and there doesn't appear to be an end in sight to his historic run of dominance.

    Ahead of a special, star-studded SmackDown on FS1, Reigns caught up with Bleacher Report to discuss his rivalry with Lesnar, why he bleeds blue, his iconic entrance music, standout matches of his from the past year and more.

    Check out the complete audio of the interview on the next slide, and read on for the highlights.

What He's Looking Forward to as Part of the Super-Sized SmackDown

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    It's commonplace for SmackDown to be stacked with star power, but it isn't everyday that the show is two-and-a-half hours long.

    Reigns is ready to confront Lesnar one last time before they clash for the Universal Championship at Crown Jewel. The episode will also feature Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch, Sonya Deville's return to the ring against Naomi and more King of the Ring and Queen's Crown tournament action.

    He looks forward to "completing the process" on what is essentially SmackDown's go-home show for Crown Jewel. He recognizes that Lesnar is his strongest—both literally and figuratively—opponent to date and doesn't plan on taking him lightly.

    "I don't know if there's another competitor or opponent on [Brock Lesnar's] level of legitimacy and certainly a huge threat to everything I've done for the last year and a half," Reigns said. "To complete this process, take it home and then get out there to Saudi Arabia and knock out Crown Jewel. Hear that, 'And still Universal champion,' jump on the jet, head back to Wichita to knock out another SmackDown. To me, it's like a weekly process, and you get in that groove and it's on to the next thing. What's the next thing?

    "Completion becomes a nice box to check, but at the same time, it's about being on the road in Ontario in the L.A. area. It should be an awesome time with great energy, and where we are now, going through a pandemic and the uncertainty we've all sort of faced as a society, I think we have to take advantage and enjoy the little things, the little parts of being a human being and just interacting and having gratitude for what used to be the normal things in life."

Appreciating Having Audiences Back but Hating Travel

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    WWE has been back on the road for its shows since July, and it's still surreal to hear a reaction—any reaction—from the fans every time.

    Reigns consistently gets one of the loudest pops of everyone on the roster any time he walks toward the ring. He sorely missed performing in front of fans during the empty-arena era and hasn't taken that for granted since returning to the road.

    "I appreciate being in front of a live audience—there's no question," he said. "It makes everything better about what we do, all the way from the energy to the affirmation to the physicality. It doesn't hurt. It still sucks doing what we do in the ring from a pain standpoint and the physicality portions of it, but when you're in front of nobody, it feels terrible.

    "When you're in the ThunderDome, everything hurts way more than it should as opposed to being in front of a live crowd who are eating it up and chanting and creating this crazy environment and atmosphere which ultimately enhances the experience for not only the performer but the audience as well."

    One of the few upsides to the ThunderDome era was that most of the Superstars didn't have to travel far from where they lived in Florida, and television was only being taped once or twice a week. Reigns misses the extended amount of time he was getting to spend with his family between SmackDown shows.

    "I don't miss travel, man," he said. "I don't miss being on planes. I don't miss being in the air. The ThunderDome was nice because it was in Orlando for a bit and Tampa, so I would literally get picked up on the bus, head up there, three-and-a-half-hour drive to both, do my stuff and get back on the bus and get back home that night. That process created a silver lining and also being home with my family and my children and my wife. There's no replacing that. I do not miss travel.

    "Saudi Arabia is the only place I've left the country for, and that's just because it's such an isolated one-off, in and out on a private jet, 16 hours, knock out the show, back on the jet, 16 hours, all by myself. We go through extreme precautions to make it all safe for me and to make me feel comfortable."

Thoughts on Brock Lesnar and Why Now Is the Perfect Time for Them to Feud

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    From the moment Reigns linked up with Paul Heyman in August 2020, all roads were going to one day lead to Reigns rekindling his rivalry with Brock Lesnar, this time with the roles revered.

    It took a little longer than expected, but the build to the bout finally kicked off at SummerSlam in front of a capacity crowd that went berserk when Lesnar shockingly showed up to confront Reigns. He was confident the match would happen at some point, but only after he proved himself in his new role.

    Sure enough, Lesnar resurfaced at just the right time, and the two are in the midst of one of the hottest storylines in WWE today.

    "I knew there were a lot of things we had to do to get to that point," Reigns said. "There were a lot of bricks that needed to be stacked up to get to a point where he felt enticed to come back. I don't know a lot about Brock. Just like you don't. That's the way he's played it, and I think it's a genius move. Not only for himself and his mental health and his family and everything and just to keep himself out of the public eye, but it creates so much mystique behind him as a performer and as a character, which is something that's a lost portion of what we do in our business, a lost piece of the art form.”

    Reigns knew from his "thick" history with Heyman that a collision with Lesnar was only inevitable. They first fought in the main event of WrestleMania 31 and have traded wins back and forth since, including over the Universal Championship.

    He knew that if he could just find his groove as a heel and continued to put in the work, top talents such as Lesnar and John Cena would want to face him when the lights were on bright.

    "Brock Lesnar might be one of the most... I'm not going to throw him in that GOAT category of actual MMA fighting and mixed martial arts, but as far as from a draw standpoint and attention and eye-raising [standpoint], I don't know if there's anyone outside of [Conor] McGregor and Ronda [Rousey], but then there's Brock," he said. "There's a special three when it comes to the fight game, and Brock's got a stronghold. People want to see him get physical. He just has that allure and demeanor around him.

    "I knew if we did what we did—and thank God it happened the way that it did and we were able to accomplish these things the way that we have—I knew everybody and their mother would be trying to get in the ring with me."

Why Staying on SmackDown in the Draft Was a Priority to Him

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    The 2021 WWE draft determined the fates of practically every active member of the WWE roster, including Reigns. Most of the moves tend to be random, but it was safe to assume careful consideration went into deciding where Reigns and his Universal Championship wound up.

    With the roll he finds himself on, it would have been booking malpractice for him to take the title to Raw, and according to Reigns himself, it doesn't sound like Fox would have allowed it.

    "I don't think it was a hope; it was more of a demand," he said about staying on SmackDown in the draft. "What we're doing and the character falls very closely to real life with us and what we do, and I don't think Fox would have had it any other way. They've invested a lot of money, and they want the very best representing their network, and who better to do it for WWE than me? Because I'm in the thick of it, because I've put in all this work on the blue side for SmackDown, it would have felt really weird to just be uprooted and try to transition it to Raw. And this is coming from a Raw guy."

    He went on to explain how he was a regular on Raw from when he debuted with The Shield in 2012 all the way up until he got drafted to SmackDown in 2019. That was at a time when the blue brand was considered WWE's B-show, but he worked hard to turn around that perception of the program, much like when he carried the majority of those three-hour Raw shows.

    There were episodes where he would be having three matches per night, so he's intentionally trying not to wear himself thin anymore.

    "I put credit to what I've done in the last year and a half. It's been so thorough and on a different level that people can forget [about my Raw run]," he said. "... Whatever show I'm on, we're going to do our very best to make it the best. I think that showed a few weeks ago when we came over for Raw. We did a good number for Raw, and I think the show was a lot better, and we were sprinkled all over that show.”

What Went into Making His New Entrance Music

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    It was many months—if not years—in the making, but the reveal of Reigns' new entrance music on the April 30 edition of SmackDown was well worth the wait.

    The song encapsulates his new heel persona and sets the tone for whatever match or segment he's about to have as soon as it hits. The audience is then in awe of the megastar vibe he gives off when he walks down the ramp.

    "A lot of it was just trying to create that iconic feel to where immediately you know, 'Oh, he's here. He's coming out,'" he said about what went into making the music. "That's where we went with the two different beats, the two different melodies: to have that 20-, 25-second opening that's preparing them. I wanted it to transition from there into something more I could vibe to.

    He continued: "The old Shield Roman Reigns theme was cool, and it grew on me. And if you do something over and over for a long time, you figure out how to vibe to it, but this is a track that makes my head nod, and you'll see it and my cousins are doing the same thing in the back. It gives you that ultimate swag when you're walking out. And especially for an entrance, that's the most important thing: people seeing and feeling that swagger and energy and confidence coming off of you."

    Reigns added that the entrance music enhances the environment in the arena, and he is correct. It can make or break anyone in wrestling, and his just so happens to fits him to perfection.

    Part of the inspiration behind the theme was wanting to give it a mafia-esque sound, as well as a "final boss" feel. It was important for him to capture the right vibe to maximize his energy, make himself more comfortable and enhance his character and presentation. He even listened to early versions of it during morning workouts for several months so could find his stride and see whether it was worthy of being blasted at the gym.

    As for why he didn't debut the track at WrestleMania 37, he answered: "It wasn't ready. Me and the big man weren't agreeing on a couple of things, so I was like, 'Screw it, I'm not going out to it now.' I have to feel it because nobody outside of my cousins and Paul is walking out to that. To me, these are the types of things I have to 100 percent be connected to, and that's why our audience can trust me and the presentation and the character and everything I'm doing.

    "If it doesn't feel right, I'm not going to do that s--t," he added. "It's got to be on point with how I feel, and I have to be able to commit and connect to it. Otherwise it's going to be see-through. I'm not the type that can memorize and recite. I have to feel. I have to have instincts. And for me to be able to do that, I have to be comfortable and committed and believe in what's presented to me so I can present it to our audience."

The Reason for His Golden Glove

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    Since turning heel last year, Reigns has started wearing a golden glove down to the ring for his big matches.

    Logically, a number of fans were quick to assume that it was in some way inspired by Thanos' Infinity Gauntlet from the Marvel Avengers movies, especially with how he's portrayed on television. He clarified that it was purely coincidental and that the golden color of the glove had a deeper meaning.

    "It's more of a coincidence," he said. "I'm not going to say, 'I've never watched The Avengers.' No, I've seen all the movies, but honestly, I didn't relate it to that. I just needed a change, and to me, the gold... it's always been black, maybe a little bit of gray or blue. I've said it before: Everything I touch turns into gold, and that was the mindset I wanted to have. That power, the design of all of it and the underlying theme of what we're trying to do is display power at its maximum in every regard."

    Whether he's in the ring, in a backstage segment or elsewhere, he can typically be spotted wearing the golden glove wherever because he wants his presentation to be powerful. It's the little details that led to him making that decision, not to mention that it's super-marketable for WWE Shop purposes as well.

His Favorite Matches so Far from His Universal Championship Reign

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    Reigns has defended his Universal Championship more times in the past 400-plus days than almost any other WWE world champion in the past decade. Every match has been meaningful in its own way and has marked a new stage of his character, but three stand out to him as being particularly special.

    Chief among them are the back-to-back bouts he had with his cousin Jey Uso last fall over the title, including inside Hell in a Cell.

    "I think to me, personally, I think the most special was the stuff I did with my cousin Jey," he said. "I felt more connected to those two matches and that storyline than I've ever felt to anything else, and a lot of those promos and stuff like that and the emotion you could see in it were real. I think we were able to tap into baggage that we've had that we may have never spoke about or thought was an issue like common ground, but it was something we were able to dive into.”

    He was proud of what they were able to put together, and he jumps at any opportunity to work with his family. He added that he hopes to elevate The Usos even more than they already have been and feels they are quite possibly the greatest tag team of their generation.

    The Triple Threat he had against Edge and Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 37 is also among his favorites, as he discussed: "When you hear Paul Heyman go in on it and laying down the history of it being the dominant finish in WrestleMania main event history, nobody's ever stacked two guys in the main event of WrestleMania, and I did that. For me to be able to say I did that is crazy, but I think that's just recognition and an accolade alone."

    Finally, his huge match at Money in the Bank versus Edge holds a special place in his heart. The two produced an excellent main event that evening, and it's going to be difficult for anything else to top it in WWE this year—and that goes for Reigns vs. Lesnar at Crown Jewel.

    "One that's super special to me as well, outside of the stuff I did with my family because it was so strong with Jey, was the match I had with Edge at Money in the Bank. I believe that was in Fort Worth, the first pay-per-view back. I haven't watched that match back, so I can't really detail the energy and if it was as loud as it was in the arena, but in the arena, that crowd was live. The timing and the pacing, I've seen some critique it and call it a little slow, but that's what the heavyweights in main events do.

    "I'm not going to go out there and sprint around and do flips for no reason. We were following the actual Money in the Bank ladder match, which is just a spot-fest and crazy stunt fest in its own right. To go in there with Edge–everyone knows what he's done for this business, the experience and the passion that he brings, to go out there and experience that reaction and that story that was being told out there together, it was phenomenal."

    Catch Roman Reigns on the super-sized, two-and-a-half-hour SmackDown on Friday on FS1 at 8 p.m. ET.

             

    Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.

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