WWE has hit a serious problem with Roman Reigns' run as universal champion: It's boring.
This hasn't been the case for most of it, but recent months have skewed the perception of what started and felt like something special, if not historic. But a few key missteps, little in the way of payoff and no endpoint in sight hurts things in a big way.
When Reigns came back as a heel, delivered brutal beatdowns littered with trash talk to family members and started running roughshod through the WWE roster in the summer of 2020, it was amazing. Fans rightfully felt vindicated because they had said for a long time that a heel Reigns would be better than the boring babyface counterpart.
But slowly, even the heel version has fallen into the same trap. Things started to fall apart at Extreme Rules, for which WWE set up an epic, borderline historic moment for Finn Balor's Demon persona, only for that to result in Balor tripping and falling before losing. It was one of the worst moments in modern wrestling history.
Since? Reigns had a so-so feud with Brock Lesnar for Crown Jewel and an OK feud with Big E in the build to a champion vs. champion match. That contest helped Big E look good, but it also capped off a night when WWE endlessly teased The Rock's return, only to instead serve as promotional fodder for Rock's new movie.
And that's the problem: This is all painfully telegraphed as to how it all plays out. This is blatantly heading for a Reigns-Lesnar fight at WrestleMania 38 and then a likely showdown between the universal champion and The Rock at WrestleMania 39 in California.
This normally wouldn't be too big of a deal. Predictable things unfolding in wrestling is a good thing when done well. But the example with Balor isn't the only problem. Most of the recent feuds have been cookie-cutter material with basic setups. Reigns feels disrespected or challenged, traditional promos occur and then the match unfolds. There isn't a ton of creative usage in terms of guys ganging up on Reigns, factions getting involved or even attempted manipulation of Paul Heyman.
It's especially disappointing when thinking of the possibilities. Maybe one of The Usos turns on Reigns and costs him a title match. Maybe an entire faction forms with the aim of dethroning him.
Instead, there have been timid flirtations with this, and the handling of the Balor situation suggests even great execution could be ruined by the need to keep Reigns as champion. Now he's bested Lesnar, John Cena and other top champions to the point he looks untouchable despite WWE's attempt to downplay this by having The Usos interfere in so many matches.
It's demoralizing to watch this sort of champion top an entire roster. Typically, the payoff to this sort of big bad is he loses and the winner benefits massively. But that's not happening here and seemingly won't for more than a year. After Demon lost, Balor pulled a Kofi Kingston (after losing to Lesnar in October 2019) and hasn't mentioned it or asked for a rematch. He's just smiling Balor, toiling away in the midcard again.
That creates maybe the biggest issue. This version of Reigns isn't going to keep getting genuine heel heat—if he's even getting it at all. He's going to get go-away heat, which is a disaster for any performer and those in the ring with them.
When fans just want the titleholder to go away so that something new can happen, it hurts that performer's chances of returning in good graces and spoils the next champion's run—they are not the deserving conqueror like Drew McIntyre was over Lesnar; they are just the transitional performer who finally mixed it up.
Imagine, for a moment, if this plays out in the way WWE seems to want. Two WrestleManias from now, one of the most dominant heel champions ever faces off with The Rock. If the challenger wins, it makes the entire roster look awful. If Reigns wins, they still don't have a challenger who can realistically topple him.
Even if WWE managed to pull Rock for this WrestleMania, that same problem would persist. And an All Elite Wrestling comparison is always fair too. This all runs concurrently alongside the upstart promotion properly building "Hangman" Adam Page for more than a year to take over as top guy, having just beaten heel champion Kenny Omega. It's also running alongside WWE repeatedly releasing Superstars, so who knows who will be employed in six months' time, let alone properly built to take down Reigns.
This pursuit of a moment is the crux of the problem. WWE has decided to be a moments company instead of one that focuses on logical booking, even on a month-to-month basis (remember Becky Lynch randomly returning to bury Bianca Belair in one move at SummerSlam this year?).
Funnily, a moment could break this cycle and remix things in a positive manner. Even back in the day when guys such as Triple H were on ridiculously long title runs at the top of the roster, they dropped the belt and had memorable feuds while putting over other guys. That's possible here too, but WWE has to want it.
As it stands, Reigns is still an awesome character and heel. But he's overexposed in the same role and doing little for anyone, whether it's opponents or viewers. That's why Survivor Series was such a great opportunity to mix things up (and he didn't even have to lose the belt!). A loss to Big E would have given the victor further legitimacy and future Reigns opponents an interesting dynamic to talk about and exploit.
Reigns' run as champion needs to draw to a close for the sake of a much-needed shakeup. WWE can still proceed with long-term Rock ideas, but a change now would prevent fans from souring on Reigns and his run with the gold, which would harm it in hindsight too.