Roman Reigns' 8 Biggest Matches, Moments That Made Him a WWE Icon

Graham GSM Matthews@@WrestleRantFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2022

Roman Reigns' 8 Biggest Matches, Moments That Made Him a WWE Icon

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    Several triumphs were instrumental in the rise of Roman Reigns in WWE.
    Several triumphs were instrumental in the rise of Roman Reigns in WWE.Credit:

    The Head of the Table is more than just a nice-sounding nickname: Roman Reigns' spot atop the totem pole in WWE right now can't be debated or disputed.

    It's almost unbelievable to think that 2022 marks a decade since he arrived on the main roster with the rest of The Shield. In that period, he has run rampant on Raw and SmackDown, racked up countless championships and embarked on an all-time run.

    If recent reports are to be believed, Reigns could be winding down as a full-time performer for WWE sooner rather than later. He absolutely could have a future in acting if he so chooses, but the impact he's had on the company for the past decade will be almost impossible for anyone replicate.

    It will be difficult to determine where the 36-year-old ranks among the greatest ever until he calls it a career, but he has to be included in that conversation considering everything he's achieved already.

    There have been many matches and moments that have made Reigns the icon he is today, but the following eight are by far his biggest, with each one playing a part in his rise to superstardom.

A Dominant Debut (TLC 2012)

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    From The Rock and Sting, several Superstars have made their premiere appearances in WWE at Survivor Series. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose added their names to that illustrious list at the November 2012 installment when they made an immediate impact by interfering in the main event.

    Their ambush on Ryback and subsequent attacks on him set the stage for their first-ever match on the main roster at the TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs pay-per-view the following month.

    Originally, Ryback was scheduled to collide with CM Punk before an injury forced the then-champion to pull out and for The Shield to take his place, turning it into a six-man tag team TLC affair instead.

    What we got was a spectacle that exceeded all expectations.

    Reigns in particular had a strong showing that separated him from the pack. It was clear from the get-go that he was going to be the one WWE built around with the way he was protected in this match, and sure enough, that was exactly what happened.

    The Shield's dominant debut and winning ways in the months that followed ensured they would all be made men when the day came for them to go their separate ways.

Sole Survivor (Survivor Series 2013)

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    By late 2013, the cracks were starting to show in the foundation of The Shield.

    The three promising prospects were forced to put their cohesiveness to the test exactly one year removed from their debut at Survivor Series 2013 in a traditional tag team elimination match. They lined up with Cesaro and Jack Swagger to take on the talented team of Cody Rhodes, Goldust, The Usos and Rey Mysterio.

    Reigns quickly found himself outnumbered after losing his partners one-on-one, but he didn't let that deter him. Rather, he used the situation as motivation to battle back and eliminate every one of his remaining opponents on his own.

    It ultimately came down to him and Mysterio, who he put down for the three-count with a marvelous mid-air Spear. It was an extremely impressive performance that showcased The Big Dog as a star and someone fans should be taking notice of.

    By and large, Reigns has had a lot of luck at Survivor Series over the years, and this evening alone was proof that WWE saw big things on the horizon for him.

The Evolution Clean Sweep (Payback 2014)

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    Thankfully for fans, WWE resisted the urge to break up The Shield when it was originally planning to and instead kept them together as a unit through the spring of 2014.

    Their long-awaited babyface turn coming out of WrestleMania 30 breathed new life into the group and put them on a path to rival the reunited Evolution: Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista. Their initial in-ring encounter at Extreme Rules lived up to the hype and the rematch at Payback had an even better build.

    The Shield were out to prove they were not only on the same level as Evolution but superior. The No Holds Barred elimination stipulation ensued there would be a decisive outcome, but the sheer domination from Reigns, Rollins and Ambrose that night was something no one saw coming.

    One by one, The Hounds of Justice dismantled their foes and took turns eliminating them. The last pinfall came at the hands of Reigns over Triple H, planting the seeds for their eventual face-off in the main event of WrestleMania 32.

    Considering The Shield's split came the next night on Raw, this clean sweep of Evolution was designed to put them over strong on their way out and send the message that they were, in fact, the future.

Taking Brock Lesnar to the Limit (WrestleMania 31)

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    From the moment The Shield went their separate ways, Reigns had no issue working his way toward the top of the card, starting with a win over Randy Orton at SummerSlam 2014 followed by a string of victories against the likes of Kane, Seth Rollins and Big Show.

    His sights were ultimately set on winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 31, but the way his Royal Rumble win was handled in 2015 hindered his momentum considerably. That was when the backlash started to set in with a portion of the fans resenting the aggressive push he was receiving.

    Instead of organically turning him heel, WWE opted to keep Reigns babyface. That hurt him in the long haul, but to his credit, he made the most of the bad situation by consistently putting forth a commendable effort and giving fans a reason to rally behind him.

    His WrestleMania 31 match with Brock Lesnar for the prestigious prize was really what opened a lot of eyes. Despite the immense amount of punishment The Beast Incarnate was dishing out, Reigns endured the pain and persevered through it all.

    Of the many matches these two have had over the years, this was undoubtedly the best. They told a stellar story and The Big Dog was elevated in defeat thanks to the brilliant booking of Rollins' Money in the Bank cash-in for the finish.

Beating The Game for the WWE Championship (WrestleMania 32)

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    Reigns fought an uphill battle throughout 2015 into early 2016 due to WWE miscasting him as a babyface. For example, his first taste of world title gold at Survivor Series should have been a major moment, but fans found it difficult to invest in his chase for the championship because he was unlikable as a character.

    In being made to look more vulnerable, though, his relationship with the audience improved. His long-running rivalry with The Authority was set to culminate at WrestleMania 32 when he challenged Triple H for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship he had stolen from him at the Royal Rumble three months prior.

    Unfortunately, the match itself was largely underwhelming, but let the record show that this marked one of Reigns' biggest wins ever.

    Prior to that point, he had never beaten a star the caliber of The Game. He hadn't done much (from a storyline standpoint) to show that he was main event material, but taking the fight to Triple H and ultimately conquering him was a true turning point in his burgeoning career.

    Reigns' WWE title win that night was met with a lukewarm reaction from the crowd, but the visual alone of him holding the gold high above his head indicated WWE had found the new face of its franchise in the absence of John Cena, Randy Orton and others.

    It was intent on making the era of The Big Dog work no matter what.

Putting Down The Deadman on the Grandest Stage (WrestleMania 33)

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    If it wasn't already obvious, Reigns' biggest—but not necessarily his best—bouts have mostly occurred on The Grandest Stage of Them All.

    The next year of his run in WWE wasn't defined by titles or memorable matches. In fact, he was used more as a stepping stone for others than anything else. He had to earn those opportunities to headline PPVs all over again.

    The Big Dog floundered for months before finally settling into his next big feud with The Undertaker. Reigns was already laying claim to WWE being "his yard," and The Deadman wasn't going to let him take over his territory so easily.

    It was a rather basic build and the bout itself was even worse, but again, it was all a matter of what this moment meant for Reigns. He needed another name to beat to bolster his legacy, and not just any name on any night, but specifically one who had previously gone undefeated on that same event for over two decades.

    Reigns and Lesnar are the only men who can claim they've handed The Undertaker a loss at The Show of Shows. It was a win that launched The Big Dog into another stratosphere and effectively gave him the biggest heel heat anyone could ask for, which sadly went to waste due to WWE failing to pull the trigger on a turn at that time.

Transforming into The Tribal Chief (SummerSlam 2020)

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    The heat Reigns had coming off that historic win over The Undertaker at WrestleMania 33 was astronomical, yet WWE refused to follow up on it accordingly.

    He remained a babyface from that point forward, and although he went on to win the Universal Championship in 2018 and score a handful of high-profile wins, he didn't show much development as a character and stayed stagnant for years.

    It wasn't until he took time off from WWE TV at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and returned at SummerSlam that he finally became interesting again and began the next chapter of his career, this time as a heel.

    Reigns showed signs of a turn at SummerSlam when he attacked both Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman, but his character change wasn't officially set in stone until he was seen sitting alongside Paul Heyman at the end of the subsequent SmackDown. It was one of the biggest cliffhangers in the history of the blue brand.

    That moment marked the beginning of his transformation into The Tribal Chief, and it was just two days later that he regained the universal title. He hasn't relinquished the gold since, and that was well over 600 days ago.

    Reigns' heel turn has been the best thing to happen to him and has resulted in some of his strongest work to date. The pairing with Heyman has been perfect as well, and once The Usos joined their alliance, they all became practically untouchable.

Undisputed Champion of the World (WrestleMania 38)

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    Most moments from The Head of the Table's record-setting reign as universal champion have demonstrated just how remarkable of a character he's become, but none have been bigger than when he won the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship at WrestleMania 38.

    Reigns and Lesnar rekindled their rivalry at SummerSlam 2021 and consistently progressed it in compelling fashion from that point forward. Everything built toward a high-stakes Winner Take All match at 'Mania that would unify the WWE and Universal Championship for the first time.

    As is the case with other entries on this list, this is less about match quality and more about the magnitude of the victory. You can find far more exciting contests these two had in years past, but this meant more than any of the others and it was Roman who reigned supreme in this circumstance.

    The Tribal Chief already appeared to be at the apex of WWE, but securing another world title put him in a league of his own. If Lesnar couldn't put a stop to his dominance, the rest of the roster may not stand a chance.

    Reigns' iconic status can't be questioned coming off his latest WrestleMania win. Now that he's defeated every legend he's stepped in the ring with, The Rock is arguably the only opponent left for him to conquer in his quest to etch his name in history as one of the all-time greats.


    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.