Photo Credit – Inside Sport
It was not so long ago Roman Reigns was looked at by many wrestling fans as a blight on the product. Too heavily featured, given poor dialogue and weak opponents combined to create one of WWE’s weakest top acts since the mid-90s. Yet now, Roman is without a doubt THE top act in WWE with no one near striking distance. How can such a radical shift occur in less than 10 months?
The answer is character development. In case you don’t realize by now, professional wrestling is akin to a live stage show. While they may love to tout that they “make movies”, the basic tenets of storytelling tend to go out of the window in the WWE Universe. Matches and rivalries have no lasting effect. Former champions laugh off losses with little regard. In storyline, these moments require and deserve gravitas to build future stories. Despite their apparent inability to be consistent in this area, since SummerSlam 2020, they have excelled in character development with one Roman Reigns.
After years of being the bright eyed and bushy tailed babyface, Roman re-appeared after a self-imposed exile last summer with an edge. Fan response of old mattered to him now. It changed him and his attitude. Gone were the days of hoping to inspire others. Now, Roman wanted to show up, win and leave a legacy.
Through backstage scenes, in-ring promos and above all, his in-ring work, Reigns was able to craft a character and story where not only did the moves have impact, but so did the words and emotions. Each story beat had weight.
During the feud with Jey Uso, viewers were taken on an emotional rollercoaster. The sense of dread as their two matches each drew to a close was overwhelming. The hope that Kevin Owens, Daniel Bryan or Cesaro could overcome the monster only to come up short was inspiring and heartbreaking. It is this consistency in both planning and execution of story that has led to WWE’s most compelling character in years.
The best wrestling stories, like any good story, require character change and growth. Macho Man teaming up with Hulk Hogan, only to become overcome with jealousy and turn his back, to finally re-unite with Elizabeth in triumph. Batista starting out as henchman for Triple H, only to break free from his hold and conquer. These are classic pro wrestling stories, but they are also just plain good stories. I believe that when the Tribal Chief’s story has concluded it’s final chapter, we will put this version of Roman Reigns in the same pantheon of all-time wrestling classics.