Professional wrestling is a world of scripted violence and make-believe drama. But if done right, the realm of sports entertainment can generate the purest and most heartfelt emotions from its audience. So when real-life drama affects the professional wrestlers’ lives in the ring, we witness some of TV’s most emotive moments that can force man-tears out of the coldest of hearts.
The October 22 edition of Monday Night Raw kicked off with a surprise promo cut by the WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns. As usual, the polarizing former Shield member was met with a tirade of boos by the crowd. The Raw heavyweight champion, however, had a somber tone to his voice – as he abruptly announced his indefinite leave from the sport and in turn relinquished the belt he recently won a few months ago.
Turns out, Roman has been battling Leukemia for the last 11 years and he needs some time off to treat it.
In as short as six years, Roman – whose real name is Leati Joseph Anoa’i – has had an immediate rise from WWE’s developmental leagues to the championship main event stage. The fans didn’t receive this push as well as WWE management expected. Most critics saw right through the obvious sellout effort and felt that Roman wasn’t ready for the big stage yet.
No less, Roman – a descendant of one of the most revered wrestling families in the business, the fabled Anoa’i family – rose to the top amid divided arenas of boos and cheers while he performed week after week at the top of his game. He amassed a short career filled with incredible moments that were sadly overlooked because of the negative image WWE management inadvertently placed upon him.
But after his speech last Monday night, the arena wasn’t divided anymore. Instead, the whole place erupted in singular mantra: “Thank you, Roman!”
Finally, at the would-be/could-be end of his career, Roman gets the unbridled crowd pop he truly deserved.
So now, with his career in limbo just as he has risen to the top, we are left to take a look at some of the key highlights of the notoriously controversial superstar – from his WWE main roster debut to the lukewarm reception of his championship run.
The Hounds of Justice
Image: Cageside Seats
Dressed in black riot gear and emerging from the crowd like a pack of covert assassins, Roman and his stablemates Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins attacked Ryback during his title match against CM Punk to formally introduce the WWE Universe to The Shield – the greatest wrestling faction of the PG Era and one of the most dominant stables of all time.
For a year and a half, the Hounds of Justice ran roughshod over the Raw roster, creating chaos left and right with no clear and apparent agenda. These no-nonsense, black-clad heels impressed pundits with their sinister domineering image; unique guerilla-style attacks; and impenetrable teamwork that’s as inventive as it is endearing.
Their unforgettable feuds with The Wyatt Family and Evolution were shining emblems of what great, dramatic tag-team wrestling is all about.
A crowd-favorite heel
Image: Daily DDT
With all the unsavory reception towards Roman Reigns as a face (good guy), it’s interesting to point out that the last time fans genuinely and unanimously cheered for him was when he was actually a “heel” (bad guy). Believe it or not, two of the loudest pops in Roman Reigns’ career as a singles competitor were during the time when he set two WWE records in the span of 60 days – as a heel for The Shield.
On November 2013, Reigns set the record for the most eliminations in a Survivor Series traditional 5-on-5 elimination match by scoring four clean pin falls – a record previously unbroken for decades. And on January 2014, Reigns broke Kane’s 13-year Royal Rumble record by tossing 12 people over the top rope. All these records were broken while Reigns was still with The Shield, and yet the crowd was already eating up his charismatic appeal.
Until WWE ruined everything by pushing Roman Reigns too early.
Trial of the Beast
Prior to his Wrestlemania 31 match with Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal Title, Roman Reigns was already riding a bad streak with the fans – mostly because of the fact that he was given the coveted Royal Rumble win instead of the fan favorite Daniel Bryan. WWE tried everything to sway the crowd’s opinion on Roman – including shockingly transparent endorsements from Daniel Bryan himself and Brock Lesnar’s manager, Paul Heyman – but people were still irked by the idea that the former Shield member will be headlining the biggest event of the year with an all-time great in “The Beast” Brock Lesnar.
Nonetheless, come Wrestlemania 31 Roman gave a performance that earned the respect of his harshest critics – even for just one night.
The former professional football player gave everything he’s got and sold every bump like a veteran – risking life and limb to entertain the massive crowd. And despite losing the match after Seth Rollins cashed in the Money In the Bank contract, Roman showed tremendous heart and proved that he was for real and would do anything and everything to earn his keep.
Beyond the Boos
Image: SB Nation
The two greatest matches Roman Reigns ever produced as a singles competitor were against Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles. Granted, it’s impossible to have a bad match with the two aforementioned wrestlers, but given the fact that everybody thought Roman couldn’t keep up with these two modern-day icons made these matches instant classics as he proved his worth yet again.
On Fastlane 2015, the WWE – in a desperate attempt to prove to the fans that they made a good decision on making Roman the Royal Rumble winner instead of Daniel Bryan – put Roman’s Wrestlemania 31 match on the line against the captain of the “Yes Movement” himself. What came next was a barnburner of a match that made both athletes look extremely good. Bryan came in with his frenetic pace and technical wizardry while Reigns showed up with his brute force and unstoppable heart.
And on Extreme Rules 2016, Roman Reigns’ match with AJ Styles exceeded every expectation and produced a spectacle of the highest order. With the rulebook out the window, the two hit each other with everything they can put their hands on while at the same time kept the intensity and drama of the match at a tipping point. If you mute the audio of the match and not listen to all the boos the crowd was throwing at Roman Reigns, you’d think everyone was cheering for the Big Dog the whole time.
Now we’re at the point where the absence of Roman Reigns is poised to change the landscape of the entire WWE in abrupt fashion, with the “face of the company” tag possibly shifting to Shield stablemate Seth Rollins, which is a move that the WWE fanbase can get behind organically. However, while we wrestling fans enjoy the current direction of the federation, we still cannot deny that Reigns worked week-in and week-out – be it in house shows, episodes of Raw, or Pay-per-view events – in an attempt to carry an entire brand on his powerful shoulders. Reigns may or may not have liked the idea, but at the end of the day, he became a much-better in-ring worker and made the most out of the experience amid the boos from fans. And for that, he deserves our respect. We would love to see the Big Dog again in the ring one day after he spears leukemia out of his system and pins it for the count like the champion that he is.
“The Truth” Mic Promo – Monday Night Raw February 26, 2018
Defeating The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 33 – No Holds Barred Match
Roman’s bloody and violent rivalry with Braun Strowman – 2017 to 2018