At Philadelphia, PA last Monday night, WWE showed they are still capable of springing surprises on their floundering flagship show by putting the strap on Roman Reigns for a second time.
After failing to get the job done the night before at the Tables, Ladders and Chairs pay-per-view, Reigns emphatically overcame the odds with a trademark spear to former champ Sheamus and closed the show with a very rare WWE title win on Raw.
After his earlier, all too brief, five minute and 15-second championship tenure was ended by Sheamus’ brogue kick at Survivor Series, the Roman Reigns era has finally begun in earnest.
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Long earmarked as the future face of the company, Reigns’ pursuit of the biggest prize in professional wrestling has dominated much of WWE’s programming in 2015, and for the most part has arguably done him and the company more harm than good.
Since Reigns was called up to the main roster as part of the Shield, the WWE has steadily positioned him as a singles contender. And, as revealed by CM Punk during ‘that ‘ Colt Cabana podcast, as far back as 2013, Reigns was ordained by Vince McMahon himself before his handicap match with the trio at TLC.
"They said, 'You're going over.' I said, 'Okay, if that's what you want.' Then they grabbed me and stressed, 'But you gotta make Roman look really, really strong.'”
The parallel of this timing, almost exactly two years hence, draws into focus the mixed fortunes of his climb to the top of the mountain.
Reigns' win at Royal Rumble back in January that guaranteed him a title shot at WrestleMania 31 seemed to be an obvious part of the plan. The caustic reaction, at least to the WWE top brass, was anything but.
Not to script
After the criminally overlooked Daniel Bryan was eliminated early to see a second consecutive WrestleMania main event elude him, the fans let the WWE know they were in no mood to have their favourites dictated to them.
The WWE Universe hijacked the Rumble with a deafening and unrelenting chorus of boos until the final bell and beyond.
What was meant to be the beginning of Reigns’ big push actually threatened to derail a promising rise to the top, permanently.
It has taken months of careful booking to overcome the fallout of that night in Philadelphia. Unfairly, Reigns has born the brunt as a totem of WWE’s uneasy relationship with their sensitive ‘smart' fans.
Knowing they could not have their biggest event of the year tarnished with the same negative atmosphere, for a second year running the WWE was forced to change course and former Shield teammate Seth Rollins left WrestleMania with the title instead.
Reigns, despite creative attempts to get him over with fans, has been in his shadow ever since.
But despite this, he’s continued to grow admirably into his role near the top of the card. Although limited in his mic work – traditionally a make or break feature of a star’s pulling power - his physical in-ring style is impressive and has consistently delivered some excellent matches.
There have been signs too, that Reigns is beginning to reconnect with fans. The jeers have steadily quietened and when we saw the best of Roman Reigns at TLC, angrily dominating the League of Nations and HHH after his latest failed title attempt, the wry smile on his face as he left the arena to the unified chant of “Thank you, Roman” was a truly deserved turning point.
Roman had finally found his feet.
With so many of the top level roster missing through injury, and Raw viewership plummeting by the week, the WWE really need the era of Roman Reigns to take off this time. The question is – does he have enough momentum to keep the passionate but disenfranchised WWE fan base on side?
If the delirious pro-Reigns crowd in Philly on Monday is anything to go by - the very same arena that booed him out of the building after his Rumble win - he very well might.
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