Roman Reigns is on a whole different level.
That’s perhaps the biggest takeaway coming out of a strong showing for WWE at Sunday night’s Clash of Champions pay-per-view.
And there was a lot to like about the show. Tag matches were fun. A certain ladder match was old-school good. Sasha Banks was must-see material. And WWE laughed in the face of those who suggest it can’t do long-term booking by making some of Randy Orton‘s past actions cost him dearly in a title match against Drew McIntyre.
But to be blunt: It’s all about Reigns.
The Big Dog, in a clearly lopsided matchup against cousin Jey Uso, was every bit the evil guy fans thought they’d never get to see.
And no matter how fans had booked it in their heads or envisioned it, he somehow managed to surpass expectations.
There were the cutesy little moments where Jey got the upper hand and some near-falls. But no matter how blue in the face the announcers screamed at the idea of a shocking upset, fans knew going into this that things were going to end very, very poorly for Uso.
And it was hard to deny that fact right from the jump when Reigns waltzed out to his music without the silly-looking vest on, an understandable, if not somewhat odd request fans have had for years now.
Maybe it was best he saved the attire shakeup for his big moment, sacrificing his cousin to the wrestling gods. It added a little more impact to the proceedings, of which there were many and quickly started to border on uncomfortable.
There was the low blow while kicking out of a pin that helped Reigns turn things around. And for those who feared they might be going an almost Seth Rollins chickeny-heel route here, fret not—The Big Dog then proceeded to straight-up torture Jey.
The demand was simple: Reigns wanted Jey to acknowledge him as the leader of the tribe, then he’d end the match with a pin. But that obviously wasn’t going to happen so he kept kicking the tar out of him to the point Jimmy Uso came out and offered to throw the towel in on behalf of his brother. No dice, so the match had to be called off in the end, only for both Usos to give Roman what he wanted while looking at their own blood in disgust.
WWE Universe @WWEUniverse
A family portrait.
#WWEClash #UniversalTitle @WWERomanReigns @WWEUsos https://t.co/ucswT5IFS9
And it just doesn’t get much better than that. The execution of this could’ve been terrible if handled by lesser Superstars. But Jey was a quality underdog and Reigns was just evil—not almost cartoony evil like a Bray Wyatt, like “a little concerning it was so good” evil.
Here’s the fun part: WWE read the room well. This match probably isn’t anywhere near as good in front of a live audience. If a full crowd’s there, Reigns is probably getting cheered on to keep torturing Jey. But in the near-silence of Sunday’s event with ring mics picking up every little thing the two Superstars were saying, it really let the storytelling go to work.
Kudos goes to WWE for that. If this sort of match keeps happening for Reigns while he’s working in front of fan-less crowds, by the time they do return, fans might really despise him, which is good for all involved over the long run. That’s a big problem in WWE right now—the heels are cool and there are often just as many cheers as boos.
With Reigns working stories like this, though? It’s hard to imagine that ends up being the case. The details of it all are just too good.
Paul Heyman plays an important role here too. He’s normally cocky and defiant when working with Brock Lesnar. Next to Reigns, he’s reserved, even hesitant, if not a little appalled at what his client is willing to say or do.
Heyman even tried to say what Reigns wanted to hear so the beating would stop (with The Big Dog, hardly, scarily raising his voice to shoot him down). And rest assured that’s a dynamic WWE will explore more, and potentially soon.
What makes the situation, and especially Sunday night’s main event all the more impressive, if that’s even possible, is the journey for fans. They suffered for years with good-guy Reigns, the endless ‘Mania main events, the fist pumps, the sufferin’ succotash and all that.
They’ve emerged on the other side of the trip with a heel Reigns that is every bit as capable of matching even their outlandish expectations.
Sean Ross Sapp might have put it best:
Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful.com @SeanRossSapp
I think if Roman Reigns had been booked this way back in 2015, WWE would have already lost him to Hollywood.
It’s all just so natural with Reigns that it’s a little scary WWE had the idea it might not work. He’s the perfect heel and if we’re talking Hollywood, it sure feels like WWE could stretch this out to WrestleMania 37, pray The Rock can come back and really go wild with the family theme in the top main event slot.
But that’s getting a little ahead of things—and there’s certainly no reason to rush the excellent work Reigns seems to do so effortlessly. He’s so good, he’s a guy who took a hiatus to beat cancer and will still have fans booing him out of stadiums for his actions. It’s a little wild to think about.
This, after all, isn’t just something that is going to grow tired for fans quickly. He just got an unforgettable singles match out of Jey Uso, so cliches like “the sky is the limit” for Reigns as a heel apply, especially once he really starts working with main event stars.
And besides seemingly inevitable programs with Lesnar and potentially The Rock, Reigns performing at this level means whoever does end up taking him down won’t ever have those main event credentials revoked.
Over the long run, he’s now a means to dramatically reshape the main event scene and solidify the foundation of WWE itself, provided it keeps getting done right.
Say it: @WWERomanReigns is the tribal chief.
#WWEClash @HeymanHustle https://t.co/UfMnzWZyfO
Did anyone mention this happened at something of a lesser pay-per-view with Jey Uso and wasn’t some technical wrestling display? Heel Reigns putting on matches and stories like this is certainly one way to drive eyeballs to lesser events and potentially revive ratings a bit.
And while ratings are important, let’s keep in mind the universal title itself now feels pretty important, right? No more hot potato with random runs for guys like Goldberg, no inability to remember who’s even held the blue thing. Just prestige.
WWE has proverbial lightning in a bottle. The fans were right, which is a knock on WWE. But the company has leaned into heel Reigns perfectly, even capitalizing on the audience-less shows to provide some shocking depth to his character that will have important long-term ramifications for him and the entire roster.
It feels like heel Reigns is just getting started, and there’s arguably no statement in the wrestling landscape that could be more exciting right now.