Persona and reception of Roman Reigns

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Reigns in March 2018

Professional wrestler Roman Reigns (Joe Anoaʻi) debuted on the WWE main roster in November 2012 (having performed in its developmental system since 2010) as part of stable The Shield and was well-received by fans and critics. Support began to dwindle upon Reigns's transition to a heroic main event singles act in 2014, largely due to his perceived forced push. This would manifest itself with Reigns main eventing consecutive WrestleManias (WWE's premier annual pay-per-view event) facing Brock Lesnar in a singles turned triple threat match due to Seth Rollins' Money in the Bank cash-in for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 31, Triple H in a singles match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 32, The Undertaker in a No Holds Barred match at WrestleMania 33 and Brock Lesnar for the second time one-on-one in a singles match for the WWE Universal Championship at WrestleMania 34 while being booed in all four main events.[1] He has also won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship three times, having a "mixed, at best" crowd reaction on his first world title win, being cheered for his second and being completely booed for his third. Reigns was briefly cheered for his first WWE Universal Championship win at SummerSlam on August 19, 2018.[2]

Wrestling journalists have offered both praise and criticism for Reigns, noting both his talent and WWE's apparent attempts to conceal fan hostility towards him. David Shoemaker of Grantland wrote in 2016 that Reigns was the company's "most despised wrestler" in over 25 years.[3] Fans have taken issue with Reigns over various reasons: his perceived special treatment, real-life demeanor, wrestling moveset, speaking skills and character presentation.[4] After Reigns was suspended for drug use, Yahoo! Sports pondered whether he is "the biggest failure in professional wrestling history".[5] In 2016, Reigns was voted the Most Overrated by Wrestling Observer Newsletter readers[6] as well as the Most Hated Wrestler of the Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers, a first for a heroic character since the award was devised in 1972.[7][8] Into 2017, WWE continued trying to establish Reigns as a megastar despite audience rejection.[9] Pro Wrestling Torch critics, including editor Wade Keller, have said that company chairman Vince McMahon is engaged in a "war on fans".[10]

Anoaʻi himself has suggested that there is jealousy from fans over his "major success",[11] mocked those who question if he deserves his fictional role,[12] discounted critiques from non-wrestlers,[13] and declared that he will not change to appease his critics.[14] Retired wrestler and Anoaʻi's childhood idol Bret Hart stated that he believes WWE themselves have "ruined" the Reigns character by utilizing bad storytelling and poor writing and blames the company's leaders primarily for Anoa'i failing to reach his potential.[15][16][17]

Wrestling persona[edit]

The Shield and initial reception (2012–2014)[edit]

Reigns (right) as a member of The Shield in November 2013

While in NXT (the new developmental system) during 2012, Reigns' character was described as a "businessman" who was "always dressed to impress" and viewed himself as "the most valuable commodity in WWE".[18]

Reigns debuted to the main roster as part of The Shield on November 18, 2012 at Survivor Series. After transferring to WWE's main roster, his character was changed to the "powerhouse" and "heavy hitter" of The Shield, as well as an "exceptional athlete".[19] Noted as the least talkative of The Shield members,[20] Reigns' character was tweaked from "the quiet muscle" to being an "ultra-confident" source of leadership with "quiet strength" in mid-2013.[21] CM Punk alleged in an interview that he was constantly reminded to make Reigns look "really, really strong" despite The Shield being booked to lose to Punk at the 2013 TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs event.[22] In 2013, Reigns was voted the Most Improved by Wrestling Observer Newsletter readers.[23]

During the 2014 Royal Rumble match on January 26, the live crowd cheered for Reigns over eventual winner Batista despite Reigns being a villain.[24][25] Anoaʻi later acknowledged the reaction as "a cool situation".[13] In mid-2014, Stone Cold Steve Austin said he saw great potential in Reigns[26] while David Shoemaker of Grantland wrote that Reigns had "mystery and intensity" as well as "superstar written all over him".[27]

Controversial rise to main event status (2014–2016)[edit]

After The Shield disbanded for the first time, Reigns (unlike the other former Shield members) retained much of The Shield's aesthetic including ring attire, a remixed version of the group's theme music and ring entrance.[28][29] Initially, Roman was one of the most popular stars on the roster with fans. From December 2014 to January 2015, Reigns' positive crowd reactions were diminishing.[30][31] Reigns' win of WWE's 2014 Superstar of the Year Slammy Award garnered surprise to the point of accusations of vote-rigging, although both Dave Meltzer and Pro Wrestling Insider allege the fan vote was legitimate.[32][33] Writers from the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter criticized Reigns in 2014 and 2015, for a "very limited" in-ring moveset,[34] "forced promo delivery"[35] and a "petulant and annoyed" attitude ill-befitting of a top fan favorite.[36] Fellow professional wrestler Mikey Whipwreck said Reigns was "trying to be like John Cena", who was "very polarizing".[37]

I don't think I'm headbutting with [hardcore fans], I feel like they are headbutting me. ... One thing that kind of confuses me is that it is a performance, it is a show, there is a storyline. When people start doing the 'He deserves this, He deserves that', really did Brad Pitt deserved [sic] to be Achilles in [the film] Troy?

Anoa'i in a 2015 interview promoting WrestleMania 31[12] which he main-evented despite fans' rejection[38]

What, y'all can't hear me or something? ... This isn't boring, baby, this is real life.

Reigns' response to a heckling Chicago crowd during an October 2015 promo on Raw[39]

Sometimes, as a former football player, we have to go into that away game and silence the crowd. ... And just let them know I am the man. I'm going to be here for a long time.

Anoa'i commenting on crowds booing him en route to 2016's WrestleMania 32,[40] where Reigns won its main event[41]

At the 2015 Royal Rumble on January 25, Reigns was booed heavily after his victory despite portraying a heroic character.[42][43] In February on WWE Raw, Paul Heyman praised Reigns as better than "any other guy in history", which garnered negative reactions as Heyman stated esteemed wrestling figures, including Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and John Cena, were inferior to Reigns.[44] By March, Anoaʻi altered his character's physical appearance by wearing contact lenses in order to have blue eyes.[45][46] From late 2014 to early 2015, various critics raised concerns that Reigns, despite being "not fully ready", was "being pushed too hard, too soon" while WWE tried to make him their next "flagship star", "no matter how fans reacted".[47][35][48][49] Anoaʻi reacted by saying that he only entertained criticism of his wrestling by people that were involved with wrestling, discounting negative opinion by critics that "weren't wrestlers" and who wouldn't understand how to "lock up".[13] Going into WrestleMania in 2015, Dave Meltzer said that Reigns was the least over WrestleMania main eventer ever.[50] At WrestleMania 31 on March 29, Pro Wrestling Torch described Reigns as needing security for his entrance while receiving "universal boos" and middle fingers.[38] Reigns was unable to defeat Brock Lesnar for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship after Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and pinned Reigns to win the world title.[51] Rollins received positive reactions for his victory despite being a villain.[52][53] Despite the fan backlash in early 2015, critics praised Reigns' performances at Fastlane, WrestleMania 31 and Extreme Rules as exceeding expectations[54][55][56][57] while the negative reactions continued at Money in the Bank and SummerSlam.[58][59]

Unlike other Shield members, Reigns retained many of the group's characteristics after the split, such as entering through the crowd, doing so until early March 2016

In late 2015, critics described WWE presenting Reigns' character as a "hard-luck underdog" chasing the world title,[60] with WWE having "spent an overwhelming amount of time" on Reigns, "bending over backwards to create new obstacles for him to overcome ... at the expense of almost everyone else on the roster".[61] In November 2015, Reigns received a "mixed, at best" reaction upon winning and losing his first WWE World Heavyweight Championship at the 2015 Survivor Series event after Sheamus, another villainous character, cashed in his Money in the Bank contract to defeat Reigns, a move made to try and get Reigns over with the crowd,[62] and a positive reaction on winning his second world title at the Raw after TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs on December 14,[63] although a WrestleView writer reflected that "it's been downhill ever since" for Reigns from then until March 2016.[64] In 2015 and 2016, WWE has reportedly taken several measures to hide fans' disapproval of Reigns, this included: confiscating anti-Reigns fan signs,[65][66] editing out anti-Reigns fan signs for photos on their website,[67] muting hostile crowds (including at WrestleMania 32)[3][68] and piping in canned cheers during Reigns' appearances.[68][69]

Reigns as WWE World Heavyweight Champion in April 2016.

In 2016, Reigns main evented the first seven WWE pay-per-view events (before the brand split started)[70] and was booed in all of them: Royal Rumble,[71] Fastlane,[72] WrestleMania 32 (which ended with a chorus of boos when Reigns won his third world title),[73] Payback,[74] Extreme Rules,[75] Money in the Bank[76] and Battleground.[77] CNET described a "fan rebellion" against WWE "moving heaven and earth" to make Reigns "the face of the company ... for the next decade"; while "many fans are aware" that former Shield member Dean Ambrose "is the true dark horse, both on camera and behind the scenes".[78] ESPN described that "WWE started building Roman Reigns as the next great hero of the company about 18 months ago", but Reigns instead became "the most despised wrestler WWE has had since it turned Sgt. Slaughter into an Iraq-sympathizing traitor in 1990".[3] Leading up to WrestleMania 32, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Rikishi and Hulk Hogan have encouraged WWE to turn him into a villain.[79][80][81] Meanwhile, during interviews promoting WrestleMania 32, Anoa'i acknowledged the fan backlash, but declared that WWE is a "kids show" and that he was not wrestling to impress "grown men" who boo him.[82] He defiantly told his critics that he would not believe any of their negative opinions of him.[83] As for his detractors, Anoa'i told them to "continue to be ready to boo. You're going to be mad a long time. I'm not going away".[84]

WWE World Heavyweight Champion and suspension (2016–2017)[edit]

On the Raw after WrestleMania 32, Reigns declared that he was now not a "bad guy" nor a "good guy", but "The Guy", which supposedly indicated a morally ambiguous character turn, but this went nowhere.[85] In April, Pro Wrestling Dot Net reported that WWE "went out of their way to use [the charity] Make A Wish in hopes of getting [Reigns] over as a good guy".[86] As soon as broadcasting for Payback on May 1 stopped, Reigns reportedly turned on the crowd, yelling angrily at them.[87] Also in May, Dave Meltzer said WWE wanted Reigns as "the guy who does the charity work, so he has to be positioned as a babyface" (the heroic character), adding that WWE's "new gimmick" was positioning that people actually "really like" Reigns and only boo because "it's fun to boo him", which Meltzer said was "absolutely not true" in reality.[88] Critics wondered if WWE was "leaving money on the table" by not slotting former Shield teammate Seth Rollins as a fan favorite and Reigns as a villain,[89][90] as fans were cheering Rollins and booing Reigns.[91] In June, Reigns wrestled against Rollins at both Money in the Bank and the next night on Raw, where Reigns played a villain in the first match and a fan favorite in the second, while on the next night on Raw during his promo he told the fans who were booing him to "shut their mouths".[92][93] Reigns' wellness policy suspension on June 21 resulted in Yahoo! TV urging WWE to "quit pretending he's some kind of lovable underdog" with a villain turn for Reigns, after wasting a "dozen" chances "since the boos first reigned" at the 2015 Royal Rumble.[94]

Reigns as United States Champion in December 2016

As soon as Reigns returned from suspension in July and leading into SummerSlam, writers from the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter wrote that Raw was "still the Roman Reigns Show", "with him necessarily closing out the show with the last laugh" (post-SummerSlam, "Raw is Roman" continued).[95][96] Also in August, Anoa'i no longer wore the contact lenses, again changing the Reigns' character look.[97] Although Reigns dropped from world title contention to being United States Champion in September, he remained unable to connect with fans.[98] Nonetheless, calculated efforts to garner crowd support persisted. Wade Keller of the Pro Wrestling Torch said that WWE was damaging its product by associating Reigns with "really good" and "popular" performers in a "hapless attempt" to get him over. Pro Wrestling Dot Net columnist Jason Powell said that McMahon's "obsession" with generating support for Reigns had handicapped Seth Rollins, whom fans wanted to see as a fan favorite in May, but was kept as a villain to oppose the heroic (and thoroughly booed) Reigns until a "horrible" turn into a fan favorite in September.[98] In November, Fin Martin of Power Slam remarked: "Vince [McMahon] has successfully trained or retrained most of his audience to consume what he is serving. Roman Reigns being the exception, of course. It says something that fans will cheer Shane McMahon's toe-curlingly naff attempts at pro wrestling in the ring and his entrance dance ... yet they won't cheer for Reigns, no matter how heroically he is portrayed".[99] As a result of his achievements in 2016, despite topping Pro Wrestling Illustrated (PWI) annual PWI 500[100] which is mainly about kayfabe results,[101] Reigns was voted by Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers as Most Hated Wrestler of the Year, a first for a heroic character since the award was devised in 1972.[7][8] Wrestling Observer Newsletter readers instead awarded Reigns the 2016 Most Overrated award.[102] Reigns had finished in second place for Most Overrated in both 2014 and 2015.[47][103] In January 2017, Pro Wrestling Torch began their weekly "Monday Night Reigns-o-meter", which monitored his "ability to beat the odds and come out on top".[104]

I think it just pushed me. ... Some people look at that as a negative, not me. ... X amount of thousands of people are screaming, booing at the top of their lungs, and I'm the center of attention, so I must be doing something right.

Anoa'i describing his reaction to being booed, in an ESPN audio interview released in January 2017[105]

Going into 2017, WWE continued to edit reactions for Reigns, one example being after he lost the United States Championship to Chris Jericho, when an audience member was shown live jumping for joy at the result, but when WWE showed replays of Reigns' loss they showed a clip of the same fan looking unhappy.[106] Veteran wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin and Pro Wrestling Torch editor Wade Keller criticised Reigns' attitude in mainstream interviews, specifically Reigns stating that he "just" worked 9-to-5 before becoming a professional wrestler as well as flaunting his financial prospects within WWE, with Austin saying Reigns has "got to watch" what he says and needs to be "smarter" while Keller saw him as "trying to impress the people interviewing him" and "not thinking about the fans who are paying the money for the seats".[107] Keller also scolded Reigns and WWE for publicly claiming they are happy with any crowd reaction for Reigns, whether positive or negative, describing such statements as "insincere" and "spin" since they "turn the volume down; they seek out fans who are cheering him; they doctor footage to make it seem like fans are cheering him when they're not ... they manipulate in every way that they can to make it seem like he's not getting a negative reaction".[108]

In the 2017 Royal Rumble match on January 29, Reigns entered as the surprise last entrant despite losing a WWE Universal Championship match against Kevin Owens earlier that night.[109] Fans had anticipated other surprise entrants including Finn Bálor, Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura and Kenny Omega—international media outlets noted that this drew "This is bullshit!" chants from the live crowd and even more boos when he eliminated The Undertaker.[9][110][111][112] Reigns was still booed after eliminating villain wrestlers Chris Jericho and Bray Wyatt.[109] Stone Cold Steve Austin believed that Reigns was the "set-up guy" and "did a favor" to help Randy Orton by letting Orton eliminate him to win the Royal Rumble.[113] The following night on Raw, the villainous Braun Strowman received a "Thank you Strowman!" chant for costing Reigns his WWE Universal Championship match at the Royal Rumble.[114] This chant was repeated after Strowman cost Reigns a match on the February 6 episode Raw, with Tom Colohue of Pro Wrestling Torch writing that Strowman's vendetta against Reigns may have "accidentally turned" the villain into a fan favorite.[115] In February 2017, Meltzer said it was "obvious" that WWE's push of Reigns "will never end".[116] Later that month, wrestling podcaster Peter Rosenberg lamented that—unlike the similarly powerful Hulk Hogan—Reigns "doesn't show vulnerability, ever".[117]

Establishment as face of the company (2017–2018)[edit]

On March 5 at Fastlane, Reigns defeated Strowman and became the first man to successfully pin him in WWE.[118] Although the match itself was praised, this booking choice was poorly received by critics, who agreed that, despite adding nothing to Reigns' reputation, the match's ending would severely hurt Strowman's "unstoppable beast" image, "undid" all the momentum Strowman had acquired during the previous months and might even damage his career and future in WWE.[119][120][121][122] Many believed that a better, more logical booking move would have been for The Undertaker, who was heavily rumored to face Reigns at WrestleMania 33 after Reigns eliminated him during the Royal Rumble match, to interfere in the match, causing Reigns to either win by disqualification, thus letting Strowman remain unpinned, or lose because of The Undertaker, thus still looking strong.[123][121][124] The rumor did end up being true and Reigns and The Undertaker had a face-off on the March 6 episode of Raw, hinting a confrontation at WrestleMania 33.[125] The crowd chanted "Roman sucks!" loudly during both Reigns' entrance and the face-off between the two, but when releasing the video on their YouTube channel WWE edited the audio to make those chants inaudible, which led to many media outlets reporting and criticizing the edit.[126][127][128][129][126][130] Wade Keller of Pro Wrestling Torch noted that "the crowd popped" for Shawn Michaels when he came out for a promo with Reigns on the March 13 episode of Raw, but then booed Michaels after he endorsed Reigns, who would again be beaten down by Strowman to the delight of the crowd.[131] Keller's colleague Tom Colohue noted that "everybody wants [Reigns] to fail", but applauded his "simple, effective promo" that was "probably the best work Roman's ever done on the mic".[132]

Reigns would feud with Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship from April to August 2018. Their matches were met with particular contempt from critics and audiences

In March 2017, Dave Meltzer reported that WWE's long term plans ("which obviously could change") for 2018's WrestleMania 34 was to "once again build for a year and have the big coronation" for Reigns, who would still be a heroic character "between now and then" and beat Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal Championship "to fully replace John Cena as the face of the company",[133] while the "idea" for Lesnar's role "for this year now" was "to become a monster, be unbeatable, run through everybody, beat them with one F-5 and then lose to Roman Reigns".[134] At WrestleMania 33 on April 2, Reigns was booed before, during and after the main event (his third WrestleMania main event in a row), which saw Reigns beating The Undertaker, who seemingly retired.[135][136] Before the match, Pro Wrestling Insider's Dave Scherer predicted that if Reigns beat and retired The Undertaker, then "the fans that hate him will hate him forever".[137] Critics reported that after the match, WWE "did clearly turn down the sound" from the audience "and then they hit the pyro", but boos were still heard during a break in Reigns' music being played.[137][138][139] On the Raw after WrestleMania, Reigns was loudly booed and the crowd microphone volumes were turned down when he appeared, but multiple chants of "Delete", "Fuck you, Roman", "You suck", "Asshole", "Roman sucks", "Shut the fuck up" and "Go away" were still heard before Reigns chose to speak.[140] After that segment, WWE commentators labelled the post-WrestleMania 33 crowd as "non-traditional WWE fans" who may cheer for those they normally boo and boo those they normally cheer "all in the name of fun", which echoed similar comments a year prior for the post-WrestleMania 32 crowd.[141] Pro Wrestling Torch editor Wade Keller wrote that these comments would anger fans as "genuine dissatisfaction with the product is reframed by Vince McMahon's propaganda machine" – Undertaker received the usual reaction from fans, as did Reigns, just more intensely.[140] Following Reigns' victory over The Undertaker and given that Reigns was reportedly selling more merchandise than any other full-time WWE wrestler (John Cena, who sold more, was considered a part-timer), Forbes writer Blake Oestriecher declared Reigns as "indeed the new face of WWE, one who could remain in that spot for the next decade".[142][143]

Great Balls of Fire saw a post-match attack by Reigns after he lost an ambulance match to Strowman, which was widely described as the protagonist Reigns attempting to murder the villainous Strowman.[144][145][146][147] As a result, there has been some speculation on whether or not this angle was a double turn (where Reigns and Strowman swap roles as the hero and the villain), with Reigns being described as a "sore loser" attacking Strowman, who won fairly to the stipulation, to the point of attempted murder.[148][149] However, nothing of this sort ultimately came to fruition and Reigns was even awarded a WWE Universal Championship shot at SummerSlam with speculation that the plans for Reigns to face Lesnar at WrestleMania 34 had been changed.[150] At the event on August 20, Lesnar retained the title by pinning Reigns in a match also involving Strowman and Samoa Joe.[151][152] Meltzer claimed that the plans for the Lesnar–Reigns match at WrestleMania 34 were scrapped, but after seeing Reigns get pinned by Lesnar, he stated that the plans might still be in place.[153][154] In September on Raw, both (storyline) general manager Kurt Angle and commentator Corey Graves described Reigns as a wrestling "icon".[155][156] At No Mercy, Reigns defeated John Cena, seemingly ending Cena's full-time wrestling career as this was seen as a "passing of the torch" moment in which Reigns had indeed replaced Cena as the face of the company.[157] During the match, Reigns was booked to kick out of four Attitude Adjustments (one of which was off the top rope) and then defeated Cena with two spears.[158] In October 2017, Reigns was revealed as the highest rated wrestler in the WWE 2K18 game.[159] GamesRadar+ wrote that "this is likely a call made by WWE ... rather than [game] developer 2K" and that by ranking Reigns higher than historic wrestlers "in their prime" like the 1997 version of the Stone Cold Steve Austin character, Reigns is being treated as the "greatest wrestler of all-time".[160]

In a December 2017 interview, Anoaʻi called himself "the best performer, in-ring, in the world right now".[161] In response, Brian Campbell of CBS Sports wrote that Anoaʻi "isn't even the best performer in his own company" and "wouldn't even finish in the top five" in the world.[161] Meanwhile, fellow wrestler Kenny Omega commented that "it sounds so ridiculous" and that there was "no possible way" Anoaʻi believed what he said.[161] Also that month, WWE vice president Triple H said regarding Reigns: "I think he is one of the best that WWE have right now ... the truth is, and some people will listen to this and want to argue against it, but honestly most of the people who argue against it aren't qualified to make that argument. I am".[162]

In March 2018, Reigns said regarding his reception that "everyone wants to see you do good, but not too good"; and that there is "possible jealousy" from fans regarding his "major success".[11] Before WrestleMania 34 in April 2018, Reigns said that he would not try to change for anyone that did not like him.[14] Reigns' main event match with Lesnar at WrestleMania 34 was resoundingly rejected by the crowd, as Reigns was booed while the crowd played with beach balls and instead chanted "CM Punk", "Boring" and "This is awful!"[163][164][165] Troy L. Smith of Cleveland.com concluded that this match was the worst ever WrestleMania main event due to the "utter disdain" it produced, with there never being a more "disinterested" crowd for a WrestleMania main event.[166] Meltzer wrote that Reigns' loss was "done for sympathy for Reigns when it was over to make him a babyface as they concentrated on showing him all beaten up".[165]

On April 30, the go-home edition of Raw before Backlash, Reigns was met with great hostility from the crowd in Montreal. Reigns was heavily booed, in contrast to his rival Samoa Joe, who received overwhelming cheers despite being portrayed as a heel.[167] At Backlash, a large number of the crowd in New Jersey reportedly walked out of the arena during Reigns' match with Joe, a match Reigns was booked to win.[168][169][170] Brian Campbell and Adam Silverstein of CBS Sports wrote that it was "just impossible to ignore how poorly WWE continues to treat its own fanbase ... this has escalated to the point where the psychology and storyline simply makes no sense in ways that can't be good for business".[171] Meltzer described that "lots of people were leaving" during Reigns' match and that the crowd was chanting that the match was boring.[172] Pro Wrestling Dot Net editor Jason Powell described WWE Chairman Vince McMahon as "completely insane when it comes to his obsession with Reigns being his company's top babyface" when the "definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results". Powell went on to mock WWE's "frequently repeated line about how WWE listens to its fans" and another WWE claim that "any reaction is a good reaction".[173] Meltzer said that the character of Reigns was being modeled after Daniel Bryan's, with the similar storyline that WWE "management is screwing him over and that's why he's not the champion", and that despite fans not buying this storyline, no one in WWE had a better idea for Reigns.[174]

At Money in the Bank, Reigns' match with Jinder Mahal was widely rejected by crowd in Illinois. Within the first two minutes of the match, once again, chants of "CM Punk" and "Boring" were heard. The crowd continued to ignore the match by playing with beach balls, performing the Mexican wave, and continued chants of other wrestlers names, booing officials who confiscated the beach balls, and continued negative chants about the match. Every other match on the card, however, was comparatively well received.[175][176] In July 2018 on Raw, Reigns told fans who "boo", "hate", or claim that he "is being crammed down our throats" to "learn to like it or close your mouth." Meanwhile, Wade Keller of Pro Wrestling Torch criticised Anoa'i for arguing that he deserves his push due to hard work and winning many titles. Keller pointed out that Anoa'i "doesn't work harder than dozens of other colleagues, yet he acts as if he's special", and that Reigns' title wins were "granted by Vince McMahon."[177] At Extreme Rules, Reigns again received overwhelming boos while his opponent Bobby Lashley was wildly cheered. Lashley received wild cheers for his victory over Roman, as well as chants of "Thank you Lashley!"[178]

Universal Champion, leukemia diagnosis and return (2018–2019)[edit]

In August 2018 at SummerSlam, the audience started out giving Reigns a fairly mixed reaction during his entrance. Following Braun Strowman's announcement of his plan to cash-in post match, the crowd cheered. A brief chant of "Let's go Roman/Roman Sucks" filled the arena at one point, followed by chants of "You both suck" directed at both Lesnar and Reigns. When Reigns pinned Lesnar to win the WWE Universal Championship, the crowd cheered.[179]

The following night on Raw, Reigns was again booed early in the show, but received a mixed reaction for suggesting that he defend his newly-won championship against Finn Bálor later that night. After beating Bálor, Reigns was again heavily booed by the crowd, which increased in intensity after the match when Braun Strowman attempted to cash in his Money in the Bank title shot. The subsequent Shield reunion and attack on Strowman was positively received by the Brooklyn audience, but was viewed by many as a cheap attempt to garner positive reactions for Reigns.[180] At Hell in a Cell, Reigns defended his Universal Championship against Braun Strowman, during which Reigns was booed heavily while the villainous Strowman was wildly cheered by fans. The match was victim to high controversy, with the first incident being when special guest referee Mick Foley counted Reigns down for a three count, but instead of Strowman getting the victory, the pinfall was simply ignored, with the second being when the match ended in a no contest after interference from a returning Brock Lesnar. After the match ended, the network stream abruptly ended with many saying this was done to avoid broadcasting the heavy boos from fans with many taking to social media claiming that chants of "Bullshit!" and "We want refunds!" along with heavy booing broke out as Reigns, Strowman and Lesnar all had walked to the back.[181]

"Everyone seemed relieved and elated that he delivered good news about his health."

Wade Keller of the Pro Wrestling Torch describing the positive crowd reaction after Reigns had announced his leukemia was in remission.[182]

On the October 22, 2018 episode of Raw, Reigns announced that he was re-diagnosed with leukemia after 11 years and would be taking a hiatus to treat it. As a result, he relinquished the Universal Championship, ending his reign of 64 days. Reigns initially received a mixed reaction upon entering the arena, but was welcomed with a positive reception as well as chants of "Thank you, Roman!" after his announcement of leukemia was made.[183] Reigns made his return on the February 25, 2019 episode of Raw to announce his leukemia was in remission, where he received a huge ovation from the crowd.[182] On the following episode of Raw, Reigns would reunite with The Shield,[184] leading to a match between Drew McIntyre, Bobby Lashley and Baron Corbin at Fastlane, which The Shield would win in Reigns's first match since his leukemia diagnosis. Both times, Reigns would be met with cheers.[185] At WrestleMania 35, Reigns defeated Drew McIntyre in his first singles match since October 2018. However, he would be met with a mixed reaction by the crowd, with Pro Wrestling Dot Net writer Jason Powell stating that an estimated "70 percent of the fans booed Reigns while only 30 percent cheered for him before the match." He would also describe the match as "disappointing".[186]

Move to SmackDown and improved crowd support (2019-present)[edit]

Reigns was drafted to the SmackDown brand during the 2019 WWE Superstar Shake-up. On the April 16 episode of SmackDown. Reigns attacked Elias and Vince McMahon upon his arrival, with WWE's announcers describing Reigns as "SmackDown’s greatest ever acquisition", as well as the future of SmackDown and WWE.[187] Reigns' acquisition was met with positive reactions.[188] Reigns participated in a six-man tag team match along with Ambrose and Rollins against Corbin, Lashley and McIntyre in the exclusive pay-per-view show, WWE The Shield's Final Chapter on April 21. The match, which The Shield won, was also billed as both the stable's final match and Ambrose's final match with WWE. Reigns was met with cheers during the match.[189] He appeared two days later on SmackDown to a lukewarm crowd reaction where he was attacked by Shane McMahon and Elias in retaliation to Roman punching Vince McMahon.[190] Two weeks later, Reigns made a surprise return to Raw where he was positively received by fans. He confronted Vince McMahon stating that he takes orders from the fans and not from Vince. He was then interrupted by McIntyre, who demanded a WrestleMania rematch, which Reigns accepted. Reigns defeated McIntyre by disqualification. Powell noted that the rematch was more entertaining than the match they had at WrestleMania 35. After that, Reigns turned his attention towards Shane McMahon and challenged him to a match. McMahon accepted his challenge and made the match official for Super ShowDown. Reigns, however, would lose the match to McMahon. This sparked criticism among journalists who claimed that if the company was trying to make Reigns the franchise player, they would've had him win the match, but losing it to McMahon (who is not a full-time wrestler) hurt his aura even more.[191] After that, Reigns would defeat McIntyre at Stomping Grounds. He was met with mixed to positive reactions. Journalist Jason Powell mused that McIntyre seemed to be "just another guy they are feeding to Reigns rather than someone they have a real plan for." He would also bemoan the booking of the match, as Reigns won even after repeated interference from McMahon, making McIntyre feel "like a heavy underdog".[192] Following this, Reigns would then team with his WrestleMania 33 opponent The Undertaker to defeat McIntyre and McMahon in a No Holds Barred tag match at Extreme Rules. This time Reigns was met with a fairly favorable reaction, while his partner The Undertaker was raucously cheered by the Philadelphia crowd. The match itself was praised by critics and fans alike.[193][194]

Following this, an unidentified person pushed lighting equipment on top of Reigns backstage.[195] The following week, Reigns was again targeted by the attacker as he was a victim of a hit and run.[196] After ruling out Samoa Joe[196] and Buddy Murphy as suspects, Reigns next investigated Daniel Bryan and Erick Rowan due to testimony from Murphy and seemingly incriminating video footage.[197] However, Bryan revealed the attacker as a man who merely resembled Rowan.[198] Nonetheless, Reigns found additional footage that showed Rowan pushing over the equipment. Rowan then admitted that it was him and admitted that he was responsible for the hit and run as well.[199][200] This caused Bryan and Rowan to split due to Rowan lying, and a match between Reigns and Rowan was scheduled for Clash of Champions.[200] On the September 10 episode of SmackDown, Reigns and Rowan had a brawl around the arena that ended with Rowan knocking Reigns out with a jib camera.[201] Their match at Clash of Champions was changed into a No Disqualification match,[202] which Rowan won after interference from a returning Luke Harper. Journalist Arya Winter was surprised to see Harper return after previously requesting his release earlier in the year saying "That was unexpected."[203][204] Reigns would team with Bryan to defeat Rowan and Harper in a Tornado Tag Team Match at Hell in a Cell. In this instance, Reigns and Bryan were cheered heavily by the audience. Jason Powell of Pro Wrestling Dot Net called the match itself a "stellar brawl" and felt that "Harper and Rowan didn’t lose much. They dominated the match before taking the loss."[205]

Reigns would then go on to feud with King Corbin, after the latter was drafted to SmackDown in the 2019 WWE Draft. Their feud began with Corbin defeating Reigns after interference from Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode.[206] During the men's Survivor Series elimination match, an altercation occurred between the two. After Corbin had essentially caused the elimination of their Team SmackDown partner Mustafa Ali, Reigns performed a spear on Corbin, which resulted in Corbin being eliminated by Tommaso Ciampa, while Reigns went on to win the match for his team.[207] On the following SmackDown, Reigns called out Corbin, who claimed Team SmackDown won because of him, and stated that Reigns betrayed his team when Reigns caused his elimination by attacking him. Reigns challenged Corbin to a match, however, Corbin instead introduced Ziggler and Roode and Roode challenged Reigns instead, in which Reigns won. Following the match, a brawl ensued.[208] On the December 6 episode, it was announced that a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match between Reigns and Corbin was scheduled for TLC.[209] After defeating Ziggler that night, Reigns was handcuffed to the ring post and forced to eat dog food by Corbin and Ziggler.[209] Although Reigns has received positive reactions from the crowd during this feud, this angle was widely panned by critics for humiliating Reigns and for being poor storytelling in general. Kevin Burge of Bleacher Report stated, "The worst part of Corbin vs. Reigns has been The King's insistence that The Big Dog should be treated like a dog. The dog food usage in this beatdown took away from the genuine drama of Reigns trapped on the steel post."[210] John Canton of TJR Wrestling felt the angle was lame, stating "The visual of guys putting dog food in a man’s face just because his nickname is the “Big Dog” is weak, to be honest." He also questioned why nobody would help Reigns in the situation. "It’s not like that will get addressed. It’s just weird that they have Braun Strowman back there doing nothing every week or a number of different, but here’s Reigns with no allies."[211] Reigns would end up losing to Corbin again at the pay-per-view due to interference by Ziggler and The Revival (Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder). The crowd cheered for Reigns throughout, but the match itself was panned by various critics. Larry Csonka of 411MANIA gave the match *1/2 stars stating it was "quite bad actually". He also stated the TLC stipulation was not used well "or much at all and only really walked and brawled until 15 guys arrived to beat the big dog as the match felt twice as long as it actually was."[212] Jason Powell of Pro Wrestling Dot Net was shocked that no one came to Reigns aid at all stating, "Wow, Roman Reigns really is a loser with no friends." He was also confused and angered at the fact that the feud would continue. "I just can’t wrap my mind around having to endure more of this feud that just won’t end."[213] Steve Khan of F4WOnline stated "They somehow managed to have a boring TLC match."[214]

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External links[edit]