WWE did the unthinkable when it turned Roman Reigns heel last month, but his stint as a villain may not last very long.
Following Reigns’ shocking move to the dark side at SummerSlam, “The Big Dog” is expected to have a much different relationship with his new manager Paul Heyman than Brock Lesnar does. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t WrestlingNews.co) shed some light on WWE’s plan for Reigns and his pairing with Heyman: “Dave Meltzer reported in this week’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter that the idea is that since everyone knew that Lesnar was everyone’s mercenary and was also friends with Heyman, WWE wants fans to know that there is no friendship between Reigns and Heyman…The idea for their storyline is that it is Reigns who is completely in charge of their business relationship and the story is that Heyman was done in wrestling without Lesnar around so he had nothing left and Reigns was the one who made the call to bring him back. Also, Heyman is supposed to be indebted to Reigns for saving his career.”
What’s more, Reigns is already penciled in for a major babyface turn at some point down the road.
WrestlingNews.co adds, “The idea for his return was to give him an ‘edge’ with the idea being that fans would cheer him since he’s a heel and eventually he would turn into a babyface.” For more than half a decade, WWE has pushed Reigns as its top babyface, and though it’s worked at times (like when he passed John Cena to become WWE’s No. 1 merchandise seller), he was largely rejected in that role. That had little to do with his performances as a fan favorite and largely stemmed from the way he was booked, which came across as forced and contrived rather than the more natural and organic rises of stars like Daniel Bryan and Becky Lynch.
Just a few years ago, Reigns said he didn’t see the point in turning babyface because of the polarizing mixed reaction he already generated as a fan favorite, but he reportedly did a 180 and was the one who pushed to turn heel last month. WWE had infamously resisted that temptation for years, but the unfortunate situation resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic meant that WWE could afford to take the risk of turning the face of the company heel for the first time since his massive push began in 2015. With Reigns no longer required to be the ticket-selling babyface as the future of WWE live events remain up in the air, Reigns’ heel turn came at the right time and under the right circumstances.
Thus far, Reigns’ status as SmackDown’s top heel has resulted in significant improvements in viewership for the blue brand, too, as last week’s episode was the show’s most watched since April 3. Heel Reigns is fresh and exciting, and it’s clicking with the WWE Universe at a time when not many storylines are doing that. The goal of Reigns’ ongoing heel run and alignment with Heyman, however, is clear: To let Reigns succeed as a bad guy to pave the way for an eventual babyface turn.
It’s no secret that a number of pro wrestling’s biggest stars had to try things out as a heel before truly succeeding as a babyface. That reality held true for the likes of Cena and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and, more recently, stars like Bryan and Seth Rollins. As strange as it sounds, when a WWE star is so good at drawing the ire of the WWE fan base, those fans eventually start to respect that star for his stellar heel work and eventually force him into a babyface role.
That’s obviously the same path that WWE is taking with Reigns, and there is nothing wrong with it.
For years, Reigns the character has desperately needed a heel turn, and he finally got it. But Reigns never needed to be a long-term antagonist. WWE simply needed him to embrace his villainous side for a brief run in order to allow him to unleash the more vicious and more intimidating side of his character. That way—if and when Reigns does turn babyface again—he won’t be the same cookie cutter babyface who was largely rejected by the masses throughout the entirety of his push at the top of the card. Instead, he’ll be a newly energized good guy more along the lines of the tweeners or anti-heroes of the past, ranging from Austin to CM Punk.
Though Reigns is still new to the heel side of things, he’s performing incredibly well in that role, and the better he does as a bad guy, the bigger the impact will be when he turns babyface once again.