In the opening segment of Monday Night Raw this week, Roman Reigns came face-to-face with the guy that bloodied and defeated him in the main event at WrestleMania 34. That man, WWE Universal champion Brock Lesnar, was quiet and stoic as Paul Heyman did all of the talking in hyping up his client’s next battle with the Big Dog in Saudi Arabia. When Reigns’ music hit to mercifully interrupt Heyman after what felt like his longest monologue to date, the crowd reacted per usual: a heavy chorus of boos with limited examples of cheers. The camera crew even found a few select fans to zoom in on who were excited overjoyed with his arrival in St. Louis.
But the segment still fell flat. Rather than cheer for Lesnar -- who has held the title now for over 387 days -- to put down the Big Dog once and for all, fans don’t seem to really know where to turn. For that segment to hit, the fans in attendance would have had to be emotionally invested in a character who came up short in the biggest moment of his career on the biggest stage -- but the majority did not. Vince McMahon can direct the broadcast team to harp on Lesnar’s part-time status until he’s red in the face, but he’s still Brock Lesnar and the biggest demographic in television is always going to prefer Lesnar over Reigns. The story of redemption for Roman Reigns is more compelling than the expected story for over a year -- Reigns beating Lesnar to close out WrestleMania 34 in the main event and that is that. Still, neither of these stories ends with a universally beloved babyface to build around for the next decade. The company will continue trying to win a championship with their version of DeMar DeRozan -- a star, somebody who has gotten better with time, and somebody who will likely be appreciated more after they’re gone -- but they won’t.
So what can they do?
They could send Roman Reigns back down to NXT.
To be clear: This is definitely not going to happen, but if Vince McMahon is not going to budge on building around Reigns, rather than Braun Strowman, AJ Styles, Finn Balor, etc., than why not take a Bryce Harper-like swing at fixing the never-ending Roman Reigns Is Not Liked problem? Reigns has never been a guy you feel comfortable handing the microphone to, but he is someone you feel comfortable with having an above-average match with just about anyone on the roster. What better place is there to put a guy who can’t connect with fans on the microphone but can connect through their in-ring work than in front of the die-hard fans at Full Sail University? What is more likely to turn more wrestling fans in favor of Roman Reigns: a main event match at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn against Aleister Black or a main event match against Baron Corbin at Summerslam? (If you don’t think fans are getting Reigns defending the Universal title at Summerslam against the Lone Wolf I don’t know what to tell you. I guess, maybe, it could be Jinder Mahal instead? Get excited!)
I don’t how this could ever be proven, but I am certain that there is a distinct crossover of wrestling fans that love NXT and loathe Roman Reigns. The fans at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans belting out those “Adam Cole, Bay Bay” chants did not follow that up with whispering to their buddies that it’s “It’s his yard, now” as Roman Reigns’ entrance music hit at WrestleMania 34. But how would they feel if that Almost The Shield But Not Quite music hit at Full Sail this summer? How would they and the internet wrestling community react to Reigns challenging Aleister Black to the biggest match of his life? Who knows, but it’d be better than a “You might be the big dog, but I’m the lone wolf” feud, right? RIGHT?
By sending Reigns to Orlando, the company wins either way. If the fans don’t change their tune and continue to boo him out of the building, his lukewarm heat on the main roster becomes nuclear heat on Triple H’s indie brand. At least, at that point, you know the majority of the fanbase will never accept him and you add another big-time heel for the future. The highlight of NXT TakeOver: New Orleans wasn’t Black kicking Andrade “Cien” Almas’s head off, no, it was the crowd’s reaction Tommaso Ciampa making his way to the ring to face Johnny Gargano. Even if fans continue to boo Roman Reigns, would his entrance at an NXT Takeover this summer not be a must-see event for every wrestling fan? Would Roman Reigns Crashes Hardcore Wrestling Fan’s Show not make him the hottest wrestling villain at the time?
Or fans react positively. Perhaps Reigns works with Ricochet, Adam Cole, Velveteen Dream, or whoever, and endears himself to the crowd that has spent the last few years hating him? That’s not out of the question because there would just be something really cool and surreal about seeing Vince’s top guy go back to NXT and face some of the best wrestlers in the world. Reigns wouldn’t have to talk, he wouldn’t have to make unlikeable excuses, and he wouldn’t be put in a position to fail. It’s hard to see a scenario where a PPV match between Reigns and Cole or Ricochet or Black doesn’t tear the house down. Even Reigns’ biggest detractors would happily admit he’s one of the best wrestlers in the company -- his character and story development have always been the thorns in his side. There isn’t anything redeeming or intriguing in Reigns winning the Universal title away from Lesnar just a few weeks removed from WrestleMania 34. Maybe sending him down to “developmental” can be.
But as Joey Styles wrote in a Facebook Q&A in 2016, “But the answer is Vince thinks it can work,” so the Roman Reigns push isn’t stopping anytime soon. He conquered the Undertaker, he conquered Triple H, he conquered John Cena, and he’ll conquer Lesnar in a steel cage on Friday. But things could be better. He doesn’t have to feud with Baron Corbin, Dolph Ziggler, Jinder Mahal, Kevin Owens and Elias over the next year. He could go reinvent himself, he could go change fans’ minds, and he could become the most interesting figure in professional wrestling. Or maybe he just needs to defeat The Undertaker and Lesnar at Summerslam this year. Who’s to say, really?