The WWE has done what the internet STILL refuses to believe. Vince McMahon has successfully turned Roman Reigns into a face World Heavyweight Champion. While Seth Rollins may have had an amazing year as champion, it is Reigns who deserves “Superstar of the Year” honors. Within the span of 11 months, Roman went from being booed out of the building to being met with open arms. Both of these incidents occurred in Philadelphia, and to quote Tommy Dreamer, “if you can make it in Philly, you can make it anywhere”*. Roman’s booking in 2015 is without a doubt, a case of masterpiece booking and proves that Vince McMahon has still got it, and it all started and ended in Philadelphia.
*Dreamer never said that.
Roman’s great 11 months started immediately after winning the Royal Rumble. Despite being cheered at the previous Rumble (where the crowd was hoping Roman would steal the victory from Batista), even The Rock couldn’t stop the deafening boos from the Philly crowd once Roman won. The crowd wanted Daniel Bryan to win or even “anyone but you, Roman“. (These words would later be uttered by Bray Wyatt months later.) Hours after the end of the event, everyone wondered how the WWE would react to the unexpected boos. Thankfully, God repaid Vince McMahon for allowing him to main event Backlash by causing a freak snow storm that canceled RAW. The episode was filmed at the WWE HQ where Roman and Brock met face to face to discuss their upcoming battle at WrestleMania 31.
Roman’s March to ‘Mania
Roman still needed to prove himself to his internet critics. The only option was to put his title shot against the internet’s golden boy yes man, Daniel Bryan. The two slugged it out in the main event to the worst PPV of 2015, Fastlane. The match was fantastic but was still highly criticized. Fans argued that Bryan carried the entire match and due to the running knee never being able to be kicked out of before, Roman shouldn’t have been able to kick out of it then. Both arguments were completely invalid, as it takes two to tango and Roman was being built up to be a contender for Brock Lesnar. He has to be able to withstand a running knee if we are to believe he is able to defeat Brock! After Reigns defeated Bryan, the march to ‘Mania was more of a slog through mud. For some inconceivable reason, Reigns and Brock didn’t lay a single finger on each other. The buildup is summed up by Paul Heyman constantly referring to Reigns as “a Samoan badass” and a GIF of Reigns and Brock playing tug of war with the belt. It’s safe to say, expectations were low for their bout. No one thought Roman was ready for the belt and no one wanted to see Brock lose.
I’m going to preface saying that WrestleMania 31 is my favorite PPV of all time. Being inside of Levi Stadium combined with it being daytime gave WrestleMania 31 a unique atmosphere that no other PPV has matched. That, along with the extremely low expectations yet excellent matches made WrestleMania 31 truly special. All of this could have been ruined with a terrible ending, but it didn’t. Brock didn’t lose, and we were left with this iconic picture.
So, Roman loses his spot and spends the next several months chasing gold and beating ass. He destroys Big Show, pals around with Dean, triple power bombs Randy Orton, fails to capture Money in the Bank, and wins a war against the Wyatts. The time between ‘Mania 31 and TLC 2015 built a story of a hungry Roman Reigns who conquers all in his path but someone who gets roadblocked at every occasion. It’s also worth noting that his quality of matches went up dramatically. While the internet still found a way to find negatives with Roman, boos were slowly being replaced with cheers. When you compare Reigns vs. Wyatt 2014 to their Hell in a Cell match in 2015, it’s like night and day. So when it came time for Reigns to win the belt after a hellacious tournament at Survivor Series, he was still met with boos. It makes sense, however – Reigns promos were hot garbage due to creative being garbage themselves. But that all changed on December 14, 2015. In a span of 24 hours, Reigns went from tater-tot slinging goon to a true “Samoan badass”. He beat HHH mercilessly, conquered the entire League of Nations, superman punched the owner of the WWE and won the WWE Championship.
And when Roman held the belt high, the same Philly crowd which booed him out of the building at the Royal Rumble were behind him. Reigns went from being handpicked by the WWE to truly deserving his spot on the card. Vince McMahon can control every variable in his product, except his fans. He couldn’t make us like Roman, that’s a choice we made for ourselves. Philadelphia has the smartest wrestling fans in the world, and they helped create one of the best title chases in WWE history. Roman’s entire story would have been for naught if the Philly crowd wasn’t behind the man whom they once hated. While the main protagonist of WWE in 2015 has been Seth Rollins, the overarching story has been Roman Reigns’ quest for acceptance, and it’s perfect that it ended where it all started.