Roman Reigns has had breakout weeks before. Last year, at Survivor Series, he led The Shield to a big win over their opponents when he stood tall as the sole survivor who eliminated four out of five members of the other team. He set a new record for eliminations at the 2014 Royal Rumble when he dismantled everyone who came into the ring before he eventually gave way to Batista despite solid fan support for him to win. He even improved to 2-0 at Wrestlemania with an easy win over Kane and the New Age Outlaws and proceeded to help The Shield cleanly beat Evolution at back-to-back PPVs. But it is one thing to look like a guy who might someday carry a wrestling show and another, more difficult, thing to actually carry a wrestling show. This week, Reigns was the top guy on Raw and Smackdown. It was a huge step up for him and shows his rapid development.
Reigns did not even have to wrestle to play a major role on Smackdown. Throughout the show, he acted in support of Dean Ambrose in his feud with Seth Rollins and the rest of The Authority. Early in the show, he came to Ambrose’s aid when HHH, Randy Orton, and Rollins had Ambrose cornered in the ring and he helped Amrose clear the heels out. He served a similar role later in the show when Ambrose took on Orton in a singles match. Rollins sat in on commentary and eventually intervened with his Money in the Bank briefcase. When they tried to gang up on Ambrose, Reigns came to his aid and chased Orton away with a Superman Punch. Ambrose and Reigns stood tall to end the show, which highlighted how successful the dissolution of The Shield has been. Rollins has obviously made an impact as a heel and the site of Reigns and Ambrose together created a sense of nostalgia barely a month after their split.
Reigns was an even more important player on Raw, where the whole show was built around him. He opened the show in the ring with a singles promo- a rarity for him to this point in his career. He did not sound entirely sure of himself from start to finish, but he rolled with the crowd’s chants, stayed on his toes, and got a good reaction when he called Kane “Randy Orton’s bitch.” He and Kane initiated a pull-apart brawl that included a chokeslam on a referee and a spear on road agent Fit Finlay. It was a cool precursor to the match between John Cena and Rollins in the main event that quickly devolved into another gang war. In the end, Ambrose fought Rollins away from the ring and Reigns took out Orton and Kane. It left Reigns standing in the ring with only Cena, and they took turns raising one another’s hand in victory. As one would expect, Reigns got the biggest cheers as the alternative to Cena, but WWE’s faith in him means even more than the fans’ faith in him in this moment.
Whether Daniel Bryan’s injury was the direct cause of the rapid ascent for Reigns is mostly irrelevant; either way, he and Cena are now 1 and 1A for face wrestlers on the WWE roster. We spent a long time imagining what it might be like for Reigns to branch out on his own and become a major singles star, but there have been countless other prospects who never even reached the status he has attained right now. Remember that Reigns and Big E seemed similarly positioned for a big 2014 late last year and think of how drastically they have parted in terms of their momentum. Sometimes it seems that Reigns gets over without doing much, but part of what makes some of the greats successful is that they can make their jobs look easy. Reigns has a subtle charisma and magnetism. It will be his and WWE’s job long term to find ways for him to express that charisma. Judging by the last week, he is headed in the right direction.