Roman Reigns is now head of the table in the Bloodline Faction, and is the leader of one of the greatest teams of all time. He is a double world champion, has held the Universal title for two years and is putting on fantastic matches whenever he is booked to wrestle. Every appearance is a huge deal, with every match having that “big fight feel” to it.
The fans can’t wait to see more of him, and he is considered the biggest star in the WWE today. This is something that would never be uttered just a few short years ago, when the feelings toward Roman Reigns, as The Big Dog, were much, much different to today.
You may be shocked to learn he used to be the most hated man in wrestling. even when he was presented as the top babyface in the company, and pushed as the next John Cena in the company. Here, we will analyze why fans hated Roman Reigns when he first went solo and the reason behind the poor opinion of him over the years.
Fans Wanted Him To Let Go Of The Shield
As soon as Seth Rollins turned on the Shield, he and Dean Ambrose forged their own new personas. Rollins became the lackey to Triple H and the golden boy of the villainous Authority. Meanwhile, Ambrose became enraged with revenge and used his anger and fury in the ring to take revenge on those who wrong him. They had new attire, new music and an entirely different direction.
Meanwhile, Roman Reigns continued to come out in the same old costume, with The Shield’s old music and had the exact same attitude as he did before. He couldn’t let go of his past life and move on, making the whole thing a bit sad, really. He was like an ex-high school athlete who could not let go of him time in school
He also never dealt with the betrayal by Rollins. He didn’t seem to care how his “brother” turned his back on them and wrapped a chair around The Big Dog’s face. He just moved on to wrestling Kane and Big Show for two years, cracking wise and putting on the worst promos known to man. He just pretended he was still in the Shield and nothing had changed, which made fans annoyed.
This was made so much worse by Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins moving on. In fact, the two of them feuded with each other for months after the break-up, battling in increasingly dangerous and risky matches as the fallout of their two-year relationship came to a head.
This involved wild brawls, Hell in a Cell matches and even a curb stomp through cinder blocks – yet Roman Reigns didn’t even acknowledge anything happened. He never came to Dean Ambrose aid and never sought revenge against Seth Rollins. He just didn’t care, when there was nothing the fans cared about more.
Roman Reigns Was Pushed Too Fast, Too Soon and Above Other Talents
Roman Reigns was put in high profile feuds straight away, against some main event talent a promoted as being on their level. This was the wrong way to go about it. Fans did not want to see him grapple with the top of the card yet, they had others who deserved to get their first.
Ignoring the obvious (Daniel Bryan), fans wanted to see the likes of Cesaro, Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler finally get their spot in the main event, not have Reigns have it handed to him because he looked the part. All three of those talents were kept down and cooled off, so fans would cheer Reigns instead. This only made the fans resent Reigns more.
Roman Reigns was pushed into big money singles matches before he was ready. While he is one of the best wrestlers in the company now, back then he still had a lot to learn. His experience generally consisted of just wrestling in six-man tag matches alongside the rest of the Shield, which didn’t give him the skill set to carry a 30-minute main event match in 2014.
Reigns biggest exposure was during his 2014 Summerslam match with Randy Orton. It’s a long forgotten one due to how boring it was, with Reigns looking lost even with a veteran like Orton. He won the match after a poor performance and showed people why he was not ready to be a main even star yet – yet WWE persisted
What followed was an injury that kept him out for some months, which saw Dolph Ziggler given a mini-push in his place. With Reigns missing Survivor Series 2014, Dolph Ziggler took his place in the “Team Cena vs Team Authority” match, putting on a Herculean-performance and (with the help of the debuting Sting) managed to win the bout against all the odds and vanquish The Authority from WWE for some weeks.
However, that spot was meant for Roman Reigns, and as soon as he returned Ziggler was forgotten about. Reigns slotted right back in where he left off (which a comically bad promo at TLC 2014, where he “deglared” himself to take part in the 2015 Royal Rumble match), which angered the fans and turned them further against The Big Dog.
By the Royal Rumble, fans had enough. With Daniel Bryan returning to try and win back the title he never lost (neck injuries forced him to vacate the WWE Championship), Roman Reigns was once again up against a babyface the fans vastly preferred to him. As soon as Daniel Bryan was thrown out of the Royal Rumble, the crowd simply booed everyone and everything in the match – even when The Rock helped Roman Reigns to win the match.
His Mic Skills Were Comically Bad
Roman Reigns may be related to The Rock, but microphone skills are not genetic. In 2022 you can argue him to be one of the best on the mic in WWE, but go back 8 years and he was one of the worst. Stilted speech, a lack of confidence in his words and lines that felt like they were written for anybody else but him – simply nothing went right for the Big Dog.
He proved his inadequacies in multiple ways, with two the most notable.
The first was his TERRIBLE promo prior to Wrestlemania 31, which as become known as the “Sufferin’ Succotash” promo. The phrase most closely related to Yosemite Sam from Looney Tunes about 80 years prior reared it’s baffling head on an Episode of Smackdown, as Reigns went on to claim Seth Rollins had “Donkey Dunk for Brains” and other equally cool things you want your top face saying.
The other was his absolute decimation in a promo battle against John Cena before Battleground 2016. This was meant to be a passing of the torch match, from Cena to Samoan Cena, but nothing in the script said that the 16 time champion had to hold his tongue and let Reigns off easy.
John Cena outclassed Reigns on the mic, exposing his lack of talent in one of the most tense and interesting promo duels in years. Reigns won the eventual match but the memory of his embarrassment lived long in the memory.
Speaking of John Cena…
Roman Reigns Was The Next John Cena
That is what the WWE wanted when they cast Roman Reigns as the star of Monday Night Raw. John Cena’s time at the top was coming to an end and his head was being turned by offers from movies and TV shows. He was just coming off a Wrestlemania victory over Bray Wyatt when The Shield imploded and would soon win his 15th (of 16) World Championships at Money in the Bank 2014.
Fans were sick and tired of it. He was close tying Ric Flair’s record title reigns, despite having a much shorter, less storied career. They had seen everything Cena had to offer – and continually rejected him to the deafening silence of Vince McMahon sticking his fingers in his ears and pretending he didn’t hear anything,
Roman Reigns felt like just another John Cena. Ultimate good guy who never wavered from his good intentions, and who won all his matches despite being contently shown as the underdog who had absolutely no way of winning. It was so predictable it made the show so boring, as you knew what was going to happen before you’d even seen who he was wrestling that night.
It was boring. Anti-heroes like CM Punk had come and gone, with WWE not allowing them the space to succeed. Then Daniel Bryan became everything they wanted, but he was soon rejected for the likes of Batista and Reigns.
After a decade of dominance from John Cena, fans couldn’t face another one. So they did what they could – booed him out of every arena in the country until their voices were heard. And it wasn’t, because Vince McMahon is a child.
When Did Fans Start Liking Roman Reigns?
While some fans have always liked Roman Reigns (and we will not discredit them being supports of The Big Dog), the general perception of the Samoan star did not change until he announced he was suffering from leukemia.
While he did garner cheers during periods of time between 2014 and 2018 (his matches against Braun Strowman did help turn the tide against his negative reactions), fans didn’t go fully into supporting Roman Reigns until the October 22, 2018 episode of Monday Night Raw.
It was here that we finally saw behind the character, and fans saw a version fo Roman Reigns that wasn’t Vince McMahon’s attempt to recreate John Cena, but a human being with a deep character and actual challenges to overcome.
You can see in the below video the exact moment things change. The promo starts like any other, but when Roman Reigns utters the words “My real name is Joe, and I’ve been living with Leukemia for eleven years, and it’s back”,the air is sucked out of the room. The fans no longer saw a character they grew to hate over the past four years, but a fan who was dealing with a life-threatening illness.
The crowd went from booing the beginning of the segment, wanting anybody else to be in the ring at the point, to ending it by chanting “Thank You Roman!”. A switch flipped at that moment, and fans saw Roman Reigns not as a character they hate, but a human being that they felt sympathy for.
Over the past few years, Roman Reigns has turned heel and actually leaned into the things that fans hated about his run the first time around. The only difference is that, this time, the fans are supposed to boo him and take great pleasure in doing so.
It was lucky that his heel turn took place during the pandemic. With fans in attendance from the start, it would have been difficult to get them to boo Roman Reigns at all at the start of his heel turn. With fans not coming in until mid-way through his title run, it gave him a chance to establish himself as a top heel.
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.