Describe Roman Reigns’ actions at WWE Great Balls of Fire 2017 to someone unfamiliar with The Big Dog and with pro wrestling.
Recall how Reigns lost to Braun Strowman thanks to an errant spear and a quick sidestep from The Monster Among Men. Tell them of how Reigns’ response was to then throttle his opponent after the bout, hurl him into an ambulance and sit snarling in the driver’s seat as he contemplated his next move.
Describe how Reigns then drove the emergency vehicle in reverse, careening into a truck. Detail how crumpled metal encased Strowman, how medical personnel had to pry out the bleeding behemoth.
UPDATE: The ambulance has been opened, @BraunStrowman has emerged and refused medical attention. #WWEGBOF #AmbulanceMatch https://t.co/HprLh4DVHS
Then tell them Reigns is the hero in this story. It doesn’t add up.
Was this the climax of a brilliant slow-burn heel turn, or is WWE simply confused about what constitutes a babyface?
Reigns has been especially smug of late. He’s been relentless in the ring and had no issue getting vicious in search of a victory. He’s shown flashes of morphing into a villain, but WWE has continually pitted him against its bad guys: Samoa Joe, Bray Wyatt, Jinder Mahal, Strowman.
He’s played the gutsy warrior battling back in his bouts.
In the promo video for Reigns’ ambulance match against Strowman at Great Balls of Fire, WWE painted him as the conquering warrior. In it, announcer Michael Cole said, “The Big Dog stands tall. Reigns vows to slay the monster.”
The presentation for Reigns has been all over the place, but he has yet to fully embrace his darkness.
After retiring Undertaker at WrestleMania 33, Reigns should have emerged as a full-fledged blackguard. He should have been an unfeeling monster, Raw’s No. 1 heel. WWE never committed to that shift.
His savage assault on Strowman may be the turning point for his character, though. He didn’t just throw a tantrum after losing fairly, he tried to end a man’s life.
Reigns’ response on Twitter wasn’t remorseful in the least, either:
This would all be a hell of a catalyst for Reigns to go marching into villainy, but recent history suggests that may not be the case, attempted murder and all. Reigns has shown signs of turning heel in the recent past only for him to pull back, to revert back to his old self.
For that reason, you can’t blame Bleacher Report MMA columnist and Whizzered founder Jeremy Botter for thinking the attack on Strowman won’t change Reigns’ alignment:
Jeremy Botter @jeremybotter
Roman Reigns just killed Braun Strowman using an ambulance and WWE will still try to push him as a babyface
But from a narrative standpoint, WWE doesn’t have a choice. Reigns can’t go into Raw acting like the hero. He can’t charge after Brock Lesnar like some white knight striding into a battle with the dragon terrorizing the village.
As Marc Normandin of Cageside Seats pointed out, there’s no doubt Reigns is the villain in this story. “Reigns is the heel now, and that idea got its exclamation point when Strowman emerged from the wreckage like a Stone Cold who had just been in a car crash instead of forced to pass out while bleeding by Bret Hart,” he wrote.
WWE has to build on the brutal events from Sunday’s PPV.
It has to tap into a Reigns that doesn’t care what you think about him, a guy intent on winning titles and making big money regardless of the collateral damage it causes. The Big Dog we saw on the June 19 Raw needs to fully step into the spotlight.
That Reigns condescendingly called Seth Rollins his “little brother” and referred to Samoa Joe as “that guy they call Joe.”
He was proud of injuring Strowman. He rubbed his three WrestleMania main events in our faces. “I make the rules around here,” he explained.
That’s no babyface, but it’s not clear if the company understands that.
Today’s WWE place is where a babyface Randy Orton burned down a man’s house. Enzo Amore was portrayed as the fan favorite in a story this year where he tried to sleep with a man’s wife. Despite being the babyface in his feud with Triple H leading up to WrestleMania 33, Seth Rollins vaguely threatened The Game’s children.
It’s not uncommon for WWE’s babyfaces to simply be bad people.
The success of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s antihero character at WWE’s peak will forever breed attempts to recreate that magic. Austin, though, was a middle-finger-waving John Wayne. He was battling an evil tyrant and fought for justice, even if his methods were not squeaky clean.
That’s not who Reigns is right now. The Big Dog is no antihero; he’s a merciless antagonist, a man welcoming the rule of his inner demons.
WWE has to recognize that and not walk some fine line with him. It must stick the black hat on him and run with it.