We here at 10YS and OTTB know that the last thing you probably want to read is a piece about Roman Reigns, but, forgive us, yall ga have to deal with it. The WWE has made it clear that Roman Reigns as a thing is happening so we might as well get used to that fact. Now, the matter up for discussion is not if Roman should turn heel – we’re pretty much on the same page with that – but rather how and why. One caveat, we are not really counting Roman’s run in The Shield because he was part of a stable and they turned face as a group, which he then remained after the group disbanded. You will note that group heel runs, especially when you are not the leader, do not count.
Why turn him?
First things first, I apologize if I sound like a broken record, but one only needs to look at WWE’s history to see why Roman needs a heel turn before he can be “The Guy” that WWE wants him (so desperately) to be and that he can be (miss me with the “Roman Reigns is garbage” talk, dude has had a lot of great matches on TV and PPV up and down the roster).
Let’s talk about history (yes, I know I do that a lot). When you think of all the biggest babyfaces in WWE’s history, they have all had one thing in common. You know what that is? Well, minus Hulk Hogan’s run up to 1996, they have all had a heel run of some level of importance prior to becoming the top babyface in WWE. Don’t believe me, let’s take a crack at it.
In the late 80s, early 90s WWF, Shawn Michaels seemed destined to remain a part of The Rockers forever. He was a little guy during a time when muscle-headed monsters ruled the WWF. But just like the guys listed below, it was a heel turn/heel run that truly primed him for superstardom. If you’re too young to know, or too uninterested to dig it up, here is the clip of the moment Shawn Michaels turned heel.
Note to young wrestlers, avoid being near any window, mirror or television screen unless absolutely necessary. It usually leads to something unpleasant for one or all involved.
Anyway, so Shawn snapped on his partner, tossed him through a plate glass window, changed his music, started calling himself the Heartbreak Kid and began a run that would catapult him to the top of WWF. He entered into feuds with Bret Hart and the Hart Foundation among others and got the fans to hate him so much that even what started as a heel stable, D-Generation X, had no choice but to become face.
In retrospect, you can say the potential talent in the ring was always there, but there is something about allowing a guy to tap into heeldom that ends up endearing him to the smart fans and at that point you end up with a megastar. This is particularly clear with Shawn and also with the next guy on our list, who oddly enough had his own moment with Bret Hart.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
For most Attitude-era fans, Stone Cold was, is and always be a babyface. He may be a profanity-spewing, beer-chugging, middle-finger giving, all-out-of-damns-to-give SOB, but he was BELOVED by the fans. Everything that he did was golden. Storm the ring in a beer truck, golden. Storm the ring in a Zamboni, golden. Pour concrete in Vince McMahon’s car, golden. Use a monster truck to destroy The Rock’s car, golden. Pull out a gun on his boss on live TV and pull the trigger making him piss his pants, golden. (Yes it was a toy gun, but that is beside the point.) Basically, Stone Cold could do no wrong. Now, before his super-face run in the aftermath of his Wrestlemania 13 win over Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin had a nice little heel run.
Remember when he beat Jake Roberts to win King of the Ring? “You like to come out here and quote your Bible, your John 3:16, well Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass.” Heel move.
Remember when… actually, I don’t even need another quote or moment for Austin. Just re-read that quote. Ponder on it. The man turned a Bible scripture into his own personal catchphrase. And not just any Bible verse, THE BIBLE VERSE. The man turned “For God so loved the world…” into “I just whipped your ass.” Nothing more need be said.
Anyway, the turn for Austin came at Wrestlemania 13, in a loss to Bret Hart. Hart was a face coming into their feud, and Austin was the heel. By the end of that match, with Austin laying in a pool of his own blood, passed out from the Sharpshooter, he was a bonafide babyface. This began one of the strongest face runs the company had ever seen. It also came during an absolute boon for wrestling.
I have talked about this one over and over, but given that Rocky and Roman are cousins, it is such a beautiful comparison. The Rock initially debuted as Rocky Maivia, a blue-chip, second generation wrestler with a million-watt smile, and a jheri curl. Positioned as a young babyface with a world of potential, Rocky Maivia was booed unceremoniously. Fans chanted “Rocky sucks” and “Die Rocky Die” during his first run.
Fate stepped in and Rocky got injured. After being off TV for about four months rehabbing the injury, Rocky returned to WWF television and joined the Nation of Domination, a pro-black group consisting of other black wrestlers Faarooq, D’Lo Brown and Kama Mustafa. He dropped the name Rocky Maivia and dubbed himself The Rock. It was this period of time – joining then taking over the Nation of Domination – and this heel run that led to the inevitable face turn down the line.
Now, The Rock may not be the best example on this list because he bounced back and forth between heel and face alignments his entire career. Some would say that WWE was never sure what they wanted him to be. Others may say that his ability to get fans to cheer or boo him and his willingness to play both sides of the good/evil dynamic was a credit to his overall ability as a character, in and out of the ring.
Oh and make no mistake about it, The Rock was as influential to the Attitude Era in WWE as Stone Cold or anyone else. Despite his departure for Hollywood, The Rock was easily the 1b superstar during that era sharing the spotlight with Stone Cold and Stone Cold alone.
I know this one is cheating a bit because his heel run came after his top babyface run, but consider that the hero of all heroes – the champion of all champions, the babyface of all babyfaces – the All-American, red and yellow clad Hulk Hogan turned heel. Let that sink in. Mr. “say your prayers and take your vitamins” gave up all that was wholesome and good, to don the black and white, join Scott Hall and Kevin Nash and form the New World Order (NWO). If Hogan turned heel, ANYONE can turn heel.
Newer Era Stars
I am sure that there are more names that can be called to demonstrate this same phenomenon, but I will point out two recent indie darlings as examples, Daniel Bryan and CM Punk. As well-known as these two guys may have been to hardcore fans, their mainstream appeal was limited in the early stages of their respective careers. The boost that each received after a single heel run (Daniel Bryan) or multiple runs (CM Punk as leader of the Straight Edge Society then as leader of the New Nexus) inevitably led both back to major babyface runs in the modern WWE. Special note that CM Punk is the longest reigning WWE Champion of the modern era.
How do you do it?
So there’s the obvious answer, which is, “we don’t care how you turn him, just do it already” but we aren’t going to be that lazy here at 10YS. We are going to look at three ways to turn him.
The “Injury” Angle
Whether legitimately hurt or not, one of the easiest ways to allow a break for a wrestler, in which you can make character tweaks and change alignments, is to have them written off TV from a beatdown etc. Sometimes this happens via a legitimate injury, as with The Rock, or sometimes it happens where WWE writes a guy off TV with the intent of going through a gimmick or alignment change.
WWE could already be heading in this direction given the recent attacks Roman has suffered at the hands of Braun Strowman. They could easily parlay this into having Roman off TV for a few weeks and then have him return as a heel to destroy a surprisingly babyface Braun.
The “Fans Turned on Me” Angle
Another longstanding wrestling trope that can be used to turn Roman heel is using the fans reactions as the basis for his turn. Ever since the Royal Rumble in Philadelphia in 2015, the most vocal of WWE fans have been consistently “Anti-Roman Reigns”. They have mostly booed him, outside a brief two-month window near the end of 2015 when Roman won the title from Sheamus. Let me rephrase that, they have booed him in a manner that is so relentless and vociferous that Roman Reigns turning his back on the crowd and blaming them is damn near the only story that makes sense at this point. He has continued to work a babyface role against heels and was even given the Undertaker retirement match, which he won. And what happened the next night on Raw…
Watch the whole video, I will wait.
So yea, at this point, Roman Reigns has every right to abandon the fans and do whatever the hell we wants as a heel. No long explanation, have him come out and say “You guys hate me, fine, I hate you too.” Hell, let him flip them the bird and push out. Anything is believable when it comes to this option.
The “Snapped” Angle
Long the favorite tool in the wrestling toolbox for turning a guy heel, or cementing a guy’s heel status, you can have a guy just outright snap. The motivations here can be clear or they can be left to the viewers’ imagination, but all you want to get across is that this person has lost their connection to the real world and has flipped their lid.
There is an easy motivation here to tell. In a recent interview Roman said more or less that heels are usually angry and he has nothing to be angry about. He had recently held the WWE World Championship. He wasn’t taking many losses, or that much damage in or out of the ring from a physical standpoint. All of this was to say, there was no motivation for him to be a heel as he had nothing to be angry about.
A lot has changed since that interview. Roman beat the Undertaker and the fans destroyed him for it. He got tossed around like a rag doll by Braun. He lost on PPV to Braun. Rephrase, he got torn to shreds by Braun from bell to bell on PPV. I imagine that this presents sufficient motivation to turn him heel.
The “Ultra Combo” Angle
So what is the absolute best way to turn Roman heel you ask? Combine the three methods above.
First, use the Braun series of beatdowns to take Roman off TV for about a month. With the next Raw-branded PPV being June 4th. WWE can leave Roman off of TV until the go home show on May 29th and use that as day 1 of Roman being a true heel. Second, you can build up a babyface in peril (especially if Roman’s return is unannounced) over the course of that night’s episode, say a Seth Rollins, Finn Balor or Dean Ambrose. (What would be particularly beneficial is a Seth and Dean match against three or four guys to build the anticipation for a possible SHIELD reunion.) So you have fans, who are clearly willing to drop Roman hate, if even momentarily, for a SHIELD reunion, salivating at the thought of Roman Reigns charging in at 11:00pm to save Dean and Seth and reform The SHIELD to go against the new authority – Samoa Joe and others. Anyways, Seth and Dean are taking their lumps from a numbers disadvantage then “Sierra, Hotel, India, Echo, Lima, Delta” plays in the arena. The fans go nuts – you know, Pavlov’s dog and whatever – and Roman charges down to the ring. For nostalgia sake – and to really sell the reunion – he can come through the crowd and everything. The bad guys all step back and focus their attention on Roman, but instead of helping his former brothers, he joins in and absolutely destroys them. Chair shots, spears through tables, powerbombs through the announce desks, let him go full batshit crazy and lay waste to everything that the fans thought they wanted. Then, standing over their near-lifeless bodies he grabs a mic and lays into the fans for turning on him when he did everything that they’ve cheered Seth for or Dean for. Tell them it’s their fault for cheering slimy Seth Rollins after everything he did. They cheered him like some returning savior, when Roman was there the whole time putting in work, week in and week out. Blame them for getting in his head and leading to the loss to Braun. Blame them for cheering a legitimate monster for trying to end his career, when he was just out there trying to put on a good show for the fans. He can talk about all of the pressure of trying to be “The Guy” getting to him and how he doesn’t want that anymore, he just wants to burn everything to the ground that the fans love. At this point, one of the fallen guys can begin to get to their feet and Roman can pick them up, look at the crowd tell them “You did this” and then finish destroying him.
In that moment, Roman Reigns would be the heel that smart fans dream of. Give him a three to six month reign of terror and right when smart fans are ready to cheer him again, you either turn him back babyface and roll with it, or you lean even deeper into the heel run just a little longer. Either way, the WWE Universe would probably be ready to cheer Roman in the way they cheered Stone Cold or The Rock or at the very least in the way they cheered CM Punk circa 2011.