It's been a little over two years since The Shield broke up, which probably marks the last time that a WWE audience fully cheered for Roman Reigns. Since then, Reigns has constantly been under the microscope, because it's been clear that the WWE wants him to be their new top star, a la John Cena or "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. But, the fans have rejected that idea for two straight years, and we're now going on year three of the Roman Reigns push to the top.
Up to this point, WWE chairman Vince McMahon has been stubborn with the Roman Reigns character, because he feels like he can make it work. Everything they've tried with him has failed to get the majority of their audience on his side. Their latest idea was to take him out of the WWE Universal Championship picture, and put him in the United States Championship picture with the "evil Bulgarian" Rusev. Long story short, it didn't work.
Now, Reigns is right back in the Universal Championship picture, as he's set to challenge Kevin Owens for the title at this Sunday's Roadblock: End of the Line pay-per-view, and there's a strong possibility that he'll walk out of the show as a double champion.
If Reigns does walk out of this Sunday's show as both the United States Champion and the Universal Champion, then he'll probably be more hated than ever, and WWE will have to take a long, hard look at turning him heel.
The number one complaint about Reigns' push to the top is that it hasn't been organic, and, at times, it's felt forced. If you look at Reigns, you can see exactly why WWE wants him to be the new face of the company -- he's tall, he has a good physique, he has great hair, and he's a handsome guy -- but the problem is, fans think he's getting pushed because of his physical attributes, and not because of his talent, which is unfortunate, because he's one of the most talented guys in the entire company.
Reigns' physical attributes are a big reason why he initially got pushed to the top, but over the span of the last two years, he's improved in the ring quite a bit. But, the fans haven't acknowledged his progression, and it's clear that they want to see him as WWE's top villain.
If you've ever listened to Roman Reigns' non-WWE interviews, then you know that he's a confident, and a somewhat arrogant guy. Just listen to this clip from the Sam Roberts Wrestling Podcast, where he said that he's cool with being booed, because at the end of the day he's the one getting rich.
Another example of his confidence/arrogance came after he was listed at number one on Pro Wrestling Illustrated's top 500 wrestlers list. You can take a look at how he responded to fans who were upset at him being given the number one spot below.
If there's one thing that we've learned from WWE fans in recent years, it's that it's nearly impossible to change their opinion. If they don't want to see something, they're stubborn about it all the way until the bitter end, a lot like WWE chairman Vince McMahon.
Over the summer, WWE tried to give the top babyface spot to Finn Balor, but he ended up suffering a severe shoulder injury just a few weeks after the push began. During that time, it was reported that WWE was considering a Roman Reigns heel turn -- at the time, Reigns was just coming off of a wellness violation suspension, and the fans hated him more than ever. They decided against the turn because of Balor's injury.
Finn Balor is expected to make his return to WWE by March, but there is a rumor going around that suggests that he'll return much earlier than expected as a surprise entrant in the 2017 Royal Rumble match. If the rumor ends up being true, Balor will probably be the winner of WWE's annual 30-man match, and go on to fight for the Universal Championship, which is a title that he was forced to relinquish due to injury back in August. That match would be held at WrestleMania 33.
If Reigns wins the Universal Championship on Sunday, and if Balor wins the 2017 Royal Rumble, WWE will have no choice but to turn Roman Reigns heel, because the fans won't boo Balor, especially at WrestleMania, which typically features the most hardcore, and passionate wrestling fans, who tend to hate anything that Reigns is involved in.
Whether or not Reigns ends up in the ring with Balor in Orlando next spring remains to be seen, but there's a strong chance that the fans will continue to boo Reigns no matter who he's in the ring with.
According to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, WWE is looking at booking a Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman match at WrestleMania 33. Why? Perhaps because they think that Strowman is the only guy fans hate more than Reigns, which could be true, but that doesn't mean that the fans will cheer Reigns in that match.
As previously mentioned, WWE has tried everything to get Roman Reigns cheered, and nothing has worked. Now, there are really only two things that could potentially get the fans on his side: reuniting The Shield, or turning him heel. Of course, a heel turn wouldn't get him accepted right away, but, after a year, maybe two, the fans will probably begin to like him if he's good in that role.
The chances of The Shield getting back together are slim, simply because one of the three members -- Dean Ambrose -- is over on SmackDown, while Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns are on Raw. Sure, WWE could alter their rosters, and move Ambrose over to their Monday night show. But, as of right now, it doesn't look like they're planning on doing that.
If they're not going to reunite The Shield, then we're left with one option: a heel turn. Will a Reigns heel turn happen in 2017? It probably should, because if the people aren't willing to accept someone after three years, they probably never will, at least if their role stays the same.
During John Cena's decade-long run on top, WWE pushed the narrative that fans were booing him because they loved to hate him, and not because they actually hated him. Essentially, they convinced themselves that fans actually liked Cena, but they booed him because it was the cool thing to do, and because of that, they never considered turning him heel.
WWE hasn't pushed the same narrative with Reigns, although they may in the future. But, even though they haven't pushed the "they love to hate him" idea on their fans, it doesn't mean that they don't believe that the fans are booing him because it's the "cool thing to do." So, they could be approaching Reigns' push with the same mindset as Cena's, where they won't turn him because they believe that fans secretly love him.
Ultimately, the decision to turn Roman Reigns will come down to one man: Vince McMahon. So far, Vince has soldiered on with Reigns' push, despite the fact that the fans have clearly stated their opinion about it. But, Reigns isn't the merchandise seller that John Cena is, and he's nowhere near as big of a star, and because of that, the WWE chairman may actually be open to turning him heel in 2017, provided that the fans continue to boo him.
[Featured Image by WWE]