Roman Reigns’ heel flip at Payback is WWE’s boldest transfer in years



Sunday was a momentous day on this planet of professional wrestling. Roman Reigns, returning to the ring for the primary time since March, defeated Braun Strowman and “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt in a no-holds-barred triple menace match to win the Common Championship. But the mere incontrovertible fact that Reigns is Common Champion for the second time is not actually the massive information.

It is the best way he gained it. After aligning with nefarious supervisor Paul Heyman on Friday’s episode of SmackDown, all through Payback Reigns refused to signal the contract for the triple menace principal occasion. With Braun and Wyatt mendacity within the wreckage of a damaged down ring after 10 minutes of brutalizing one another, Reigns music hit. He arrived, Heyman in tow, signed the contract, speared Strowman and gained the title. 

It was extraordinarily professional wrestling. Payback ended with Reigns standing tall because the heel Common Champion, Heyman by his aspect. There isn’t any reside crowd at WWE occasions, on account of COVID-19. Curiosity in Payback was barely beneath traditional, as a result of SummerSlam, the second greatest wrestling present of the yr, proceeded it only a week prior. 

So you might not realize it, however this was by far crucial WWE second of 2020.

Combat the tide

The COVID-era of professional wrestling has seen a number of key moments. Drew McIntyre toppling Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania and Matt Hardy debuting in AEW are two that stand out. However Reigns’ heel flip trumps these moments simply. Followers have wished this for 5 years. Or relatively, followers have not wished Reigns as the highest babyface (or good man) as WWE has been attempting to painting him, for 5 years.

It was 2015 when Reigns infamously gained the Royal Rumble to a deafening refrain of boos, and WWE has invested 4 WrestleMania principal occasions since then attempting to coronate Reigns because the main man of WWE. None of it labored. Reigns beat Triple H for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 32, and have become the second individual ever to pin the Undertaker at WrestleMania a yr later.

It did not matter. Reigns confronted Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 31 and 35. Each occasions he was meant to win, however each occasions his win was nixed as a result of the followers weren’t shopping for it.

Reigns ultimately did beat Lesnar, at SummerSlam in 2018, to the chagrin of a big a part of the viewers. However quickly after that, he needed to vacate the title due to a really actual battle with leukaemia. That modified eternally Reigns’ dynamic with the viewers. Wrestling followers are notoriously troublesome, however the very least you’ll be able to say about them is that they will not jeer a hero with most cancers.

Since courageously beating leukaemia and returning in 2019, Reigns relationship with the viewers has been an odd give and take. Followers have not aggressively rejected him, however the WWE hasn’t aggressively pushed him, both. There was nonetheless a sense Reigns was being groomed to be the highest star, and he saved profitable excessive profile matches, however he was conspicuously absent from each world title scenes.

Reigns was poised to win the Common Championship at WrestleMania, however he bowed out as a consequence of coronavirus issues. So, in a manner, it is smart that WWE wished to re-debut him with a contemporary new, villainous character. But it surely’s unusual, as a result of the corporate was so immune to the concept for thus lengthy. Why now?


Roman Reigns being booed out of Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium in 2015.


To your viewing pleasure

Rankings. That is why.

Doing a wrestling present with no followers is clearly a problem, and WWE’s Uncooked and SmackDown reveals have taken successful through the coronavirus pandemic. Effectively, a number of hits. July 13’s Uncooked was the least-watched in historical past. The primary SmackDown of 2020 had 2.four million viewers, whereas episodes over the previous few months have struggled to exceed a viewership of two million.

“So far as rankings are involved,” WWE CEO Vince McMahon mentioned on a current earnings name to buyers, “the viewers is integral to our success and our tv rankings. Once more as a result of interplay, or lack thereof. Not withstanding that, I feel that we will have extra compelling characters, higher storylines, new characters coming in to the place we’re proper now.” 

It seems that lastly turning Reigns heel is McMahon’s reply to regular rankings decline. And what a solution it’s.

The mix of Reigns working in place since getting back from leukaemia final February and his heel flip going down in entrance of digital followers with piped-in crowd noise as a substitute of an actual, reside viewers belies the magnitude of the scenario. Since John Cena stopped wrestling full-time in 2015, WWE has sorely wanted a star to steer the corporate into a brand new era.

Ronda Rousey, Brock Lesnar and Becky Lynch have all flirted with the place, nevertheless it’s clear that WWE has all the time saved that spot for Reigns. It is taken 5 years, however the firm has lastly realized that it is technique of making an attempt to power followers to like Reigns wasn’t working. Reigns remains to be going to be the highest man, however WWE are lastly approaching it in a contemporary manner.

Is it too little, too late? Perhaps. However I am prepared to tune in to SmackDown on Friday to seek out out. 

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