Roman Reigns Always Wanted To Be Heel
By Ryan Satin
FOX Sports WWE analyst
WWE Universal champion Roman Reigns has been on the run of his life since returning over the Summer as a heel (aka a bad guy, for you non-wrestling fans).
The character overhaul reinvigorated Roman’s WWE persona and validated his position at the top of the card in a new way.
For years, fans, wrestling legends, critics, even the wrestler himself felt like he’d be more compelling on-screen in a villainous role, and over the past six months we’ve learned that we were all even more right than we realized.
"The Head of the Table" character is perfect for Roman.
How did the long-awaited turn come about, though?
Reigns spoke openly with us about it this week in an interview covering how long he’s wanted to be a bad guy, why the pandemic era was the best time to take a gamble on it and how he’s changed the dynamic to his matches/in-ring storytelling in order to connect more with the viewers at home, instead of fans in an arena.
He also revealed his thoughts on when a potential WrestleMania match against his cousin The Rock makes the most sense.
Watch the interview below or scroll down for the full transcript.
RS: First I want to discuss the main thing we’re here to talk about and that is this weekend’s announcement regarding WrestleMania.
How do you feel about WrestleMania 37 being relocated to Tampa, where last year’s show was originally scheduled to take place?
REIGNS: I just think it’s awesome.
I think the commitment the WWE has to the communities that we pinpoint, those locations, means a lot to the economy and what we do for a city. Obviously, it was terrible being in a pandemic, going through these COVID times, but to not be able to put on a WrestleMania for Tampa was tough and to have to do it in the PC was – I wasn’t there – but it was quite different for everybody else, I know.
So, to be able to go back and bring that experience to the Tampa Bay area ... I’m not exactly sure how it’s all going to go down as far as the attendance and all that. I know they’re still working that out, safety and keeping all the protocols up to par. Beyond that, obviously, is gonna be number one. It just feels good being able to go back to Tampa Bay and say we’re going to be able to do it.
RS: Totally. You mentioned the ticket availability thing and safety protocols and how they said all that will be announced in the coming weeks, but what will it mean to you and all the other performers if fans are able to come back to this show in some capacity. What will it mean to you to have all that energy back from the fans?
REIGNS: It would mean everything, to be honest.
It’s been tough. My whole career has been based off of reactions. Everything is due to interactions. That’s kinda always been my measuring stick.
Even when the fans hated me, it was still louder than everybody else. Everybody else can complain. They can bitch and complain about, "Oh, I don’t get this opportunity," or "I should be like this," or "I should be here," "I should be the main event." But, when it came down to it, my reaction was always way louder than everybody else’s.
There’s only one guy. Cena. That’s it, for obvious reasons … and he’s no longer here any more.
That’s the difference is we don’t have that. So, you have to be able to pull out different tools. You can’t be a one trick pony, and I feel like people called me that quite a bit during the first part of my career. Limited move set, what have you.
Being in this time, in these pandemic times, you gotta be able to pull out different layers to your performance, different attributes and show different tools. And that’s what I’ve done over the past six months is show a different side of me as a performer. Completely change the dynamics to my matches and the way people perceive my storytelling in-ring.
Added so much more dialogue; to now everybody cuts a promo while they’re wrestling … and they can’t! Because I’m the one that’s doing it at the top level.
So, when it gets compared to what I’m doing ... I cried in the ring, for Christ’s sake! To be able to tap into these emotions and to be able to put on these type of performances, I just feel like I’m doing it at a different level and I’ve had to do that because I don’t have that security blanket of the reactions being really loud.
Hell, if I ever got to a point where it’s like, "Man, I don’t know what I want to do," all I gotta do is sit still and look at the crowd and they’ll make some kind of noise, you know what I mean?
But, I don’t have that vehicle there any more. So, you have to really be smart about how you put on your performance nowadays.
RS: Without fans there, I feel like you guys have all had to really rethink the craft as a whole in general for all those reasons. You’re not making a person in the crowd pop anymore, instead you’re doing stuff that’s more focused on the TV viewer.
When you were away for a little while, did you kind of reconstruct how you were going to think when you returned to the ring and how you’d do things differently? Because, like you said, everything about you has been just a totally different character.
You changed everything. The nickname, you’ve added more moves, you talk in the ring loudly now. Like you said, you cried once. Was this something that subconsciously you thought about while you were away to figure out how you were going to apply it to wrestling once you came back?
REIGNS: Yeah, I watched a couple of the shows. I did not follow it thoroughly. I tried to use as much of the time to be with my family and just really focus in and be present here at home, but on a few of the shows that I saw, I was just like, "Man, this is trash." Like, you know what I mean?
And that’s me, from the very top, thinking this because I always want to be way better than everybody else. This is no disrespect to what they were doing. They were busting their ass working really hard.
But, for me, I was like, "Man, I just know when it’s time to pull my trigger, I know exactly what I want to do. I know exactly the kind of stories I want to tell and the different tools I want to utilize in order to connect with our crowd, our audience that’s watching at home."
But, I knew it was all based off of emotion. I knew I had to be emotionally connected to what I was doing to be able to wear the skin of the character that I’m trying to convey to our audience. So, that was the most important thing is that I could completely focus in and concentrate 100% on what I was trying to do and the emotions that I was trying to convey throughout my narratives.
RS: This weekend WWE also confirmed WrestleMania 38 will take place in Dallas, Texas and WrestleMania 39 will happen at SoFi Stadium in L.A., instead of 37 as planned.
One match that people want to see at one of those three WrestleManias is you versus the Rock. What do you think about all the chatter over that possible match and fans talking about how badly they want to see it happen?
REIGNS: I think it’s great. I think any time our fans are buzzing on a matchup, or buzzing on an event, I think that’s important. That’s what it’s all about is that water cooler talk, that fantasy warfare. Creating that escapism for our audience to discuss and debate and criticize and bring positive energy towards.
So, I would definitely think this one would be the one to wait for – and they might have to wait for it. Especially due to the lineup that you just spoke about.
This year, obviously we’re in Tampa. Next year, we’ll be in Dallas, and then we’ll go to Hollywood for [WrestleMania] 39, and I think it just makes sense. He’s the biggest movie star in the world. He’s the biggest box office attraction for the big screen out there.
To be able to take that and match it up with the biggest box office attraction in sports entertainment, within the wrestling ring, I think some magic would be made.
And not only that, this wouldn’t be possible – I’m in my prime. I’m at my peak physical condition as far as in that ring, athleticism, the whole nine. I can slip and slide. I can do anything in the ring I want to do, I just choose not to do it all, you know what I’m saying?
But, none of this would be possible if Dwayne wasn’t in great shape, you know what I mean? If he was just out there playing dad roles and was fat and did not take it. But, he busts his ass every single day. Every single week you see these new workout videos coming and he’s just clanging and banging, doing his thing, lifting all weights.
We wouldn’t be able to step foot in the ring together if he wasn’t in phenomenal shape and if he didn’t take care of himself and he didn’t keep himself prepared for peak performance.
So, hats off to him. That’s motivating stuff for everybody, I think. I think that’s why he’s on the level that he is. People tap into him for inspiration. It’s encouraging for someone like me, or anybody in my line of work, to have that longevity, to still have that physical capability to be healthy, to continue to grow physically and emotionally as a person. It’s inspiring to see.
RS: I’m fascinated by your heel turn because it feels like something the fans had been clamoring for, for what feels like forever at this point. They were already boo’ing you when they were supposed to be cheering for you.
Can you talk at all about how it finally came to fruition before you returned at SummerSlam? Is this something you pushed for? Is this an idea that was brought to you? How did it all finally come together?
REIGNS: I’ve always wanted to turn heel.
I didn’t feel like I should have been the babyface out of the Shield group. We all agreed, we thought it should have been Seth, and then keep me as a bad guy. But, you know, it just happens the way it happens, the numbers lined up the way they did.
Things were starting to work as a good guy for me. Then, obviously, it took a toll here and there.
There were some nights where there were some loud boos. People take that response and they run with it, because sometimes, it was at the shows that were big and that were seen. The pay-per-views – the Royal Rumble in Philly.
Just about everybody gets booed in Philly, you know what I’m saying? Philly is so loud they’re gonna boo Daniel Bryan one day. That’s how Philly works. It’s just Philly.
But, like, people aren’t there every single week to see all the live events, to see how well the live events would be doing or the tours would be doing. We’d be selling out houses and I’d be the top babyface, crowd going nuts, cheering the hell out of me.
So, it was one of those things where it was like, "Man, I want to do this because I know I can tap into a different level of character work. I know I can create so many more layers as a performer if they allow me to do this, but the numbers just wouldn’t let me."
Like I said before, the response, no matter what, was always big. And in this day and age, I think, controversy has always sold, but, if you don’t have a certain level of negativity coming at you, you might not be doing as good as you think you are.
If you don’t have that many haters. I think Kobe said it, "You gotta have some haters." That’s the key to success sometimes. But, I think the true key to that success is how you handle the haters.
How you, in your psyche, you can allow them to affect you or not affect you. But, yeah, man, I wanted to for a long time.
When the opportunity came I jumped on it. It was kind of a team discussion. Obviously, you gotta have the big man involved and gotta have the blessing from him. But, it just all seemed to work out with perfect timing.
I think we’re in a point where we’re in a time frame, being in a pandemic, no crowds, no tickets sales, let’s just create this content and take care of our television providers and our audiences watching at home. Let’s take a chance.
If this ain’t the time to gamble, then I don’t know when is.
So, I’m glad we did.
RS: Well, the gamble definitely paid off. I say it in my articles on FOX Sports all the time, and in my videos, that I think your character is probably the most compelling character in all of professional wrestling right now. I love what you’re doing.
So, I’m very glad you guys took the time to take that risk.
Lastly, my final question in these interviews is in regards to each superstar’s finishing moves. So, for you, this is obviously about the spear and it’s a three part question.
- What’s the best spear you ever delivered?
- Who takes the best spear?
- What’s one spear you wish you could have back for whatever reason?
REIGNS: The best spear… Man, that’s tough. I’ve hit so many of those things.
RS: Or even just your personal favorite.
REIGNS: I did it [best] on two people.
I ran down the ramp, I think at SummerSlam, and speared Rusev. I think that’s all I did. What a great night. Just come out at SummerSlam, just spear a guy, and then hit the bar after. So, that one was pretty wide open. Any time I can get a really big run and launch.
There’s always this debate to the spear. "Well, you don’t do it like Goldberg," and like …. that’s ‘cause I’m a really good performer. I do it like I do it. So, I do a launch and make it very aesthetic.
I’m not on the grid iron. If I want to push somebody’s organs through their spine, I can do that. There’s no problem. Easy. 6’3, 265, I’ll run through your ass. But, I try to launch it and make it look as Superman-esque as possible, like you’re flying, darting through the air.
Then, I did the same thing to Big Show years ago. But, like, Big Show is so big, I don’t know if you’ve met him before, but he’s the most massive human being in the world. ‘Cause he’s not just tall. He’s thick, you know what I mean?
RS: Yeah, he’s a wall when you see him.
REIGNS: Yeah, it’s like one finger is like that. Still the biggest human being I’ve ever been around in my life.
I did the same thing, and when I hit him I almost just ricocheted off of him. But, he’s a great worker, so he’s able to make it look awesome. He was like running into a steel wall, for sure, at that speed.
He’s probably gonna be the best at taking it because I messed it up, AJ [Styles]. AJ, I don’t know, some of the guys can cop the flip. Buddy Murphy copped a flip. I’m sure Seth. All these guys can cop a flip.
But, in order to know, you have to hit ‘em and kinda ricochet off of them and kind of do a bit of a barrel roll to allow them to get that flip right. Because I didn’t know AJ was going to do that.
So when I hit him with a spear, I was still wrapped around him, and I kinda stopped him from rotating and he completely landed on his neck. It was not my fault. I did not know this. It looked rough, but I know he could have easily copped that flip and made it look crazy.
I just was not on the same page. Luckily, the match was over.
All those guys who can cop that flip, and a lot of our guys are great athletes who can do that. It’s just a choice if they want to do it or not. Maybe, we’ll make Kevin Owens do it. He’s like a butterfly or a bumblebee. He can fly, but he looks like he shouldn’t.
RS: That’s true, yes.
REIGNS: Yeah, you know what I mean?
REIGNS: You’re like, "There’s no way he can – oh, hell, he’s flying. Yeah."
RS: He does Swantons sometimes and you’re like, "What?!?"
REIGNS: Yeah, Kevin’s oddly athletic and oddly strong. Just dad strong. It’s weird. He can’t pick up a dumbbell, but he can pick up a human. It’s strange.
But, yeah, I think AJ probably. AJ’s really good at making everything look awesome. So, I’d probably put AJ up there as taking it the best.
I will say though, Rusev was really good. We had a good timing as far as in the ring, I always had a good chemistry with him to where where I could come off the ropes, take one step, launch and dart across the ring and he knew just the perfect height to lift up, open up for me. So, yeah, we did that thing all over the world. Those were good times.
RS: And then the last one is, what’s one spear you wish you could take back for whatever reason? Sounds like it might be the Big Show one.
REIGNS: Nah. That one, he probably put some damage on me, too, being so big. But, if I could go back, I’d fix that AJ spear. I wouldn’t have held on to him so tight. Cause I kind of drove him into the ground a little bit.
But, I think I’d go back and let him do his thing. I would disengage from him and let him cop his flip or whatever. He’d probably throw a spin in there, too. He’s crazy.
RS: Do a full 450 out of it somehow.
REIGNS: You never know. He took a stunner, I think, from KO and did that same situation. So, there’s no telling what he could do with enough momentum.
RS: All right. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview today. I really appreciate it.
Everyone, make sure you check out Roman Reigns defending the WWE Universal Championship at the Royal Rumble against Kevin Owens, like he just mentioned.
And also, make sure you check out Roman Reigns every week on Friday Night Smackdown on FOX.