Roman Reigns moves to SmackDown in the Superstar Shakeup, in what feels like one of the biggest shifts in WWE brand split history. That’s not to say Reigns is necessarily an all-time great star, but between the way WWE has pushed him on top for most of his singles career and the wave of popularity he is riding off of successfully returning to action after battling leukemia, there’s no question that Reigns is a big deal.
His move to the blue brand would seem to signal not only WWE reimagining Reigns' application in the WWE Universe, but also how SmackDown on the whole is presented. This article takes a look at how Reigns might save SmackDown, and how he might come up short in that effort.
10 Save SmackDown: Fresh Matches
WWE has a deeper roster than ever before between Raw, SmackDown, 205 Live, and NXT. As such, splitting up separate brands, especially at the main roster level, is a shrewd call to offer multiple platforms on which a greater number of stars can perform. Part of the genius of the brand split, and all the more particularly the Superstar Shake Up is also the ability to keep certain stars apart, as well the opportunity to assemble dream matches within WWE’s own ranks.
Roman Reigns has scarcely worked Shinsuke Nakamura or Jeff Hardy, and it has been some time since he’s been in the ring with Sheamus or Cesaro. In short, Reigns working SmackDown offers a seismic shift, particularly toward the top of the card, with a lot of fresh feeling stories and matches to come.
9 Won’t Save SmackDown: Match Quality
While Roman Reigns' harshest critics from before his leukemia struggles would suggest that he’s a bad professional wrestler, that’s too harsh of an assessment. He’s far from the greatest in-ring performer WWE has at its disposal, but he’s a respectable talent, particularly within the confines of what WWE typically asks him to do.
Nonetheless, while SmackDown viewers have become accustomed to likes of Kofi Kingston and Daniel Bryan tearing it up in the ring on a weekly basis, the arrival of Reigns may signal a slower paced, less exciting style at the top of the card for the blue brand.
8 Save SmackDown: Reigns vs. Bryan
Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan had their interactions back when Reigns debuted as part of The Shield, and in a brief one on one rivalry leading into WrestleMania 31. It has been a long time since they’ve been in the ring together more than incidentally, though, between Bryan’s head injuries, Reigns’s battle with leukemia, and mostly working different brands.
WWE has a narrow window to revisit this rivalry while Bryan is super over as a heel and Reigns has the fans behind him for coming back from his real-life health issues. While rumor has it Bryan is missing time, potentially due to more injury issues, this could be a fun rivalry to revisit, with Reigns working an opponent who can conjure more emotion from the fans and a better match between the ropes than just about anyone.
7 Won’t Save SmackDown: Displacing Kofi Kingston
Kofi Kingston had one of the best feel-good stories in recent WWE history when he fought his way to a WWE Championship opportunity at WrestleMania 35, and then went so far as to actually win the title in what was generally agreed to be the best match of the night.
There are very real questions about whether, when the novelty wears off, fans will still support Kingston as a world champion or, more to the point, whether the powers that be at WWE see him in that role. The arrival of Roman Reigns on the blue brand suggests that Kingston’s days on top are likely numbered. If Reigns usurps Kingston too quickly, there’s a very real argument to be made that it will be to the detriment of not only Kingston himself, but the whole SmackDown brand that has been built around him in recent months.
6 Save Smackdown: A Heel Turn
Fans have clamored for a heel turn for Roman Reigns for some time now, under the premise that hardcore fans hate on him anyway, and he could channel that heat to more constructive purposes in a bad guy role. That suggestion feels a little more spurious since Reigns announced he was battling leukemia and since his inspirational return to action, but there are already seeds in place of fans not wanting Reigns on top.
Pulling the heel turn now would be a legitimate surprise. Additionally, WWE has proven that it can take a feel-good story to create maximum heat in a case like Daniel Bryan who made his return at WrestleMania 34 only draw a big reaction as a heel when he turned a half year later. Reigns playing heel for a while could be a fun twist in the story for SmackDown.
5 Won’t Save SmackDown: Reigns vs. Orton II
Roman Reigns is an established main event level player for WWE, and one of the challenges of him moving to the SmackDown brand is that there aren’t very many guys who could credibly be booked against him. There’s Kofi Kingston, but fans would likely turn on Reigns if he challenged the new champ too soon. There’s Daniel Bryan, which would make a good bit of sense for a feud. WWE seems prone to put him in the ring with Elias, which is a fair enough introduction to the blue brand, but given how each man has been booked, it’s hard to buy The Drifter as a real threat to The Big Dog.
It feels like only a matter of time before WWE circles back around to Reigns vs. Randy Orton, one of the very few guys who, for better or worse, has the kayfabe credibility to transition back into the main event picture at will. However, if the original Reigns-Orton one-on-one rivalry from 2015 proved anything it’s that they have little chemistry and both need a more exciting dance partner to make a great match. Reigns has developed since then, but this still far from an appealing matchup.
4 Save SmackDown: Big Star Power
In both eras of WWE splitting its main roster brands, SmackDown has tended to feel more like the hardcore fans brand with more sound in-ring action, as opposed to Raw having bigger names and more prominent storylines, but not necessarily backing it up between the ropes.
Reigns moving to SmackDown is a big deal, because he’s a multi-time world champion, previously anointed as WWE’s top guy, coming back from a medical issue. While hardcore fans may have their doubts about his long term trajectory, he’s nonetheless a guy casual and younger fans are ready to be at least interested in. From that perspective, his presence could singlehandedly elevate SmackDown en route to its big move to FOX.
3 Won’t Save SmackDown: Putting A Ceiling Over Finn Balor
Finn Balor’s move to SmackDown was foreseen by a number of pundits and made a great deal of sense. Balor has only worked Raw since moving up to the main roster in 2016. He has struggled to overcome the unusual circumstances of debuting on top—becoming the first Universal Champion—only to get hurt in his crowning match and miss nearly a year of action. On SmackDown he could start over, and conceivably even fight his way back to the main event level. After all, the land in which Kofi Kingston organically rose to the top is a true land of opportunity.
Roman Reigns taking up residence on SmackDown feels as though it’s signaling a different direction for WWE, though. While Balor will have fresh opponents to work and comes in with the momentum of carrying the Intercontinental Championship, with Reigns in the picture, it’s doubtful Balor will really rise to the op again, or at least in his current face persona.
2 Save SmackDown: Distance From The Shield
The Shield has been incredibly important to Roman Reigns' career. The small faction launched Reigns and helped protect him for his first year and a half on the main roster, as Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose could share the load in the ring and on the mic. Moreover, WWE took full advantage of the group’s popularity in reuniting them as the opportunities presented themselves over the last two years.
However, The Shield also, paradoxically, casts a shadow over Reigns, reminding fans of when he was more over and that the hardcore fans tended to favor Seth Rollins over him. Particularly with Dean Ambrose out, and The Shield is officially done for the time being, it makes sense to truly have Reigns strike out on his own. Doing so, for the first time ever removed from any fellow Shield members on his brand, is the first step.
1 Won’t Save SmackDown: Anti-Authority Retread
When Roman Reigns debuted on SmackDown, the most noteworthy action he took was to deliver a Superman Punch to Vince McMahon. It’s not the first time Reigns hit McMahon—indeed, feuding with the Chairman was a key part of his story during his late 2015 into early 2016 push. However, the attack nonetheless felt a bit random now given the two haven’t meaningfully interacted since Reigns’s return from battling leukemia.
Maybe WWE will spin this as Reigns standing up for the roster after the way McMahon tormented Kofi Kingston, or maybe there will be some sort of narrative around the Chairman moving him off of Raw unwillingly. For now, though, it feels an awful lot like WWE forcing an anti-authority angle around Reigns with very little storyline basis to build from. There are times when underdogs fighting management work—such as what we saw with Kingston and Becky Lynch in the build to WrestleMania 35. When it doesn’t feel organic, however, it runs the risk of feeling like WWE spinning its wheels to recycle stories that have already played out.