Roman Reigns is increasingly regarded as the guy in WWE. Vince McMahon and company have made stars like Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and John Cena the face of the company through a combination of booking choices and marketing. They’ve been the company’s tip-top stars, which includes topping the bill at major events, representing WWE in media appearances. Roman Reigns is, by all indications, the next in that lineage. He’s participated in the last three WrestleMania main events, winning the last two. He won a Royal Rumble and has feuded with the biggest stars of his day, including getting the better of establishment guys like Triple H, The Big Show, Randy Orton, and most recently The Undertaker.
For all of Reigns’s kayfabe successes, he’s remained a controversial figure when it comes to reactions from the fans. Some accept him at face value as the guy WWE is pushing as a top hero, and some legitimately like the guy for his marketable looks and athletic abilities. Others are far less enthusiastic about him, though. Whether they would prefer other guys got his spot, or more directly don’t appreciate who Reigns is, he unmistakably gets as least as many boos as cheers for most of his major wrestling appearances.
So why is WWE so committed to pushing Reigns as “the guy?” And why is such a large segment of the WWE fanbase inclined to boo him? This article looks at eight reasons why fans hate Roman Reigns, and seven reasons why WWE nonetheless continues to love him.
15 Fans Hate Him: He Was The Weak Link Of The Shield
The Shield debuted as a white hot little stable of newcomers at the end of 2012. They worked fluidly as a team to get the best of different permutations of main event level stars and were quickly pegged as big time stars.
The thing is, while Dean Ambrose was the best talker with the most fully developed wrestling persona, and Seth Rollins was the most polished in-ring performer and athlete, Reigns was just the muscle. To be fair, Reigns was also by far the least experienced of the trio, but his status quickly showed through as a limited wrestler with a limited move set who looked like he was there more on account of his physique than his talent.
As singles wrestlers, each of The Shield alumni have had an opportunity to shine. There’s still a subsection of fans that resents Reigns for getting equal, if not greater opportunities, though despite not earning them to the degree of his compadres. Rollins and Ambrose honed their talents on the indies and through longer residencies in developmental, to debut as well-rounded, elite wrestlers. While Reigns has arguably risen close to their level, there’s a perception he was gifted his big push.
14 WWE Loves Him: His Family Lineage
Roman Reigns is a part of the legendary Anoa'i family, which also produced The Wild Samoans, Umaga, and Rikishi, not to mention world champions like The Rock and Yokozuna. It’s a family that WWE understandably feels loyalty toward, and a family that has earned respect and opportunities across generations. While young stars will come and go, a family this intertwined in wrestling, and particularly WWE history isn’t going anywhere. The only star the family produced to leave WWE anywhere near his prime was The Rock, and the stardom to follow his WWE run has arguably helped the company even more than if he’d stayed put.
Roman Reigns grew up around the business and has the benefit of family in his ear to help him stay on the straight and narrow.
13 Fans Hate Him: His Social Media Persona
Besides not liking his on screen persona, fans have also found Reigns to be an unlikable personality on social media. In particular, he’s picked his spots to engage with haters on Twitter. While John Cena touts rising above hate, and the guys who do fire back snark their Twitter detractors tend to be heels, Reigns has unabashedly put down those who cross him.
Most recently, after a fan posted an animation of Street Fighter’s Guile having trash thrown at him, with the caption, “It must be hard being cartoon @WWERoman Reigns.” Reigns replied, “It must be hard being a grown man, that tweets another grown man cartoons.” Not only did the Tweet prove Reigns had no idea how to use a comma, but also exhibited the degree to which he’s arguably tone deaf to the wrestling fans. As a pro wrestling hero, why bash another man for hating something that might be seen as childish? Does he not realize that’s the stigma elitists and bullies attach to pro wrestling itself?
12 WWE Loves Him: His Signature Offense
While some critics blast Roman Reigns for only having a few maneuvers in his move set, it’s more important to WWE that he has several explosive, immediately recognizable signature moves. In a company that loves its highlight reels and its sound bites, Reigns’s offense works. From the spear, to the Superman punch, to the drive-by kick, Reigns’s moves combine power and athleticism in ways that tend to pop crowds when he connects.
One of the lessons Cena’s last decade on top of WWE taught us was that having easily identifiable, fan-friendly moves is more important to WWE than a guy being able to engage in complex, technical sequences. Reigns fits the bill on that note with a handful of action packed moves that the company loves.
11 Fans Hate Him: The John Cena Effect
A funny thing happened a few months into John Cena’s run on top of WWE—after a successful rise to prominence, and connecting with fans reasonably well for the start of his first world title reign, he lost steam. Particularly after a trade to Raw, it was clear fans favored heel challengers Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Edge and Triple H over him. WWE persisted, though, as Cena dominated as Raw’s top face for years to follow. With the Internet community to help them out, fans grew more and more vocal and unified in their dissent.
In Roman Reigns, WWE seems to have found a successor to John Cena, and not in entirely positive ways. To fans, he’s a limited performer with more going for him in terms of his look than his actual ability. To be fair, some of this feels like transferal as the fans who boo Reigns are similar to the ones who booed Cena. Just the same, the haters have been relentless and have, in particular, given him an earful upon his biggest moments like winning the Royal Rumble, and winning WrestleMania main events.
10 WWE Loves Him: He Appeals To Women And Children
Not unlike John Cena, when you hear the crowd reaction, there’s a discernible difference between the lower pitched boos for Reigns, and the higher pitched cheers in favor of Reigns. As a larger than life muscle man who overcomes the odds, he appeals to the relatively simplistic tastes of kids. Moreover, he’s got an appealing look for a lot of heterosexual women.
One can’t underestimate the value WWE puts on these demographics. Kids are a huge demographic when it comes to merchandise sales, for not lonely wanting toys, but also growing out of their t-shirts on a recurring basis. Meanwhile, the stereotypical wrestling fan is an adult male who isn’t going anywhere; the female demographic is more elusive and WWE works harder to attract it.
9 Fans Hate Him: Getting To Keep Shield Gimmicks
Make no mistake about it, The Shield was super over by the time it finished its run, and the group probably could have remained successful as a unit for at least another year. At that stage, there was little hatred toward Reigns; rather, while most fans preferred Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, but Reigns was cool enough by association.
What gets to fans is that, after the unit broke up, Reigns got to keep so many of the unique elements contributed to the group’s cool factor, from the theme music, to entering through the crowd, to the outfit including his bullet proof vest. The perception was that Rollins and Ambrose had to make it on their own, while Reigns, the least over teammate, got to hoard all of the elements he could that made the group unique.
8 WWE Loves Him: His Look
WWE loves its big men. A wide variety of reports and shoot interviews have suggested that Vince McMahon, in particular, favors both guys who look larger than life as attractions, and thinks bigger guys tend to be more durable—less injury prone and thus more reliable work at the top of the card. Roman Reigns fits the bill, and even hits the Hulk Hogan sweet spot of being undeniably big by normal standards, but still smaller to super heavyweight challengers so that he can play the underdog against threats like Braun Strowman and The Big Show.
Reigns is jacked to the gills, not to mention that his Samoan heritage offers him a distinctive look. He looks like a star and a bad ass, on top of which there’s a sizeable portion of fans attracted to men who find him attractive. All of this adds up to a very marketable top star for WWE.
7 Fans Hate Him: Having The 2016 Royal Rumble Revolved Around Him
The Royal Rumble is one of the most popular shows WWE puts on each year. There are a lot of reasons for that, including the creativity of the concept, the sheer spectacle of seeing thirty wrestles in one match, and the stakes of a WrestleMania title shot usually being on the line.
Another part of the appeal of The Royal Rumble, however, is the unpredictability factor. Out of a field of 30, there are typically at least four or five guys who could realistically win, and, especially since 2008, the threat that a surprise entrant could take it all.
Contrast that to 2016. WWE billed that year’s match as “One Versus All” and cast it with the unusual stipulation that Roman Reigns, as world champion, would not only participate but defend his WWE Championship in the match. Thus, the build became almost exclusively about Reigns, and all but promised that he would be involved in the finish.
In one of the Rumbles all time least surprising returns, Triple H entered unannounced from the number 30 spot to spoil Reigns’s title defense. The story was utterly predictable, and the story focusing so much on Reigns made it a snooze for the sizeable portion of the audience that didn’t like the guy.
6 WWE Loves Him: His Athletic Background
In addition to Roman Reigns’s family lineage and his clear physical gifts, the guy benefits from having a legitimate sports background. As he discussed in a recent appearance on Chris Jericho’s podcast, Reigns played college football at Georgia Tech, after which he was signed by two separate NFL franchises; the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars. Though he never got to play for either of those teams, he did wind up having a short stint playing in the CFL for The Edmonton Eskimos.
While football certainly doesn’t translate directly to wrestling, WWE loves it when they can tout a real life athletic pedigree for its performers. It adds credibility and a sense of elite athleticism to WWE’s product, besides further suggesting Reigns’s physical durability. Even though Reigns didn’t wind up a football star, the fact that he could hang at the level he did is feather in his cap.
5 Fans Hate Him: Recycled Pushes
A part of what made it hard for Roman Reigns to connect with hardcore fans was how predictable his push was. As part of The Shield, he closely mirrored Kevin Nash’s push from the mid-90s, including a dominant run setting the elimination record at the Royal Rumble, paired with a dominant fun eliminating anything that moved in a Survivor Series elimination ta bout.
Things became even more overt when Reigns went singles, though, including a totally telegraphed Royal Rumble victory en route to his first WrestleMania main event. Pushes like this come across as recycled and uncreative. Moreover, because fans have seen them applied to other stars who they liked better, it makes it all the harder for Reigns to resonate now as a hero.
4 WWE Loves Him: He Gets A Reaction
As the mixed reactions continued for John Cena carried over for a period of years, it became apparent that WWE did not look at them as a liability for their top star. On the contrary, WWE saw a mix of cheers and boos as a sign that he drew emotional reactions from the crowd, period. Reigns has traveled a similar road, and WWE seems little less pleased.
Coming out of WrestleMania 32, WWE went so far as to book into Reigns’s polarizing effect. He gave promos proclaiming, “I’m not a good guy. I’m not a bad guy. I’m the guy.” This posturing has fit nicely with claims Triple H has made in shoot interviews these past couple years about how we’re past traditional heroes and villains, and that what we’re getting is just a different presentation than critics are accustomed to.
3 Fans Hate Him: He’s Not Daniel Bryan
In the summer of 2013, Daniel Bryan caught fire. His combination of peerless in ring work, and his ability to connect with the crowd finally got him the push of a lifetime, including beating John Cena in the main event at SummerSlam and spending the fall chasing Randy Orton for the WWE Championship. While he lost momentum for a bit, he rallied heading into WrestleMania season and earned his crowning moment, winning the main event of ‘Mania to walk out of the biggest show of the year as world champion.
Bryan’s run on top got derailed by injury, but in early 2015 he was back just in time for the next WrestleMania season. Only, instead of picking up where he left off, Bryan, arguably the most organic most popular wrestler of his time, took a backseat to upstart Roman Reigns.
The fans in Philadelphia booed Reigns winning the Royal Rumble after Daniel Bryan suffered a low profile, mid-match elimination. There’s little doubt one of the debilitating factors for Reigns’s first big singles push was the sheer fact that fans still would have preferred Daniel Bryan in that spot. The specter of Reigns getting the push anyway haunted him for years to follow, even after Bryan wound up forced into an early retirement.
2 WWE Loves Him: He’s Vince’s Chosen One
Vince McMahon is the be-all, end-all arbiter of all things WWE. He has been for over 30 years. Just the same, he’s also a 71-year-old man. As John Cena’s time as the face of WWE began to wind down, word broke in a number of wrestling media outlets that McMahon had an eye out toward picking his last face of the company.
Given McMahon’s work ethic and longevity, it’s altogether possible he’ll still be WWE’s top executive in a decade, and might have the chance to pick yet another top guy. Just the same, by all accounts, he’s thrown his weight behind Reigns to win world titles, headline WrestleManias, and pick up wins over all kinds of top stars. As long as Vince’s heart is beating, and as long as Reigns is in or around his physical prime, it doesn’t look like there’s much chance of Reigns losing his spot.
1 Fans Hate Him: He Beat The Undertaker
At WrestleMania 33, Roman Reigns challenged The Undertaker. Up to that point, The Undertaker had only lost one WrestleMania match. While that lone loss, at WrestleMania XXX, was controversial and a generally unpopular creative choice, it nonetheless came at the hands of Brock Lesnar. Lesnar’s widely respected as the greatest badass of his generation in pro wrestling, so fans came to accept it as a part of his own unique legacy.
But Roman Reigns, adding his name as the only other guy to beat The Deadman at the show of shows? Hardcore fans struggled to swallow that pill.
A large portion of fans hated the idea of Reigns beating The Undertaker. The pill got even harder to swallow given a unique combination of factors to make the outcome worse. The match was the WrestleMania main event and, given his choice to remove his signature garb and leave it in the ring, it appeared to be The Phenom’s very last outing. On top of all of that, the very worst part may have been that the match itself wasn’t very good. Had Reigns vs. The Undertaker resulted in a four or five-star outing, maybe it would have worked in putting over Reigns and nicely punctuating The Deadman’s career. In practice however, The Undertaker looked every one of his 52 years in the ring, and Reigns wasn’t able to compensate. The result was a match that was largely difficult to watch, and made the Reigns haters all the more vocal in their disapproval.