The Brilliance of Jey Uso as Roman Reigns’ First Universal Championship Opponent

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Jey Uso Roman Reigns
Credit: WWE

On Friday night, SmackDown held a fatal-4-way to determine the new #1 contender to Roman Reigns’ Universal Championship. Set to compete in the match was Sheamus, Big E, Matt Riddle, and Baron Corbin. But prior to the match, Sheamus, in revenge for losing to Big E at Payback, attacked the New Day member, and made it so he couldn’t compete. Instead of just holding the match as a triple threat, the spot was filled, by none other than the cousin of Roman Reigns and his former Bloodline faction mate, Jey Uso. And this is where WWE made one of the best booking decisions they possibly could have when it comes to Roman Reigns.

Having turned heel alongside Paul Heyman for the first time in his singles career, so far, WWE has done something they failed to do for the years they tried to push Roman Reigns as a top babyface. They’ve actually booked him well and smartly. Reigns made his return to SmackDown just a few weeks ago at SummerSlam, but when he did, he showed up, wrecked the Fiend and Braun Strowman with a steel chair, and left, a formula written on his then-new t-shirt. It was announced that Reigns was returning for the title he never lost and as a result, he’d get his opportunity at Payback.

That’s where things started to get interesting as the next time we saw Roman Reigns, it was with Paul Heyman by his side. What we were about to see was not a prediction, but rather a spoiler. At Payback, Strowman and the Fiend were tearing each other apart and even broke the ring. All of this happened before Reigns finally made his way ringside, finally signed the contract for the match, and with a new referee, tried to steal a quick pin on both competitors. When that didn’t work, Reigns resorted to using a steel chair, a low blow, and then a spear, to pin Strowman and recapture the title. If there was any doubt before about his alignment, that was all erased by the manner of his win and the man by his side.

In a way, the match sequence was perfect in its simplicity, but there was also a callback there that many might not have appreciated. In the 2016 Royal Rumble, Roman Reigns was tasked with the seemingly impossible: Defend his title in the midst of the rumble, against 29 other competitors. One versus All. The idea was that Reigns having to defend his title against such insurmountable odds would draw a sympathetic response from the fans. That having known villain, both as a wrestler and authority figure, Triple H, play the heel would lead to him absorbing much of the boos from the match. Well, neither of those things happened and as the build to WrestleMania that year taught us, there was nothing that was going to make fans cheer Reigns, not even when Triple H beat him bloody.

To make matters worse, over the course of the Royal Rumble match, Roman Reigns spent much of it in the back. Starting as the first entrant, Reigns was attacked early on and taken to the locker room. As others put it all on the line to win the title, Reigns was essentially relaxing waiting for his moment. When he did return, Reigns no-sold the attack from earlier. The final three came down to Reigns, Triple H, and the fan-favorite Dean Ambrose, who had played the role of iron man on the night, lasting nearly 30 minutes in the rumble after having wrestled a 22+ minute last man standing match earlier on the show. The 30 minutes that Ambrose spent in the match equaled about the same amount of time that Reigns missed, which did not go unnoticed by fans who booed Reigns’ return. It was a complete miscalculation by WWE. In the end, Triple H eliminated Ambrose to win the match, generating the expected boos that should come from the heel taking out the top babyface. It’s a reaction a Reigns’ win would have also gotten, even though he would have been the babyface. At the time though, Reigns’ alignment didn’t matter. He was going to get booed regardless.

In the 2016 Royal Rumble, it was a huge mistake to have Roman Reigns miss so much of the match. But at Payback in 2020, the idea to have Reigns miss most of the match while Strowman and the Fiend did all the heavy-lifting was the right call. Reigns’ new motto is to simply show up and leave and that’s what he did. In a match that ran a little under 13 minutes, Reigns was barely in the ring for three. And as a heel, why should he have been in the ring any longer? He took advantage of the stipulation and did what any good bad guy would do by waiting for his opportunity to strike. Four years and an alignment change later, WWE finally found a way to properly book Reigns. But it didn’t end there.

Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman opened up Friday’s SmackDown with one of Heyman’s freshest promos in years. No longer an advocate but rather special counsel to the chief, Heyman told the audience that he didn’t corrupt Reigns, Reigns corrupted him. Heyman was clear saying he was cast aside, trashed out like garbage until Reigns saved him. Until Reigns reached out to him with a proposition that Heyman could never pass up. And thus it was that the former-advocate became the mouthpiece for the “reignsing, defending, undisputed” champion. But unlike Heyman’s associations with Brock Lesnar, he wasn’t the only one who did the talking. Reigns added a few lines that were short, sweet, and to the point. It was the kind of promo that fans have long been lamenting Reigns should be delivering. Reigns made it clear, he did what he said he was going to do. He showed up and won. Now, SmackDown was his island and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Believe that.

Again, there was brilliance in the simplicity of Roman Reigns’ words. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Reigns was notable by his absence. A two-time survivor of leukemia and father to newborn baby girls, Reigns opted to stay home for his health and that of his family. Naturally, fans chastised him for it. They told Reigns to just “show up,” like his colleagues were. They wanted to boo him before he even came back to the ring. Such has been the relationship with the WWE fans and Reigns. Even when it was no longer fashionable to do so, fans booed Reigns. They called him a bad wrestler, when he was actually putting on better matches than most. They called him a bad promo, when the truth was he had vastly improved in that area. Fans looked to criticize Reigns for no reason, to boo for the sake of booing. When Reigns returned, when he finally showed up, he gave fans a reason to do what they no doubt would have already done.

As a heel, we’re now supposed to boo Reigns, and following his promo on Friday night, for the first time since the Shield broke up, he finally got the reaction he was intended to get. The promo wasn’t the last we saw of Reigns on the night though as sitting backstage, the new cocky and self-entitled superstar arrogantly chastised his cousin. Jey Uso wanted to thank Roman Reigns for getting him in the title match, an action that Reigns confessed was Heyman’s doing. Uso was excited, talking about the prospect of the two cousins battling it out at Clash of Champions. Reigns just laughed, never seeming to believe Uso would actually win the match. Then he had parting words for Jey, telling him he had no doubt Jimmy would get things done, but Reigns was curious to see if Jey could finally do something for himself. Perhaps that was motivation for the 10-year veteran as Jey won the night, picking up a huge singles win and setting up what years ago would have just been a friendly contest between kin. Now, however, this bout will likely be anything but friendly. And that’s exactly how it should be.

While it may have seemed unexpected, as soon as Uso was in the match, the outcome seemed certain. Whether or not Paul Heyman and Roman Reigns orchestrated things that way, Jey Uso winning is the best possible outcome for several reasons. For starters, it’s clear WWE is pushing Big E in a big way. With Sheamus taking him out, that sets up Sheamus and Big E to continue feuding for a while keeping him on the backburner of the title picture. When E does get his title match, he may even emerge the new champion so it makes sense that his match shouldn’t happen anytime soon. The same could be said for the other three men in the match, all of whom can be seen as legitimate future contenders to Reigns’ title. Baron Corbin has history with Reigns as does Sheamus, and it seems certain the Big Dog will target his former rivals at some point. Matt Riddle is new to Reigns’ orbit but as a young star who SmackDown also seems to be pushing, putting him in a losing title match so soon after he already failed to capture the Intercontinental Championship wouldn’t exactly be smart either.

So that leaves Jey Uso. Under any other circumstances, Jey Uso in a singles world title match wouldn’t work, but because Roman Reigns is now a heel, it works perfectly. In fact, it’s the perfect first match for Reigns to start his heel championship run with, as demolishing his own kin will send a message to the locker room. Destroying Uso with no remorse and no care for his cousin’s well-being will further cement Reigns’ heel turn. Because right now, Reigns is just an arrogant, self-entitled champion. Right now, his old credo is still intact. Uce still means family and for Reigns, his entire career has been all about family. It’s been all about brotherhood. It’s been all about the bloodline. The final line between Reigns becoming a despicable and hated heel is for him to put an end to everything he once stood for, to abandon his commitment to family, and take down his cousin with emotionless ease.

Because the brotherhood Reigns enjoyed is gone, destroyed by a man who is no longer with WWE, that just leaves the bloodline, his connection with the Usos. As fans will remember, it was the Bloodline that fought AJ Styles and the Club in some of what has been both Reigns and Styles’ best matches on the WWE roster. The Bloodline also had sporadic reunions after that time, both in the ring and backstage. Even when they weren’t actively a team, Reigns and the Usos were always there to back each other up when needed. Because that’s what family does.

Roman Reigns has been all about family, something that Heyman not-so-coincidentally referenced in his SmackDown promo. At Clash of Champions, Reigns is going to destroy that family and defy his own credo, and there is no better way for his heel championship run to start. Perhaps he’ll toy with Jey first, go easy on him, show him he’s not in his league. But ultimately, no matter what happens, Reigns will have no mercy for the cousin who told him on Friday night, that he’d have his back. Seems that offer only goes one way these days.

Imagine the commentators’ stunned expressions when Reigns brutalizes Uso in a one-sided affair. They’ll wonder, as will the locker room, ‘if he is willing to do that to his own cousin, what is he going to do to us?’ Jey Uso will be used to send a message, a message that right now, Roman Reigns needs to send. He needs to re-establish his place on top and taking out Uso is the way to do that. Because it’s not just Jey. Once Reigns falls Jey, Jimmy, when returns from injury early next year, will no doubt look for a pound of flesh to avenge his brother. And once again, Reigns should manhandle his cousin, taunt him over Uce being dead. Family is the last bastion of good left in Reigns at this point and when he takes out the Usos, there will be no doubt of who he is and the danger he poses for the rest of the roster.

And of course, taking out the Usos is an easy way to start planting early seeds for a match that has long been rumored and now, with Reigns heel, could finally happen. Reigns vs Rock is a money matchup that has been delayed due to Rock’s filming schedule and various contracts not permitting him to wrestle as not to risk injury and delay production. But it’s certainly a match that both members of the famed Samoan Dynasty have wanted and still want. It could happen at WrestleMania 37, in Hollywood, on the biggest stage of them all. And this time, when fans boo Reigns out of the building, it will be because they are supposed to. Just the way WWE always wanted it.

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