Today, August 30th 2021, marks 365 days (one calendar year) since Roman Reigns captured the WWE Universal Championship from The Fiend, Bray Wyatt at WWE Payback 2020.
Much has changed in the past year, both inside and out of the WWE. Firstly, when Roman Reigns captured the Championship, COVID-19 vaccines were a mere dream. As a result, he won the Universal Championship in an empty arena dubbed the “ThunderDome”; the polarizing, 1,000 screen arena where fans fortunate enough to secure a place could appear in the audience throughout any of Raw, SmackDown, NXT or a PPV. In the present, they are widely available and accessible within the United States and throughout much of the developed world. As a result of the vaccines, fans are once more clamoring to attend shows and, for the past month and a half, attending audiences have been present to witness Roman’s dastardly deeds result in victories – the victories which have led to a historic 365 days as Universal Champion.
For Roman, the 365 days have marked a drastic change; that from babyface, “Face of the Company” to dominant, Tribal Chief heel of SmackDown. In 2014, Roman picked up the torch from his most recent conquest, John Cena, and became the “Big Dog” – main eventing WrestleMania after WrestleMania, capturing title after title and, much like Cena before him, becoming the most polarizing figure in all of professional wrestling. One year as champion is always a big deal and with WALTER having recently lost the NXT United Kingdom Championship to Ilja Dragunov, Roman is now the longest-reigning current champion in all of the WWE. Let’s take a look at some of Roman’s biggest moments from his current reign as WWE Universal Champion.
SummerSlam 2020 & Payback 2020: A Returning Roman Conquers the Monsters
Roman Reigns had an unusual time in the first half of 2020. Originally penciled in to face Goldberg for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania 36, he dropped out – rightfully not wanting to risk his own or the health of his new born twin daughters in the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic. Braun Strowman would replace him in the match; demolishing Goldberg and capturing the Universal Championship. For months, there was plenty of talk about the future of Reigns and whether we would ever see him in a WWE ring again. At SummerSlam 2020, the rumors were put to an end; as the then-“Big Dog” returned to attack both Bray Wyatt and Strowman after their Universal Championship match in the main event of the show. This was a noticeably more aggressive version of Roman Reigns and fans immediately began suspecting a heel turn. A mere week later, Reigns would defeat both monsters at WWE Payback – capturing his second Universal Championship (and his fifth world title). Just two days before that, on an episode of SmackDown, Adam Pearce – searching for Roman to sign off on the match at Payback – found Roman sitting comfortably with Paul Heyman. The rest is history. That moment on SmackDown, coupled with the victory at Payback, marked the birth of the Tribal Chief.
Clash of Champions & Hell in a Cell: Feud with Jey Uso
Roman’s next feud would be his most personal yet: Jey Uso. Uso, one-half of arguably the greatest tag team of all time with his twin brother, Jimmy Uso, had always been a tag team performer. A cousin of Roman Reigns, Roman expected him to fall in line and join up with himself and Heyman. Jey, on his own with Jimmy Uso out injured, saw this as a real opportunity to cement himself as a singles performer; to become the main event star he saw himself as, win the Universal Championship and to, finally, rid himself of comments such as “which one are you?” Having an adversary at the level of Roman, however, was always going to make this difficult. At Clash of Champions, Roman would demolish Jey; repeatedly demanding that he acknowledge him as the Tribal Chief. Eventually, Jey was too beaten down to even respond to Roman’s demands, leaving Jimmy to rush into the ring and say it for him, just to stop the horrific beat down from continuing.
The feud would continue through to Hell in a Cell, where Roman and Jey would face off once more – this time in an “I Quit” Match. Much like the match at Clash of Champions, this match was designed to show off Roman’s dominance; to show fans that this new version of Roman was as sadistic as he was talented. He would, once again, demolish Jey; who put up a hearty, valiant effort against his older cousin. This time, however, to make Jey quit, he would begin torturing the already injured Jimmy Uso in front of him – locking in his new finishing move, the Guillotine, to choke him out. Jey was too beaten down to stop his cousin and feeling powerless to save his brother, he said those famous words: “I quit”. Following this match, Jey – and later Jimmy – would fall in line. The Bloodline was born; The Usos were pacified and Roman now had two minions willing to do as he demands. The Usos would go on to capture the SmackDown Tag Team Championships from The Mysterios, making the trio all rich with gold.
TLC and Royal Rumble: “Fight Owens Fight”
Next up was Kevin Owens. Owens has always been one of the more underutilized talents within the WWE. A one-time world champion, as Universal Champion throughout a part of 2016, Owens has long deserved more. In the feud with Roman Reigns, he was shown to be on equal footing to the Tribal Chief; a threat who Roman could not even defeat cleanly without the assistance of the now “Main Event” Jey Uso. Their first big match came at WWE TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs 2020, where Roman would overcome Owens in a near-25 minute match. Owens had sustained a grueling beat down at the hands of both Roman and Jey, yet managed to climb the ladder and have the Universal Championship within reach. Of course, the numbers would catch up to Owens and Jey, with Roman having been successfully taken out by Owens, would cost him a golden opportunity to unseat the Tribal Chief from the Head of the SmackDown Table. Owens would go on to defeat Uso on SmackDown a number of times (it was a regular occurrence), before getting his eventual rematch at Royal Rumble 2021.
The match at Royal Rumble 2021 came just over a month after Kevin Owens was again robbed on an episode of SmackDown; in a Steel Cage match where Jey Uso handcuffed Owens to the cage, whilst Roman waltzed through the door to retain the title. Owens was put on the shelf and it was believed that Reigns would be facing Adam Pearce at Royal Rumble. Thankfully, this was a “swerve” and the “Prizefighter” would make his triumphant return, only without being triumphant. At Royal Rumble, the Last Man Standing match (remembered for a very odd, botched finish) saw Roman once again retain against the ever-valiant Owens, with Owens not able to get up before the count of ten. Overall, Roman Reigns notched up three straight victories in this feud and even though Owens lost at every turn, he holds the distinction of being the competitor who Roman simply could not beat clean.
Elimination Chamber, Fastlane and WrestleMania 37: Daniel Bryan & Edge
Then came Daniel Bryan and Edge; two certified WWE legends, both having returned from career-ending injuries, who looked capable of beating Roman. Roman’s first match with Bryan came at Elimination Chamber 2021. Having already endured all kinds of torment, having competed in (and won) the Elimination Chamber earlier in the night to earn a shot at the WWE Universal Championship, the stipulation was revealed that Bryan’s title shot had to be cashed in during the same show. Therefore, a tired, worn out Bryan would immediately face Roman Reigns. Though there was an initial surprise surge of adrenaline for a determined Bryan, Roman would win the match and retain the title. The feud would carry over to WWE Fastlane 2021, where the two mega stars would compete for 30 minutes in a match which Bryan had pretty much wrapped up; making Roman Reigns tap out whilst no referee was around to call the finish. Edge was, of course, the “Special Guest Referee” but was taken out by Jey Uso during the “YES Lock” moment – his being taken out ensuring Roman retained. In usual Roman circumstances, Reigns would grab the victory from the clutches of defeat and retain once more.
Having lost two matches in a row (though under questionable circumstances), Daniel Bryan should have been out of contention. Edge was now the number one contender, having won the Royal Rumble match in January and having selected Roman to be his WrestleMania opponent. Somehow, some way, Bryan managed to find a way into the match at WrestleMania; leading to it becoming a triple threat. Edge, becoming increasingly frustrated by his diminished odds, would embrace his past; becoming the “Ultimate Opportunist” once more. Bryan would embrace his own; becoming the ultimate underdog, “Leader of the YES Movement” again. Roman was now up against two certified stars at their very best… and yet he won. He pinned both men; stacking one on top of the other at WrestleMania, to once again retain the Universal Championship. Reigns had now defeated everyone in his path. His reign was unquestionably one built on perseverance and dominance. Soon after, Daniel Bryan would lose in one final attempt to unseat the Head of the Table. Having put his career on the line to obtain the match, Bryan would lose and never be seen in a WWE ring again. Reigns would overcome Edge once more, with the assistance of Seth Rollins, at Money in the Bank 2021.
WrestleMania Backlash & Hell in a Cell (on SmackDown): Cesaro & Rey Mysterio
We mentioned earlier that Kevin Owens is one of the more underutilized superstars in recent memory. Well, if one man has a case for being the most underutilized superstar ever, it is the “Swiss Superman”, Cesaro. Cesaro is, unquestionably, one of the greatest wrestlers of his generation. He oozes confidence; works with an unrivaled blend of power, agility and technical prowess and yet has never won a world championship in the WWE. Until this year, with his victory over Seth Rollins, he had never even had a singles match at WrestleMania – despite having been a staple of the main roster for a decade. Roman Reigns and Heyman recognized this in their post-WrestleMania feud; with Heyman, particularly, downplaying the ability of the former “Paul Heyman Guy”, because of his underachieving WWE career. In a grueling, near-30 minute bout at WrestleMania Backlash, Roman Reigns overcame Cesaro with a guillotine and immediately following the match, the Swiss star was attacked by Seth Rollins. Roman then moved on to Rey Mysterio.
The feud with Mysterio made sense. Just like Roman Reigns and The Bloodline (Jimmy & Jey Uso), Rey Mysterio had been teaming with his own flesh and blood – real life son, Dominik Mysterio. For weeks, The Bloodline would torment the Mysterios; who can forget Roman launching Dominik over the top rope with a scintillating, devastating powerbomb? Eventually, the tormenting of the younger Mysterio would lead to Rey demanding a match with Roman at Hell in a Cell0 2021… which, quite oddly, did not happen. Instead, the Head of the Table battled the Mysterio Patriarch two days before Hell in a Cell, in a Hell in a Cell match… on SmackDown. Regardless, it was a good match and Rey Mysterio did enough to roll back the years. The Ultimate Underdog was in his element but it simply wasn’t enough to beat this incarnation of Roman Reigns who, much like against Jey Uso at Hell in a Cell 2020, won the match. A Money in the Bank feud with Edge would follow, before Roman Reigns was greeted by a former rival in John Cena.
SummerSlam 2021: John Cena Returns
As mentioned at the start of this article, in 2014, John Cena – who had slowly began transitioning to a part-time role, with Hollywood offers now incoming – vacated the prestigious title of “Face of the Company” to a then recently post-Shield Roman Reigns. Whereas Cena works as the all-smiling, baby kissing babyface, Reigns simply does not – and fans let him know it, for five straight years. Between Royal Rumble 2015 and SummerSlam 2020, almost any big Roman moment was met with a chorus of boos by the same fans who booed Cena for years prior. Roman was born to be what he is now; an a** kicking, dominant Samoan machine able to tear through the roster whenever he feels like. He is now the best version of himself. At Money in the Bank 2021, John Cena returned to tell Reigns that he had failed in the role of Cena’s successor and that at SummerSlam 2021, he was going to take away Reigns’ Universal Championship and establish a new era of Cena, or a Summer of Cena – complete with blowing kisses and escaping through the crowd.
For weeks, there were back-and-forth exchanges between the two and, for a short while, there was the involvement of Finn Bálor, who was robbed of his own Universal Championship opportunity by the increasingly desperate Baron Corbin, who attacked Finn prior to his contract signing. John Cena would manage to intervene in that same contract signing and somehow forge his own signature onto the contract and then, in something which is surely illegal, the match would become inevitable. Cena and Reigns would face each other for the first time since their No Mercy 2017 feud – which Roman won. Well, just like in 2017, Roman would win again; showing John Cena, and the world, that nobody can stop this version of Roman Reigns. Even the man dubbed “Super Cena” himself is incapable of defeating the man widely viewed as his successor. No one is capable… besides maybe one man. Or, shall we say, one Beast.
A Future Event: Brock Lesnar?
Brock Lesnar returned at SummerSlam 2021, sporting a beard and manbun combo that only he could pull off. He stormed down the ramp to have a stare-down with the victorious, celebrating Roman Reigns; a smirk painted across Brock’s face, concern on Roman’s, as the show went off the air (though fans in attendance got to see more, as Brock Lesnar obliterated John Cena post-show). No one has gotten the better of Roman Reigns on more occasions than Lesnar. That being said, not many have gotten the better of Brock Lesnar more than Roman Reigns. This match is now looking very likely for an upcoming event and should it go ahead, Reigns’ title reign has never looked more under threat.
Brock is a literal Beast; more than anyone, he is the one competitor who can end Roman’s reign. Could this potentially be the final chapter in a historic title reign which has absolutely rejuvenated Roman Reigns’ WWE career? Additionally, where does Reigns’ loyal sidekick, Paul Heyman, fit in? After all, long before he became Roman’s chief advisor, he was Brock Lesnar’s advocate. This feud is going to be fun; a truly interesting feud between two certified superstars who have only ever fought when the roles were reversed – when Reigns was the face and Lesnar was the heel with Paul Heyman in his corner. The long-term, rumored WWE ambition for next year’s WrestleMania is to sign The Rock up for one more match, with Roman Reigns, in a culmination to the Samoan Dynasty storyline which has been central to SmackDown’s success over the pasty 12 months. Perhaps at a future show, we will see if that is possible. Whether the reign ends against Brock Lesnar or not, it has surely been a memorable 365+ days.
Days with Title – 365+
Successful Defenses – 14
Opponents Defeated – 8 (John Cena, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Daniel Bryan, Cesaro, Kevin Owens, Jey Uso and Braun Strowman)
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