2021: The Year of The Bloodline in WWE

The Bloodline 2021
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2021 continued to be a banner year for Roman Reigns, capitalizing on the Cinderella story of his heel transformation in 2020. Following a quiet first half of the latter year, Reigns returned to World Wrestling Entertainment at August 23, 2020’s SummerSlam, interrupting Braun Strowman and Bray Wyatt’s match for the Universal Championship. Reigns captured the title at Payback, and it soon became apparent that the former babyface had undergone a character transformation. In a psychologically nuanced performance, and the best character work of his career to date, Reigns became “The Tribal Chief:” an aloof, power-hungry champion who cruelly imposes his will on others, in a single-minded quest to secure his status. As Reigns began to brutally vent on his Friday Night SmackDown rostermates, such as Kevin Owens, Edge, and Bryan Danielson, he also came into conflict with cousins Jey and Jimmy Uso, who resisted as he tried, hell-bent, to yoke them to his vision of domination. Looking back, it can be argued 2021 has been the year of The Bloodline.

2021: The Year of The Bloodline

A Brief Overview

In 2021, the Usos’ compliance was secured, and they, and Reigns, became The Bloodline. The heel stable’s foundational themes of family ambition and devotion struck a chord with WWE audiences. Whereas 2020’s arc for Reigns drew on familial tension as Jey and Jimmy, in turn, bemoaned the “new Roman” and fought to retain their autonomy from him, in 2021 their devotion was secured and they regularly spoiled matches in Reigns’s favor, fought at his side, or were aided by him in their own matches. However, one outlier remained in the “Tribal Chief’s” inner circle: special counsel Paul Heyman.

Much like Kenny Omega’s onscreen alliance with Don Callis across All Elite Wrestling and IMPACT Wrestling, Reigns’s association with Heyman helped solidify and amplify his heel persona, with Reigns benefitting from Heyman’s “gift of gab” on the mic. However, as 2021 came to a close, the Bloodline story’s most effective moments lay not in Reigns’s continued string of pay-per-view victories, but in the seeds of betrayal planted in the unfolding plot.

John Cena Roman Reigns

Major Feuds of The Tribal Chief

The lead-up to 2021’s SummerSlam pitted Reigns against 17x champion John Cena. The two engaged in some scathing promo battles, and on August 21, they faced off in SummerSlam’s main event, in a match for the Universal Championship. Reigns secured the victory, only to be confronted by an unannounced Brock Lesnar. Lesnar had not been seen in WWE for several months, and his appearance followed months of speculation across the spectrum of combat sports, from the worlds of pro wrestling to MMA, about where his future plans lay. SummerSlam was Lesnar’s answer: WWE’s longest-reigning Universal Champion to date, at 507 days, planned to capture the title again, by dethroning Reigns.

At the heart of Reigns’s dominant, despotic, vicious “Tribal Chief” character is a palpable note of vulnerability. He is determined to remain champion, and to secure championships for his family members, the Usos, dead set on them all remaining at the top of WWE’s food chain, because the bottom of that ecosystem is a dark chasm of ignominy that he fears. The pressure of his family’s illustrious legacy is a palpable motivation, as well. When Lesnar returned at SummerSlam, speculation, and suspicion began that Reigns’s trusted “Wiseman,” Heyman, was in the know and still serving as the “Beast Incarnate’s” advocate. The ties between Heyman and Lesnar run deep, and Reigns’s character’s latent insecurities latched onto the possibility that Heyman had betrayed him, had perhaps been running a long game all the while that he’d stood by Reigns’s side on his rise to the undisputed top.

Finn Balor vs Roman Reigns SmackDown Card

Other Grudges to Note

WWE’s storytelling left much to be desired in 2021, even in the confines of Reigns’s storyline, which is otherwise the jewel in the crown though it is of WWE television. His program with Finn Balor, for instance, ended in a match with an improbable and unexplained finish on a second-tier pay-per-view, Extreme Rules-an example of how WWE’s generally poor booking still touched this storyline. However, the months of suspicion around Paul Heyman, and the suspense of whether Reigns still believed in his special counsel or was planning a double-cross of his own on the man who had betrayed him, was WWE’s most effectively executed storyline of the year.

As Reigns and the Usos feuded with The New Day throughout autumn 2021, the sight of Heyman at Reigns’s side, barking for him on the mic and holding Reigns’s beloved Universal Championship, took on a new undertone of doubt and unclear loyalties. Heyman and Reigns both played their parts well, Reigns as aloof as Heyman was desperate to prove his loyalty. Another surprise appearance by Lesnar at SmackDown’s September 10 SuperShow at Madison Square Garden raised more suspicions around Heyman, but Reigns’s victory over Lesnar at October’s Crown Jewel bought Heyman more time to spin his tires and ingratiate himself to Reigns. WWE struck gold with the comedic dynamic between Heyman and Kayla Braxton, as the plucky backstage reporter repeatedly got under Heyman’s skin while trying to expose his divided loyalties.

The Bloodline Dismisses the Special Counsel

On December 17’s broadcast of SmackDown, the WWE universe no longer had to wonder: in Reigns’s absence, Heyman took the mic in hand and ardently put Lesnar over. When Reigns arrived at the venue and stepped into the ring to be acknowledged by the Rosemont, Illinois crowd, with the Usos and Heyman customarily by his side, he wasted little time in firing Heyman, who seemed not only to know that it was coming but was visibly terrified. His apprehension was deserved: Reigns punctuated his abandonment of his former mentor with a Superman punch that laid Heyman out on the canvas.

Despite a litany of high-profile matches throughout WWE programming in 2021, Reigns’s most compelling storyline was the dynamic between himself and Heyman. Reigns benefitted from Heyman’s superior mic abilities, and Heyman was an indispensable part of the Bloodline stable. However, as Lesnar’s presence continued to loom like a ghost from Heyman’s past, doubt and vulnerability, the foreshadowing of betrayal and the tension all this placed on the faction became the dominant themes of the Bloodline story. All of this was played excellently by Heyman, Reigns, Lesnar, and Braxton, who could mine these themes earnestly and for comedy at different turns all in the same episode of SmackDown.

The Bloodline in 2021 – In Closing

With Heyman’s betrayal, Reigns looks conveniently set up for a face turn in 2022. If so, The Bloodline as babyface heroes pitted against a Lesnar backed openly by Paul Heyman is a feud that feels organic and deserved, after the excellent foundation laid by the nuanced storytelling and character work of 2021.

Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. You can check out an almost unlimited array of WWE content on the WWE Network and Peacock.