504 Days of the Tribal Chief: Roman Reigns Reaches New Milestone

Roman Reigns at 504 Days
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On Wednesday 12th January, Roman Reigns reached a new milestone – by reigning as WWE Universal Champion for 500 days. It is a highly impressive feat, one which has only occurred one other time on the main roster (we had to specify with “main roster” as WALTER was NXT United Kingdom Champion for a remarkable 870 days). The other person to reach the 500 day milestone was none other than Reigns’ greatest rival, Brock Lesnar, who achieved a recognized 503 day reign (which technically stood at 504 days, due to taping timings) between 2017 and 2018. That’s right: as of today, Roman Reigns is now the longestreigning WWE world champion of the modern era; cementing his reign as the dominant, brash, unstoppable Tribal Chief of the SmackDown island as one of the best in the company’s entire history.

When we wrote an article last August to commemorate Roman Reigns making the much-coveted, full calendar year 365 day world title reign, there was a growing fear that Brock Lesnar would soon end the era of the Tribal Chief; conquering the Chief much like he conquered the streak. Whereas that could still very likely happen at this year’s WrestleMania, the fact that Roman now holds the distinction of longest-reigning main roster champion of the modern era softens the blow – it is a lengthy, historic reign fully deserved by the Tribal Chief character’s greatness and long may it continue.

A Reign We Never Expected

Tribute To The Troops: Reigns Stands Tall WWE Wrestler of the Year
Photo: WWE

One of the things that makes this particular title reign so special is that we almost never expected it. It is somewhat easy to forget that – for much of the 2010s – Roman Reigns was the babyface of the company at odds with the “WWE universe”. His babyface run as the clear successor to John Cena never felt natural and, with the company clearly trying to book Reigns as something resembling John Cena II, the fans rejected the future Tribal Chief. No matter the town, no matter the venue, Reigns would be booed – much like Cena – by the adult sections of the fans. Whereas John Cena could somehow make the heat work to his advantage, with thanks to natural charisma and the gift of the gab, Reigns could not – he simply possessed a natural heel aura desperately in need of surfacing.

Therefore, when Reigns finally turned heel in the latter half of 2020, it was a decision very well received; he instantly felt more natural as the Tribal Chief and his shock aligning with the beloved Paul Heyman was a very intriguing turn of direction for one of the most miscast performers in WWE history. Indeed, the turn made him even better; being able to act within a role which allowed more freedom to work – and make use of his assets as an athletic, explosive Samoan bad*ss with an impressive knack for talking trash – helped him to improve both in the ring and on the microphone. As a result, he is currently one of the best things (if not the best thing) in all of professional wrestling today. The entire reign has been a revelation and the turn itself has been one of the better gifts the WWE has given us in recent years. Roman Reigns is, at last, being recognized by fans as the underrated (yes, underrated) performer he has been for years.

Not Without Criticism

SmackDown Jey Uso Kevin Owens
Photo: WWE

Despite the success of this glittering, illustrious title reign, there has been one criticism prominent throughout: has it helped SmackDown? In many ways, it has, because Roman Reigns is on an entirely different level to the rest of the entire company – with the exception of Brock Lesnar who is, of course, a certified, special, mainstream attraction. The success of Reigns in this role – as well as SmackDown airing on FOX –  has undoubtedly elevated SmackDown above Raw as the WWE’s “A Show”. But how has the reign benefited other workers to have worked with Roman? Kevin Owens, one of the first opponents of the then-newfound Tribal Chief, was a hot babyface and riding a wave of momentum at the time – but consistent losses at the hand of the “Head of the Table” derailed momentum; leading to Owens making sporadic appearances in 2021 before the eventual draft to Raw and subsequent heel turn. What about Cesaro who, fresh off a well-deserved, long-overdue WrestleMania moment at the expense of Seth Rollins in 2021, was on a roll last year? He lost to Roman Reigns (by the “referee’s decision”) and has been coasting on SmackDown ever since.

Indeed, the only opponents of Reigns left unaffected by defeats to the Tribal Chief were those with nothing to lose. Edge – a Hall of Fame inductee – was never going to be damaged long-term. Rey Mysterio, a certified future Hall of Fame inductee, was similarly safe. The same goes for John Cena and, of course, Brock Lesnar. Both members of The Usos (Jimmy and Jey Uso) were always going to be left unscathed because, as we all knew, they were destined to join up with their cousin and form what has become to be known as The Bloodline. So, whereas this reign has been an absolute breath of fresh air and one of the most compelling, long-term storylines the WWE has ever pulled off, it can be argued that it hasn’t benefited the majority of those involved – and this is no fault of Reigns. It can also be argued, however, that in order for this title reign to work, with Reigns becoming the omnipotent, despotic Tribal Chief of SmackDown, it needed to play out this way – Reigns needed to be put over so strong. Regardless, this title reign has been one great, big success story. It is a reign fully-deserving over the acclaim which has come its way and, finally, it is one equally deserving of the distinction of longest main roster title reign of the modern era. Here’s to the next 504 days.

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