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Saturday, April 20, 2024

WrestleMania 39: Wanting again at Roman Reigns’ historic title reign forward of showdown with Cody Rhodes

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For years, WWE followers rejected the concept of Roman Reigns as the highest star within the promotion. The pushback got here from emotions that WWE had pressured Reigns down the WWE Universe’s collective throat, eradicating the natural ascension that has marked skilled wrestling’s largest all-time superstars. Maybe no second had exemplified WWE’s seeming determined must push Reigns as “the person” as a lot because the 2015 Royal Rumble, a match Reigns received as the group chanted “We wish refunds” and the place The Rock confirmed as much as present a form of endorsement of his cousin, with even the celebrity’s look doing nothing to win the group over to Reigns’ aspect.

Issues lastly modified for Reigns in August 2020. After selecting to skip WrestleMania earlier that 12 months and stay on the sidelines for months firstly of the COVID-19 pandemic — a private alternative for being immunocompromised from a number of battles with leukemia — Reigns made a shock return at SummerSlam.

Reigns, having reworked his already spectacular physique into an much more spectacular physique whereas on the sidelines, appeared after the primary occasion between common champion Bray Wyatt and challenger Braun Strowman to demolish each males. By the next Friday, it was official that this was a brand new Reigns, aligning with Paul Heyman and turning heel — a transfer followers had lengthy demanded as that they had clearly rejected the concept of him because the promotion’s high babyface — in preparation for an Aug. 30 triple risk match with Wyatt and Strowman for the common title at Payback.

Reigns received the title as he selected to not even be a part of the match till the ultimate moments and end off Wyatt with a low blow and Strowman with a spear. In that second, a historic title reign kicked off and signaled that Reigns had grow to be a lot greater than he ever had been earlier than.

Carrying the ThunderDome period

Reigns’ return and new persona had created a buzz, and it was a buzz WWE wanted as they embraced the brand new world created by the continued pandemic, launching the ThunderDome, an expertise in arenas the place followers appeared on LED boards as a digital crowd whereas WWE piped in synthetic noise, making the most effective of an unprecedented state of affairs.

The ThunderDome additionally allowed Reigns to develop his character in ways in which wouldn’t have been attainable with stay crowds. Reigns leaned on a number of in-match dialogue in these early months as champion, working a slower, extra methodical type all whereas speaking to his opponents each step of the best way.

That new type was rapidly placed on show in Reigns’ first feud after turning into champion, a really well-received program with Jey Uso that not solely cemented Reigns’ new heel persona but additionally elevated Uso to a brand new standing as a plausible major occasion star.

The rivalry with Jey — and his twin brother, Jimmy — additionally established The Bloodline. After Reigns defeated Jey in an I Stop match inside Hell in a Cell, he pressured his cousin to acknowledge him as “The Tribal Chief” and new chief of the legendary Anoaʻi household.

A dominant run to the undisputed title

Having introduced The Usos to his trigger, Reigns continued to steamroll contenders to his common championship. This included nice rivalries with Kevin Owens, Edge and Daniel Bryan — in a rivalry that ended Bryan’s WWE profession. Simply shy of 1 12 months after profitable the common title, Reigns defeated John Cena at SummerSlam, including one other large identify to his championship resume.

Issues weren’t excellent, after all, and holding persistently constructive momentum for a yearslong championship reign is an unattainable ask.

At occasions, The Usos fixed interference to tilt issues in Reigns’ favor might grate on audiences. And a match with Finn Balor at Excessive Guidelines in 2021 stands proud as a very sore spot, with Balor showing in his “Demon” persona solely to lose the match when the highest rope “broke,” inflicting him to fall to the canvas and permitting Reigns to choose up the win. This angle by no means went wherever, this system with Balor was ended and each males moved on as if nothing had occurred.

Challenger after challenger stepped up and was swatted away, all resulting in a showdown with WWE champion Brock Lesnar in a unification conflict at WrestleMania 38 in April 2022, greater than 580 days after Reigns received the common championship. Barely greater than 12 minutes after the match began, Reigns was formally the undisputed WWE common champion.

The Bloodline drama escalates

Reigns turning into undisputed champion coincided with a brand new contract that noticed him on tv far much less. Since WrestleMania 38, Reigns has defended his titles on tv or pay-per-view a complete of six occasions, with 4 different matches during which he teamed with Bloodline members.

The Bloodline, nevertheless, continued to be the premier storyline on WWE tv. Solo Sikoa, cousin of Reigns and The Usos, joined the group, as did Sami Zayn. Zayn first started pushing for inclusion in Reigns’ interior circle within the weeks following Reigns’ WrestleMania win over Lesnar and pitched himself as an honorary member of the group, or an “honorary uce.” Whereas The Usos, who went on to unify each the Uncooked and SmackDown tag titles, initially welcomed Zayn as one thing of a joke, he helped them win matches and took bullets for Reigns, slowly gaining belief till August 2022 when Reigns offered Zayn together with his personal “honorary uce” shirt. All of the whereas, Jey Uso was the lone holdout on trusting Zayn, solely absolutely coming round when Zayn was put “on trial.”

Sikoa, in the meantime, joined the group when he debuted to save lots of Reigns in opposition to Drew McIntyre at Conflict on the Citadel, one of many moments many felt Reigns dropping the title would have been the precise name, with a rabid crowd in England behind their countryman, just for The Bloodline numbers sport to win out once more.

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Reigns ultimately pushed Zayn too far throughout this era. Regardless of Zayn repeatedly siding with Reigns over his former finest buddy, Kevin Owens, it by no means appeared that Zayn had finished sufficient to earn Reigns’ loyalty. That constructed to Zayn snapping and hitting Reigns with a metal chair, fairly than a defenseless Owens at January’s Royal Rumble.

The betrayal led to a singles match between Zayn and Reigns at February’s Elimination Chamber. Once more, Reigns was in a position to retain his title in entrance of an opponent’s hometown crowd. And once more, Reigns turned away the challenger, disappointing a rabid viewers each stay and watching at dwelling.

Zayn additionally misplaced his last connection to The Bloodline when Jey Uso turned on him within the wake of the loss to Reigns, once more cementing that every one members of The Bloodline stood with Reigns above all else.

Cody Rhodes and the highway to Roman Reigns’ fallen kingdom

Zayn and Owens ultimately reunited and set themselves to problem The Usos for the undisputed tag titles at WrestleMania, the identical present the place Reigns could be pressured to defend his undisputed title in opposition to Royal Rumble winner Cody Rhodes.

Like a lot of Reigns’ challengers over the greater than 940 days since he first received the common championship, the group is firmly behind Rhodes. However maybe solely McIntyre and Zayn have had the identical degree of time, place and momentum with the followers to be “the precise man” to finish Reigns’ unimaginable run with the title.

And, fairly frankly, not having Rhodes win at WrestleMania could be a WrestleMania mistake on par with Triple H defeating Booker T at WrestleMania 19.

Followers have been deflated when Zayn did not beat Reigns in February. Zayn had grow to be arguably the preferred member of the whole WWE roster and his story had constructed so completely to a shot at Reigns. Equally, since coming back from serving to create All Elite Wrestling, Rhodes has been red-hot each within the ring and with the followers, with solely damage hampering his momentum.

To have the 2 hottest babyfaces on the roster lose to Reigns in back-to-back matches could be a mistake that may loom over the promotion and Reigns.

There may be excellent news for Reigns, nevertheless. The story of the autumn of a king and the aftermath can typically be extra attention-grabbing than their time on the throne.

Reigns has sat atop the WWE for almost 950 days, heading off challengers, navigating familial drama and controlling each high title within the promotion. What occurs when The Usos are now not undisputed tag workforce champions and Rhodes takes Reigns’ two world championships? Can Reigns maintain The Bloodline collectively or will failure shatter the bonds which have been constructed throughout the longest WWE world championship reign since Hulk Hogan held the WWE championship from January 1984 to February 1988?

Reigns’ time as champion has had unimaginable highs and a few forgettable lows, however he has elevated each present and former member of The Bloodline. The Usos at the moment are superstars whether or not as a workforce or as singles, Sikoa has grow to be a reputable pressure on the roster and Zayn reached a degree of recognition few ever handle in skilled wrestling whereas the group mixed to inform top-of-the-line tales in WWE historical past.

It is time to transfer to the following step for each the story and for Reigns as a person. It is time to see Reigns sitting in the course of a fallen kingdom, lastly pressured to reckon together with his personal mortality.

We’ll see if WWE pulls the set off and units Reigns down that path on Sunday evening. Not doing so could be the most important mistake the corporate could make.

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