This wrestling week, for myself and for many others, belongs to Roman Reigns and his triumphant return to WWE competition after taking time out to battle leukemia. The bravery and honesty the real life Joe Anoa’i demonstrated in his own personal fight has arguably done what the writers and bookers never could; put him over as a massive babyface.
In this particular corner of the internet, I have always been a prominent defender of Roman Reigns the wrestler. From the first time I saw him in The Shield at Survivor Series 2012 I saw starpower in his look, his charisma and his impactful moveset, but a series of disastrous creative decisions following the initial break-up of The Shield in June 2014 led to substantial fan hostility that WWE mostly chose to try and ride out, with a few notable, and huge exceptions at Wrestlemania XXXI and XXXIV where they bizarrely failed to back their man.
For those of you who are interested, I actually wrote an objective and reasonably empirical column series exploring the rise of Reigns a couple of years ago. You can read part one here, part two here, part three here and part four here. You can also look back on when I objected to strongly to his Royal Rumble 2015 win here, just in case you mistake me for merely being a massive apologist. The truth is, I have always been a big fan of Roman, but not necessarily always a fan of the direction in which the writers took the character and his storylines.
Nevertheless, the one thing I think is undeniable is that the man has amassed a sneaky impressive library of matches as both a tag and singles competitor, so in the spirit of celebrating his return, I’ve put together a WWE Network playlist so that we can appreciate his in ring output and look forward to more in the coming years, hopefully with less negativity from the fanbase this time around.
The Shield vs Ryback and Team Hell No in a TLC match, TLC 2012
The match that began it all for the Hounds of Justice, and one that remains highly placed in my personal “all decade” list at the time of writing, this all out brawl amidst the broken wreckage of tables and ladders and chairs pitted three prominent targets of The Shield against their aggressors. Roman’s speed and power immediately shut up cynics who were complaining that Kassius Ohno was not the third man, as originally suggested by CM Punk, and it is his middle rope powerbomb of Daniel Bryan off the top rope through a table that secures the win for the upstart heel stable. Well worth revisiting if you have not done so lately.
Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins vs Cody Rhodes and Goldust in a No Disqualification match for the WWE Tag Team Championships, Monday Night Raw, October 14 2013
It’s hard to nominate just one from the match the night before at Battleground where the Rhodes family won their jobs back from The Authority, or this one, where the No Disqualification stipulation lends a peak Attitude Era fervour to proceedings, but suffice to say that for sheer raw emotion, wrestling does not get much better than this, and the heel stylings of Reigns and Rollins greatly enhanced the triumphs of Cody and Goldust against the dystopian Authority faction.
The Shield and The Real Americans vs Cody Rhodes, Goldust, The Usos and Rey Mysterio, Survivor Series 2013
Notable of course for the four eliminations racked up by The Big Dog, all with spectacular spears. This was the first major sign that WWE had significant singles aspirations for Reigns, and we can consider this as the true beginnings of his push. Nevertheless, context notwithstanding, this is simply an excellent traditional elimination match, where Reigns and Rollins are left alone to face all five babyfaces and yet manage to work together to dispatch them and triumph as sole survivors.
The Royal Rumble match, Royal Rumble 2014
Infamous for many reasons – the last night of CM Punk, the crowning of a returning Batista as number one contender for Wrestlemania, the non appearance of Daniel Bryan in the Rumble – 2014 is also notable for being the night where Roman Reigns broke Kane’s single Rumble elimination record. Regardless of what you think about WWE’s transparent building of Reigns as a future breakout star, his performance that night is one of power and cool menace that recalls Diesel in 1994, the wrestler he most strongly parallels in career and character terms. I will always argue that for match quality alone, 2014’s Royal Rumble is a tremendous example of the genre. And anyone who argues that the crowd only go mad for Roman at the end because he’s facing Batista is frankly rewriting history just to suit themselves. He was hugely over at that time; WWE only messed that up later in the year.
The Shield vs The Wyatt Family, Elimination Chamber 2014
Another bout I would place without hesitation in my all decade list, the ultimate Shield six man pitted them against the noisy neighbours, the intruders on their turf, the cult like Wyatt Family. The tremendous story told here of the dissension within The Shield leading to them being picked off by the Wyatts – a divide and conquer approach – left Reigns at the climax alone against all three of his foes. With the crowd going berserk, he almost breaks out of Sister Abigail…but it is not enough. Certainly a piece of work which showed that he could thrive alone if booked properly. But that of course, is another story.
The Shield vs Evolution in a No Holds Barred Elimination Match, Payback 2014
I could have chosen either of the titanic clashes between The Shield and Evolution, but I decided to go with this one due to the sheer dominance of The Shield’s eventual victory, with the Reigns spear again being a decisive game changer after the old timers had made a strong start by separating and beating down their younger opponents. It was also the apex of their achievements, winning against Evolution in a clean sweep left no foes left to conquer, making Rollins’ betrayal the next night all the more poignant.
Roman Reigns vs Daniel Bryan in a number one contenders match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Fast Lane 2015
In a classic February pay-per-view move, WWE booked an angle where Reigns put his title shot up against the returning people’s favourite, Daniel Bryan, who many felt should have been in the spot occupied by Reigns. In a tremendous technical wrestling match, one in which Bryan channeled his inner heel, The Big Dog ultimately came out victorious and more battle tested than ever. Probably Bryan’s last great match before his untimely retirement, and definitely Reigns’ first great singles match.
Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania XXXI
A match which I was not enthusiastic about and did not have high expectations of actually delivered in a massive way on the night. The structure of the action seemed based around Rocky IV, with Lesnar being busted open on a ring post turning the tide in Reigns’ favour, leading to a flurry of signature offense from The Big Dog. Ultimately it was Seth Rollins who profited from the carnage, sprinting to ringside with his Money In The Bank briefcase to cash in and make the match a triple threat. Even so, the job Roman Reigns did in proving his doubters wrong after the Rumble in 2015 cannot be denied.
Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose vs Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper, Summerslam 2015
In this wonderful tribute to Shawn Michaels and Diesel in their Two Dudes With Attitudes incarnation, Reigns and Ambrose made great use of their chemistry in meeting old foes in Wyatt and Harper. In a bright and breezy ten minute slobberknocker filled with exciting action, the ex-Shield men were ultimately successful when both men hit their finishers on Bray. Of all the matches on this list, I feel like this might be the biggest forgotten classic.
Roman Reigns vs Dean Ambrose for the vacant WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Survivor Series 2015
Reigns had been set for a big money feud with his former partner The Architect, Seth Rollins, which might have been something that rescued him from some of the worst excesses of negative reactions he was getting at that time. Sadly, Rollins blew his knee out on a European Tour, but the replacement for that match turned out to be one of my favourite things, a tournament to decide the new champion. In the finals, two brothers met in honourable combat, with Roman finally claiming his first world title at the end of it all. A match that didn’t get the credit it deserved at the time, and still doesn’t now. An essential rewatch, and of course, Sheamus would cash in not long afterwards.
Roman Reigns vs Dean Ambrose vs Brock Lesnar in a number one contenders match for the WWE World Heavyweight Title, Fast Lane 2016
Probably the last Brock Lesnar match I could put my hand on my heart and say that I loved, this tale of the two brothers going to war against The Beast, working together to minimise his impact and then going at each other, was a fantastic way to crown Roman as the number one contender to Triple H’s newly won title. Filled with high spots, destruction, and the typical triple threat thrills and spills, we might look back and say that Dean was the hotter of the two Shield boys, and should have gone on to face Trips, but the company were determined that this would finally be the Wrestlemania where they crowned their boy. Whatever the backstage goings on, this is one hell of a scrap and I recommend it highly.
Roman Reigns vs AJ Styles in an Extreme Rules match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Extreme Rules 2016
Reigns really did mesh superbly with The Phenomenal One in their pair of title tilts against each other, their movesets forming a wonderful contrast, and the power vs athleticism dynamic at the heart of this issue made for compelling viewing. This second match, featuring Attitude Era style run ins from The Usos (in support of Roman) and The Club (in support of Styles) added an extra level of chaos to a match type that already tends that way. The mid air spear off a Phenomenal Forearm is a wonderful high spot to round off a brilliant match. Added bonus points for Rollins returning to attack Reigns at the end.
Roman Reigns vs Seth Rollins for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Money In The Bank 2016
There was a distinctively old school feel to this classic title match featuring friends turned enemies. Notably less frenzied than Dean Ambrose’s matches with Rollins, Reigns played the heel early in the match, looking to grind the recently returned Architect into the mat, but the pace notably quickened as the match went on, with liquid chemistry between the two men. This one turned out to be something of a sleeper hit, as come year end it made it onto many a match of the year shortlist. A very different type of Roman Reigns match that showed that he has a much bigger range than he is usually given credit for.
Roman Reigns vs Dean Ambrose vs Seth Rollins for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Battleground 2016
Although many were put out by WWE placing the long hoped for and anticipated Shield triple threat on a minor pay-per-view like Battleground, it made sense in that the roster was about to split, so this was perhaps their last chance to do so before Ambrose was separated from Rollins and Reigns. It’s such a great match anyway that I didn’t much care which show it took place at! The story told by the three men was very much of familiarity as they always seemed to be able to counter and anticipate their respective signature moves, and all of the big spots and set pieces were effortlessly slick. Rather than go with the rather obvious move of Dean and Roman teaming up on Seth, all three recognised the threat they each posed and went all out to just get the job done and walk away with the title, although interestingly when an alliance did form, it was a brief one between Ambrose and Rollins. Fast paced, exciting and well performed, The Shield triple threat deserves far more love than it gets.
Team Raw vs Team Smackdown, Survivor Series 2016
Another match that tugs on the heartstrings due to the eternal bond of The Shield, this Ben Hur style epic has mostly been chosen here simply because of the cinematic moment when Dean Ambrose, eliminated due to the machinations of his supposed Team Captain AJ Styles, and being bundled away by security, is rescued by a Rollins and Reigns duo who had just begun to trust each other, culminating in a very satisfying triple powerbomb to AJ Styles through the announce table, just like the good old days.
Roman Reigns vs Kevin Owens in a No Disqualification match for the WWE Universal Championship, Royal Rumble 2017
Here we have a wonderful example of what the hardcore genre can still achieve in WWE when creativity and sound wrestling minds are applied to it. With Kevin Owens’ best friend Chris Jericho above the ring in a shark cage, Owens and Reigns beat the holy hell out of each other for over twenty minutes. Gigantic chair structures were built (for Owens to fall through), frog splashes drove the Big Dog through tables, and brass knucks were smuggled in (by Jericho), before Braun Strowman’s dramatic late match intervention ensured that Owens retained. Wrestled at a terrific pace with eyecatching spots throughout, it was one of my favourite matches of 2017.
Roman Reigns vs Seth Rollins,Monday Night Raw, May 29 2017
A very different match to their more methodical affair at Money In The Bank, this instant TV classic from the go home before Extreme Rules 2017 played off the fact that Reigns had never beaten Rollins, with The Architect seeming to have an answer for everything the Big Dog threw at him, yet Reigns was able to stay patient and pick his spots, with a breathtaking series of counters finally leading to the reversal of the Revolution Knee into the spear to score the huge go home win for Roman. Liquid chemistry between the former Shield members was again very much evident.
Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman in an Ambulance match, Great Balls Of Fire 2017
This was my favourite match in the extensive Strowman vs Reigns series that spanned the entire first half of 2017, taking as it did one of the lamer stipulations in WWE gimmick lore and doing something interesting with it. I loved the finish, with Reigns mistiming a spear straight into the back of the ambulance, and credit to both men for the highly ridiculous but highly enjoyable post-match shenanigans that saw Roman drive the ambulance into a semi-truck, trapping Strowman in the ambulance in an act of vengeance for everything the Monster Among Men had done to him. I think Reigns deserves a hell of a lot more credit for all the work he did in getting Strowman over as a main event player in 2017.
Roman Reigns vs Finn Balor for the WWE Universal Championship, Monday Night Raw, August 20 2018
The final match on my list was an enormous breath of fresh air, as it marked the first time that the Universal Championship had been competed for on television since Kevin Owens won the vacant belt after Finn Balor was forced to give up the title exactly two years before. Fittingly, it was Balor who the new champion Roman Reigns opted as his first challenger, and the two wrestled an excellent, high octane television match which put Balor over as a genuine threat to the gold, and saw both men show enormous respect for each other. Sadly Reigns would announce his bombshell about needing to take time out only a few weeks later, but it’s interesting to ponder what might have been had he remained healthy. Maybe this awful Brock Lesnar title reign would not have recurred if so?
So there we have it folks, my Ultimate Big Dog Playlist. Now tell me, what are your favourite Roman Reigns matches? And what do you think he’ll be doing at Wrestlemania? Hit me up in the comments below or you can follow me on Twitter @Neil_Pollock79