This week on Monday Night Raw saw one of the most hostile WWE crowds in modern times, with the audience in Orlando, Florida spending nearly 10 full minutes booing Roman Reigns and chanting expletives at him. This came after Roman Reigns retired The Undertaker at WrestleMania 33. So is the WWE actually turning Roman heel in order to play into this hatred?
There’s mixed evidence on this front, but at this time, it doesn’t appear that Roman Reigns’ recent behavior is meant to reflect a heel turn.
Although his segment last night certainly felt heel-ish, let’s take a look at the recent evidence against the idea that Roman is now a heel. First, there’s the conversation that unfolded on Raw Talk last night. This is the Raw after show on which Renee Young and Jerry “The King” Lawler did some post-game analysis, and on it, Lawler essentially said that the crowd was crazy to boo Roman Reigns this week because he’s unambiguously a good guy.
“I gotta admit, I’m kinda old school,” Lawler said. “I come from a time when people used to boo the bad guys and cheer for the good guys. And you know and I know Roman Reigns is a good guy. I mean, really, genuinely, a good guy. And for him to stand up there and endure and withstand over 10 minutes of booing…my crown is off to Roman Reigns for withstanding that.”
Jerry Lawler at this point is definitely meant to be a face, even if he was a heel in the past. And Renee Young, who is a face and whose comments generally reflect the company’s thinking, agreed with Lawler on the show, saying that Roman “took it like a champ.”
Another piece of evidence is the attitude of the commentary team on Monday Night Raw this week. Corey Graves in particular went out of his way to dismiss the opinion of the Raw crowd in Orlando, saying that they “boo people they normally cheer and cheer people they normally boo.” If Roman were a full heel now, the booing would obviously be the exact reaction that is necessary for the story, so why have the commentators work so hard to convince the viewer at home that this is a bizarro-world crowd with strange opinions?
As long as we’re examining WWE media, just take a look at the way WWE.com described what happened last night. The words they use to recap the segment clearly frame this as a situation in which a good guy is being treated unfairly by a crazy crowd, not a situation in which a villain is being rightly booed. Here’s how WWE.com described the Roman Reigns segment. Pay particular attention to the second-to-last paragraph:
The Undertaker is gone. Maybe. At least that’s how it appeared following The Phenom’s defeat at WrestleMania last night, when the legendary Superstar left his gloves, hat and duster in the ring and vanished into the void from whence he came.
And while social media has been flooded since his sudden departure with #ThankYouTaker sentiments, Raw opened with an appearance by the Superstar who seemingly sent The Last Outlaw off into the sunset: Roman Reigns.
While Reigns did offer his own tribute to The Deadman on Twitter earlier in the day, The Big Dog took a long time to speak on Raw, in part because the rowdy #RawAfterMania crowd wouldn’t let him get a word in edgewise. When he finally spoke, it was to only offer one sentence with a matter-of-fact finality: “This is my yard now.”
Short and sweet. The Deadman would approve.
A lot of fans read that segment as Roman Reigns being intentionally smug and arrogant in a way that clearly reflects villainous behavior and that was meant to troll the crowd and signal a heel turn. But it doesn’t seem that this is how the WWE sees it; instead, it was Roman, the hero, declaring his dominance in a matter-of-fact fashion and keeping a brave face in front of an audience of insane fans.
Besides, looking back at recent history, there have been plenty of times in which Raw was taken over by absolutely brutal crowd reactions to Roman Reigns, only for him to continue being a babyface as if the fans were not rebelling against him. In fact, almost this exact same situation unfolded last year after WrestleMania: Roman Reigns entered to overwhelming boos, but even though some viewers thought that the WWE might finally steer into the hatred and allow him to be more heel-ish, he continued to function as a face.
Outside of what’s going on on screen, there has been some off screen evidence to suggest that nothing will change with the way Roman Reigns is presented. Roman recently was a guest on Chris Jericho’s podcast Talk is Jericho, and he said that he sees no reason for him to turn heel. That wouldn’t be all that significant except for the fact that Roman also said on the podcast that he has creative control over the character.
“The thing is, if I turn heel, what am I gonna become?” Roman Reigns said on the podcast. “Everything that’s been done? Why not just be me? No one’s ever been like me. This is uncharted territory. It can be anything I want it to be. So why put myself on one side of it? Why not just dabble? Why not have the full range? Do whatever I want? That’s how I feel. I’m the one writing this at this point now. We’re in the position we can do anything we want as long they make noise.”
On Twitter on Tuesday, Roman said that the crowd this week was one of the loudest of the past two decades, and this is evidence that he is the guy.
That appears to be how Vince McMahon feels as well: as long as the crowd is reacting to Roman Reigns, everything is going great, and it doesn’t really matter too much whether they’re cheering or booing. The only thing that would make the company feel that they need to make a change is if the crowd fell silent.
Dave Meltzer, the veteran wrestling journalist from the Wrestling Observer, recently made this point on Wrestling Observer Radio.
“When they boo him to that level, Vince is back there going, ‘They really care a lot,’ and that’s gonna make [Vince] push [Roman] more,” Meltzer said this week. “It’s silence that will get him…booing [Roman] will only make him stronger.”
The closest anyone associated with the WWE has come to saying that Roman Reigns is potentially getting close to being a heel was when Triple H gave an interview in which he said that to some degree, Roman is a heel already. However, he didn’t totally commit to that idea, with his point more being that Roman is a heel if you accept the fact that most of the crowd hates him, something Triple H doesn’t seem to fully accept.
“Roman Reigns gets one of the loudest reactions every night, whether that reaction is a boo or whether that reaction is a cheer,” Triple H said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “The fans who say, ‘I don’t understand why they don’t turn Roman Reigns heel!’ Isn’t he already? If you believe what you believe, and you’re saying, ‘How can they not turn him heel? There is 70 percent of the crowd booing him out of the building!’ If that’s your belief, then isn’t he already the biggest heel we have? If 70 percent of that crowd is booing him, then he’s a heel. We’re just presenting him to you in a different way that makes you hate him.”
We’ll get a much better sense of the future of Roman Reigns on next week’s episode of Monday Night Raw.