To demonstrate the versatility of The Big Dog, this list will include 10 different opponents, showing that Reigns' range as a main event-level performer is vastly underrated.
Roman Reigns committed the most heinous crime that a professional wrestler could ever commit: he happened to be an aesthetically-pleasing badass that received a main event push at the same time that an undersized crowd favourite in Daniel Bryan was downshifted to the upper-midcard. You can see how this is Roman's fault, and why he deserved every bit of the venomous hatred that was hurled his way for more than three years.
Sarcasm aside, Reigns' residence of the WWE main event tier has been a controversial topic since his ascension in the latter half of 2014. Some of the criticisms against him include a stilted reading of WWE scripts (fair argument), a push that was all-too rushed (also arguable), and that he can't wrestle.
Ok, slow the hell down.
Reigns may not be a technician on the level of a Daniel Bryan, a Cesaro, or a Pete Dunne, but he's everything a WWE main eventer needs to be: physical, explosive, athletic, and capable of working with a variety of opponents.
Roman revealed on last night's Raw that he was diagnosed with Leukemia 11 years ago, and sent it straight to remission. However, it's back, and means the Universal champion has relinquished his title to head home, spend time with his family and battle the disease.
Therefore, it's time we look back at the good times Reigns enjoyed in a WWE ring, as the following list looks at 10 truly-impressive singles matches that Reigns has taken part in over the last four years.
10. Vs. Randy Orton (SummerSlam 2014)
As far as his standing with the crowd went, the first noticeable cracks in the Reigns facade were visible at the last west-coast SummerSlam, in which Authority-aligned Orton was cheered more than Reigns, whose offense actually drew boos. As for the match content, while Orton is sometimes dismissed (unfairly) as dull and repetitive, he possesses the timing and instincts necessary to give Reigns an ideal showcase match. The true ascent of Reigns was meant to take root here, but, well, you know how the story goes.
The most memorable spot of the match was certainly Orton countering Reigns' spear by snatching him in the snap-Powerslam. Another spear attempt was foiled by an RKO, that idea that even Orton's best thwarting efforts were still not enough to put The Big Dog to sleep. As the match progressed, both men were cutting a killer pace, and had the crowd completely jazzed up (even if they were cheering for "the wrong man"). Reigns would only continue to improve as a singles star, but matches like this one demonstrated just how quickly he picked up the tenets of WWE's main event style.
9. Vs. Daniel Bryan (Fastlane 2015)
A year earlier, due to unyielding fan outrage, WWE hastily inserted Bryan into the WrestleMania main event scene, and the end result was one of the most celebrated WrestleMania final scenes ever. With the crowds resoundingly rejecting Reigns due to Bryan's demotion from the main event, WWE went with a one-on-one match between the two at Fastlane, planting the seed that maybe, just maybe, WWE would alter the WrestleMania plans once more.
That didn't happen, of course, as Reigns retained his title match after spearing his way through Bryan's dramatic flying knee attempt. Over the course of the 20-minute bout, the two pieced together a valiant and honourable fight, with both men emptying their arsenals, as well as their gas tanks. Reigns alternated between powerfully domineering and humbly mortal, giving Bryan plenty of offense in a highly-physical clash. The idea was to make it look like it could have gone either way, while at the same time putting over Reigns' might and fury. It didn't hurt having a whiz like Bryan to play off of, but Reigns kept pace with one of the best in a truly-taxing epic.
8. Vs. Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania 31)
Technically it turned into a triple threat with Seth Rollins' endgame cash-in, but since Lesnar and Reigns did all of the heavy lifting before that moment, this match makes the cut. It is true that Rollins' shrewd run-in is what's most remembered about WrestleMania 31's main event (that, and the fact that, "Ha ha, you lost Roman, all my fellow keyboard warriors and I are happy."), but the match itself was truly 'Mania main-event worthy.
Lesnar tossed Reigns to and 'fro, unleashing the usual endless diet of Suplexes, before striking him with some truly-vicious clubbing blows. The Reigns Superman comeback was expected by the cynical fans, but Reigns was taking enough of a hellacious beating to make his right to shine worth its existence. The blood loss on Lesnar's part spiked the tension, as did the testosterone-fueled finisher exchange prior to Rollins' music hitting. It's one of the most brutal WrestleMania main events in history, and a far cry from some of Lesnar's more underwhelming matches over the last few years. Both men were inspired, and allowed themselves to be bludgeoned in the name of entertainment. Perhaps in hindsight, if you nix the cash-in, maybe a win here would have swung a little fan sentiment Roman's way.
7. Vs. The Big Show (Extreme Rules 2015)
If you put any stock whatsoever into Dave Meltzer's match grades, then you may be fascinated to learn that this, in Meltzer's opinion, was the best one-on-one singles match of Big Show's career - the only one to reach the four-star mark. The Reigns rebuild was beginning in earnest, and while a Last Man Standing match with a 43-year-old ageing colossus didn't seem particularly enticing, it ended up being a more-than-pleasant surprise - a true sleeper of a bout.
As was the case with the Lesnar match the previous month, Reigns set himself up for an unvarnished beating from a hard-hitting monster of an opponent. Tables were broken, chairs were dented, and high-velocity bumps were taken - an Attitude throwback without the blood. Naturally, it was one of those matches were the fans took to amusing themselves with unrelated chants because, you know, Roman's awful, but whatever. The two endured plenty of physical tumult en route to a finish that reinforced Roman's resilience, though by this time the fans were mostly past the point of no return. That's some pure-grain stubbornness, right there.
6. Vs. Cesaro (Raw, 16 November 2015)
It's not so often that Meltzer offers a rating for matches on free television, but he was happy to give a rave amount of snowflakes to the Reigns/Cesaro WWE Championship tournament bout six nights before Survivor Series. There was no doubt that the sustained push of Reigns was going to carry over into the tournament final at the pay-per-view, whether vocal fans wanted that or not. But since those vocal fans usually enjoy outlying match-of-the-year candidates, WWE gave them one.
The seesaw battle was also a splendid showcase of Cesaro's abilities, and arguably one of the better matches he's had with the promotion. While WWE has been oddly keen to try and portray the muscularly-brutish Reigns as some sort of underdog, in this match it was Cesaro fighting from underneath. The result was barely in doubt, but leave it to the powers-that-be to have you believe for a second that Cesaro's going to eke out the upset. The match was high-impact and technically-sound, with some dramatic near falls down the stretch. After a year and a half as a single, it was abundantly clear that Reigns belonged on exactly the level he was.
5. Vs. Sheamus (Raw, 14 December 2015)
You don't need the subjective rating of a longtime wrestling historian to get why this match was special. After Reigns had turned some heads at the end of TLC the night before by going on an uncontrolled rampage, WWE continued down that path by putting Reigns in an absolutely-lawless rematch with Sheamus for the WWE Championship. This time, Vince McMahon was involved, rekindling some of the old McMahon-vs-defiant hero formula.
The same Philadelphia crowd that booed Reigns into oblivion 11 months earlier were now living and dying on his every return volley, as he fought off one injustice after another. His assault of McMahon himself was far more interesting than giving Reigns corny dialogue to recite, and miscasting him as some sort of dark horse. By the time Reigns finishes Sheamus off to win his second WWE Championship, it spurred fan jubilation that Reigns hadn't seen since his Shield days. The romance would last a few more weeks before the cool factor rubbed off, and Reigns was back to square one, in terms of fans opposing him. Shame, because watching this match either now or then, there's no denying that Reigns plays the perfect ass-kicking antihero.
4. Vs. AJ Styles (Extreme Rules 2016)
The fans in northern New Jersey made sure to let Reigns know that he sucked, and that he couldn't wrestle, despite all the evidence to the contrary in just this very list alone. Naturally, they all preferred the workrate of Styles, who as far as they know did not exist until 2014, because nobody watches TNA because it's crappy. Gotta love wrestling fans. 20 years from now, they'll be chanting, "One more match!" at Roman's Hall of Fame speech.
As far as this match goes, Reigns and Styles let it all hang out in this lengthy brawl with plenty of outside interference and broken scenery. As evidenced with the Big Show match one year earlier (among other examples), Reigns especially shines in chaotic skirmishes of the Attitude variety, as he possesses both the athleticism and the self-sacrificial capabilities to pull them off exceptionally well. Styles is off a similar DNA, splatting on dazzling, yet risky, bumps while awing fans with his natural grace. The two packed the gear to thrive in this type of environment, interference or not, but a little extra drama only aided this main event.
3. Vs. Braun Strowman (Fastlane 2017)
Strowman's early WWE run had seen him fee-fi-fo-fumbling around as a green-as-grass goliath, and he was still worlds away from fan acceptance. Just months before this March 2017 battle, fans were openly asking why a true talent like Sami Zayn was being forced to waste his time with an oaf like The Monster Among Men. The lesson, as always: there's no "smart" in "smark."
As far as this match goes, it was somewhat surprisingly the best match of a wholly-lacklustre Raw pay-per-view. If ever there was a time to position Reigns as having to conquer insurmountable odds, this was the moment, as Strowman had finally come into his own as a believable field at the end of the beanstalk. Reigns was just the ball of kinetic energy meant for bouncing off of the monster, enhancing Strowman's standing as a bearded roadblock. The two would arguably have WWE's best main roster feud of 2017, in part thanks to matches like this, where their destructive swaths and their willingness to take eye-popping risks played off of each other so well. Really, Reigns vs. Strowman needs to be revisited as a championship feud, no matter which of the two holds the belt.
2. Vs. John Cena (No Mercy 2017)
It was the exact match that many fans dreaded - in their eyes, the irresistible douche vs. the immovable jackwad. Cena, by now a little less hated than he was in his prime, scored some brownie points with the Reigns Resistance Movement by spending weeks cutting Roman down with worked-shoot insults that went beyond just your bog-standard hype promos. One thing was for certain: barring a draw, fans would in theory be thrilled to see one of their least favourite wrestlers go down in defeat.
That happened when Reigns shook off three Attitude Adjustments before polishing Cena off with a solitary spear. As for the body of the match, it was about what you'd expect from a one-time-only clash of pillars, both babyfaces in the academic sense. The one-and-done match was meant to be a torch-passer, with now-part-time Cena handing the keys over to Reigns, so that he could be "the guy", in a manner that's more than just empty branding. Cena couldn't have done more to establish Reigns as his clear successor, even if the crowd was having none of it. They keep booing, and yet Reigns keeps delivering.
1. Vs. Seth Rollins (Raw, 19 February 2018)
This was the first leg of the ambitious seven-man gauntlet match that took up two-thirds of the Elimination Chamber go-home show. Having Reigns get pinned cleanly by a fellow babyface in Raw's first hour was the clue that he was winning the Chamber on Sunday, but no matter, some truly inspired wrestling was delivered on that night. Rollins may have been the match's MVP, but Reigns carried his own weight admirably.
Reigns and Rollins' longtime friendship and familiarity allowed them to go outside their tried-and-true movesets, veering into a more technically-sound match than we're used to seeing out of Roman. The gauntlet as a whole showed each worker in a slightly different light, with Reigns shining with some versatility that was perhaps unexpected by many. Those who keep running the tired and cliched "Roman can't wrestle" refrain into the ground need only watch he and Rollins go into combative gamesmanship, human chess between competitive friends. The list to this point has done plenty to knock down every negative myth about Roman Reigns as an in-ring performer, and his showing here with Rollins deftly kicks over the last hastily-erected argument.