The Underdog’s Journey: Roman Reigns Climbing the WWE Ranks

1 weeks ago By Jhon Woug

The journey of the boy who had dreamt of being in the wrestling ring to drawing his way to helm the face of the company with Roman Reigns—a name associated with WWE—has begun. But, then, his journey was never easy. From fighting audience rejection to leukemia, the story of Roman Reigns can be taken as testimony to the importance of resilience and change, as well as to just how vital audience engagement is in forming a career as a wrestler.

Early Years: Wrestling Royalty and First Title Push
Born Leati Joseph Anoa’i, Roman Reigns comes from the legendary Anoa’i family, a wrestling dynasty that includes such icons as The Rock, Yokozuna, and Rikishi. Before venturing into the ring of WWE, Roman Reigns had a brief career in American football, proving his athletic abilities. Thanks to his incredible athleticism and stunning physique, he quickly got noticed by WWE and was signed to their developmental territory, Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW). With the look, build, and lineage of a bonafide superstar, Reigns was fast-tracked by WWE to the forefront.

Reigns broke out as a part of The Shield with Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, the latter two debuting in November 2012 at the pay-per-view event Survivor Series on their way to a dominating run in WWE. The success of The Shield had been instrumental in elevating Reigns’ status, with the group being booked to win many matches and championships. Within such a talented group, Reigns was mainly protected in tag matches where he gained experience but wasn’t overly exposed. Mighty spear and dynamic presence; he is the standout in this pack.

The Struggle for Acceptance
WWE had bigger plans for Reigns: he was supposed to be the next top guy in the company, previous incumbents have included household names like Hulk Hogan and John Cena. Fans, however, were resisting this push. While WWE tried to get the audience to view Reigns as a conquering hero, the latter just wasn’t buying it: they felt Reigns had been forcibly inserted on top of the ladder—too soon.
The disconnect between WWE’s portrayal and fan sentiment was glaringly evident during his victory speech after defeating The Undertaker at WrestleMania 33. The audience booed relentlessly for eight straight minutes, not allowing him to speak.

Some of the reasons for this were multi-fold. Firstly, fans felt that Reigns was being pushed way too hard and way too fast, shadowing other, more deserving talent. Secondly, his character was heavily scripted, void of authenticity, which fans so craved. Unlike The Rock or Stone Cold Steve Austin, whose characters felt real, Reigns’ persona felt forced. This further alienated the audience when WWE insisted on presenting him as a superhero-like figure no matter what the fans said.

Reigns’ struggle for acceptance brought into sharper relief the unique relationship professional wrestling has with its audience. The differentiator for wrestling in terms of entertainment is its live nature, where real-time audience reaction may change the course of a performance and the respective stories. Chants of “You suck” resonating throughout arenas during matches and promos were indicative of a fan base that wanted something natural and relatable in their hero.

A Critical Turning Point: Fighting Leukemia
In a twist that went beyond the realm of wrestling, Reigns revealed that he was fighting leukemia in October 2018. At that moment, there were genuine sentiments of understanding and sorrow from the audience toward him. The reveal took place on a live broadcast of Raw, where Reigns stepped down as the Universal champion for the second time because he had been living with the disease for more than ten years. His candid nature and sensitive approach to the topic resonated with the WWE Universe.

Reigns’ fight and return from treatment was a career-defining moment in his professional wrestling career. For the first time, he received the babyface reaction WWE had long sought for him. His courageous battle with leukemia and his openness about his health struggles humanized him in the eyes of fans. When he returned in February 2019, he was met with a standing ovation from the audience to show their support and respect.

The Transformation: Embracing the ‘Tribal Chief’
Upon his return, Reigns underwent a profound character transformation that genuinely connected with fans. Turning heel and adopting the persona of the ‘Tribal Chief,’ Reigns demanded acknowledgment and respect, showcasing a more complex and engaging character. It wasn’t only a new role for him on television; it was an evolution in his wrestling character, making it closer to his true self and his roots.
His alliance with Paul Heyman, perhaps the most incredible mind in the business whose affiliation, specifically with Brock Lesnar, said oh so much, was nothing short of brilliance. Heyman’s general character and managerial skills further enhanced the character of Reigns. He provided verbal support and storytelling skills that gave a glimpse into his new role. The two were able to weave a story of dominance and respect, which would see Reigns elevated at the top of the Samoan wrestling dynasty.

The formation of The Bloodline, with his cousins The Usos, added some of the layers to those characterizations, giving WWE a three-dimensional villain who was compelling yet dominant. This faction was playing off genuine family ties and history, hence making a robust and authentic dimension obtainable in Reigns’ character. Reigns, or ‘The Tribal Chief,’ proclaimed loyalty and respect, using his position to manipulate and control, creating a villain that fans loved to hate. The new character, Reigns, was a hit. His in-ring work, strengthened by his improved mic skills, solidified him as the top. His current championship reign is over 800 days—it goes down now as one of the longest reigns since the days of Hulk Hogan—and it shows just how much Reigns is still popular and has influence. The ‘Tribal Chief’ persona not only let Reigns show off his skill but also proved his versatility as a performer who can excel in hero and villain roles. Importance of the Audience Engagement

Reigns’ story thus encapsulates perhaps the most critical factor in wrestling: audience engagement. Early WWE attempts to push him as their top babyface only served to bring about much backlash from fans because it seemed that the pushed character was not an authentic portrayal of Roman Reigns. Still becoming the Tribal Chief, all the ones he combined with the real-life struggles and triumphs helped forge a genuine connection with the audience and create a necessary bond. This is very important in wrestling, where fan approval has made or broken many careers.

From dismissed corporate stooge to the celebrated, compelling, and domineering ‘Tribal Chief,’ his has been a journey from resilience to position mirrored by an ever-changing professional wrestling of landscape art and the unique relationship it shares with its audience. His story is a testament that in wrestling, as in life, authenticity and perseverance are the keys to winning hearts and minds. The career of Reigns never seems to end, and as the ‘Tribal Chief,’ he continues to take over the WWE landscape. His transformation from underdog striving for acceptance to the very pinnacle star of the company is one of inspiration in a tale full of growth and adaptation. It is an inspiring reminder that even within the scripted world of drama and theatrics, authentic connections and human stories come through the strongest. Roman Reigns has ascended to the very top rung in WWE, with his ‘Tribal Chief’ stint ongoing.

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