On the latest episode of the ARN Podcast, Arn Anderson covered WrestleMania 32 from AT&T Stadium in Dallas in 2016. The show was headlined by Triple H defending his WWE Championship against Roman Reigns in a match that was used as a way to finally crown Roman as the top babyface in the company. Reigns’ push as the top babyface didn’t go as planned, and WWE battled with their fans for many years trying to solidify him as the face of the company. Until as recent as last year, Reigns was constantly in the main event picture as a babyface getting a heel reaction from the crowd.
Vince McMahon and WWE changed direction in 2020, turning Roman heel and aligning him with Paul Heyman. Reigns quickly won the Universal Championship and quickly established himself as the biggest star in the company. Anderson spoke about McMahon’s unwillingness to try and switch Reigns from heel to babyface during his four-year run on top in WW.
“The 100% faith in himself that he can make any idea he has a reality and everybody will accept it,” Anderson said. “That Roman Reigns was going to be the lead guy as a babyface for the company, instead of seeing way back when, years before that, that that’s not what they wanted Roman to be. Roman doesn’t have to say anything, all Roman has to do is come through the curtain and be an ass kicking machine.
“They don’t want him to be a nice guy, they don’t want him to be clever, they don’t want him to be entertaining and they certainly don’t want to see him spear five or six heels in a given time.”
Throughout his four years of WrestleMania main events, Roman went 2-2 in those matches, defeating Triple H and Undertaker but losing to Brock Lesnar twice. Anderson recalled Vince being the person he learned about not shoving babyfaces down the fans throats, noting his opinion clearly changed. He also used Kevin Owens’ debut as another example of a time WWE should have changed their plans and switched another major star from heel to babyface.
“One of the things I did learn from Vince early on is, don’t shove a baby face down the peoples necks if they’re not going to accept it because they’ll regurgitate it,” Anderson said. “We got away from that theory and we quit listening to our audience because they will absolutely tell you what they want.
“I used Kevin Owens as an example. When he beat Cena, the first show he was on, the audience was 90% behind Kevin Owens. That week, creative should’ve sat down and went: I don’t care what you have written down for the next week or month, this guy is a baby face next week. Doesn’t mean we change his style of work, just means that we put him in a position to be the favourite in the match. It was so crystal clear that was what they wanted, give it to them.
Throughout his run as “The Big Dog” in WWE, Reigns was rarely ever pinned and was heavily protected. Anderson continued to detail the biggest reason in his opinion as to why Roman Reigns never worked as the top babyface in the WWE.
“The fact that Roman goes out there and spears five guys does not make Roman more of a baby face,” Anderson said. “It makes him a God, and he’s not earning his position or push. He’s just out there running through guys and the audience smells it and they don’t like it.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit ARN Podcast with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.