Graham GSM Matthews | January 21, 2021
There can be little doubt that WWE’s Roman Reigns is among the most compelling characters in all of wrestling right now.
His heel turn over the summer has resulted in arguably some of the best work of his career. In bringing to life his vision of what he wanted The Tribal Chief to be, he has rejuvenated Friday Night SmackDown and taken on all comers to his Universal Championship.
Reigns lives in Tampa, Florida, and he is expected to have a major role in the two-night extravaganza that will be WrestleMania 37 at the city’s Raymond James Stadium in April. Before then, though, he’ll have his hands full with Kevin Owens at the Royal Rumble on January 31 when they wage war in a Last Man Standing match.
In addition to confirming the site for this year’s installment, WWE also announced over the weekend that WrestleMania 38 will emanate from AT&T Stadium in Dallas in April 2022 as well as WrestleMania 39 taking place at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles in April 2023.
Reigns is no stranger to The Show of Shows, having competed at almost every installment in the last decade since making his main roster debut. However, with the roll he’s on right now, it’s possible that we have yet to see the best of The Big Dog in WWE, specifically on a stage as grand as WrestleMania.
In an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report, Reigns took the time to talk about WrestleMania in Tampa, his heel run, how he’s reinvented himself, if he has any acting aspirations and more. Check out the complete audio of the interview on the next slide and stick around for the highlights.
Thoughts on WrestleMania Returning to Tampa This April
WrestleMania 36 was originally slated to happen in front of a sold-out crowd at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa last April, a show that was supposed to see Reigns challenge Goldberg for the Universal Championship and likely walk out with the title once again.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic caused WWE to shift gears and hold it at an empty Performance Center instead. The Big Dog pulled out of the pay-per-view days beforehand as a safety precaution and stayed on the sidelines until making his much-anticipated return at SummerSlam in August.
It means the world to Reigns to have another opportunity to headline at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ stadium on April 10-11 this year after the unfortunate circumstances robbed him of that WrestleMania moment last year.
“One of the biggest things about WrestleMania and WWE is the relationship we have with the individual communities that we locate in,” he said. “It was really tough for us to miss it this past year in Tampa. Obviously I didn’t perform, but it takes a pretty big effect on the talent and the company when there isn’t a stadium involved packed full of fans. A week full of events and interaction with the fans, that’s what makes it so special.”
Stephanie McMahon confirmed to TMZ Sports on Tuesday that WWE plans to have fans in attendance at the event. And WrestleVotes later indicated it could be up to 25,000 people in the stadium each night.
Although this year’s WrestleMania won’t be as packed as it normally is, it will be a significantly more exciting experience for viewers than if it went down in the WWE ThunderDome. Reigns hopes that even in following all the proper protocols, The Show of Shows will still be a special occasion.
“This year, during a pandemic, it’s going to be what it is,” he said. “We definitely have to stay safe, but to be back in Tampa and to be able to get it done this year and to be able to have that opportunity to be hosted by Tampa Bay and use the Buccaneers’ stadium is really neat.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to get some kind of attendance, whether it’s following the same type of protocols as the NFL or any other sports league,” he continued. “Hopefully we can get some fans in there and keep everybody very safe. That’s always the most important thing.”
What Is His Favorite WrestleMania Match to Date?
Reigns is no stranger to headlining WrestleMania, having been in the main event of The Show of Shows four straight years from 2015 to 2018. All of those marquee matches were against high-profile opponents in Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker and Triple H.
Also at the event, Reigns has dominated as one-third of The Shield and defeated Drew McIntyre after a long layoff. Of the many ‘Mania matches he’s had since in 2013, he still regards that first face-off with Lesnar from WrestleMania 31 as his favorite.
“I’d probably not want to do it again because it was brutal,” he said. “I was a much younger man back then. But that match, to me, was an instant classic unlike, really, any other sports-entertainment match.
“I think if you’re a grown man and you’re on the fence about wrestling and you’re like, ‘I don’t know, this is choreographed. This is like soap-opera stuff, right?’ I would suggest you watch that match. It just depends who’s doing it. There’s a little bit of something for everybody. I think the physicality Brock and myself brought to the stadium that night, it’s hard to match that, especially from the full-time perspective.”
Many fans would agree the match was a masterpiece and excellently executed from start to finish. The atmosphere, the electricity and the circumstances surrounding it made for the perfect storm, along with Seth Rollins’ surprise Money in the Bank cash-in at the end.
Despite Reigns’ loss, he went on to win the WWE Championship from Triple H the next year. He also became one of only two men to defeat The Undertaker on The Grandest Stage of Them All at WrestleMania 33.
There’s no telling what will be in store for the San Francisco 49ers fan when WrestleMania 37 comes around.
“That’s why they call it WrestleMania, because the biggest matches and moments happen in the biggest stadiums in front of the biggest crowds,” Reigns said. “They’re all special. Triple H, Undertaker, they’re all great.
“The matches we had as The Shield, and then the match I had coming back against Drew McIntyre after some time off to handle my health, that was very special, too. But there’s something very special about WrestleMania 31 in Santa Clara. And I was in the 49ers stadium, so that was kind of the cherry on top.”
Reigns vs. The Rock Makes More Sense Now Than Ever Before
When Reigns turned heel last summer and started referring to himself as The Tribal Chief, the first name that came to the minds of many fans as far as potential WrestleMania opponents went was The Rock.
Given their family ties, no match made more sense for WrestleMania 37 than Reigns vs. Rock. The seeds were planted at Hell in a Cell when the universal champion decisively defeated his cousin, Jey Uso, and celebrated his victory with The Wild Samoans.
With The Show of Shows fast approaching, it doesn’t appear to be likely they’ll be doing battle on the grand stage this year. Rather, that bout might be best saved for when the event goes to Hollywood in 2023.
Either way, the matchup is way more appealing now with Reigns as a heel than it would have been when he was still a face. Even The Head of the Table agrees with that sentiment.
“We’re cut from a very similar cloth when it comes to progression and getting better,” he said. “He’d have very similar answers as far as what his grind is and sticking to the drill of what he does. I’m sure you can go on social media and he’s in the gym right now. That’s just a reflection of our bloodline and our family ties and what was instilled into us to handle this type of responsibility of representing our family. I’d like to think that I’m continually getting better and it’s proven with him.”
Reigns praised Rock’s ability to keep pushing and always remain relevant. It’s been almost eight years since The Great One’s final formal match in WWE, but he has said that if anyone is worth coming out of retirement to fight, it would be his cousin.
“It’s totally different because he’s out of the ring and that does take an effect when you’re not in that ring often,” he said. “It’s not quite like riding a bike. You don’t just start pedaling again. But he keeps himself in great shape.
“I think if anybody can handle it, as we’re getting a little bit older, he’s definitely the guy because he takes care of himself and his nutrition and his training and just how active he is, too. I know for myself, at least within the ring and in sports entertainment, every single week I feel like I’m getting better. I think that matchup benefits from a little more experience and a little more time.”
Why His Biggest Competition Is Himself Right Now
Few Superstars in WWE come close to the level Reigns finds himself at right now. He’s been consistently firing on all cylinders as The Tribal Chief and has single-handedly made SmackDown the leading WWE since the summer.
When asked if there were any opponents in particular he was eyeing for WrestleMania 37, he responded with a simple “no.” Instead, he’s just looking to better himself in every way imaginable and hopes everybody else can catch up.
“It’s almost like a Mr. Olympia bodybuilder at this point where it’s like I don’t even look at anybody else on stage. I’m just competing with myself,” Reigns said. “At this point, everybody is gunning for me and I’m doing the same thing. I’m gunning to better myself every single day, whether it’s the time I have on camera or the time I have alone in my gym grinding it out.
“Obviously, for me, it takes some really good dance partners in there and some great competition and some good opponents, but I feel like for me to capitalize on my potential, I have to be fully focused.”
A major reason why Reigns has been lighting the wrestling world on fire lately is because he’s completely invested in everything he’s doing. From the get-go, he was adamant about taking this character to new heights and so far it has paid off.
Reigns has always been WWE’s ultimate workhorse, but it’s more apparent than ever before that he’s enjoying what he’s doing and wants to make it as perfect as possible. Regardless of who challenges him for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania, he will be ready to bring his best.
“As long as I’m fully focused and I’m all in and I’m connected to what I’m doing and I’m in the skin of this Head of the Table character, I feel like nobody can touch me,” he said. “That’s how laser-focused I am when I step into my element on Fridays or Sundays, what have you.
“For years now, I’ve always been this way. You don’t turn this job off, but I’m finally getting to the point where all the sweat and tears are adding up and it’s kind of coming to fruition right now.
“It’s happening and it’s natural and it’s organic,” he continued. “That’s the island of relevancy. It doesn’t matter who. Give me another half of a tag team. Put Apollo Crews in the ring with me. It doesn’t matter who it is at this point. I will make them special because that’s how committed and how much belief I have in what I’m doing right now.”
His Heel Turn and Why He Didn’t Take the Obvious Route with It
The Reigns backlash began around the time he won the 2015 men’s Royal Rumble match because fans desperately wanted Daniel Bryan to win instead. The Big Dog did his best to endear himself to the hardcore audience from that point forward, but the invincible-esque booking did him no favors.
The idea of a heel turn seemed less likely as the years passed, but it finally happened in 2020. He showed more aggression than usual upon his return at SummerSlam on August 23 before revealing his alliance with Paul Heyman on the subsequent edition of SmackDown.
Everyone expected Reigns to go off on the audience in his first heel promo and blame them for turning their backs on him, but he felt that was too obvious of a route to take. It also wouldn’t have been the same without any fans in attendance to play off of.
“I just want to do something a bit different,” he said. “A lot of times with the position that I’m in, being a superman character as the guy who can’t be stopped and can’t be denied, he’s always having a great day. He’s in the best mood all the time and is this happy-go-lucky character. It’s a bit different in this day and age.
“It’s not like when “Stone Cold” Steve Austin or even Dwayne [Johnson] were on top. The internet wasn’t such a large tool for communication. It was still finding its way. Now, it’s all day long. If I want to go get some negativity, it’s not a problem. There’s some positive stuff, too.
“All you have to do is log in and check out your Twitter feed or YouTube or Instagram. There’s a lot of toxic stuff out there. To me, that was the obvious way. That’s one thing I don’t want to do. You won’t ever hear me cut a promo and it’s like I just read Twitter and reading a bunch of their lines, you know what I mean? I wanted to be more creative than that.”
Reigns is the furthest thing from a generic bad guy. The best part about his current character is that it’s completely believable and one of the few genuine things on WWE TV today. He has successfully created this dynamic where he can tap into a variety of emotions and take the audience on a ride.
“I also wanted to add a level of realism and sort of a shoot, so to speak, to people who are hardcore fans or people who live and breathe off professional wrestling or sports-entertainment can really sink their teeth into it,” he said.
“To me, what better way than to show this top-of-the-mountain perspective in a different light? What would be a more unique way to blame the fans or to blame the circumstances, the lifestyle, the responsibilities, and the burden of being on top?
“I just thought that would be a far more original story thread to go off of,” he continued. “At the same time, there’s nobody in the crowd right now. I’m not going to yell at a bunch of video screens, which makes for some unique options when we get some fans back.
“That will be real nice, a live mic ad-libbing situation and to be able to go off on the fans once in a while and play with the house a little bit. That interaction has always created a fun environment.”
The Origin of His ‘Head of the Table’ Moniker
It wasn’t long after Reigns resurfaced on SmackDown that he debuted the “Tribal Chief” moniker. It perfectly encapsulated what this new heel persona was all about and effectively set the tone for what was to come.
The decision to call himself The Head of the Table as well was made on a whim. He had just laid out Jey Uso with a superman punch on the SmackDown stage two days before Night of Champions when he yelled the phrase in his cousin’s face, and he knew right then it would stick.
Scripts are not Reigns’ strong suit, he reveals. He believes he works much better in off-the-cuff moments and that’s been fairly obvious throughout his heel run.
“I try not to be too detailed,” he said. “I just need to know what I’m supposed to feel out there and what I’m supposed to connect to and then I have to naturally let it happen. If I’m thinking about lines and trying to memorize stuff, it’s stressful to me. It’s never worked for me that way.
“But I’m thinking about what I’m supposed to be emotionally feeling and put myself in a real scenario of, ‘OK, you’re this guy right now. This is what you’d be feeling and this is what you’re trying to achieve. What’s the message? What am I trying to get across? What am I trying to get the audience to understand?’ It just came to me.”
Reigns’ determination to make his character so realistic and the effort he’s put into ensuring it’s successful have not gone unnoticed.
How His Guillotine Submission Finisher Came to Be
Reigns took the next step in the evolution of his character when he used a guillotine submission maneuver to defeat Braun Strowman and retain the Universal Championship on the October 16 episode of SmackDown.
The Big Dog had beaten him before with his signature Spear, so it spoke volumes that he went the extra mile to choke him out in order to put him away.
Reigns has since used it on the likes of Drew McIntyre and Kevin Owens in high-profile matches, so while he isn’t busting the guillotine out every week, it has proved to be very effective for The Tribal Chief.
“I’ve been wanting to use that for years,” he said. “No one’s to blame, it’s just the process of the creative. It’s like, ‘What if I just pulled out a submission?’ I’ve been saying that for years. Everybody knows the Spear. The producers that I work with all the way up to the head man said, ‘I think the finish would be better with a Spear.’ That’s great because for years we built that spear up and up. Even today, we’ve manipulated it over the past few months, but nobody’s going to say, ‘I can’t believe he lost to that spear.’ If he won with that spear, they’d be like, ‘Yep, he won with the spear. It’s all good.'”
Reigns credited the UFC as inspiration for his new finisher and because of how often it’s used. Wrestlers are always more well-rounded when they have more potential finishers in their arsenal, and he’s no different.
“I thoroughly enjoy watching MMA, especially over the pandemic, I feel like UFC has been on TV far more for whatever reason,” he said. “I’ve gotten into it the last couple of years and it just seems like every single card, somebody wins with the guillotine. It’s the simplest move. It’s the simplest submission ever. You just crank it in there and squeeze and wrench back.
“There’s going to be a lot of different ways to go in and out of it. It just makes sense and nobody’s really using it. Really, I’m at the point where it doesn’t matter who’s using it, I’ll just use it anyway. The submission was something I wanted to use for quite some time, and I finally pulled the trigger on it.”
When Can Fans Expect New Entrance Music?
Reigns sported the patented vest as his ring gear for almost eight years on WWE’s main roster. It was originally synonymous with The Shield, but he didn’t switch up his look even after parting ways with the group and branching off into singles competition in 2014.
That changed when he came out shirtless for his match against Jey Uso at the Clash of Champions pay-per-view on September 27. The only thing left for him to ditch at this point is the old Shield theme song.
As excellent as it is, Reigns needs something new to fully establish his own identity, one that’s separate from The Shield. He’s basically already done that in recent months, but the theme is the last thing left from his days as one-third of The Hounds of Justice.
Fans have been speculating for months if or when he’ll debut a new walkout song, and he provided an update as to when we can expect updated entrance music from him.
“We’re working on it,” he said. “It’s not easy because I’m not going to… With this character, it has to be the right vibe. We can’t just hire a rapper and check out this guitar riff. It can’t be some rock music. The Shield music, I wasn’t even really into it back in the day; but over the years, it just started working. You get so used to it that I just time my pace to it. But yeah, it takes some time and it has to be right.
“In order to move away from something you’ve had for so long and is so recognizable like the music that I have now, it’s got to be perfect. It’s taking some time, but we’re definitely working on it, so please be patient.”
Keeping in Contact with Seth Rollins and Jon Moxley
On the subject of The Shield, Reigns stressed how much Seth Rollins and the former Dean Ambrose meant to him while coming up in WWE together. The trio was brilliantly booked up until the day it originally broke up in 2014 and three new singles stars stemmed from it.
They went on to cross paths multiple times in the years that followed, but they find themselves in completely different stages of their careers and don’t interact often.
While Reigns is killing it on SmackDown, Rollins is off being a father, and Ambrose—now known as Jon Moxley—is a featured face in All Elite Wrestling.
Despite the busyness of their hectic schedules both inside and outside of the ring, Reigns does keep in contact with his Shield brethren on occasion.
“We talk here and there,” he said. “Especially with Seth having a new baby and stuff, and I have so many kids. It’s funny because they’re just getting their first one. I have five kids, so I have a legitimate household here. I don’t have any time to spare. If I’m not deeply involved in parenting, I’m in the gym or I’m working within the creative process of wrestling. Me and Seth were texting back and forth a few weeks ago. Me and Jon text a little more sporadically.”
Of the three, Reigns and Moxley were clearly the closest with each other. They remained allies on WWE TV post-Shield and did some of their best work together during that period. Now, Moxley is looking to The Tribal Chief for advice on fatherhood.
“It’s pretty out there anyways that me and Mox were super-tight,” he said. “We traveled together even when we split up. We were drinking buddies, the whole nine. I got a lot of cool moments with Mox. But actually I talk to Seth a little more than I talk to Mox right now. He’s off doing his thing. Probably when I found out he was having a baby was when I texted him, when I found out they were pregnant. He’s funny. He goes, ‘What the heck am I supposed to do?’ ‘It’s simple, man. You feed them, you change them, you love them. That’s it.’ He texts back, ‘You make it sound so simple.’ We’re all still good, dude.
“Seth had his time off and I think anyone in our line of work has that time off, you want to give them that time to completely indulge in the family. I’m happy for those guys. Hopefully Jon and Renee [Young] will pop that baby out quick, and we’ll have another Shield guy in there.”
Does He Have Any Aspirations to Do More Acting?
In addition to asserting his dominance inside the squared circle, Reigns has also been involved in a handful of film projects over the years, most notably Hobbs & Shaw in 2019 and The Wrong Missy in 2020. He didn’t have huge roles in either movie but showed real potential on the silver screen nonetheless.
More and more WWE Superstars have broken into acting and achieved a level of success. John Cena is practically full-time in Hollywood, Batista is solely an actor at this point, and The Rock is one of the highest-paid people in the business.
As WWE’s biggest star at the moment, Reigns could choose to follow in their footsteps if he wanted to. However, he doesn’t feel now is that time when there’s so much left for him to do as a full-time talent in WWE, especially when he finds himself in the middle of the hottest run of his career.
“For me, they have to align themselves with my schedule,” he said. “The hardest part now is that I can’t go, ‘I’m going to jump out now and do this cameo for a couple of days.’ Even if you’re only on set for a day or two, you have to go through the quarantine process, you have to get tested, and you have to be in an isolation situation for a few days, all the way up to 10 days I’ve heard for some stuff, depending on the studio and the project. All the way to an isolation period after you’re done.
“We’re a weekly product, so I’m working every Friday and I don’t feel comfortable taking away from my commitments at WWE at this point.”
The odds of Reigns transitioning from wrestling to acting any time soon are slim, but as he winds down his in-ring career, anything is possible in the future.
“I definitely enjoy the process of the big screen, of acting, of creating and diving into a new character,” he said. “I’m not going to be able to fall down my whole life, so when it gets to the point where I really need to take care of my body and start counting those bumps, that’s a cool form of entertainment and a different kind of performing art that I feel I’m capable of diving into and hopefully having some kind of future at it.
“I definitely love to be able to do something as big as Hobbs & Shaw. It’s tough when that’s your first one with the biggest star in the world anchoring it. You don’t want to just do anything at that point, so I want to be very smart and calculated about it. I’m also enjoying what I’m doing in the ring and I enjoy working with Fox and being on SmackDown. No complaints, it’s all just good stuff at this point.”
Catch Roman Reigns and the rest of the WWE Superstars in action at WrestleMania 37 on Saturday, April 10 and Sunday, April 11.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham “GSM” Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.