By Gene Guillot, The Times-Picayune
Hulk Hogan. The Rock. Triple H. John Cena. Roman Reigns.
That’s the list of wrestlers who have been in the main event – the last match – of WrestleMania three years in a row.
If Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar is indeed the main event of WrestleMania 34 next Sunday (April 8) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, then Reigns will join Hogan as the only men to go on last four consecutive years.
In New Orleans, Reigns’ main events will come full circle as the first one at WrestleMania 31 also was against Lesnar. Neither man actually won that match, but Reigns has defeated Triple H and The Undertaker at the past two WrestleManias.
The only other men to win back-to-back WrestleMania main events are Hogan, Steve Austin and Cena. If Reigns makes it three in a row by winning the Universal championship, he will join Hogan with three main even victories in a row – Hogan accomplished the feat twice.
That’s quite the impressive resume for a performer who debuted in November 2012. Reigns has taken over the reins from Cena as the top guy in World Wrestling Entertainment and has assumed the role of locker room leader, a spot The Undertaker held for years.
Reigns is a polarizing figure among fans, just like Cena, but despite a bulk of the fan base disliking his wrestling style and not agreeing with his meteoric rise, he has earned the respect of his peers. He credited his Shield brethren, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, with helping him establish a group mentality in the locker room.
He said they gained a lot of respect once they showed they could talk the talk backstage and walk the walk in the ring. And then do it again the next day and the next and the next. They became the workhorses of the WWE.
“We banded together and did our thing,” Reigns said. “We kept the mindset that we’re going to leave this place better than we found it. If you have that mentality and you have the work ethic that all three of us have, it’s very achievable.
“When they see you going out there and grinding and busting your a** every single night, they do gain a lot of respect for you. In that regard, I’m extremely happy with it. It’s a lot of hard work, but I’m not here to just blend in. I’m here to be the best.”
More than Ambrose, who is missing WrestleMania 34 with a triceps injury, and Rollins, who is part of a triple threat for the Intercontinental title, though, Reigns is the guy backstage. He said the role comes easy to him from his time playing college football at Georgia Tech, where he was a senior captain and earned first-team all-ACC defensive honors at tackle in 2006.
“I’ve always had that camaraderie with athletes, always playing sports,” he said. “When you’re around high-level athletes, it puts you in that mindset – how to be a teammate, teamwork, looking out for each other. That’s always been a natural hat that I’ve worn. It was just neat to see it happen.”
‘Just scratching the surface’
Even Lesnar’s advocate, Paul Heyman, recognizes Reigns’ growth into this role. Heyman admits Reigns is the top full-time worker in WWE because he never takes days off.
Heyman, when he was a photographer, remembers Reigns as a small child holding his father’s hand in the locker room, and then later Heyman managed Reigns’ cousins, Fatu and Samu, in WCW and employed more members of his family in ECW.
“I very much like the fact that Roman Reigns has accepted the responsibility of being the leader of the locker room,” Heyman said. “He has assumed the mantle of being the conscience of the roster. Having seen him grow up in and around this business, I’m very proud of Roman Reigns.”
Reigns, 32, is just getting started. He’s entering his prime, already having been WWE champion three times, and he’s aiming to have a long career and etch his name among the greats in wrestling history.
And furthering his role as the face of the company, when he talks about the future, it’s not just about him and his career, it’s about the well-being of the entire WWE.
“I want to continually get better,” Reigns said. “We’re just scratching the surface here. That’s how you really leave your mark is longevity. Being around for a long time, you have to essentially know your yard. Every nook and cranny of your yard.
“We can continue to push business and get better as a product and as a company. That’s the main goal is to make more people aware of WWE. Continue to get bigger on a company basis.”
As he’s gained more and more experience, he’s gotten more and more confident. Plus, he’s got the extra motivation of fighting for his family – he has a 9-year-old girl and twin boys born in 2016.
So all the negativity that comes Reigns’ way doesn’t really bother him too much.
“I use it as motivation to fuel my fire a little bit,” he said. “I’m going to continue to work. If you can use it as a little bit of gas to throw on your fire of success, then do it. If it’s one of those deals that you just need to act like you’re bulletproof and no-sell it, then do it that way.
“There’s all kinds of negativity, all different types of hate. It depends on how much you can handle. It’s who you are, where you come from and where you’re trying to go, that’s all that really matters.”
Battling the Beast
But when it comes to his WrestleMania opponent, Reigns hasn’t looked like the top guy in recent weeks. On the March 19th episode of “Raw,” Lesnar hit Reigns with a chair 10 times, gave him four german suplexes and finished off the beating with an F-5.
Sure, Reigns was handcuffed that night. But the next week, Reigns tried to take the fight to Lesnar, whom he had been calling a b**** prior to the beatdowns. Reigns got in a few chair shots, but Lesnar ended up with the upper hand.
This time, Lesnar pummeled him several times with the steps before an F-5 onto the steps. Reigns said he suffered bruising across his back and along his hip.
The F-5 also left him with a bruise under his right chest that he didn’t even realize was there until later that night.
“I’m pretty beat up to be honest,” he said. “It’s a pretty big knot. I landed on the corner part of the steps. It’s like I have a third nipple, it was such a big bruise. Now, it’s spread out and has covered the bottom portion of my ribs. It’s been a rough two weeks for me, no doubt.”
At WrestleMania with the title on the line, Reigns knows he can expect more of the same from Lesnar, who hasn’t lost in more than a year and is the first person since Hogan in 1990 to hold onto his heavyweight championship from WrestleMania to WrestleMania.
Reigns is expecting to get suplexed multiple times, but he is still looking forward to a physical battle and finishing the fight the men started three years ago. During their bruising WrestleMania 31 main event, Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and defeated Reigns to win the title.
“From a physicality standpoint, I wouldn’t expect much different,” Reigns said. “I think we’re going to be hitting on all cylinders. There’s going to be some hard shots. Bodies are going to be thrown. It’s going to be a really cool situation to get some closure on something that’s been looming for the past three years.”
Few opponents have had success against Lesnar, especially over the past four years, and Reigns is no exception. He was pinned by Lesnar, the arrogant beast who shows up in WWE mostly when he feels like it, just this past August in a fatal four-way main event at Summerslam.
One thing Reigns can look at for confidence is that they are the only wrestlers in history to defeat The Undertaker on the grand stage of WrestleMania – Lesnar at the 30th edition at the Superdome and Reigns last year in Orlando, Florida.
Heyman said that fact has been underplayed in the lead-up to WrestleMania 34. Both should look at his victory over the Phenom of WWE as their greatest victory because when The Undertaker was 21-0 at WrestleMania, beating him at the biggest event of the year was “an unattainable goal.”
“Having the only two people in history to have accomplished that task face off against each other truly lets you understand the enormity of this main event this year at WrestleMania,” said Heyman, adding that Reigns is the right guy in the right place at the wrong time. “It’s Brock Lesnar’s time. Brock Lesnar will be the Universal champion as long as he feels like being the Universal champion.
“And there’s nothing Roman Reigns can do to change that equation.”
Winning the Universal title by conquering the Beast would cement Reigns as the leader of the locker room. To do that, he knows he must endure plenty of pain and fight his way past the champion.
“I’m going to get thrown around,” he said. “That’s never fun. You know that’s going to happen with Brock. You just got to get through that point and push to the next level, and hopefully, that’s where the pay dirt is.”
The WrestleMania Three-Count with Roman Reigns
What is your first memory of WrestleMania?
WrestleMania III. Steamboat and Macho. Hulk and Andre. One of my earliest memories, too, is when they were riding that little ring (to the ring). The ramp was so long they had to ride in that little golf cart that looked like a miniature ring. That was so many years ago. I remember that. I was a little guy watching wrestling for the first time.
What is your favorite WrestleMania match?
I’m going to go with Rock-Hogan at WrestleMania 18. Just the energy and the environment. Once the crowd is standing up and their leaning over that barricade and everyone is doing everything they can to see, that’s when you know you got them. And they had them before they even locked up. That’s the type of stuff that I’m into.
Who is your WrestleMania dream opponent?
I’m going to go against my cousin and my brother, Umaga (cousin) and Rosie (brother). I want them to be the 3-minute warning. I don’t think I’m going to last (past the three minutes). I’ll build up all this energy and then put them over.