October 17th, 2021
 #WWE’s Universal Champion Roman Reigns Remains Unmatched: ‘Nobody Touches Me in This Business’ | COMPLEX

For the past 410 days, Roman Reigns has held the WWE’s Universal Championship. In that span, he’s successfully defended the belt against numerous legends. He’s adopted a new entrance theme song that makes him feel like the impossible-to-defeat final boss of your favorite video game. He’s appointed wrestling legend Paul Heyman as his Special Counsel. He’s formed the Bloodline alongside his cousins, Jimmy and Jey Uso. He’s become known as the Tribal Chief and the Head of the Table. Roman Reigns has done many things in those 410 days that have equated to one of the most impressive title runs that we have ever seen in the WWE. And he’s not done. At Crown Jewel, airing Thursday, Oct. 21 at 12 p.m. on Peacock, he faces one of his toughest tests yet, an angry, cut-off flannel wearing version of Brock Lesnar.

One thing is for sure though, Reigns remains unfazed, regardless of his opponent. He’s stacked two legends in Bryan Danielson and Edge on top of each other at WrestleMania 37 to pin them both at once. Just last month at Extreme Rules, he emerged victorious over Finn Balor despite him bringing back his fan-favorite “Demon” persona. Back in August at SummerSlam, he spoiled John Cena’s comeback to the ring when he pinned the all-time great for the three-count. Given Reigns’ continued dominance, it isn’t entirely surprising that he doesn’t appear shaken by his next opponent, even if Lesnar has proven to be one of the most feared professional wrestlers of all time.

“I’m better at this art form than everybody else. And I stand on that. That’s the totality of it. I’m not just talking about, ‘Oh, his spots are so good and he counters real well.’ That stuff don’t mean anything to me,” says Reigns. “When you tally it all up, nobody touches me in this business.”

At a time in pro wrestling where the landscape is constantly changing and WWE has what feels like its first legitimate competitor since the ‘90s (although Reigns would disagree) in AEW, Reigns has been a constant. For over a year, he has been hoisting the Universal championship belt over his head in victory. And that doesn’t seem like it will be changing any time soon.

Ahead of the Supersized two-and-a-half-hour episode of SmackDown airing this Friday on FS1 and next week’s Crown Jewel pay-per-view, we got a chance to catch up with Reigns over the phone to discuss testing the allegiance of Paul Heyman, why Bret Hart is his dream opponent, what he thinks of CM Punk and the rest of the AEW roster, and more. Check out the full conversation below. But first, acknowledge him.

SmackDown tomorrow night can’t be contained to two hours this time. You guys are giving us that extra half hour. We know Brock is going to be there, but what can the fans expect from Roman Reigns on tonight’s episode of SmackDown?
I think if there’s anything I’ve done over the past year or so it’s consistently deliver at the highest level. Tomorrow is no different. I’m not sure exactly what the game plan, but I’ll go out there and obviously put on a show and drive us forward towards this huge pay-per-view that we have coming up in Crown Jewel. But it’s going to be a great show. I like to take all the credit if I can, but we’ve been able to put together some really good match-ups going into this. There’s going to be a lot of wrestling, a lot of  in-ring competition. And then also I think the storylines continue to unfold. So it’ll be a nice balance of a SmackDown.

You kind of gave me the perfect segue here, but looking ahead to that match at Crown Jewel, the main event with Brock. You guys have obviously main evented big events before, Manias and stuff like that. But in the past, you’ve never been at the level that you’re at right now and he’s never, you know, been a brolic lumberjack before. Does this feel like the biggest encounter yet between you two? What makes this one different in your mind?
Well, I think you hit it right on the head. We got Brock the Butcher nowadays. You’ve seen a bit of evolution. We’re seeing him with different layers and presented in a different light. I think he’s more comfortable than he’s ever looked on screen, especially with him not having Paul [Heyman] in his corner to kind of lean on for the talking and the different responsibilities throughout the show outside of just suplexing people. I think he’s been able to display more of Brock Lesnar from a personality standpoint. Then for me, like you said man, I’m on a different level now. It was like building a house. I had to stack all these bricks in order to get up and then complete it.

And we’re still working on that, but I think the progression that I’ve made just speaks volumes to where I’m at now. I don’t think it’s really arguable. What I’ve done over the past year, what I’ve done with this Universal Championship, what I’ve done as the face of WWE and the business behind it, I think the greatest result of all of that is all of these huge names that continue to come back just trying to step up to me. They’re acknowledging me. There’s a huge roster that they could have narrowed down to somebody else. But if you’re in WWE, from a full-time standpoint or you’re coming back and you’re trying to put eyes on you, you want to be on the island of relevancy. So I think that that kind of speaks for itself and what I’m doing.

With this matchup this weekend comes that added wrinkle of Paul Heyman’s connection to both of you. I know he sort of pledged his loyalty to you on SmackDown last week, but how do you expect that dynamic to impact what we’ll see at Crown Jewel?
Well, that’s our huge variable right now, and that’s kind of where we’re at, trying to sift through the weeds and see who the snake is. But Paul is obviously in a tough place. I don’t discredit or take anything away from his past. It’s like any type of relationship. You’re gonna start blaming the new chick you’re dating because of what she did before she even knew you existed. So it’s one of those things where I can’t blame him for being the advocate to the Beast Incarnate. All I can look at is what we’ve done since SummerSlam 2020, and everything that’s been in the middle of all that, and the progress that we’ve made, and the dominance that we displayed. But at the same time, I gotta be smart about this. My whole family, my bloodline depends on me. What happens to me happens to them, happens to Usos. So, like I always preach to them, we gotta keep our eye on the ball at all times.

I actually got a chance to speak with Paul Heyman a few months ago. He called you a mega star. He called you the GOAT actually. And I know this might seem like an odd question to ask you, but do you agree with that? As this run continues for you, do you realize the magnitude of what you’re putting together even though you’re in the middle of it, or is that sort of difficult to do in real time?
No, I think that’s the driving force. That’s why we’re so meticulous in the details and capturing the moment. He may have said this in that same interview, we look at every week as the audition to come back next week. So it’s never like a rest on your laurels type situation. We’re always trying to elevate ourselves to do something special. As far as being the GOAT, I try not to get caught up in all that, but I’m not going to argue against myself. We’ve had a lot of really hot mega stars, like a Steve Austin, a Rock, a John Cena, and they all kind of did it in their own timeframe with their own set of accolades and their own resume. There’s been long title reigns. You can go all the way back to Diesel. You can look at what Brock did. But I don’t think there’s ever been a more transcendent and prestigious title reign where someone is elevating a championship to where it’s clear cut [than mine]. The Universal Championship before I got a hold of it probably would have been looked at as the number two behind the WWE Championship. I’ve literally taken the Universal Championship and elevated it higher than the actual company name champion. What I’m doing right now is greater than the WWE Championship. You can translate that however you want, but there’s one thing that we always say, what’s good for Roman Reigns is good for the WWE. So yeah, we believe in it. These aren’t just promos. I guess because it’s in pro wrestling and sports entertainment they’re considered promos, but I think the most important part is believing in what you’re doing and having that commitment so that’s why everything we do is so authentic and it’s so relatable because if we believe it, then everybody else will.

So yeah, I would definitely put this title reign, the elevation of the title, the progression of the actual performer within myself, and all of the metrics and analytics behind it that you measure these types of things with [at the top]. We aren’t lying. It’s real.

Pardon the cliche but I have to ask, on that topic of the GOAT discussion and everything like that, is there that dream match for you? Keep it to non-active guys. Is there someone who you would want to tear the house down with if given the opportunity?
It changes, to be honest. I think there’s an obvious one out there with Dwayne, the Rock. Do either of us really need it? No. But I think it’s something that the fans want to see. They kind of clamor over it and they make their comments and they gossip, and it seems to be that talk that’s constantly brought up. Obviously, we want to please our audience and we want to service them. So  if that’s something that they’re into, I have no problem smashing him. [Laughs]

I think from my own personal standpoint, I would say Bret Hart because he was just such a hero of mine growing up. Even as a kid in the wrestling business, growing up part of a huge wrestling family, I looked at a lot of the guys as almost like my family’s coworkers, but there was something about Bret. He just made me believe as a kid. He made me believe that pro wrestling was as legitimate as the NFL, any sport you could think of. I think it was just the way he carried himself, the way he attacked it, the psychology, his matches, his presentation, he just felt very real. And I think if you asked him that he would say it’s because it was, it was to him. And he grew up in this business just like I did. You see a lot of generational talents come through this business because this is all we know. This is something that’s been in our blood and something that we can easily connect to. I think if you can connect to it then you can present it properly. And Bret Hart always did that to me.

Taking it back to the present day, over on RAW you have Big E as a champ right now. I know in the past you’ve sort of been vocal about his potential and it finally seems to have fully come to fruition for him. You’re both veterans at this point, and you both kind of have similar timelines in your career in the sense that you were both at some point part of wildly successful stables. What has your reaction been to seeing him finally capture that title and what he’s been able to achieve on Raw recently?
As someone who came up with him, I mean, you can go back and there’s like the video of him bench pressing 575. I was the guy spotting him. We were in a workout group—me, him and, Haku’s son Tevita who I believe is in New Japan— but we have a lot of history together. We’ve been around each other quite a bit. Are we like the greatest friends? I’m not going to be texting him today or anything like that, but I think there’s a huge amount of respect and a huge amount of admiration for each other and what we’ve done and where we’ve come from. I think we all knew who Big E was. I think we all knew he was a star, but the path to get there isn’t the same for everybody. So it was really just a matter of time before that opportunity presented itself.

I think it was a different mindset too. Not that we as the Shield—me, Seth and John—weren’t 100% brothers and loved each other and were for each other when we were in the Shield, but there’s a difference. New Day was so much more than just the wrestling business or having some drinks and BS’ing together. Those guys are like blood brothers. They have so many common grounds and hobbies and interests that they share. So I think that was something that kind of slowed that progression from a singles standpoint down. But there’s no denying Big E. I don’t know if you saw him doing the intros for the Wilder-Fury fight, but man, dude looked like an absolute star. Obviously he’s got a great voice and it works perfect for what that opportunity was, but just seeing them, the visual of him opening up, he didn’t look out of place to me at all. If there were people who don’t even know what WWE is or what it’s about. I think they could’ve seen Big E and been like, ‘Man, dude sounds legit. I want to check out what he does.’ He’s entertaining. He’s intense. He checked off all the boxes. I think we were all proud to see him doing his thing.

Generally speaking on the professional wrestling landscape right now, it’s not really a direct comparison but it seems like there’s finally a viable competitor to WWE for the first time since the Monday Night Wars. That period gave us the NWO, Rock and Austin, and the list goes on. But that era sparked each company to up their game. Do you have that mindset at all currently? Is having AEW in the rear view that sort of extra motivation for you to perform that much better or make sure those moments you make are that much more impactful for the fans?
No. I mean, not for me personally. This is one of those subjects that’s very subjective and there’s a lot of passion and tribalism that really sways and creates an unbiased opinion. But I can only speak from my perspective. I’m one of those guys who will compete at anything. Like, ‘I bet you I can eat that cookie faster.’ I want to be the best at anything that I choose to do. We pull up on lawn mowers, we cut the yard in half, I’m going to beat you. My side will look better than yours. So me, I don’t see the real competition [with AEW] because I think their fan base legitimately is a hardcore fan base. So there’s like a ceiling and a built-in ground to that viewership. [The WWE is] trying to connect with everyone. We’re trying to connect with the mainstream. We’re trying to pull in the casual fan. We’re trying to engage the new viewer, while also servicing our hardcore fan base and give them compelling stories to fulfill them as well. I don’t know if I’ve said it before, but I’ve said it before, when the audience is probably the biggest character in your show, that’s strange to me. You’ll hear it all the time, the reviews and the comparisons. I think because they are the new kids on the block, they’re the cool kids in town I guess because of how premature and how novel it kind of still is, I think there still being babied by these hardcore wrestling fans. Which is fine. That’s great. I don’t think anybody’s going to ever, especially from a performance standpoint say, ‘Oh no, there’s more opportunities out there? That sucks.’ So it’s not a bad thing. It’s a great thing for professional wrestling. It’s just a weird argument because there’s so much bias and there’s so much, ‘I’m on this side and I’m not gonna open my mind to the other side.’ And it goes both ways.

As far as competition, not to me. There might be some other people on our roster who maybe think they need to dig deep and get better as a performer and what they do out there at the art form, but there’s nobody in the whole world, any other promotion, in WWE…I’m better at this art form than everybody else. And I stand on that. That’s the totality of it. I’m not just talking about, ‘Oh, his spots are so good and he counters real well.’ That stuff don’t mean anything to me. When you tally it all up, nobody touches me in this business.

I wanted to ask you about someone specifically on that side of things, CM Punk. He’s gone by the Best in the World. You arguably are that right now in wrestling. I know you guys worked together in some capacity years before, but is there a part of you that wishes you could go toe to toe the way things are set up now and have a big match with him or something like that?
So I answered a question similar to this a while ago, and it falls back to what our audience wants to see. If our audience wanted to see it and they were clamoring for it, couldn’t shut up about it, and all the stars aligned, as a businessman and as a performer who was trying to seek out the very best for the audience and try to captivate, I wouldn’t say no. But I mean, on a personal level, it doesn’t do anything for me. That’s not going to elevate me at all. He’s older now. I haven’t really seen a full match. I’ve seen a clip or two. And to me, a step or two has been lost. Then also he got his whooped in the UFC. I don’t think anybody really believes someone 200 pounds soaking wet with no explosive bone in their body could ever really do anything to me. I’m 6’3”, 265 pounds, a legitimate athlete who can throw some weight around and has been on the gridiron at the highest level. D1. All ACC. I probably would’ve maintained in the NFL if my health issues didn’t happen when I was 22 years old. So, I mean, when it comes down to it, I’ll throw him and pretty much the rest of that roster out the club no problem. They’re just little brothers, you know?

To wrap things up here, you’re at this high level. You’re the Head of the Table. You’re at the top right now. So I say that to ask you, where can Roman Reigns go next?
I think we’re in the middle of what we’re trying to do now. So ultimately I’m focused to finish what we’re doing within this run, wherever that may land. It could be a year from now. It could be five years from now. I’m not sure exactly what that timeframe is going to dictate. But I think for me to continue to compete at the highest level, to perform at the highest level, and to captivate at the highest level. From there, you have to start analyzing yourself and where you’re at mentally and physically and how emotionally connected you are to what you’re doing. I know I can’t do this forever. The ring always hurts. There’s not a fall that feels good. So I think I’m going to have to take all these different nuances and experiences from this form of performing arts and try to translate it on different stages and different platforms. If there’s a way to transition to some different types of entertainment, which obviously everybody’s like ‘movies,’ like that’s the only form. And that would be great. It would be a lot of fun and a great experience to consider, to learn that aspect of it, but there’s a lot of different things you can do to entertain and connect with your fans and people around the world. So there’s so many avenues to explore. I think the sky’s the limit really. It’s just whatever I want to do, narrowing that focus down, and getting somewhat tunnel vision on that goal at hand. I think I’ll be fine.

credit: complex.com


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