Since making his surprise return at SummerSlam, Roman Reigns has been one of the consistent highlights of all WWE programming. From his sizzling promos to a unique storyline involving his cousin, Jey Uso, Reigns is clicking better than he ever has in his already-impressive career.
Reigns was sidelined at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a product of an enlarged spleen making it unsafe for the leukemia survivor to compete in an uncertain environment. As Reigns told CBS Sports, the locker room leader being forced to sit out during a difficult time for the company and its performers was a double-edged sword.
"You know, it was tough, but I tried to just focus on things I could control and the time with my family," Reigns said. "For a long time -- and I think maybe the reason people consider myself a locker room leader is the dedication to my craft and to the performance and to our locker room and being there for those guys and not only being where I worked as far as my character but really being there in the locker room and being approachable and going through the grind with those guys. I think I was able to earn the respect when they saw how I carried myself and how I operated on a daily basis and the work output that I put in. But, for me, it was either dwell on the negatives because, yeah, I wanted to be there and wanted to help the team and help the product, but it was also very nice to be able to help my family and be there for my children and my wife and create a little bit of a solid foundation and structure in these crazy times.
"For me to be home when everything is in question and it's scary just to go to the grocery store, I think that was something critical for my household to see that mom and dad are doing this together and they're spearheading this thing and taking it on as it comes. But I won't lie, there's something very gratifying about going to work and doing your job at a high level and earning and providing for your family. Luckily, the work that I put in in the past and up to that point, it built a good equity with WWE all the way to the fact that nothing changed for me. I was still fortunate enough to receive my paycheck and take care of my family. We're in a very blessed situation to be able to stay home and still operate as a household and family but have security and food on the table."
Reigns' return saw "The Big Dog" become "The Tribal Chief," shifting from a longtime status as one of the company's top faces to a role as its top heel. Reigns paired off with advocate Paul Heyman and made it clear he had returned to action with no concern for how he was perceived as he recaptured the universal championship.
He then brutally attacked Uso and kicked off a program with a focus on his place at the "head of the table" for their family. The change in character has breathed new life into Reigns' career.
"I definitely think a lot of the stuff that we present is very factual," Reigns said of the idea. "A lot of people want to say, 'Oh, he's a heel.' And, 'Oh, he was a babyface," and this and that. I try not to look at it as that. I try to look at it as this being a character in a storyline and he has choices like anyone else. Some of his choices are going to be perceived as good, some of them are going to be perceived as bad and some of them people won't understand because they won't understand where he's coming from. That might be because they're not in the same field or on the same level, kind of like how I told my cousin that he wouldn't understand what it's like to be on top. I say it with love and respect, but he's a tag team guy. He never has operate at the top. He's never been WWE champion, he's never been universal champion. I have ... many times. I understand the grind and what it takes to maintain that, not only to get there but to maintain it. I think there are a lot of elements that are true and I think it's important for a performer to connect to the character they're displaying. There has to be shades of a real person in there. But, like you've heard every superstar all the way back to Bruno Sammartino say, you have to be able to take that to an 11 or 12.
"I've taken these real-life qualities and experiences and put them in a storyline. That has been able to connect with our audience in a really cool way because they've seen me grow and they've seen my path and they've seen me operate on this top tier of WWE for a long time. For me to actually emote and explain the dimensions of it, I think they dig that and the feeling that the fourth wall is down from time to time. To me, this is Roman. He's not Joe. I'm able to connect to everything I'm doing now way stronger than anything I've done before."
The feud with Uso has been driven by pure emotion, with Uso looking to prove he can serve the same role as Reigns as a provider for their extended family. Reigns has taken exception to Uso believing he can elevate himself from a tag team specialist to someone on the same level as the universal champion.
That built to a match at the recent Clash of Champions PPV which saw Jimmy Uso throw in the towel as Reigns continuously mauled Jey, demanding he be acknowledged as Tribal Chief. Reigns, unsatisfied with the win after Jey did not give him the acknowledgement, laid out a challenge for the upcoming Hell in a Cell pay-per-view where the two will meet inside the Cell in an I Quit match.
Reigns credited Uso for helping make his transition back to active competition go smoothly while also noting that there's a special kind of nerves that come with working with -- and trying to elevate -- a family member.
"Roman would say that's the island of relevancy. That's how powerful the character is, and if we can take someone like my cousin who has been half of the best tag team of my generation and elevate him and put him in the spotlight all the way from ... just 15 minutes ago I'm talking about him on ESPN First Take. That wasn't happening before. Now, we put him in a position to where all eyes are on him.
"But, if I talk to you as Joe, I'm just so proud of him. There's this weird energy of being nervous for him. I don't get nerves only for myself, but I get nerves that he's going to be able to deliver the goods, that he's going to deliver that, 'Which one are you?' line. To me, these are critical moments for him to be able to continue to see that growth, to get that push. If he doesn't answer the call, if he doesn't step up to the plate and knock it out of the park the way that he's been doing, this wouldn't have happened. I'm just really proud and it just feels good to be able to show our family and our bloodline and know our dads can watch and see that our storyline is the most interesting in WWE and is the main event of WWE -- I'm just really proud of that. Coming back, you have to get back on the bike and get comfortable again. I don't think there's anyone I'd have been more comfortable with in the ring from a creative standpoint than being with my own blood and my cousin.
"We were saying before Clash of Champions, 'From the porch to the pay-per-view.' He taught me the basics of this business in a ghetto in Tampa on a crappy porch of a crappy apartment. On days off when he'd get off the road and I'd get out of FCW, we'd talk all night long. We'd have a couple beers and just talk about it while he'd teach me the ABCs of this dance we do. It's really cool to be able to share my knowledge of the higher-up portion of this business now and help pull him along."