Roman Reigns' spot as WWE's top superstar was met with strong fan resistance for years, but the "Tribal Chief" is currently enjoying the best run of his career. Since making a surprise return at SummerSlam, Reigns has found new life -- and critical acceptance -- in portraying a heel character.
On Sunday, Reigns will continue within the run by meeting Kevin Owens in one of the featured matches on the annual Royal Rumble pay-per-view card. Owens and Reigns have battled for months, with Reigns consistently getting the better of Owens both in and out of the ring. Owens has recently managed to turn the table, forcing Reigns into a Last Man Standing match at the event. Speaking with CBS Sports, Reigns explained what it is that has made his storyline with Owens so compelling.
"I think if you just looked at it on paper, he's the exact opposite of me," Reigns said. "We look different, we carry ourselves differently, we have different backgrounds. It's just completely different presentations, and there's something very interesting about polar opposites going at it and competing against each other to see who is the best. But, from the intangible standpoint, what KO brings to the table is his own way and own package -- his relentlessness to be great.
"He has a passion to try to capture the next level and that, as performers, is something you have to have. The audience is looking for those stars who are trying to do that and be mega-stars and achieve the unattainable while pushing each other to the next level. We've beat the crap out of KO for months, and he gets up with a smile on his face wanting more. He's a guy who, no matter what he's put through, enjoys the upper echelon of the wrestling business and being able to tell very detailed, intricate and sophisticated wrestling narratives. That's something he's been craving his entire career. And to be able to do it in WWE after going through so much and probably having to swallow that "no pill" a lot through his career with a lot of people trying to tell him no. That's something that he really showcases -- that relentlessness to keep getting up, keep going and keep fighting."
One of the early twists in Reigns' new character was the addition of Paul Heyman as his advisor. Heyman had spent years at the side of Brock Lesnar, continuing his lengthy career as a figure with tremendous swagger, having built ECW into a force on his own creative genius before taking on a managerial role on-screen as well as a creative force behind the scenes in WWE.
With Reigns, Heyman's swagger is largely gone and he is usually seen desperately looking to please Reigns and fearing the potential wrath of the universal champion. Their off-screen relationship is wildly different, and Reigns said the relationship has quickly built to the point where he can't see a place in the future where he does not have Heyman by his side -- even if they're no longer paired on television.
"He's just a pleasure to be around," Reigns said of Heyman. "Not only that, to be able to work with him? A lot of people just look at him as this creative genius and someone who is masterful on the microphone. But, the attention to detail is in every area, from anything that I need. This man has gotten me towels from the hotel to make sure they're big enough, to picking me up custom steaks from the butcher last week. This guy does not cut his corners, he really is all hands on deck. It's not just what he does from a creative standpoint or on camera, and he's the greatest of all time with what he does in promoting and selling his athletes and how much demand he puts on the matches he's involved in. He really does anything under the sun to make sure that the talent he's working with is completely comfortable and focused on what they're doing. It's been a pleasure to work with him.
"If something happens and we're no longer on screen together, I don't think I'll ever want to work without him one way or another. Even if we're not a pairing on television anymore, I will still want and need him at television to work with me. Even throughout the week. We'll start texting throughout the week to get ideas and figure out the message we want to get across. It's a weekly battle where we don't always get our way, but we try our best to do that. It's definitely a really neat scenario as far as brainstorming and creative spitballing in trying to push the envelope and create the most sophisticated narrative every week. We say it every week: attention to detail. Those details are what make the product and hook people. We don't want to insult our audience and make them think we feel they're stupid; we know they're not. Especially our hardcore fanbase, they've been watching professional wrestling and sports entertainment for a long time, they've seen it all. So we constantly think about what we can do to be different. What we can do to be better. And what we can do to achieve greatness every single week."