The decision to have Roman Reigns win the WWE United States Championship at Clash of Champions on Sunday has brought with it a lot of mixed reactions from the fans.
Of course, there are some definitive upsides to having “The Big Dog” representing the red, white and blue each week — specifically the potential to see him in competitive matches against some of Raw’s best mid-carders. On top of that, he can actually do something for the title, instead of having it fly under the radar like it did for weeks after SummerSlam, leaving the mid-card scene high and dry.
But despite being an unexpected twist in the plot as far as Roman’s position on the card goes, particularly thinking back to his multiple WWE World Championship reigns over the last year, Roman’s latest progression still doesn’t change the fact that a lot of fans don’t, and likely won’t ever, accept him as one of the company’s top stars in his current babyface persona.
Many are still bent out of shape by the fact that Roman suffered hardly any consequences for his wellness policy violation in June, so seeing him constantly booked in championship opportunities is understandably going to irk some of the more avid anti-Reigns members of the WWE Universe.
By the same logic, you could argue that when Eva Marie makes her inevitable return to SmackDown, she has every right to pick up where she left off as one of the women on the blue brand with the most exposure, despite having not competed under the brand extension yet.
Then of course there’s the negative impact that losing cleanly to Roman Reigns, not once, but twice, could have on Rusev. “The Bulgarian Brute” is a workhorse and a great performer in all senses of the word, so to see his efforts to scratch and claw his way out of obscurity go to waste for Reigns’ benefit is just another reason to have a bitter taste in your mouth about the new U.S. Champion.
Amongst all of this chatter, however, the predominant ideology coming out of Reigns’ win is his potential to re-enact the good that John Cena did for the United States Championship in 2015.
Of course we want to see Roman Reigns breathe new life into Raw’s mid-card title. The Miz is quickly becoming one of the hottest stars in all of WWE on SmackDown, and it’s doing wonders for the image of the Intercontinental Championship, so Raw’s efforts to do something similar are appreciated. But what John Cena did in 2015 was a lot different from what needs to be done now.
John Cena raised the bar with the U.S. Championship, making it feel less like a mid-card title and more like a major one, on par with the likes of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, with Cena even competing in a match for both straps against Seth Rollins at SummerSlam last year.
Roman Reigns, however, needs to keep the title as far away from the main event as possible.
There are some great names in Raw’s mid-card division, like Rusev, Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho, Cesaro, Sheamus, Enzo Amore & Big Cass, and even a guy like Braun Strowman who needs a new outlet for his destruction after weeks of squash matches. Each one of these men would benefit hugely from the opportunity to take on a bona fide superstar in Reigns and come out looking better for it, but not if Reigns is using the title to get himself back in the top spot with Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins.
The WWE Universal Championship is still in its early days of existence, so if Roman Reigns was to continue his time in Raw main events it would easily make it cause for debate that the United States Championship is more important than that of the new major title on Raw.
Most importantly, however, Roman Reigns needs to put together an identity for himself in his new role on the roster. He can’t just do the whole “fighting champion” thing and expect to reach new levels of popularity. They say that the man makes the championship, and though that’s true, Roman still stands to gain a lot from what will hopefully be a fall down the card for the next while.
On top of the potential with heel turns and the like, Reigns needs to have a championship aura about him, which he was sincerely lacking in his first defense on Raw this week. He seemed awkward with the title, like he was attempting to imply confidence and it just came across as indifference towards his latest trophy in the case, so he needs to do more to project his star power onto the gold.
In many ways, he should be trying to make that belt look as good as it makes him, and carrying it with a loose grip and the same brash attitude as usual won’t work, unless he makes the transition from hero to villain. We know he’s capable of doing it too, because seeing him level Rusev with a steel chair after the match this week just wasn’t something we’ve grown to expect from a babyface.
With some luck, Reigns’ otherwise unnecessary post-match attack is actually planting the seeds for a shift in character for the man, because the character development would come in quite handy when it comes to making his title run as rewarding as it should be.
Now that Roman Reigns is the United States Champion, he needs to adapt accordingly. This is a big opportunity for his future on the WWE roster, specifically with regards to his status with the fans, so it’s way too valuable of a chance to phone in before he gets back in the Universal Title picture.
The brand wars are extremely one-sided right now, but a strong mid-card going forward might just be enough to get Raw back in the game against SmackDown, and crowning Roman Reigns as United States Champion is the first big step towards that goal.