The Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame consists of the most important and most talented wrestlers and personalities that the industry has ever seen. Each year, a handful of wrestlers are anointed with the unique honor of receiving 60% of the vote from a wide pool of current and former wrestlers, journalists, and historians, thus etching their name into the history books and cementing their status as a true all-time great.
Roman Reigns is not worthy of being inducted into this Hall of Fame.
A career-long failure who has only recently turned it around thanks to the help of a talented supporting cast, Reigns has failed upwards since he first donned a tactical vest in The Shield. He has been shockingly unremarkable in the ring, largely a non-entity at the box office, and offers no historical significance despite his constant presence on TV for the world’s biggest wrestling promotion. 2023, to most pundits, has been the best year of his career, but a vote for Reigns would cast a shameful shadow over a Hall of Fame that, at times, has had a cruel and rigid voting process.
Dave Meltzer describes the criteria for his Hall of Fame as “…a combination of drawing power, being a great in-ring performer or excelling in one’s field in pro wrestling, as well as having historical significance in a positive manner. A candidate should either have something to offer in all three categories, or be someone so outstanding in one or two of those categories that they deserve inclusion.”
I fail to find Reigns to excel in any of these categories, let alone all three.
My biggest gripe with the inclusion of Reigns is that some will argue that he’s been a “star” for nearly a decade. I argue that, in reality, most of his career has been spent being a Randy Orton-like figure that has no real impact on business. He’s simply been presented as a “star,” and thus, people have had it beaten into them that he is a “star.” Looking back at the criteria, Meltzer mentions the importance of longevity by noting, “Longevity should be a prime consideration rather than a hot two or three-year run, unless someone is so significant as a trendsetter or a historical figure in the business, or valuable to the industry, that they need to be included.”
That, alone, should disqualify Reigns from the conversation. It is generous to say that he’s been on a “hot two or three-year run.” As far as I’m concerned, 2023 is the only time in his main event career that you could classify Roman Reigns as “hot,” and that is entirely due to the hard work of Sami Zayn and Cody Rhodes. After an initial spike in the SmackDown ratings when the long-awaited Reigns heel turn kicked off in 2020, things began crashing around him when Sasha Banks left the brand at the start of the new year. It became very apparent to anyone paying attention that the strong ratings that WWE received in the back half of 2020 were due to either the advent of the Thunderdome or the continued success of Sasha Banks. Once new, shiny things lost their luster, and Banks moved on to other things, the brand sank with Reigns as its captain.
Famously, there’s the Madison Square Garden debacle that same year. With WWE back on the road after a year of seclusion thanks to the pandemic and their first MSG show in 18 months, Roman Reigns failed to drum up any interest in the show. After being slaughtered by the presale for AEW’s inaugural Grand Slam show, WWE was forced to pivot to actual stars, first bringing over wrestlers from the Raw brand, then later announcing John Cena, who then proceeded to actually move tickets.
Later that year, in that same market, Reigns was responsible for an abysmal number in the UBS Arena. Jesse Collings wrote in 2021, “On September 18, WWE was hosting RAW at the new UBS Arena on Long Island, New York. WWE had distributed 2,365 tickets to the UBS Arena show following the pre-sale (all data courtesy of WrestleTix). By October 12, they had only distributed 2,837 tickets, so they announced that Roman Reigns would be on the show. This was a great test for Roman’s drawing ability, since we would be able to directly see what kind of impact his presence would have on ticket sales, since he previously wasn’t announced for the show, and fans wouldn’t have expected him to appear on the show before he was announced.
On October 24, two weeks after Reigns had been announced for the show, WWE had distributed 3,169 tickets to the show. So Roman’s presence only led to an additional 332 tickets being distributed. 332!”
Collings continued, “A crowd of under 6,000 for a RAW show in New York City, in a brand new area, is not a good thing for business. John Cena, who is a legitimate business mover in a way the company desperately wanted Reigns to be, was routinely selling 5,000-7,000 extra tickets for the shows he was announced on during his tour over the summer. WWE’s rivals are doing close to 10,000 fans in the same arena a week later.”
Of course, WWE has turned its business around. The promotion is the hottest it’s been in a decade, and Reigns has been on top for the live event resurgence that the company has seen. What I find so fascinating about this, as it pertains to the Hall of Fame, is that both in terms of TV numbers and attendance figures, we have never had a candidate with more exposure. We’ve seen everything Roman Reigns has ever done. Everyone voting in this region has seen this happen in real time. Nothing can get lost in translation or lost to history. Anyone with a brain is aware of the fact that the aforementioned Zayn and Rhodes turned The Bloodline program into a hot commodity, and as soon as both of them were yanked away from the picture and the focus shifted back to Reigns, Heyman, and “Nobody’s Bitch,” what was once a hot angle began to cool yet again.
Influence feels like the most subjective category of the three, but I cannot fathom any argument that Reigns has “historical significance in a positive manner.” The kindest thing you can say about him is that he has no historical significance, but I fear that as time goes on, the heavy-handed, community theater-esque “storytelling” that was ushered forth by The Bloodline will terrorize this industry. We have already seen it infect AEW, and their live event business has cratered as a result. We’ve seen WWE push their young talent towards hammy, embarrassing skits akin to what Reigns has been doing alongside Paul Heyman and The Usos for years now. There’s a chance that Reigns could be partially responsible for a generational shift in the way that wrestling tells its stories, and I cannot imagine a worse fate for the business.
Despite being a constant focus on WWE programming since his debut, Reigns has a shockingly short track record of memorable matches. The annual Voices of Wrestling Match of the Year Poll shows a startling lack of Reigns near the top spot.
- 2013: *December 10, 2012: Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, & Seth Rollins vs. Daniel Bryan, Kane, & Ryback: (#14)
- 2014: February 23, 2014: Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, & Seth Rollins vs. The Wyatt Family (#3)
- 2015: March 29, 2015: Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins (#6)
- 2016: May 22, 2016: AJ Styles vs. Roman Reigns (#12)
- 2017: August 20, 2017: Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe (#21)
- 2018: Roman Reigns matches received no votes
- 2019: Roman Reigns matches received no votes
- 2020: September 27, 2020: Jey Uso vs. Roman Reigns (#67)
- 2021: March 21, 2021: Daniel Bryan vs. Roman Reigns (#40)
- 2022: July 30, 2022: Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns (#60)
*Matches from December 2012 were eligible for the 2013 VOW MOTY Poll.
To his credit, Reigns was involved in historically great matches in both 2014 and 2015, although I would argue that he was the least interesting part of those matches. Starting in 2017 with a four-way match that I have absolutely no recollection of, Reigns began to falter despite a widening pool of voters. He has become a complete non-entity when it comes to high-level matches.
There is no “if not Reigns, then who?” conversation to be had when it comes to analyzing possible inductees from this era of WWE. The “content farm” era of this promotion, which dates back a decade to the launch of their very own Network, is largely devoid of merit at this level. This is not an era of wrestling that should be celebrated. It is an era of dry television and uninspired creative. Depending on her next move, I think we are a few years away from being able to truly analyze the impact of Mercedes Mone. She, to me, is on the cusp of being celebrated. I fail to see anyone else with an outstanding pedigree in any of the three categories.
A vote for Reigns is scarily short-sighted with damming long-term ramifications. He will be the least deserving inductee since Shinsuke Nakamura’s rushed crowning in 2015. Nearly a decade removed from 73% of the voting base checking “yes” on Nakamura, it’s apparent that his run atop New Japan during their 2010s resurgence was far too short to be worthy of a spot in this Hall of Fame. He would exit New Japan mere months after getting voted in, and minus his exceptional debut contest against Sami Zayn, the Kyoto-born standout has done nothing to pad his resume. A white-hot period of his career (in his case, June 2012, when he won his first IWGP Intercontinental Championship through January 2016, when he exited the promotion) was weighted far too greatly by the voting base. They ignored a decade of struggles and failed to foresee another near-decade of apathy in North America.
If we simply compare a decade of Reigns on the main roster to the three-and-a-half years that people used to vote in Nakamura, Reigns falls short in every way.
It is hard to describe how “must-see” Nakamura was when he helped spearhead New Japan’s westward expansion. Now lost to a bygone era of deleted tweets and forgotten blogs, there was a palpable buzz among Western fans for each important Nakamura match, backed up by native fans packing buildings to see said affairs. In 2014, a fan vote decided the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 8. Nakamura had elevated to the IWGP Intercontinental Championship to a “1B” title to the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship’s “1A”, and the people of New Japan awarded Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi the main event over Kazuchika Okada and Tetsuya Naito.
The Wrestle Kingdom main event began a string of successful Nakamura main events. In an effort to continue to heighten the profile of the Intercontinental Championship, Nakamura would do the following:
- Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura: January 4, 2014 (35,000 fans, +20% YOY)
- Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura: February 9, 2014 (5,040 fans, +5% YOY)
- Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura: April 6, 2014 (8,500 fans, +4% YOY)
- Bad Luck Fale vs. Shinsuke Nakamura: June 21, 2014 (7,300 fans, +1% YOY)
- Bad Luck Fale vs. Shinsuke Nakamura: September 21, 2014 (8,000 fans, flat YOY)
- Katsuyori Shibata vs. Shinsuke Nakamura: November 8, 2014 (7.500 fans, +17% YOY)
Nakamura spent 2014 routinely outdrawing shows from the year prior that were not only headlined by Okada title defenses, but oftentimes featured a Nakamura IC Championship defense on the same show. A shift in business practices in 2014 saw NJPW expand their schedule and put Nakamura and Okada title matches on separate shows. With less support underneath, Nakamura was still able to raise NJPW’s profile.
At no point in his career has Reigns had a match as stunning or important as the one between Nakamura and Ibushi on January 4, 2015.
Second from the top on one of the most important New Japan shows in history, Nakamura and Ibushi took control of the wrestling world. After two full years of surging interest on USTREAM pay-per-views, New Japan found its way onto American pay-per-view. It’s very possible that without the overwhelming charisma of Nakamura or his second-to-none charisma with Ibushi, that Japan’s top promotion never takes off in any palpable way in America. It was the highest profile New Japan match to American fans at the time and a clear powder keg in New Japan’s business explosion in America. Its legacy remains far stronger than the arguably better main event between Okada and Tanahashi.
Not only has Reigns failed to deliver at that level throughout any time in his career (forgetting two-dozen other high-profile Nakamura outings that were world class), Reigns has often failed to deliver, period.
Reigns has wrestled at WrestleMania 10 times in his career. His career Cagematch Ratings at WrestleMania look like this:
- Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns & Seth Rollins vs. Randy Orton, Sheamus, & The Big Show: 5.52
- Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, & Seth Rollins vs. Billy Gunn, Kane, & Road Dogg: NR (sub-five minute match)
- Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins: 8.76 (a genuinely great match and perhaps the best Reigns ever looked)
- Roman Reigns vs. Triple H: 2.78
- Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker: 4.15
- Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns: 2.74
- Drew McIntyre vs. Roman Reigns: 4.71
- Daniel Bryan vs. Edge vs. Roman Reigns: 8.91
- Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar: 4.63
- Roman Reigns vs. Cody Rhodes: 7.53
Thus, not only do I strongly disagree with the notion that any credit for the humongous houses at these shows belongs to Reigns, but time after time, he’s failed to create a positive memory on a show that is a launching pad for “moments.” Even in his best matches, he’s nothing more than a system quarterback, existing merely as a punching bag for Lesnar and then failing to “finish the story” against Rhodes (I refuse to accept the lauded three-way in 2021 as being anything more than average).
In fact, Reigns is one of the least consistent “big match” workers in history, especially among those who are lauded as a great wrestler in some camps. He was the focal point of the two biggest Royal Rumble disasters in history in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and has tallied up a number of sub-5.0 matches according to the Cagematch inmates. Of note, 11 pay-per-view main events of his failed to meet the 5.0 mark. Time after time, media rights money has bailed out a creatively bankrupt performer. WWE has never had to move away from Reigns because the money has never stopped coming in, despite WWE’s direct-to-consumer business plummeting during his reign of terror.
Not only does Reigns fail to reach the heights of a now seemingly universally agreed upon misfire, but he pales in comparison to names that have been struggling to keep their head above water in this voting process. I cannot take anyone seriously who finds Reigns to be a more worthy candidate than CIMA, who helped mold an entire generation of (successful) wrestlers while being the figurehead for Japan’s second-biggest promotion and continuously pumped out great matches for a 20-year stretch (1998-2018). I am offended at the idea of someone voting in both the North America and Japan regions and voting for Reigns and not Shingo Takagi, who may very well be the greatest in-ring wrestler to ever live. He is far less talented than Tomohiro Ishii, far less influential than Hayabusa, and far less famous than The Beauty Pair were at their peak – and there’s a good chance none of the names I just mentioned get voted in.
Then there are people in his own region who blow past Reigns as a candidate. I have been a CM Punk supporter long before he ever stepped foot in an AEW ring. I find his two years on top in WWE to be incredibly underrated and far more impactful than the decade Reigns has spent as the driving force behind the promotion.
Goldberg’s peak at the box office destroys what Reigns has done, while Paul Orndorff quietly built up an amazing drawing record of his own that surpasses what Reigns has done.
Of course, there are the Young Bucks, who are not only the greatest in-ring tag team of all-time, but their influence is spread far and wide throughout modern pro wrestling. Anyone who votes for Reigns and not the Bucks fails to understand the stranglehold that the Bucks have had on the culture of wrestling for the better part of a decade.
I am a believer that drawing, as it’s deciphered in this Hall of Fame, is relative. I do not believe that comparing stars between different eras is entirely fair, and I am a big believer that size and exposure have to be factored into what you do at the box office. Someone who was responsible for drawing 700 fans to an indie show when 700 tickets were available should absolutely get credit for that. The Bucks routinely rose to the top of whatever promotion they were in and did record-breaking business, no matter the scale. They helped shift wrestling culture in the mid-2010s by being the faces of PWG, they helped push Ring of Honor to new heights alongside their brethren in The Elite, and they became the most in-demand stars ever on the independent level.
Roman Reigns can make none of those claims, nor can he note any similar accomplishments. The leading narrative throughout his career is that he’s been a failure. Commercially and critically, he has failed to live up to the hype time after time.
Perhaps the most obvious case against Reigns is the fact that he has never been a Flair/Thesz winner in the subscriber-voted Wrestling Observer Newsletter Yearly Awards. To be in the most visible company and the most visible star within that company and yet to have had such little success in this category is a clear sign of trouble. He finished 2nd in both 2021 and 2022, getting dwarfed by Kenny Omega in ‘21 and then falling short to Jon Moxley last year. 2020 saw him finish 8th. At no other point in time has he finished in the Top 10 in that category.
This has not been a problem for the likes of Kurt Angle, John Cena, Chris Jericho, and AJ Styles, all of whom have taken home this award while under WWE’s umbrella.
2023 will likely mark the first time that “The Tribal Chief” will take home this award, although it should come with an asterisk. I cannot remember a more depleted field of Flair/Thesz candidates in my lifetime. Japan has no obvious frontrunner. SANADA is not a serious candidate, and his world title reign has caused both Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay to take a backseat, thus hindering their case. Madoka Kikuta has been a less-than-stellar champion in Dragongate, Pro Wrestling NOAH has no serious candidates, and I haven’t seen the All Japan community rally around anyone. MJF’s abhorrent creative will prevent me from voting for him. That leaves Mexico, and although I am a firm believer that Mistico should take home the prize, but not enough people care about CMLL this year to make that happen. That, nearly by default, will leave people to vote for Reigns.
Roman Reigns fails to excel at any of the necessary categories to justify an induction into this Hall of Fame. Yet, I fear that recent success will cause people to overlook a career of failure.