Every superstar needs a foil to get the best out of them inside the ring. Someone who can stand across from them and, for whatever reason, force them to up their game as a performer — whether that be on the mic or during matches.
It’s tough to sell WWE talents as one-man wrecking crews; even Braun Strowman has run into some (demonic) walls during his days on Monday Night Raw. Roman Reigns has been working to get over for the better part of three years, and he hasn’t been a beloved face since The Shield initially dissolved back in June of 2014.
Stephanie McMahon has arguably been the one in-ring performer who can actually get Reigns cheered by children and adults alike, though, and we saw that again on the Nov. 13 edition of Raw. Just as she was about to fire Kurt Angle for allowing Shane McMahon to get the better of the red brand once again, The Shield interjected themselves to stick up for their general manager.
The highlight of the show’s opening was Reigns flipping the script on Stephanie after she grilled him about where he’d been for the last few weeks. Anyone with an internet connection and access to Google knows the Big Dog has been on the sidelines dealing with an actual viral infection scare, so the question came off as a bit hamfisted.
Reigns jumped on the opportunity and went on to ask McMahon where she had been since WrestleMania, mocking her for taking so long to recover from going through a table at the event.
The Atlanta crowd responded quite positively, which shouldn’t be too surprising since people tend to cheer whenever Reigns jeers Stephanie.
This verbal exchange wasn’t the only time Atlanta popped for Reigns, however. During a match in the third hour of Raw that pitted The Shield against The Bar and Miz, he received several noticeably positive responses during spots where crowds would typically boo.
When’s the last time a pack of WWE fans collectively cheered after Reigns hit the Superman Punch? Or loudly geared up with a loud “ohhhahh!” as he got ready to spear his opponent? There have always been mixed reactions to those spots, but it seemed like Atlanta was more or less on his side 100 percent.
Part of that could be the fact that he’s back with The Shield. Rolling with popular superstars like Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins in a group no one really wanted to see broken up in the first place doesn’t hurt. But it isn’t like we haven’t seen clever crowds boo one member of a faction or tag team while cheering the other.
That was what made Cesaro and Sheamus tick during their first few months as a tag team, and they played off of the split brilliantly. There doesn’t seem to be a divide in the eyes of the crowd when it comes to Reigns, Rollins and Ambrose, though.
Which leads us to a rather simple question: is Roman Reigns finally getting over?
If Monday night was any indication, it seems like he’s finally on his way to getting cheered the way the WWE’s brass has wanted for the last several years. Stealing the show at Survivor Series — as is expected — could make crowds even more receptive to him, and the ratings on Monday could show that fans missed him while he was gone.
Creative will need to continue to handle Reigns intelligently, but as it stands right now, this might be the most popular Reigns has been with every segment of the crowd in years.