From Shield to Tribal Chief: The Legacy of Roman Reigns

For the past decade, Roman Reigns has been not only a key player in the WWE but he has also been the predominant figure for WWE. Reigns’ journey has not always been the smoothest, but his rise to the top of the company has been a thrilling ride. Even in the early days of his run with The Shield, the higher-ups in WWE felt that Roman was on a trajectory to stardom. What makes Roman Reigns unique, and why did it take so long for fans to get behind him?

Leati Joseph Anoa’i, known to the wrestling world as Roman Reigns, comes from a legendary wrestling family. His father, Sika Anoa’i, and uncle, Afa Anoa’i, were members of the infamous tag team The Wild Samoans. Roman’s brother, Matthew Tapunu’u Anoa’i, was best known in WWE as Rosey. Rosey was not only a member of the team 3-Minute Warning but would later be the tag partner for The Hurricane (Shane Helms) and go by the title Super Hero In Training. Roman’s cousins include Rikishi, Yokozuna, The Tonga Kid, Umaga, Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson, Jimmy Uso, Jey Uso, and Solo Sikoa. Many talented wrestlers come from the Anoa’i Family tree, even though not all family members are mentioned. 

Even though Roman Reigns has wrestling in his blood, he did not always want to be a professional wrestler. While Roman was in college, he played defensive tackle for Georgia Tech. After graduation, Reigns pursued a football career. During his time in the NFL, Reigns was a part of the Minnesota Vikings and the Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2008, Roman would leave the NFL to go to Canada to play football for the Edmonton Eskimos in the CFL. After leaving the CFL and retiring from football, Roman entered the world of professional wrestling by training in the FCW. Jey Uso stated in an interview with ESPN that Roman slept on his couch in his small apartment early in his career. Jey saw something special in Roman whenever they were training in the ring. In 2012, Roman would finish his training in FCW and move to the NXT roster.

Roman’s NXT run was only about 15 months long because, on November 18, 2012, The Shield would make their main roster debut. During the main event of Survivor Series, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose (Jon Moxley) jumped the ringside barricade and attacked Ryback. The attack on Ryback led to a CM Punk win, which began the speculation of The Shield working with Punk. Their connection to Punk ended in January 2013. In the months that followed Survivor Series, The Shield would go on a tirade against the WWE roster. Reigns won the tag team championships with fellow stablemate Seth Rollins. The Shield held the tag titles for five months, where they lost them to Cody Rhodes and Goldust (Dustin Runnels). 

On June 2, 2014, seven months after losing the tag titles, Seth Rollins would betray his fellow Shield mates by blasting Roman in the back with a chair. After The Shield split, Roman would retain The Shield’s music and presentation. This split of The Shield began Roman’s “forced” singles babyface run. The term “forced” is used because WWE’s creative team insisted on Roman being the next big star, even though fans were behind Ambrose and Rollins as singles stars. During the next four years, Reigns would hold numerous titles, including the WWE World Heavyweight title 3 times, the WWE United States title once, the WWE Intercontinental title once, and the first time he won the WWE Universal Title. During his run from 2015 to 2018, Reigns was in the main event of every Wrestlemania from those years. The four consecutive Wrestlemania main events were the final straw for many fans. 

“The Big Dog”, Roman’s moniker from 2015 to 2020, made a heartbreaking announcement on October 22, 2018. Roman informed the WWE fans that his leukemia had returned and he would be taking time away from WWE. On February 25, 2019, Roman would return to Raw and announce that he is now in remission. This real-life news marked a turning point for how the fans perceived Roman. Most of the crowd was beginning to buy into Reigns as a baby face. Even with his real-life news, some fans felt he needed a heel turn. It was not until he feuded with Baron Corbin that Roman began to feel the need for a change. 

In the later part of 2019, Roman’s feud with Corbin became a complete mess. At one point in time, their feud revolved around cans of dog food. Roman challenged Goldberg to a match at Wrestlemania 36 for the Universal Championship after the Corbin feud ended. Roman stepped away from wrestling during the Covid-19 pandemic. Braun Strowman replaced Goldberg for the match against Roman at Wrestlemania after Roman’s departure. Roman felt it was an excellent decision to step away due to his compromised immune system and did not want to risk contracting COVID-19. 

Roman spoke with Paul Heyman during his absence about how he could reinvigorate upon his return. Fans had finally given up on the idea of Roman Reigns becoming a heel in WWE. To the surprise of everyone, Roman made his return to the ring after the main event of SummerSlam 2020. Post-match, Roman attacked both Braun Strowman and newly crowned Universal Champion Bray Wyatt. Fans did not know what to think of this return until a backstage segment involving Roman sitting with Paul Heyman. This return sparked the inception of “The Tribal Chief” Roman Reigns.

Whether he was called “The Head of the Table,” “The Tribal Chief,” or he was in “God Mode,” it was undeniable that this was a different Roman Reigns. WWE announced a triple-threat match featuring Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns, and the Universal Champion Bray Wyatt at Payback 2020. Roman then pinned Strowman in the main event to win the Universal Title. Fans did not know it, but this title win would be the beginning of a historic reign for Roman. Even though this win took place during the “Pandemic Era” of WWE, fans could tell this was a special moment for Roman Reigns. There was a change in demeanor and style from Roman that wrestling fans had not seen before. 

Payback marked the birth of this new character for Roman Reigns, “The Tribal Chief” did not solidify as a character until he started a feud with Jimmy and Jey Uso. After Jey lost the “I Quit match” to Roman, Roman demanded Jey to refer to him as “The Tribal Chief.” With the title of Tribal Chief, fans could feel the weight behind the meaning of it. Not only was Roman telling the world he was the champion, but he was also letting them know he was at the top of the legendary Anoa’i family tree. Once Jey fell in line with Roman, Jimmy would soon follow suit. The Uso’s joining their cousin began the formation of The Bloodline. 

The Bloodline has arguably been one of the most significant factions in the history of professional wrestling. Looking at accolades alone, Roman and the Usos have all had historic careers in WWE. With the combination of these three led by the Wiseman Paul Heyman, The Bloodline took the WWE by storm. The Bloodline saga has been the top storyline for the past three years. Whether they added members such as Solo Sikoa or Sami Zayn, or have had inner turmoil within the group, whenever The Bloodline is on television it is a must-see. 

Roman has been the top champion for three years. He has been the top star in the eyes of fans for those three years. The heel turn at SummerSlam and the creation of the “Tribal Chief” character has sparked a new appreciation of Roman Reigns with the fans. The question now is, “What is next?” Many fans were, and some still are, disappointed Roman Reigns defeated Cody Rhodes at Wrestlemania 39 to continue his historic title reign. So where does Roman go now? As of this writing, Roman Reigns has surpassed an entire three years as champion. WWE unified the Universal Championship and WWE Championship at Wrestlemania 38 when Roman defeated Brock Lesnar in the main event. Roman having the longest title reign in modern wrestling history, is a fantastic achievement, but what should happen next? 

What would you like to see happen next for Roman Reigns? Once he does inevitably lose his title, should Roman take a break from wrestling? Should he retire altogether? Let me know your ideas, but until then, “Acknowledge your Tribal Chief.”