Even as far back as The Big Dog’s time in the much-loved Shield stable, plans were already afoot to position Roman as the poster boy of the company going forward. As such, anything and everything were done to have fans get on the Reigns bandwagon and get behind him as the face of the WWE. The problem for Vince McMahon and Co., though, has been that the WWE Universe has largely rejected Roman Reigns at every turn; no matter who he was up against, the crowd often turned on him from the moment he walked to the ring.
In a sign of Vince’s stubbornness, he's continued to feed his audience what he feels that they want. He’s Vincent K. McMahon, and you’ll like whatever he gives you, dammit!
Now, in the bizarre landscape of the current WWE product, we’re constantly told and shown that Roman Reigns is this superhero-esque good guy who we should all love – despite all of our ears hearing that he’s constantly being booed out of building after building.
So, with all of that in mind, here are 16 examples of superstars who've been sacrificed as Vince McMahon continues on his mission to make us all embrace his favorite Big Dog.
16 CM Punk
There are several well-publicized reasons why CM Punk departed the WWE in 2014, and one of the glaring reasons is that he was starting to see how Roman Reigns was being groomed as “the guy,” regardless of how much the fans were clamoring to see The Straight Edge Superstar at the top of the card.
Punk has openly discussed his anger at never being given the chance to headline WrestleMania despite spending several years as the most popular performer in the WWE, and it was during one of his tangles with The Shield where he saw the writing on the wall with regard to Roman.
Even though the Chicago native was booked to defeat The Shield, Punk talked on Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling podcast about how he was constantly told to make Reigns look strong. And then, that was again reiterated to him. And again. And once more. And again for good luck.
CM Punk could see that The Big Dog was being groomed even back then to be the WWE’s headline act, and it was yet another example of the company looking past Punk when it came to being the top guy.
15 The Big Show
So often, when the WWE needs to put somebody over as a big deal, one of the first names they turn to is The Big Show. Even as far back as Brock Lesnar’s early career, Show has been used to help elevate up-and-coming talents. In more recent times, Braun Strowman and Big Cass are just some of the names who've been placed in feuds with The World’s Largest Athlete – and so has Roman Reigns.
While many may say that plenty of the names featured on this list were wrongly sacrificed to help push Roman as the WWE’s new poster boy, in the case of The Big Show, you can say that it was a sensible call to have him help to establish The Big Dog as the next top guy. After all, Show is a unique performer in that he’s a 7-ft-tall, 500-lb multiple-time World Champion who's in the twilight of his career.
The wrestling business is based on the older guard passing the torch to newer talent, and so, the WWE using Big Show in this way was certainly a good decision.
14 Kevin Owens
Where Kevin Owens is concerned, he’s one of those names who've been left in the shadows while Roman Reigns takes center-stage. Even during his time as the Universal Champion, KO was often left as an afterthought to the antics of Roman.
Like certain other talents over the decades, Owens was often made to look like a joke of a champion during his feud with The Big Dog. That was accompanied by The Prizefighter suffering loss after loss in non-title and tag bouts against Reigns during this whole rivalry.
Long gone was the badass Owens seen during NXT and his early main roster days, and instead, the Canadian was positioned to look like a fluke champion as he retained his title against Roman at December 2016’s Roadblock: End of the Line thanks to a DQ finish and then at the subsequent Royal Rumble show thanks to interference from Braun Strowman.
13 Chris Jericho
Chris Jericho is hands down, one of the greatest talents to lace up a pair of boots. These days, Jericho is often used to help elevate younger talents that need a helping hand in being cemented as legitimate competitors.
Whereas Y2J has done his best to try and help establish names such as Fandango, Dean Ambrose, and Kevin Owens, it seemed a tad confusing to have Jericho constantly take loss after loss against Roman Reigns. By that point in time, Roman was already a multi-time World Champion and this was yet another case of Vince and WWE brass using a legend to help Reigns get over with the crowd.
To the rest of us out there, you’d think that Jericho and his six-time World Champion stock could be used to help a true up-and-comer -- somebody like a Sami Zayn, a Rusev, or maybe a Baron Corbin -- who needs that helping hand to get to the next level.
12 Vince McMahon
You know sh*t’s getting serious when Vince McMahon gets physically involved in the WWE product these days – as highlighted by him getting brutally attacked by Kevin Owens as part of the build-up to this year’s Kevin Owens vs Shane McMahon Hell in a Cell match.
Barring a one-off match against CM Punk, the WWE Chairman has been largely absent from the ring over the past five years or more, but he was brought back to get physically involved with Roman Reigns in December 2015, a move that highlighted just how desperate the company was to get Reigns cheered. After all, Vinny Mac can be one of the easiest WWE names to hate when needed, as shown by his legendary rivalry with Steve Austin throughout the Attitude Era.
With Vince as the referee in Reigns’s WWE Title match against Sheamus, VKM took a Superman Punch from The Big Dog in order to garner some cheers for his new poster boy. Sadly, that didn't work, and fans were still hesitant to give Roman anything but boos.
Despite being booked as a villainous foreign menace throughout his WWE tenure, many can’t help but cheer for Rusev due to how impressive he is in the ring and how entertaining he is on the microphone. Unfortunately for the Bulgarian, though, he’s another who has fallen afoul of Roman Reigns.
Having seen his momentum crushed – no pun intended – by John Cena at WrestleMania 31, Rusev managed to eventually get some sort of momentum back behind him by winning the United States Championship from Kalisto at Extreme Rules in 2016. Then, just as the Bulgarian Brute was getting some real steam, he came up against the brick wall known as "Roman Reigns" at the Clash of Champions PPV.
That was done to get the belt over to Roman, yet The Big Dog dragged the once-prestigious championship to the ring as if it was a hindrance to him. Following losing the title to Reigns, Rusev spent six months or more floating in the wilderness before his current feud with Randy Orton.
10 AJ Styles
After suffering a loss to Chris Jericho at WrestleMania 32, AJ Styles skyrocketed to the main-event scene as the first challenger to Roman Reigns’ freshly won WWE Championship.
The Phenomenal One and The Big Dog partook in a run of matches that were undoubtedly amazing bouts, but that was all done to simply show that Roman could hang with one of the best in-ring talents on the planet. Reigns constantly retained his title and won the feud, with Styles soon shipped out to SmackDown Live.
Nobody ever really thought that AJ was in any danger of actually winning the WWE Title at this time, and it was merely a case of the WWE using Styles’ reputation of being such a world-class performer to help have the doubters accept Roman as being on the same level of the former TNA and IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
9 The Rock
Everybody knows Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Y’know, the guy who became a wrestling icon before, then managed to become the most bankable name in Hollywood. Good guy, right? Super positive, super nice? Yep, everybody loves The Rock.
So, surely, if The People’s Champ endorses someone as the next big star of the wrestling business, it must mean that this new guy really is the guy -- not if your name’s Roman Reigns, though.
The WWE knew that there would be a negative reaction to Reigns winning the 2015 Royal Rumble, and so, their way of grabbing plenty of cheers for The Big Dog was to throw The Rock out there to give his “cousin” the rub.
Spectacularly, this all backfired massively and, instead of Rocky’s reaction rubbing off on Roman, it was the other way round, as fans then started to boo The Rock as he celebrated with Reigns. Ouch!
8 Dean Ambrose
He may often be positioned as the guy who’s just happy at the success achieved by his brother, but Dean Ambrose is most definitely a talent who's been sacrificed in order to make Roman Reigns the poster boy of the WWE.
One of the key moments here is the 2015 edition of the Survivor Series. With that show featuring the finals of a tournament for the vacant WWE Championship, former Shield members collided when Reigns and Ambrose clashed to decide the new champ. Of course, despite the crowd begging for an Ambrose victory, Roman got the clean victory as the WWE missed a golden opportunity to make The Lunatic Fringe their top star.
Following that, the 2016 Royal Rumble match saw the final two of Ambrose and Triple H battling for the victory and the similarly vacant WWE Title. Hunter would get that win, but the crowd was rampant for Ambrose to claim the W and the gold. A match between Triple H and Dean followed at the Roadblock PPV, but there was no chance Ambrose was ever defeating The Game for the WWE Championship. Why’s that? Well, that’s because Vince McMahon was adamant in his decision that, regardless of fan reaction, Triple H was only ever going to lose that belt to Roman Reigns; something which happened at WrestleMania 32.
7 Triple H
Out of all of the people who've gone out of their way to make Roman Reigns look like the very best in the business, Triple H is right at the top of the list. For all of the accusations – many of which are seemingly true – of Hunter holding down talent or refusing to do the J.O.B., The Game has done all that he can to get Roman cheered by the fans.
Again, though, even Triple H’s best efforts couldn’t muster up any real cheers for Reigns. Sure, there was that episode of RAW where The Big Dog looked like a total badass when he hit a memorable Spear on The King of Kings, but that was the only time there was any sort of a positive reaction to Roman regardless of how many underhand heel tactics Triple H employed during a rivalry that culminated at WrestleMania 32.
Let’s face it: if Triple H is even prepared to put a guy over, you know things must be serious! Sadly, even Hunter’s best scumbag act couldn’t help persuade people to get behind Reigns.
6 Stephanie McMahon
If Triple H going out of his way to make Roman Reigns look like ‘the man’ was a big deal, things were taken to a whole other level when the untouchable Stephanie McMahon was used to try and garner a positive reaction for Reigns.
Forget the glory days of the Attitude Era; the past decade or so has seen the WWE completely avoid any sort of male-on-female violence. Also during that time, the company has regularly positioned Stephanie McMahon as a completely dominant figure on WWE programming; whenever any babyface is starting to achieve some modicum of success, Steph has regularly been there to take away his balls.
So, it took us all by surprise to see Roman Reigns hit a Spear on the Billion Dollar Princess at WrestleMania 32. This was one of the biggest examples of just how far the WWE is prepared to go in their attempts to get fans behind Roman, but even this was just a brief moment of positivity amongst the regular boos for The Big Dog.
5 The Undertaker
Does it get much bigger than having the famed Undertaker be used to enhance your reputation?
For Roman Reigns, that’s exactly what happened at WrestleMania 33 as he beat The Deadman in the middle of the ring and seemingly retired ‘Taker. Ever since, not only has Reigns regularly bragged about that on WWE programming, but the WWE announcers have also constantly driven home the point that Roman retired The Phenom, one of the most legendary figures that the wrestling business has ever seen.
The only way it could’ve been made any sweeter for The Big Dog is if he had ended The Undertaker’s ‘Mania streak in the process, although that had been broken a few years prior by Brock Lesnar. Having Roman defeat this iconic figure in such a dominant fashion at The Showcase of the Immortals was Vince McMahon yet again reiterating just what a big deal his latest chosen one was.
4 John Cena
One of the most hotly anticipated matchups in recent memory was seeing the powerhouses of John Cena and Roman Reigns butting heads. Many thought that this match would be saved for a WrestleMania, given how it was the sort of (wet) dream battle that would get Vince McMahon tight in the pants. Instead, it was this year’s No Mercy PPV where this match took place.
While we were all enjoying the back and forths between Cena and Reigns, it’s pretty safe to say that nobody out there really bought into the idea of Cena toppling his heir apparent, The Big Dog.
In a shock to nobody, Roman got the W – taking a total of four of Cena’s patented Attitude Adjustments along the way. And how did Reigns put the Leader of the Cenation away? Why, all it took was a solitary Superman Punch and Spear, making Cena and his signature finishing move look weak in the process.
3 The Shield
While Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins both feature on this list individually, it’s near-impossible to not make mention of The Shield as a stable, given the current WWE landscape.
Right now, in 2017, we’re all set to see a Shield reunion; Ambrose and Rollins have been successfully teaming, and it’s only a matter of time before Roman rejoins his brothers. And why’s that? Why, that’s because Dean and Seth have the audacity to be getting a positive reaction from the crowd. As such, the WWE logic is that one of the few ways to guarantee cheers for their beloved Big Dog is by reuniting – no matter how briefly – the full trio of Shield brethren.
So yes, you can add the good name of The Shield to the list when it comes to the WWE’s thinly veiled attempts to do everything – anything! – to get the crowd behind Reigns.
2 Daniel Bryan
Following the popularity of CM Punk, the next person in line who the WWE Universe decided to get behind was Daniel Bryan. Truth be told, the reactions of D-Bry had even started to eclipse those of Punk during The Straight Edge Superstar’s final months with the company. Sadly for The American Dragon, Bryan became another to run up against Roman Reigns.
Not only was Bryan shockingly eliminated before Roman entered the 2015 Royal Rumble match – a match that so many were wanting The Beard to win – but after the inevitable Reigns victory in that over-the-top extravaganza, Bryan was then used to reinforce that, y’know, Roman is really, really good and that you should all totally cheer him.
After the predictably negative reaction to The Big Dog winning the Rumble, it was decided that Roman would defeat Bryan at the following month’s Fastlane PPV – complete with a show of respect from D-Bry that was meant to get the fans to respect Reigns, yet Roman was again booed out of the building.
1 Seth Rollins
While many names on this list were outright beaten in order to push Roman Reigns to the moon, the story of Seth Rollins is a slightly different one. You see, Rollins has actually gotten one over on The Big Dog at several turns, but the bigger problem here is how The Architect has been held back from dominating the WWE as its top babyface.
When Rollins returned from his long injury layoff at Extreme Rules in 2016, the crowd absolutely lost its mind, and we all saw a reaction rarely seen since the heyday of the Attitude Era. Despite having been a detested bad guy before his injury, at that point, the crowd were ready to embrace Seth and wanted to see him as the all-conquering babyface instead of having Reigns forced down their throats.
So, what did the WWE do? They followed this up by having Rollins reinforce his position as a sinister heel on the very next night’s RAW show. Silly us for thinking that the company may actually dare to capitalize on what the crowd wanted and have somebody else eclipse Roman at the top of the tree.
Sources: WWE.com, PWTorch, Wikipedia