728x90 AdSpace

  • Latest Posts

    Thursday, October 1, 2020

    Mic'd Up: Roman Reigns 3.0

    Welcome to Mic'd Up! This new column was born out of my obsession with wrestling promos and a long conversation in the Smark Henry Discord chat in which I dissected this column's first-ever subject. My goal here is to share my observations in a wrestler's character and mic work, two fundamental aspects that could dictate whether a gimmick succeeds or fails. I don't plan to keep pointing at my own work and assert that it makes me an expert on the matter. Far from it. But after years and years of watching wrestlers get on the mic and flesh out their characters, you will learn a thing or two about how they tell their stories using the art of the promo. This is Mic'd Up.

    Since turning heel upon his return at SummerSlam, Roman Reigns has become the most compelling character on WWE TV. He came back with a full beard—something we'd seen over the years—and a more noticeable change in his look: he had his tooth gap fixed. Gone was the vest and in its place, a black T-shirt that read "WRECK EVERYONE & LEAVE." It reminded me of this classic Stone Cold Steve Austin t-shirt from the mid-2000s. The difference here is that Roman didn't come back as an antihero. He came back as a heel.

    It's interesting that for his first few appearances post-return, all Roman wore was the "WRECK EVERYONE & LEAVE" shirt. With the reveal that he had now become a Paul Heyman guy, his shirt was basically a spoiler for what he set out to do those first few weeks: let someone else do the work, then pick up the scraps and the win at the right moment. It wasn't a prediction. It was a spoiler.

    It was also really dickish and it cemented his status as the new top heel on SmackDown.

    Roman Reigns has been a fixture on WWE TV for the last eight years. Writing that felt weird because it feels like Roman has been around forever, but it also doesn't... until you realize that when he debuted on the main roster alongside Seth Rollins and Jon Moxley, fka Dean Ambrose, CM Punk was still the WWE Champion. And that feels like an entire lifetime ago.

    Through these last eight years, Roman has had three distinct characters: Shield Roman, Main Event Roman, and Tribal Chief Roman. The first two versions are intrinsically linked because the rise of Main Event Roman was a direct result of the breakup of The Shield. Aesthetically, he was the same guy. He just traded in the plain black padded vest for a padded vest with his huge, hideous logo right in the middle. Tribal Chief Roman is remarkably different. This is a dude who will fight topless, showing you his chiseled physique in all its glory. 

    With regard to their entrances, Shield Roman entered the arena the same way as a face or as a heel. While he walked to the ring with a purpose, the stoic look on his face also left very little room for emotion. As soon as he got onto the ring, he'd roar and raise his arms up in the air, much like the way he used to do as a babyface singles star.

    Main Event Roman was a completely different animal. This dude learned to be more expressive. The moment he stepped out of the curtain, he'd interact with fans already by loosening up and yelling at them, seemingly returning the love they showered at him... or the vitriolic hate if they booed him just because. He'd throw up the "hang loose" gesture, take a few moments to settle down at the center of the stage, cock his fist, and then punch down on the stage for either pyro or tron graphics to be displayed.

    Contrast that with Tribal Chief Roman.

    This version of Roman Reigns walks in slowly, confidently, chest sticking out, chin raised up, as if he sees everyone else as beneath him. His face doesn't have the same lack of emotion as Shield Roman did. The Tribal Chief's face is subdued, yes. But his expression tells a story of smugness and condescension. This is a guy who knows he is your Tribal Chief.

    Compare and contrast the camera angles between the examples above.

    Main Event Roman is shot at a level angle, with the camera making you look directly at him as if he is on your level. Tribal Chief Roman is shot from a low angle, to make him look more intimidating and imposing, the same way giants like Big Show, Braun Strowman, and Kane are shot during their entrances. While Roman is not necessarily a giant, he is by no means a small man. But you can see what they're going for here: intimidation via superiority. We, as audience members, are but lowly tribesmen, and Roman Reigns is our Chief.

    Gone are the high-energy movements and arm raising. He doesn't "hang loose" anymore. The Tribal Chief will get in the ring when he wants to get in the ring and he'll take his damn time if he wants to.

    I haven't even gotten to the actual mic work yet, but you can already see how much Roman Reigns has deviated from the first two versions of his character now that he's the top heel on the Blue Brand. What he's doing is right out of the classic heel playbook: take away from the babyface—or in this case, take away what the fans used to like about you as the babyface.

    It's like how Chris Jericho did a 180 when he turned into the Anton Chigurh version of his character in 2008. He cut his hair, started wearing suits, walked and talked slowly, enunciated in an exaggerated manner and used big words, and took the energy right out of his promos. It's night and day compared to his Y2J/Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla persona. 

    These little details matter because a heel's job is to make everybody hate him, even his diehard fans. Casuals can hate a heel because he's being a heel or doing heelish things. But when you take away the stuff about your gimmick that your diehard fans love, then you alienate them and make them want to hate you, too. That's exactly what Roman Reigns has been doing since returning to television.

    The changes in Roman's character start with his alignment with Paul Heyman, once the advocate of Reigns's biggest rival, Brock Lesnar. What's interesting is Heyman said that he was corrupted by Roman, and not the other way around, because of how Roman (in kayfabe) brought him back to WWE after Lesnar had left. A subtle detail here is how in his first couple of promos since returning and subsequently winning the Universal Championship, Roman lets Heyman do the talking when Roman is a capable guy on the mic himself. I don't need to address you. I'll let my Special Counsel do that for me.

    He doesn't even speak until the last minute of this segment.

    Before he finally does speak, Roman Reigns looks at the mic, as if pondering every word he's about to say to make sure each one counts. He's deliberate in his cadence and vocabulary.

    He starts off in a matter-of-fact way, telling you that he did what he said he was going to do. And then, he brings up the intensity for a quick moment, when he asserts that SmackDown is "[his] island." After that, he brings it back down once again and reverts back to a smug, cocky champion, who believes exactly what he said.

    That's a far cry from the guy who once cut the infamous "Sufferin' Succotash" promo.

    As a babyface, Roman Reigns had a habit of smiling while he talked. He wasn't smiling all the time with childlike wonder, like Erin Hannon of The Office. But he would give a half-smile here and there in between promos to exude confidence or to get people to like him. His cadence was also much quicker, and you'd notice his energy would sometimes get him carried away that he'd stumble through his lines a bit.

    A great example is at the 1:09 mark of the video below:

    As Roman developed to talk like a singles star, he relied on many familiar beats that most wrestlers default to when they cut promos.

    • Emphasizing words like, "right here, right now in (insert city here)!"
    • Stressing phrases like, "MY title!"
    • Starting a verbal takedown talking quickly, building up the intensity by raising one's tone of voice, and then punctuating by yelling the most brutal part of the verbal barb.
    You can actually see a lot of those examples in the compilation above. What's interesting about the way Roman used to cut his promos is that they're standard fare in the world of wrestling. As fans, we're so used to hearing wrestlers/managers talk that way in the ring that when you imagine yourself cutting a promo, you'd probably default to doing it in that style, too! Try it. Cut a promo right now. You'll find yourself stopping at certain beats to draw a crowd reaction.

    But in real life, people don't actually talk that way.

    And that's an added wrinkle Roman Reigns added to this heel run. He talks on the mic like he'd talk to you in real life (or how someone with his character traits would). Check out the go-home segment from last week's SmackDown as an example:

    Roman starts off talking to Jey Uso with a calm bedroom voice as if they were just having dinner, but you can sense the condescension in his language. That's when he starts giving Jey the backhanded compliments before exalting himself as the head of the Anoa'i Family and reminding his cousin of his place. Roman knows and believes it to be true so there's no doubt in his voice. And he doesn't need to yell to hammer the point home either.

    It's not until Jey Uso gives his heartfelt and emotional response that we see a more visceral side come out of Roman. Yes, he turns into a wrestler again, but the way Roman talks down to a fallen Jey Uso is also how an angry motherfucker would talk over a guy whose ass he'd just decisively whooped. He's holding up Jey's head—eyes shut and all—and brings it close to the Universal Championship, as if to say, "This is as close as you'll ever get to this title." He orders his cousin to just do his job: collect the payday and take that beating at Clash of Champions, while driving the point home this time. I am still the head of the family. You are not and you will never be.

    It's really marvelous to see just how far Roman Reigns has come from being the man of few words in The Shield to the guy who tried so damn hard to be the next John Cena. Long as the road may have been, his journey of evolution to becoming the Tribal Chief has been fun to watch, especially when you notice the little details he's putting into this new character.

    His story-driven match against Jey Uso at Clash of Champions featured another new wrinkle in Roman's mic game. For starters, he's actually talking more now mid-match, unlike before when he'd usually just scream and roar right before hitting a big move like his Superman Punch. Against an overmatched Jey, Roman finds the overconfidence to run his mouth and order his cousin to acknowledge him as his Chief. Roman even refers to himself in the third person as "The Chief." That's a new level of dickishness right there.

    Paul Heyman even adds a couple of nice touches here by doing two things. The first is this moment:

    What Heyman says doesn't do anything for Roman at all. He just got angrier because he wanted Jey to call him the Chief, not Heyman. Paulie's look of devastation is a foreshadowing because he knows what's about to happen. That brings me to the second little detail that Heyman added to Reigns's extra mean streak at Clash of Champions

    In yelling at Jimmy Uso to throw in the towel, Heyman shows that he's the lesser of two evils in this story. 

    During that emotional climax, you'll notice Roman's fury leads him to repeatedly bludgeoning a fallen Jey with strikes and headbutts, with him yelling in between shots. It's frenzied anger, but it's also controlled. He doesn't froth at the mouth demanding the acknowledgment. He just wants to beat it out of you. That's what separates him from a crazy heel like Snitsky or even heel Moxley/Ambrose. Unpredictability isn't what drives this corrupted Roman Reigns. Ego does. Oh, he got a big ego. Such a huge ego.

    We're only one chapter into what appears to be WWE's best storyline on the main roster right now and as long as Roman Reigns plays his part well, we're in for a hell of a ride. This is probably the first time in years that I'm this invested in Roman as a character and that's what led me to break down the new ticks and nuances of his gimmick, to begin with. Moving forward, I'm going to focus more on specific promo styles and mic work, as opposed to an overall character study, so these columns shouldn't run this long.

    Until then, what do you like/hate most about Tribal Chief Roman Reigns? Let us know in the comments section below!

    Screenshot from WWE Network


    Stan Sy (@_StanSy) is the Editor at Large of Smark Henry and is also a radio DJ on Wave 89.1, an events host, a freelance writer, and the host of On Deck, as well as one of the hosts of The Wrestling-Wrestling Podcast. He also used to be one of the hosts and writers of The Wrestling Gods on FOX. He enjoys watching WWE, AEW, and the occasional New Japan match. 

    • Blogger Comments
    • Facebook Comments
    Item Reviewed: Mic'd Up: Roman Reigns 3.0 Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
    Scroll to Top