Exclusive Interview: How Roman Reigns survived the craziest year ever to become WWE World Heavyweight Champion
Barring incident, Roman Reigns will close 2015 as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, which is a far sight better than the way he started it.
After winning the 2015 Royal Rumble Match to a less-than-enviable reception from a Philadelphia crowd who wanted to see Daniel Bryan go the distance, The Big Dog mounted what was, in essence, a yearlong redemption tour he hadn’t planned on. Rebuilding his game from the ground up, Reigns clawed his way back from a heartbreaking WrestleMania loss to finally put all the pieces together and capture not only the title, but something far more elusive: The favor of a WWE Universe that had turned hostile.
Seven days after Reigns’ year came full circle, WWE.com called up the new champion to discuss the ups and downs of his 2015, from sharing the ring with Bryan to finally winning the “respect” of the crowd at the end of the craziest year in … well, ever.
The Royal Rumble was a very important part of the process.ROMAN REIGNS: I wasn’t even expecting that award. To be honest, I had no clue I was in the running. I wasn’t even paying attention because I was off rehabilitating the hernia and trying to get back. For me, my mental focus was getting healthy and getting back to where I could travel and make it to town after town and wrestle every single night. I was just trying to get back into the game.
WWE.COM: You and Daniel Bryan were both in the Royal Rumble Match. Were you worried about a potential crowd reaction in the same way that had happened the previous year?
REIGNS: No, I wasn’t concerned with D.B. being out there. If anything, I was happy he was out there, because he was coming off his injury, too. To have two guys coming back that can both contribute every single day, I never think that’s a bad thing. In hindsight, seeing how the reactions went, it didn’t help. But it is what it is, and everything happens for a reason. For me, it was an important part of the process.
WWE.COM: What process was that?
REIGNS: Getting better. Getting more experience, dealing with a hostile crowd. Learning. And that’s what spurred most of the progression, I think, is being in that situation and being able to learn from that.
WWE.COM: People always talk about the reaction when something goes right. Was it difficult for you to compete that night, knowing the reaction to your win wasn’t what you wanted it to be?
REIGNS: Yeah, absolutely. When we’re out there, it’s all based on passion and emotion. We go through these emotional roller coasters. You see us in pain, you see us in a frenzy, and that’s all part of the process. When [the crowd is] coming down heavy on you, it’s hard. And it took a lot out of me that night and for the weeks to come. Luckily, and with God favoring me, I was able to continue to push and learn and continue to grind and get to this point.
WWE.COM: The next night, Raw was actually reformatted into a studio show due to a snowstorm. How did it feel to get the chance to just talk without a crowd on your back?
REIGNS: That night was cool for me. I enjoy switching things up and going through different processes. A lot of times it can be monotonous doing what we do, week in and week out. It’s a new town, but it’s a similar building and the same routines can go down. So for us to switch that up and for me to have that one-on-one time and be able to talk to Paul Heyman with only a few players in that studio, it felt a lot more focused.
WWE.COM: At WWE Fastlane, you faced Daniel Bryan with your WrestleMania spot on the line. Were you worried that was going to be the end of the line for you?
REIGNS: I was confident. Was I feeling crazy at the time? Yeah. You never know what can happen. Especially in this industry, with how hard we go and the schedule we run. Injuries can happen at any time. But when the bell rings and I’m in the ring between those ropes, it’s up to me to get it done and I have full confidence in myself every single time.
WWE.COM: Knowing what you had gone through and what the WrestleMania crowd was like, how do you feel about your performance against Brock Lesnar in the main event?
I have a great support system and a family that loves me.REIGNS: I stand on that performance. That was a fight out there and the crowd knew it. Regardless of how they felt about me when I walked in, they certainly felt a definite way when I left, and I think that’s respect. I think that’s what’s helped me along this full year’s process. They can see I come out every single night and I’m not playing about this big-fight thing. I do it different than anybody else, because I’m willing to bang heads every single night. I don’t think anybody else could have gone out there with Brock Lesnar and do what I did. I stand by that and I’m proud of it. My father and my mother were in the front row watching and they got to see their son go toe-to-toe with Brock Lesnar. Not many people can say that.
WWE.COM: You mentioned the whole year was a process of improvement. Looking at what you had done and what you had yet to do after that WrestleMania match, what did you single out as something you needed to address to push you forward?
REIGNS: For me, everything. I don’t try to single out anything. When I first started, they said this is 24/7. It’s not a job, it’s a life. When all is said and done, I’ve only been in this business for five and a half years. I’m still just scratching at the surface. I haven’t even gotten to the big stuff yet. I feel like I’m growing in front of the crowd’s eyes, and that’s something to be a part of. If God keeps me healthy, I’ll continue to do that and run into this wall head-first until I break it down.
WWE.COM: Do you find it difficult to tune out any negative reactions to what you do?
REIGNS: It’s something I’ve had to teach myself over the past few years, because I am a person that cares. I do. I wouldn’t be in this business and do what we have to do and go through all the stuff we have to put up with if I didn’t care. Sometimes I have to pull myself back [and remind myself] the world is a big place. Don’t focus on the negativity. Focus on the positivity and the people that want you to do well, then, do it for them and for yourself. Sometimes I do things for myself; sometimes I do things for my family; sometimes I do things for my friends. There’s a great system where I’m not doing this just for one dream, I’m doing this for a bunch of people’s dreams. I have a great crew and a great family that loves me.
WWE.COM: Fast-forward to WWE TLC and your big moment where you destroyed Triple H after your match with Sheamus. Did that feel as epic to you as it did to watch?
REIGNS: I haven’t been able to watch much of the stuff back I’ve done in the past few weeks. But one thing I notice is anytime me and H are in the ring together, there’s always that buzz. You can feel it, there’s a tingle in the air. Regardless, when you have that buzz, it’s going to get to the physicality, so that’s how it’s got to go down.
WWE.COM: It sounds like the story of the year is that you’re more comfortable when you just fight people.
REIGNS: That’s just what I want to do: Create a path that’s unknown. It’s hard in this business and this world we live in to trail-blaze. To create something different and do your own thing is hard nowadays. That’s what I want to do. I want to take these matches to a whole new level and break that bar. That’s what I said ever since I got here: I just want to leave this place better than I found it, continue to raise that bar for my family and continue to push our legacy.
WWE.COM: What was it like to win the title in the same building as the Royal Rumble and hear the crowd finally coming around?
REIGNS: That, for me, was the icing on the cake. That was a full year of work and focusing in and keeping my head down, doing what I had to do and not letting anybody tell me differently. Not getting caught up in the B.S. of what everybody’s saying online or what somebody somewhere is blogging about. It’s just about me staying with my process, knowing I have a great support system. I surround myself with the right people, I believe in myself and I think it shows that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything you want — even if it’s dealing with thousands of crazy Philly fans. [Laughs.] Anything is possible.