Is Roman Reigns This Generation’s Lex Luger?

He has the look, ability, and persona to be WWE’s next crown jewel. So why isn’t he?

March 29th, 2015 was supposed to be the biggest night in Roman Reigns’ career. In many ways it was as he was in the main event of WWE’s flagship event WrestleMania 31 against then WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar. From the onset of last year, he was pegged to be the heir apparent of longstanding company ace John Cena and usher in a new generation of young stars burgeoning into the top of the card. Everything was going as planned; he even had a great match with Lesnar in the process. Then he got pinned in the main event by Seth Rollins.

After all that buildup and momentum he had going in, what the fuck happened in what led to Reigns getting the carpet swept from him? At the very last minute, WWE decided that Reigns shouldn’t be the guy to go over Lesnar and instead had Rollins cash-in the Money In The Bank briefcase in the middle of the match to pin Reigns and catapult himself into a main event superstar. Roman however has been left to languish in the top of the card, constantly losing in multiple title opportunities and now recently to Bray Wyatt at the Battleground PPV. He’s still getting big crowd pops, he’s steadily improving in the ring and on the microphone, shaking off initial awkwardness since going solo. Yet instead of being booked like the badass he was in 2014, he’s just a guy being rehabilitated from the damage done.

I can’t help but to think this is all very reminiscent to 21 years ago with another heir apparent of the WWE was picked over someone else and it destroyed his run with the company right after. That’s right, I’m talking about Lex Luger and the Royal Rumble incident with Bret Hart. Lex Luger was already a known name from his time in NWA feuding with Ric Flair and The Four Horsemen plus was an on-again/off-again ally of Sting. While he wasn’t the overall best in-ring, his physical charisma got him over with the crowd and how the attributes that fit the bill of a WWE main eventer.

The thing is that he came in a little too late. Around the mid 90s, WWE were facing a lot of scrutiny with a steroid scandal causing a fallout between the promotion and their top star Hulk Hogan. As a result, their cards had to be reshuffled in building the new major players in the league that didn’t necessarily had that bodybuilder physique, but they were damn good wrestlers anyway. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were the two that was redefining what it was to be a main event draw despite not being the most muscular or tallest. Luger rolled in when the crowds were already firmly behind guys like them and two other upstarts that had his size, but were younger (Razor Ramon & Diesel). Before we knew it, Luger was passed over for Hart to be the top guy and eventually Luger faded out to WCW in 1995.

Now this is not saying that Roman Reigns is any way like Luger as worker. He’s actually lightyears ahead of him in almost every category, but the way his potential is being mismanaged is quite glaring. Then again, much of this can be attributed to the crowd turning on him despite knowing one year back he would be in this position. Combine that with how they poorly handled the booking of the Royal Rumble, and struggling to make Reigns a truly credible contender going into Mania, it was becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. History damn-near repeated itself from a year before and the company was forced to change the finish of their biggest show.

It possible that it is the bigger mistake in hindsight, but really where could’ve Roman gone if he did win at Mania, multiple programs with Big Show and Kane? That would have killed off his momentum as a champion faster than what he is going through now, but at least he would be winning more. Truth is that since the turn of the year, Reigns has only lost 13 times on TV (he has an 87% winning percentage overall). However, many of those losses will be memorable on how he’s still stuck in the upper midcard and failed at three title opportunities. Now he’s slotted in a feud with The Wyatts once again with Dean Ambrose as his back-up. Rumor has it is he’s supposed to team up with Sting at SummerSlam to give him a huge boost, which I find pretty coincidental given the circumstances. Here we go with yet another endorsement from another nostalgic character from our childhood attempting to get a guy over when the company itself doesn’t know what to do with him.

It’s becoming quite the narrative as of late.