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Big Dogs: Who are the top five opponents for Roman Reigns?

As I sit here mere days removed from WrestleMania, as I reflect on the two nights of the biggest show of the year, I have a few questions: What’s next for Bobby Lashley & Drew McIntyre? What can we expect from Omos?  Why did the Fiend & Randy Orton feud even happen? Why’d they do Bayley like that? And how was Bad Bunny so good?

My biggest question, however, came after the main event on Sunday. After Roman Reigns pinned both Edge & Daniel Bryan to retain his WWE Universal Championship, an absolute coup de grâce finish, I thought to myself, “Who’s beating this guy?”

Now, technically in this sandwich of a pinfall, Edge covered Daniel Bryan for three. Technically, Edge pinned Bryan, so there’s a good chance that they’ll later do a Roman Reigns vs. Edge match, which I’m absolutely here for. But for now, it’s just a hypothetical situation.


Roman Reigns is doing the best work of his career, by far. Since his return at last year’s SummerSlam, this has been  Reigns’ apex, and we are living in it. It’s better than his work in the Shield, and I loved the Shield. It’s also far better than the mid 2014–early-2018 era of the countless attempts to bestow upon him the title of top WWE babyface.

Reigns came back to the ring with new teeth and a new attitude, but the best part is that he’s finally being who he was supposed to be from the start, from the ashes of the Shield. Just weeks after his return, he won the Universal Championship and has been the best part of SmackDown every single week ever since. Reigns is now seated firmly at  Head of the WWE Table, and it doesn’t look like he plans on leaving his seat anytime soon. 

In WWE, as it is in life, nothing lasts forever. Bruno Sammartino would lose the title, eventually. The Undertaker’s streak ended. Hillbilly Jim actually finished his Hall of Fame induction speech. At some point, Roman Reigns will lose this title—but when will that be? And to whom? I’ve picked the five best candidates, or one for each WrestleMania main event that Roman has competed in. 

Cesaro

It’s about a half-decade overdue, but Cesaro got his big WrestleMania moment with a clean singles win over Seth Rollins on night one. It’s a big win for Cesaro, while Rollins has pretty much done it all despite being six years younger than Cesaro. Rollins closed WrestleMania 31 as WWE Champion. He beat Brock Lesnar twice for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania 35 and again at the following SummerSlam. He pinned Triple H at WrestleMania 33. He’s also had runs with the Intercontinental, United States and Tag Team titles. He even has a Money in the Bank win. Admittedly, though, the current Seth Rollins—with his garbage “messiah” gimmick—doesn’t feel like the same guy who won the 2018 Royal Rumble, but his resumé speaks for itself. Again, this was a huge win for Cesaro.

The two had one of the best matches of the week, but Cesaro felt like a star to fans inside the Buccaneers’ stadium, but how will WWE follow up? And where does Cesaro go from here?

Anyone that’s seen Cesaro work knows he’s built differently. A vocal majority of WWE’s audience have expressed their desire to see Cesaro at the top of the cards in the World Championship picture, though that idea is one of many triggers that Vince McMahon never pulled. After the big win, however, it at least feels like McMahon is ready to get Cesaro into the main event mix. Hopefully he’s allowed to shine regularly on SmackDown, especially if he’s still able to cut promos like the one he did on Talking Smack, who knows where he could be in a year? He could win the next Royal Rumble and go on to challenge Reigns, or he could’ve already taken the belt by then, both of which are real possibilities. The rest of Cesaro’s 2021 could be a career run for him. 

Drew McIntyre

In one of the biggest surprises of the weekend, Drew McIntyre did not defeat Bobby Lashley for the WWE Championship. Their match opened night one, and I, like many, thought that they’d open the show with a win similar to WrestleMania 35 and give Drew McIntyre the moment he was supposed to have last year. Instead, McIntyre passed out to the Hurt Lock, and the latest speculation is that he is headed to SmackDown. Not only is SmackDown a better show than RAW, but there’s fresher match-ups and an elusive prize. 

At WrestleMania 35, McIntyre put Roman Reigns over in what was essentially a comeback match for Reigns, who had just returned to WWE after his leukemia went into remission. At WrestleMania 36, McIntyre beat Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship, and whether it was before zero or 70,000 fans, the record books will reflect this win. With McIntyre at the level he’s at now, I could absolutely buy him wrestling Reigns for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania 38 or sooner. Their last singles meeting saw Reigns come out on top via technical submission at the 2020 Survivor Series main event, so it could soon be time for Drew to get that win back. McIntyre isn’t my pick to take the blue belt from Reigns, but he’s certainly not a bad pick. 

Karrion Kross

Current NXT Champion who has yet to be defeated in a singles match, Karrion Kross as a main roster World Champion already feels inevitable. Kross is has “the look” that Vince and co. tend to lean towards, but Scarlett also adds so much to Kross’ package in terms of presence. I could very much see Kross being the new golden boy, the new top dog in WWE, but as much as I hate it, two World Championships exis, so while Vince may rocket-strap Kross, it might not come at Roman Reigns’ expense.

Kross is also the same age as Reigns, so this story wouldn’t exactly resemble the young gun taking down the old dog. If this were to take place, it turn into more of a story about Reigns, perhaps hi meeting his match against Kross.  I personally wouldn’t bet on Kross taking the belt from Reigns happening anytime soon, but I think he deserves to be on the list because of how he’s being positioned in NXT. Kross might have the brightest future out of anyone currently at the Capitol Wrestling Center. 

Keith Lee

As of this writing, Keith Lee’s last match was on the February 8 episode of RAW a win over Matt Riddle. I can’t find a reason why he’s been out for so long, despite going down a few different rabbit holes. We know that Lee’s fiancé, Mia Yim, tested positive for COVID-19 in late January, and while this could be part of it, Lee would’ve had to tested negative to work against Riddle in February; the fact that Yim tested positive that led us to believe it is COVID-related. Whatever it is that’s keeping him, hopefully big Keith is back soon, and everything is all good with him and his family.

But we just can’t ignore Keith Lee. He’s 3–2 in 2021 singles matches, which isn’t exactly world championship contender’s record, but Lee is a guy you could rehab pretty quickly, especially if he were moved to SmackDown to build him against Reigns. Lee was heavily featured in the NXT “invasion” of RAW and SmackDown ahead of the ‘19 Survivor Series. He also pinned Seth Rollins during the big cluster-you-know-what of a match. He had a pretty great 2020 in NXT, too, given the circumstances, and while his call-up to RAW hasn’t exactly been perfect, he’s certainly not dead in the water. He’s not my top pick, but deserves to be in the conversation. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Big E

I’ll get it out of the way now, I adore Big E, so there’s going to be bias here. Out of the five wrestlers on this list, Big E is my pick to take the Universal Championship from Roman Reigns. When Big E’s singles run began last year, which started not long before Roman Reigns returned, I was elated; I was and still am loving watching Big E get to shine on his own. That’s not a knock on New Day, either. I initially wasn’t a fan of how they separated them in last year’s draft but fortunately the group remains together despite being on separate shows. The Big E World Championship push has been a talking point amongst wrestling fans since late 2016 or even earlier, and almost five years later it feels like we could be on the cusp. 

At WrestleMania 37, Big E lost his Intercontinental Championship to Apollo Crews in a Nigerian Drum Fight when RAW Underground royalty, Dabba-Kato interfered to help Crews win. This was the perfect way to get the belt off E and onto Crews who is more suited for it at this point in time. Their ‘Mania match felt like the blowoff to the feud, and it feels like time to move on.

Starting with this coming episode of SmackDown, E should be built to the level of Main Event status, but gradually. I think it would be wrong to just have him win a random four-way number-one contenders match to face Reigns at WrestleMania: Backlash (annoying name). I think E should feud with and win against upper-mid card guys, lose sparingly if it all for the rest of 2021 and win the 2022 Royal Rumble. Big E challenging Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship in a full AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas, is a big, big match. Big E winning would be a huge moment and maybe one of the best WrestleMania moments of all time. But if, for whatever reason, WWE goes through with the Roman Reigns vs. Big E main event and decided to give Reigns the win, they could run it back again for WrestleMania 39 in Los Angeles and have Big E win it on that show. I think it has potential to be a compelling long-term story of Big E’s pursuit of the Universal Championship—it’s just that WWE doesn’t do long-term very well. 

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