Last week, WWE was hit with the devastating news that rising monster heel Braun Strowman will be out of action for several weeks as he undergoes elbow surgery, per Ryan Satin of Pro Wrestling Sheet (h/t Wrestling Inc). The surgery figures to keep him out of both Extreme Rules and Great Balls of Fire after he was pegged for a superfight against Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal Championship, per Dave Meltzer of F4WOnline (h/t Wrestling Inc).
Strowman leaves at a time when his rivalry with Roman Reigns was reaching its boiling point. After Strowman’s victory over Reigns at WWE Payback, Raw’s two biggest stars were reportedly set to clash for a third time on pay-per-view at Extreme Rules. For now, Reigns will have to soldier on as a top star in need of a new feud; however, there could be a silver lining beneath this sudden change of plans.
Reigns’ mixed-to-negative reactions are among the most fascinating aspects of his polarizing character. As WWE’s top full-time merchandise seller, per Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Wrestling Inc), any negative reaction toward Reigns clearly has little correlation to his marketability. In fact, the negativity could be more accurately described as resentment.
These reactions skew more positive or negative depending on Reigns’ opponent. Against a pure heel like Sheamus, Reigns’ WWE Championship victory in December 2015 was cheered in the same city that all but chased him out of the Wells Fargo Center with pitchforks after he infamously won the 2015 Royal Rumble. Against Strowman, however, who impressed WWE’s male demographic with eye-catching stunts, chants of “thank you, Strowman” and “you deserve it” were directed at a hobbled Reigns every time The Monster Among Men would get the better of the former Shield member.
Strowman is currently WWE’s coolest, newest toy. His current ascension is a point of excitement for an insatiable fanbase that is quick to tire of WWE Superstars who are prone to over-exposure due to WWE’s very active programming schedule. With no Strowman, Reigns will have the opportunity to compete against more traditional heels in the same vein as Sheamus, thereby making him a more effective babyface.
According to a report from Bill Bhatti of Wrestling Inc, Reigns is rumored to be paired with The Miz who, more times than not, is able to effectively turn fans against him despite being in the era of “cool (read: ineffective) heels” like Kevin Owens.
By not having to worry about being a Braun Strowman crash test dummy—at times, literally—Reigns will have the luxury of being received as a more effective babyface against veteran heels. He’ll need all the practice he can get with a seemingly inevitable feud with the always-popular Brock Lesnar in the not-too-distant future.
Alfred Konuwa is a Featured Columnist and on-air host for Bleacher Report and Forbes. Like him on Facebook.