For wrestling royalty, Roman Reigns traveled a crooked path to the bright lights of World Wrestling Entertainment. His father, Sika, and uncle, Afa, worked as the Wild Samoans, who won the WWE (known at the time as WWF) tag-team championship three times in the early 1980s and were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007. Other wrestling relatives include cousins Yokozuna, a former WWF champion, and the current tag-team champions, the Usos.
But rather than leap into the ring, Reigns (born Leati Joseph Anoa’i) first tried butting heads in football. He played defensive tackle at Georgia Tech, earning first-team all-ACC honors in 2006, before spending time in NFL training camps with Minnesota and Jacksonville and playing in a handful of games with the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos.
In 2010, Reigns signed a developmental deal with WWE. His surprise debut came two years later at Survivor Series, when he and teammates Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins interfered in a title match.
That trio, known as the Shield, is still wreaking havoc. Calling themselves the “hounds of justice,” they have won over fans with a unique ring entrance and an intense style that combines high-flying artistry with the power moves of the 6-foot-3, 265-pound Reigns, who has slimmed down — and muscled up — from his football days.
Reigns and the Shield will continue their feud with “Corporate” Kane when WWE hits Verizon Center on Monday for “Raw.” It’s the last major show before wrestling’s crown jewel event, Wrestlemania 30, in New Orleans on April 6, where the Shield will face Kane and the New Age Outlaws in a six-man tag match.
Reigns, 28, spoke with The Washington Post about the evolution of his career and character. This is an edited version of that conversation.
You came from a large and prominent wrestling family but didn’t dive right into the sport. Why did you wait?
My mom and dad wanted me to just do something different, try new things. Especially down where I grew up in the South [Florida], football is such a big thing. And last time we checked, pro wrestling didn’t get you a scholarship to college.
Once I got a bit older and we could see there could be a future in football, it was everyone’s blessing to chase that dream. And it did me a lot of good: It put me through college, it gave me an education, it got me a little taste of pro ball and a lot of good memories. I don’t regret any of it.
When you turned to wrestling, you didn’t go with a Samoan name, character or outfit, as so many from your family have. Was that your decision?
It was a process. Of course, immediately the thought was: “He’s Samoan, so let’s run with that.” But then I think they saw my personality, being more of a cultured guy, going to college, playing ball, things like that, just the kind of guy I am, you know, just be me — don’t try and focus on a nationality or an ethnicity or anything like that. Just be myself.
The Shield has wrestled some of the best matches in WWE of late. On “Raw” in Chicago, the crowd was chanting your name as well as “This is awesome,” and I noticed you broke out in a huge smile during the heat of the match. Do you notice crowd reaction, and does it affect how you perform?
I try to live in the moment. When you’re in a singles match, you’re in there, and the guy’s on top of you, and you’re in a hold and you’re being smothered: You’re in the fight at all times. But when we’re doing these team fights, you have a little time to take in the moment and just absorb the energy of the crowd.
Especially with the crowds nowadays. They’re very opinionated; you can almost sense that the crowd has taken a leadership role within their own product. This is what they take joy in and take pride in. And if they’re not into something, they’re going to let you know. If they’re into something, same thing: They’re going to let you know.
You’re experiencing team success, but you’ve had individual moments that stand out. You keep getting mentioned as a main eventer and future champion. Where do you see this going?
I’ve always pictured myself being in the main event. It’s always been my expectation to be the top guy, the face of the company, the one with all of that responsibility. But that should be everybody’s goal. I didn’t get into this to just be in the middle of the pack. If you want to do that, go work in a different line of work. This isn’t the place to camouflage yourself. I’m trying to be the most exotic animal on this safari.
In a way, Wrestlemania 30 — WWE’s equivalent of the Super Bowl — marks the end of your season. How does that affect your approach? And when that show is in the books, what’s next?
It’s Mania first. We want to get there the right way, and we want to just tear the house down. We wanna burn it down, put cracks in the wall, just demolish that place and have an awesome match.
As far as the next day? There’s going to be some gaps. There are going to be a bunch of big names that are gonna compete [at Wrestlemania] and then not be there on Monday. That’s when guys like myself, the rest of the Shield, Cesaro, the Usos . . . there’s a bunch of guys who want this and are willing to work every single day. If I’m a fan of the WWE, I would feel safe to know that your entertainment is in the right hands.
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