Roman Reigns will face Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal Championship at WrestleMania, which you can watch April 8th live around the world on the WWE Network starting at 7 p.m. ET, but first he chatted with me about how much he’s grown as a performer since his first one-on-one encounter with Lesnar, how he handled the adjustment period Ronda Rousey is currently going through, his unique connection with live crowds, and what it would be like to work with Paul Heyman.
So three years ago you were heading into a similar situation at WrestleMania, facing Brock Lesnar for the championship in one of the biggest matches on the show. How much different do you feel as a performer going into this match compared to that one in Santa Clara?
“It’s like night and day man. I was brand spanking new to that situation. At that point I had an aggressive schedule doing so much media. I was just trying to get my foot through that door. I had my toe in and was really just trying to make it happen, but this time I feel the experience that I’ve gained over the years. I’ve been here before, so I know how to handle the situation. I know what I need to do, in order to get to that next day after WrestleMania.
Anytime you’ve shared the ring with someone like Brock Lesnar it always helps. It’s never fun walking in there for the first time with him one-on-one.”
I was going to say the last time you faced him in that environment you beat the crap out of each other and it had to take a physical toll, but I would imagine there is part of you that is looking forward to stepping back into that environment.
“Yeah man, the cool thing about that is, and it may sound simple, but it’s just Brock (laughs). It’s just awesome to be in the ring with him. He’s not only a multi-time WWE champion, but what he did in his collegiate days all the way up to the UFC. He’s just an impressive athlete and when you’re dealing with someone like that, you can’t help but to get excited to have the opportunity to compete with him.
I’m looking forward to it. Is it going to be fun? I don’t know. It’s going to be a different type of fun, especially if you’re into your neck and back hurting, but that’s what we do, that’s what we signed up for and that’s the cool part about being in there with Brock. It’s just kinda simple, but you better bring your physical boots today.
Don’t be scared to fight, don’t be scared to get hit, but I think that all translates with him. I think that’s what made our last match successful. We didn’t try to trick anyone. We went out there and beat the crap out of each other and the people enjoyed it. We’re not going to go out there and break the wheel or anything. I think there’s going to be some similar elements, but I think there are going to be some surprises. It’s three years later and it’s a totally different atmosphere now. I guarantee we’re going to deliver a hellish fight.”
There’s a rumor going around that if Brock Lesnar were to leave WWE, the two people Paul Heyman may “advocate” for are Ronda Rousey and you, what do you think about sharing an on-screen role with him?
“I think it would be really cool. Obviously it comes down to a couple of different things creatively, but I think it would be really neat. I think it would be able to show a different aspect of myself.
It really just depends on the route that we want to take my character; if there’s any type of evolution that needs to be made in the next couple of years. I think with a character like Paul Heyman, the different things that we could do would be really cool. It would show not only myself, but also him in a totally different light. I wouldn’t just be the guy bouncing around not saying anything. If there’s something I need to say, I’m going to step up and say it because regardless if I’m with a guy like Paul Heyman, I would not be a Paul Heyman guy, he would be a Roman Reigns guy, that’s the way that would work.
My role is my role and I don’t plan on changing that for anybody. If there’s something that needs to be said or if someone needs to step up in the locker room and mention something, that’s always going to be where I want to be. As long as nothing crazy or drastic would change, I think we’d be able to do a lot of really cool stuff. I’m into it.”
I talked to Ronda yesterday and something that we talked about is how she’s still going through the adjustment period where things are slowing down for her during talking segments. She said what should be five seconds of speaking is really going by in a second, so she feels like she’s going through everything too quickly. Do you remember when you finally felt comfortable in those situations and felt like OK I’ve found the mental speed I’m comfortable with.
“She has the advantage and disadvantage of not going through developmental. That’s when we learned all of that stuff. When you first start, the trainers will tell you, ‘This may feel really long, but go longer.’
That’s the point when people need to feel busy mentally, they feel like they need to do or say something. If you notice, some people move a little slower than others and I’m one of those people. I like to call it island time, but it takes a certain amount of confidence in yourself to be able to do that. It’s not just confidence like, ‘Oh I’m confident in myself, I’ll be good here.’ The confidence comes from knowing what you’re going to do next. You’re the storyteller.
Whenever she becomes the storyteller and she dictates the moment, then she’ll feel truly comfortable. We call that being a General. When you get to that point, you can command, you can lead. That just comes from experience and reps.
The secret weapon in this business is having experience, going through certain situations and public speaking. For example, being in front of thousands of people and flubbing a word, but then you know how to handle that situation. You have to go through the fire a few times in order to get the right type of callusing so you know how to handle that stuff.
She’s done a lot of good and different stuff. She’s done movies, different types of media work. Like anything else she’s done in her life she’s going to learn on the fly and she’s going to learn fast because she’s smart and a great athlete. These are all good growing pains that she’s going through.”
Have you had a breaking point with the crowd where you said to yourself, I’m just going to worry about my work and they’re going to react however they want to react instead of trying to get them to react a certain way?
“Um … nah, I never really looked at it like I’m just going to do what I’m going to do and then hopefully they’re going to do what I want them to do. This is going to sound weird coming from me because I’m the guy who gets booed a lot, but there’s a relationship there. They don’t want to not boo me, they want to boo me.
There’s certain things that you can do out there and it comes from the experience I have now. I can change that reaction if I want to. I can make it worse, I can get them to really boo me if I want to, or I can change it depending on the story that we’re telling depending on what my initiative is out there, you know?
I’m obviously trying to take care of myself as every performer out there should. You want yourself to be shot in the right light, or the light you’re trying to be shot in if you’re a bad guy, a good guy, or a grey area guy. It’s all about that connection.
I’ve been explaining it like Avatar, when you ride the horse and we connect our ponytails, you can become one out there with the crowd. You have to take what they give you and you have to give them something back. I’ve heard it also described as, you have to emit the energy and they will send it right back to you.
There’s a relationship between the crowd and the performer and if the performer neglects that, then they won’t get the ultimate reaction or pop they’re looking for.”
For many reasons The Shield reunion is something that didn’t quite come together, is that something you would like to get another shot at, or are you fine with just focusing on your solo run?
“We just chalked that up to, it is what it is. It was just stuff that was out of our control. The thing that really hurt the most was losing [Dean] Ambrose. Not only just for The Shield reunion, but he carries a lot of weight. He’s a cornerstone for what we do. As a former Shield member, he’s always going to be my brother. I consider him to be one of those guys that we can rely on, he’s a workhorse. He lasted longer than all of us as far as injuries go. It took longer for him to go down and take some time off than anyone else who came up during our time period.
That just speaks to the type of person Ambrose is. It definitely helps sell tickets when the people know the Lunatic Fringe is on the card. We’re dying to get him back not only from a wrestling standpoint, but just to have him back traveling with us. It’ll be great to have another good brother and a good friend on the road.
It just wasn’t meant to be, but I think it worked out better that way. Everything happens for a reason and going into this WrestleMania season, I don’t know if we were going to truly put as much time and effort into The Shield as we should have.
We all still have huge aspirations as singles competitors to continue to rise our stardom and maybe when we get a little more beaten and battered, we can rely on each other and come back for that reunion.”
It feels like Ambrose is someone that had to be told, ‘you’re done, you need to go get this surgery and get yourself healthy.’
“Oh 1,000 percent. Some people know this from their own trade or craft, you can get to a point where you’re so stubborn.
He’s worked a long time at this and it’s like, ‘No man I’ve put 10 years into this and I’m not stopping now. I can do this.’
He was one of those guys who had to be talked into the situation by his wife, his mom, multiple people within the company, and the doctors, but that’s just the type of competitor he is. Those are the type of guys we need around us, the ones who are willing to go nonstop.
He’s essentially like the Energizer Bunny. He doesn’t know any type of work ethic, he just knows one drill and that’s wrestling every single night as hard as he can.”