After more than two years, it looks like the WWE may have finally given up on the Roman Reigns experiment.
What's the Roman Reigns experiment, you ask? It's WWE CEO and Chairman Vince McMahon's plan to. If it worked, he'd be as well known as the likes of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, John Cena and even Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
But it hasn't been working. Since January 2015, the company has positioned Reigns as its leading man. He almost never loses. He dominates nearly everyone. On TV, he's overcome every obstacle any villain can throw at him. Despite all this, fans have rejected him. They boo him in arenas around the world -- to the point where the WWE has muted crowd noise and even edited anti-Reigns signs in the crowd in post-event coverage.
On Sunday night at Battleground, a pay-per-view event broadcast on the WWE Network (the pro wrestling world's Netflix), Reigns was involved in a three-way match for the WWE Championship. He faced Seth Rollins and current champion Dean Ambrose. If this match took place a year ago, Reigns would have almost certainly walked away champion. But not only did he not win, he was pinned cleanly (without any weird shenanigans) by Ambrose, the underdog of the trio.
Why the change of heart by WWE? Did the company finally acknowledge that, despite its best efforts, Reigns wasn't winning over the crowd? Not quite. Late in June, it was announced that Reigns had violated the WWE's wellness policy, testing positive for a prohibited drug. He was suspended for 30 days -- after losing the Championship to Rollins at the Money in the Bank event in July -- with Battleground being his televised return to action.
"I thought it was very telling that Roman Reigns [took the pin]," said respected pro-wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer on Monday's Wrestling Observer Radio. "Very clearly, if this was 35 days ago, not a chance that one happens the way it did.
"I know [the company was] disappointed in him, but the idea of, 'Would they change the direction they've been pushing for two years', it looks like they will. Because the old Roman Reigns, there's no way they're beating him clean two straight pay-per-views."
So, what now?
As you may be aware, the, essentially hitting the reset button on all its storylines. The company has two shows, Raw and SmackDown, with performers being drafted to exclusively perform on one show. Roman Reigns will head to Raw, while WWE Champion Dean Ambrose is on SmackDown.
In many ways, Ambrose is the anti-Reigns. He's been treated well by the company, but never positioned as its leading man. Unlike Reigns, he's suffered many losses and often fails to get the last laugh. Despite this, fans have embraced him. When Reigns won the WWE Championship at WrestleMania in April, he was met with a mixed-at-best response. But when Ambrose won the title last month, fans greeted him with a chant of, "You deserve it!."
Unfortunately for him, Ambrose isn't built like a bodybuilder, something essentially all of the WWE's "top guys" -- Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock and John Cena -- have been. So he's got that against him.
Wrestling fans by now also should know that the upper brass, particularly Vince McMahon, have a habit of changing their minds. That means the Roman Reigns experiment may be picked up again.
"Saying all that, they may go and put the title on [Reigns] tomorrow for all we know. Everything can change on Raw," Meltzer said on Monday.
But after two years of Roman Reigns being the heir apparent, the future of the WWE is in doubt after Battleground -- and that's a great feeling.