Love him or hate him — and some really hate him — Roman Reigns is one of the top performers in the high-flying, death-defying world of WWE. Reigns, whose real name is Leati Joseph Anoa’i, signed with the professional wrestling juggernaut in 2010 and has risen to the top of the card in a very short time.
Since he debuted on television in 2012, Reigns has beaten down some of the industry’s most prominent names in wrestling — Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton, Triple H, John Cena and even his cousin, The Rock. Reigns, 31, is a former U.S. champion, tag team champion, and three-time WWE heavyweight champion. For nearly two years, he was a part of one of the most popular and era-defining stables in wrestling, The Shield. Alongside fellow young superstars Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, the trio ran roughshod over the entire company, gaining the adoration and respect of millions along the way. He won the 2015 Royal Rumble and has been the headliner for the past two WrestleManias, the company’s largest promotional event each year.
Before signing with WWE, Reigns was a three-year defensive starter on the football team at Georgia Tech, nabbing All-ACC honors in his senior season alongside future Hall of Fame wide receiver Calvin Johnson. He later signed free-agent contracts with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings in 2007 before turning his attention to professional wrestling.
What’s helped accelerate his ascent in WWE has been a mixture of a revered family tree, unparalleled athleticism and Hollywood leading-man good looks. The half-Samoan, half-Italian Florida native favors Justice League’s Jason Momoa and is built like an NBA small forward. With the strength to easily lift up 400-pound men like Big Show and the verticality to clear 5-foot-high ring ropes in a single bound. Most of his abilities, though, can be chalked up to genetics: Reigns comes from a respected Samoan wrestling heritage that includes ersatz Japanese sumo wrestler Yokozuna, master-of-the-stinkface Rikishi and box-office magnet Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. While Reigns was one of the hottest commodities the WWE had in the early months of 2014, his popularity has nosedived over the past 2 1/2 years. He’s loathed by hard-core male fans who believe Reigns is being force-fed to the audience by WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon and executive vice president Paul “Triple H” Levesque. Crowds have booed Reigns out of almost every arena across the country. That has not stopped Reigns, though, as he’s set to compete for the Universal championship on Sunday at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view in San Antonio, looking to become just the third competitor to ever hold that championship belt.
Super Bowl pick?
A-T-L. I played at Georgia Tech, so I’ve got to stick with Atlanta.
Favorite team that always disappoints you?
[San Francisco] 49ers. I’m a 49ers fan and a [Los Angeles] Lakers fan, so it’s been a hellacious year. Nothing good so far.
Who do you see as the quarterback next year for San Francisco?
Oh, man. Let’s get [Tony] Romo. Why not? I don’t even know if we can get him.
Favorite throwback TV show?
I was huge on [ABC’s] TGIF: Family Matters, Boy Meets World, all those. Saved by the Bell, that’s up there, too. My [kid is] still watching Saved by the Bell. My kid actually watches Full House still.
She watches it on Netflix?
Yeah, well, they actually have a Fuller House, and D.J., one of the little girls, is the main character now. What’s old is new, I guess, right?
Who’s the most famous person following you on Twitter?
There’s a couple of porn stars that follow. I don’t know if we can use that. I don’t follow anyone. There’s no line of communication from me. [Minutes later.]
Mr. Belding [from Saved by the Bell] is following me. I don’t think he’s the most famous, but he’s the one I have off the top of my head.
Is it better to look perfect and late, or just OK and on time?
I’ll be late. Island time, man. If I have a flaw, it’s not being on time. Sometimes. If it’s very important, and it’s a hard call time, then you’ve got to be there. But if it’s just a standard day, then I’ll probably be an hour and a half late. So, I’m not the most punctual, but I show up looking pretty good, though.
How do you handle all the ladies’ attention?
I ignore it. It’s weird because it came out of nowhere. When I played football, I was a little bit heavier, so I was a ham. With this role, I’ve lost my weight. I’m a married man. I love my wife and I love my [daughter]. That’s the most important thing. It’s flattering to have women who are attracted to you and like what you do, but at the end of the day, it only takes one woman to make your life right.
Who has the best spear in professional wrestling?
Me, no doubt. You can’t ask me that.
I’d have to say Goldberg.
What type of injuries have you had to perform through?
All kinds of little stuff. That’s one thing in our profession: Nobody’s healthy. Everybody’s nicked up, everybody’s got bruises and little tears. For the past couple of years, my knees have been a little banged up. It’s tough running in that ring, because it bounces. It’s not like running on a nice grass turf or anything. Every once in a while my elbows will swell up. If you ever meet a healthy wrestler, it’s because he’s not wrestling.
What’s with those dad jeans?
Those things were expensive, man. I got them in Las Vegas. I’m not a jean guy; I actually just started wearing them more often now, [and] they’re definitely not those jeans. Those were, like, my first pair of jeans I ever bought that were supposed to be fashionable, and I was like, ‘What the heck? These are supposed to be cool jeans.’ They’re stretchy a little bit and they had all sorts of cool bedazzles and stuff on the butt. I was like, ‘Man, these are going to be a hit.’ Next thing I know, they’re on the internet making fun of it, and I was like, ‘Man, I wasted almost $250 on these things … This sucks.’
You recently got into a war of words with John Cena on Twitter. What are your thoughts on him?
In real life, he’s a nice guy … but it is what it is. He’s an alpha male, I’m an alpha male. We’re both kind of in the same territory, so we’re going to bump heads. I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to dominate and hold it down for me and my family. I’ll do whatever it takes to do that, and I’m not going to let anybody — and that includes John Cena — get in my way.
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Despite being the good guy, you’re booed a lot by fans. How does that affect you?
If it wasn’t mixed in there with a lot of cheers, it might bother me, but you can’t satisfy everybody, of course. And I think that’s just the day that we live in. We have the internet that connects everybody, they’re able to coordinate and talk, and they think they know this or that, and they’re going to set their minds on it. For me, as long as I can go out there and do my thing, I can put in that work to turn a crowd. There’s no doubt in my mind. And if they’re going to be stubborn — and they don’t want to turn — they’re still going to be making a lot of noise hating me, so, regardless, it’s going to make for a great match, because that’s the most important part: the noise that surrounds the ring. And for whatever reason, when I go out there, it gets loudest.
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