As one of the most polarizing main event superstars WWE has produced in recent history, Roman Reigns is no stranger to the steady mix of boos and cheers he receives on a nightly basis.
Reigns, 32, whose real name is Leati “Joe” Anoa’i, is past the point where the crowd’s reaction will bother him or threaten to get him off his game — especially after a run of headlining the last three WrestleMania cards and three times wearing the WWE championship.
As Reigns enters Sunday’s “dream match” against John Cena at No Mercy in Los Angeles (8 p.m. ET, WWE Network), he credits self belief and hard work for keeping him grounded amid regular storms of criticism. As long as the fans are making noise in some manner — whether negative or positive — he knows that he has done his job.
“I know the time I put in. I know the sweat, the blood — even the tears,” Reigns. “I’ve cried over this stuff. As a grown man, I’ve cried over wrestling before. I’m man enough to say it. But it means that much to me and I think that’s why, especially my family, that’s why we’re so good at it because we really care about it. And that’s something we can connect to.
“It’s just, if you don’t have confidence in yourself, it’s going to be a terrible time when you walk through that curtain.”
Pressed for the last time wrestling caused him to cry, Reigns took a second to pause and contemplate. He briefly mentioned his April victory in the main event of WrestleMania 33, which sent the iconic Undertaker into expected retirement.
“It wasn’t a ‘cry,’ like there were no tears after the Taker match, but I could feel it inside,” Reigns said. “There was an extreme amount of joy and excitement to be in that position, but it was really heavy to where it made me feel that type of emotion. There weren’t any tears or anything like that.”
If you want the real story about the last time pro wrestling caused Reigns to shed a tear, you need to go back to Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), the precursor developmental territory for what became NXT. The year was 2011 and Reigns, just 26, wasn’t so far removed from a failed run as a professional football player in the CFL after a standout career at Georgia Tech.
Reigns was treated to a late-night dinner by his real-life cousin, Jey Uso, who was in the midst of a breakthrough stretch on the main roster…