The WWE let top star Roman Reigns get in the ring to defend his World Heavyweight Championship on June 19 — and compete again the next night — even though the company knew he had violated its Wellness Policy, TheWrap has learned.
It’s hard to get upset about anything that happens in a sport that is — are all the children out of the room? — made up. But letting a wrestler compete after he has violated a real-life policy, one designed in part to protect its stars, is unusual.
In the world of real sports, it would be like the NFL letting a quarterback start on any given Sunday after testing positive for steroids the previous week. Or letting an Olympic runner go for the gold after testing positive for doping.
The WWE isn’t the NFL, or the Olympics. It gets to decide who wins and who loses, and how. In Reigns’ case, a person familiar with the situation said the WWE rewrote a championship match for a June 19 pay-per-view event “Money in the Bank.”
Before Reigns (real name Leati Joseph Anoaʻi) violated the health policy, the reign-ing heavyweight champion was supposed to win the June 19 match. After the violation, the match was re-scripted so he would lose.
Why? Because, the person says, the WWE wanted to keep the belt in play — rather than having it stay with Reigns once he was given a 30-day suspension, which finally started on June 21.
And the belt did stay in play — very much so. After Seth Rollins took it from Reigns, Dean Ambrose immediately won it from Rollins.
The WWE says the choice to let the 31-year-old Reigns fight was a creative decision, and even a service to paying fans. It’s also not the first time this has happened: WWE Superstar and champion Jeff Hardy lost his belt and was suspended 60 days after failing a 2008 drug test.
“We adjust storylines accordingly and talent serve their full suspensions,” a WWE spokesperson told TheWrap.
There is also money at stake, in pay-per-view sales, TV ratings and merchandise sold at events where Reigns does battle.
What, you probably wonder, did Reigns do to violate the policy? No one will say. The policy reads, in part:
[The] WWE Talent Wellness Program is administered independently by world renowned medical professionals and includes cardiovascular testing, ImPACT, testing for brain function, substance abuse and drug testing, annual physicals, and health care referrals. The performers are contractually responsible for securing their own insurance to cover everyday health maintenance and ailments. WWE does cover 100 percent of all costs associated with any in-ring related injuries and associated rehabilitation.”
Reigns’ participation in the June 20 “Monday Night Raw” match put him in contention to take part in a July 24 “Triple Threat” contest also featuring Rollins and Ambrose — who happen to be his former teammates on a team called “The Shield.” It’s still up-in-the-air whether Reigns will actually fight, another person with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap.
The three-way fight for the WWE Heavyweight Championship is scheduled for the company’s “Battleground” pay-per-view event, which comes just days after Reigns’ suspension is scheduled to end.