WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns said he doesn't "personally" view All Elite Wrestling as WWE's competiton in an interview Complex published hours ahead of both promotions once again going head-to-head.
Fittingly, the man whose character proudly calls himself "the Tribal Chief" acknowledged "there's a lot of passion and tribalism" among wrestling fans who compare the two companies, but said they are catering to different demographics.
"No. I mean, not for me personally," Reigns said."This is one of those subjects that’s very subjective and there’s a lot of passion and tribalism that really sways and creates an unbiased opinion. But I can only speak from my perspective. I’m one of those guys who will compete at anything. Like, ‘I bet you I can eat that cookie faster.’ I want to be the best at anything that I choose to do. We pull up on lawn mowers, we cut the yard in half, I’m going to beat you. My side will look better than yours. So me, I don’t see the real competition [with AEW] because I think their fan base legitimately is a hardcore fan base. So there’s like a ceiling and a built-in ground to that viewership. [The WWE is] trying to connect with everyone. We’re trying to connect with the mainstream.
"We’re trying to pull in the casual fan. We’re trying to engage the new viewer, while also servicing our hardcore fan base and give them compelling stories to fulfill them as well. I don’t know if I’ve said it before, but I’ve said it before, when the audience is probably the biggest character in your show, that’s strange to me. You’ll hear it all the time, the reviews and the comparisons. I think because they are the new kids on the block, they’re the cool kids in town I guess because of how premature and how novel it kind of still is, I think there still being babied by these hardcore wrestling fans. Which is fine. That’s great. I don’t think anybody’s going to ever, especially from a performance standpoint say, ‘Oh no, there’s more opportunities out there? That sucks.’ So it’s not a bad thing.
"It’s a great thing for professional wrestling. It’s just a weird argument because there’s so much bias and there’s so much, ‘I’m on this side and I’m not gonna open my mind to the other side.’ And it goes both ways."
"As far as competition, not to me," Reigns added. "There might be some other people on our roster who maybe think they need to dig deep and get better as a performer and what they do out there at the art form, but there’s nobody in the whole world, any other promotion, in WWE...I’m better at this art form than everybody else. And I stand on that. That’s the totality of it. I’m not just talking about, ‘Oh, his spots are so good and he counters real well.’ That stuff don’t mean anything to me. When you tally it all up, nobody touches me in this business."
Reigns also had harsh cricism for AEW star CM Punk, who made his return to professional wrestling after a seven-year absence, last appearing for WWE in 2014 while Reigns, an emerging star, was a member of the faction 'The Shield.'
"So I answered a question similar to this a while ago, and it falls back to what our audience wants to see," Reigns said when asked if he'd consider working a match with Punk despite publicly admitting his problems with the former world champion. "If our audience wanted to see it and they were clamoring for it, couldn’t shut up about it, and all the stars aligned, as a businessman and as a performer who was trying to seek out the very best for the audience and try to captivate, I wouldn’t say no. But I mean, on a personal level, it doesn’t do anything for me. That’s not going to elevate me at all. He’s older now. I haven’t really seen a full match. I’ve seen a clip or two. And to me, a step or two has been lost. Then also he got his whooped in the UFC.
"I don’t think anybody really believes someone 200 pounds soaking wet with no explosive bone in their body could ever really do anything to me. I’m 6’3”, 265 pounds, a legitimate athlete who can throw some weight around and has been on the gridiron at the highest level. D1. All ACC. I probably would’ve maintained in the NFL if my health issues didn’t happen when I was 22 years old. So, I mean, when it comes down to it, I’ll throw him and pretty much the rest of that roster out the club no problem. They’re just little brothers, you know?"
WWE's SmackDown program will be extended by a half hour during a special broadcast on FOX Sports 1, which will run through the 10:00 p.m. ET timeslot currently held by AEW's Rampage on TNT.
AEW's flagship program Dynamite competed head-to-head with WWE's NXT brand on Wednesday nights, with Dynamite edging out NXT in the key Male 18-49 demographic on most occassions prior to WWE moving the program to Tuesday nights.
AEW president, CEO and general manager Tony Khan has welcomed the competiton, throwing public jabs at WWE, while promising an eventful card for Friday's episode of Rampage.
Last month, AEW Champion Kenny Omega acknowledged what he pereived as "tribalism" among wrestling fans when picking sides between the two companies, which he said led to "toxic" division.
“The wrestling community can sometimes be toxic, and I hate seeing it in sports. I hate seeing it in video games, and music and movies, where you have fans divided so passionately," Omega told the Pro Wrestling Illustrated podcast. People feel like they have to choose a side, and they feel that once they choose that side, they have to defend that side with every fiber of their being. This isn’t the NHL. This isn’t the NBA. This isn’t the NFL. We aren’t teams playing in the same league.
“We’re all wrestlers, and a lot of us are, regardless of who we represent or who are working for, a lot of us still feel like we’re family. I have friends not only in AEW, but I have friends in New Japan. I have friends in Impact. I have friends in WWE. I know it sounds crazy. I have friends there, and guess what, I want them to succeed. I still keep in touch with them. I don’t want you to wish ill, or wish harm or wish death upon them, as my fans, and I don’t think that the opposite is true either.”