In 2008, Anoaʻi was signed by the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League (CFL). Wearing the number 99, Anoaʻi played for one season with the Eskimos, featuring in five games, of which he started three. Anoaʻi's most notable game came against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in September, where he tied for the team lead with five tackles and had a forced fumble. Anoa'i was released by the Eskimos on November 10, 2008, and proceeded to retire from football.
After WWE rebranded FCW to NXT, Anoaʻi, with the new ring name of Roman Reigns, made his debut on the October 31, 2012 episode of NXT by defeating CJ Parker. After defeating Chase Donovan two weeks later, Reigns wrestled his last match on the December 5 episode of NXT by defeating Gavin Reids.
The Shield then indistinctly ended their association with Punk while beginning a feud with John Cena, Ryback, and Sheamus that directed to a six-man tag match on February 17 at Elimination Chamber, which The Shield won. The Shield had their first Raw match the following night, where they gained success against Ryback, Sheamus, and Chris Jericho. Sheamus then formed an alliance with Randy Orton and Big Show to face the trio at WrestleMania 29, where The Shield emerged victorious in their first WrestleMania match. The following night on Raw, The Shield attempted to attack The Undertaker, but were stopped by Team Hell No. This set up a six-man tag team match on the April 22 episode of Raw, which The Shield won. On the May 13 episode of Raw, The Shield's undefeated streak in televised six-man tag team matches ended in a disqualification loss in an elimination tag team match against Cena, Kane and Bryan.
In August, The Shield began working for chief operating officerTriple H and The Authority. On the October 14 episode of Raw, Reigns and Rollins lost the WWE Tag Team Championship to Cody RhodesandGoldust in a no disqualification match, following interference from Big Show. At Hell in a Cell, Reigns and Rollins failed to regain the tag team title in a triple threat tag team match. The first seeds of dissension were sown in The Shield (especially between Ambrose and Reigns) with Ambrose's boasting of being the only member left with a championship. At Survivor Series, Reigns was the sole survivor for his team in the traditional five-on-five elimination tag team match after eliminating four opponents. After losing to Punk in a handicap match at TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs, Reigns defeated Punk in a singles match following a distraction from Ambrose on the January 6, 2014 special episode of Raw Old School, making him the only member of The Shield to have beaten Punk. At the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, Reigns entered the Royal Rumble match at number 15, and set the record for most eliminations in a single Royal Rumble with 12, as he eliminated both his Shield teammates, and was the runner-up in the match after being eliminated by Batista. The next night on Raw, The Shield competed in a six-man tag team match against Daniel Bryan, Sheamus, and John Cena, with all three members of the winning team qualifying for the Elimination Chamber match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, which The Shield lost via disqualification after The Wyatt Family interfered and attacked Cena, Bryan, and Sheamus. The Shield wanted revenge and a six-man tag team match for The Shield against The Wyatt Family at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view was arranged, in which The Shield lost. Despite more dispute, The Shield reconciled in March.
In March, The Shield began feuding with Kane, which turned all members of The Shield into fan favorites in the process. Over the next few weeks, The Shield continued exchanging assaults with Kane, who was joined by The New Age Outlaws (Road Dogg and Billy Gunn), leading to a match between the two teams at WrestleMania XXX, which The Shield won. The feud with Kane also prompted The Shield to sever ties with Triple H, who reformed Evolution to counter them. The Shield defeated Evolution at both Extreme Rules and Payback. After Batista "quit" WWE the following night on Raw, Triple H initiated his "plan B" which involved Rollins turning on The Shield and aligning himself with Triple H and The Authority.
Controversial rise to high-tier status (2014–2015)
Reigns in April 2014
After the dissolution of The Shield in June 2014, Reigns (now a singles wrestler) was quickly inserted into world title contention that month, and he headlined the next two pay-per-views; the first when, two weeks after Rollins' betrayal, Reigns won a battle royal on the June 16, 2014, episode of Raw to gain a spot in the vacant WWE World Heavyweight Championship ladder match at Money in the Bank, but failed to win the title during the main event match. The second pay-per-view was July 20's Battleground, where Reigns again unsuccessfully challenged for the world title, this time in a fatal four-way main event match (also involving Kane, Randy Orton and defending champion John Cena). The following night on Raw, Reigns started a feud with Randy Orton, which led to a match between the two, on August 17, at SummerSlam, where Reigns defeated Orton. Meanwhile, Reigns' former team-mates Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins had been feuding over Rollins' betrayal, with Rollins beating Ambrose in five matches and ultimately injuring Ambrose in the storyline. This led to a feud between Rollins and Reigns, where a singles match was set up for Night of Champions. However, six days before the pay-per-view, Reigns cleanly defeated Rollins in a singles match on Raw. Then, Reigns developed a legitimateincarcerated hernia which required surgery a day or two prior to Night of Champions, and as a result, Rollins was declared the winner via forfeit, while Reigns was ruled out of action indefinitely.
James Caldwell of the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter, in February 2015, on Reigns' background compared to that of his Shield teammates
Reigns returned to WWE television on the December 8 episode of Raw, accepting the 2014 "Superstar of the Year" Slammy Award. Six days later at TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs, when Big Show interfered in John Cena's match against Seth Rollins, Reigns attacked both Big Show and Rollins, helping Cena win. This started a feud between Reigns and Big Show, in which Reigns defeated him multiple times by countout and disqualification. On January 25, 2015, Reigns, entering at number 19, won the 2015 Royal Rumble match by eliminating the other entrants in the final four: Big Show, Kane and lastly Rusev. The following night on Raw, Reigns acknowledged being part of the Anoaʻi family for the first time on WWE television. Former WWE writer Kevin Eck said that WWE executives Vince McMahon and Triple H initially (when Reigns was still part of The Shield) refused to acknowledge Reigns' Samoan heritage as they thought it would damage Reigns' mystique. On the February 2 episode of Raw, Reigns suffered his first pinfall loss in a singles match on the main roster when Big Show defeated him after interference from Rollins. Reigns was then forced to defend his WrestleMania title shot against Daniel Bryan in the main event of Fastlane, and succeeded in doing so after beating Bryan via pinfall. Post-Fastlane, Bryan and Paul Heyman endorsed Reigns with "two shockingly transparent promos... attempting to illustrate Reigns' greatness". On March 29, at WrestleMania 31, Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank contract while Reigns' main event match with Brock Lesnar was in progress, turning it into a triple threat, which Reigns lost when he was pinned by Rollins.
On the October 26 episode of Raw, Reigns won a fatal four-way match (also involving Alberto Del Rio, Dolph Ziggler and Kevin Owens) to become the number one contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. However, on November 4, then champion Seth Rollins legitimately injured his knee and vacated the title, which led to a tournament to crown a new champion. Following this, Triple H attempted to persuade Reigns into joining The Authority by offering him a bye into the tournament finals which Reigns declined. He then defeated Big Show in the first round,Cesaro in the quarterfinals,Alberto Del Rio in the semifinals and Dean Ambrose in the finals at Survivor Series, to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship for the first time. Triple H attempted to offer congratulations, but Reigns hit him with a spear and Sheamus then cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and pinned Reigns, thus ending Reigns' reign at only 5 minutes. Reigns then failed to regain the title from Sheamus in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match at TLC, after being helped by his fellow League of Nations members Alberto Del Rio and Rusev; subsequently, Reigns would attack the trio and also Triple H, who came out to stop him.
The next night on the December 14 episode of Raw, Mr. McMahon granted Reigns a title rematch against Sheamus, with Reigns' career on the line, and after overcoming McMahon, Del Rio and Rusev's interferences, Reigns defeated Sheamus and regained the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. On the January 4, 2016 episode of Raw, Reigns successfully defended his title against Sheamus, despite McMahon acting as the special guest referee. Reigns was then slated to defend his title in the Royal Rumble match at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, where Reigns scored a total of five eliminations after entering first, heading backstage for much of the match after an attack by the League of Nations, and was eliminated upon his return by eventual winner Triple H, thus losing the world title, and lasting nearly an hour (the longest out of everyone in the match). At Fastlane, Reigns pinned Dean Ambrose in a triple threat match also involving Brock Lesnar, to receive a WWE World Heavyweight Championship match against Triple H at WrestleMania 32, where he defeated Triple H in the main event to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion for a third time. Earlier in March 2016, Reigns changed his ring entrance to the entrance ramp (a default like other wrestlers) instead of coming out through the crowd.
On July 19 at the 2016 WWE draft, Reigns was drafted to Raw. Despite Reigns' suspension, WWE continued to advertise Reigns as part of the Battleground main event, and went on to acknowledge Reigns' suspension on television. On July 24 at the Battleground pay-per-view, Reigns made his televised return, facing Rollins and Dean Ambrose (whom Rollins dropped the title to at Money in the Bank after Ambrose cashed-in his Money in the Bank contract) for the now-renamed WWE Championship, but Ambrose successfully retained the championship when he pinned Reigns in a clean finish. The following night on Raw, Reigns also failed to contend for the newly announced WWE Universal Championship against Rollins at SummerSlam, as he lost to the debuting Finn Bálor after earlier winning a fatal four-way match that involved Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn, and Sheamus earlier in the episode. On the August 1 Raw, Reigns confronted Rusev, then on the August 8 Raw, after interrupting Rusev and Lana's wedding celebration, Reigns challenged him for the United States Championship, at which Rusev initially declined, but Raw General Manager Mick Foley scheduled Rusev to defend the United States Championship against Reigns at SummerSlam. At SummerSlam, Reigns and Rusev brawled before the match began, leading to the match being declared a no contest. After Rusev cost Reigns the opportunity of becoming the No. 1 contender for the WWE Universal Championship, Reigns would defeat Rusev at Clash of Champions to win the title, and after weeks of brawling, successfully defended it against Rusev in an Hell in a Cell match at the titular event to end their feud. Reigns was later announced as a member for Team Raw in the traditional Survivor Series elimination tag team match alongside Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, former Shield brethren Seth Rollins and Braun Strowman which Team Raw lost after Reigns was the last man to be eliminated. On the November 28 episode of Raw, Reigns challenged WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens to a non-title match which Reigns won and per the pre-match stipulation, Reigns will face Owens at Roadblock: End of the Line for the WWE Universal Championship.
While in NXT in 2012, Reigns' character was described as a "businessman" who was "always dressed to impress" and viewed himself as "the most valuable commodity in WWE". Upon his 2012 main roster debut with The Shield, Reigns was billed as a "powerhouse", "heavy hitter" and an "exceptional athlete"; in mid-2013, Reigns' character was tweaked from "the quiet muscle" to being an "ultra-confident" source of leadership with "quiet strength". During this time, Reign's character was well received by critics, and the during 2014 Royal Rumble match, the live crowd cheered for Reigns over eventual winner Batista, despite Reigns being a villain.
Following The Shield's break-up in 2014, Reigns (unlike the other former Shield members) retained much of The Shield's aesthetic, and his popularity amongst fans and critics declined. Various critics raised concerns that Reigns, despite being "not fully ready", was "being pushed too hard, too soon" while WWE tried to make him their next "flagship star", "no matter how fans reacted" negatively. In a reversal from the previous year's Royal Rumble, Reigns was booed heavily after his victory despite portraying a heroic character at the 2015 Royal Rumble. After chasing the WWE World Heavyweight Championship unsuccessfully throughout 2015, critics described WWE presenting Reigns' character as a "hard-luck underdog" chasing the world title, with WWE having "spent an overwhelming amount of time" on Reigns, "bending over backwards to create new obstacles for him to overcome", "at the expense of almost everyone else on the roster".WWE Hall of FamersStone Cold Steve Austin, Rikishi and Hulk Hogan have encouraged WWE to turn him into a villain, and after his suspension Yahoo! TV urged WWE to "quit pretending he's some kind of lovable underdog" with a villain turn for Reigns, after wasting a "dozen" chances "since the boos first reigned" at the 2015 Royal Rumble. Reigns was unable to connect with the fans in 2016.