IN THE 2016 "PWI 500"
"I Feel That God's Favor Is Shining Down On Me"

Text by Dan Murphy

To borrow A phrase from the man himself, Roman Reigns may not be the trendy choice ... but he is THE choice.

Roman Reigns has been selected as number one in the 26th annual "PWI 500." And while Reigns has elicited mixed reactions from fans over the past two years, he proved to be an easy choice for the editorial staff of Pro Wrestling Illustrated.

During the evaluation period (July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016), he won the WWE championship three times. He headlined the biggest WrestleMania of all-time, defeating Triple-H. From November 2015 through June 2016, Reigns was unquestionably WWE's top star and most consistent headliner. Very simply put, by the criteria used to rank the "PWI 500," no one in the world had a better year.

We informed Reigns of his ranking in a phone interview (full interview available for free on The PWI Podcast at the iTunes Store), and it was apparent he took the honor to heart.

"Thank you, man. It's crazy. Last year, was I what, three or four? (Ed. Note: he was number four) To just remain in that same company, to be in that class with those guys, it's world class," he said.

"It's a great honor and it goes with a lot of hard work," Reigns said. "It's very flattering. It just shows that if you keep your head down and stick to your day-to-day, you grind it out and take the long road, good things happen. It's a great achievement and another great accolade."

Reigns credited his incredible year to the fact that he was able to remain mostly healthy, other than surgery on his nose that kept him out for a few weeks in February.

"A year-and-a-half ago, I had the hernia. Then earlier this year, I was dealing with the nose surgery," he said. "I've been extremely blessed. I always feel that God's favor is shining down on me. Without health, without that happiness, you can't go out there and compete and perform and entertain. I feel extremely blessed.

"You're going to be nicked up. You're going to be bruised. But I always go back to that old sports and football saying. You can play hurt, you can't play injured. I think we're all a little nicked up. There's no offseason. It takes tough, passionate guys to do this. As long as I have my core health and no injuries, I can deal with the little aches and pains."

While we're thoroughly convinced that Reigns was the best choice to top this year's "500," we also expect some criticism from the fans, many of whom have been lustily booing Reigns ever since The Shield disbanded. It doesn't help that Reigns' magnificent year has slipped a bit since the end of the evaluation period, following a surprise title loss to Seth Rollins, a 30-day suspension for violating the Wellness Policy, and a fall out of the championship title picture.

We expect some backlash, and so does Reigns. But that's fine by him. He said he feeds on the critics.

"It's very situational," he said. "The majority of the time I love it. I love getting that mixed reaction. I love having to change up, because sometimes it can get monotonous. For it to be different, for me, it allows me to adjust. It allows my emotions and my attitude to show differently. I think you've seen that from time to time. For me, I think it's sharpening all my skills and my talents to just get better.

"I give a lot of credit to the WWE Universe," Reigns added. "I rub people in a weird way, it seems, but the fact is they're emotional and that's a connection we have. If I'm on a show, I'm going to tug on those emotion strings one way or another. Whether you love me or you hate me, I dig it. But sometimes it is hard. At the end of the day, I want to go out there and entertain, to have fun, to provide for my family, remain healthy, and do this 52 weeks a year. I'm a human being. I have things going on in my personal life. Sometimes it can be hard. But I always say, I think that's why God gave me broad shoulders, so I can carry that load."

The last time a wrestler has earned the top spot in the "PWI 500" in consecutive years was 2006-2007, when John Cena went back-to-back. Reigns said he's up to the task.

"I'm open to any challenge. That's kind of been my thing," he said. "People say you can't do this, [and] I'm going to do everything I can to shove it back in their face and show them, yes I can. So, if it hasn't happened in 10 years, I think I've shown that I can break some ground and do some things that haven't been done, so hopefully we can do another back-to-back."

Defending his spot atop the "500" is one goal, but Reigns has plenty of goals, including headlining WrestleMania for a third consecutive year and winning another championship (be it the U.S. title or the new Universal title). But his biggest goal is to stay healthy and remain an active and prominent part of the WWE roster.

"I'm deeply in love and infatuated with the wrestling business," Reigns said. "There's nothing I enjoy more than going out there with that live crowd. I hear so many awesome things about other forms of entertainment [like] making movies, but there's something about being at a live wrestling show, walking through that curtain, and feeling like He-Man.

"There's something about being in front of that live WWE Universe crowd that I'm addicted to. I love it. It's something that I'm not ready to give up yet. I'm still completely immersed in WWE and that's my focus," he said.

The barbarians may be at the gate, but the Roman Empire holds strong. And we can believe that.

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