Time is a funny thing, isn’t it?
Sometimes, we can think back to memories or moments that happened in our childhood and they feel like just yesterday. Other times, we look back at what happened a year ago and it feels like another lifetime.
Wrestling is like that. It plays tricks with your mind. Especially when you think of the ebb and flow of the generations.
The one that always gets this writer is The Rock. He made his WWE debut in November 1996, at the Survivor Series PPV that year. It was almost two years to the day later, the 1998 Survivor Series to be exact, when he won the first of his WWF/E World Titles. How can that only be two years?
He packed in so much in that time: his initial Rocky Maivia run; ‘Die, Rocky, Die!’; his entire spell with the Nation Of Domination; the start of epic rivalries with HHH and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin; a fake-out face turn and then the crowning glory of one of the best heel turns of all time at that two-year mark. It feels like so much longer than two years.
I mention this because the subject of this column, Seth Rollins, has had one of the most time-bending WWE careers there is.
He has been around for nearly eight years (Funnily enough, also debuting at the Survivor Series alongside his pals in The Shield – that PPV has quite the debut record overall). Those eight years have, in one way seemed to fly by but at the same time, it feels like he has been around forever.
Similarly, his achievements. Just look at his Wikipedia page to get an idea. It’s extensive. And his list of titles and accomplishments stacks up against all but the biggest of stars. But then… where has that all got him? Pretty much nowhere if we are honest.
Where is he in terms of card position and importance since HHH’s ‘Plan B’ cracked that steel chair over the backs of Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose? He’s certainly no higher on the card than when he joined The Authority. Arguably, he’s actually a bit lower.
When you think how much backing he has had as a prominent star, that feels odd, doesn’t it?
I don’t want to get too bogged down in the reasoning for that. One, because it’s actually fairly boring and secondly, because this article is meant to be positive and I don’t want to get caught up in negativity.
By and large though, I suspect Seth’s long-term water treading is more down to WWE’s character and storytelling policies over the last decade than any judgement on Seth’s abilities.
In essence, WWE certainly puts less stock nowadays in character progression and more in building brands. Familiar is good. Why does a character need a journey of growth to allow people to emotionally invest in them long term when a cool logo will sell t-shirts and some fun catchphrases and a recognisable move or two will encourage literally millions of YouTube views?
It’s not a fun conclusion to arrive at and it certainly leaves long-term fans cold but in a business sense, it has worked for WWE in recent years. Let’s call it The John Cena Commoditisation Model. Who needs close bonds when a thoroughly-workshopped logo will launch a thousand lunchbox sales?
Seth hasn’t moved anywhere because he hasn’t been required to and he hasn’t been afforded the room to. Sure, he has turned face, he has turned heel and he has had his time at the top of the card. But for every dismantling of Brock Lesnar or ‘Heist of the Century’ at a WrestleMania there has been a Hell In A Cell no-contest with The Fiend. For every Royal Rumble win there has been half a dozen forgettable B-level PPV main events.
Hand on heart, when was the last time you truly cared about Seth Rollins? When did you last feel something? It’s been a while, I’ll wager.
And not in a ‘How good was that match??’ type of way. I mean in a ‘I will hug a stranger when this guy gets the pin’ type of way. How strange is that?
The guy has got every quality you could ask for in a pro-wrestler. He’s great in the ring, he looks great, he can talk, he has indie cred….What more does he need?
Well, as it turns out, he needed a character. Until recently, what was Seth Rollins?
I know I’m asking plenty of questions of you in this article but just permit me one more: If an alien came down to earth and asked you to explain The Undertaker and his character, could you do it? How about Steve Austin? The Rock? Brock Lesnar? Even someone like Kevin Owens? But Seth Rollins… I’m not sure I could. Or rather, I wasn’t.
Late last year, something changed with Seth Rollins. His face act was stale. So stale, it seemed, that fans couldn’t even really be bothered to turn on him. He was just….there. Slapping fans’ hands, kissing Becky Lynch (Congrats by the way guys, awesome news!). White meat, blah, blah, blah.
It took a few weeks to get going but, bit by bit, you could clearly see the gears turning on a heel turn. Disagreements with Kevin Owens turned into vicious clashes with a newly-face Samoa Joe and Rey Mysterio and in short order, The Monday Night Messiah was born, complete with his own disciples in The Authors Of Pain and Buddy Murphy.
It was a perfect stable if you are into that sort of thing, like I am. A main event level figurehead with an ego and a mission to protect; a tough, bruising tag team looking to prove themselves and finally, a lost soul with huge potential in Murphy. It was a congregation as perfectly balanced as they come and in very short order, Rollins was holding sermons on Raw and preaching his way into ‘seriously’ hated territory again.
This time, a Rollins turn meant something. Previously when he changed gears, he didn’t even change gear. Same Seth Rollins, same act, different opponents. Yawn. Not this time. Every thing he did was designed to get under our skin. The single black glove, the Gareth Bale style man bun… all hateable. Hell, anyone else get annoyed just by him wearing a fur lined collar?
Earlier this week at Money In The Bank, Rollins really went for it. When he came to the ring with his new entrance, you could be forgiven for believing he thought himself divine. What a swine!
But do you know what? We cared. We didn’t just coo because he did an edgy finishing move that was once taboo. We seriously invested in wanting to see Drew McIntyre kick his pious teeth down his throat.
And after just a few deft tweaks, we, the audience have gone even further down the Rollins rabbit hole. What did that handshake mean? He can’t be going face can he? Becky’s pregnant? Oh no, Seth is going to be face already! They’ve ruined his charac… Oh hang on, he just rammed Rey Mysterio eye-first into a sharp steel corner. And we despise the guy all over again.
Finally, for the first time since these early solo days, Seth Rollins has a character we can sink our teeth into. He has natural heel charisma and it’s clearly where he is going to excel going forward, as he has previously. Colby Lopez might be a lovely chap for all we know but Seth Rollins is full-on dickhead all the way and now he is truly embracing that, we are off to the races.
It’s incredible to see. Nobody wants to see a performer flounder, especially one as talented as Seth Rollins but until recently we were convinced WWE would stay the course with him as the next chosen babyface flag bearer.
Once they make up their minds and settle on it, that’s it, isn’t it? Not this time. Rollins was allowed to change course.
It helped, no doubt, that they could see the superstar fan favourite juggernaut that is Drew McIntyre on the horizon to fill his spot but what choice did they have? Seth was just a vessel. Now he is a bonafide main event heel who is as credible in the ring himself as he is twisting the minds of his peers to do his bidding for him.
Please excuse the ham-fisted imagery but given his character, I think it’s acceptable: Seth ‘Face of the WWE’ Rollins has been crucified for the sins of his employers. Seth Rollins, genuine superstar and gloriously self-righteous douchebag has risen.
And he is making believers out of us all.