As 2014 was ending, with Seth Rollins’ momentum truly picking up steam as the man backed by The Authority and with the Money in the Bank briefcase in hand, how he capitalized his underrated in-ring ability to be one of wrestling’s very few true-heels, and become WWE World Heavyweight Champion is something we will likely look back on in a few years. We will be able to pinpoint the year 2015 as the days, weeks and months Seth Rollins went from athletic former marvel of The Shield to legitimate superstar.
When the year began, though, Rollins was already done with his former stable. While widely speculated that it would be Dean Ambrose as the heel and Roman Reigns as the future of the company, the WWE put all their stock in Rollins. His rise to the main event scene happened rather quickly, too. On Jan. 25, 2015 Rollins headlines the Royal Rumble alongside already established stars and future WWE Hall of Fame inductees, John Cena and Brock Lesnar.
He didn’t win the match, but did he ever have a showing. The idea of Seth Rollins headlining a Network Special for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship with those two performers being of incredible importance can’t be understated. Using the luxury of hindsight afforded to us now, the WWE was testing the waters of Rollins as a main event player – and he not only looked like he belonged, it seemed as if he thrived in this larger role.
That wasn’t even close to the highlight of the year for Rollins, either. Even before he went on to WrestleMania, he did something few WWE Superstars ever do. Especially guys who are not holding the company’s largest prize. Seth Rollins crossed over to the mainstream. Thanks to The (then) Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and the comedian’s love for wrestling, the performers had a back-and-forth verbal sparring sessions which were not only done through social media, but by way of Stewart’s enormously popular show.
It wasn’t a one-off angle or running joke. The two’s chemistry together, combined with Stewart’s willingness to be on the wrong side of jokes and Rollins’ inane ability to play a remarkably hateable villain, there was an unplanned long play in the works. One which resulted in one of the biggest WWE payoffs in years – specifically while using someone from outside their world to enhance angles and characters.
That alone would have made for a hell of a year for any wrestler. As we have learned to find out, though, Seth Rollins isn’t merely some ho-hum wrestler or talent. He is a force to be reckoned with as an entertainer and as one of the very best wrestlers in the entire world.
March started, the Road to WrestleMania picture began to be painted with colors so the world would see how the card might play out, and Seth Rollins was left out of the main event. With Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar fighting over the title, Rollins seemed relegated to continuing his feud with former Authority stablemate Randy Orton.
Then March 29, 2015 happened.
It started inconspicuously enough. The main card stated with a Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Championship. Ladder Matches are no longer what they were only a few years ago, but many of the WWE’s best and brightest put on a heck of a match. It culminated with former WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Daniel Bryan, winning the gold. Without knowing it at the time, it was only a sign of bigger things to come for former ROH legends.
Oddly enough, the WWE put two of its better wrestlers on next. It was Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins. It was an exciting match. One which would see Rollins fall to Orton after the latter hit an RKO of a lifetime. While most will simply remember the spot, the move doesn’t happen without Rollins’ athleticism. Like other less traditional main event performers before him, such as a Shawn Michaels, one of Rollins’ greatest strengths in the ring is not only making others look more talented than they are, but being able to sell their moves as if they were making commission on them.
The night went on. As per WrestleMania rules, it was mostly a good show. Fans even got to see the Undertaker have a WrestleMania redemption moment, as he returned to the sport’s largest stage to defeat Bray Wyatt in the match before the main event. With everything going according to plan, the stage was now set for Roman Reigns to enter the realm of Suplex City – governed by the 1 in 21 and 1, Brock Lesnar.
Roman Reigns is a hot commodity now, but at the time fans were still fickle with the idea of him being champion. Lesnar, on the other hand, an eater of worlds, was meant to be the heel. An unstoppable, immovable, violent man who was simply running through competition as if he were a bull and they were dust in the wind. The match itself was fine. Specifically, a then still-green Reigns managed to play his part well enough so people would be able to buy what happened next.
Both main event performers were on the mat, exhausted from brutal competition, and out comes a frenzied Seth Rollins. Usually, save for a few exceptions, MITB carriers only attempt to cash in their contracts whenever the champion is down and out. Rollins, only helping to enhance his developing legacy, did so while the match felt like it had a ways to go. Moreover, Rollins turned a polarizing WWE World Heavyweight Championship one-on-one match into a triple threat – with the future of the WWE on the line.
In a few short moments, Rollins went from main event player to borderline WrestleMania legend, as he curb stomped Lesnar, went for a second but was nearly given the F-5 by the Beast Incarnate, which resulted in Reigns taking out the champion. The match ending with Rollins athletically removing himself from Reigns’ spear on Lesnar, knocking him out of the ring, and curb stomping his former Shield running mate to capture the title. Not only was it a signature moment for Rollins, it is a defining moment of the company declaring they have their new heel of the future. Vince McMahon and Triple H banked on Rollins – an indie wrestler who few could have imagined would one day be directly tied to the WWE’s successes or failures.
Again, though, this wasn’t the end of the year for Rollins. During his early run as WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Rollins literally became the truest of true heels. In a day and age of most heels becoming antiheroes or too cool to be hated, Seth Rollins managed to keep fans’ hatred of him running so deep in their veins they got pass his disgustingly great athletic abilities, which would normally force a wrestler to be cheered, and made him such a hated character that every one of his title defenses became a must-see situation.
With a roster as deep as it ever had, only guys on it like John Cena, Kevin Owens, Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins have that big event feel whenever they enter the squared circle. This isn’t something that can be taught. It is also something the company has longed for others to be able to do. As 2015 went on, it became clear that Rollins was that guy it were looking for.
Say what you will with how the WWE booked Rollins as mostly a “weak” champion during his first run with the belt around his torso, but he played the part to perfection. Whether that was turning Jamie Noble and Joey Mecury, years after either guy were any sort of players of consequence, into a security team of value or forcing Kane to be his whipping boy, Rollins played on every tired cliched heel-tactic which made many before him boring, and turned those gimmicks upside its head. His evilness, our hatred for him, transcended the way we felt about his abilities as a performer. We were able to appreciate the spectacles he put forth in the ring, but only enough so fans would have time to try to boo him out of buildings.
Heading into the summer things got even better for those who love Rollins’ work. At SummerSlam, one of the WWE’s core-four events, he went on to defeat a guy who spent over a decade as the face of the company for the United States Title. How Rollins went over John Cena, though, is what makes him so special.
That long running, funny and mostly harmless feud Rollins had with Jon Stewart was about to have a large payoff. With most assuming that Stewart, a pop-culture icon and face in the wrestling world, would side with fellow good guy and righteous fellow Cena, he instead cost him the match and directly helped Rollins hold two major belts within the company. While Stewart would later go on to Raw the next night and say he did it because he didn’t want Cena to beat Ric Flair’s record, his words weren’t as meaningful as his actions. Truly, his and Rollins’ months worth of angle-tweaking provided the summer with one of its biggest moments. Not only for the WWE, but for main stream, pop-culture afficianados as well. Even the nod to Flair doesn’t happen without Rollins.
His hot streak didn’t necessarily cool off after that, but there was no way the WWE would let him hold two belts forever. Eventually, per John Cena booking rules, Rollins would drop the U.S. Title back to Cena on Sept. 20, 2015. For any other talent, getting buried by way of the Cena-train would kill their momentum (re: Rusev, Wade Barrett, etc.), but Seth Rollins was too good to stop from keeping on with an amazing 2015.
Rollins’ last major act of 2015 as champion was defeating Demon Kane at October’s Hell in a Cell. It, thankfully, put a somewhat end to the Corporate Kane gimmick. While wrestling and gimmicks are all predetermined, Rollins can’t be thanked enough for helping to prevent the WWE audience from being subjected to two Kanes a show.
Unfortunately, the year of Seth Rollins was cut short, as he tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus. The injuries required surgery, which has sidelined him ever since. The silver lining in all of this has been the forcing the injury pushed upon the WWE to begin to book with urgency. Granted, Rollins shouldn’t get a large amount of the credit, his leg going out from under him at a house show in November 2015 helped lead to the WWE getting what it always wanted – a truly over Roman Reigns.
All of that, all of the success in 2015, and it is likely the worst of what we will see of Seth Rollins heading into the future. With “the money” in Seth Rollins being with him being booked as a good guy, the WWE will have a golden opportunity to reintroduce a different Seth Rollins to the world when he was is healthy and ready to go in 2016. As the WWE attempts to build stars in his absence, let the entire WWE Universe rest assured knowing that they’re merely holding spots at the table until Seth Rollins takes his rightful place at the head of it.