The Thrill of the Chase, or why WrestleMania 31 should totally be Seth Rollins’ big moment

Despite Lesnar resigning with WWE it seems highly unlikely if not improbable that he will continue with the title until NEXT year’s WrestleMania. It would seem that the WrestleMania 31 main event is still a foregone conclusion:

Roman Reigns will defeat Lesnar because the whole point of Lesnar’s reign was to put over the next superstar of tomorrow .

That seems to be the general consensus people are settling on. But, uh…aren’t we forgetting something?

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Just look at that face. Who would have thought one year ago that the face of Seth Rollins would be so punchable. Back when The Shield was still “The Shield” it seemed all anyone wanted to talk about was which of the three would be the breakout star and which would be the Marty Jannetty. Roman Reigns was clearly the future main-eventer if Vince would get his way (and he does…and he did). Ambrose was a bundle of energy and raw charisma that made him an instant star and favorite among the more hardcore fans of WWE.

Rollins meanwhile was the best worker of the trio and certainly had the most impressive resume coming into WWE, but mic skills mean a lot more on RAW than they do in Ring of Honor. When Seth picked up a mic he was NyQuil. He had the unwanted ability to turn a three-sentence promo into a ten-paragraph speech. Meanwhile Ambrose could spin a yard that kept you hanging on every word; Roman was good (in those days) of just grabbing the stick and saying “Believe that…believe in the Shield” and peacing-out. Poor Seth Rollins was the presumptive odd man out. Liked by management but not as much as Roman, liked by fans but not as much as Dean. Poor Seth seemed doomed, whenever The Shield finally split, to a life of meaningless tag matches and throw away midcard title oppertuniWHOA WHAT IS THAT, WHAT JUST HAPPENED TO MY HEART, ITS BREAKING?!

seth-chairshot

Before our very eyes “poor” Seth became THE breakout star of The Shield. And while Dean will always be adored by fans, and while Roman will always have the protection that comes with being Vince’s current pet project, Seth is the guy who really grabbed the brass ring. He’s the guy who took an upper-midcard spot and climbed the ladder to main-event status.

Before you say it, yes: He’s a cowardly little turd of a heel. But that’s par for the course for almost every heel in WWE, and certainly for every heel that’s not as protected as Rusev, as mystical as Bray Wyatt or as unconquerable-by-gimmick as Brock Lesnar.

Forget the way he does his heeling; look at how he went toe-to-toe with Brock at the Royal Rumble this year and owned that match. It was a triple threat but this time John Cena was the odd man out. That fight was Lesnar vs Rollins and fans could not wait to see Rollins get his in the weeks building up to the fight, and they respected how tough he looked in the middle of it (before ultimately…getting his at the end of it). It was a clinic on good heeling.

His feud with Orton has been hampered by odd booking decisions but through it all Seth has looked every bit belonging on Orton’s level. Again, take away the cowardly heel tactics. When you see Seth and Randy in the same ring, do they not look like equals? Certainly. When you see Brock and Roman in the same ring, did it not look like a main-eventer and a mid-carder? Seth isn’t quite a “made man” yet because he’s lacking that one jewel in his crown to really solidify himself as a top star: A world championship.

WrestleMania 31 would be the perfect time to give it to him.

Forget Roman. He might one day live up to the promise he once showed and the push he’s been given, but right now it’s not unfair to say he’s fallen short of expectations. Blame a lot of that on Vince and co. for some bad bad decisions at critical moments (who approved of those “via satellite” promos while he was injured? Who okay’d those horrible Looney Tunes promos?), but blame doesn’t change the facts, and the fact is Roman’s star is diminished heading into WrestleMania compared to coming into SummerSlam last year (when he had his first singles PPV match).

It’s Seth Rollins, not Roman Reigns, that deserves to walk out of WrestleMania the champ.

And the best part about that is, if they do it right, it wouldn’t hurt Roman Reigns one bit. Not any more than winning the title to a chorus of boos would, at least.

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There are two kinds of babyface champions: The rulers and the seekers.

The rulers are the champions who hold on to the belt for a long time, defeating challenges big and small along the way and facing off against a giant opponent here and there, just to keep things interesting. This is the kind of champion that’s been the norm since the early days of the WWWF. Bruno Sammartino ruled for seven years as champion. Pedro Morales for two years. Bruno again for five more years. Bob Backlund held onto the gold for five years as well. Hulk Hogan kicked off the modern era of pro wrestling with a four year reign. After that, thanks to greater TV exposure, the length of reigns got shorter, but still you had Macho Man’s year-long run, Hogan’s year long run, Warrior’s almost-year long run, Diesel’s year long run, etc.

Starting in the waning days of the Hogan years, the title changed hands more frequently than ever. There have always been transitional champions in the McMahon wrestling empire (the WWWF’s first champion, Nature Boy Buddy Rogers only had the title for a month before passing it on to Bruno), but in the early 90’s it didn’t matter if you were face or heel you were probably not going to hold the belt for long. Undertaker won it from Hogan and held it for two days before losing it back. The title was then held up until the Rumble in 1992 when Ric Fair famously won it. He lost it just a few months later at WrestleMania VIII. Savage didn’t hold it for long as it soon went back to Flair who then dropped it to Bret Hart. Hart looked like he might grow in to his new-found role as a main-eventer, but instead he dropped it to Yokozuna. The “Japanese” giant held the belt from June of 1994 until WrestleMania X the following Spring; not even a year yet by that point it was considered a “long” reign.

The title seemed to change hands weekly in the run up to WrestleMania 13, and then the Attitude Era kicked off a year later with Steve Austin winning the title. He was unquestionably the biggest star since Hogan. It would have been conventional for him to go on a long title run, akin to Sammartino, Backlund, Hogan. Instead he dropped it a few months later to Kane.

And then won it back the next night.

Throughout Austin’s main event run, pre-neck surgery (so, 1998-1999), he captured the WWF title four times. Mind you, Hulk Hogan won the championship five times from 1984-1994. It took Hogan seven years to win the title as many times as Austin won it in two. Times had changed and Austin was a new kind of babyface champion. Not a transitional champion, but a “seeking” champion.

A “seeking” champion is the guy who main-events the PPVs, is central to all the top angles and storylines, is the face of the weekly TV show and is the franchise of the company. Basically he’s everything the top champion is supposed to, only whether or not he has the title is irrelevant. If he has the belt he’s defending it just like the old champions did. But if he was screwed out of the title, he didn’t leave the territory like in the old days; the territory was a weekly TV show: No one leaves! Instead, the defeated champion sets his sights immediately on regaining the belt, and then he eventually does, before the whole process starts over.

It sounds old hat today, but it didn’t become the norm until Steve Austin started feuding with his evil boss, Mr. McMahon.

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Since the Attitude Era, there have only been a few examples of guys having long continuous reigns. JBL had one as a heel on Smackdown in the mid 2000’s, but again “long” is a relavtive term here. In the days of 2-3 month reigns, holding the belt for ten months was a big deal. John Cena also had one as a classic ruling babyface from September 2006 until early October 2007. CM Punk was the last guy to do it; starting out his 400+ day reign as a babyface before turning heel halfway through.

Also if you’re keeping score, Triple H did have a near-300 day run with the World Heavyweight Championship, but WWE was always less concerned with the prestige of that title than they were with their own home-grown championship.

Looking at the three recent long-reigning WWE Champions and reflecting on their runs reminds us why the days of year(s)-long reigns is basically over. Fans tuned out of Smackdown while JBL was champion. Fans who were already annoyed by John Cena gave up on WWE altogether while he was in day 200 of his reign and beating guys like The Great Khali on PPV. Punk struggled so much during his run (due to his having exhausted the number of credible heel challengers) that a heel turn was creatively necessary.

If Vince thinks he can give Roman Reigns an eight month run with the WWE title, he’s crazy. At leat Cena started out with some popularity. CM Punk of course was incredibly over when he won the title. Roman Reigns would potentially be starting off a babyface title run booed worse than the heel he beat and whatever heel he was scheduled to face next.

Letting him chase the title, however, allows for some unpredictability. It gives Roman a chance to show some vulnerability, which might win him some fans (assuming they don’t go all SuperCena with him…which…now that I type it is probably what they’re going to do).

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Either way, the best way to ensure that the seemingly very predictable WrestleMania main event is not so “ho hum boo” would be to simply do the unpredictable.

Let Lesnar beat Roman and then have Seth cash-in and win it. Roman chases Seth for the title and during the chase Vince can assess how well fans are responding to him. If they aren’t then they can pull him out of the title picture for the time being and let some other babyface chase the title.

It would not only give Roman Reigns a second chance to make a first impression with fans, it would reward the guy who has earned a big championship moment at WrestleMania; the guy who has stepped up his game since leaving The Shield, the guy who has become a great talker to compliment his amazing ring work, and the guy who has become the best pure heel on the roster today.

seth-smile

This guy deserves his WrestleMania moment.

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