One year ago The Shield broke up.
Okay. Everybody okay now? Got it out of your system?
Let’s talk about Seth Rollins.
Let’s start with who he’s not. He’s not Marty Jannetty. He made sure of that when he took the initiative and broke up the Shield himself, joined up with the authority and was rewarded with a gift-wrapped Money in the Bank win, protection from on high and ultimately the perfect opportunity to become WWE Champion.
So if he’s not Marty, then who is he? Who is the WWE Champion?
Colby Lopez began wrestling in and around his home state of Iowa with a little indie promotion called “Scott County Wrestling.” Within two years (2005) he was the heavyweight champion, though he was barely 200lbs. Upon winning it he spray-painted the title black (a play on the Tyler Black name) and launched into the first strong heel run of his career. His combination of daredevil maneuvers and stiff kicks made him a popular regional attraction and a certain star-to-be.
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For the next two years he danced around various promotions (Full Impact Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Gorilla, NWA Midwest) and crossed paths with Jon Moxley (the future Dean Ambrose), before finding stability in 2007 as a competitor in Ring of Honor. If you’re looking for perspective: Around the time Seth Rollins (as Tyler Black) debuted in ROH, John Cena (a then-three-time WWE Champ) had just gone down with an injury and Randy Orton was awarded the title to start his first WWE Championship reign. Almost a decade later Cena would be defending the mid-card title and Orton would be chasing Rollins for the WWE title. I doubt any of those three guys would have believed that back in 2007.
In Ring of Honor Tyler Black made an impact immediately, debuting as part of a three man group called “the Age of Fall.” The trios first act was to hang Jay Briscoe from the rafters in a display so shocking it was banned from ROH recordings. Later he and AoF stable-mate Jimmy Jacobs would beat the Briscoes for the ROH Tag Titles before dropping them to Davey Richards and Rockey Romero (in a match also featuring the team of Austin Ares and some nobody named Brian Danielson). After that, Black set his sights on the Ring of Honor World Championship, losing his challenge to the champion Nigel McGuinness. He recaptured the tag titles briefly before losing them again to the team of Kevin Steen and El Generico.
He continued striving for the ROH World title but fell short several times, including in a brilliant four-man elimination match, in August 2008, alongside Brian Danielson and Claudio Castonoligi. Finally, in 2010, he won the ROH Championshp. By this point Brian Danielson had moved on, Austin Aries was on his way out, ROH was cutting its roster to save money and Tyler Black was the best viable champion they had.
And a few months later he signed a deal to join WWE.
Still in ROH, the babyface Black immediately turned heel and launched into a program that was criticized by some as being a repeat of the Summer of Punk angle from 2005. It wasn’t. The Summer of Punk featured Punk spitefully gloating that he had the title, no one could take it from him, and he was going to leave for WWE as the ROH Champ. In 2010, Tyler Black announced that he would take the title to WWE, but that’s where the comparisons end. Instead of being spiteful like Punk, Black played a different card: innocent and wronged. The fans called him a sell out, but Black declared that he didn’t sell out to WWE, he bought in to their offer of a better life. That didn’t make him a bad guy, so shame on ROH (he would say) for attacking him for it. His naked ambition and greed drove the fans crazy to see him lose the belt which he finally did just before his WWE debut in September of 2010.
In Florida Championship Wrestling, Seth Rollins thrived right away. He won the innagural FCW 15 title, a championship defended in 15 minute ironman matches. He teamed with Richie Steamboat to win the FCW Tag Titles from Damien Sandow and Titus O’Neil. He and Steamboat later lost the belt to Calvin Raines and Big E Langston. Looking back at the arc of his career, it’s amazing how many future WWE superstars he crossed paths with. Only a few people he feuded with ended up disappearing. Most of them went on to become big stars in their respective promotions. But while those other guys ended up plateuing or failing to reach their potential, Rollins’ career trajectory kept climbing.
He and Dean Ambrose had what is perhaps the greatest feud in FCW’s history, a lengthy battle over the FCW15 title. Looking back on those matches is like watching Bret and Shawn fight over the IC title, or like going back to watch Triple H and DX feuding with Rock and the Nation. It just felt like watching the future before it was the present. In the end, Ambrose helped Damien Sandow win the title from Rollins and Seth went on to challenge for the FCW Championship and won it from Leo Kruger (the future Adam Rose) in February of 2011. In the six years since he began wrestling, his work in the ring had improved considerably, and he was already pretty good to start with. He was never much of a talker, but he had a natural charisma and carried himself like a star, something that many in “WWE Developmental” never learn to do.
Previous FCW Heavyweight Champions were more in the traditional WWE-mold of what a main-event guy should look like. The future Jack Swagger, Sheamus and Mason Ryan all had lengthy runs with the title but it wasn’t until Rollins that a real workhorse held the belt. He was the right champion at the right time. Soon after his win, plans were set in motion to disolve FCW and relaunch the NXT gameshow into the new development brand.
Who better than Seth Rollins to be NXT innagural champion. Though he only held title for a few months before debuting with The Shield on the main roster, his climb through the NXT title tournament and his title defenses started the promotion off on the right foot. He was fast, skilled, able to work a mat-based match and a high flying contest. Every potential challenger on NXT was sure to have their best match with him.
Then came The Shield.
What’s funny is, between the three of them, Seth was obviously the star of the group coming in. He had the most accolades, the best career-to-date, the best all-around skills. Though Ambrose was a much more dynamic character and Reigns (the former Leakee) clearly had “the look” it was Rollins that was the most total-package of the group. Yet he was the one often overlooked.
During their year-and-a-half tear through the main roster, the big discussion about The Shield was what to do with poor Seth Rollins. In their wonderful six-man matches, Ambrose was the guy to start the affair, since he was the most magnetic personality, Reigns was the hot tag who cleaned up with his flury of powerful offense. Rollins…poor Seth Rollins was the workhorse in the middle, who had to take the brunt of the offense.
But it worked. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did. It should have been nothing more than a star-making vehicle for Roman Reigns. The group should have been “Roman and his two buddies” but a combination of good booking and some backstage unity among the trio allowed the group to become a single unit, where each of them plays an equal part. I can’t recall a stable that was as equal as that. The nWo had Hogan. DX had Shawn and later Triple H. The Freebirds had Hayes. The Four-Horseman had Flair. Heck,even 3MB had Slater. There’s always someone who takes the spotlight. Someone is always the centerpiece.
Not with The Shield. They were one. An unholy trinity of butt kicking goodness. And when they were working in harmony they were unstoppable.
Feed them to Cena, Sheamus and Ryback on PPV? Nope. Win. Put them up against Orton, Sheamus and Big Show at WrestleMania 29 and you’d think this would be the time when the vets put down the upstarts. Nope. Victory. Not even an ultra-rare appearance by Undertaker on Monday Night Raw (teaming with Kane and Daniel Bryan) could stop them. It was only because of miscommunication and in-fighting that they lost to CM Punk at Survivor Series 2013, and later to the Wyatt Family at Elimination Chamber 2014 (in the best six-man tag match in the history of ever). Once they got back on the same page, they resumed being the WWE’s most unstoppable force. They totally squashed Kane and the New Age Outlaws at WrestleMania XXX, then engaged in a main-event feud with Evolution. At Extreme Rules they won as a team, at Payback they won as individuals, with each member scoring an eliminating pinfall on an Evolution member.
Then came the turn.
Let me tell you what I loved the most about this. It was the role Triple H played. This was the moment when the old Triple H, whom I used to despise in ring and out, died and was reborn as the new Triple H, whom I adore in ring and out (actually, starting with his Mania 30 match, I was already adoring his in ring work, which I hadn’t done since 2001). The old Triple H was a politicker, looking to protect his spot at all costs, obsessed with his legacy to the point of obviously rewriting history but being so in power than no one with a voice could call him out on it. As a full time wrestler he was at his worst while the top champion on Raw (2002-2005). As a part time wrestler his worst moment came in the feud with CM Punk, right as Punk was at his hottest. But, in some sort of bizarro-Samson thing, when he cut his hair it began a trend where he really found his groove. His feud with Bryan was stellar and his work with Evolution vs the Shield was incredible.
Think about it: The Rollins turn doesn’t work unless the Shield is victorious over Evolution twice in a row.
The story is that Rollins being bought out by Triple H is Plan B. Plan A is obviously a third Evolution vs Shield match, but the first two were lopsided losses for Evolution and Batista quit in frustration. So it becomes cemented that Shield > Evolution. So what does Triple H do? He cheats.
Now, so many times in the past, Triple H would cheat and dominate, giving him a double-whammy he didn’t need as a character. This time he cheated because it was clear he was not the better man and couldn’t win in a legitimate way. When Rollins attacked Ambrose and sided with Triple H, The Game launched his heel work to another level. It was brilliant and it wouldn’t have had the same impact had Evolution either won or lost in a less-than-decisive fashion.
So Seth sells out…er, BUYS IN. And when he does, before our very eyes “poor” Seth became THE breakout star of The Shield. If you want a kayfabe explanation, this was Seth Rollins, the same guy who “sold out” to WWE when he left Ring of Honor, because he didn’t want to be saddled to a company in the midst of a downsizing, now one third of the WWE’s hottest act, “selling out” to the Authority because he heard the whispers that he was the guy soon to be forgotten as a singles star. This was a guy taking the future into his hands. He might have stood back and thought “before too long Roman will be the guy Triple H and co. come calling for to be the next future of the WWE.” So he beat him to the punch. And just like when he was in Ring of Honor, he felt totally justified in his actions, and shame on you, WWE universe, for besmirching a man just trying to control his own destiny.
In reality, Seth becoming the new golden boy of the Authority was the perfect move. He was the right guy to turn at the right time. 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 was the guy who needed the rub, and not only did he get it, he took his opportunity, grabbed that stupid proverbial brass ring, and blossomed into a real superstar before our very eyes.
As his career unfolded people kept trying to peg him as the next this guy or the next that guy. Who is he? We know he’s not Marty Jannetty, but who is he?
Is he the next Jeff Hardy? He’s got the moves. But no. The chairshot heard ’round the world proved he was willing to be sadistic in a way Jeff never could be.
Is he the next Edge? He’s got the same hyena-like instincts to pounce on a hurt enemy. But No. Edge was the ultimate “opportunist.” He just waited for a time to strike and took it. Not Rollins: Rollins didn’t wait. He wasn’t passive; he was active. He chose when to turn.
And though skeptics and cynics tried to say he was the next Marty Jannetty, he proved that wrong too. Whereas Marty struggled to grow and evolve past the Rockers, Seth not only survived on his own, he thrived.
So who is he?
He’s the first Seth Rollins.
In studying Rollins career trajectory, I am amazed at how this guy has worked his way up the ranks, alongside so many WWE superstars (Ambrose, Bryan, Zayn, Owens, Cesaro, Sandow, Big E Langston, Roman Reigns), and along the way was always thought to be a notch below them all. Instead, he busted his tail and outworked everyone else to achieve what most though was impossible just a year ago.
Look how far he’s come.
Look at how much he’s achieved.
And he’s only just started to tell us his story.