WWE made clear their intentions for Seth Rollins’s reign as Universal Champion at Extreme Rules.
“Burn it down.”
After a little more than three months, the Big Red Belt is back around the waist of Brock Lesnar. The Beast cashed in his Money In The Bank contract on Rollins to close out Extreme Rules on Sunday night.
Reaction from fans has been mixed. Some hate the idea of Lesnar being the champion again, and some people really hate it.
But, like so many are, this is a self-inflicted wound from WWE. From the get-go, WWE sabotaged Seth Rollins’s run as the Universal Champion.
And we’ll get there, but some of the blame has to fall on the shoulders of Rollins himself.
Shadow Of The Beast
Just over a month after Rollins defeated Lesnar for the Universal Championship, the Architect was right back under the Beast’s shadow.
Rollins defended the title against AJ Styles in a classic match at Money In The Bank only for Lesnar to steal the show by being a surprise entrant in the Money In The Bank ladder match.
At the end of that show, the story was no longer Rollins’s victory over Styles. The story became about the Brock Lesnar waiting game. Will he cash in on Rollins or WWE Champion Kofi Kingston? And when?
As with anything Lesnar is involved in, the focus shifted straight to the Beast. Hell, his schtick of carrying the briefcase around like a boombox became a high-selling t-shirt for WWE and a meme.
And while Lesnar’s shadow covered both top champions, Kofi Kingston has spent just about every minute of TV time since defeating Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 35 looking like Superman. He’s won every match he’s been a part of and thwarted every challenger, seemingly with ease.
Meanwhile, what’s Seth Rollins been up to since WrestleMania?
Baron — F’ing — Corbin
Seth Rollins is, talent-wise, probably the closest thing to Shawn Michaels his particular generation is going to produce. Rollins has been earmarked from the beginning as a big star.
He was the first NXT Champion, and Rollins has been the apple of Triple H’s eye since the day he was called up to the main roster.
And somehow the one thing this supremely-talented wrestler can’t overcome is Baron Corbin. We’ve talked about Corbin before at length. He sucks.
But he challenged Rollins for the Universal Championship on three consecutive pay-per-views and came within a breath of defeating the Kingslayer. And no matter how loudly the crowd protests, the WWE fans didn’t take him seriously as a challenger.
If Seth Rollins can barely get past an absolute nobody, how are we supposed to think he would survive the day Lesnar decided to cash in? Let’s even play a hypothetical and assume Lesnar cashed in on Kofi.
Three of four Rollins defenses came against Corbin. The first one at Super Showdown was relatively clean. But at Stomping Grounds, he had to overcome both Corbin and the unfair officiating of special referee Lacey Evans.
And how did Rollins finally best the odds at Stomping Grounds?
The Man’s Man
The Man. Arguably still the hottest mainstream commodity WWE has under its umbrella. And she’s Seth Rollins’s girlfriend.
Well, more accurately, Rollins is Becky Lynch’s boyfriend. She saved Rollins at Stomping Grounds.
When WWE started acknowledging their off-screen romance as part of the show, Seth Rollins was trapped in a no-win scenario. Rollins might have held the top belt, but Lynch was unquestionably the top star of the two.
She’s the one WWE wants on magazine covers to push their narrative of a continued focus on women’s wrestling. Lynch is the one they want headlining autograph signings and doing radio interviews and press events. And by highlighting a relationship between Rollins and Lynch on television, WWE doomed Seth Rollins.
With the two paired on television, Rollins is the one who — public relations-wise — can afford to take the fall in WWE’s eyes. Aside from Lesnar, right now there is no one in WWE the company wants and needs to protect more than Becky Lynch.
But in the end, there’s one person who’s done more to tarnish Rollins’s standing in WWE. It’s not Vince McMahon or Brock Lesnar or Becky Lynch.
It’s Seth Rollins
Twitter Burns Rollins Down
We’ve mentioned before that WWE has a confusing, ambiguous approach to defining what it means to be their “top star.” And in the end, it burned Rollins. Badly.
Rollins is nothing if not a good company man. And with AEW’s hype machine getting bigger and with the almost universal acknowledgement that other promotions have in-ring action head-and-shoulders above the WWE product, Rollins took to Twitter to defend his company. In the lead-up to Stomping Grounds, Rollins posted this:
Best pro wrestling on the planet. Period. https://t.co/Frd8occDhd
— Seth Rollins (@WWERollins) June 23, 2019
Anyone who’s watched the WWE product in the last 10 years or so knows that is a laughable statement. It’s ridiculous. And if Rollins had expounded on his feelings then and there, he could’ve saved himself some trouble.
Rollins could have clarified that WWE has the most diverse roster, the best developmental system, the best this that or the other. But he left it as it was and all but invited responses.
And he got one from Will Ospreay, the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. A guy who’s wrestled countless classics around the world and who might have a legitimate claim to being one of the best pro wrestlers on the planet.
It was a pretty standard Twitter war. Rollins brought up the grinding WWE schedule, Ospreay countered. Honestly, it was more of a skirmish than anything else. Then Rollins effectively lost the war and a ton of respect among the wrestling industry with this little gem.
I mean if you wanna talk numbers we can compare bank accounts too.
P.S. That’s counting a month off with a broken back…👍🏼 buddy.
— Seth Rollins (@WWERollins) June 25, 2019
The minute Rollins brought up money, the argument was over. He lost. But there’s a bigger issue here, and that’s that Rollins doesn’t know what it means to be the “top guy.”
WWE bears some blame for this, inasmuch as they didn’t adequately prepare him for this role. And worse, nobody seemed to be reaching out to him to say, “Dude, this isn’t helping anybody.”
Seth Rollins overshot his mark on what it means to be a company guy. Stand up for your brand? Sure. Kiss the boss’s ass in public? I mean, don’t go overboard, but why not?
“I make more money than you.” Nope.
WWE set Rollins up to fail to some degree. Hell, to a very large degree.
They undercut his championship victory by immediately placing the old champ hovering over his head, gave him a weak challenger, and told the world he wasn’t as important to WWE as his girlfriend.
But Seth Rollins shoveled the last mound of dirt himself.
There’s no doubt he’ll come back from this. We haven’t heard the last of Seth Rollins by a long shot. He’s one of the best wrestlers in the world (period), and he’s invaluable to the coming war effort against AEW.
However, he and WWE need to work together on some damage control. By the end of his career, he could be the world champion dozens of times over.
But only if Rollins and WWE, possibly with input from new Monday Night Raw boss Paul Heyman, right the ship now before it’s blown further off-course.
All images courtesy of WWE.