Seth Rollins is an excellent professional wrestler, you guys. Since debuting in 2012 as part of the Shield, Rollins has been one of the top Superstars in the WWE. While always popular, it’s arguable that he’s amidst the hottest run of his career stemming from an hour-plus performance in a February gauntlet match prior to Elimination Chamber.
It’s hard to believe that it all started off terribly.
In this week’s first-ever edition of Bad Decisions in Booking History, we’ll take a look at Seth Rollins epic May 2016 return to WWE following his devastating ACL/MCL injury - and how WWE almost booked it into the ground.
How it All Began:
Throughout the majority of 2015, Seth Rollins was on top of his game. Fresh off of turning heel against the Shield in a genuinely shocking moment, Rollins had aligned with the Authority. His newfound allegiance would pay immediate dividends, with Rollins winning the Money in the Bank contract shortly after turning to the dark side. After capturing his first WWE Championship at WrestleMania 31 - cashing in during the main event between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar - the Architect went on arguably the strongest run of his WWE career. As champion, Rollins racked up impressive victories over the likes of Randy Orton and Sting, with a now-legendary feud with Dean Ambrose included for good measure. While there were hiccups - there always are - Rollins was well on his way to becoming the top singles star that WWE had always envisioned him as.
However, tragedy struck Rollins title reign just prior to the 2015 edition of Survivor Series. In the midst of a feud with Kane, Rollins tore his ACL, MCL, and meniscus at a live event in Dublin, Ireland. The injuries gruesomeness was only matched by its poor timing. Heading into a major PPV, Rollins looked likely to face off against former brother in the Shield Roman Reigns for the first time since the Architect’s heel turn nearly one year earlier. However, that was not to be, and we received the atrocious Roman/Sheamus/Triple H shit show throughout the Road to WrestleMania.
Ah, WrestleMania 32. Some call it the worst main event in WrestleMania history, and they’d have a damn solid argument for it. The culmination of a year-long storyline featuring an underdog Roman Reigns not only dispatching of Money in the Bank winner Sheamus, but defeating Triple H in what’s likely the least-anticipated match on a ‘Mania card in years. While disappointing to many fans, none were more disappointed than Seth Rollins himself, missing his first Show of Shows since debuting on the main roster.
The reason many of us know about his heartbreak - outside of, y’know, the obvious shittiness of having to miss the Show of Shows - was the fact that Rollins was honestly just a solid human being outside the ring. While a complete douche on TV during his run as a heel, he was still consistently present at company events and went out of his way to support the fans who’d supported him. Sure, one can chalk it up to the WWE machine at work, but it was clear fans still supported Rollins despite his alignment on television.
The breaking point in Rollins natural face turn was the debut of a WWE 24 documentary highlighting his attempts to return from injury. but it painted Seth in a light that most WWE fans had never observed before. For the first time in his career, Seth was a truly sympathetic character. While Rollins was excellent during the Shield’s run as faces, he wasn’t really painted as a human character. Rather, he - along with the other Hounds of Justice - was ruthless, aggressive, and bold. The Seth Rollins shown in this documentary was as human as it got. His struggle to return from injury was inspiring, and his dedication to his craft was immeasurable. It was the first real chance to see the Architect as one of us, rather than the larger-than-life character he played on TV. All of it garnered unbelievable sympathy for Rollins, and his popularity grew despite his absence on either RAW or Smackdown Live. It seemed only a matter of time before he returned to the WWE amidst wild cheers from the WWE Universe to potentially kick off the hottest babyface run since Daniel Bryan.
There are many, many, MANY articles on the Roman Reigns issue that’s plagued WWE for years, so I don’t think it needs to be rehashed that he’s fairly unpopular among a vocal portion of the WWE Universe. However - and to say the least - the Big Dog was enjoying a tepid-at-best run as WWE Champion after defeating the aforementioned Triple H at the also-aforementioned WrestleMania 32. While garnering a huge reaction from fans across the globe, he wasn’t hailed as the conquering hero one would assume he would have been after his main event victory at ‘Mania. By the time of Extreme Rules in May 2016 - where Reigns was set for a championship rematch against #1 contender AJ Styles - the fans were clamouring for something in the championship picture. Specifically, fans were looking for a clear-cut babyface to get behind against a widely-despised champion.
At the time, rumours flew that Rollins was set to return shortly from injury. Even at the time of his injury, it was noted that Extreme Rules 2016 was a likely return time for the Architect given the severity of his injury. However, with no official confirmation that Rollins was returning, many fans braced themselves for at least a few more weeks of Roman Reigns as the WWE Champion.
It wasn’t to be so.
Fans watching the PPV on TV should have been suspicious the moment the crowd cheered after a match in which Reigns retained his WWE Championship. Seemingly out of nowhere, Seth Rollins made his return to WWE television for the first time since the Slammy Awards in December 2015, and his first in-ring appearance since that fateful injury in November. The crowd absolutely exploded; as Rollins his Reigns with the Pedigree, the crowd erupted in “Thank You Seth!” chants, finally given the hero they deserved.
However, that too was too good to be true.
The next evening on RAW, Rollins made his long-awaited return to the flagship show. Amidst cheers, many expected the Architect to issue a mea culpa for his past actions, thank the fans for their support throughout his injury and turn face for the first time in his singles career. It’s a move that many at the time felt would launch Rollins into the upper stratosphere of the WWE even more so than he already had. However, while Rollins initially played up the fan support, he soon launched into a tirade against the Shield, the rest of the WWE roster, and the WWE Universe as a whole. It was a move that, frankly, was right in line with his character prior to his injury. It was apparent that the same Seth Rollins we had come to know and hate had returned, establishing a new top heel on Monday NIght RAW.
So What’s the Problem?
I mean, just listen to the fans when Rollins enters.
It’s actually incredibly similar to the Becky Lynch situation on the August 21 Smackdown Live. Fans were being instructed to boo someone that they clearly loved, with a poorly-received face on the other end. It was awkward for everyone involved, including (I would assume) Rollins. To have the fans so resoundingly behind you, only to have to spit it back in their face? What’s more, to be in that situation opposite Roman Reigns, one of the most controversial figures in WWE at the time?
It would be just over six months until WWE finally pulled the trigger on a Rollins face turn. Post-SummerSlam, the Architect embarked on a career-defining feud against Triple H himself, earning himself the moniker the Kingslayer in the process. Gone is the Pedigree as a finishing move in place of the incredibly devastating and obscenely popular Curbstomp. The Shield has reunited, fizzled out, and reunited again. Long term, everything has admittedly worked out for the Architect - but could you imaging pulling the trigger six months earlier against the most hated face in WWE history? WWE’s already pretty consistently printing money - imagine how they would have done with a true top face.
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