We were heading into WrestleMania season with Seth Rollins the likely WWE champ, perhaps getting ready for a break and co-main event with Authority figure Triple H, or a Shield reunion with Roman Reigns.
A failed sunset flip power bomb at a Dublin, Ireland, house show has changed the course of the next several months for WWE, already reeling from several weeks of record-low ratings.
Which points to why the news involving Rollins being on the shelf for six to nine months with a torn ACL, torn MCL and medial meniscus tears in his right knee might not be the worst news in the world.
Creative was locked in to Rollins being the man through WrestleMania 32, despite the low ratings, and the obvious lack of interest from a dwindling fan base in unimaginative storylines involving its WWE champ.
Arguably, the Rollins title win at WrestleMania 31 was one of the top moments in WM history, coming as it did, with Rollins cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase during the main event match pitting champ Brock Lesnar and Reigns, the top contender, en route to the surprise victory.
But thereafter, the booking with Rollins had the effect of rendering the champ to second-rate status. Rollins was booked for months as the chickenshit heel hiding behind stooges, then lost a three-match series with the U.S. champ, John Cena.
In a weakened state, his pending win at Survivor Series over Reigns would only serve to diminish the company’s hottest babyface, further tarnishing the product, though creative doesn’t seem to see the damage that it has been doing over the past several months.
With John Cena out filming a new TV show through the holidays, Daniel Bryan still on the mend, if he is ever to return from a series of issues with his neck and concussions, and now Randy Orton reportedly out for several months with a recurrence of lingering shoulder problems, WWE is heading toward a nadir not seen since the darkest days of the Monday Night Wars when the nWo was on fire and Vince McMahon seemed to be on his last legs trying to come up with an answer.
Difference this time is, the low ratings and lack of energy and enthusiasm from fans isn’t because a competing company is offering a better, more watchable alternative. TNA is not WCW; it’s not even ECW or Smoky Mountain. Ring of Honor is a glorified indy, and Lucha Underground, a cult fave, is nowhere near mainstream enough to be a threat.
(Those back-office vignettes on Lucha Underground that some rave about are just plain odd outside of the kayfabe bubble. And that’s saying a lot, considering how much leeway you get in the world of kayfabe.)
WWE’s ratings issues are self-inflicted, and the stakes are different than what they would have been in the Monday Night Wars era, or even a couple of years ago. McMahon staked the company’s future on the success of the WWE Network in getting fans to sign up for its $9.99 a month streaming service, and as valuable as it is for fans to be able to watch the company’s monthly live TV events (what we used to call pay-per-views) for a low, fixed price, it would help if the content was of any interest at all.
Having Rollins booked as a weak champ at the top of the card wasn’t helping matters, and for whatever reason, creative was insistent upon continuing with the status quo for the duration.
But now Rollins is gone. Injecting myself into the story for a moment, I feel his pain, or rather, I’ve felt his pain, having endured a torn ACL and MCL and the subsequent lengthy rehab from a sports injury in high school. Rollins has a long, hard, painful road to recovery, and even the first year-plus after he’s back won’t be easy, marked as it will be by a series of scary firsts: first time planting, first time cutting, first time changing direction, et cetera.
The road back from a devastating knee injury is not one that I would wish on my worst enemy. The good news is, eventually, it gets better; 25 years later, I squat 500 pounds and run marathons.
But in the here and now, Rollins is off the match list; he’s on crutches, and is not there to be a crutch for WWE creative to slot into the main event.
Where the writers go from here remains to be seen. Of late, the company seems to prefer going the route of a heel champ, so as logical as it might seem to think Reigns is about to be elevated to the title slot, I wouldn’t put money on that right now.
But then, who else fits the bill? With Cena and Orton out, it’s hard to figure. A wild card to me would be Dean Ambrose, booked as a heel, turning on Reigns during the WWE title tournament that we’ve been promised at Survivor Series. Creative has put down some groundwork, with backstage spots featuring Reigns and Ambrose establishing them as tight bros maybe providing some backstory toward a split.
Ambrose would be a solid heel champ, in ring and on the mic, and if he were to betray Reigns to win the title at Survivor Series, it would set up a months-long chase for Reigns that could have him repeat as the Royal Rumble winner in January, then challenging Ambrose in the co-main event at WM32.
A heel turn by Dolph Ziggler could draw some interest. Ziggler, like Ambrose, would make an excellent heel champ, with his ability to work on the mic and his top-level work in-ring, but he’s been booked into a feud with an NXT upstart, Tyler Breeze, and if that’s any reflection of what creative thinks of him, then he’s not going to be considered for the bump up.
We can rule out Sheamus, the current Money in the Bank briefcase holder, if only because his MITB status is rendered moot if he becomes champ. Not to mention that Sheamus is currently being booked as an afterthought, a tag-team opener with Wade Barrett at best right now.
Kevin Owens, the current Intercontinental champ, could carry the ball down field on the mic and in the ring.
Ryback, whom Owens defeated for the I-C strap: no.
Big Show: for love of God, no.
Kane? Hell, no.
We all know where this is going, of course. Paging Brock Lesnar …
– Column by Chris Graham