Even upon The Shield’s initial debut, despite taking WWE by storm, many fans looked ahead to the inevitable break-up of the group. It was known that Roman Reigns was pegged by the company as the future main eventer. Dean Ambrose was seen as a possible heel, and Seth Rollins a babyface.
But it ended up being Rollins that turned on his other brothers in the group, aligning himself with Triple H and The Authority. It was a great sign of trust by WWE to put him in such a valuable spot. It also came as somewhat of a surprise, given the supposition that Rollins could be the odd one out when it came to pushes of Shield members post break-up.
Replacing Randy Orton as the main eventer to kowtow to The Authority, Rollins was looked at by fans as someone who could have a big babyface run in him when he eventually turned. His offensive firepower helped lead people in thinking that direction.
Then, in November 2015, a year and-a-half after turning heel, Rollins suffered a serious injury in a house show match with Kane overseas. It was a torn ACL, and it kept him on the shelf for six months. At the time, he was WWE World Champion, and thus had to vacate the championship. If there were ever a time to turn him babyface, it was when he was set to return to action, when he’d automatically get that “returning star” pop anyway.
It appeared WWE was setting the table for that very scenario. Almost two months after his injury, Rollins won the Slammy Award for 2015 Superstar of the Year. He cut what seemed like a babyface promo, talking about returning stronger than ever, and he was cheered by the live audience.
Six months later, he was ready to come back. About the same time he returned, A.J. Styles officially turned heel by attacking John Cena. Styles was set to become one of the top full-time heels in the company. The Authority had seemingly moved on from Rollins, recruiting The League of Nations to do its bidding, and when they couldn’t get it done, Triple H himself stepped in to try to stop the juggernaut that was Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania.
The dominoes were in place for Rollins to return as a babyface. When his music hit at Extreme Rules in May, the crowd popped. Instead of creating a new, compelling babyface that could actually be cheered by the fans, WWE brought him back as a heel, attacking Roman Reigns (WWE’s hand-picked babyface that Rollins would immediately have been more popular than).
With Seth’s return, WWE could’ve turned Reigns heel. It would’ve positioned both men in a way in which they could emphasize their strengths. WWE’s laser focus on getting Reigns over as the next big babyface has now clouded their judgment on wrestlers around Reigns. So it’s not just Reigns they’re hurting with this insistent push; its others that are being caught up in the Reigns Push Orbit that are suffering. Not to mention the fans.
Another reason Rollins may have been kept heel was because, two months after his return from injury, WWE called up Finn Balor from NXT. Balor’s call-up coincided with the brand split, with both him and Rollins being drafted to Monday Night Raw. Balor was immediately pushed to the top as Universal Champion, a spot that could’ve gone to Rollins if he (a) returned as a babyface and (b) Balor hadn’t been promoted.
When Balor suffered an injury early on in his main roster run, WWE suddenly needed a replacement babyface at the top of the card. They turned Rollins, three months after he returned to action as a heel. His turn came when Triple H helped Kevin Owens, rather than Rollins, win the Universal Title vacated when Balor got hurt.
Since then, Rollins has been a flop as a good guy. Part of the reason is mentioned above, that fans were starving for Rollins to return from injury as a babyface. Coming in as a heel cooled him off a little bit, and when fans were finally given “permission” to cheer him when he turned, WWE had missed its moment. Sometimes, timing is everything, and lately, WWE’s timing hasn’t been so good.
A big reason Rollins has not gotten over as much as one would’ve expected as a babyface is because the reason for his turn was weak. In the last few years, WWE hasn’t always been good about giving guys legitimate reasons for their turns. They might be able to get away with that lack of storytelling in the mid-card, but for someone like Rollins, who they want to feature as a major player, they need to do better.
Rollins basically turned because The Authority decided to back Owens rather than Rollins. So the fans are supposed to support him…why? Because the heel group that helped him retain the WWE World Title over and over again is no longer helping him? It’s admirable that Rollins wants to now tear down The Authority, but his reason for doing so is not lost on the fans.
It also doesn’t help that Triple H hasn’t been around since helping Owens, thus neutering the babyface cause of Rollins. He can make his stand against Stephanie McMahon as a stand-in for her husband, but even she’s pleading ignorance about why Triple H helped Owens win the Universal Title rather than Rollins.
Because Rollins can’t fight Stephanie and because she hasn’t even admitted to being in on the scam, in addition to Hunter not making his presence felt, it deadens Rollins’s attempts to thwart The Authority for what he felt was an injustice foisted upon him.
The lack of explanation for Triple H’s involvement is somewhat stunning. They’ve hand-waved it away for the moment, and fans are likely expected to have it addressed down the line at some point. However, justifiably so based on similar past instances, there is little confidence that WWE will bother to explain the situation in a satisfactory manner. It’s another blow to the babyface turn of Rollins.
What can be done at this point to help salvage the turn? WWE has teased Rollins and Reigns perhaps helping each other out. It would be a reuniting of Shield members, but will it help Rollins? It’s intriguing because fans will be nostalgic for The Shield mini-reunion, so they’ll get a pop based on that and Rollins won’t be hurt by tooling around with Reigns, at least at first.
But WWE has to be careful not to let it linger past its expiration date (as noted above, a real problem WWE has). It’ll be the “cool” thing for a couple of weeks, until fans catch on that it’s the same old Reigns and it’s just another way for WWE to try to get him over as a major babyface. Rollins can’t be associated with that act when the fans realize that; he’s not over enough to survive the onslaught that would come for Reigns.
So for the short-term, that could work. They also need to give him a real purpose. A real, babyface purpose. More than going after The Authority, which is a losing proposition at this point, Rollins need to show contrition for his past actions. Rollins doesn’t feel “different” enough from his heel persona. Maybe doing something as simple as changing his ring gear would give fans at least the aesthetic impression that he’s a different person from heel Rollins.
Even though Reigns isn’t a strong babyface, he’s over to a lot of women and children. WWE should book Rollins to appeal to the part of the fanbase Reigns is missing out on, that being the vocal males. What that means is they shouldn’t script him to be the kind of guy who calls a heel Chris Jericho “sparkle-crotch.”
That’s groan-worthy, it’s a Reigns/John Cena line, and not every babyface has to be scripted to have the same sense of humor. Yes, the crowd popped and chanted along, but it’s nothing that will get Rollins over and keep him over in the long run. Let Reigns have those zingers, and let Rollins carve out his own niche on the mic appealing to a different type of fan, the type that Reigns is missing out on.
Inside the ring, Rollins doesn’t need to change much. His matches are slow to catch on with the fans because they don’t buy his babyface act, but so far, he’s able to rope them into things by the end. It’s too bad he has to work so hard to do it, though.
With proper booking and storytelling, Rollins could be a real feather in WWE’s cap as a babyface. Instead, he’s floundering. There’s time to get him fixed, but it will take an acknowledgment on WWE’s part that something is broken. And that’s not always easy for some inside the company to do.
(Greg Parks has been covering WWE Smackdown every Friday night for PWTorch.com since January of 2007. He covers Smackdown Live with real time reports every Tuesday at pwtorch.com (or pwtorchvip.com for VIP members). He also guest hosts and cohosts the PWTorch Livecast on a regular basis. Follow him on Twitter @gregmparks. Comments, questions and feedback are welcome, and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.) ###