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Art is the creation of something from nothing that elicits a reaction. Pro wrestling embodies that definition. In wrestling, men and women step inside the squared circle and create with their actions, expressions, words, and bodies to garner a specific and distinct reaction from their audience. In turn, the audience responds to, engages with, and affects the work. No other art form in the world carries that uniqueness. In this column, we explore that art form inside real and relevant examples. Enjoy.
Does the WWE have a time machine that the world doesn’t know about? I suppose that’s impossible, but somebody there is still living in the past. Why? Well, it took them two years, but on Monday night, the WWE delivered the “Seth Rollins Returns From Injury” promo that should have been delivered in 2016. It’s 2018 now, but better late than never.
Since Rollins returned to the WWE at Extreme Rules in 2016, he’s been a victim of nonsensical booking, a watered down moveset, limited mic time, and a numbing feud with Triple H. Contrast that to Rollins pre-injury in which he was the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, main-eventing PPV’s, guesting on national talk shows, and being showcased as the lead heel of the company and its easy to see that the tale of the two Seth’s is drastically different. The misfire with him lies in the hands of the WWE as they forced him back on the fans as a heel. He was a guy fans respected greatly and though he was a heel prior to the injury, absence makes the heart grow fonder and it should have been obvious that people would gravitate to him upon his return to the company. All the stars aligned for the WWE to have a major babyface upon Seth’s return and they chose to go in the opposite direction. To add insult to injury, soon after his heel return, he was unceremoniously flipped to a babyface to offset an injury to Finn Balor. Nowhere in that debacle did Rollins define what his goal was in returning to the company. There was no mission statement, no purpose, no character development, no gimmick, nothing. The audience didn’t know who and what Seth Rollins was and he floundered because of it.
Luckily, Rollins is a true professional and was able to avoid total destruction because he’s beloved by fans in an organic way. He’s not featured as the top star or face of the company at the moment, but gets bigger babyface pops than many of those that are. He cashed in on that love from the fans on Monday night. All these years later, on Monday night the real Seth Rollins finally stood up and cut the promo he should have cut two years ago. He addressed who he was and what his purpose was in the WWE. It was a big moment and one that will be looked back upon as a potential turning point in Seth’s career trajectory.
The promo began with Rollins interrupting Kurt Angle. The Rollins entrance music was tweaked for this interruption and featured the “Burn It Down” lyric portion of the song right out of the gate instead of the heavy guitars and drums. This was an effective choice as “Burn It Down” has been the lone part of the Rollins gimmick that connects with the audience. Other than beating Triple H at WrestleMania, he’s never truly accomplished it, but it’s become synonymous with his name. Having “Burn It Down” kick off the Rollins involvement in the segment literally interrupted the segment in a real way. That part of the theme is in your face, loud, and it forces the audience to shift attention while what’s being interrupted goes down in flames. It’s incredibly noticeable and works in displaying to the audience that something big is coming down the pipe.
In the ring and on the mic, Rollins began by sympathetically referencing the injury to his tag team partner, Jason Jordan. From a contextual standpoint this made sense as it showed Rollins caring for his partner and admitting that he was wrong in his treatment of him. Both are qualities of a good guy and ones that fans welcome in their star babyfaces. Seth’s delivery of the words drove that point home further and elicited even more sympathy from the audience. Rollins slowed down his tone and looked directly into Kurt’s eyes when talking to him about his son. In doing so, Seth conveyed a sense of understanding and made the crowd feel as if they were witnessing a real moment with a distraught father.
From there, Rollins proceeded to cut the promo that never was in 2016. In a confident tone with a genuine smile, Seth detailed his rise to prominence culminating with beating Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns at WrestleMania by cashing in his money in the bank contract. Rollins was brilliant here as he effectively accentuated those points in his career within the promo by increasing his volume to mirror the cheers from the crowd as he went through his bullet pointed list. Rollins carefully added in his trademark smirk in mentioning that he became WWE champion “just a few miles up the road at Levis Stadium.” Yes, it was a cheap pop given that they were in that town again, but it was also an effective strategy. It made sense within the story he was telling and conjured up memories of that night for fans. They roared in approval.
Rollins then took the crowd down. He slowed his cadence once again and detailed his fall from the top of the mountain. Rollins took extra care in reliving his knee injury and while this contrasted with the pumped up early part of the promo, it worked to rope the fans in. With the slowed down cadence, the audience was forced to hear the words Rollins was saying and feel the pain along with him. On cue though, Seth brought them back up in saying that he learned from those moments and learned what it meant to miss a WrestleMania.
Enter the mission statement. Finally, Rollins laid his career on the line for the world to see. After Angle offered him a second tag team championship rematch, Rollins locked eyes with the Raw General Manager once again and respectfully declined. He pointedly and directly told Angle that he didn’t want to be a part of Monday Night Raw, but that he wanted to “be” Monday Night Raw. He raised his voice in a timely fashion and let the world know that he wanted to turn Raw into Monday Night Rollins and the crowd cheered in approval. He yelled loudly that he wanted to be the man and that he wanted Brock Lesnar and the Universal Championship at WrestleMania. In the delivery, there wasn’t bells and whistles and certainly no on-screen 1960s Batman graphics. Rollins presented his mission statement straight and direct to not only Angle, but the audience as well. Between the bullet points, Rollins brilliantly paused so the crowd could continue to hop on his train until “at WrestleMania” in which they exploded. Seth setup that explosion with all the work earlier in the promo. He started by detailing his rise to WrestleMania, then talked about his fall through one, and now was on the high end again in looking for a new WrestleMania moment. Rollercoaster anyone? Because of the ride Rollins took the audience on and the story he told, the crowd bought in and is now ready to see Rollins achieve it all. Like most great promos, that equals money.
Imagine the moment and the feeling within the wrestling world had Rollins cut this promo two years ago. It would have sent shockwaves through the WWE and they would have undoubtedly had a super babyface that they apparently didn’t want. Seth Rollins has been through a lot in his career, but this promo centered him once again. The audience has always had a connection to Seth, the person. Now they have a connection and are sold on his mission. Beating Brock Lesnar. Becoming the Universal Champion. Doing it all at WrestleMania. Three simple and relatable events that WWE fans want to see happen.
After watching the Gargano vs. Almas masterpiece at NXT Takeover last month, a natural question gets pondered in why the WWE can’t produce a story like that on the main roster. They can and simply need to hit the go button on Rollins to do so. We’re 50 days out from New Orleans and even if the Rollins story isn’t told this year, because of Monday’s promo the WWE has an angle in a time capsule they can go to at any time that will draw big money for the company.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: ARTISTRY OF WRESTLING: The Usos master the system and open the penitentiary to let everyone inside