By Jeff Lutz, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@JLutz82)
I don’t want any answers.
I don’t want to know if Seth Rollins is becoming a full-fledged heel. I don’t want to know if his perceived alliance with Authors of Pain is more than just a coincidence, or if Rollins’ apparent hatred for Kevin Owens is real.
At least not yet. Even though none of those questions were resolved during last week’s edition of Monday Night Raw, Rollins gave an incredible performance that perfectly walked the line of ambiguity. It was so good, in fact, that I hope Rollins’ character isn’t fully defined for a while. For the first time in months or perhaps years, WWE has a story that can be enhanced, not damaged, with a slow build.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for Rollins, who three weeks ago was mired in an aimless babyface run even though fans had turned on him and his character was badly miscast. Outside of his excellent in-ring work, Rollins has struggled to find a real connection with the audience beyond blandly referring to fans as “you guys” and some Pavlovian “Burn it down” chants.
Rollins did harm to his character with real-life missteps, like misguided Twitter exchanges with Will Ospreay and Sasha Banks and by going too far in pro-WWE stances that made him seem more like a company man and less like an outlaw who sided only with the fans. His on-screen partnership with real-life fiancée Becky Lynch did neither any favors but showed that Lynch was easily the most popular performer of the two.
The damage that seemed irreversible within WWE’s often creatively bankrupt storytelling was repaired within two weeks, first with a Survivor Series follow-up in which Rollins played on his recent social media gaffes and categorized WWE as the centerpiece of his life. It seemed like a straightforward heel turn, but Rollins and WWE brilliantly added touches of grey last week.
On a Raw show that featured five enhancement matches and hit a lull after the first hour, Rollins – with a nod to his chemistry with Kevin Owens – was the highlight. He appeared in only two segments, which seemed too light at the time but was perfect in retrospect. WWE has something here, and there is no reason to rush it.
WWE has been generally awful recently at presenting babyfaces, but Rollins’ time in that role was ending naturally, anyway. He doesn’t possess the demeanor to be a good guy for long stretches of his career – he’s just too good at being an asshole. Being an asshole who believes he’s a noble, upstanding leader of the locker room is the perfect place for Rollins because he’s come across that way in multiple real-life interactions.
I’m realizing now how difficult it can be to praise someone for being a jerk without making it sound like an insult. I have no reason to believe Rollins out of character is a bad guy, just that he has lacked self-awareness in public situations and paid for it by losing fans. I also can’t say with certainty that Rollins’ character’s new direction is a fair reflection of who he really is, but it has taken a splice of the negativity surrounding him and amplified it for compelling television.
Rollins has publicly called out CM Punk for a match at WrestleMania, so there’s at least a remote possibility that his tweener character and an eventual full heel turn is setting the stage for that. If long-term storytelling is the play, though, I’d rather see it continue with Owens as Rollins walks the line between cunning bad guy and well-meaning, tough-loving hard ass. Authors of Pain add another intriguing element.
Improbably considering recent history, I trust WWE to tell this story right. Or at least I believe it can be told right, probably because Raw Executive Director Paul Heyman is likely at the wheel. I’ll be watching Raw on Monday and in coming weeks to see Seth Rollins. Just not too much of him. I can wait.