John Cena rescued a moribund feud with a memorable match and followed it with a fantastic encounter with Stephanie McMahon on Raw. Cesaro, Sheamus, Rob Van Dam, and Bad News Barrett continued their criss-crossing rivalry with one solid match after another. Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, HHH, Batista, and Randy Orton all wrestled extremely well in a PPV main event and did great work on the mic. In a normal week, any one of them would have been a worthy winner of Wrestler of the Week. This week, though, the all came up short against the indelible image of Seth Rollins betraying The Shield.
Rollins, Ambrose, and Reigns cut a group promo on Smackdown that primed the pump for the No DQ, Elimination Tag Match against Evolution at Payback. The real action started on the PPV, where the teams squared off in a brutal main event match. Rollins functioned as the symbolic turning point in the match when he came off the lower tier of the video board to splash everyone in the match simultaneously. That alone was the type of crazy high spot that helped chisel wrestlers like Jeff Hardy and Edge into our memories. Rollins continued from there to help the team win a shutout over Evolution and celebrate together to end the show.
I loved the end of Payback and did not feel like I missed out on anything. Nonetheless, the storyline twist the next night on Raw showed that I did not know what I wanted at the time because I absolutely loved the way that Rollins turned on Ambrose and Reigns to break apart The Shield. It seemed like a victory lap for his team when dissension forced Evolution apart due to Batista’s departure from WWE. HHH warned, however, that he had a plan B ready. When Ambrose and Reigns stepped forward to take a closer look, Rollins ambushed them with a chair. Ambrose and Reigns deserve credit for their emotive expressions in the segment, and especially for how much punishment they took to make the beating convincing. Even so, it was Rollins who made the turn so memorable. He showed how close he is to main event-ready right now with the intensity in the moment. He drew a shocked reaction from the fans who might have known that a Shield split was coming eventually, but had no idea that it was coming at that time. It was not just the surprise of the moment, but the execution, as well.
David Shoemaker wrote in his Grantland column this week about how wrestling fans have become accustomed to the storyline in which a tag team partner turns heel with an attack on his teammate or teammates. His premise is true, but I would argue that most wrestling storylines ultimately conform to the same broad strokes as similar arcs we have seen before. What makes an angle successful is how well the wrestlers tell the familiar story with their emotion, personality, and physicality. Since we are so familiar with the splintered tag team storyline, it was not far from a sure thing for Rollins to make such a definitive impact with his version of the story. The fact that he did it so well is an accomplishment, and more than good fortune, I think it is indicative of a skill set that will carry him to even greater heights down the road.