When Seth Rollins turned on Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose to join HHH in The Authority, it looked like Rollins was on the fast track to superstardom. It was also a bit of a surprise that Rollins was the member of The Shield who got the most explicit endorsement as a singles wrestler. While Rollins has checked off many of the boxes for accomplishments that we would have assumed (great singles record, Money in the Bank Briefcase), I suspect that some fans might feel that his singles run has been slightly underwhelming. Where are the splashes off of ladders and tunnels? Where is the crazy work-rate that distinguished him in ROH, NXT, and The Shield? I believe that Rollins’s more defensive, subdued style is no mistake, but that he has intentionally moved away from the fan-friendly style in order to make his opponents- Ambrose in particular- more popular.
For example, take a look at the matches Rollins wrestled in the last week. On Smackdown, Rollins got a win over Dolph Ziggler, but he spent the vast majority of the time on the defensive. Ziggler is known as a wrestler who can sell with the best of them and Rollins has demonstrated that he can make opponents’ offense look tremendous, as well. Rollins finally threw Ziggler into the ring post and followed with the Curb Stomp for a victory. His match on Raw followed a superficially similar script. He wrestled Rob Van Dam and most of his offense was actually just using Van Dam’s aggressiveness against him. He dodged a few aerial moves and tried to minimize the impact of Van Dam’s attacks. Once again, he hit a fairly sudden Curb Stomp to win the match. In both cases, his opponent looked better than him in the match, so his clean victory only made the fans want to see him get beat up even more, particularly by Ambrose.
Even Rollins’s out-of-ring work was strong. He interfered in a Smackdown match between Ambrose and Randy Orton to prevent a cover by Ambrose after he hit Dirty Deeds. The timing was perfect because the fans really wanted to see Ambrose win. Since Rollins took that away from them, he became even more hated than he already was. On Raw, Rollins examined some oversized birthday presents on the stage for Hulk Hogan’s birthday and played it off like he was paranoid to even be suspicious. Naturally, Ambrose jumped out of one of the boxes and created a very funny image that enhances their feud once again.
What Rollins has done in the last couple of months has been to willfully diminish his own popularity for the sake of a storyline. He has minimized his flashy offensive moves and charismatic ring work to keep fans from cheering for him. It is one thing for an established star like Chris Jericho or Christian to keep their egos in check enough to make a young star look good. It is even more impressive when someone who is still in the process of establishing himself as a star is willing to dim his own star for the sake of the feud itself. To borrow a phrase, Rollins has done “what’s best for business.” While Rollins has not stood out as the most impressive or entertaining individual on Raw or Smackdown for several weeks, remember what Rollins has done to make Ambrose look incredible while Ambrose continues to ride his rocket pack into fans’ hearts.