On Thursday, WWE announced that World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins suffered tears in his right ACL, MCL and meniscus. WWE quickly stripped Rollins of the title, and announced that a tournament will take place at Survivor Series, with the winner being declared the new champ. With Rollins out for six-to-nine months, let’s take a look at what this could mean for the immediate future of WWE.
First and foremost is the issue of WWE’s lack of depth at the top of the card. A quick glance at our exclusive depth chart illustrates this point. With Rollins out, The Undertaker, Triple H and Roman Reigns are the only active wrestlers in our top tier — and Triple H hasn’t wrestled since March. Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton are both injured, while Brock Lesnar, John Cena and Sting are all on hiatus.
One would imagine that Lesnar, Cena and Sting are all fielding desperate phone calls from Vince McMahon, and while one (or more) of them returning earlier than planned would certainly help the situation, it would still just be a band-aid. The much larger problem here is WWE’s failure to develop new stars, outside of the former Shield trio of Rollins, Reigns and Dean Ambrose.
The average age of the nine wrestlers in Tier One of our WWE depth chart is 40.9 years. Tiers Two and Three don’t paint a much sunnier picture, as the median age checks in at 34.8 years. In fact, there are just ten male Superstars on the WWE main roster who are under the age of 30 — and seven of those ten are already over 29. By comparison, five of the top six women on the main roster are under 30. At 23 years old, both Paige and Sasha Banks are younger than WWE’s youngest male Superstar, 25-year-old Bo Dallas.
This all brings us back to why Vince & Co. are probably offering the moon to the likes of Lesnar and Cena to convince them to come back early. It seems clear that The Undertaker and Bray Wyatt will be involved in a Survivor Series match, so let’s exclude them from this WHC tournament picture. Triple H hasn’t wrestled in nearly eight months, and likely wouldn’t want to rush himself back into the ring. Cut him out too.
If WWE can’t get Lesnar, Cena or Sting to come back early for this tournament, how will there be any drama to it whatsoever? As the roster stands right now, there is no active Superstar who would make much sense as the tourney winner other than Roman Reigns. As the Money in the Bank holder, Sheamus always has to be in the conversation, but fans don’t take him remotely seriously enough to be *the guy* atop the card, and his recent tag-team pairing with King Barrett hasn’t done anything to change that.
Alberto del Rio would be a stretch, and he’s already holding the United States Championship. It seems too early to put the company’s top title on Kevin Owens, and like del Rio, he’s currently in possession of a singles title to begin with. Dolph Ziggler, Rusev, Cesaro, Ryback — these are all names I could see being in the tournament, but being no plausible threat whatsoever to win.
I suppose Kofi Kingston or Big E would be somewhat believable — and one of them will most likely participate in the tourney — although putting the WHC on New Day would mean the company is prepared to go in a very different direction than previously assumed. Raw and Smackdown would be starkly different television products with New Day in control of the WHC, and while I’m not saying that would be a bad thing, I just don’t see it happening at this time.
At this point, we’re left with one single name: Dean Ambrose. The Lunatic Fringe has struggled to emerge from the shadows of Rollins/Reigns since the breakup of The Shield, despite fans’ clear excitement for him. This has been especially apparent recently, as Ambrose has been reduced to “Roman’s friend/bro/wingman, Dean.”
A Reigns vs. Ambrose finals would be compelling stuff, partially because of the storyline possibilities involved. The very real possibility of either man turning heel during or after the match would provide high drama, and imagining Ambrose as champion is a bit outlandish, but not to the point of being impossible. Putting the title on him — even for a short while — would indicate to fans that WWE is serious about committing long-term to Ambrose.
Viewing the roster through the lens of losing Rollins to injury, WWE is under tremendous pressure to not screw up guys like Bray Wyatt and Kevin Owens, who are among the very few non-former-Shield-members on the roster still young enough to have long main-event level careers ahead of them. Also, I can only imagine how drastically WWE’s plans for Wrestlemania are forced to change due to the loss of Rollins.
One thing I know for certain is that we’ll have to wait at least one more year for that Shield triple-threat Mania headliner. Get well soon, Seth. WWE needs you, maybe more than anyone realized until now.