2014 Wrestler of the Year Part 5 – #1 Seth Rollins

If you missed any of the 2014 Wrestler of the Year entries, get caught up here:

Honorable Mentions/Wrestlers 8-10/Wrestlers 5-7/Wrestlers 2-4

 

  1. Seth Rollins

 

Wrestler of the Week Wins: 9

 

It was clear by the end of 2013 that WWE had started the process of changing its guard, but it was not clear who would lead the next generation of stars. Daniel Bryan had worked his way into the main event, even loosening John Cena’s deathgrip on the Wrestlemania main event. Behind him, there was a crowd of young wrestlers with a variety of talents who could fill numerous different roles. The Wyatt Family, The Shield, Big E, Cesaro, Ryback, Dolph Ziggler, Cody Rhodes, and Jack Swagger all had the potential to reach that level under the right circumstances, with more NXT stars nipping at their heels. While Seth Rollins deserved to be on that short list, few would have said a year ago that he would be the very best of that group, let alone the best wrestler in all of the United States by the very next year.

 

It almost seems natural now that Rollins was always destined for stardom because he has ascended the card so seamlessly. It’s easy to forget that he sometimes seemed like the third wheel in The Shield. It seemed that he would have the hardest time becoming an individual star because his skills are more nuanced than Roman Reigns’s or Dean Ambrose’s.

 

Yet on the fateful night of June 2nd, The Authority threw its weight behind Rollins- in the storyline and in real life- as he was the surprise defector to destroy The Shield and join HHH’s group. There has not been a hiccup since that night. Everything Rollins has done has worked and he has become the unexpected glue that holds the main event together from week to week.

 

Before Rollins turned on his Shield partners, they had several more entertaining matches to add to their ledger. At Elimination Chamber in February, The Shield finally got their long-teased match with the Wyatt Family and it lived up to expectations. The match was one of the first instances of clear dissension within the stable, as Ambrose was nowhere to be found while Rollins and Reigns finished the match alone, fighting valiantly but unable to overcome the disadvantage. Ironically, it was Rollins who played peacemaker and helped get his teammates back on the same page in time for Wrestlemania.

Their match against the New Age Outlaws and Kane fell far short of the standard they set the year before against Randy Orton, Big Show, and Sheamus. Much of the blame falls to the fact that they had almost no time to execute any sort of story, and they still managed to come away from the event undefeated at Wrestlemania as a group.

 

When HHH’s friends could not dispatch The Shield, he took matters into his own hands under the assumption that The Shield would not allow him to take the WWE Title back from Daniel Bryan. Rollins successfully held the group together and they worked well as a team in two matches with Evolution. The first confrontation at Extreme Rules, in particular, was one of the best matches of the year. Rollins punctuated it with a crazy splash from the concourse onto Orton and HHH on the floor to let Reigns finish Batista with a spear in the ring. Their rematch at Payback was nearly as good and cemented The Shield as an historically great faction.

 

Everything changed for Rollins the very next night on Raw. At the end of the show, Evolution closed in on The Shield while they waited in the ring, primed for a fight. HHH warned them that he had a “Plan B” and Rollins assaulted his one-time friends with a chair.

 

The fallout was a vengeful, personal feud between Rollins and Ambrose that helped carry WWE through an otherwise lean summer. Rollins stepped up another rung on the WWE hierarchy with a Kane-aided Money in the Bank win at the eponymous PPV. Rollins continued to work outstanding matches with wrestlers like Kofi Kingston and Rob Van Dam to pile up Wrestler of the Week honors.

 

Ambrose was set to face Rollins at Battleground, but HHH had Ambrose ejected from the building when he jumped Rollins backstage. He returned to chase Rollins around the arena after Rollins won their “match” by forfeit. The Ambrose-Rollins rivalry sustained for the rest of the summer with a variety of tricks and props- Ambrose hiding in car trunks and birthday presents, attacking Rollins with a hot dog cart, and mangling a mannequin made to look like Rollins.

 

They faced one another in a shockingly good Lumberjack Match at Summerslam that Rollins won when a lumberjack brawl allowed him to hit Ambrose with his Money in the Bank briefcase. Shortly thereafter, Kane and Rollins teamed up to Curb Stomp Ambrose through a pile of cinderblocks and send him out of action for about a month.

He got another forfeit win over Reigns at Night of Champions when a hernia took Reigns out of action. Ambrose arrived at the arena in a taxi cab to return from his own injury and brawled all over with Rollins. Their ongoing feud took them to the main event of Hell in a Cell, where they climbed to the top of the cell to start the match. They put fans on edge as they fought high in the air and eventually fell simultaneously from the side of the cage through both announce tables below. They went on to wrestle a very competitive and entertaining match until it looked like Ambrose was about to win and the lights went out. Bray Wyatt appeared and took out Ambrose to allow Rollins to get the pin. It brought this chapter of the Rollins-Ambrose feud to a close, but it left the door open for more chapters in what is sure to be an extended rivalry.

 

After the Ambrose feud, Rollins became the central character in The Authority’s Survivor Series team with their positions of power on the line. HHH surrounded Rollins with huge, powerful teammates, which helped draw the focus to his athleticism and wrestling ability. Although his team succeeded in building a 3-on-1 advantage against Dolph Ziggler, neither Luke Harper nor Kane could put Ziggler away and Rollins was left as the final member of his team. Ziggler and Rollins had a tremendous, tense stretch with interference from HHH. Just went it seemed that HHH’s Pedigree had secured the win for Rollins, Sting came to the ring and allowed Ziggler to win.

 

Rollins started to focus on The Authority’s reinstatement and tried to leverage Cena to bring them back into power. He lost to Cena in a Tables Match at TLC, but had a much better match the next night against Cena in a cage that he ultimately won with the help of Brock Lesnar. On the last episode of Raw in 2014, Rollins threatened to Curb Stomp guest host Edge into paralysis unless Cena reinstated The Authority and he finally got what he wanted.

 

By the end of the year, Rollins played the part of a cerebral manipulator who has the athleticism to back up his schemes. Before that, he was the entitled golden boy who got by on The Authority’s help. When he was in The Shield, Rollins was the high flyer and consistent worker who kept the team’s matches entertaining. In each role, Rollins has paid a tremendous amount of attention to detail.

 

When he first turned heel, he changed his wrestling style drastically. He retreated more often and eliminated some of the most exciting offensive moves from his arsenal. As he became more established as an individual heel, he started to find more opportunistic ways to work his impactful offense into matches. On top of that, his mic skills have developed in an entirely unforeseen way. He has become so slimy and unlikable that he annoys even the fans who know that his goal is to annoy them with his whining. In an era in which many heels inadvertently turn themselves face by being too good, Rollins has been able to consistently draw heat.

 

It’s natural to compare any young wrestler to his predecessors to get an idea of what his career might resemble. Rollins is no exception and I have heard fans compare him to Jeff Hardy, Edge, John Morrison, and Chris Jericho. He has the body and risk preferences of Hardy. He can replicate Edge’s smug self-satisfaction from his best heel runs. His unique athleticism harkens back to Morrison’s parkour innovation. And Jericho is the sort of do-it-all technical marvel who never had an obvious weakness.

 

The beauty of Rollins is that he is more stable than Hardy, a better pure wrestler than Edge, and infinitely better at promos than Morrison. His main similarity to Jericho is that they are both really good at everything in wrestling. Jericho’s fatal flaw was ultimately his size, and Rollins is big enough to minimize that concern. He is like a baseball player whose only comparable predecessors are vaguely similar legends because nobody else stacks up to his ability. In that sense, Rollins breaks the machine. It’s almost impossible to predict his career based on those who came before because few have had quite the same total package and attention to detail.

 

Only a year ago, it was not clear that Rollins would every get the star treatment from WWE. From his debut on the main roster, I have written ad nauseum about how the nuances in his character and his wrestling make him outstanding, but also slightly harder to appreciate. In a sport that prefers grand pageantry, Rollins requires careful analysis. Fortunately, WWE did not paint him with a broad brush and realized that his uniqueness can make him truly special. Even though he has yet to win his first WWE Title, Rollins has already arrived as a main eventer. The thought that he could improve even more is mind boggling.