After turning heel and attacking his partners in The Shield on Raw last week, Seth Rollins became the hottest wrestler in WWE.
Like Daniel Bryan and CM Punk before him, he was a prominent star on the independent scene, especially Ring of Honor in the days before it became corporate as part of Sinclair Broadcast Group.
Born Colby Lopez in Davenport, Iowa, Rollins broke into pro wrestling in 2003 as a student of Danny Daniels. After using names like Gixx and Taj the Destroyer, he settled on Tyler Black.
The Midwest was a hotbed for developing wrestlers at the time, with promotions like IWA Mid-South and Mid-American Wrestling. IWAMS especially had gotten a lot of attention as guys like CM Punk, Colt Cabana, Chris Hero, and others rose to prominence.
Rollins started in IWAMS in 2005 as Punk was getting ready to leave for WWE. He had success, winning their light heavyweight title, but he wasn't necessarily one of their signature stars.
It was in 2007 that Rollins really started to pick up more steam when he started wrestling for Ring of Honor. For months, there were whispers about "Project 161," which was ROH's attempt at viral marketing with cryptic videos, flyers at shows, websites/blog posts, etc. At the 161st ROH show in Chicago, Rollins (along with the returning Necro Butcher and Lacey) debuted as part of a stable called Age of the Fall led by Jimmy Jacobs.
They made an immediate impact by attacking Mark and Jay Briscoe after they won a ladder match, bloodying up Jay and hanging him upside down from the hook that held the belts during the match. As is wrestling tradition, Jacobs wore a white suit that quickly turned red.
Rollins was the clear No. 2 in Age of the Fall and eventually started to challenge for the ROH World Heavyweight Championship. Fans really started to get behind him at this point, as he kept coming closer and closer to winning the title only to be thwarted by champion Nigel McGuinness. After officially switching babyface when Jacobs turned on him, he got as far as beating McGuinness in a non-title match and holding him to a draw but still couldn't win the big one.
To be honest, ROH dragged it out way too long. In the middle of all this, ROH had fired booker Gabe Sapolsky to start fresh, which changed some plans and delayed others. When McGuinness finally lost the title, it was to Jerry Lynn, with the idea that ROH could benefit from its exposure in The Wrestler by putting the title on a middle-aged wrestler who resembled Mickey Rourke's character in the movie. For his part, Rollins was finishing his feud with Jacobs.
The experiment ended when Lynn lost the title in a match with Rollins and Austin Aries...that Aries won. Yes, really. When Rollins finally won the title eight months later, it was well over a year too late. Not just because the best time for the story and the fan reaction would have been much earlier, but because he was also six months away from signing with WWE.
While he was always talented, I don't think anyone ever expected him to excel in WWE the way he has. He's tall, but he doesn't have what was perceived as a WWE look, and even in WWE it wasn't until recently that he was a very good promo. Similarly to Daniel Bryan, he was always expected to do well, but nobody expected him to suddenly become the top heel in WWE.
He rose up through the indie scene so quickly that I just don't think it occurred to anyone how much room he still had to improve.