Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns Is Modern-Day Version of Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterOctober 29, 2015

Credit: WWE.com

Seth Rollins finds himself looking up at a more powerful foe and a brother-turned-adversary in Roman Reigns, the same view that Shawn Michaels once had with his neck craned up toward Diesel.

With the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at stake and in a leading role during a down time for the company, Rollins is set to collide with a man he once fought alongside. He is entrusted with leading his old friend to excellence in the ring, to being the conduit for his rise to the marquee.

The story of Rollins vs. Reigns is a callback to when Michaels battled his former bodyguard in the mid-'90s.

The Heartbreak Kid played the role that Rollins plays today. He was the antagonist and underdog from a physical standpoint. He was the better athlete, the better performer asked to give way to a more prototypical wrestler.

In some ways, though, the rivalry's story is reversed. It was Michaels who battled his way into the No. 1 contender's spot by winning the Royal Rumble. Reigns won a Fatal 4-Way on Monday's Raw to earn his title shot.

Still, the parallels between the rivalries some 20 years apart are many. And they begin with both enemies first forming a bond.

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Diesel entered the WWE at Michaels' side, an imposing, immense presence tasked with protecting the showboat. The big man said little early on. Michaels' bodyguard usually chose to speak with leather-gloved fists instead.

He was Michaels' hired muscle but eventually his friend and comrade as well.

Reigns and Rollins began with a similar dynamic. The Big Dog didn't work for Rollins, but he provided for The Shield what Diesel did for Michaels—muscle.

Reigns said less than his teammates. He was more likely to barrel over someone than batter them with trash talk. 

Both alliances fell apart as alliances so often do in wrestling. An errant superkick at SummerSlam 1994 created a crack in Michaels and Diesel's bond. It took months after that for their relationship to unravel, but when it did, employer and employee became enemies.

Diesel and Shawn Michaels bicker at Survivor Series as part of the same team.
Diesel and Shawn Michaels bicker at Survivor Series as part of the same team.Credit: WWE.com

The split between Rollins and The Shield happened more suddenly, Rollins opting for a steel chair rather than a knife to jab into his friends' backs.

The Architect won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship after that divorce in a story separate from his issues with Reigns. Their paths now converge with that title at the center of their feud.

That's much like Diesel and The Heartbreak Kid's tale. Their paths diverged momentarily after their split. Big Daddy Cool steamrolled Bob Backlund to become world champ and collided with Bret Hart before truly diving into the bad blood between his old ally.

WWE didn't fully go into a Reigns-Rollins war immediately after The Shield's dissolution. Rollins veered off that path to fight Dean Ambrose, Kane, Sting and others.

But now it's time to be all alone with the man he betrayed.

The narratives are inverse, though. Michaels chased Diesel, the villain on the hunt for the babyface. Leading up to this year's Survivor Series, it's Reigns chasing Rollins.

It's a feud that WWE is likely to return to as the company did with Diesel and Michaels. The rivals reunited the night after WrestleMania XI, but animosity emerged again in time for them to clash in 1996 at In Your House: Good Friends, Better Enemies.

WWE has already teased a reunion between Ambrose, Reigns and Rollins, having the three men team up on Raw.

Chances are, that partnership, like Michaels and Diesel's, is reconstructed at some point. The chemistry between both sets of allies dictates as much. And fans will pine more to see The Shield reform than they ever were to see Two Dudes with Attitude get back together.


The bouts between Michaels and Diesel leaned on the power of juxtaposition.

They were battles between speed and power, skill and size, good and evil. Michaels made a career out of excelling against bigger men, including some strong work against Diesel.

At WrestleMania XI, The Showstopper zipped through the air and around the ring to both avoid Diesel's sledgehammer hands and to attack him like a bird swooping down on its prey. His quickness created an appealing marriage with Diesel's straight-ahead, power-heavy style.

They played with that same dynamic at their In Your House match a year later.

Reigns and Rollins' clashes have had a comparable flavor. While The Juggernaut is a far more explosive athlete than Diesel, he's the stronger, larger animal in these fights.

Rollins, like Michaels, is the speedster who keeps up the pace of their matches. He is the underdog whose dastardly behavior leaves the crowd rooting for the Goliath rather than David.

And to further the parallels, Rollins clearly studied under Michaels' school of selling. The champ bounces around the ring to amplify the power of his opponent's offense. He's the showman intent on making the big man look better.

As good as Reigns has been of late, the expectation at Survivor Series and beyond is that Rollins will lead their dances. He's the ring general, the more skilled all-around in-ring performer. Reigns, as Diesel was before him, is better off letting someone else sit in the pilot's seat in terms of how a match plays out.


Diesel's reign and Michaels' attempt to end it came during a period of transition for the company.

The Attitude Era had not yet begun. Hulkamania had long since faded. WWE looked to push Bret Hart, Michaels and Diesel as its triad of marquee stars, but it didn't click as well as Vince McMahon certainly would have hoped.

With Hulk Hogan on top, WWE was a pop culture phenomenon. It aired on MTV; its principal characters were household names. Even Andy Warhol found himself entranced by the product.

Then that momentum dipped. Pay-per-view buyrates began to slip, per Cageside Seats.

Some will blame Michaels and Diesel for not being draws. Some will chalk it up as a natural downturn, an inevitable occurrence with a cyclical business like wrestling.

Diesel, WWF Champion.
Diesel, WWF Champion.Credit: WWE.com

Those same discussions will have to begin again.

With Rollins as the WWE champ, Raw ratings have spiraled downward. Last month, Dave Meltzer wrote for F4WOnline, "In what seems to be a weekly pattern this fall, the September 28, 2015 episode of Raw set another record low." 

And now WWE is trusting that a Reigns-Rollins feud heading into a premier event like Survivor Series is the way to alter that pattern.

The rivalry comes, like Michaels vs. Diesel, in the middle of a lull for the company, in a time period between eras. Following the Ruthless Aggression Era and what has essentially been Cenamania for the last several years, something new is on the horizon.

Both Reigns and Rollins can be vital components of the bridge to that. Perhaps they will spearhead a new era and a spark a rise in viewer interest.

But Reigns could just as easily be this generation's Diesel, pegged as a top star but never fully living up to that role. 

As unsure as WWE might be whether either man can slide into megastar status, it can at least rest assured that the feud won't climax in hurried fashion for the same reason that Diesel and Michaels' did in 1996.

Diesel left, stripped his gimmick off to become Kevin Nash, founder of the New World Order in WCW and front-line soldier in the Monday Night War. With no true No. 2 promotion behind it, that's one parallel between these two narratives that WWE doesn't have to worry about.

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