Seth Rollins is on the shelf with an injury, and WWE must continue on without him. As in any other sport, the team cannot stop playing because someone is hurt, but in this case, that someone is one of its top stars.
Now the world waits to see how Vince McMahon's company will respond to the situation and what exactly will be done in the world title picture. Rollins' injury is no short-term problem, and that is the biggest issue facing WWE.
Rollins will not be easy to replace.
From the moment he turned on the Shield in 2014, Rollins has been on a serious main event run. The man given credit for organizing what many feel was WWE's most dominant faction of all time sold his soul to Triple H for the promise of stardom.
The Game delivered on that promise.
Rollins quickly became one of the best hands in WWE and arguably the top hand when he successfully cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase at WrestleMania 31. In the months before and after his title win, Rollins was a true workhorse for the company.
His efforts in the ring have been on par with everyone he's faced, and in Daniel Bryan's absence, fans would be hard-pressed to find a better all-around talent.
Rollins was given a prime opportunity to shine and took full advantage of it. WWE saw something in him and took the time to mold him until he was ready to win the big one. Since then, Rollins has done nothing but prove just how good he is.
But time is the one thing WWE has very little of.
Therein lies the problem. The company has been on a one-man system for so long that when that one man goes out, no one is left to step up in his place. John Cena is the man in question, and he's currently taking time off. Had Rollins not been hurt, he would surely have been able to help keep the ship afloat until Cena came back.
However, that is not the case. And there's practically no one left to take his spot.
Roman Reigns may be the most obvious choice, but are fans ready for that? More importantly, is he ready for that? Alberto Del Rio is back in WWE, but he's currently the United States champion. Would the company be willing to give him such a prime spot considering he just returned to the fold?
Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt are three more potential candidates to win the world title, but the company has really not shown any significant faith in any of them as consistent main event level stars.
Daniel Bryan is out, Sting is on the shelf and the Undertaker, Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton are not on TV. At this point, it's anyone's guess as to which man will walk away from Survivor Series as the new WWE world heavyweight champion.
Again, time is in short supply. Unless WWE goes with an established veteran, there is no guarantee anyone will buy it or that it will work at all.
Nine months passed from the time Rollins split from the Shield to the time he won the belt at WrestleMania; nine months of hard work, main event matches and growth to become the kind of top guy WWE wanted. Rollins bought into the system, and fans bought into him; there was an emotional investment in him as a great heel and as a great worker.
Eight months passed between Bryan's WWE title win at SummerSlam in 2013 to his WWE world title win at WrestleMania 30. During those eight months, Bryan fought the Authority and gained a massive fan following along the way. WWE may have went with him as a Plan B after CM Punk left, but the plan worked and Bryan got over.
There were 13 months between Cena's United States Championship win at WrestleMania 20 and his world title win at WrestleMania 21. That win led to the run of a WWE lifetime—one that continues to this day.
In each instance, the company dedicated time, money and resources to building a main event star. In the company's current state, however, virtually no one has been built to take the reins, even on a part-time basis.
WWE has depended on Cena and one to two others over the past 10 years. But Cena and those one to two others are not in the picture.
Replacing Rollins in the short term means throwing the title to a guy who is either not ready or needs more time to get ready, unless a veteran wins. In that case, the veteran in question may not be a full-time Superstar, which means the title disappears, as it did when Lesnar wore it in 2014.
WWE is just not built to handle long-term injuries to any of its top stars. This is not the Attitude era, in which any number of guys can elevate to take the strap in the interim. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, the Rock, Chris Jericho, the Undertaker and Mick Foley were all big-money stars capable of carrying the load when one man took time off or went out with injury.
But that is not what fans are seeing now. The talent is there to make an impact, but none of that talent is really over enough to convincingly take over in Rollins' or Cena's absence. Time is of the essence, and right now, there's perhaps no time to make the best move for business.
Tom's work can regularly be found on Bleacher Report. His podcast, Tom Clark's Main Event, is available on iTunes, Google Play, Windows Phone, Amazon Android and online here.