Seth Rollins owned WWE in 2015.
The former Shield standout became the company's workhorse, excelling at everything he did and proving that he was the absolute best choice to carry the banner not only as the top heel but as the world heavyweight champion.
Presented as Triple H's right-hand man and chosen one, Rollins fit the mold of the smarmy and overconfident star perfectly. He became the heel champion fans loved to hate and did so under a constant spotlight from WWE and the harsh scrutiny of the fans.
The man many believed was just a fill-in champ keeping the belt warm for Roman Reigns was so good in his role that he overshadowed his two former Shield partners. He had a better year than both Reigns and Dean Ambrose, and though an unfortunate injury put him on the shelf, there is every reason to believe he will make another big impact when he finally returns.
Whether or not Rollins will win the Slammy for Superstar of the Year is irrelevant. Fans know he was the one who exceeded expectations every time his number was called and that his 2015 was better than several years' worth of work from some of his peers.
Rollins is not just the Superstar of the future; he's the Superstar of today, and this past year definitely proved it.
January saw Rollins compete for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at the Royal Rumble. That spot is tough enough, but the addition of both John Cena and Brock Lesnar adds even more of a high-pressure environment.
But Rollins was up for the test.
He delivered on every level. He worked each guy and made it all look so good, as if facing Lesnar on the big stage came naturally to him. For those who had perhaps doubted his mettle in the ring, this match likely proved them wrong. Rollins was obviously ready for the spotlight.
Fastlane saw Rollins team with The Authority versus Dolph Ziggler, Ryback and Erick Rowan. By this point Rollins was basically calling the shots in Triple H's corporate faction, and it was that leadership role that brought on the return of Randy Orton on the same night.
Rollins had ousted Orton from the group, and The Viper was thirsty for revenge; that revenge would come at WrestleMania 31.
That event saw Orton go over, and while some were none too happy with that result, the fact is Rollins once again proved he had what it took to hang with the very best in the ring. But losing to Orton is not what fans will remember at WrestleMania 31.
Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase for a shot at the WWE World Heavyweight Championship shot that night, leaving both Lesnar and Reigns empty-handed. Though Rollins was an absolute villain in every sense of the word, his presence in the Mania main event was met with overwhelming crowd response.
Rollins was the first Shield member to reach the promised land, and fans embraced him. He had already shown his potential on that level, and WrestleMania was the moment he realized it.
Orton and Ambrose came after the title win, and in each rivalry, Rollins set the bar very high. He was part personality and part work ethic, always delivering in the ring and drawing heat every time a mic was in his hand.
This is where Rollins truly hit his stride, becoming very comfortable in his role yet never complacent. He was the hardest-working champion since CM Punk and the Shawn Michaels of his era, in that he could work anyone in the locker room and always pushed to be the very best.
Rollins was good, and at his peak, there was really no one better.
2015 was not exactly perfect for Rollins, at least not from a critical standpoint. WWE's top heel was also arguably its best worker, yet he was not untouchable.
Rollins' biggest test after Lesnar was John Cena, which was to be expected. After all, Cena is the top guy, and anyone holding the championship must deal with him eventually. It was a good matchup, their bouts were very physical and every time they faced off, they brought the house down.
But it was a very lopsided rivalry, to say the least.
Rollins went 1-5 in televised matches against Cena, and all of those losses came after Rollins' title win at WrestleMania. That basically means that Cena owned him at nearly every turn, putting Rollins in a distant second place in order of importance to WWE.
Rollins improved, of course, and some would argue that just working Cena was good for him in the long run. But even though they had a definite chemistry in the ring, it was a bit hard for fans to see anything good coming from it; all they saw was Rollins' constantly coming up short.
This had a profound impact on Rollins' character with fans online. Suddenly fans cared less about hating Rollins as the top heel and more about respecting him to the point that they believed he was being poorly booked every time out. Cena caught the blame for this, of course, but it was perhaps just the situation itself that proved to be impossible for Rollins.
Rollins' signature move, the Curb Stomp, was taken away from him during this time, and while it may not have meant much in the end, it was important when it happened. No one was doing a move of this nature, as Orton had not used the punt on a regular basis, so it was very specific to Rollins.
Though he did bounce back from it, the killer instinct he showed with that single move was never quite replaced to anyone's satisfaction.
Cena was not the last legend Rollins faced in 2015.
Working with Sting at Night of Champions should have been an epic moment for Rollins in his career, and indeed it was, but their match that night ended with injury.
The former NWA and WCW champion turned in a top-notch performance against Rollins, and if he had won the title, fans would surely have been on board. But after a turnbuckle powerbomb from Rollins, Sting's legs failed him.
He could not stay on his feet, and soon it was very apparent that Sting was hurt. Rollins certainly did not intend to injure him, but it was the last time fans saw Sting in a WWE ring, which no one wanted.
Rollins did a fine job as champion and an even better job as the company's best worker in 2015, but it was his own injury that was the ugliest moment of his run. It came unexpectedly, as injuries do, and it was not on TV but instead at a house show against Kane.
While injuries are part of the game, this one caught fans off guard, as it took the company's champ out of the picture. Any complaints leveled at Rollins for his booking were suddenly unimportant; all that mattered was the fact that he was no longer there.
The injury could not have come at a worse time for the company, as it left a major hole on an already depleted roster. Rollins has truly been missed since then, and many fans are likely more than anxious for his return.
When he does come back, WWE must get behind him and correct any booking issues he suffered from before he left.
He did a great job this year, which cannot be ignored for the future. He took a giant step forward as champion and should not take a step backward upon his return.
Seth Rollins had a breakout year in 2015 and became a top player in the company; he should be treated as such when he comes back.
Tom's work can regularly be found on Bleacher Report and his podcast, Tom Clark's Main Event, is available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Android, Windows Phone and online here