Seth Rollins' Slow Ascent Back to the Main Event Scene Is Almost Complete

Philip LindseyContributor IIJanuary 14, 2022

Photo credit: WWE.com

When Seth Rollins returned to the brand where he made a name for himself and eventually earned a shot at the WWE Championship, it just felt right.

It felt like the Superstar who once carried WWE Raw on his back with the intercontinental title could be the one to inject some new life into its struggling main event scene.

However, the Davenport, Iowa native eventually got lost in the shuffle in what would become a crowded Fatal Five-way match at Day 1. Then, Brock Lesnar unseated Big E to earn his ninth world title win, leaving many viewers wondering what's next for The Visionary.


An Auspicious Chance to Reignite a Storied Rivalry

It may seem a bit random now but it's probably an opportune time to revisit one of his most famous feuds.

Some rivalries in wrestling will always connect with the fans because of the history behind them. To that end, Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins is one of those matchups that WWE can always go back to after some time away.

At the Royal Rumble, the longtime friends will clash in a one-on-one title match for the first time since Money in the Bank in 2016. Admittedly, this could have easily been a WrestleMania main event but the first big pay-pay-per view of the year is also a great destination for such a marquee matchup.

The two men have been indelibly linked since they debuted on the main roster as two-thirds of The Shield. The trio went on to become one of the hottest modern stables in professional wrestling and propel themselves into superstardom. The results weren't exactly consistent but Reigns and Rollins will go down as stalwarts of this era.

This will be an interesting test for The Tribal Chief because he has never definitively beaten his former stablemate. However, it will also serve as a true assessment of The Visionary's growth since his highly criticized reign as universal champion. After all, he will more than likely act as the babyface in this encounter because Reigns is the company's top heel.


Persistent Struggles as a Top Champion

Outlets like Cageside Seats have already started speculating about this as the 35-year-old has been working as a protagonist in matches with The Bloodline at live events. His new theme song is also catching on with the crowd. This raises an intriguing question: How does Rollins' current iteration work as a good guy?

More importantly, can his character progression since his failed run as WWE's preeminent face elevate him into a consistent main eventer again? To properly answer that, we have to honestly assess his time with the company.

Rollins is a phenomenal in-ring competitor who has had incredible moments. Plan B, The "Heist of the Century" at WrestleMania 31 and his improbable win over Lesnar at SummerSlam 2019 are enough to make him a WWE Hall of Fame inductee. However, he has yet to enjoy a truly great reign as a world champion.

Even when he was the most-hated villain on the roster, his first run with the WWE title left much to be desired. After he returned from a serious knee injury, it was the right time to make Rollins a crowd favorite. Instead, he defeated Reigns at Money in the Bank in 2016 to secure the company's top prize only to lose it the same night to Dean Ambrose.

His work rate and high-quality matches made him a fantastic intercontinental champion. However, the excitement around Monday Night Rollins didn't translate to his tenure with the universal title. There are several reasons why fans started to reject him, including that disastrous Hell in a Cell match with The Fiend in 2019.

Nevertheless, the biggest flaw in his time as a babyface was that he never developed a compelling character. For better or worse, The Beast Slayer remained in the shadow of his superior heel character. This is a recurring pattern that many WWE Superstars struggle to overcome. Once the fanbase commits to booing someone, it's hard to do anything to win them back other than break bad again.


Could a Face Turn Spark an Unlikely Return to Form?

Rollins is quietly doing some of the best character work of his career. Still, it's hard to tell if the 2019 men's Royal Rumble winner has grown enough as a performer to attempt to be the face of Raw again. His upcoming feud with Reigns may not transition into a permanent change, but it's a chance to test the water.

The red brand desperately needs a legitimate leading man. The Visionary could fit the bill if he receives a favorable reaction at the Rumble PPV.

Even more, there is potential for a significant story here. After the fans rejected Rollins, he reluctantly returned to the dark side. However, he has also subtly attempted to play off of their perceptions and in turn, give them what they believe they want.

The Monday Night Messiah persona was a clever way to poke fun at reports that he led an awkward stage meeting in November 2019. This attempt to make an overbearing locker room leader into an onscreen character later evolved into his current persona after he suffered a few losses and went on paternity leave.

The Drip God was the logical next step for the man who was essentially going through a midlife crisis. He achieved so much early in his career. Now, he has been trying to cover for his recent struggles by dressing in ostentatious suits and using hip slang like "drip."

More to the point, he has also adopted aspects of past characters that viewers like, such as his trademark evil laugh and the glove he wore as The Architect. His current theme even begins with "Burn It Down," his catchphrase and a chant from his time as Monday Night Rollins. He is also officially billed as Seth "Freakin" Rollins now, which is a nod to his old nickname that led a popular T-shirt.

It's all some bizarre amalgamation of his greatest hits propped up by his delusions of grandeur. Although this cartoon-ish approach may not work for some fans, the former universal champion's commitment to it is often entertaining.

The best villains believe every word they say, and Rollins believes he's doing what's right.


A Chance for Vindication

It must have burned him up inside that his former stablemate turned his back on the fans and became the biggest star in the company. He must feel like Frank Grimes from episode 23 of season eight of The Simpsons.

The Tribal Chief is cold, vicious and narcissistic, but he thinks his motives are benevolent. Nevertheless, many fans love him in this role. Meanwhile, The Visionary has taken on a similar burden for the greater good and no one appreciates him for it.

Instead, they heap praise on a man he has bested twice to become WWE champion. Even worse, The Head of the Table routinely cheats, narrowly escapes believable threats to his reign such as Finn Balor, and he avoided this matchup with Rollins while he was on SmackDown.

Along with their storied history, there's an intricate motivation for him to be the one who beats Reigns and brings the Universal Championship back to Raw. It would be a fitting way to bring his redemption arc full circle because his loss to The Fiend is what sent the title to SmackDown in the first place.