Seth Rollins, Cody Rhodes and the Roller-Coaster Ride of Being a Wrestling Star

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2022

Credit: All Elite Wrestling

"You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent uttered those words in the 2008 film The Dark Knight, a precursor for the descent into darkness that Gotham's "white knight" would take over the course of the two-and-a-half-hour classic.

As stars in both WWE and All Elite Wrestling are all too aware, it is also a statement that reflects the roller-coaster ride of being a top star in the world of professional wrestling.


Wrestling Fans Are Fickle

In recent years, both Seth Rollins and Cody Rhodes have taken that unpleasant ride. There were the highs of career-defining moments and raucous crowd reactions, followed swiftly by the same fans turning on them and denouncing their work. 

Rollins worked himself into the ground to get where he eventually did, bringing renewed credibility to the Intercontinental Championship through 2008 before winning the men's Royal Rumble match in 2019 and beating Brock Lesnar twice on pay-per-view. 

Rhodes, meanwhile, delivered one of the greatest contests of the last 10 years against his brother, Dustin, at Double or Nothing in 2019. He brought energy to shows and was the heart and soul of AEW early on. 

Despite their efforts, however, fans turned on them. They began greeting their presence on shows with choruses of boos that became far too loud and obvious to ignore; not because they stopped working hard or because they openly invited the negativity, though.

The fans turned on them because...reasons.

Some argue the weakening of the characters was at fault, while others will point to "the machine" as the reason they abandoned the very competitors they championed to success. Still, others will offer no reason, their attention spans demanding they reject their previous favorite in favor of finding someone else to latch onto.

Imagine how different wrestling history may have been if the same fans who supported "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock had suddenly and inexplicably stopped rooting for them, booing either man because they had too much TV time or because Vince McMahon and his creative forces finally got behind them.

A change in the audience, wanting what they want until they don't want it anymore, is absolutely key in understanding the shift and the roller-coaster ride. To solely blame fans and their fickleness, though, would be irresponsible.


Stupid Ideas From Bad Creative

There is blame to be placed at the feet of creative teams.

Rollins faded as a fan favorite the moment he became a one-dimensional babyface, booked to fight from underneath and handed half-hearted promos to deliver to an audience that had grown tired of it months earlier. 

When Bray Wyatt came along with his new Fiend persona, the fans gravitated to it because it was wholly unique in a world of sameness. Why would fans continue to support Rollins when they had this new toy that captured their attention more than the beat-up old teddy bear had in months?

The same can be said about Rhodes.

Despite being the heart of AEW, his promos started to sound a bit too self-righteous. They were less focused than they should have been, tying in elements bigger than wrestling when all he really needed to do was hammer home the intent of his character in relation to whichever feud he was in at the time.

Fans became tired of the same, formulaic promo and the self-congratulatory pats on the back and denounced Rhodes, something we saw a lot of in 2021.

Even John Cena, the biggest star of the last 20 years, fell prey to a creative team that failed to adjust to meet the expectations of the audience.

Cena became a modern-day superhero, able to overcome the odds at any turn to the point that WWE Creative got lazy and stopped developing him beyond that. He was the company's answer to Superman; a vanilla good guy who inspired kids, sure, but he also generated a ton of jeers from parents who had long since tired of watching the same thing over and over.

Uninspired creative in an age when there are so many fresh, unique and exciting ideas on display on any number of streaming platforms and social media, only makes it easier to give up on characters and performers who fall into complacency.

The two go hand-in-hand. Fans and their lack of loyalty to any one character certainly make that roller coaster descend much quicker, but there is a very real reason to believe that would not be the case if the creative forces, including the performers themselves, gave them a reason to maintain attention.

Until both elements work in unison, this will be the norm in WWE, AEW and any other major wrestling company that rises to prominence.