Cheap Heat: Seth Rollins‘ Chess Match By Jacob Fox Photo courtesy of WWE.com
WrestleMania 31 dealt the greatest swerve since Hulk Hogan turned on WCW in 1996 and formed the New World Order. Fans were expecting a predictable outcome that had been discussed for months. The plan was to put over a newer face as the top wrestler for the company. While it seems like WWE changed their mind at the last minute, in reality they accomplished exactly what fans were expecting in a completely different way.
The plan began a year ago when Brock Lesnar snapped the Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak. At first the victory seemed to have little purpose. Lesnar was already recognized as an unstoppable monster and the victory over the Undertaker did little to strengthen his image. It was not until Lesnar followed up with a complete annihilation of John Cena which won him the WWE World Heavyweight Championship that it became clear that there was a plan being set into motion.
Lesnar’s reign of dominance did not stop with his title victory. He successfully defended his belt against John Cena, the man who always eventually came out on top. And he did it twice. In 2014 his accomplishments were recognized by the wrestling world, and despite only wrestling three matches, he won the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Wrestler of the Year Award.
Not long after the title victory, talk began to revolve around the purpose of Lesnar’s rampage. The most common explanation was that WWE was preparing someone for te greatest sell in wrestling history. Obviously, the man who finally took the belt from juggernaut that was Lesnar would automatically be put over like no wrestler ever had been.
It did not take long for the internet to nominate Roman Reigns as Lesnar’s eventual conqueror. Reigns had many of the traits WWE historically looked for in a champion. He was a member of the famed Anoa’i family and the cousin of one of the most over performers of all time, the Rock. He also fit the mold of a Vince McMahon favorite, being a muscular and intense athlete who was mildly limited in the ring.
Quickly, wrestling audiences revealed their disdain for the rumored Reigns push. Some felt that Daniel Bryan should have been given the push instead. Others felt that the WWE was just being too predictable and pushing a storyline that had been rumored for months. Despite fan objection, Reigns defeating Bryan at Fast Lane seemed to have set the predictable plan in stone. The victory was a clear statement by the WWE executives that they knew what was best.
Come WrestleMania, however, Reigns lost. Not only did he lose, but he was tossed around by Brock Lesnar like a rag doll. Furthermore, when Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and made the match a triple threat, he pinned Roman Reigns and not Brock Lesnar. This unexpected victory seemed to quickly nullify the push Reigns or Rollins could have gotten from beating the man who ended the Streak.
However, that was part of the real plan. In actuality, Rollins proved that he was more than a match for either Reigns or Lesnar. He did not even try to defeat either with brute force or skill. Rollins played a game of chess so intricate that neither Reigns nor Lesnar had any change of checkmating.
The knee jerk assumption made by fans about the Lesnar push was that it was being used to groom Reigns as the next Hulk Hogan or John Cena. Supporter and detractors of this idea were so embroiled in this debate that they were not able to see that this was not an attempt to put Reigns over as a Hogan or Rock sort of character. This was, in reality, an attempt to put Seth Rollins on the level of heel of Ric Flair.
Many of Flair’s detractors have never understood exactly why Flair was so popular and successful. He often was dominated throughout matches and he often found very odd ways to win matches. Flair was never the biggest or strongest guy, but he had two things that helped him become a legend: focus and opportunity.
For example some people disparage Ric Flair’s victory in the 1992 Royal Rumble. Despite his one hour performance, some fans feel that Sid Vicious should have won the match. After Sid eliminated Hogan, the Hulkster grabbed Vicious and hauled him out of the ring, giving Flair the win. What really happened though was that after eliminating Hogan, Sid moved to the middle of the ring and spent over 30 seconds jaw jacking with Hogan while moving back within Hogan’s reach. Flair made no attempt to draw Sid’s attention away from Hogan and only capitalized on Sid’s error at the right moment.
Flair’s focus and patience won him the match. He placed Hogan and Sid in the right place and took advantage of their lack of focus. It was chess and Flair checkmated Hogan.
Stepping into the ring on January 19, 1992 the only thing on Flair’s mind was the WWF Championship. He neither pursued nor avoided feuds in the match, simply taking all opponents as they came. Several other wrestlers who were more concerned with their vendettas found themselves losing due to them. When Hogan was left with only Flair and Vicious, he attacked Flair although Flair was arguably the weaker threat.
The simple truth, as often was the case with Ric Flair, is that Flair won because he was focused, patient and took advantage of every opportunity. It was due to this focus that Flair was able to avoid making mistakes and was prepared to strike when the opportune moment presented itself.
Seth Rollins has shown the patience and focus reminiscent of Flair. He inserted Dean Ambrose into the Money in the Bank ladder match in 2014 in order to keep Ambrose from sneak attacking him. Rollins then did not have to constantly wonder whether Dean would make a surprise entrance and spoil his former partner’s chances at winning. Rollins was able to focus on the match because he made his biggest distraction part of the match.
Rollins continued to outsmart Ambrose by making half hearted attempts to cash in his Money in the Bank contract. Ambrose had sworn that he would not let Rollins be successful in any attempt. So Rollins bid his time and waited Ambrose out. After the two Shield members stopped feuding, Rollins made no attempts to cash his briefcase in for months. Dean moved on and seemingly lost any interest in his former partner.
When Rollins did finally cash in his briefcase, his ingenuity was reminiscent of Flair’s best days. He was intelligent enough to not wait for either Lesnar or Reigns to actually win the WrestleMania main event. If either man had won and Rollins cashed in, a miscalculation could have ended him. An F5 by Lesnar or a spear by Reigns would have resulted in an unsuccessful cash in. But with both opponents still wanting to win, if he was in danger of being pinned, Rollins had the other man to bail him out. He also eliminated any real possibility of Dean Ambrose getting involved because Ambrose would have to deal with not only Rollins, but Lesnar and Reigns.
Fans will probably never know for sure if Rollins winning was planned from the start or if it was supposed to be Reigns. Either way, Rollins’s accomplishment cannot be understated. Did he steal the belt? Possibly. Is he an opportunist? Absolutely. Are either of those things bad things? Not remotely. Ric Flair made the entire career of the greatest wrestler to ever lace up the boots by stealing belts and being an opportunist. For Rollins, being in the same company as Flair is no small compliment.
Roman Reigns was not able to overpower the man who beat the Undertaker’s streak and annihilated John Cena. Seth Rollins was able to outsmart him, though.