Last week, Seth Rollins delivered a Pedigree to Roman Reigns at Extreme Rules to the loudest pop from a crowd since Shane McMahon’s return. It was a very pleasant surprise at the end of Reigns’ successful title retention against A.J. Styles. Right out of the gate, one could sense that Seth was returning as a face. The audience in attendance showed Rollins a lot of love, but coming out after the match was finished rather than getting involved and sabotaging the match was a total good guy decision. Combine that with Reigns’ unpopularity, and you have yourself a full fledged face turn.
Of course, this comes at a time when THE face of the company, John Cena, is about to make his return to Raw on Memorial Day (because he’s more patriotic than you, so shut up). In a sense, Rollins took the wind out of Cena’s red, white, and blue sails; but what would be the point of that? What separates face Rollins from super babyface Cena?
The most glaring difference in these two returns would be that loyal, older wrestling fans actually like Rollins. Guys like Reigns and Cena are forced on the audience because they look big and strong, and yes, being durable doesn’t hurt when the WWE has invested so much into you. But alas, they’re corny. Corny as a county fair corn dog. On top of that, they’re a couple of crowd pandering pandas, and skeptical fans don’t take kindly to pandering pandas.
But Rollins doesn’t force it, and the fans respect that. Or to look at it in a deeper, psychological way, Rollins plays hard to get, and geeks in all walks of life respond positively to rejection. On last week’s Raw, Rollins came out to a warm reception and he still behaved like a heel, saying things like, “I don’t need any of you,” and saying that he threw all of his fan mail in a trash can and lit it on fire. And yet, they still cheer for him. Why? Because he’s a man of conviction!
Heels have always been the more honest characters. Like most true villains, they speak their mind, undiluted by popular opinion, and there is something to respect about that. We definitely live in a backwards wrestling fan culture that’s difficult for bookers to predict. You can no longer just strap an American flag to a bodybuilder and sell out Madison Square Garden. We now demand some degree of complexity to a character; and in today’s political and economic landscape, the public is much more likely to get behind a rebellious, anti-establishment type. Bad guys are so cool and likable that they’re faces, and good guys are so corny and desperate to get over that they become heels.
Returning from injury always helps, too. Even though Cena will likely return to his normal mixed bag reaction, Rollins was missed for his excellent and innovative work on the mic and in the ring. The man is entertaining as hell, and for him to be off television for the better part of a year made audiences long for his comeback. Even the most oblivious WWE Creative staff member have to recognize that there is no other direction to take Rollins. Unlike Cena, Rollins fits in nicely with this “new era” of WWE. Could it be that the old guard of John Cena has officially run its course, and we could finally see an appropriate heel turn for the man with a PhD in Thuganomics?
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...Not likely. I hustle, loyalty, and regret to inform you that Cena still has an enormous mainstream fanbase, and kids all over the world look up to him. And as much as smart marks have been anticipating a Hogan-esque deception for nearly a decade, Cena is a money maker. Luckily for WWE, they can have their cake and eat it, too, by utilizing the natural split in the WWE Universe between younger, mainstream fans and the jaded wrestling geeks. Regardless of your preference, Rollins and Cena coming back from injury is a much needed relief for a wrestling show sorely lacking in main event caliber talent.
Superstars almost don’t even need to go full face or full heel anymore. In fact, turning Seth Rollins full on face would almost ensure that he would cease to be popular among smarks. So, keeping those heel qualities is key in getting Rollins over as a face. Because one man’s face is another boy’s heel. Ironic, eh?
All in all, getting injured may have been very beneficial for Seth. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone, and Rollins’ contributions to an increasingly dull product went somewhat unnoticed until his injury. So, as Rollins healed up, his popularity and favorability blossomed. It truly does seem that absence makes the mark grow fonder.