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There hasn’t been a WWE Superstar quite like Seth Rollins.
Sure, in the annals of wrestling history there’s been amazingly athletic men and women who are masterminds inside the ring, captivating storytellers who command the microphone. There no shortage of Superstars who have been legendary performers and collected more championships than there is room in their trophy cases.
But it seems nobody likes change. If you are a hulking mountain of a man and you’ve made a career out of it in the world of professional wrestling, you are what you are and you’re going to ride that gravy train until the wheels fall off. If you are a skilled talker, you’re going to run with that for as long as people will listen.
Rollins, however, is built differently than those who have come before him.
Standing 6’1 and weighing just a shade under 220 pounds, he is more physically akin to Shawn Michaels in his prime. Neither “big” nor “small” by wrestling standards, he was never bound to the traditional body archetypes that have existed in the industry. Rollins existed in the ideal range where he could craft his skills and hone his passion in any direction he wanted.
With Extreme Rules quickly coming into view (on Oct. 8) and the highly-anticipated Fight Pit matchup against Matt Riddle on his docket, it’s conceivable that Rollins as we know him will never be the same again after the dust has settled in Philadelphia.
That’s why we figured now is the perfect time to take a look at the awe-inspiring evolution of Rollins, a career that humbly found its roots in NXT and which is currently on track to the WWE Hall of Fame.
An Understated Debut
It’s impossible not to smile when you look back at the WWE Universe’s first official introduction to Rollins, the slender headbangin’ rookie. Debuting in NXT on June 27, 2012, the extent of the Rollins character was that he… enjoyed metal concerts? He wished he was in a mosh pit instead of wrestling? Was he a long-lost brother of Headbangers Mosh and Thrasher, holdovers from the Attitude Era?
What many fans didn’t know was that by the time he made his debut in NXT, Rollins had already built up an impressive resume in his independent wrestling career. Wrestling under the name of Tyler Black, his pre-WWE career was illustrious. He captured several independent world championships along the way, honing his craft in promotions like Ring of Honor and Full Impact Pro. It was in those promotions that he perfected his technical/high-flying hybrid style that he would eventually unleash in WWE.
Looking back, his time in NXT was inauspicious at best. Nobody would have expected Rollins to have such an industry-defining debut on the main roster in WWE just a few months later. Except, that is, for maybe Rollins himself.
The Shield Arrives, Immediately Takes Over
The wrestling world was turned upside down the night that Rollins, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose burst onto the scene as the Shield at Survivor Series 2012, laying waste to the competitors fighting for the WWE Championship. The group’s initial run was predicated on one thing, chaos.
In that chaos, Rollins flourished. The Shield spent the better part of two years destroying everything in their path, immediately establishing themselves as the most fearsome and powerful faction in WWE. Dubbing themselves the “Hounds of Justice," the three men operated in a nebulous space where they declared war on all WWE Superstars. If you weren’t part of the Shield, you were enemies of the Shield. Not even John Cena was spared.
This iteration of Rollins relied almost entirely on his in-ring skills, as his dazzling displays of athleticism immediately got him noticed by the WWE Universe. It seemed like he was operating on an entirely different level than any WWE Superstar who had come before him.
A lot of the Shield’s success can be attributed to the fact that no member of the faction was bigger than the group itself, and they reigned supreme because Rollins, Reigns and Ambrose understood that. They were always on the same page, brothers in arms, united against the world.
Well, until June 2, 2014 that is.
The Architect is Born
With a couple well-timed steel chairs to the backs of Reigns and Ambrose, Rollins finally took his first major step into superstardom during that fateful Monday Night Raw in 2014.
Proclaiming himself as the Architect, he aligned himself with Triple H and the Authority. Ironically, the same entity that Rollins valiantly fought against as a member of the Shield.
At that point in his career, Rollins finally was free from the shackles that were holding him back. In order to reach new heights in his career, he embraced the dark side, and nothing was more sinister and conniving than the Triple H-led Authority.
It’s interesting to note that, in order to evolve, Rollins turned on the Shield and aligned himself with Triple H and Randy Orton – who knows quite a bit about Evolution.
For the next few years, Rollins would fully embrace his “Architect” persona, tapping into a more sinister side of himself that fans weren’t even sure he knew he had. It was during this time that Rollins would find his greatest success in WWE up to that point – capturing the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 31.
Unfortunately, a debilitating knee injury put Rollins on the shelf less than a year after winning the WWE title. However, it ultimately paved the way to another evolution a few years later.
Monday Night Rollins Arrives
After returning from his catastrophic knee injury, it understandably took some time for Rollins to get back on a roll in WWE.
Often, the WWE Universe can take a while to reacclimate to a returning Superstar. Rollins was on top of the world when he hurt his knee, and in his absence, other men and women stepped up and captivated the world of professional Superstardom. It’s not like the fans forgot about Rollins, but what else was left for him to accomplish? He had already reached the pinnacle of WWE before. What was left?
How about absolutely dominating a gauntlet match on Monday Night Raw in 2018? The match went on for more than an hour and is arguably one of the best matches in the history of WWE. On February 19, 2018, Rollins won a grueling seven-man gauntlet match that fans talk about to this day.
His performance during that episode of Monday Night Raw put an exclamation point on his comeback and catapulted him back into relevancy. This time, the fans were on his side, though. “Monday Night Rollins” was born, an evolution that was overdue. For years, the WWE Universe recognized the raw talent and ability that Rollins had. The problem was, it was always wrapped up in a slimy, conniving package.
Not anymore. Rollins once again reached the apex of WWE and this time the full support of the WWE Universe was propelling him forward. With his knee injury finally in the rear view mirror, he cemented his rightful claim to championship gold in stunning fashion at SummerSlam 2019 when he defeated Brock Lesnar to win the Universal Championship.
However, sometimes, basking in the adoration of millions of fans just isn’t enough.
Sometimes you just have to embrace the weirdo within.
The Final Form: The Visionary
In the here and now, Rollins’ current persona is unhinged. If this is his final form, if this is the final evolution of the squeaky-clean kid who moshed his way down the NXT entrance ramp, then we are witnessing arguably the most unpredictable version of his persona that has ever existed.
This endgame version of Rollins can be traced back to the character’s precursor, the pandemic-era “Monday Night Messiah.” It was during the Thunderdome Era of WWE that Rollins… well, he took a turn somewhere. At some point, something inside of him just snapped. What started as a delusional savior-esque character invoking Christian imagery has turned into a veritable mashup of DC’s Joker, music legend Elton John and about a half-dozen more influences. Rollins may be entirely off his rocker — and it’s glorious.
The random singing, the cackling laughter, the off-kilter speech patterns, it’s all there, out in the open. We’re a long way from the Shield. Rollins is a weirdo and he’s proud of it.
The best part is that Rollins still has the best in-ring skills in the industry to back up his increasingly bizarre persona. He’s unstoppable in the ring, and this new gimmick is so garish and so over-the-top that it throws his opponents for a loop before the bell even rings. He could teach a master class in constantly reinventing yourself in order to stay ahead of the curve in professional wrestling.
Despite all the change, though, Rollins still remembers his roots. While he’s prancing down the aisle in the most ridiculous fashion possible on his way to the ring, he still can tap into his past. He still remembers what it was like to enter through the crowd as a member of the Shield. He still remembers how dastardly he can be. He remembers everything. Because after all, everything has led up to who he is today.
No WWE Superstar in history has consistently evolved and transformed their character over time more than Rollins, even more so than WWE alum Chris Jericho, the previous high watermark for character reinvention. While each iteration of Rollins’ persona wasn’t a complete reinvention, he changed not because he wanted to, but because he had to. The winds of change are historically strong in WWE, and if you are unable, or refuse, to adapt, you’ll be left on the outside looking in, wondering how you fell so far.
It’s been quite the rollercoaster ride for Seth Rollins.
Over the years, he’s backstabbed his best friends, only to reunite years later for the greater good. He’s been double-crossed by WWE management only to proudly hold WWE titles high above his head, proudly representing the very company that did him so dirty. In a career defined by his involvement in the Shield, his most impressive accomplishments have been the accolades and championships he acquired through the trials and tribulations of his singles career.
Rollins is a long way from the headbanging youngster sporting an Asking Alexander t-shirt who debuted in NXT more than a decade ago. He has molded himself into a transcendent, once-in-a-generation professional wrestling god who never has rested on his laurels and who always finds ways to evolve.
And if we know Rollins, he’s not done yet.
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