When preparing for a recent episode of the NeXT Level Wrestling Podcast, I stumbled upon a topic I wanted to discuss. I quickly realized that it merited a closer look than I could give it in a single segment of a podcast. Before I begin, I feel it’s important to say that when I say, “Be careful what YOU wish for”…I mean me as well. I am also you. We are us. WE are Groot? Yeah, that feels right.
The wrestlers that initially came to mind for this topic are Samoa Joe and Seth Rollins due to their floundering storyline on Monday Night Raw. Which isn’t to say that these two are the only ones to which this concept has applied, but they are the most prevalent at the moment. So, let’s start by rewinding several months. Seth Rollins was out due to his initial knee injury which caused him to miss Wrestlemania 32. We all wanted Seth Rollins to return from his injury as a bright, shiny babyface. On the other hand, Samoa Joe was on the tail end of a year when he was unequivocally the MVP of NXT. He would ultimately go on to be in the main event of 6 consecutive TakeOver specials. We all wanted Samoa Joe on the main roster. (Am I wrong? Let me know on Twitter @WWPNBello.)
Most people were obviously bummed with Seth’s initial knee injury. True fans, (actually, decent people in general) don’t want to see any performer get hurt. In this case, it stung a little extra with Seth having to miss the “Granddaddy Of Them All”. However, many felt that this could make for an excellent opportunity to revamp, even reincarnate, that Seth Rollins character. Maybe, even “Redesign” and “Rebuild” him. Seth was coming off the heels of two lengthy heel runs. The first heel run was with the Shield, which ended with a brief face run, but it never quite reached its full potential. It did however do enough garner enough sympathy for the trio that a large chunk of the fanbase was crushed with Seth turned his back on them. This obviously setup his second heel run as the centerpiece for The Authority. By the end of that run, we say the now-famous “White Ranger” Seth Rollins as he solidified his main event status via his tremendous feud with John Cena, resulting in him becoming the WWE World Heavyweight Champion and the United States Champion…at the same damn time. People were ready for a Seth Rollins to be a hero, and the Seth Rollins character was ready to become that hero.
As for Samoa Joe, he was in down in NXT coming off a lengthy but compelling feud with Finn Balor and in the beginning another lengthy feud with Shinsuke Nakamura. While that war would go on to be spectacular, this author can’t help but think it was, in some respects, wasted in “developmental” as I now have little interest in seeing those two lock-up again for a while. (Perhaps, that’s besides the point as I understand that WWE still needs a marquee feud in NXT to sell tickets for their events.) Furthermore, while the rivalry was thoroughly entertaining, the two were clearly both ready to be on the main roster, and fans were getting anxious for their imminent debuts. Frustrations from Joe fans in particular, were piling up after a decade of watching him in ROH and TNA wondering why Joe wasn’t in WWE. Once he was finally in the door, we could not wait for him to be put on the main stage. By all accounts, by any measure…he was not in need of any “development”.
All of that said, here we are… Seth Rollins is playing the hero and Samoa Joe is on the main roster. Well, we got what we wished for, but it feels more like we made our wishes on the infamous “monkey’s paw”. The result? Seth Rollins is one of the worst built “top of the card” babyfaces in recent memory. Triple H’s involvement, AND lack thereof, has put them both at a dramatic disadvantage, but the rest of the storytelling isn’t doing them any favors. Seth still needs to be established as a face, but not a let’s-garner-sympathy-with-a-never-ending-injury-angle face. He needs to be Stone Cold Seth Rollins. He needs to be the ass-kicker that we so desperately wanted him to be upon his return, a la denim-vested Triple H circa 2002. It didn’t even require a great deal of effort. As I often say on the Wrestling World Podcast Network….”they’re trying to hard.”
A continuation of “White Ranger” or “White Knight” Seth (Freakin’) Rollins would have served us, and the character, way more effectively than what we got. The man who once dazzled crowds with unfathomable feats of strength, insanely-athletic maneuvers and Super Mario-esque rampages with which he had once thwarted entire factions like the Wyatt Family or Evolution and had even injured a Beast. What we wound up with was an attempt at a “teacher vs student” angle with the King of Kings marred by a lack of stakes or consequences. Another injury setback didn’t work in the story’s favor either, despite WWE’s attempts to capitalize on it. Plus, the “King Slayer” is just laying it on a bit thick for me. I’m fine with him slaying the King and all. However, I am left to question: What exactly did that accomplish? Seth Rollins hasn’t been put immediately into title contention. He had to compete for a chance to be the #1 contender to the mid-card title.
In addition, the King hasn’t truly been slain. He hasn’t even been dethroned. He’s merely on vacation. “The Man With 3 H’s” can return at any moment to make Seth’s life a living hell, and the only recourse Seth will ever have is to bait him into another match, beat him and start the cycle all over again. Lastly, Seth is just not the “rah-rah” type hero that is meant to slay a king. He’s arrogant, untrustworthy and (maybe, this is just me, but) the very timbre of his voice when he cuts a promo is somewhat whiny and inherently irritating. If his voice had a face, it would look like The Miz. Everyone wants to punch The Miz’s face. After all of the effort they put in to make him a big time babyface, he’s quite possibly the least over he’s ever been on the main roster. Certainly, since he broke up the Shield. All because “Creative” just couldn’t help themselves.
Similarly, Samoa Joe is now exactly where we all wanted him. Or, is he? Perhaps, you wanted him on SmackDown Live. After what I’ve seen from his run on Monday Night Raw, I can’t say I blame you. It couldn’t be much worse in the “Land of Opportunity”. This dude was a killing machine in NXT; the most vicious of villains. He’s still the same character on Raw. He still cuts the same beautifully intense promos. He’s still a world class in-ring performer. He still scares the crap out of me. Yet, he’s been nothing but Triple H’s henchman. Even in Triple H’s absence, he still seems to be doing his dirty work. Again, I’m only left with questions, and the answers don’t lead to anything good for the character in question.
What does Joe get out of this? Eventually, one would imagine, Joe should reap some sort reward for all of these favors. (Perhaps, he’s on the once-CM Punk’s “I owe you one, pal” credit line.) Maybe, these favors are in exchange for Triple H finally freeing Joe from Full Sail, but I would have to imagine he’s paid his debt by now. Joe should not be held responsible for Triple H’s failure to capitalize on the damage he cause to Seth’s knee. Furthermore, I refuse to believe that the Samoa Joe I know would be an indentured servant. If his character is suddenly to type to be subservient, then he’s no longer Samoa Joe; he’s just a Samoan named Joe.
Recently, the WWPN’s own Misery Williams (@MiseryWilliams), of BlueZone, made a statement about Samoa Joe that initially shocked me: “I just think he’s going to flounder in the mid card.” The very idea immediately had me taken aback, but in a sudden moment of clarity, I quickly realized how plausible that is. Sure, he’s on the main roster, but clearly there was very little thought given to where his character is heading. He was called up right after the Royal Rumble with plenty of time to build a proper storyline for a Wrestlemania match, yet he didn’t even appear on the nearly 7-hour event. In fact, since his call-up, he’s only had 2 pay-per-view appearances. The first was a win over Sami Zayn, which is the modern-day equivalent of beating the Brooklyn Brawler. His only other big match ended up being a loss to Seth Rollins, who again, has not been nearly as significant as he should be. I responded to Misery’s comment by saying, “I can imagine WWE Creative seeing Joe as not much different from Rusev,” but in retrospect, Rusev at least came to the main roster and began a lengthy winning streak which ended at the hands of John Cena at Wrestlemania. At the time, most of the internet fans hated the decision to have the Bulgarian Brute “job” to Cena. Looking at the hand dealt to Joe, I have to question if they even see him being on that level. (I love Rusev by the way, but he’s been written as a complete buffoon since his winning streak ended.) I fear now the “Rusev level” might be Samoa Joe’s ceiling in the WWE, and that would be a gross miscarriage of justice.
I’m not saying that our wishes had anything to do with WWE’s decision-making. Frankly, they seem to hardly ever listen to the fanbase. Nonetheless, this is what we wanted. Seth Rollins is a babyface and Samoa Joe is a member of the main roster. I think it’s safe to say that the result was not quite what we were hoping for. I’d go as far a to say that these results were almost the worst case scenario. Luckily, Samoa Joe hasn’t been given a dancing gimmick….yet. All I’m trying to say is that when we think certain acts are “can’t miss” or that an obvious idea should be implemented, they still need to pass through the filter of the 20+ writers and ultimately Vince McMahon himself. Excited for the WWE version of Broken Matt Hardy? Well, be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it.