As Seth Rollins rallied his troops on this week’s RAW, it was hard not to at least briefly experience some deja vu. Opposite a braggadocios Paul Heyman, Rollins explained that he was the man to “slay the beast,” finally bringing the Universal Title back to RAW as a result. The whole thing felt rather familiar, with last year’s WrestleMania headliner following a similar route. Back then, Brock Lesnar was at the seemingly inevitable end of his year-long Universal Title reign. Opposite Roman Reigns, Lesnar’s dominance appeared at a close but in the end, that would prove far from the case.
Alternatively, Lesnar retained his crown and after losing it at SummerSlam, he’d soon regain it too. Over the last two years, a range of popular foes have come forward, stating their case but more often than not, falling short regardless of fan support. However, Seth Rollins hasn’t been one of those names, last facing Brock almost four years ago instead. The WWE landscape was very different back then and so was Rollins, standing on top of an ever evolving main roster group.
In fact, Seth was WWE Champion back then, a cowardly villain in the midst of a break-out title reign. On the other hand, Lesnar was more popular than ever, an anti-hero of sorts that was seeking redemption after having his WWE Title taken from him. Though it appeared intriguing on paper, the match itself would prove rather forgettable, simply serving as a starting point for Brock’s reignited programme with The Undertaker. Rollins’ title run limped on and soon recovered before in November 2015, a devastating knee injury famously halted his momentum.
That story has since been etched in history, with Seth eventually returning in a fashion that almost rebelled against the crowd’s sudden support of him. Before long, Rollins indeed adjusted, becoming a babyface at long last and completing his storied past with Triple H. While that WrestleMania direction undeniably made sense, concerns continued to surround Rollins’ main event future, with a somewhat disappointing 2017 only further stunting his progression. With a reminder of his Shield history soon taking center stage though, Rollins’ connection with fans began to steadily rebuild.
It felt like this character had finally righted his wrongs, accepting blame for his errors and showing a refreshing development too. With that element established, Seth’s main event status was once again undeniable, next producing a historic gauntlet match performance and silencing any doubters along the way. While Lesnar’s reign retained its presence on top of WWE’s biggest shows, Rollins spent 2018 making his own impact with the Intercontinental Title around his waist. Solidifying his spot as RAW’s in-ring centerpiece, Rollins constantly delivered and at this year’s Royal Rumble, his journey finally reached the next level.
Booking his ticket to WrestleMania, Rollins would now face Brock Lesnar, finally re-entering the top title scene. While this level was always Seth’s obvious ambition, it at times seemed like he’d already hit his positional peak but over the last year, Rollins has reached a whole new stratosphere of popularity and performance. Few garner the level of respect and adoration that Seth does from fans, a man that’s earned their support from a quite staggering consistency that’s appeared so frequently on WWE TV.
That’s what energizes those ‘Slay the Beast’ chants, it’s an investment that elevates this match beyond its presence on paper. This match symbolizes the brand’s future, a pivotal element of the product’s reset that took place just a few months ago. People are invested in what Rollins represents here, the chance for a more visible title scene as well as a belt potentially built on in-ring thrills too. In some ways, Rollins’ rise has benefited him in that sense, a more steady progression that makes this moment feel all the more important.
If Seth’s babyface ascension had played out as smoothly as expected, this level of organic support is unlikely to have emerged. Instead, fans witnessed Rollins’ climb, a former champion that through in-ring effort and character development, has emphatically rebuilt his main event qualifications. That time somewhat out of the spotlight proved positive, allowing Seth to remind the world of what made him can’t miss in the first place: his ability to perform with a vigor and passion virtually unparalleled.
In Brock Lesnar, you have an ideal antagonist for this moment. Regardless of his impressive recent performances, Brock isn’t a champion that fans cheer out of respect but instead, he’s a status quo that they jeer out of resentment. His absence is a constant complaint, a symbol of WWE’s apparent on-screen stagnation. Rollins is the opposite, a vibrant and dynamic alternative that brings a unique energy to his every move. Just like it was in 2015, this is a clash of contrasts but this time, the roles have reversed -- to the point where SBD has Rollins as the betting favorite.
At the height of his character’s cowardice, Rollins was almost an afterthought opposite Lesnar but now that same man marches into WrestleMania, the fearless conqueror that leads an army as he looks to at long last, slay the beast.