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On Monday night, Seth Rollins struggled to the ring that Brock Lesnar was standing in, and was for the second week in a row, annihilated by the reigning Universal Champion.After being beaten without mercy, Rollins cut a promo about how much he loves WWE and the Universal Champion, and even though he had just gotten his ass kicked (twice) he was going to still give it his all at SummerSlam and try to defeat Brock Lesnar to win back the Universal Championship.
As Rollins performed what was probably intended to be a heartfelt, babyface promo endearing himself to the fans by flaunting his dedication to defeating Lesnar, the fans reacted to their supposed babyface hero by giving him the "what?" treatment and booing him. Rollins, once one of the most universally appreciated and respected wrestlers in the company, had been reduced to a pandering babyface whose attempts at sympathy were now being met by apathy from the live audience. How did this happen?
At WrestleMania 35, Rollins emerged from the event as a conquering hero having defeated Lesnar for the Universal Championship. While Rollins may not have been the most charismatic person to ever be positioned as the top babyface in WWE; he was likeable enough and was respected by all fans who appreciated his ability to consistently have great matches. On top of that, he defeated Lesnar for the Universal Championship and fans were sick of Lesnar as the champion, which earned him some extra brownie points with the fans.
Since then, things have gone poorly for Rollins. His character was watered down when WWE introduced his real-life relationship with Becky Lynch to television. Rollins and Lynch lacked on-screen chemistry and both stars' thrived when they were marketed as fierce, independent performers and that attitude was handicapped by forcing them to be a couple in storyline.
In addition, a series of matches against Baron Corbin also took away Rollins' ability to consistently have good matches, as two PPV matches against Corbin under-delivered. In the span of a few months, Rollins had lost a big piece of his character through the forced storyline with Lynch, and he also had two disappointing title defenses against Corbin, damaging his reputation as a guy that can have good matches regardless of opponent.
During his title reign, Rollins also stumbled a few times on social media and in interviews; including unnecessarily getting in a spat with Will Ospreay that made him look like a jerk when he made a crack about how much more money he made; calling fans who didn't like the on-screen relationship between himself and Lynch "jealous," slamming Jon Moxley for dissing on WWE's creative process and saying that AEW was trying to take food off his table, among other issues. I don't know if any of that had a real impact on Rollins' overall popularity, but it probably didn't help.
Perhaps the final blow for Rollins came when he lost the Universal Championship to Lesnar when Lesnar cashed in his Money in the Bank contract. In addition to his character and his ring-work taking a step backwards, Rollins had any gains he had made by defeating Lesnar at WrestleMania undone, putting him back at square one. Even worse, since losing the title Rollins has gotten his ass kicked twice by Lesnar, making him look like a geek that can't really hang with Lesnar, to the point that logically, fans should have no faith that he can defeat Lesnar at SummerSlam and regain his title.
In the background of all of that was that business for WWE was not improving with Rollins as the top babyface. TV viewership and live attendance continued to decline, drawing the attention of investors and television partners. It is hard to say that is really Rollins' fault; I believe if Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman or someone else was selected to be the top babyface, business would probably be the same as it is today. However, as Rollins was noticeably losing popularity on television, business continued to decline while he was the top babyface in the company
All of that led up to Rollins in the ring on Monday getting a cynical reaction from the fans who once cheered for them. Rollins was never the perfect choice to be the new face of the company, but he had a lot of strengths that should have allowed him to thrive in the position. Instead, through mistakes by WWE and some of his own missteps, Rollins flopped as the babyface champion. There is no way to look at his post-WrestleMania stretch and believe that it was a success.
On Sunday, Rollins will try to hit the reset button and beat Lesnar again; but even if he does, he can't go back in time and undue what fans have already seen. We saw the Seth Rollins-era earlier this year and the fans rejected it; WWE can't do the exact same thing at SummerSlam as they did at WrestleMania and expect a different outcome.
Heading into the match, Rollins has his back against the wall, having lost the title to Brock and then gotten crushed by him in confrontations on RAW. If he loses on Sunday, he is going to look even worse and it is hard to believe he would ever be top babyface material again. A cynical fan could look at the way Rollins has been treated lately and believe that he is being punished for flopping as a champion.
Ultimately I think a major issue Rollins is going to need to overcome, and this goes for a lot of WWE babyfaces, is that the company loves to try and get heat on the heel by having them manhandle the babyfaces, with the idea you are getting sympathy for the babyface and they are playing the loveable underdog role.
There is a time and place for that kind of booking, but this Rollins vs Lesnar feud isn't it. Rollins defeated Lesnar in under three minutes at WrestleMania, as a major star he needs to be consistently booked as Lesnar's equal, if not his superior. Rollins does not need to be the underdog who gets sympathy, as a character he needs to be far beyond that. The fans don't want to have sympathy for the top babyface, they want to believe that the top babyface is the best wrestler in the world and is going to kick the ass of anyone who pisses them off. They certainly don't want someone who constantly gets manhandled by their opponent and then cries in the ring about how unfair it is that they don't have the world title.
I'm not sure if Rollins will ever be able to truly recover from the damage that has been done over the last four months. He will always be a prominent name in the company as long as he is there, but I don't think he will ever get a chance to be the top guy and really run with it. His latest run really exposed both his own limitations, and WWE's limitations when it comes to booking a top babyface. Barring a significant change to his character and a modified approach to how WWE books babyface, Rollins isn't capable of being the top babyface for the company.
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