The last time WWE Superstar Seth Rollins spoke to The Independent was in January, a mere three months ago in regular time, but a lifetime in wrestling years. At that stage Rollins was getting ready for the Royal Rumble PPV where he battled Brock Lesnar and John Cena in a triple threat match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Although Lesnar prevailed at the end of the bout, Rollins came out of the match with huge respect as he more than held his own in a contest widely regarded as the best WWE match of the year so far. Then, two months later on March 29th, Rollins waltzed his way down to the ring during the main event of Wrestlemania 31.
As Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns battled and bled for the Championship, Seth cashed in his ‘Money in the Bank’ briefcase and became the third participant in the match. Moments later, the opportunist pinned a fallen Reigns and sensationally became World Heavyweight Champion in front of over 65,000 people. Many talents would struggle with the pressure of that situation and the subsequent attention, but Rollins is taking it all in his stride. “It’s just gotten a little more hectic really,” he tells The Independent on the phone from Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena. “Being the WWE Champion involves a lot more than just performing in the ring.”
Hours after defeating Reigns, the new Champion was on a plane from San Jose, California to New York as he had an appearance booked on The Today Show, a coveted morning television programme. “They sprung it on me at the last second,” he recalls, “and that’s part of the responsibility of representing WWE. “Wild stuff like that is something I look forward to hopefully happening throughout the rest of my tenure here as Champion, and I get to fly first class now, so that’s cool,” he laughs. In the following days, there was much talk on when the ending of the main event was decided. Initially, Roman Reigns was the betting favourite as the contract of defending Champion Brock Lesnar was due to expire the day after Wrestlemania, but Lesnar’s own odds dropped dramatically when he signed a new deal with WWE.
As a consummate professional, Seth was keen not to elaborate too much on the process, but revealed that “it was later than people assume.” Although the sight of Rollins entertaining the Wrestlemania main event picture was surprising enough, it was even more unexpected as he had already appeared on the PPV in a losing effort to Randy Orton. The ending of that match was one of the most remembered moments of Wrestlemania, as Orton hit his RKO move on Rollins in one of the most spectacular ways possible. The athleticism of Rollins as he took that finish incredibly special, and though he lost the bout, he appreciates the complexity of the situation which began to loop endlessly on Vine as soon as the referee counted to three.
“It takes two to tango I suppose so I guess being on the receiving end of an RKO that people are pretty pleased about is a consolation for losing that match, although was hoping to catch up to Undertaker on the Wrestlemania winning streak!”
Despite the professional pride of winning the WWE title, the Royal Rumble match from January remains the greatest long-form moment of 2015 for Rollins, and his memories of the occasion are clear. “The match itself was something that I knew going into was going to be a big opportunity for me, as I was the ring with two legends of our time in John Cena and Brock Lesnar. Being pretty much the underdog in that situation I knew I had to step up my game and do my best to steal a little bit of their thunder. “I was very pleased with the outcome and even though I didn’t walk out the winner, it was still a performance that catapulted me to the next level.”
A unique storyline in the build up to Wrestlemania was an on-screen feud between Rollins and US television personality Jon Stewart. After the WWE star referenced Stewart’s impending retirement from his Daily Show on Raw, Stewart responded with a video which was played the next week. Rollins then showed up on The Daily Show, while Stewart retaliated by appearing on Raw and dressing down the Superstar before kicking him in the balls. Celebrities being involved in wrestling television shows usually ends in disaster and results in thousands of disinterested faces heading to the concession stands, but Stewart was excellent in his role, and clearly appeared to have a lot of fun.
“It all kinda came out of nowhere,” Rollins reminisces. “I just said one little line in jest on Raw and one thing led to another. Then I’m on The Daily Show hanging out with Olivia Wilde so it was definitely a cool experience, and something I never considered that I’d do growing up watching Craig Kilborn and Jon Stewart on that show. “Jon was a huge fan, totally professional all the way and an awesome dude. He’s a hell of a promo too so everything about that was 100% awesome. I was really thrilled to work with him and hopefully we can do something again in the future.”
The segment with Stewart on Raw clearly displayed that Rollins can now successfully duel verbally with anybody, whether they’re a WWE performer or a television host, and indicated that he has now become a fully well-rounded on screen talent. Known for years as being one of the best in-ring competitors in the world, the Champion is now making his mark on the microphone, a development he attributes to “taking the time to improve my weaknesses and make them my strengths.” Even during Wrestlemania season, Seth was always thrust onto important segments on television, and the Superstar is more than aware of his burgeoning reputation as one of WWE’s best performers.
“I’ve now got a good fist of signature promos and I’ve sort of been the go to guy when it comes to Monday nights and holding down that show for the last few months,” he shares. Last week on Raw, the new titleholder competed in a match with Neville, a British competitor who became known to the wrestling world in Japan, and later became the NXT Champion. As the very first winner of that belt, Rollins keeps a close eye on NXT, and has one name in mind from WWE’s developmental organisation who he would love to defend his WWE Championship against. “Probably Sami Zayn. He’s a guy who is one of the most resilient performers that we’ve ever seen, and he’s got an incredible connection with the audience.
“No offence to Finn Balor but he doesn’t need a crazy entrance and body paint, he doesn’t have all the wild athleticism that Neville has, he doesn’t necessarily have the wits about him that a Kevin Owens does, or the fanfare of Hideo Itami, but he has that little intangible that sets him apart from everybody else.” WWE are currently on their first European tour of the year, and held a show in Sheffield last Friday. The event contained a special significance for Rollins as some of his musical heroes hail from the Steel City. “Bring Me the Horizon are one of my favourite bands, they’re phenomenal,” he says enthusiastically. “I’m in Sheffield right now and they’re from here, so I asked them to come to the show but I think they’re recording a new album right now which I’m pretty stoked about,” he adds.
British WWE fans are warmly regarded by all of the talent in the company, and Rollins is no exception. “I love it over here it’s great. I think the big thing is that we’re only over here twice a year so there doesn’t appear to be an oversaturation of WWE in the British market. The fans seem very excited to see us, they’re very respectful during the matches and just enjoy watching us perform. “It’s very refreshing to have that emphasis put back to what we’re doing in the ring. The crowds are electric so it’s a pleasure to come over here and work in front of the British fans.”