If you asked a casual wrestling fan twenty years ago, what they particularly looked for in a ‘top guy’, it is very likely that they would retort with “larger than life” or “big muscles”. However, the modern era is the complete contrary to that. Anyone can get over as the ‘fans choice’ as the guy, meaning anyone whether they are 205 lbs or 250 lbs, if they can connect directly to the core fan base, the fans could christen them as ‘their guy’.
Has WWE’s moreover Vince McMahon’s perspective of the top guy altered in the past two decades? To an extent. Vince clearly prefers larger than life superstars still over talents who put their in-ring work first. Whenever Vince has been forced to change the #1 guy even for a short period, it’s always been to external factors (fan reactions getting out of hand or big stars leaving), but in-time Vince always reverts back to his traditional ideology of what his and consequently WWE’s chosen guy should be.
In the midst of the summer of 2014 – WWE realised that John Cena’s time was slowly winding down and that very soon they would need a replacement. This was naturally a tough ask as Cena’s top flight run of a decade (and counting), had lots of ups and downs, making the x 16-time World Champion in-turn, a polarising figure.
The polarising nature of Cena or Cena’s character rather, would naturally mean the crowd would fail to latch onto the chosen guy with ease; henceforth from the moment WWE made the decision that they needed a new top guy, their backs were against the preverbal wall.
WWE on the backs of Daniel Bryan’s rise to the top of the card leading to a World Title win to close WrestleMania 30, opted not to christen Bryan as their #1 guy (whether that is due to Bryan’s size or because of his injury issues is up for discussion), and instead opted for someone much more traditionally grounded in Vince’s DNA of the top guy. That guy was Roman Reigns. It was apparent that WWE’s new chosen guy would be a member of The Shield.
The Shield’s success on the main roster was down to a their consistently strong booking along with acclaimed six-man tags. It would be erroneous to claim that Reigns wasn’t the most over guy in the trio during their original run; it was clear that the fans wanted Reigns to go to the next level, but how Reigns, or, moreover, how the WWE pushed Reigns to that level was problematic.
It was clear that the fans wanted Reigns to go to the next level, but how Reigns, or, moreover, how the WWE pushed Reigns to that level was problematic.
It’s clear that Reigns as the #1 babyface talent on the roster isn’t working (as of May 2018). Which is a shame, Reigns PPV and TV matches are consistently good, the only time Reigns seems to have a bad match is if he’s main eventing WrestleMania. This article is in no way anti-Reigns, but the reality call WWE need is that Reigns can be your #1 guy, but not as a babyface (which is a discussion for another time).
Seth Rollins’ babyface run began abruptly on the August 29 2016 edition of RAW, when Triple H cost him the Universal Championship. There is no point dwelling on the first 18 months of Rollins’ babyface run as it is common knowledge that WWE did Rollins an injustice by not having The Kingslayer return as a babyface but that’s another documented story for another time.
Rollins found his feet in his babyface role only very recently. In-fact the date was February 19; the RAW Gauntlet. The RAW gauntlet featured the competitors of the 2018 male Elimination Chamber match, the match (booked by entirely by Vince McMahon himself), did extremely well, with the episode of RAW doing WWE’s best rating since the infamous RAW 25. Seth Rollins’ hour long performance featured him pinning both Reigns and Cena respectively.
Following Rollins’ pin-fall victory on the later, Rollins was met with a thunderous “Thank You Rollins” ovation on his way to the back. This was the first time in his known babyface run that Rollins has received this kind of reaction; with the closest being his fantastic surprise appearance at NXT: Takeover in January 2017 to confront Triple H.
Following the gauntlet match it was a clear trajectory for Rollins, as he was placed with The Miz & Finn Balor for an IC Title feud for WrestleMania. The spot was perfect for Rollins. Aligning him with two tremendous workers (and in return get a decent amount of time on the grand stage), did Rollins wonders for his confidence and stature within the company.
Rollins captured the IC Title in a fantastic Mania opener. It was in the proceeding weeks to follow, in which Rollins would cut promos about the IC Title and how he assigned responsibility for his success on the fans (delivered in a very natural way), that started to align fans to Rollins like never before.
Weeks commencing Mania, the reactions appeared to get louder and louder; peaking at the Montreal show when Rollins actually had to cover his ears because of the fantastic crowd in attendance that evening would not stop chanting his name. Rollins received the biggest babyface reaction out of anyone on the roster at the infamous Backlash PPV; his clinic with The Miz was met with universal acclaim by fans at home and those in attendance in New Jersey.
The reactions to Rollins’ stomp taunt (now met with thunderous BURN IT DOWN chants) are getting consistently louder. The reactions during Rollins’ matches are also reliably getting louder and louder throughout; meaning Rollins as a babyface is not only finally getting people’s attention during his matches but he’s keeping them invested in him.
Ultimately the Rollins babyface ascension has worked because of the organic nature of his rise to #1 babyface in the company. Naturally, fans were not invested during the beginning of his babyface tenure, because it came across as forced and unmeaningful. Fans were invested following his acclaimed WWE: 24 documentary, so when Rollins returned as a heel and not a babyface, the period for fans to latch onto him had diminished.
Fast-forward to present day and the current babyface run is extremely natural and progressive. Rollins is putting the focus on in-ring work and making the IC Title, the #1 title in the entire company, rather than delivering awkwardly scripted promos on one leg.
On WWE’s hands is a universally loved talent. A talent whom is having acclaimed matches, acclaimed promos and most importantly all demographics are seeing something in him and consequently relating to him. It’s time for WWE to pull the trigger on Monday Night Rollins.