Before Survivor Series weekend, we talk with WWE superstar Seth Rollins about his journey from the indie wrestling circuit to the big time.
I know you guys live busy lives. What would you be doing right now if not for this interview?
It’s about 11 a.m. on a Monday morning? I’d probably be at the gym, which is where I’m headed right after I get done talking to you.
That won’t come as a huge surprise to most fans. A lot of people pay attention to your workout regimen on Instagram and other forms of social media. That’s not something the previous generation of wrestlers had to go through. You’ve probably done as much to spread the gospel of CrossFit as any wrestler. Do you get a kick out of that?
Social media is great in some ways — if we’re able to spread good messages. A lot of things now on the Internet is a lot of negativity, but I don’t try to use my social media for that. I try to use it to spread information about what I like, whether it’s music or movies or fitness. If my Instagram or Twitter has gotten people to try healthy supplements or enjoy a new form of fitness and feel better about themselves, then that’s pretty rad. I try not be an evildoer on the Internet.
Not on the Internet maybe, but you’re suddenly the top villain on WWE television. When I watched you coming up through FCW, I didn’t expect WWE to position you as a bad guy — at least not so soon. Were you surprised by that?
No. For me, I know my capabilities and the spectrum I can cover as an entertainer. It’s cool that people who watched me for a long time are surprised at how good I am at it, but I take pride in that. I enjoy the process of jumping in a different pair of shoes from time to time.
Almost every great superstar over the years has spent time on both sides of the spectrum. Who was your favorite when you were growing up? Who’s your inspiration?
One guy who always transcended both sides of the fence for me was Shawn Michaels. I liked him even when he was the Heartbreak Kid. When he split from Marty Jannetty, I picked him over Marty right from the get-go, even when I was a young boy. Eddie Guerrero was the same way. Both guys transcended good and bad. But most of the time I was on the fan-favorite side — Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold and Bret Hart. When I was growing up, those were my dudes.
There’s this new WWE 2K15 video game coming out, and there’s going to be a bunch of young boys pitting Seth Rollins against those legends. Do you plan on playing?
Yeah, I play video games at home. Or I try, anyway — sometimes the girlfriend gets mad about it. But when I get time to myself I plop down on the bed or couch and play. I’m really looking forward to 2K15. I think we get our copies tonight at Raw, so it’ll be sweet to see how it handles and what new stuff they have in there.
When you hook it up, who’s your Seth Rollins dream match?
Well, I’m going to need a warm-up first, so I’ll play Seth Rollins versus Sami Zayn and curb-stomp him a few times to figure out my offense and make sure I’m all set up. But from there, my dream match is Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania, so I’ll work my way up to that.
You mention Sami Zayn — I know you guys have some history — and he’s making a big splash in NXT right now. Which NXT talents are you most excited to work with in the future?
I’ve never had a match with Adrian Neville or Finn Bálor — it’d be interesting to see how our styles complement one another. Obviously Sami. Obviously Hideo Itami. A guy like CJ Parker has a bright future ahead of him. You’ve got the Ascension, you’ve got Tyler Breeze — there’s a whole crop of great talent waiting in the wings, and I think in the next three, four, five years, you’re going to see an influx of talent from NXT that’s going to change the way WWE looks.
That’s probably the most complete answer to that question I’ve gotten from a wrestler on the main roster. So it’s safe to assume you’re watching NXT?
I don’t watch every week, but I keep up. To be honest, it’s difficult for me to sit down and watch wrestling after being on the road. Like now, I just got off a European tour for 17 straight days, and after watching those shows night after night, it’s hard to sit down and say, “I’m going to watch more wrestling.” But I keep tabs. I went down to the Performance Center last month to see it firsthand.
When you were coming up through developmental, you had some epic matches with Dean Ambrose, and the two of you have spent the past few months feuding in WWE. At Hell in a Cell, there were a lot of people disappointed that your match didn’t end decisively, but it’s clear you two will lock up again in the future. Do you two ever talk about that? About meeting at WrestleMania or whether there will be a DVD about your rivalry someday?
I don’t think it’s anything that really needs to be spoken between myself and Ambrose. It’s just understood. We both know that we’re lifers, that we’re in this for the long haul. We both know that we’re going to be main-event players for years to come, and we both know what our capabilities are in the ring and with each other. So it’s not something we need to say out loud. We just go about our business and we know the opportunities are going to be there for us moving forward.
You debuted in WWE as part of the Shield, with Ambrose and Roman Reigns. Tell me one thing you learned from each of them when you were traveling together.
From Roman, the main thing I picked up was his presence. He’s the kind of guy that can walk into a room and take the attention away from everybody in there. All eyes just go to him. I don’t know if that’s something he can teach — that’s sometimes just something you’re born with — but you can take notes. I paid a lot of attention to that.
And Ambrose — he’s a quirky individual. His thought process as he approaches big matches and big promos — big moments, I guess you would say — is very interesting. You’ll never find a student of the game who gets in any deeper than Ambrose. I said that it’s hard for me to just sit down and watch wrestling, but he loves it. He’ll go back and find crazy stuff all the time. I remember at one point during our Shield run, he was watching some kind of crazy European stuff for no reason. I was like, “What is that?” It was some crazy black-and-white stuff and he was just in there having a great time. I picked up lots of little things from each of them, and I think it helped all of us as individual performers.
You’re part of Team Authority at Survivor Series on Sunday. Did you have a favorite Survivor Series moment as a kid?
It has to be the Montreal Screwjob, just based on how crazy it was. That’s why it’s such a big part of the history of our industry. It’s one of those things that’s so wild, you know it’ll never happen again. Hopefully.
How does the game planning for a match the size and scope of a 5-on-5 Survivor Series match go? I know you have a lot of experience with 3-on-3 matches, so how does this compare?
The planning is tough, to be honest. You can come in with an idea about what you think might happen, but the dynamic can change real quick. There’s a lot at stake. I know all the performers are chomping at the bit to have their quote-unquote Survivor Series moment, their breakout moment in this match, and I think that’s going to make for a really interesting dynamic. You have 10 guys who all want to be the top dog. We all have something to prove, so we’re all fighting for something. Trying to navigate that should be an interesting chore for me. I’m looking forward to the challenge.
Regardless of what happens on Sunday, you’ll still have the Money in the Bank briefcase, which usually leads to big things for whoever holds it. What do you think the next six months are going to look like for Seth Rollins?
I’m expecting to continue the momentum I’ve established and carry it into next year. To continue to push the envelope and to be in that upper echelon of guys who are carrying the company — that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I like having that weight on my shoulders. I enjoy the pressure, so I’m looking forward to what this WrestleMania season is going to look like. I think it’s going to be a little bit different than some of the WrestleMania seasons in the past, with some of the part-timers maybe not coming back and making an appearance this year. So it’ll be interesting to see what guys step up.
You talk about part-timers versus the current roster. I know guys have been hurt — Reigns, Daniel Bryan — but the roster is really stacked with young talent for the first time in a long time. How does it feel to be part of this revival?
It feels great. It’s a renaissance for sure. People are always looking at the future, asking, “What’s next?” People have been begging for some fresh blood for a long time. It’s a cliché, but the future really is now. You look at Roman coming back soon, Daniel Bryan hopefully coming back soon as well — that talent roster put with those guys, there’s no reason to ask what going to happen anymore. Things are turning around as we speak. There’s a renaissance as far as just raw talent on the roster, and as long as everyone can stay healthy, it’ll be interesting to see how this roster meshes over the next six months [and then] further down the road. But this roster we have, these are definitely staples of the future.
Speaking of the future, you do moves that have basically never been done in a WWE ring. Fans who have never watched indie wrestling are seeing a lot of things for the first time, and fans who have watched the indies are surprised that this is being allowed to happen. This is an inside baseball question, so apologies, but is there a process by which you get moves that aren’t traditionally in the “WWE style” approved?
Not a set-in-stone process. It’s not like you fill out an application for a new move. It’s just the evolution of our industry. And it’s cool that people are taking note that guys have come from different backgrounds and have instituted a different style. It’s nice that’s being talked about. It goes along with my personal no. 1 rule of wrestling: If it’s good, it’s good. You try something out and if it works and people seem to dig it, then you move forward with it. And if not, you toss it in the alley and call it a day. But it’s cool that people have noticed we’re bringing a new flavor to the show.
So there’s a chance we’ll see God’s Last Gift someday?
I mean, it’s in my arsenal. You never know.
It’s hard to preview a show where two-thirds of the roster will be in one match, but here goes nothing.
Fandango vs. TBA
We’ve been promised a preshow match featuring the new and improved Fandango. I’m tempted to pick Fandango based on WWE’s one sentence of hype, but it can’t be ignored that TBA has a shockingly good record over his decades-long career. I fantasy-booked Fandango on the podcast a few weeks back — make him a badass who hates his old character so much that he comes out in plain black tights with no music; he refuses to say his name and just brutalizes opponents. The crowd will fill the silence by saying his name for him and singing the Fandango song during his entrance. This won’t happen on Sunday. Put your money on TBA. Unless …
Adam Rose vs. the Bunny
This match isn’t announced, but Rose’s feud with the bunny-suited fellow in his party posse has gotten too much air time on Raw in recent few weeks to not make the show. They could announce Rose as Fandango’s opponent, then have Fandango’s music hit, and the Bunny reveals himself to be Fandango, and … I’m making myself sad just typing this. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I hope the Bunny is Justin Gabriel.
Team Paige vs. Team Alicia Fox
Now THIS is a traditional Survivor Series match: a good versus bad and teams assembled with almost no continuity or backstory to prop the whole thing up. All that matters is who Paige will be feuding with on the Monday after Survivor Series. My money’s on Natalya or Emma to pin Paige and start a new feud.
Goldust/Stardust (champs) vs. the Usos vs. Los Matadores vs. the Miz and Damien Mizdow
A fatal four-way for the tag-team titles
The Dust Brothers got their title run a couple of months too late, and now the remaining competition for their belts is painfully uninteresting. This lousy match goes to show that they deserve better, but I expect Miz and Mizdow to win the belts as a reward for being the highlight of WWE over the past couple of months. If WWE truly wants to debut the NXT duo the Ascension with a big reaction, then having them put this match out of its misery would be a good start.
AJ Lee (champ) vs. Nikki Bella
For the Divas Championship
These two (along with Brie Bella, who has been contractually forced to serve as Nikki’s personal assistant) had an incredibly fun segment on Monday’s Raw, and I appreciate the way the Divas title scene is suddenly able to balance more than one story line at a time, so I’m calling this the sleeper of the night. Brie will decide the finish, either by screwing her evil sister or by joining her on the dark side. I’m hoping for the latter, just to avoid another Bella-vs.-Bella match for a while.
Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt
I love the idea of these two guys feuding over the year, but the build has been less than stellar. It’s as if WWE suddenly has too much confidence in Ambrose and Wyatt, like the company said, “They’ll be fine, just have the writers concentrate on the main event.” I liked Bray’s surprise appearance at Hell in a Cell, and I loved their dueling promos (and brawl) on Monday, but everything else has been forgettable. Nonetheless, I’m confident that their match Sunday will be good, if only because these two know they’re working in the huge shadow cast by the main event and they’ll want to hold their own. WWE needs all of its young stars to succeed — and with a relatively thin card, I expect the company to give them plenty of airtime to impress us.
Team Cena (John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, Ryback, Big Show, and Erick Rowan) vs. Team Authority (Seth Rollins, Kane, Mark Henry, Rusev, and Luke Harper)
A traditional Survivor Series match. If the Authority loses, they cease to exist; if Team Cena loses, all hope in the world is lost.
I’ll say this for WWE: It has done a great job of teasing out the team-making portion of this story line. The company even leaked a poster of the team lineups that scooped the story lines — but then revised it, cutting Sheamus from Team Cena for unknown reasons on Monday’s Raw and replacing him with giant Erick Rowan and omitting Cesaro from Team Authority in favor of Rowan’s old partner Luke Harper. (Whether this was a diabolical plan to push the tall guys is a matter I’ll leave to the real wrestling journalists.) WWE has also shown admirable restraint in not mentioning Randy Orton, who was last seen RKO-ing Triple H and the rest of the Authority (and any number of klutzes and zoo animals in the RKO Vines meme) before disappearing (he was filming a WWE movie in real life). Sunday’s show is in St. Louis — Orton’s hometown — and I have full confidence that he’ll be there by 11:58 ET. But in the meantime, let’s rank the 10 competitors by the order in which they’ll probably be ejected from the match.
Sheamus, eliminated from his spot on Team Cena by injury; seems likely he’ll be there on Sunday, if for no other reason than to eliminate Rusev or turn heel on Cena.
Cesaro, teased as a member of Team Cena before yukking it up with Team Authority; subsequently pledged neutrality, like the Swiss hero he is.
Roman Reigns, seemingly ready to come back (see the Seth Rollins interview, above); might be there on Sunday, if for no other reason than to eliminate Rollins.
Brock Lesnar, your champion in self-imposed exile; won’t be there, but it’s fun to imagine.
10. Dolph Ziggler: Dolph will either be first out or the last man standing, much like Bam Bam Bigelow in 1987. I’m going to put him here just so I won’t be disappointed (and try to reverse-jinx it).
9. Mark Henry: WWE hasn’t given him much screen time since his heel turn, and his match with Big Show next month will be waiting for him regardless, so I’m not expecting much from the erstwhile American hero.
8-7. (tie) Luke Harper and Erick Rowan: After their stare-down on Monday, I’m expecting these two to brawl out of the ring for a double count-out, setting up a real two-hoss slobberknocker for next month’s Tables, Ladders, and Chairs event.
6. Kane: I wish I had something interesting to write about Kane. Every month I wish that. Maybe in a post-Authority world I’ll get my wish.
5. Big Show: Show has gotten more time in the spotlight than his old buddy Mark Henry, but his future probably won’t be any more surprising. Expect a couple WMD punches, a chest slap or two, and then all the big bads teaming up to take him out with a cool-looking spot.
4. Rusev: The Bulgarian villain doesn’t have a specific role (or rivalry) in this match, but WWE needs to keep him looking strong, so it’s hard to predict what he’ll do. If I have to guess, I’d say Rusev will last late into the match before he bails to allow the Cena-Authority feud to play out in the spotlight.
3. Ryback: Several months on the disabled list have been a godsend for the Big Guy, who rebounded from tag-team futility to the main event just by virtue of his absence (and other stars being out with injuries). He’ll be there late because WWE needs to preserve his fearsome reputation.
2. Seth Rollins: Our interviewee will be the star of the match, because he can pull off moves that none of the other wrestlers in this match, except maybe Ziggler, can do.1 Plus, in a match full of behemoths, a smaller, more athletic performer like Rollins has real value. At the end of the day, this story line is about the Authority, and Rollins is its poster boy, so look for him to be there to receive the match-ending Attitude Adjustment (or RKO).
Also, because WWE tends to send guys out for interviews when they’re poised for big nights.
1. John Cena: Because he’s Cena. Listen, it’s a solid bet that Team Authority will lose. Why else would they have bothered to insert the Vince Ex Machina stipulation?2 And why else would they paint the Cena team as a broken, disjointed troupe if not to have them overcome their powerful adversaries? (Even in the arcana of WWE corporate positioning being decided by matches, the possible dissolution of the Authority is an all-timer of a stipulation: Triple H and Stephanie haven’t had their actual jobs threatened, so all they stand to lose are their roles as onscreen authority figures, which they have only as a byproduct of their roles as employees. So that’s either ridiculous or totally sensible, depending on how meta we choose to be about it.) And if WWE has taught us anything, it’s that Cena always wins in the end, especially when the odds are against him.
And why else would they (SPOILER ALERT) have added the stipulation on Smackdown that Cena’s whole team will be fired if they lose?
The ending here hardly matters, though. If this main event leads to matches at next month’s Tables, Ladders, and Chairs pay-per-view like Rusev-Ryback, Harper-Rowan, Rollins-Reigns, Cesaro and Ziggler versus anybody, and an Ambrose-Wyatt redux, it all will have been worthwhile. Just like Rollins said, the future is now.