"I say, Cyclops! If ever anyone asks you who put out your ugly eye, tell him your blinder was Odysseus, the conqueror of Troy, the son of Laertes, whose address is in Ithaca!"
The writings of the ancient Greeks were filled with tales of adventure and heroism, of larger than life characters who fought, and conquered, and defied the odds at many turns. What many of these characters had in common was hamartia; each one had a tragic flaw that ended up damning them in the end.
For Odysseus, the flaw was his excessive pride; or hubris, as the Greeks would have it. He had defeated the cyclops Polythemus before proudly shouting the quote you see above. He’d blinded the creature, he was free to escape, and on top of it all, he’d fooled the cyclops into thinking that his name was "No One", so no retribution could come to him.
But Odysseus was a proud man, and he wanted to claim the victory as his own, for all to hear. This pride eventually became his greatest mistake, as Polythemus wasn’t just any cyclops. He was the son of Poseidon, the god of the sea. As payback for the crimes committed against his son, Poseidon made what should have been a short, easy journey back to Ithaca into a ten year trek through treacherous waters and battling murderous beasts.
So, what does this have to do with professional wrestling?
Professional wrestlers suffer from hamartia, just as the ancient Greek heroes did. Part of what makes a story connect on an emotional level is seeing heroes overcome that hamartia and win in spite of it. Whether it’s Daniel Bryan being too small and too nice to be more than a B+ player, or Sami Zayn refusing to cut any corners in his pursuit of the title, a hero overcoming what, before, was the constant source of failure for him or her is the most gratifying part of the story.
Likewise, watching a villain crash and burn due to their own hamartia can be just as satisfying, for an audience. For the last year, pride has most certainly been Seth Rollins’ tragic flaw. Recently, he’s blown himself up as "the best WWE champion in history" despite the fact that he hasn’t earned a clean pin on a worthy opponent in...well, Dean Ambrose, last summer maybe? There’s always interference, or rule-breaking, or other shenanigans, and yet, Rollins proclaims himself as the best. For over a year, now, he’s succeeded time and time again, in spite of his overwhelming pride.
And just like it hurt to watch Sami Zayn lose the big one over and over because he insisted on sticking to the rules while his opponents did not share his sensibilities, it hurt to watch Rollins get everything he ever wanted, while earning none of it, proclaiming himself to be the best while doing so.
Whether they planned it or not, WWE creative crafted the perfect downfall story for Seth Rollins.
Ever since winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Seth’s pride has been turned up to eleven. It hit fever pitch at Elimination Chamber a few weeks ago when, by all counts, Rollins was defeated by Dean Ambrose, despite interference from J&J Security and Kane. He may have retained the namesake of WWE World Heavyweight Champion, but Rollins was pinned in the middle of that ring, by his arch-nemesis no less, and they both knew it. So, what does Rollins do? Does he humble himself? Does he take a step back and realize that he’s not as great as he’s been proclaiming?
No, because he has farther to fall. He may have been pinned, but he was still the champion. He was still on top. He still had the security team, he still had Mama Steph and Papa Hunter in his corner. In the rationale of a man with pride as his tragic flaw, the problem couldn’t have been him. So, he lashes out. He blames J&J. He blames Kane. He explodes, saying he doesn’t need anyone, that he can do it himself! He says all this, but we know it’s nonsense. The Authority knows it’s nonsense. And somewhere, deep down, Seth probably knew it. But he couldn’t admit it. That’s the point.
That brings us to Money In The Bank. The downfall of Rollins’ pride has been building to a crescendo ever since he cashed in at Money In The Bank. Before, J&J or Kane was there to protect him. But now, he’d alienated all of them, and was going at it alone, completely overconfident in himself. Everything was primed for this to be Rollins’ dose of reality. And what better man to give him that dose than the man he betrayed just over one year ago today? The man he screwed at last year’s Money in the Bank, with Kane’s help, of course. Even during the match, match, Rollins was brash and vocal. The stage was set for him to get his comeuppance.
And then, he didn’t.
And we didn’t know what to feel, because he did it alone.
Everything we’d come to know about Seth Rollins was turned on its edge. He successfully defended the title. He didn’t need help. And through it all, he didn’t just overcome his tragic flaw; he embraced it. Rollins’ goal wasn’t to beat Dean Ambrose. It was to break him. So he kept beating him down instead of taking an opportunity at the belt. One powerbomb into the barricade wasn’t enough, he needed more. He embodied every single aspect of his hamartia, and he still came out on top.
The problem is, it’s not satisfying when the villain does it. When a villain wins, it’s understandable when the villain is stronger, smarter, bigger, or better. But for the better part of a year, Dean Ambrose has been constantly portrayed as a superior wrestler to Seth Rollins, but the prideful Rollins kept overcoming by outside means. And now, Rollins won clean. He embraced the pride that should have been his downfall, and he won.
And there’s not really a long game to play here. Brock Lesnar will be back tonight, and now with Sheamus as Mr. Money in the Bank, the main event scene is crowded. Ambrose is likely going to stumble back into upper midcard directionless obscurity and work a few meaningless feuds for the rest of the year. Again. And Rollins will go back to looking like a chump because there’s no way in hell that he’s beating Brock Lesnar clean. So what does this accomplish? Where’s the gratification? The bad guy won, he flaunted the tragic flaw that should have been his downfall, and that’s it. There’s no happy ending. There’s no satisfaction. There’s just this.