Seth Rollins has been a real highlight of SmackDown since his return earlier this year. That’s largely because he’s thrown himself into playing his heel character, while avoided shoot interviews where he defends WWE and questions the audience’s right to criticize the product.
Unfortunately, he’s the latest guest on Ryan Satin’s new Out Of Character podcast, and as the name suggests, he’s dropped the Drip Master gimmick for this one. When the subject of his failed 2019 babyface run comes up, Rollins isn’t doing a lot of introspection about why. It’s the world’s tendency to hate that’s to blame.
“When you’re a babyface in this era, it is hard to keep people liking you. It is difficult because I think people’s natural reaction is, for whatever reason, to dislike almost everything, and I don’t know why that is. That’s what entertainment has turned into. So to be frustrated, unsatisfied or not like something, that’s what’s cool – especially when you’re told you’re supposed to like it – and so it becomes pretty hard not to let that go to your head.
“I would go to live events, our non-televised events, and the response was not what you would see on TV. The crowds were, to me, they were two totally different crowds.
“I’d be main eventing against a, say, Baron Corbin or whatever, and the crowd would be 100 percent, ‘Let’s go, Rollins,’ ‘Burn it down,’ nonstop, and it was a party. Then you’d come to TV, and half the crowd – the louder half of the crowd – would just be up in my throat.
“It was very confusing, and I think sometimes it pushes our creative process in directions we, maybe, shouldn’t be going. But that’s how it is. That’s how the business is these days, and so you gotta figure it out, and you gotta adapt. If you don’t, you’re going to get left by the wayside.”
He’s not entirely off-base. There is a lot of negativity in the world, and a portion of the audience that watches in order to troll the company. I truly believe the bulk of the audience just wants to be entertained, though. And Seth pursuing Brock Lesnar with the same storyline WWE’d used for Roman Reigns’ pursuit of Brock Lesnar just wasn’t very entertaining. The less we talk about the Bray Wyatt feud that followed, the better.
Those things weren’t his fault, and many fans realized that. Where the real trouble started, and why that loud half of the crowd (which also happens to be the half that spends the most time and money on wrestling) really turned on him, was when he reacted to criticism of that bad creative by adopting a bunch of real-life heel attributes: taking potshots at his old Shieldmate instead of taking the high road like their other brother, questioning paying customers’ right to judge the product, comparing the size of his paycheck with wrestlers at other companies, and perhaps most bizarrely, getting into a Twitter beef with a popular female wrestler.
Elsewhere in the interview, Rollins talks about how his fiancée Becky Lynch encouraged him to get back on Twitter, not take things personally, and use it to serve his on-screen act. And he seems to realize how it’s serving him well now, but still doesn’t acknowledge how his use of it was hurting him before. Instead, he weighs the pros and cons of working without live in-person audiences, and isn’t sure he wants to go back to the way it was before:
“I still think social media still plays quite a role in how shows are written and how characters are portrayed. [The ThunderDome] has allowed us to tell our stories a little cleaner in the sense that things aren’t up and down as they may normally be. Whether that’s good or bad, I’m not entirely sure. I miss the fans and live interaction, but I like being able to cut a promo and getting all the way through without having to side-eye the audience. It’s nice to get a thought out without being interrupted by ‘CM Punk’ chants.
“Some stories have overstayed their welcome, but we’ve definitely been allowed to tell fully fleshed out stories over six or seven months that we wouldn’t get through normally because a live crowd would force creative to change course. I had a blast working with the Mysterios, though things got carried away at the end. I was proud of the eye-for-an-eye match.”
This raises an issue that’s been kicked around in different corners of the wrestle web - whether some part of Vince McMahon and WWE is hesitant to leave an environment where they control reactions. There seems to be something to that, despite Seth admitting that real feedback might have tightened up something like his feud with the Mysterios before it hung around too long.
In the end, all involved will welcome fans back into arenas, because it’s (ahem) best for business. There will be an adjustment period, and fans will accept some acts and reject others. The world’s negativity will play a role in some of those rejections, but it won’t be the main factor.
The main factor will be whether, to use Seth’s own words, the stars figure it out and adapt. Rollins has shown signs he can do that, but this interview is evidence the guy who takes all criticism personally is still in there. For his sake, and for the sake of fans who are enjoying his current work, I hope he figures out how to keep adapting.