Roman Reigns (c) vs. Seth Rollins
WWE Universal championship match
Tonight’s Universal title match between Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins is a bit of an oddity.
It’s not the men in the match. They are both top guys in WWE and and this certainly isn’t the first time they’ve stood across the ring from each other. Two ex-Shield guys facing off is something that’s happened plenty in WWE in the last decade. What makes this uncommon is the fact that they’re both heels right now.
In general, professional wrestling avoids booking matches with two villains fighting each other. Crowd participation is so big in this business and having two bad guys can lead to a crowd who doesn’t want to cheer for either man. It runs a risk of a “Can’t they both lose?” reaction. Without the audience invested in the victory of one of the two men, even a good match could be a dud.
Because of these reasons, WWE usually eschews this type of match. Instead, oddly enough, they’re doing it multiple times this show. (Becky Lynch and Doudrop are also both heels.) But in the case of Rollins & Reigns, the dynamic still works for a couple of key reasons.
Both Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns may be heels, but they’re both characters that have been around for years. And in those years, they’ve developed a fanbase. Wrestlers who have been around for a decade like these two have are going to have amassed a following. There are folks who are going to cheer Roman no matter what (probably more now that he’s a cool heel instead of a forced babyface). Same with Seth. There’s less worry of audience apathy when both sides have their followings no matter how dastardly their current iterations.
It also certainly doesn’t hurt that both men are doing the best work of their careers at this moment. A few weeks back, SmackDown scattered videos of the history between champion & challenger back in their Shield days. Those short videos made it very evident how much both men in this match have grown in character and promo work. Fans nowadays appreciate that. Even if you’re not supposed to like either of them, it’s not hard to put that aside and cheer for the work from the man behind the character.
The other thing this feud has in its favor is a strong story based off a shared history.
If you’re reading this website, I don’t need to tell you that Rollins and Reigns have a long history going back to their Shield days. The story they’re telling leans into that. Seth claims that Roman needs an help to be the man. Whether it was Seth and Jon Moxley in the Shield to the Usos right now, Roman hasn’t done it alone.
And he has a point. Roman hasn’t been taking care of business on his own. He wasn’t ready early on in his career. The Shield was propping him up. Right now, even though he could do it on his own, he doesn’t. The Usos are lending a hand at every turn. Rollins may be a jackass, but he ain’t wrong.
Then last night they threw in the wrinkle that Roman Reigns is still stung from Rollins’s betrayal by the steel cheer that ended the Shield. It was the rare chink in the armor for the Tribal Chief, who has been living in an aura of invincibility. Roman usually has everything under control, but Seth Frickin’ Rollins is the wild card that knows how to push the right buttons. How to get under Reigns’ skin.
The story is good enough and the characters are strong enough that the fact they’re both villains doesn’t really matter. This is sports entertainment and sometimes, they can focus more on the entertainment aspect. You can have an interesting story where two unlikeable people butt heads.
WWE shouldn’t go to the heel vs. heel well too often. But they also shouldn’t stop them from running a strong program when they have the chance. That’s what they’re doing here between Rollins and Reigns and despite their alignments, it has worked.
Seth Rollins will try to win the Universal title from Roman Reigns tonight at the Royal Rumble, airing at 8 PM ET on Peacock in the United States and WWE Network elsewhere. Keep it here to CagesideSeats.com for all your Royal Rumble coverage.
Who will win this match?
This poll is closed