Bigger than a billing: Seth Rollins set to steal SummerSlam show

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Seth Rollins is seen during an episode of WWE SmackDown. (Photo Credit: WWE)
Seth Rollins is seen during an episode of WWE SmackDown. (Photo Credit: WWE)

Less than a week before WWE’s second-biggest event of the year, SummerSlam, takes place, you can’t find Seth Rollins’s picture on any of the promotional material available online.

That’s OK because although Rollins, a four-time world champion with WWE, is once again outside the championship picture, it doesn’t mean he’s not going to potentially steal the show on Saturday at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“At some point it becomes less about championships and more about people paying to see Seth Rollins,” Rollins told Yahoo Sports. “We’re at a point now where my name is its own brand and what I bring to the table, people are excited to see, whether there is a championship involved or not. It is nice to have reached that point in my career where I can be that guy and I can help in any way, in any capacity to fill out an incredible card.”

Rollins is wrestling against Edge on Saturday night, a match that two years ago would have seemed impossible. Edge, who returned in January 2020, was forced to retire in 2011 due to a neck injury and underwent several procedures after his in-ring career seemingly ended.

Edge’s influence on the current generation of wrestling stars — Rollins included — cannot be overstated. After rising to prominence as a tag-team wrestler during WWE’s “Attitude Era,” Edge transformed into one of the most decorated singles wrestlers of all-time. His charisma outside the ring and fast-paced, risk-taking style inside of it helped change the way WWE fans absorb the product.

“Certainly there are some elements to this where you say ‘I can’t believe this is even a possibility,’” Rollins said. “Edge is someone who I would be remiss if I didn’t mention him as a person who influenced my career path, obviously, as he is for many of my generation. Truth be told, I would say it’s a dream match on both ends, to be honest with you. Edge is someone who thought his career was over — all of us thought it was over — and he gets to come back and work with someone of my caliber, in my prime, only makes it all the sweeter.”

Leveling up the competition

Rollins will provide a major physical test for Edge, as this will be just his second one-on-one match in front of a crowd since his return. After a strong showing at last month’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view against Roman Reigns, Edge will have to step it up even more as Rollins’s wrestling style is more fast-paced and demands a different type of physicality compared to Reigns.

“It’s a difficult task, what he’s doing,” Rollins said. “To come back after all of those years off, the game changes. Our industry, our sport, it evolves and I am the peak of that evolution. He’s stepping into the deep end, diving in. When [wrestlers] are in the ring with me, when they’re talking with me, we’re going to work at a five-star level all of the time.”

The build-up to this match has been as intense as the actual action is expected to be. Rollins and Edge first crossed paths seven years ago, as Rollins was breaking out in WWE as a singles star. Now, the two are trading weekly barbs ironically highlighting the similarities between their careers.

"Iron sharpens iron," Rollins said. "It’s been exciting just to see where I stand. It’s been a while since I have been challenged at this level when it comes to the mind games and the war of words. It’s nice to have someone who can help me be at my very best in that situation."

As strong as his promo work is, Rollins prides himself on his ability to consistently put on high-level matches, even if they aren’t billed as the main event. Rollins’s tag-team match against Dominik and Rey Mysterio at last year’s SummerSlam was arguably the best of the night, and his series of matches against Cesaro earlier this year overshadowed nearly all of the others on pay-per-views, including at WrestleMania

“It’s about bringing people up to your level,” Rollins said. “I’m going to push them as far as they can go and then it’s up to them to see how they handle that and what happens after that. When they’re in the ring with me, when they’re talking with me, we’re going to work at a five-star level.

“It is nice to take guys and make them better than they were before they were in the ring with me. I don’t take that responsibility lightly. I have had my own wrestling school for a long time now so I understand what it is like to help people get better on a daily basis and bring that part of my game to WWE.”

A wardrobe change and an evolution of a character

Part of being a high-level performer is also understanding how to build and re-invent your character. While we have seen several different iterations of Seth Rollins, the latest is by far the most colorful persona we have seen from the 35-year-old star.

After moving to SmackDown last year, Rollins’s character began donning eccentric suits and it became part of the evolution of his role.

“One of the things that you have to do in our industry is constantly evolve,” Rollins said. “You have to figure it out, look at the landscape to see what everyone is doing and sometimes that means going in a different direction or one you have never gone in before. When I looked at where we were as a show, as a company, as an industry, I just felt like there was a void of colorful suits I guess.”

Seth Rollins is seen during an episode of WWE SmackDown. (Photo Credit: WWE)
Seth Rollins is seen during an episode of WWE SmackDown. (Photo Credit: WWE)

Despite their popularity, Rollins admits the suits — which he owns, not rents — are beginning to take up too much room in his closet and will likely be auctioned off for charity. Rollins also revealed that the credit for the wardrobe change goes to his wife, fellow WWE star Becky Lynch.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my wife as the inspiration for it as a matter of fact,” Rollins said. “She was the one who pointed me in the right direction in terms of getting a stylist, seeing what direction it took us. It’s one of those things that took on a life of its own. I never expected it to become what it has but it’s been cool and fun to see people’s reactions to them, good or bad. It gives the audience one more thing to think or talk about.”

The missing piece of Rollins's resume

When Rollins steps through the curtain on Saturday night — in his ring gear, not an eye-popping suit — it will be the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began that he and the rest of the WWE roster will be performing in front of a stadium at full capacity.

WWE held WrestleMania 37 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, but it was limited to roughly 26,000 fans each night. Since returning to a traveling schedule, WWE has held its shows in arenas that fit far fewer than the 35-40,000 fans expected at Allegiant Stadium this weekend.

“We are in what I have been referring to as a honeymoon phase [with the fans],” Rollins said. “We’re all just happy to be back, everybody from the performers to the audience. I expected our audience to be pretty live and I hope that continues moving forward because we can’t take this stuff for granted anymore. We are all extremely lucky to have these shows now as it is. Who knows how long we are going to be able to have them, looking at what COVID is doing with the Delta variant.

“I’m excited to see a full stadium. WrestleMania was something, but that wasn’t at full capacity so it was a different animal. I was very happy we were able to get that one off the ground and these arenas have been incredible for the past month or so, but this one is going to be the first real big, extremely special one.”

Win or lose on Saturday, Rollins is likely on the short list of challengers for Reigns’s Universal Championship. With Reigns facing John Cena — who is only back with WWE on a part-time basis — there are few, if any, more intriguing matchups left on the SmackDown roster.

Once a part of the Shield trio, a Rollins-Reigns feud has the makings of a WrestleMania main event — coincidentally the one major hole on the Iowa native’s wrestling resume.

“I would be lying to you if I said the WrestleMania main event isn’t the one thing that I have really wanted,” Rollins said. “You look back at my career in WrestleManias, I have had some incredible moments, but I have never been the guy who has been on the marquee, slated to go on last. Roman is going to be the guy, for better or worse, he’s going to be the guy who will go on last at WrestleMania. It certainly provides an intriguing amount of possibilities. That’s where everyone who enters this industry wants to be, but we have a long time to get there.”

SummerSlam takes place this Saturday, August 21 and can be seen on the Peacock streaming app.

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