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At Roadblock, Rollins wrestled Chris Jericho in a good, quality wrestling match. Jericho has worked his tail off to turn himself into the best heel in the company, but even with a master like Jericho in the ring with him, the crowd did not seem to react that well to Rollins. The Pittsburgh audience was dead for most of show, but for a good wrestling match featuring one of the biggest babyfaces beating one of the biggest heels, the pop was underwhelming.
The problem with Rollins is that WWE has awkwardly booked his babyface run. When he returned to WWE it seemed like he would be a natural face. Even though when he left he was a heel, he was a popular wrestler who made an impressive recovery from a devastating injury; much like Triple H did a decade ago. When he returned at Extreme Rules he got a huge babyface pop, but WWE decided to leave him heel by having him come out on RAW the following night and mock the fans who cheered for him the previous night. This robbed WWE of having a hot new top babyface, something any wrestling company should be craving.
Perhaps what was even worse was that Rollins was not a heel for all that long, WWE turned him babyface a few months later when Triple H and The Authority turned on him and made him good guy after all. But the turn was incredibly sloppy since Rollins main reasoning for becoming a babyface was that the villains who had helped him win a bunch of matches no longer wanted to help him. You don't get a babyface over by having them constantly whine about how the bad guys are no longer cheating for them, and that is basically what Rollins has done. Instead of having a great hero that made a courageous comeback from a major injury, they have a guy who mainly complains about how mad he is that the heels are mean to him.
If that was not bad enough, WWE robbed Rollins of the one thing that could have really salvaged his awkward face turn. After Triple H turned on Rollins, Rollins at least had a good heel to start his babyface run against. Surely fans would tune in the next week on RAW to see how Triple H would explain what he did and hopefully see Rollins get a measure of revenge. But that did not happen; in fact Triple H hasn't been seen since, leaving Rollins to essentially work an angle all by himself.
WWE plans on eventually doing Triple H vs Seth Rollins, but that is a match that now seems destined for WrestleMania. It can be rationalized that this is a big feud so it makes sense to have it at WrestleMania, but the reality is that sitting around and waiting for Triple H to show up again is not helping him get over as a babyface. Why didn't they just do it right when Triple H turned on Rollins? Nobody really knows, but Dave Meltzer and other pundits tend to believe that Triple H did not want to be working a major angle on RAW during football season, when ratings are sure to be down and that he is likely to return when Monday Night Football ends, which is now a certainty. It is also true that WWE needs to have a big match for Triple H at WrestleMania, and if it isn't going to be with Rollins, who would it be? In the aftermath of Triple H turning on him, Rollins really needed to feud with Triple H, but now as more and more time has elapsed since that day the feud loses momentum. WWE often expects its fans to have incredibly short memories, so it is strange to see them play the long game here. It is really hard to believe that a Triple H vs Seth Rollins match in April is going to be hotter than a potential feud that would have taken place in the fallout of the original betrayal.
That brings us to the real root of the problem with Rollins and that is that WWE uses him as a tool to support stars they deem more important, rather than promote Rollins himself as a top superstar. The reason he did not turn babyface when he first returned was because WWE was committed to having Roman Reigns be the top babyface on RAW--so they needed Rollins to be a heel so he would give someone for Reigns to feud with; even if the entire time the fans were cheering for Rollins and booing Reigns. Then in the Summer WWE decided to go with a new plan to move Reigns down to the mid-card in hopes that he would gain more popularity there, so WWE brought in Finn Balor and planned on him being the new top face, but when he was injured that job fell to Rollins.
When WWE abandoned the idea of having Reigns be in the mid-card he easily leap-frogged Rollins back into the top babyface spot. Now Rollins is more in a supporting role, working with Reigns as WWE consistently teases Shield reunions as WWE believes that reminding everyone that Reigns was in The Shield is the new best way to get him over. The last couple times they have done this the crowd has actually booed Rollins a little bit, taking some of the heat that Reigns has with a large portion of the audience and forcing it onto Rollins.
Rollins is an incredible talent; a tremendous athlete with incredible coordination in the ring, he is easily one of the best workers in all of wrestling. A good actor, he has shown the ability to cut solid promos in the past when he isn't delivering cornball lines spoonfed to him by Vince McMahon. When he came back from his injury fans clearly wanted to cheer for him but since then he has lost a lot of that appeal thanks to WWE's inability to properly showcase him like a star. Maybe when he finally finishes feuding with Triple H he will be able to move on, but a guy who last year looked like the ace of the company has run into a very sizable wall.
I only have seen the final three matches from New Japan Pro Wrestling's WrestleKingdom 11 so I will only be reviewing those three matches.
Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega: *****
It is strange to think that we are only in the first week of 2017 and it seems like the Match of the Year award is already locked up. This was not only a five star match, it is on the shortlist of greatest matches I have ever seen. Dave Meltzer, who is typically very measured with his praise and is not prone to overreaction, called it the greatest match he has ever seen and awarded it a six star rating, the only match in history that can make that claim. Fans in the arena where in tears at the end of the match and the talk on the subways leaving the Tokyo Dome was that everyone had just witnessed the greatest match in wrestling history. Wrestlers from all over the world took to Twitter and echoed those statements, saying it was the best match any of them had ever seen.
What made it so good? Well for starters you have two terrific performers in Okada and Omega. Okada has long been one of the best big-match performers in the industry and Omega has always been a great talent, but his star began to skyrocket last year, particularly during the G1 Climax in August. There was also the story involved in the match, mainly centered on Omega who did a lot of press leading up the match expounding his intense love for the artform of professional wrestling. He was obsessed with winning the "Match of the Year" award from the newsmagazine Tokyo Sports and now it seems impossible for him not to win it in 2017.Omega's passion for the industry, combined with his charisma and athleticism turned him into the most intriguing figure in wrestling, and if he were to somehow defeat the face of NJPW at the Tokyo Dome, he would have fully asserted himself as the biggest star in wrestling, maybe not exposure wise but surely based on star power; even now nobody exudes the energy of a top star more than Omega.
The match was also structured brilliantly, which took a pair of good athletes and a good story and turned it into an epic battle. The two things that separate this match from almost any other major match is first that for a 46 minute match there were only a few highspots. The highspots they did have were memorable (Omega's moonsault over the barricade, Okada's backdrop through the table, the top-rope dragon suplex, etc.) but they didn't have many of them. Many promotions (WWE, ROH, PWG) often times will just feel like they are going from one high spot to another--if a guy crashes through a table five times in one match it doesn't feel that important. By limiting the big spots they are given more impact and feel like real gamechangers in the match as opposed to just something that happened as they built till the finish.
Another aspect of the match that was different from most major matches was that there was not a ridiculous number of finishers kicked out of. A big part of the match was that despite his efforts Omega never hit his finisher, the One-Winged Angel and only kicked out of Okada's Rainmaker once. Almost every other match is so formulaic that at least two, but often times as many as four or five, finishers are kicked out of. The brilliance in this match was that they had a marathon singles match, without any real stipulations, and had a bunch of dramatic moments, but only one of the tired tropes that most wrestling fans expect as a reality of every major match.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Tetsuya Naito: ****¼
Katsuyori Shibata vs Hirooki Goto: ****¼