No conversation about the future of professional wrestling is complete without mentioning the name Seth Rollins.
Once among the hottest free agents in independent wrestling, Rollins joined World Wrestling Entertainment’s developmental system in 2010 and quickly climbed the ladder at the company’s “minor league” territory, NXT Wrestling, to become the branch’s inaugural champion.
In November 2012, Rollins made his WWE main roster debut alongside a pair of equally brash young superstars named Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose. Collectively known as “The Shield,” the trio of fearless competitors – clad in black SWAT team gear – laid waste to the organization’s top stars, captured the U.S. (Ambrose) and tag team (Rollins and Reigns) title belts, dictated the outcomes of championship bouts and competed on sports entertainment’s grandest stage, “WrestleMania.”
But as the WWE Universe began to turn its attention towards Reigns and Ambrose, Rollins was quietly hatching his own plan for wrestling domination. In June, the 28-year-old grappler turned on his Shield brothers with several sickening smashes of a steel chair, and aligned himself with “The Authority” – a villainous faction led by principal WWE owner Stephanie McMahon, her husband and WWE COO Triple H and former WWE champions Randy Orton and Kane.
Later that month, Rollins was victorious in a “Money in the Bank” ladder match, which gave him ownership of a briefcase containing a contract for a WWE World Heavyweight Championship match anywhere at any time. There’s just one thing standing in his way: Dean Ambrose.
Not one to let sleeping dogs lie, the unstable Ambrose is hell bent on spoiling Rollins’ attempts to cash in his contract and win WWE’s biggest prize. And this Sunday, August 17, at WWE “SummerSlam” – one of the WWE’s biggest pay-per-view events of the year – Ambrose and Rollins aim to settle their beef once and for all in a Lumberjack Match.
I recently caught up with “Mr. Money in the Bank” himself, Seth Rollins, to talk about his rise to fame, the night he turned on The Shield, what he’s learned from The Authority and when he plans on cashing in his briefcase.
David Onda: I used to watch you and Daniel Bryan wrestle in Philadelphia at the old ECW arena before you both joined WWE. Do you and Daniel ever have moments backstage where you see each other and say, “Wow, can you believe this?”
Seth Rollins: It’s just cool to be where we’re at together – myself and Daniel and Cesaro and Sami Zayn down in NXT. It’s just cool to be a part of this company knowing where we came from. Things move by so quickly up here, sometimes it’s hard to stop and smell the roses, but there are specific moments in time when you are able to look at things and reflect and be proud of where you came from. “WrestleMania 30” was a great night for Daniel Bryan, and I was real proud to be a part of that and be there with him when he came back through the curtain and share a little bit in that moment with him.
Onda: Take me back to the night you turned on Reigns and Ambrose. As you were standing in the ring, waiting to blindside them with a chair attack, were there nerves thinking about how things would change going forward?
Rollins: Yeah, it was certainly a nerve-wracking experience, just because change is always difficult, no matter what the scenario is. Watching the replays of it over the past couple of months – and the internet memes, as well – it’s a surreal type of moment where you’ve got one chance to capitalize on everything you’ve worked for for two years. If it doesn’t go as well as you had envisioned it, you don’t get another shot, so you’ve got knock it out of the park. Swing for the fences, if you will. Pun intended.
Onda: You’re no stranger to being the bad guy, to being disliked by wrestling fans. In a way, was this getting back into your comfort zone?
Rollins: I don’t know if that was really ever a thought. It was mostly just a way to separate myself from the other two, separate myself from the pack and really try to stand out and be the guy that everyone is gonna be talking about. That was the goal the whole time, and I think we accomplished that goal. Whether or not I’m more comfortable in this role is yet to be determined, but like you said, I’m definitely no stranger to this position, so we’ll see how it all comes together.
Onda: The ring gear, at least, must be more comfortable.
Rollins: Yeah, it’s a little bit more traditional. You get used to being in the SWAT gear. A year or two in, you just start to get comfortable with something, and then to switch it up is a little weird; but I definitely like my current Space Age suit right now a lot better.
Onda: Based on the win-loss record of past “Money in the Bank” briefcase holders, you are likely to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Do you ever think, “Oh my god, I’m going to be WWE Champion” or do you not let those thoughts creep in?
Rollins: I don’t know if I think “Oh my god, I’m going to be WWE Champion” – I think there was a moment after I grabbed that briefcase, the night that I did it, where I sat by myself and reflected upon exactly what it meant to win that. I don’t say, “Oh, my god.” I say, “Damn right, I’m about to be WWE World Heavyweight Champion someday.” Having that to look forward to is pretty awesome.
Onda: Do you have to take your “Money in the Bank” briefcase on flights as carry-on luggage?
Rollins: Yes. Yes I do. It certainly gets a couple stray looks from the housewives and grandparents. It keeps people paying attention to you when you’re in the airport.
Onda: Do you ever pack anything in it besides, of course, the title match contract?
Rollins: I might pack a few things extra in there. I suppose if I’m gonna use it as carry-on luggage, I might as well get the most out of it, right?
Onda: At last year’s “SummerSlam” event, you were at ringside to support Dean Ambrose. This year, he is your opponent. Can you give fans some insight into what kind of person Ambrose is?
Rollins: Dean Ambrose is a strange case. He’s definitely a guy that marches to the beat of his own drum. He does that in the ring and outside of the ring. I traveled with him for two years – he’s very aloof, he’s prone to getting lost or being forgetful. But when it comes to what we do in the ring, he is some sort of savant, because he’s ultra-talented in the ring. A talent like that doesn’t come along very often, someone who can really captivate a crowd with their voice and their movement, and he’s pretty incredible. I’m looking forward to getting in the ring with him. I don’t really know how to combat his chaotic style, but I think we’ll figure something out.
Onda: The WWE Universe is craving a brutal, knock-down drag-out between you and Ambrose, and some fans are pessimistic that a Lumberjack Match – in which the ring will be surrounded by other WWE superstars – will satisfy that craving. What would you say to those people?
Rollins: I would tell them to order “SummerSlam.” Get their eyes on it, because if they’re expecting anything less than a knock-down drag-out bar fight, then they’re completely mistaken. We’ve been at each other for months over this, and the premise of the Lumberjack Match is to keep the two opponents in the ring together. A lot of people might be worried about what the involvement of the lumberjacks might be, but essentially it’s gonna keep us in the same 20-by-20, 400-square-foot space, and that’s something we haven’t see yet from me and Ambrose. And I can guarantee you it won’t be the least bit disappointing.
Onda: As a member of The Authority, you are in a position that puts you in the company of WWE’s greatest minds and veterans. What do you learn from them on a weekly basis?
Rollins: You learn how to be successful and how to stay successful. Stephanie is a McMahon. She knows all of the ruthless and cunning things that must be done to stay at the very top. And she’s a woman. And to be a woman at the top is not always the easiest thing, and some may say it’s more difficult than to be a man on top. She’s been able to excel in that role. Triple H – “The Game,” the “Cerebral Assassin” – that’s a nickname [announcer] Jim Ross gave to him based on the way he operates in the ring, but I think it has as much to do with the way he operates outside of the ring and how he conducts himself. Learning those things – how to carry yourself, how to be the top guy, the man in our industry – those are the things I’ve picked up from Triple H and Randy Orton. Those are the guys who have been to the mountain top and know what it’s like to hold that spot. That’s where I wanna be, and there’s no better person or people to learn from.
Onda: Speaking of learning from the top dogs in this business, I hear you are also passing along your skills and knowledge to a new generation as well.
Rollins: I just started a wrestling academy. It’s Black and Brave Wrestling. I figure, as those guys are imparting advanced knowledge unto myself, I would return the favor and pass it down and impart some knowledge on some beginners as well. It’s a cool project that I think will benefit the entire industry and hopefully put a spark on independent wrestling here in the Midwest. And I can use any of my own knowledge that I’ve gained over my 10-plus years in wrestling to help out some younger guys who would like to someday walk in my shoes the way I wanna walk in the shoes of Triple H and Randy Orton. Hopefully it’s a good thing for everyone.
Onda: You were the first NXT Champion. Do you ever get a chance to meet with those developmental talents and pass along words of wisdom?
Rollins: Yeah, sure enough. I have a lot of friends there now. I’m close with guys like [Adrian] Neville and Zayn, who are real close to being the next call-ups, I think. I’m real close with CJ Parker, who I think is a really underrated talent there. There’s a lot of young guys there – and girls, for that matter – that are super-talented and they just need an opportunity. They’re down there working hard every single day.
Onda: Speaking of the ladies – at “SummerSlam,” Stephanie McMahon will face Brie Bella in her first match in 11 years. Is she nervous about dusting off a decade’s worth of ring rust?
Rollins: I feel like her husband might have her prepared. If you watched “Raw,” she delivered two pretty awesome Pedigrees [Triple H’s finishing maneuver] to the Bella Twins. I think she knows what she’s doing. She’s a McMahon. I remember when Vince [McMahon] first got in the ring. Everybody wondered what he was gonna be capable of, and he did alright for himself. I think Steph will be just fine. She’s in the best shape of her life, actually. She’s more dedicated to working out and just being physically fit, and I think that might play to her hand.
Onda: And Stephanie’s Pedigree was an old-school Triple H pedigree. She kept those arms hooked all the way to the mat.
Rollins: Oh, yeah. She crushed both of their faces. I was actually quite surprised. When she hooked it, I was like, “Oh, let’s see how this goes.” And it looked pretty brutal. Surprisingly brutal.
Onda: “SummerSlam” will also feature the culmination of a feud between your new ally, Randy Orton, and your old ally, Roman Reigns. What is your prediction for that match?
Rollins: I gotta go with Randy. Roman’s got all the potential in the world – that’s clearly why I recruited him to be a member of The Shield. That’s why I positioned him to be the cleanup hitter of what we were doing. I do think he has a long way to go though, and I think Randy Orton – who is a multiple-time World Champion – will be able to capitalize on some of Roman’s weaknesses, one of which is his experience level. I’m looking for Randy to take that one home.
Onda: Finally, The Authority is putting all their chips on Brock Lesnar to take the WWE World Heavyweight Championship from John Cena in their main event match at “SummerSlam.” Does Cena stand any chance against Lesnar?
Rollins: I mean, does anybody really stand a chance against Lesnar? His last match was five months ago, he just came off the biggest win of his career – in UFC or WWE – when he ended the streak of The Undertaker, which I personally thought was never gonna end. His next shot is at the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. I don’t see any way Cena walks out of there with the title. It’s unfathomable to me.
Onda: It takes a special kind of match to get the other superstars in back to gather around the monitors and watch. Is Cena vs. Lesnar one of those matches?
Rollins: I think Ambrose vs. Rollins is one of those matches.
Onda: If Cena wins this match, it’s going to come at a heavy physical price. How closely will Seth Rollins, with briefcase in hand, be watching the final moments of the main event?
Rollins: In an ideal world, I walk out of “SummerSlam” with that championship. That’s not guaranteeing anything, that’s not making any promises. It’s just a possibility, because it really could go either way. We’ll see what my condition is after this war with Ambrose. We’ll see what the champion’s condition is after the Cena-Lesnar match. That’s the unpredictability of the “Money in the Bank” briefcase. It could be cashed in at any time, and I think that’s the fun of it.
Onda: Are you crazy enough to cash in on Brock Lesnar?
Rollins: I don’t think Brock’s gonna come out of that match looking too pretty either. I didn’t say, “Let’s see the condition of Cena.” I said, “Let’s see the condition of the champion.” Whoever the champion is at “SummerSlam” after that main event, they better watch out, because if the time is right and it feels good… you never know.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.