Seth Rollins’ Quest for Greatness

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With the Royal Rumble Pay-Per-View coming up this Sunday, which can be seen live around the world on the WWE Network starting at 7pm ET, I had the chance to chat with Seth Rollins to discuss his return to the ring, how his knee is holding up, if he’s putting extra pressure on himself because he missed the “Road to WrestleMania” last year, and the moment when he realized the members of The Shield were destined to become stars.

Me: It’s been eight months since you’ve returned from your serious knee injury. How would you describe the last eight months of your career?

Seth: Umm … Difficult. It’s been a struggle for me just to find my footing again. I was in such a good position when I got hurt. I was really comfortable where I was at. I thought I was just getting into my groove as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. The character and everything with J&J [Security] were going well.

The last eight months, after the surgery and the rehab and everything have been very tumultuous. Obviously we had the brand split, which has thrown everything up in the air. You got guys like Goldberg coming back. The Undertaker is making himself more prominent.

You’re fighting tooth and nail. You have a new title, the Universal Championship, which is still very young. There’s just so much in flux; so much up in the air all of the time. I feel like there’s more on my plate now and just trying to manage all of that is crazy. It’s been a difficult time.

As we sink in deeper to this Raw only type thing, I think my feet will start to find themselves. This is a big, BIG three-to-four months we’re coming into right now, so I have to find that footing. I gotta be strong.

Now that you’ve declared your intentions to face HHH, the crowd seems to be responding to you a bit better than it was during the final months of 2016. Do you feel like you’re starting to hit that stride again?

I certainly hope so. Like I said, as we’ve gone along I’ve gotten more comfortable with the situation. I think the crowd has to forgive me. Our audience remembers. It’s been a struggle to see if they’re going to put their support behind me or not. It’s a fun game to play, but I think over time I need to win people over again.

If you look at where I was before I got hurt, [I was] consistently putting in high level performances. Even in my role then, people were starting to get behind me, so I think it’s a matter of reminding people what I’m capable of, in a good way. Hopefully we’ll start to gather that momentum again and right now is as good of time as any.

How’s your body feeling?

Pretty good overall to be honest with you. That’s one of the nice things about the brand split that people don’t understand. We get an extra day off of work because we only have to do one television taping in a week.

To have one extra day at home, one extra day not on the road, one extra day not in the ring, I think that’s really helped to keep me healthy. I’ve been able to get more sleep and rest more, instead of having an extra 12-hour day of work, which can be very taxing on the body.

Has there been a moment in the ring that has given you a pause about your knee since you’ve come back?

Not at all actually. I had great surgeons and put in a lot of work with my guys who helped me through rehab in Birmingham, Orlando and Davenport. Everybody was fantastic.

The knee has been holding up really well in the gym and in the ring. It’s been 100 percent awesome.

Do you feel like because you missed the Road to WrestleMania last year due to your knee injury that you’re putting extra pressure on yourself this year?

Yeah definitely. I always put extra pressure on myself in big situations. Whether it be the main event of Raw or a huge match at a Pay-Per-View. It seems to be how I bring the best out of myself. I’m definitely doing it this year on purpose.

I don’t think it will backfire. I think it will help me push my limits and push myself to the next level in terms of what I’m capable of from a week-to-week standpoint going into Rumble and Mania.

Hopefully I’ll make this year one as unforgettable as I had two years ago.

Let’s circle back for a second on the crowd forgetting about the heel version of your character. When you came back from your injury it seemed like a perfect opportunity to have you return as a white hot babyface. Now obviously that didn’t happen and you ended up turning face a few months later. Would you want to go back and change any aspect of your return or are you fine with how everything has worked out?

You know … umm … obviously those decisions aren’t up to me. So even if I could go back, I couldn’t change a dang thing.

There are people who have been doing this for a lot longer than me, who are a lot smarter than me. They do things for a certain reason, so I’m not one to try and say that I know better than somebody else. That’s not how I operate. I’m always one to roll with the punches and at the end of the day this just presents another type of challenge for me and us as a company.

I like doing things organically. I like when things make sense. I don’t like having to force things. I don’t … I think it’s fine the way it is and I think we’re going to make the best out of it.

But again, it’s not my company. I don’t do that sort of thing. I’m just here to wrestle, have a good time and entertain the fans. So whatever is asked of me, that is what I will do.

Ever since you, Reigns, and Dean Ambrose debuted on the main roster, you’ve been featured at or towards the top of the card. Was there a moment, it could have happened in NXT, when you guys realized that you were destined for great things with the company?

Umm … you know Roman was a really late addition [to the Shield]. Ambrose and I were close in developmental just because we knew each other from the independents. We had similar backgrounds that drew us together. Roman was a separate entity.

Everyone kind of looked at Roman and pegged him as a future star. I mean obviously the wave of independent stars hadn’t really happened yet when Ambrose and I had gotten to developmental.

Someone like CM Punk, had made a name for himself and Daniel Bryan was doing well, but other than that a lot of other guys had not panned out. There wasn’t a whole lot of faith in the independent scene as far as building money drawing stars.

I knew I was different and I knew Ambrose was different when we started working together with each other in the ring when he arrived [in developmental]. It just felt like there was a confidence that we had and obviously like I said Roman had with just the way he carried himself. The company put a lot of faith in him from the very beginning.

[Roman] was always pegged as…just look at him, I mean he’s 6 feet 4 inches, 274 pounds, he’s going to be a star. A great looking guy. He’s got everything going for him in the world. Ambrose and I are two unlikely guys [to make it]. But we just knew.

We wanted to come in and make and impact. All three of us. We were really unhappy with the way we saw guys who had gotten called up and were floundering. They’d make an impact and then go settle back down. That really wasn’t what we were interested in. We wanted to come in, make a statement, change the business and show the entire company and the wrestling world that we’re not just going to settle for mediocrity.

We’re going to come in and push the envelope every single night to make sure more people like us get the opportunity that we didn’t get when it comes to WWE or developmental. We went out and just tried to outwork everybody every single night to put our stamp for ourselves and for our generation on the map.

Twitter: @ScottDargis

Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque opens up about WarGames and returning to the ring at Survivor Series

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This weekend is going to be a busy one for Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque.

On Saturday night he will be behind the scenes producing a match that hasn’t been seen in 19 years at NXT TakeOver: WarGames, which will stream live around the world on WWE Network at 8 p.m. ET.

And then on Sunday he’ll make his televised return at Survivor Series as a member of Team Raw in the five-on-five elimination match against Team SmackDown. (You can stream his return live around the world on the WWE Network starting at 7 p.m. ET.)

I had the chance to chat with HHH about how the return of WarGames came about, what makes the Undisputed Era special, and how long it took him to get comfortable in the ring again during his recent stretch of matches overseas.

Me: There have been rumors of a ‘WarGames’ match under the WWE umbrella for a long time now and after almost two decades we’re now just three days away from witnessing one. Walk me through the process of how we got here.

HHH: “For me ‘WarGames’ has always been a very viable concept. It wasn’t just a name, it was a branding of a match that was meaningful in WCW. It’s something I’ve always had interest in. I’ve always liked the concept as a fan.

As we move forward with NXT, it’s really started to become its own brand. We’ve had opportunities to do different things, whether that is ladder matches, or cage matches. But there was an opportunity that came along, given the weekend with Survivor Series and given the position [NXT] is in to brand something out and create something that NXT could own.

It seemed like the perfect time to bring it out, so I dusted it off. Throughout the years, I was aware of Vince’s feelings about it. There were some things about that match that he liked and there were some things about the concept that he didn’t necessarily think worked, especially in today’s world.

So I brought it back up to him and we walked through the process and I said here’s the way I think we can make this match work for us and he liked it, agreed with it, thought it worked great for NXT and was real happy to do it. So here we are.

When you do this, the goal is not to go backwards. My goal isn’t to make people go, ‘oh is this as good as it was back then?’ I want to put a slightly different spin on it, so that it begins again and takes a life of its own because it can’t be what it was.

I grew up watching it in the Dusty [Rhodes], [Ric] Flair, Four Horseman vs. the world sort of iteration of it and this cannot be that. It has to be today’s version of it. Hopefully it’ll be something that our fan base really enjoys.

I think the NXT fans are going to love it. I know the talent is very excited about it. When we announced the match and word began to spread on the Internet, a bunch of main roster talent came to me and said, ‘oh my God, you’re doing WarGames? Anyway I can do something in that?’

For me, it’s also a cool nod to Dream [‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes]. It’s cool that his vision is able to continue.”

How long did it take you nail down the format of this iteration of ‘WarGames’?

“In terms of creative or …”

More the structure. It’s one of the more complicated matches in the industry in terms of laying it out, so how did you get to a point where you felt comfortable with how the match will work?

“There is some complexity to it, even though there are some people saying, ‘But it’s three teams, it isn’t the same as it originally was.’ The thing is we don’t have the Four Horseman, with a manger, to make a five-man team. It convoluted the concept to me if you hogedpodge things together.

When the stories logically go to the next place and they just kind of connect together, that’s when they’re the best and I feel like that’s how this happened. Once we knew we were going to do it, it organically started to come together. You have Authors of Pain, you have Sanity, you have the Undisputed Era. There’s a three-way thing that is combustible and needs to be solved inside a double cage … what other way would you solve it? (Laughs)

So you organically get there and then there were some logistical ways to figure out the issues that were created by the concept. For example, someone could say, ‘well, why doesn’t the rest of the team just run out and try to get into the cage?’ Well they can’t because they’re in this other cage.

Hopefully this becomes a yearly event. Is this exact iteration of what we’ll see in the future? I don’t know. I hope so, but if there’s something in this that doesn’t work, then we’ll tweak it a little and try to perfect it.

Everything goes through its little changes in the beginning and then where it ends up you just kind of naturally end up and you forget about those little changes that happen over time. When you go back and look at them 10 years later you might go, ‘oh my God, I forgot that they started it that way.’

I’m really excited. I know the NXT locker room is really excited about doing this. There’s something really cool about being a part of something that’s historic, but making it new and making it the future. I think it’s a good opportunity. I think everyone is feeling the weight of that.

The TakeOver events are always kind of special for the NXT talent because they’re not often and they really encompass the storylines together, but this one seems to have more weight than normal, even for the people who aren’t in the ‘WarGames’ match itself.”

And that’s going to make them want to step up their game.

“Absolutely. Fan excitement combined with their excitement all leads to making magic. There’s been a lot of greatness surrounding this match in the past and they want to make sure that they not only live up to that, but also make it their own.”

What have been some of the production challenges that you’ve faced with the unique setup of a show with a ‘WarGames’ match on it due to the presence of the second ring?

“There’s a difficulty to everything because it doesn’t line up the same way. You set up your lighting rig, you set up your ring and it’s all based on centers and everything is structured a certain way and now you add in a second ring to that and you add in a cage that is going to hang and lower around two rings.

We had to build a whole new cage setup. We have to light differently. We had to arrange our ticketing differently. All of it is slightly different that require some logistic challenges.

The great thing about WWE and our team … I’ll go out on a limb here and say … that we have the best live event team anywhere. They see something like this as a challenge and they just go for it.”

The Undisputed Era has been the focal point of NXT since the ‘TakeOver: Brooklyn III’ show. What gave you the confidence in Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, and Kyle O’Reilly to ‘give them the ball and see where it goes?’

“I think they’re talented guys. You’re never 100 percent sure with anybody who walks in the door, but there are certain talent that you see come in who have an innate ability right away.

Are there things we have to work on with them? Absolutely, they’re learning every day.

The one thing I liked about those guys and why I was confident in ‘giving them the ball right off of the bat’ is because when we spoke and talked about things, they absorbed it. They’re sponges. They’re students of this. They want to learn.

They’re not walking in the door going, ‘I know, I know how to do this.’ They’re walking in the door going ‘Wow, I have this opportunity to work with Shawn Michaels at the Performance Center, or with Terry Taylor, or this person, or that person.’ They can learn TV production from all of these different people. They are wide open to it.

To me, that’s what makes you successful. It’s the guys that walk in going ‘ah, I got this’ that make it difficult. When you have someone who just wants to be a student, wants to learn and wants to, no matter how good they are, just take their ability to a whole other level.

In this business, you constantly have to be willing to morph, grow, and think differently because it’s the nature of the beast. There are guys who have that hunger and desire to constantly evolve and you can see it from the first time you speak to them.”

Shifting gears a bit; you’re back in the ring and have worked quite a bit over the last month. It made me think about the adjustment period athletes, who have been away from their sport for a while, deal with when the bright lights are shining on them again.

How was your adjustment period while working on the overseas tour? Did it hit you as you walked through the curtain after hearing the first few beats of your music, or was it after the bell rang and all of the eyes were on you again?

“When I went to Santiago, Chile to do the first show, I hadn’t stepped in the ring to do anything since WrestleMania. That’s a long time. You think that you remember how to do everything and in your mind, you’re the same as you were the last time you were there.

Just taking that first bump in ring is jarring. It’s like riding a bike, you don’t really forget how to do it and if anything in your mind you go, ‘oh yeah, I still remember how to do this’ and then you get back into your groove. That’s not to say there isn’t rust, but the positive thing for me as opposed to some of the years when I haven’t done this for six, eight, 10 months and is that my first match back wasn’t at WrestleMania in front of the biggest audience that we’re going to have. That’s a whole different world of pressure.

I’m not saying Santiago, Chile isn’t important, but it wasn’t a televised event. There’s a lot less pressure, so you can relax a bit and be yourself a little bit more. If the opportunity arises you can twerk, you can do whatever.”

Or you can work with The Shield and give the fans a once in a lifetime experience.

“Yeah … and I can tell you the one thing that has happened to me this time is that I’m having a different level of fun.

Sometimes when you’re in the throes of getting ready for WrestleMania, it’s fun, but it’s so much pressure. You’ve got the world leaning on you and you’re leaning on yourself. You’re putting the pressure of, ‘man, I hope I can still do this.’

People forget at the end of the day that we’re just people. We’re human beings. No matter what persona you put on, when you go to that ring, you have doubts and fears just like everyone else. Anyone who says they don’t have those things is lying to themselves.

When you can go do it in this environment, it makes you go like, ‘yeah man, this is the coolest gig in the world.’ Yeah, you get beat up and it sucks to knock the rust off, but it’s a lot of fun.”

The five-on-five Raw vs. SmackDown match at Survivor Series has a throwback feel in the sense that there are a lot of fantasy matchups that can be teased. 

What does it feel like knowing you’re going to step in the ring again with Shane McMahon, Kurt Angle and John Cena, and alao have the opportunity to work with Bobby Roode and Shinsuke Nakamura for the first time?

“There’s this crazy part of me that goes through the past few years and thinks about stepping into the ring with Roman Reigns at WrestleMania, someone who came through the [development] system when I was beginning to take it over. And then I think about Seth [Rollins] and now doing this at Survivor Series.

I haven’t been in the ring with Kurt Angle in a long time. Same goes for Shane and even Cena.

I think about the phone conversations with [Finn] Balor about coming in. It’s a crazy thing to think about and it’s something I’m very excited about. You go back to the whole having fun part of the job and this is just cool.

Whenever I’m looking at talent, even when I’m developing NXT guys, I can’t help but look at it from a performer’s point of view. I did an interview a few years ago when Nakamura was first coming in and they asked me if there were guys I would like to wrestle and I was like yeah, I’d like to wrestle him. Am I planning to do it? No, but it would be awesome if I could just fantasy book it in my head. Now I’m going to be able to actually get in the ring with him.

I’m going to get to step into the ring with Bobby [Roode], which I think for a lot of fans there could be some cool moments there, but I think there are also some cool moments for us.

I have a bond with any of the guys and girls who came through our system and to be able to step into what we actually do with them is like a whole other level of cool.”

So, I would say one of the more anticipated matches in a long time is taking place this Sunday when AJ Styles and Brock Lesnar square off. 

The build for the match has taken me back to the root of my fandom as I feel like a little kid again who is excited to see these two meet for the first time. I was wondering if there was a match, and it could be this one, that gets you excited to just sit back and watch it as a fan and not as the vice president of WWE.

“Sometimes people ask me about when we’re booking and writing NXT and in a lot of ways I just book stuff that I want to see [as a fan]. 

Like I go, ‘man that match really intrigues me, how am I going to get there and how am I going to make it even more interesting. Like how cool would that be. Ooh those two will really go at it and stylistically they’ll tear it up.’ This is one of those matches to me.

Brock Lesnar is a once in a lifetime athlete and it’s hard to not say the same about AJ Styles in some ways. With AJ, you go back five years ago and some people never thought he would even be here.

When you ask me about going back to being a fan, I think about a lot of this card that way. I’m excited to watch Cesaro and Sheamus vs. The Usos. I know it’s not the first time ever, but man they always awe me with something new and different.

You go back to the WarGames show, I’m looking forward to Drew McIntyre vs. Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas for the NXT championship. I can’t wait to see that match! I know the level both guys are going to take it to.

I look at the Kairi Sane vs. Peyton Royce vs. Ember Moon vs. Nikki Cross four-way match for the NXT women’s title and even though I’m writing it, as a fan I’m like ‘I can’t call that one.’

In some ways you get into that fantasy booking thing in your head and you just put it on paper and try to make it the best you can make it. To me, it all comes from being a fan.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

WWE Will Celebrate Raw’s 25th Anniversary on January 22nd

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Monday Night Raw is turning 25 next year and on January 22nd, WWE is going to have one hell (yeah!) of a celebration.

Raw will air live on the USA Network from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and also from the Manhattan Center, the venue where Raw debuted way back on January 11th, 1993.

Superstars from Raw and SmackDown will appear at both sites, with Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash and other WWE legends scheduled to appear at the Manhattan Center. It should be noted here that the Undertaker and HBK appeared on the very first episode of Raw.

“We look forward to celebrating this unmatched milestone with our fans around the world, but 25 years only marks the beginning of WWE surprising, delighting and entertaining generations to come,” said WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon.

Raw is the longest-running, weekly episodic program in U.S. primetime TV history.

Tickets for both venues will go on sale starting this Friday through all Ticketmaster outlets.