With two of WWE’s biggest stars going one on one during a PPV, this match was almost bound to be a classic. Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, however, surpassed expectations and put on a near-perfect tribute to the Shield, one of the most iconic trios in WWE history. Not only was the match a tribute to Roman and Seth’s past, but it also showed the contrasts between the current iterations of their characters.
The story was set up the night before the rumble on Smackdown Live, where a segment between Roman and Seth laid out the conflict and contrast between the two athletes. Rollins, one of the most cerebral competitors in wrestling, plays Reigns like a fiddle, something only he can do. Roman, on the defensive for the majority of their feud, tries to maintain his Tribal Chief persona; he’s no longer the “Big Dog” who considered Seth a brother. The Tribal Chief doesn’t have time for sentiment, he has a duty to carry on his family’s incredible legacy. It’s a responsibility and a burden to him, but one that he’s determined to carry nonetheless.
Roman laughs off all of Seth’s taunts about the times he’s defeated Roman before. The blow that finally lands, though, is when Seth brings up his betrayal of the Shield back in 2014. He tells Seth with a grave expression, “I’ve tried to forgive you. I really have. But I’ll never forgive you for what you did to us.” Through gritted teeth, Reigns tells Rollins, “I hate you.”
Seth cackles. “I know you do. Tomorrow you’re gonna hate me even more. You say I’m a clown? But guess what, you’re the joke! Your title reign’s a joke, your bloodline’s a joke, your family’s a joke, your daddy, your uncle, your cousins, it’s all a joke! And tomorrow night, it all goes up in smoke.”
This threat is enough to make Roman’s anger boil over. He tries to hit Seth with a Superman punch from behind, but Seth is well-prepared and ducks out of the way with a wicked smile on his face. This exchange effectively sets up their match; Seth pokes and prods under Roman’s skin, chipping away at the Tribal Chief facade, until Roman bursts.
“I still look good, baby!”
Roman Reigns vs Seth Rollins opens the 2022 Royal Rumble pay-per-view. Roman enters the ring first, something unusual for the champion to do. It’s fortunate that he did, though, since the audience is then able to see his reaction to Seth’s entrance.
Sierra. Hotel. India. Echo. Lima. Delta.
In a split second, you can see Roman go through every stage of grief. His face shows a look of angry resignation. Seth knows how deep he is inside Roman’s head; he cackles during his entire walk from the crowd to the ring. He’s clearly very pleased with himself and his plan. Even after the ref signals for the bell to ring, Seth laughs and says to Roman, “I still look good, baby!”
Throughout the match, Seth replicates his mannerisms and moves from the days of the Shield. He hits Roman with a trio of repeated suicide dives and even catches Roman with a Shield Bomb through the commentary table. It’s clear from his expression that The Visionary knows exactly what he’s doing
In my opinion, Seth’s mind games culminate when he counters a spear from Roman into a pedigree– Triple H’s signature move, the one that was lent to Seth during his time in the Authority. Roman, enraged to a point we haven’t seen in a while. He catches Seth with another spear– one that lands– pauses to recollect himself. Seth, meanwhile, is laughing and looking up at Roman as he clutches his midsection. “I’ll always love you!” he taunts as he offers up the signature Shield fist bump.
Seth accomplished his goal; Roman is so furious with him that the composure of the Tribal Chief is long-gone. Perhaps the only miscalculation on Seth’s end, though, is whether he’d be able to handle the monster that’s been hiding under the champion’s facade for the last 500 days.
“Come on, Big Dog!”
More than fed up with Seth’s mockery of him, the champion catches his challenger in a guillotine choke. This move is a fitting end to the match; it’s Roman’s most current finisher and a move that embodies the Tribal Chief’s current title reign.
Despite Seth’s hand touching the bottom rope, Roman refuses to break the hold. The ref begins to reprimand him, telling the champion, “Let go of it, that’s enough!” Roman shouts back that Seth deserves what he’s getting, and tells the ref, “he won’t allow me to let it go.”
The double entendre of that line alone makes this match so special in terms of its storytelling. “Let it go” applies to both the chokehold, but also the resentment that Roman has held against Seth since the summer of 2014. Roman’s refusal to let either go lead him to hold onto the guillotine past the ref’s five-count. The match ends with Seth winning through DQ, but since the title can’t change hands with a disqualification, Roman walks away with his title.
When Roman does eventually relinquish the hold, it’s only because he has another form of revenge in mind. He walks to the outside of the ring and returns with a steel chair in hand. While Seth’s back is turned, Roman delivers chair shots in the same configuration that Seth hit Roman and Moxley back in 2014. Also, Roman hits Seth as much as Seth hit Moxley across the back. When he’s done, he has this look of absolute relief and satisfaction across his face, as though he’d been waiting to do that for the last eight years.
Then the Visionary is subjected to another round of chair shots, this time not from Roman but the Tribal Chief. Roman smiles once he’s done with the same confidence that’s become expected from the Universal Champion. Through all these chair shots to Seth’s back, the Tribal Chief’s facade has been reconstructed, despite Seth’s best efforts to burn it down.
Never Forgiven nor Forgotten
All in all, this match was a rare moment of excellent storytelling from WWE. Is it a bit odd to claim that actually, Roman never forgave Seth this late in the game? Maybe, but given that Roman’s character for the last year has been based around smothering his own emotions in favor of carrying his family’s legacy, showing a crack in his facade through Seth made a lot of sense here.
His feud with Seth Rollins held some of the best storytelling of Roman’s title reign since his feud with his cousin, Jey Uso. While I’d love to be proven wrong, it’s hard to think of anyone else who can draw that much drama out of Roman’s title reign. Seth and the Usos are just too special to Roman for anyone else in the WWE to compare.
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