Last night’s Money in the Bank event was, frankly, a night of disappointment: Sheamus won the briefcase despite being the only member of the match with no discernible storyline to play off of it, and in a completely baffling move, the New Day’s momentum was grinded to a halt as they dropped the Tag Team Championships to the Prime Time Players. Then there was the main event, a ladder match between technical champion Seth Rollins, and (at least in his mind) rightful champion Dean Ambrose where yet another dirty finish robbed Ambrose of the championship he’s worked so hard to get this close to.
But even though the outcome was less than desirable, it’s important to note what a masterful story WWE has crafted with the Dean Ambrose/Seth Rollins saga. There have been excellent feuds in recent memory, of course—Punk vs. Cena and Bryan vs. The Authority come to mind, but those were excellent for different reasons; true products of the Reality Era. Punk vs. Cena was interesting largely because of the “I can’t believe they’re talking about this on TV,” fourth-wall breaking, meta feel of it all, while Bryan vs. The Authority felt so right because it was a microcosm of what was actually happening between the fans and WWE brass—in a very real way, it felt like we the fans made a difference, and we willed our guy to the main event of WrestleMania XXX.
Ambrose/Rollins is different. This is a step back from the meta unreality of the current era of professional wrestling; a tribute to the good old fashioned blood feuds of yore. They aren’t blending real life with storyline into some sort of neo-kayfabe; Ambrose and Rollins, to my knowledge, harbor no actual ill will toward one another. But when these two guys step into the squared circle opposite one another, there is no doubt in my mind that they want to tear each other apart, thanks in no small part to the sheer amount of history they have shared together.
I can’t remember the last time a storyline felt so real and had so much energy behind it without resorting to actually incorporating real life politics into the story. Not since possibly Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H have we had anything this believable, this personal. To recap:
Ambrose and Rollins, along with Roman Reigns, burst into WWE together in late 2012 as The Shield, hired muscle brought in by Paul Heyman to aid CM Punk in his conquest to become the longest reigning WWE Champion of all time. Eventually The Shield do their own thing and run roughshod over the entire company. The faction quickly becomes one of the most notorious and intimidating in WWE history, taking out the likes of The Rock and The Undertaker with ease, and capturing the Tag Team and United States Championships.
It seemed like nothing could stop The Shield. They even took out the entirety of Evolution (sans Ric Flair) twice, further cementing their status as one of the best factions in history. But as these things often end, the only thing that could stop The Shield was itself: Seth Rollins committed the most egregious act of betrayal this side of Hunter turning on Shawn, figuratively stabbing his brothers in the back by literally smacking his brother in the back with a steel chair. Rollins sold the men he’d stood alongside for almost two years out to align with The Authority in an effort to fast-track his career.
It was one of the most heartbreaking, genuine-feeling turns in recent memory. Everyone loved The Shield, and Seth Rollins—billed as ‘The Architect’ of The Shield—destroyed his creation, sold out his own brethren for his own selfish gain. While Reigns turned his attention to ancillary members of The Authority, such as Randy Orton, Ambrose made it his life goal to thwart every single one of Rollins’ attempts to get his hands on the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. He vowed to stop Rollins from obtaining the Money in the Bank briefcase, and would have succeeded if Rollins hadn’t had the benefit of significant Authority interference. From there, it became Amrbose’s mission to prevent Rollins from cashing in that briefcase and becoming champion. Any time it seemed like Rollins could conceivably cash in, Ambrose was there.
Rollins had underestimated his former comrade’s fortitude and tenacity; everything Rollins tried to do to stop Ambrose failed. Sending The Authority after him? Ambrose persevered. Curb Stomp his skull through a pile of cinder blocks? That would have stopped most people, but not Ambrose. Not even a, well, hellacious Hell in a Cell match wherein Ambrose (along with Rollins) was knocked off the side of the cell through the announce table was enough to keep the Lunatic Fringe down.
Eventually Bray Wyatt took a sadistic interest in making Ambrose’s life a living hell. Wyatt (and later Harper)’s intervention was never fully explained, but surely Rollins didn’t care the reason, he was just happy to get a much needed respite from the Ambrose onslaught. The distraction eventually led to WrestleMania 31, where a vicious powerbomb through a ladder by Harper to Ambrose incapacitated him just long enough for Rollins to successfully cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase without a hitch in the grandest fashion possible, during the main event of WrestleMania—pinning his other former Shield brother Roman Reigns, no less, to finally capture the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Thus, Ambrose’s focus became not to prevent Rollins from becoming champ, but to take the one thing that matters most to him, the 30 pound strap of leather and gold that was more important to Rollins than the trust of his brethren. Ambrose has ambitions of his own, sure—he has expressed his desire to have his picture hanging in the hallowed halls of Titan Towers, but his unquenchable thirst for revenge weighs far more heavily on him. Ambrose thought he had accomplished his goal at Payback, but a technicality kept Rollins in power, leading Ambrose to snap and abscond with the title he, in his mind and the minds of his legion of fans, rightfully won.
Which leads us to thus far the culmination of all this bad blood, hatred, and thirst for revenge: to ensure a clear winner, the championship belt both men had at least some claim to was suspended high above the ring, and the only way to win was to climb the ladder and retrieve it. And this…led to another screwball finish where Rollins came out on top, despite Ambrose having legitimate claims otherwise. It was frustrating and it was a letdown, but it’s supposed to be. Rollins is the smarmy prick of a champion who wins via interference or sheer dumb luck and, while it’s said a lot in defense of unfavorable finishes to the point of being a cliche, Ambrose is more about the chase. The entire story is Ambrose’s hellbent quest for revenge on the piece of garbage who stabbed his brothers in the back. If he succeeds and they both move on, where’s the fun in that?
Regardless of the outcome, the match itself was a beautifully told story. Rollins threw absolutely everything he could think of Ambrose’s way, and Ambrose just kept coming back for more. Not a series of chair shots straight to the kneecaps, nor a powerbomb onto a mess of ladders and chairs, or even a brutal series of powerbombs into the barricades was enough to keep the Lunatic Fringe from finding the courage and fortitude to somehow, some way get back on his feet and prevent Rollins from claiming that World Heavyweight Championship. In the end they were both touching the belt as they both came crashing down to the floor, but like a fumble in football, the team who comes away with it at the end of the scuffle is awarded possession, and that’s just what happened here. Rollins happened to come away with it after the impact of falling to the canvas caused Ambrose to lose his grip, thus keeping Rollins champion on a sort of a technicality that keeps Ambrose from looking weak.
WWE has done a masterful job telling this story over the course of a year without it feeling padded out or dragging, so we should give them the benefit of the doubt here. The saga will likely be put on hold for the near future—a certain Beast Incarnate is rumored to be making his return to the scene soon enough to claim his championship rematch he never received after WrestleMania—but that’s okay. Every step along the way, every evolution of both Rollins and Ambrose’s characters add more fuel to this eternal blood feud.
It’s a story as old as time: betrayal at the hands of someone you thought you could trust the most; your own brother. It’s a tale of revenge, of backstabbing, of selling out and buying in. This is Dusty/Flair, this is Rock/Austin; a saga that could just define a generation.
If we let it.