Posted in: Oliver's Twist Oliver's Twist: Seth Rollins vs Dean Ambrose - A History [Part 1]
Jun 18, 2014 - 10:30:00 AM
Hello, webfriends, and welcome back to Oliver’s Twist! It’s been a funny couple of weeks in the wrestling world, what with The Shield splitting up with a bang and then a whimper – if Monday night was truly WWE putting an end to the group on screen, it’s a surprisingly disappointing way to do it – tied to Ricochet winning the Best of the Super Juniors 2014 and EC3 becoming a Hardcore American Idol at Slammiversary, I’ve been surprised at almost every turn. Which is nice, I suppose – it’s good, sometimes, for wrestling to not be too predictable.
Anyway, that’s a completely different column – what I want to talk about today is an extension of the first point, Seth Rollins and his former buddy in The Shield Dean Ambrose. The rumours are rampant that these two are poised to face off one-on-one at an upcoming ‘Special Event’ – all signs currently point towards SummerSlam - and previously I’d read the reports and just nodded along, thinking it all made sense. It took a while for it to hit me just exactly what this meant – the two architects behind, in my opinion, five of the top 20 matches under the WWE umbrella in the past 5 years are going to meet. This is really, really exciting, and it surprises me even know that I didn’t immediately clue in to how good this could be.
The idea of doing this is to try and reason out just what shape that match or, indeed, series of matches, could take. The series of five matches these two had in FCW stands the test of time – I myself have watched them numerous times and believe they are that rare thing under the WWE banner where the story develops not just through one match but across the whole series. The first three of them, especially, show a clear progression from start to finish and it’s those we’ll tackle first. The other two come later and are possibly best viewed in isolation – while they call back to their fantastic first three matches, there are elements in them which clearly show a different side of each performer than what both men were trying to achieve initially, not least because different issues are at hand. But equally, they not only suggest what each man was capable of doing at this time, but also hint at story points which are only just developing on the main roster now – some of which, I’ll look to pick up on as we go through the match ups.
So, a bit of background – this was the first thing that Dean Ambrose did in FCW. From the moment he debuted, Ambrose would begin calling out Seth Rollins, laying down a challenge for the FCW 15 Championship and promising to ‘blow the doors off everything’. With that, the stage was set, and barely a month passed before the two were on opposite sides of the ring, competing for that very medal. Yes, the FCW 15 Championship was a medal. It was also competed for under ironman rules in 15 minute matches, which ends up being a key point of the overall story these two would proceed to weave throughout August and September of 2011. It’s a show of confidence from the newcomer that he would actively come after a man who had been champion for six months at this stage – a confidence that might have turned quickly into something else by the time the two would come to blows.
In their first meeting, they immediately set about marking the key storyline points of their feud – these are two equals competing, two men who, although they do not know each other especially well at this stage, have ability to spare and are willing to put it all on show. In this situation, the roles that they will come to play at Money in the Bank are reversed, with Seth Rollins the face and Dean Ambrose the heel – talking smack to his opponent and flailing like a madman. There are inches of columns to be written about just how WWE have managed to take a man who could become their premier heel in years to come and make him a face yet not changed a single thing he does. Another day, perhaps. It’s Rollins who actually starts out the more confident in ring performer, dominating the early hold and chop exchanges over his braggadocious opponent. Momentarily, his confidence will get the better of him, and he gets cut off attempting a suicide dive which allows Ambrose to take control but only for the shortest of periods. The truth is that if one man truly keeps the advantage it’s Rollins, and the match is largely dominated by him for the opening ten minutes. Sure, Ambrose rallies now and again, but these are brief moments – the overarching feeling is that Ambrose has bitten off more than he can chew by challenging the high flyer and has approached it all without truly valuing his rival. Rollins has a lot of signature offense at this point in time, with his high flying particularly being notable, but Ambrose only seems to truly have counters for his finishers. Is that where his scouting started and finished? Was that bravado he showed in his debut promo turning all to quickly into arrogance?
Because while he does connect with counters, cutting off a suicide dive or a top rope move, these feel more like subconscious actions than actively planned. His counters to moves such as Avada Kedavra, the superkick used by The Architect to put away his opponents, seem to have been worked on in advance of the match, however, and it’s notable that he doesn’t get hit by that at all throughout the first match. On the opposite side, Rollins seems to have come in with a much more set game plan – get his opponent rocking through quick, speedy moves, flying where possible. Interestingly, given this was nearly 18 months before they would make their main roster debut and 2 years before their roles would really fall into place as the Architect and the Lunatic Fringe, both men seem to be hinting at this direction here – Ambrose, the man more willing to wing it in the ring and hope for the best, while Rollins has a tactical game plan that he almost pulls off. When neither man can make it work for themselves, it all descends into anarchy – the final 30 seconds see each man wailing away at each other in the middle of the ring as time expires and the match ends deadlocked, neither man able to score a fall. As the match ends, Ambrose changes the story – no longer is he concerned with the 15 Championship, flinging it out to the control booth, and now he just wants to prove he is a better man and get further into the head of his opponent.
It seemed odd to me, at the time, that the script should seemingly be flipped at the first possible opportunity. However, as I now view the matches in retrospect I realise that the script was not quite flipped as much as it was edited during production. The story in fact still remains about the 15 Championship even after the events of that match, but it also becomes about respect as much as it does about the medal, with Ambrose going as far as to call the championship itself ‘garbage’ unless it is around his neck. Indeed, in explaining his actions, Ambrose points out that Rollins doesn’t deserve that title any more than he does based on the result of their previous match as he couldn’t beat him. Of course, that’s not how it works and Rollins’ champions advantage saw him keep the title for himself, but the seed that Rollins is not a deserving champion is now sown. That moments later Rollins would himself show disrespect on a level perhaps even more than Ambrose by blindsiding him mid-interview only serves to add to this plot development.
With this set out, a rematch was inevitable, and in this case the time limit is extended to 20 minutes in order to try and separate these two competitors. The ring announcements don’t even get finished this time, as Rollins rushes the ring and attacks Ambrose, beating him around ringside, into steel steps and chopping him to ribbons. This flurry, though, is soon cut off by Ambrose – the more deranged of the two is in his element when the match is no longer about wrestling but about maiming, and he soon prospers. What’s great about this is it’s an inversion of the first match – there, Rollins succeeded for the most part by out-manoeuvring his opponent on the mat, and then looking to take advantage with his speed. Here, Ambrose has gotten into his head and pulled him down to his level – suddenly it’s Rollins who is getting only brief moments on top, while Ambrose begins to dominate. His dirty deeds, if the pun can be excused, extend to clawing at the nose and face of his opponent to add leverage to a chinlock, or slamming his head into the lowest turnbuckle as he attempts to stand. Perhaps this was the original game plan of Ambrose - by getting in his head and bringing him down to his level, he knew the champion would be exposed.
Rollins does rally, eventually, and it’s at the halfway point of the match when he returns to what originally brought him success in their first meeting that he gains some traction – the pace quickens, Rollins brings some flash to his movements and Ambrose is rocked. To his credit, however, the lunatic fringe is attuned to this shift in momentum and immediately combats it, focussing his attack on the legs to take away the base of his nimble opponent. During an extended figure four, Ambrose even bridges onto the top of his head to add leverage to the move, pulling at the knees of the now wounded Rollins. Ambrose had clearly watched footage of the previous matchup between the two and worked out that, should he ever feel on the back foot, he had to have a secondary plan – and it’s one he executes perfectly to halt the progress of his opposite number. Even with Rollins being able to momentarily gain a foothold, Ambrose eventually counters what he has to throw at him and connect with the Midnight Special, but Rollins kicks out of the finisher before returning the favour with Avada Kedavra – the difference being that Rollins sends Ambrose to the outside as a result, making the ensuing near fall slightly more believable. As the battle continues, it eventually spills to the outside and onto the announce table, where the two go toe to toe for the final sixty seconds before both plummeting to the concrete floor from their elevated position.
Two men, equals again, this time over 20 minutes. If there is one nit to pick in this match up, it’s the ending – given all that came before it, it feels flat and poorly executed, with both men falling to the floor independently of the other. If they had ben clobbering each other and fallen off as a result it would likely have come across better on TV, but the manner of the fall is too becalmed, too simple, too…safe is the word, I guess. It doesn’t look impactful enough to really wipe both men out in the way they sell it. It’s a small but significant blemish on an otherwise excellent match, one that both relies on and expands the template of the first and would feed into that of the third. Perhaps most notable, however, is how both men are adapting to survive – you know by now the ‘adapt or perish’ line that Triple H routinely trotted out during the Evolution/Shield feud? Well, here are two members of the latter team already showing they have the ability to adapt. Ambrose switching tactics mid-match to halt the rush that Rollins was getting. Rollins biting the hands of his opponent to break an arm trap STF. Yes, they rely heavily on what got them on that dancefloor in the first place, but they are also flexing their own playbooks, looking to evolve into someone who can defeat the man on the opposite side of the ring.
Whether or not one man would actually triumph during their third match or not remained to be seen. And it’s where we’ll pick this up next time, with Ambrose and Rollins going at it over thirty minutes for the FCW 15 Championship. Until then, friends, stay safe when crossing the road and drink more hot chocolate! Auf Wiedersehen!