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Long Term Booking – Revisiting the Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins Feud Leading to WWE WrestleMania 36

Long Term Booking has arguably become one of the hardest things for pro wrestling to do properly in modern times. These days, the casual audience has a much smaller attention span and often want to see the result of a storyline play out quicker rather than waiting to see what happens. With the shift towards social media, short six-minute videos like the ones WWE post on Youtube gain a lot of attention from people, regularly chalking up views. Audiences would rather get to the finish sooner rather than later. However, when done right, long term booking still holds a place in pro wrestling as long as it’s done well. Case in point, Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens.

The Owens/Rollins feud was initially teased just before Survivor Series 2019 and in the middle of the three-way brand rivalry between NXT, Smackdown and RAW. Owens would be a surprise fourth partner in the WarGames match featuring Team Ciampa against The Undisputed Era the night before Survivor Series. Rollins would question Owens’ alliance to Team RAW during Survivor Series, no dissension took place during the event, but RAW would only manage to win one measly match during the event. The next night, almost playing on the Dave Meltzer report of Rollins giving a “rah rah” speech (Seth denied making a speech), Rollins would berate the entire roster for embarrassing RAW, leading to a mass walkout and eventual Stunner from the last man remaining…Kevin Owens.

Rollins’ crowd reactions at the time had taken a slight hit due to the internet wrestling fans (IWC) and many fans losing interest in him due to the poorly booked Hell in a Cell match against The Fiend. However, Rollins was still very over with the majority of fans, making his apparent move to a heel turn still somewhat of a shock.

It was great for WWE to play up some consequences of the Survivor Series event, as often the brand that loses will simply forget about what happened on Monday/Friday and it will be business as usual. This was different however, and the event would be the catalyst for the beginning of the longest-running feud leading up to Wrestlemania.

Owens and Rollins would wrestle in the main event of RAW that night, before in a shocking turn of events, the AOP, who had been resigned to vignettes in the past couple of weeks, would appear and get into a brawl with Owens. Rollins would gesture for a fight but the AOP would leave, with Rollins then stomping Owens. The storyline continued to play up the idea that Rollins had nothing to do with the AOP attacking Owens, with Owens refusing to team with Rollins against the AOP out of fear Seth would turn on him, with Owens being booked as a rare smart babyface. It would all lead to Rollins attacking Owens backstage with the help of the AOP, after weeks of speculation.

The important thing to note here, is that Rollins in kayfabe wasn’t aligned with the AOP from the start, but joined later on when in his eyes, the WWE Universe turned on him. And he has a point. Seth’s promo on the fans after turning heel is an amazing thing to watch, as he brings up real and legitimate points about how fickle the modern fan has become. Rollins did everything that the fans wanted, yet was still passed over by the “new model” in The Fiend.

What will become apparent about what was so good about this storyline, was the different players who would rotate in and out of the storyline. Rollins and the AOP would continue to terrorize Owens and Rey Mysterio amongst others before attacking Samoa Joe, who was working on commentary while recovering from an injury on December 23rd.

Mysterio would later rotate out of the storyline, and the Big Show was inserted as a mystery partner for Joe and Owens to take on Rollins new stable. This would lead to WWE’s first ever “Fist Fight” match between the six men on the January 13th edition of RAW. Early on in the night, after a long feud with Aleister Black, featuring many great matches but also many losses, Buddy Murphy was sitting at ringside, still in shock over his inability to beat Black. After watching the Fist Fight from the floor next to the barricade, Murphy would get involved after Rollins pleaded with him to help, leading to a victory for Rollins team and a new member in Buddy Murphy.

Again, this plays to some of the significant changes the Heyman era has brought to RAW. Something like the Murphy/Black feud should lead to something for both guys, even when one is a decisive winner and loser. Murphy could’ve faded into oblivion, but instead was given something to do that boosts him in the process. It’s important to state in this feud how over Kevin Owens had become in the process.

Owens had just come off a long feud with Shane McMahon prior to being drafted to RAW, but this storyline in which he tried to take on the stronger stable gathered much more fan support than many could’ve imagined. It shows the strength of long-term feuds, as a simple short feud with Rollins leading up to the next PPV after Survivor Series, TLC, might’ve been good to watch, but instead the fans get something much better and can clamor around KO.

The rivalry would run up to the Royal Rumble, but more players would become involved after Rollins and Murphy would beat The Viking Raiders for the RAW tag titles on a RAW in the lead up to the Rumble.

During the Rumble itself, with many of Rollins’ enemies in the ring, Rollins would enter at #30 surrounded by his team, leading to a brawl with Owens, Joe, Black, McIntyre and Edge. Rollins would eliminate Owens and Joe before being thrown over the top rope by McIntyre after everyone in the match teamed up to take him out.

The feud would continue, with various 8-man and 6-man tag team variations taking place. Samoa Joe would suffer a concussion and also violate the Wellness Policy, leading him to be removed from the feud. Rezar would also suffer a long-term injury, forcing the AOP out of the stable. Rollins and Murphy would lose their titles to the Street Profits, who would become involved in the feud. All these happenings would shorten the amount of people in the feud to who it started with, Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins.

It’s tough to judge the true benefits the feud had on both men in regards to crowd reaction due to the current pandemic, but this feud likely would’ve been one of the hottest matches on the show.

Rollins would play up the fact that Owens had never had a Wrestlemania moment, which likely would’ve resulted in a huge pop when Owens beat Rollins at Mania. Instead, we had to deal with an empty arena match, which was extremely well done considering all the circumstances, as the match felt more personal being able to hear the trash talk from both men.

At Wrestlemania, Owens would win via DQ after Rollins hit him with a microphone, before the match was restarted and Owens would finally vanquish Seth Rollins. The match featured a very memorable spot with Owens diving off the WrestleMania set to put Rollins through the announce table.

A feud that goes all the way back to Survivor Series, ran all the way to Wrestlemania and the fans got the match that was teased from the beginning. It shows a feud can be done with featuring the main players wrestle each other back and forth in singles matches in the lead up, as there were only two singles matches between Rollins and Owens, the first night of the feud and the last.

 

Whether WWE planned at the beginning of the feud for it to run all the way up to Wrestlemania is anyone’s guess. But what resulted was a happy accident of a long-term feud with a conclusive pay off that pleases everyone. Owens became more over as a result and Rollins became one of the best characters on RAW with his “Monday Night Messiah” gimmick. It showed how a feud can involve multiple people and all can come out of it looking better than they did going in.