Would it be petty of me to acknowledge the fact that the Universal Championship itself is ugly as sin? Apparently Seth Rollins thinks so…
More important than a title’s appearance is what it represents for the men fighting over it. You really let me down tonight, Brooklyn.
— Seth Rollins (@WWERollins) August 22, 2016
Having a title design that is so distractingly bad that it invites the crowd to overshadow the match with their trolling most definitely presents an issue, but the problems plaguing his SummerSlam bout with Finn Bálor extend far beyond this. I’ll grant Seth the courtesy of viewing this Universal Championship match from the perspective of “what it represents for the men fighting over it,” but even that doesn’t guarantee a positive outlook.
The build of this feud going into SummerSlam was centered on Rollins’ belief that Finn Bálor was a second-rate version of himself, and a win for Rollins at SummerSlam would be the latest point in his favor.
Seth Rollins once screamed at Dean Ambrose “The WWE Championship is my life! You took my life away from me!” Where was that passion in this build? Where was the rage of sitting on the sidelines for months only for your redemption to be snatched away from you when you returned? The feud with Bálor should have been an extension of that story, not its own separate entity. The build for this match existed in a vacuum with no acknowledgment of the story that led Seth Rollins to where he currently stands.
As a result, Rollins’ personal desire for the Universal Championship was never effectively communicated. It seemed as if the Universal title represented nothing more than an anecdote he could use to continue to brag about how much better than Bálor he is, not a crowning moment of glory to prove that he was the best period.
Where Finn Bálor is concerned, WWE had a tall task ahead of them: introduce a new character on the main roster while simultaneously building him up to be a contender to a brand new world championship. To do this, they leaned heavily on Bálor’s ‘Demon’ persona – a move that proved to be a mistake.
One week after Bálor explained to the world who his alter ego was, the Demon King sucked all of the oxygen out of the room and snuffed out the potential for any other storyline narrative to be explored. With that type of investment in the character, the introduction of the Demon needed to be flawless – unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Not only did the gung-ho decision to debut the Demon on RAW rob SummerSlam of suspense and excitement (think of how differently the crowd would’ve reacted to the match if they were seeing the Demon for the first time), but it also exposed the emptiness of the persona. When it came to the Demon King’s physical altercation with Seth Rollins on RAW, there was no substantive difference to the physicality of the regular guy we saw two weeks prior. WWE showed no care in protecting the suspension of disbelief that would allow fans to buy into the mythological inspiration of the character. Instead, they perfectly played into the critics who deride the Demon King as “nothing more than Finn Bálor in make-up”.
SummerSlam’s penultimate match wasn’t simply Seth Rollins vs. Finn Bálor — this was Rollins vs. Bálor on one of the biggest shows of the year in the very first match in the Universal Championship’s history. Establishing a new world title should be an important and impactful endeavor; while I will give the two wrestlers credit for putting together solid in-ring action, I can’t help but feel that the overall production was inadequate.
Despite their best efforts, these two superstars couldn’t overcome the bad hand they were dealt by WWE before they ever stepped foot in the ring, and that’s not the crowd’s fault.