“I want to be a champion that inspires people to push this industry forward, not someone who holds it up just because I can,” Seth Rollins said.
WrestleMania 35 marks the first time in eight years that the event will not be main-evented by a part-time talent.
Two of the past four ’Manias have been headlined by part-timer extraordinaire Brock Lesnar. Comfortably positioned as WWE’s Universal Champion, Lesnar is the definition of a part-time star: his appearances are, at best, sporadic, and his last match on flagship show Raw occurred in 2002.
Lesnar’s opponent this Sunday at WrestleMania 35, Seth Rollins, is the antithesis of everything Lesnar embodies. Rollins works Raw every week and never misses a town for a live event. He works hard, works hurt, and is consistently one of the company’s best in-ring performers.
“This match at WrestleMania solidifies the work I’ve put in has meant something,” said Rollins. “I got into this business because I was inspired by champions who were out there giving it their all every single night. Shawn Michaels inspired so many performers to get into this industry and push it to the next generation. That’s the kind of champion I want to be, and that’s the kind of champion we need for the future of our industry.”
Lesnar’s presence in WWE in unique. He had a transcendent run from 2002 to 2004, then made an everlasting name for himself with a dominating run atop the UFC’s heavyweight division.
But Rollins stated he does not respect Lesnar’s approach to pro wrestling—and questioned whether Lesnar’s status as WWE’s top box office draw is overstated.
“Brock Lesnar is self-serving and selfish,” said Rollins. “He takes this [part-time] schedule because he can, but he’s it’s not like he’s more talented or more valuable than myself, Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, Randy Orton, and John Cena. He chooses to take this schedule because he doesn’t care. He only cares about himself.”
Lesnar, both on and off camera, inspires fear. Rollins stands for the entirely opposite side of the WWE dichotomy, as his work represents a passion to follow a dream.
“I want to be a champion that inspires people to push this industry forward, not someone who holds it up just because I can,” said the 32-year-old Rollins. “That’s the difference between me and him. Going into this match, it means a lot to me to be the guy who takes that back.”
Rollins’ most iconic work in WWE is as a member, along with Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose, of The Shield. He is now the final member of that trio to wrestle Lesnar in a singles match at WrestleMania.
“I’ve been there for all of Roman’s matches, and I remember how it went at WrestleMania 32 for Ambrose,” said Rollins. “We’ve had some conversations, and we’ve got a good game plan for the match with Lesnar and how I want it to go.”
Another facet of facing Lesnar is the added challenge of having to compete on the microphone against Paul Heyman, who is undisputed in his position as the best in the world on the mic.
“Getting on the mic against Paul Heyman is the same as going into the ring with Brock,” said Rollins. “You need to bring your A-game and push yourself to the next level. I know his history and his reputation, but this is my time and I don’t want anyone to show me up. It’s a hell of a challenge.”
As for the topic of performers who are the best in the world, Rollins believes that title is subjective—but he remains resolute that there is no better in-ring performer on a consistent level than himself.
“Best in the world?” asked Rollins. “Who knows what that means. But there are only a handful of guys who understand what we do, and doing at my level—as often as often I do—there is probably nobody else. That’s my opinion.
“I’ve gone out and had great matches the past couple years that people have taken it for granted, to the point where a great match on Monday night doesn’t even get a sneeze because I do it so regularly. I just don’t think there’s anybody else out there that has as many incredible matches, with different opponents and different styles, as I do. I don’t think anybody’s resume can speak as loud as mine can, so I have no problem calling myself the best performer in the entire world.”
The last time Rollins was in a similar position at ’Mania was four years ago at WrestleMania 31, where he lost to Randy Orton early in the card before cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase (in a match featuring Lesnar and Reigns) to win the WWE Championship. But there is a noticeable difference in mentality when asking Rollins to compare WrestleMania 31 to WrestleMania 35.
“Preparing for Randy Orton in a non-title match, and then preparing for Brock Lesnar in a Universal title match four years later, it’s a totally different vibe,” said Rollins. “I’m looking forward to the challenge of getting in there and feeling the weight on my shoulders of how big this match is and how huge this moment is.
“It’s a big night for me, but for the future of the business, I don’t know if there’s a match any bigger than this one. The preparation is more intense, and I’m more prepared than I’ve ever been.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.