This Monday’s Raw will feature Seth Rollins, Buddy Murphy and The AOP in an eight-man tag against Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe and the Viking Raiders.
Rollins turned heel this past November for the first time since 2016, and the change in character led to a phenomenal moment where he turned on Owens and aligned himself with Akam and Rezar of The AOP. Buddy Murphy was the next to join the group, and he has partnered with Rollins to win the Raw tag titles. This is the sixth tag title reign for Rollins, but it marks the first for Murphy, who is one of WWE’s most underrated stars.
Sports Illustrated spoke with Rollins about his decision to change the direction of his character, why he chose to work with Murphy and The AOP, the direction of WWE, and what is in store for this Monday’s Raw.
Justin Barrasso: The “Monday Night Messiah” character is a change for you after working as a crowd favorite for the past three years. What has been the highlight for you so far in terms of showing off a different part of your personality?
Seth Rollins: I suppose it’s two-fold. The first is the ability to be able to have an open forum on the microphone and tell the truth about some of the ways I feel when it comes to my relationship with the highly vocal portion of our audience. The other part of it for me is being able to bring along Buddy and The AOP, and watch them blossom into bigger stars.
They’ve always had a ton of potential but have been sitting on the sidelines for various reasons over the past year, and now they’re being thrust to the forefront. That is a position I’m familiar with from when I started back with The Shield. It’s a lot responsibility, so I know what it takes to be successful in that role and I’ve been able to impress upon them some of the things that I learned during my time way back seven years ago when I first broke into the WWE and was making huge waves.
Barrasso: To expand on the talents of Buddy Murphy and The AOP, how much of a role did you have in choosing to work with them? I know Finn Balor had mentioned as recently as October that they would be a perfect fit in a faction, but what made AOP and Murphy the right partners for you?
Rollins: The opportunity was presented to me to go in this direction, and the AOP are guys who I’ve watched from afar for a while down in NXT. I was really impressed by some of the tag title matches they had down there, but they came up to Raw and were vastly underutilized right out of the gate and an injury to Rezar that took them out for a period of time.
It just seemed like the right fit at the right time. Obviously there is a ton of potential there. Potential is great, but if you don’t take an opportunity to allow it to shine, then it’s just going to sit there wasted. In our business, sometimes politics can get in the way of talent and potential. It was time to help some of the younger guys move up and get opportunities they deserve.
Buddy is really self-explanatory. He called himself ‘The Best Kept Secret in WWE’ for a long time, and that’s fairly accurate. He’s a guy who was flying under the radar having really great matches on 205 and then on SmackDown, and he’s someone I always thought was very close to being one of the most well-rounded guys we have. He’s in great shape, takes great care of himself and he wants to perfect his craft. He’s a student of the game, and in our era, there aren’t a whole lot of guys like that anymore.
In this new generation, this new crop of guys, a lot of people are entitled and think they’ve kind of got it all together and don’t need help. Buddy is not that guy. He's always asking for help, he’s always watching the show trying to figure things out, watching the matches, and trying to make himself better every day. You put guys like that with myself, with all the experience in the world, then hopefully we’ve got a recipe for success. I would say it’s gone very well so far.
Barrasso: Your character is very different than Daniel Bryan portraying “The Planet’s Champion” throughout 2019, but there are similarities in that both characters present as villains yet offer a healthy amount of truth. It is a detailed piece of storytelling when the good guys aren’t always good and the bad guys aren’t always evil. You make a lot of valid points as “The Monday Night Messiah,” and it’s been interesting to hear the crowd’s response to your passion-filled promos.
A key element of your success in pro wrestling is the pure, genuine emotion embedded in your work. Were you nervous before your heel turn, as you were sitting in the back waiting to turn on Kevin Owens?
Rollins: It’s moments like that I always get nervous for. This one in particular is funny because it was done backstage and not in front of a live audience, so you don’t get the full scope of the reaction. In our social media world we’re living in now, it’s nice that you can get online and get instant feedback on stuff like that, but a lot of moments I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of over the last few years have been in the ring in front of a live crowd, which stokes your adrenaline. This one was interesting because it was done backstage, but watching it back, I thought it was executed pretty well.
I thought the buildup and the lead up to it made a lot of sense. Even though the person sitting in that van may have been kind of predictable, I still felt it was a shock for people to see me in that role again. Whether they were ready for it or not, it was still a jarring visual. I loved it, I thought it was very well executed, and set the ball in motion for what the future of WWE is going to look like, especially in 2020.
I still get really excited for moments like that. I’ve been a fan of this industry my whole life, and this industry is built on moments. All I’ve ever wanted to do was make people feel by telling stories in pro wrestling. When you have big ones like that, that’s the fun of it and why I grew up wanting to do.
Barrasso: This marks the first eight-man tag for you, Murphy and The AOP against Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe and the Viking Raiders. Your opponents are each special talents, and all made themselves into commodities before they ever signed with WWE. What excites you most about your opponents this upcoming Raw?
Rollins: I can’t say enough about my opponents for the match this upcoming Monday. You just spelled it out right there, but these are guys who are well accomplished, well-traveled, extremely talented, and they’re all hosses. They’re all big boys. I’m looking at this as a coming-out party for our group. Those guys are established and everyone knows what they’ve done and what they’re capable of. For us, the writing is on the wall. This is our first time together, so we need to look at it like this—if we don’t come through in the clutch, then people could lose faith in us.
We can’t have that, so I’m expecting a game-changing, career-altering performance from my guys. This is a huge opportunity for them to step up and step to the level of the Viking Raiders, Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens and myself. I expect nothing less from them. I wouldn’t have recruited them. I wouldn’t have put them in this position if I didn’t think they were capable of doing just that.
We’ve talked all the talk, and we’ll talk some more, but it’s really time to walk the walk this Monday. You’ll see the group in full force—‘The Monday Night Messiah’ and the guardians behind me will be ready, and I’m looking forward to seeing my guys step up.
Barrasso: You’re one of the faces of WWE. When you look around at the industry as a whole, you see all kinds of creativity, including Jon Moxley’s cutting-edge work in AEW that was as close as we may ever see to a deathmatch from a major promotion. You are constantly challenging yourself. I know a deathmatch will not happen to close out a pay per view in WWE, but do you want to explore and take different chances as a performer and see that happen throughout the company in 2020?
Rollins: I’m always interested in trying new things. To me, the matches are the matches. It’s not really what you do, it’s how you do it. I preach that when it comes to my wrestling school and when it comes to the guys I’m trying to help out on our roster. I think when the opportunities come along, you obviously want to try to capitalize on them.
Look, we’re doing this so often. There is so much content that WWE churns out from a pay per view perspective, from a live television perspective. There is so much we do, so everyone is always trying to come up with the next big thing or the next new idea to change the industry. That doesn’t happen overnight.
My model has always been consistency. When you go out there and you’re passionate about what you do, that shines through and people will eventually appreciate that.
As for taking chances in 2020, we already started by taking a chance in 2019 with the ‘Monday Night Messiah’ character. You look at someone like Drew McIntyre winning the Royal Rumble, you look at how things are setting up on SmackDown with The Fiend, you look at where the women are at, taking a chance with Rhea Ripley and Charlotte and weaving in NXT, so I think the company is taking more chances in different ways. I’m looking forward to seeing what these people who were given new opportunities can do to step up and take the business into the next decade.
I’m always down for more chances and more character turns, but if you’ve got passion and you go out there and execute, that’s what it’s all about for me.
Barrasso: There is already an abundance of wrestling-related content available at people’s fingertips, so why should wrestling fans go out of their way to make sure they watch your eight-man tag on Raw this Monday?
Rollins: They’re always clamoring for something new, right? The wrestling world, they want new, new, new, fresh, fresh, fresh. You’re getting it right here with AOP and Buddy Murphy in a major spotlighted role. You’re getting them in primetime Monday night in a huge main-event match. This is the future of the business right in front of your very eyes, and you should tune in Monday night to get a glimpse of that future.
These guys are hungry. There are a lot of hosses here, and it’s going to be all-out. We’ve been building this up since November. If you love professional wrestling, you’re going to get a hell of an eight-man tag team match.