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Q&A: Seth Rollins on Facing Cesaro as Fans Return to ‘WrestleMania’

Seth Rollins has one of the greatest WrestleMania moments of all time in his highlight reel, cashing in during the WrestleMania 31 main event to win the WWE championship. This Sunday, he looks to create another enduring moment as he wrestles Cesaro on the opening night of WrestleMania 37.

Rollins (34-year-old Colby Lopez) is one of the most decorated performers in WWE. He has had reigns with the WWE championship and the universal championship, including runs as NXT, Intercontinental, United States and tag team champion. Following Survivor Series in November, he took a break from performing while his partner, Becky Lynch, gave birth to their first child, a daughter.

Since returning at the Royal Rumble in January, the focal point for Rollins has been a program with Cesaro. Although the two performers share a number of similarities, especially in their commitment to the craft, Rollins has flourished atop the card for WWE, making the most of opportunities that the 40-year-old Claudio Castagnoli has yet to receive as Cesaro. Their match at WrestleMania 37 will be pivotal for Cesaro’s future, especially considering the potential for a big reaction from the live crowd at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Before WrestleMania, Rollins spoke with Sports Illustrated, discussing his upcoming match with Cesaro, the chance to work in front of a live crowd again and fatherhood.

Sports Illustrated: You have a rich history at WrestleMania, beginning with a six-person tag seven years ago at WrestleMania XXX with The Shield against Kane and The New Age Outlaws. Your career trajectory moved in a different direction following WrestleMania 31, where you wrestled a fantastic match with Randy Orton, one that had a very memorable curb stomp-into-RKO finish. Then you cashed in later that night during the Brock Lesnar–Roman Reigns match, delivering another high-profile moment. When it comes to performing at WrestleMania, especially earlier in your career, did you consciously hold yourself to a different standard?

Seth Rollins: I think so. It may not even be something that I did consciously. WrestleMania is a marquee event and I’ve always been a fan. I remember the excitement of renting old VHS tapes from our video store, finally watching WrestleMania VI or WrestleMania IV. This has meant a lot to me for a long time.

I always want to give my best performance and never hold back, no matter where I am on the card. In terms of WrestleMania 31 I didn’t know how the rest of the night was going to play out, but I was thrilled to have that moment with Randy.

SI: You have the chance to add to your WrestleMania portfolio this year in a match against Cesaro. The two of you have been in very different spots on the card, and you have received—and capitalized upon—opportunities he has yet to receive, but this is his chance for a breakout moment, especially in front of a live crowd. Another compelling element to this match is that you are both very similar in your pursuit of the craft. What excites you most about this match?

SR: In some ways, we’re very much cut from the same cloth. We come from the same place about why we do this; we share a lot of the same values. We’ve known each other for almost 20 years, and his work ethic has brought him here.

Obviously, I’ve had some opportunities he hasn’t had so this match is an interesting opportunity. Looking back at his past WrestleManias, they haven’t always been his favorite. This is his first singles match at WrestleMania. I know it means a lot to him. Having this match is something he’s proud of and going to make the most of. I am really looking forward to creating something special.

SI: Though you have had a shot at closing the show at WrestleMania, your history is really one of making the most of every opportunity given, whether it was in the opening match—which you did in very different matches at WrestleMania 34 and 35—or in the middle of the card.

SR: I always take it to the next level when it comes to WrestleMania. And here’s the thing: I’m not Roman Reigns. He is going to be on the top of the card. That’s not necessarily my thing. I want to have the best performance of the night. That’s my thing. You mentioned some of the past WrestleMania matches I’ve had and they didn’t always come at the end of the show. No matter where I’m at on the card, I’m looking to steal the show. I’ve dedicated my life to this. I don’t care about being the top of the card; I care about being the best.

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SI: You have developed a throwback heel character. Now that you will finally be performing in front of fans again at WrestleMania, do you want to be booed? Will it surprise you if you hear some cheers? Or, at this point, are you grateful just to have an in-person crowd?

SR: This is the first time we’re having live fans in over a year. I have no idea what to expect. That’s going to add a lot of excitement. Are we going to get a traditional WrestleMania card? Will it be totally different in terms of reactions to what we’ve been putting on TV? Will it be an audience that’s just so excited to be there? That’s all crossed my mind, but I don’t know what it will be like. But all of us, we’re really excited for the energy the crowd is going to bring.

SI: I know you are constantly critiquing your own work. This is a dangerous game to play, but after so much success with The Shield, do you compare yourself to Roman Reigns and Jon Moxley?

SR: I think it’s impossible not to compare yourself with your coworkers. Whether that be those guys, or anyone else doing really well, like Sasha Banks or Asuka or Bobbly Lashley or Drew McIntyre—you’re always wondering, “What can I do to stay ahead of that group? What do I need to do to stay in the mix?” That can be dangerous. Comparisons can really defeat you if you dwell on it too much, but it can also be powerful if it allows you to keep a chip on your shoulder.

I’ve been doing this for 17 years and I’m constantly putting a chip on my shoulder. Sometimes comparing yourself to the other top talent, that’s where you can get your chip. Like you said, it’s a very interesting line to walk.

SI: You and Becky Lynch just welcomed a daughter. What’s been a joy so far about parenthood?

SR: It’s so hard to narrow it down to just one thing. I honestly just love being a dad. I never had ambitions of being a parent. I’d always been so selfish, dedicating all my time and energy to wrestling. And now it’s No. 2. She is a perfect little baby. I’m enjoying it so much.

SI: And it helps considerably when you have the right partner beside you.

SR: It’s just a party; we’re loving it. We’re figuring it all out together.

SI: WrestleMania marks such a pivotal point for story lines in WWE, but this year feels different. The entire industry is based upon reacting to the crowd and over the past year, that was removed entirely. After a long year, one that in WWE felt disjointed, especially early on during the Performance Center shows while performers were readjusting to the craft without a crowd, what excites you most about WrestleMania?

SR: It’s that human-to-human interaction. Having that connection, looking out into the crowd and seeing the reaction of a little kid—I was that little kid not that long ago. We’re going to get that feeling, that connection, that inspiration through live performance. Like you said, that’s the crux of what our industry has always been. We did change and we had to adapt. That’s what you always do in this industry, change and adapt on the fly. We showed our moxie with that over the entire last year, and we’re all really looking forward to getting back in front of a crowd.

Feeling that connection, it’s going to change the way the matches look and feel. It’s also going to change the way we feel about performing them. At least for one night, I’m looking forward to getting that back.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.