Seth Rollins and Dolph Ziggler received an elusive main-event spot at WWE Extreme Rules with the Intercontinental Championship on the line. And after a lackluster four-hour pay-per-view, the restless PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa. was more interested in the 30-minute clock than just about anything that happened in the ring.
Rollins and Ziggler, who retained his Intercontinental Championship, tried their best but were felled by a crowd that clearly reached its limit and was in no mood to sit around for another half an hour. Though they were helpless until the final minutes of the match, Ziggler and Rollins have each come a long way toward re-establishing themselves as top WWE Superstars in 2018.
At WrestleMania 34, an event which marks the culmination of an entire year on WWE’s calendar, Seth Rollins was in an unassuming role in the opening match for the Intercontinental Championship. Meanwhile, Dolph Ziggler was even more obscurely tucked away in the vaunted Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
Cut from the same cloth, as hyper-athletic workhorses who are unspectacular on the mic at best, it was difficult to imagine a WWE that had room for both rising simultaneously. Common knowledge dictated that Ziggler would settle into an elder statesmen role while Rollins would have to shake off the stigma of the perennial midcarder to once again break through to the main event, where he was once a heel world champion for 220 days.
But after a spectacular performance in that WrestleMania 34 opening match that rivaled the likes of Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart, and the string of Money in the Bank matches that opened WWE’s biggest showcase, Rollins has been able to build on a runaway train of momentum as arguably the top pure babyface in the entire promotion based on fan reaction.
Ziggler, who came out of nowhere to shock the world after answering Rollins’ Intercontinental Championship open challenge, has become an unexpected beneficiary of Rollins’ 2018 resurgence.
Both WWE Superstars have shaken off any hint of obscurity. Rollins overcame injury and an ill-fated Shield comeback tour, while Ziggler has somehow found his ninth life as a formidable WWE Superstar after a baffling heel run in 2017.
The Ziggler-Rollins rivalry was borne out of thin air and quickly developed into a captivating, wrestling-driven feud that was further enhanced by the rising star of Drew McIntyre.
The news isn’t all good, however. In addition to an overall weak main event at Extreme Rules, Raw’s main event this past Monday—which featured a first-time matchup between McIntyre and Rollins built around a bestiality joke—played to just 2.320 million viewers in the final hour of a Raw that logged its lowest viewership total in history.
Still, these alarmingly low figures likely had more to do with stiff competition from cable news networks covering President Trump’s heavily anticipated SCOTUS announcement, which ceded the biggest numbers to ABC and built a healthy lead-in audience for Raw competitor The Bachelorette.
With limited draws outside of larger-than-life stars like John Cena and (eventually) Ronda Rousey, the jury is still out on whether or not a star like Rollins—whose bread and butter of high-caliber athletic wrestling has only a niche appeal—will transcend beyond hardcore wrestling audiences. This question will have to be examined more seriously when SmackDown Live moves to Fox and television ratings become heavily scrutinized.
When it comes to being a permanent star in WWE—or combat sports in general—rivalries are pivotal. Floyd Mayweather had Manny Pacquiao and Conor McGregor. Jon Jones had Daniel Cormier and, well, Jon Jones. Anderson Silva had Chael Sonnen. John Cena had Edge, Randy Orton and The Rock just to name a few.
Still, Rollins is on the right track to passing the gate, yet again, toward the main event. But coming out on the losing end of his most recent rivalry with Dolph Ziggler—in a match compromised by the crowd—will not help his cause.