The Quality of a Champion’s Reign is Reflected in the Strength of their Competition

By Erik Beaston | On Twitter @ErikBeaston

Unfortunately for Seth Rollins, The Beastslayer’s run as WWE Universal Champion has been adversely affected by the lack of quality contenders up and down the Raw card. So weak is the depth on the show that management has thrown out the rules of its own brand extension and introduced a wildcard rule designed to bring more starpower to both the flagship and Tuesday’s SmackDown Live.

Rollins is not the only star to have his title reigns hampered by the company’s inability to properly book strong heels to challenge him. Pull up the WWE Network, hop in the DeLorean and travel back to 1994-95, where a Bret “Hitman” Hart at the height of his in-ring greatness was met with a similar problem.

Lack of Depth

WWE was even worse off a quarter-century ago than it is today, if you can imagine that.

Whereas today’s roster lacks genuine stars, it at least boasts one of the most talented rosters in WWE history. Everyone from Baron Corbin to Heath Slater way down the card is capable of going to the ring on any given night and delivering a show-stealing performance that ignites crowd interesting.

The same could not be said for Hart’s era.

Tom Bennett made Bret look strong.

I.R.S., Tatanka and “The Supreme Fighting Machine” Kama were not going to break the mold, exceed expectations and wow audiences with some sort of unforeseen performance. They were who we thought they were: middling in-ring performers Hart and the other babyface competitors would struggle to get much out of at that point in their careers.

coliseum home video

Hence Owen Hart’s heel turn and feud with The Hitman. He could be trusted, was a superb wrestler and an even better character, something he does not get nearly enough credit for. Like those aforementioned stars, he did not have the main event credibility. Nor did the returning Jim Neidhart. Or a Bob Backlund inexplicably pushed 20 years after his prime. Or country music star extraordinaire, Jeff Jarrett.

He made the absolute most of his run, having the best match on any show against competition that did not reflect his status as champion, though. It was against them that he laid the groundwork for his Hall of Fame induction and established himself as the face of the New Generation in WWE.

Rollins is now forced to do the same.

Bobby Lashley, Samoa Joe, Cesaro, Drew McIntyre and Baron Corbin are all immensely talented but like Jarrett, Backlund, Neidhart and The Rocket, are not exactly what anyone would call top competition in comparison to other eras of challengers.

Like Hart, there is nothing Rollins can do about it but continue to deliver when called upon and further establish himself a workhorse in this “Reality Era” of WWE programming.

Overshadowed By The Chosen Ones

Over the course of Hart’s five championship runs, he was routinely overshadowed and minimalized by Superstars Vince McMahon saw as more valuable. There was Lex Luger, then Diesel, then Shawn Michaels…all three earning the boss’ eye more than the resilient, hard-working champion who had fought through many obstacles to achieve greatness.

No matter how great his in-ring output or how loyal he was to the company, Hart was shuffled up and down the card, sometimes insultingly programmed with wrestling pirates and dentists in an attempt to get them over.

Though he has not had to deal with doctors or buccaneers, Rollins has found himself in a similar situation.

One of the best in-ring performers of his generation, he has routinely been overshadowed during his main event runs. Whether it was the rise of Roman Reigns, the emphasis on Brock Lesnar or the latest chapter in the latest Superman comic that was John Cena’s career, Rollins has been the little engine that could…not capture the spotlight from those deemed more worthy than him.

It is apparent every week on Raw.

Even when he main events a show, it is with the caveat that Lesnar may pop up and cash in Money in the Bank, not because The Beastslayer is the featured player in McMahon’s weekly morality play. Reigns and Shane McMahon’s current rivalry, Becky Lynch’s quest for female superiority and Kofi Kingston’s storybook ending are all stories receiving more heat and effort behind them than anything the current universal champion is doing.

Luckily, none of the professional frustration has affected their performances between the ropes.

Continued Excellence

At any point, Hart could have allowed the frustration and disappointment to adversely affect his performance. He didn’t. Instead, the determination to prove he was both better and the fans’ choice fueled him to be even better than he was. He continued to deliver those five-star performances with even more vigor and determination. In the end, he amassed a resume of all-time-great matches that cemented his status as one of the best to ever lace a pair of boots.

To his benefit. Rollins has the opportunity to write his own narrative. Without the type of attention or spotlight devoted to him that other world champions have enjoyed in the past, he can continue to put in the work, worry about what he can control and continue to deliver the type of action fans expect out of him. Whether he closes out the show or opens it up, he can bring a workrate to WWE programming that earns him the respect and adulation of fans that ensures immortality. 

After all, Hart may never be the household name Hulk Hogan or “Stone Cold” Steve Austin were but he has a connection with audiences that will ensure his name is on the lips of wrestling fans for an eternity. He was the best and the audience will always respect that.

It is that type of reputation that will endure far beyond the paychecks for gimmicky catchphrases and one Rollins should strive for.

By Erik Beaston | Follow on Twitter @ErikBeaston

Erik is a feature WWE writer for Bleacher Report. You can read more of his work here.

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