The rivalry between Seth Rollins and AJ Styles is a surprisingly short one, but a great one nonetheless. May 28, 2023 – they rekindle that flame once more.
At Night of Champions, the two have an opportunity to get the world talking as best they can. But this time, so much is at stake. Both men have a purpose and reason to fight for the prize that awaits them: The WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Of course, their rivalry runs deep and far, despite only meeting a few times, especially when it comes to singles competition.
When first their paths crossed, it was for NWA No Limits Wrestling in the Spring of 2006 – both men were young. Only Styles was the more experienced of the two, and the current Seth Rollins was breaking into the scene as Tyler Black. On that Midwest Indiana night, the two men went close to twenty minutes of offence, strikes, and acrobatics standard with the burgeoning independent style of the time that made the way for the future of wrestling.
AJ Styles would take home the win, naturally, but not before putting over the green and new Tyler Black. For many years, this was their only one-on-one match together. Styles continued rising the ranks, conquering Ring of Honor and TNA before leaving for New Japan Pro Wrestling until at last dropping anchor in WWE. Tyler Black, in the meantime, would also count himself among the ROH roster, where he proved himself to be a star. He got to WWE faster, and quickly impressed.
The two have even been members of big-time factions – Styles in The Bullet Club and Rollins in The Shield – and neither clashed in a meaningful way. While AJ has had substantial rivalries with Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns in the past, rarely did he trade blows with The Architect. That’s how minimal their time has been together.
Of course, they’d be in the same ring together in tag team and Survivor Series action, but again, nothing notable, at least not until Money in the Bank in 2019 in a classic bout for Seth’s Universal Championship, once again for almost twenty minutes. This time, Seth came out the victor. It’s a great match, definitely worth revisiting, even for a babyface vs. babyface match built on respect and proving who was better than the other. They had another match months later but without stakes.
Once again, they’d face off on an October episode of Monday Night Raw in 2020 in a triple threat involving Jeff Hardy. But alas, not one-on-one. They’d be joined by multiple men in an Elimination Chamber Match in 2022, but again, nothing substantial.
Later in 2022, however, they’d go toe-to-toe in March and June. Nothing big was on the line, but they still stole the show – both being episodes of Monday Night Raw. Yes, it was fun. Yes, they maintained great chemistry. But these instances lacked the intensity and story of 2006 and 2019. It lacked the need to prove oneself.
Something that interests me is the perception of the matches these men are in. Based on this list of their matches on Cagematch, when other cooks were in the kitchen, the meal wasn’t as delicious. But when Rollins and Styles were left to their own, the reception is better when left to their own devices. I know that the votes and comments and rankings of fans isn’t always necessarily the best, but it is something I feel it is important to note.
The May 28 match is to be one of those exceptions. Both men stand to win everything and have as much to lose. There’s nothing stopping each man from giving it their all in a last-ditch effort. Time runs for us all, and it runs short eventually until that last, tiny grain of sand falls to the top of the pile.
What does AJ Styles gain? He’s getting up there in age. That old dog has white in his beard and some shake in his step. One more run at the top as the main event talent that he is, it’s one more step to cement his legacy as he continues the path of those that held the title before him way back in 2002 while paving one for the future superstars. His life has been leading up to this, from a dying WCW to a growing TNA to a matured NJPW and finally the ferry to the end in WWE.
If he loses, this could be it. It could be the last he could ever get this spot and give a run that caps off his decades of story. That flowing majestic brown hair be damned – this could be it. He could have fun with his mates in the OC, he could win some mid-card belts, but he’s not going out like that. AJ is the Phenomenal One, a Georgia Native who would rather look down the barrel and accept the end rather than limp away to live another day with his tail between his legs. From his determination explained through action and word during that Grayson Waller Effect segment on Smackdown, that is clear; he’s done messing around.
Seth Rollins, he’s ready to rectify all the losses that mattered, the moves that he’s made, and the mistakes in between. Reinvention after reinvention, where he stands now feels like the culmination of the roadmap that is his career. A hound of justice, an architect, a visionary, a drip god… All of these comprise who he is now, and even then, they feel like a charade to who he truly is now. To him, the belt represents that and what it could mean for future members of the WWE roster. Rollins is just seeing it now, now that he’s listened to the crowd sing his hymn and cheer for him, and in doing so, he feels no need to play underhanded. In this blossoming, he’s found himself in that flamboyant, campy attitude that doesn’t need to be sacrificed for a typical babyface attitude. He’s still himself, and he’s earned the love of the fans again.
Both AJ Styles and Seth Rollins despise what the current reigning Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns is doing, holding the top brass. He’s dominantly held the belts for years now, and they want to create a run that detracts from The Tribal Chief’s championship sovereignty. Both men have not faced an actual loss from The Head of the Table since his 2020 return – Seth had a DQ victory at the 2022 Royal Rumble whilst Styles has simply not faced this new Roman.
They are those who prevent the title from feeling as secondary, and they are the ones who can be trusted to prove it isn’t secondary.
While AJ Styles hasn’t given too much into the emotion as to why he needs this win (I mean, he himself admits it is a secondary title), he’ll work to prove it through his actions. He doesn’t get the fancy interviews and the emotional moments that Seth is getting.
However, Seth Rollins has so beautifully shared why he should take the title because he has a vision. It’s a dream that can never die – it passes from holder to holder as something to aspire to. A responsibility that is to be fought for, not cheated for. You can even see the cracks in the facade of Seth Rollins in this sit-down interview with Corey Graves, where something beautiful happens in these segments. The Visionary starts out with his usual goofy self, but as the interview goes on, that persona is lifted, and he speaks from the heart. There’s no off cadence, no laugh, no drawn-out theatrical sentences. Just a real and raw person, and you can feel every word as though you were in his position.
The match is hard to call, and it can go either way. AJ could tap out Rollins with a Calf Crusher, land a Phenomenal Forearm, or a Styles Clash and get the win. Seth could curb stomp his senior, superkick him, or end it with a buckle bomb. It’s a build-up of intensity, paid off with the ringing of a bell as quick as the determining factor of a coin flip.
Whatever the end result is, it should be for the best.
For the future.