Seth Rollins defeated AJ Styles to retain the WWE Universal Championship. The traditionally uninspiring babyface vs. babyface feud figures to continue after a disappointed AJ Styles begrudgingly shook Rollins’ hand.
Fans were all the way engaged from the jump in what was a tremendous matchup between two in-ring tacticians, as Michael Cole robotically put it, but that was always the only selling point in a dry and boring feud.
Rollins’ Universal Championship reign has sputtered out to a painfully slow start on television with one death spot after another opposite fellow babyface AJ Styles. The buildup for Styles vs. Rollins’ failed to register, existing merely as a “both these guys!” feud tailor-made for WWE’s tiny (and shrinking) inside-baseball hardcore fanbase. In fact, it can be argued that, headed into his match against Styles, Rollins’ biggest highlight since becoming WWE Universal champion is the revelation that he’s been secretly dating Becky Lynch.
Rollins’ Universal Championship needs something, and a wrestling-heavy feud devoid of storyline entertainment value against fellow limited talker AJ Styles just wasn’t it.
Few questioned whether this poor man’s version of a 1996 feud between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels would deliver in the ring, which it certainly did. But the health of pro wrestling’s business is predicated on a palatable conflict based on simulated contempt that can only be resolved in the ring.
The feud saw a late surge that featured a seething Seth Rollins vowing to get revenge on AJ Styles for an ambush at the conclusion of a painstakingly long and formulated contract signing. But nobody with any sense for pro wrestling storytelling could fully invest in the idea that these two individuals—cut from similar cloths with somewhat interchangeable origin stories—had a serious conflict. Thankfully, the match more than made up for the uninspired storytelling.
Further hampering the feud was last week’s announcement of WWE Super ShowDown in Saudi Arabia, and the expectation of Seth Rollins defending the WWE Universal Championship against Brock Lesnar in a WrestleMania 35 rematch. That potential leak left little doubt as to who was going to leave with the Universal Championship in a match with Rollins already going off as a strong favorite.
Despite his limitless in-ring acumen, Rollins is not as complete of an all-around performer as his more successful predecessors who have been trusted to carry a world championship. That is not to say he cannot succeed in leading the company in that role, but in order for him to do so, he’ll need to be more reliant than most on strong rivalries alongside superior performers and personas.
Whether or not WWE has enough of those Superstars to help develop a meaningful championship reign for Rollins remains to be seen.