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WWE Title vs. US Title
Seth Rollins vs. John Cena
In what could just be a coincidence, Rollins has the same colored gear as Bayley and New Day. I definitely prefer the villainous black gear to perfectly reflect his dark complexion.
This is my favorite WWE match of 2015 for a number of reasons. Immediately, Cena wasted no time protecting his face due to the broken nose a month earlier. His storytelling in that regard was just flawless. When he and Rollins would exchange strikes, Cena would guard his face, leaving his torso open for any strikes, There was a sensational sequence I’ll get into, but for this part of the story, I gotta point out that once Rollins was finally able to land a corkscrew roundhouse kick, Cena turned his head around first, rather risking a concussion than another broken nose.
This might very well be the match that epitomizes why Cena is a truly phenomenal worker. For once, the match was more than an action-packed festival dripping with tremendous scouting and a white-hot audience. After Rollins had just been completely demolished the month before, fate stepped in to give him the menacing credibility he needed by shattering Cena’s nose in their OKC match, resulting in Cena doing everything possible to protect his face. Thus, Cena was putting over what a hazardous striker Rollins is. This went a long way in elevating the stock of Rollins, badly needed since he’s the champion of the entire company.
This match, in addition to their OKC classic and other rematches to come, showed just what a deadweight J&J Security had been on Rollins. Rather than have two cruiserweight stooges trying to get involved and give Rollins an advantage, Rollins found himself shining on his own, gripping the NYC audience that was clearly behind him due to his sheer talent and work ethic. From that angle, when also factoring in their first singles classic near the end of 2013 when the Shield still existed, this match serves a reminder of what a fucking waste of screen-time the audience had endured during the first half of 2015 thanks to how Rollins was booked most of the way.
Rollins wasted no time on trying to troll the fans, instead reveling in their support. This was actually an effective strategy on his part; rather than waste time talking shit, he pulled out everything in his arsenal, including suicide dives and a follow-up somersault plancha over the top rope! The reason he did this crowd-pleasing shit? Because that is what it fucking takes to get the upper hand on John Cena, as Rollins had just learned a month earlier despite shattering the nose. By also getting the audience behind him, Rollins could hope that this would be one of the rare instances that Cena would mentally break from the atmosphere, which had proven to be a possibility when it happened at WrestleMania XXVIII.
As always, these two had each other scouted incredibly well. There were counters and signature move evasions aplenty in this one. As had been done before on at least one occasion (the classic involving Lesnar at Royal Rumble 2015), Cena didn’t allow Rollins to even attempt the jumping corkscrew roundhouse kick, instead immediately giving Rollins a backdrop suplex. Rollins of course kicked Cena in the shoulder during this first Five Knuckle Shuffle attempt, and Cena was lucky that the blow didn’t land on his recently repaired face.
Now of course, the teases would pay off later. Cena would land the Five Knuckle Shuffle and Rollins would manage to get the knee face bash on Cena, but this time there would be no shattered nose. Each man would also deliver Release Death Valley Drivers for incredible near-falls, with each having rolled out of moves to land them. Cena would successfully evade a Phoenix Splash attempt, only to eat one later for a great nearfall. Rollins repeatedly teased the Pedigree, only for Cena to continue to deadlift him overhead, because such a move would obviously be devastating to his face.
Time to dissect the incredible sequence I had mentioned earlier. First, a preface: when Rollins was monkey-flipped into the corner, he was able to avoid damage, but before he could gather himself, Cena was on him like white on rice, dropping him chest and stomach-first with an Electric Chair Face Plant. Rollins struggled to get up from this, allowing Cena enough time to hit the guillotine leg drop as Rollins was bent at the waist. And now the incredible sequence begins.
Cena goes for a Super Release Death Valley Driver, but Rollins slips out and appears to attempt a Sunset Flip Powerbomb, but Cena holds onto the ropes at first, and Michael Cole is tremendous in pointing out this is a sign of the HOFer’s core strength. Rollins holds on though, gets in standing position, and has the leverage to successfully hit a buckle bomb. With Cena down, Rollins sucks up his pain and exhaustion to hit a High Fly Flow, but is in clear pain as he goes for the pinfall. This is when Cena rolls backwards upon kicking out, allowing himself to deliver the Release Death Valley Driver on Rollins.
Now we pause the sequence for a moment. This portion of the sequence displays that Rollins is indeed the true predecessor to Shawn Michaels. The struggle Rollins showed in getting up after the Electric Chair Face Plant, followed by almost losing leverage on the buckle bomb attempt, followed by the pain in his face upon executing the High Fly Flow, and then being rolled into a Release Death Valley Driver all happened for one reason: Rollins was selling the pain in his abdomen from being dropped on his front end minutes earlier by Cena.
Now, let’s get back to the sequence that includes some portions I had already mentioned. Rollins manages to land on his feet once Cena launches him off his shoulders, then delivers the corkscrew roundhouse kick, but Cena turns his head away to protect his face, which JBL tremendously mentions on commentary. Cena goes for the crossbody, only for Rollins to roll back and successfully hit his own Release Death Valley Driver for an amazing nearfall. What an absolutely tremendous story told between these two workhorses in a span of just a few minutes.
After that sequence, the finishing stretch kicks in as Cena evades another attempted Phoenix Splash, then puts Rollins in the STF. Rollins sucks up whatever pain is in his abdomen to break out and use his legs to push Cena, then attempts a Pedigree, but Cena blocks that of course for the obvious reasons, indicating that move will be instant death for him. In another tremendous piece of storytelling, Cena locks in the figure four leglock to pay homage to Ric Flair for what would be his 16th World Title should Rollins tap or pass out. But Rollins has enough strength in his legs and regained in his abdomen to turn over, and Cena’s face selling the pain before reaching the bottom rope is sensational.
Both are slow to get up, selling the pain in their legs. Cena gets the first strikes to knock a fatigued Rollins down, and it looks like he’s going for another guillotine leg drop. Rollins has it scouted from earlier in the match though, getting an adrenaline rush as Cena struggled to climb. Rollins delivers a Superplex with a follow-through Falcon Arrow for another fantastic nearfall. Like Cena just moments earlier going to the well too often, Rollins goes for another Phoenix Splash attempt, only for Cena to roll out and Rollins lands on his front end, which certainly can’t be a good thing considering the pain he had been experiencing in that body part.
The referee is knocked down by the feet of Rollins as Cena executes a Release Death Valley Driver. Cena checks on the ref and when he returns to Rollins, that’s enough for the champ to hit the face knee bash, then falls back down in exhaustion as Cena sells it. Jon Stewart runs to the ring with a chair and teases he’ll strike both guys, appearing to sell a conflict. No idea why he’d attack Cena, which he does once the HOFer stands up, then Rollins takes advantage, planting Cena’s face on a chair via the Pedigree to bring Cena’s historic US Title reign to a very buzzworthy conclusion! The crowd goes nuts for both the chairshot and the finish, grateful for Rollins to get the glory and Cena not to match Flair’s promoted World Title reigns record! What a coincidence that he wins a championship wearing the same colors as the also successful challengers Bayley and New Day.
Now I’d have just personally given Rollins the clean win. I understand that he was being built to as a fraudulent champion, but beating Cena clean would’ve helped his stock significantly, which would then be passed on to Roman Reigns in the future once he’d dethrone Rollins, and Cena loses nothing from it. Stewart’s interference was a bit botched due to apparent mistiming, but I proved in the previous paragraph that it can be covered with an explanation of conflicting emotions on his part. The commentary team failed to do that, surprisingly because they did an exceptional job calling this match and covering for what otherwise could’ve been perceived as minor botches throughout the match.
With the exception of the Stewart dynamic and an ugly Springboard Stunner, I love everything about this match. The more I think about this match, the more I write about this match, the more I jump back-and-forth through various parts of this match, I fall even more in love with it than before. That is a clear indication of a phenomenal match, and when looking it from that angle, I believe that years down the road, this will be looked upon as fondly as Michaels vs. Mankind at Mind Games. I know I’ve used that match for comparisons to other works of art that had one glaring flaw to prevent perfection, but this match comes incredibly close by having a similar interference direction. Obviously this one had a finish unlike Michaels vs. Mankind, but there are some striking similarities with the closing moments of each match.
Rollins was just fantastic with his abdomen selling, reveling in the NYC audience’s admiration, and giving everything he could to defeat one of the greatest champions of all-time by himself. Cena more than proved his worth as an in-ring performer, selling a prior injury and therefore getting Rollins over as a legitimate menace in the process. These two men scouted each other as always, having a blisteringly competitive contest, desperately going to their wells too often and paying for it. And they lived up to the bloodthirsty New Yorkers’ expectations, having the Barclays Center audience in the palms of their hands from start to finish. If it wasn’t for the awkward/mistimed interference segment involving Stewart, this would absolutely be in the upper-echelon as the company’s best match of the 2015 calendar year, as well as my Road to WrestleMania calendar. This is definitely just as nail-biting of a roller-coaster as Sasha Banks vs. Bayley the night before! ****1/2