Quoth Seth Rollins on RAW, 4/20/15 (through the filter of the CM Punk Pipebomb)

Hello friends! I’m still trying to get a few things finished before I start blogging like a fool again, but RAW this week was so chock full of memorable promos I’m  compelled to transcribe as many as I can over the next few days. On the topic of a compelling RAW, have you noticed that at this stage in the monthly pay-per-view storyline cycle, there is almost always a compelling RAW? What is it about this point, the RAW before the Smackdown before a pay-per-view, that allows the story to suddenly reach a point of delicious dramatic tension? Is there a writer on staff who’s a fixer? Like the heavy they bring in to clean up all the fizzled, poorly-booked storylines so they can finally become interesting enough for us to care about the pay-per-view? Or is this just a natural part of the continuous narrative’s flow — the storylines are ultimately experiments, some of which succeed while others fail, and the RAW before the pay-per-view is the point at which sense is made of all these wandering threads and arcs?  If I had the attention span to screw around with spreadsheets I’d totally make a study of this phenomena, the successful pre-PPV RAW.

Anyway, the first memorable RAW promo came from Seth Rollins. (Might I add, also, that this was in response to a Randy Orton promo that totally  gave me chills, just because the Viper had been muzzled by the Authority for so long. It wasn’t his words that were memorable but his unleashed, explosive energy.) The Rollins promo struck me with its subtlety, because it came off as an authentic display of Seth Rollins arrogance until I realized his words were heavily influenced by none other than the CM Punk. Quoth Seth Rollins:

Randy, I gotta be honest with you, I didn’t really listen to a whole lot of what you were saying, I was in the back responding to some emails and whatnot, but let me see if I got the gist of it. I’m a jerk. You’re gonna beat me up. And all these losers who are looking for an excuse to escape their miserable lives ate it up. Am I right? That about cover it? Randy, let me explain something to you. I played this game of human chess better than anybody. And that is why I am well on track to becoming the greatest WWE World Heavyweight Champion of all time. Inside of that ring I can outmaneuver everybody. Outside of the ring I can out-think everybody. This, Randy, this, all of this, all of it, I’m the best at it. You don’t believe me? Well I’m standing up here with the title to prove it. Randy, look, I’m not taking anything away from you. You are undoubtedly one of the greatest WWE superstars of all time. A surefire Hall of Famer. But as good as you are, Randy, I’m that much better. And cage or no cage, authority or no authority, you can make all the threats you want, at Extreme Rules, you will not be walking out WWE World Heavyweight Champion, and that is a promise. So you know what, get it all out of your system right now…

And that’s the point at which Randy Orton interrupts and declares that in order to get it out of his system, he will be RKOing people all night long. Now look, for a minute, at the transcript of the Pipebomb, which I borrowed from HeymanHustle.com:

John Cena, while you lay there, hopefully as uncomfortable as you possibly can be, I want you to listen to me. I want you to digest this because before I leave in 3 weeks with your WWE Championship, I have a lot of things I want to get off my chest.

I don’t hate you, John. I don’t even dislike you. I do like you. I like you a hell of a lot more than I like most people in the back. I hate this idea that you’re the best. Because you’re not. I’m the best. I’m the best in the world. There’s one thing you’re better at than I am and that’s kissing Vince McMahon’s ass. You’re as good as kissing Vince McMahon’s ass as Hulk Hogan was. I don’t know if you’re as good as Dwayne though. He’s a pretty good ass kisser. Always was and still is.

Whoops! I’m breaking the fourth wall! (Punk waves to the camera)

I am the best wrestler in the world. I’ve been the best since day one when I walked into this company. And I’ve been vilified and hated since that day because Paul Heyman saw something in me that nobody else wanted to admit. That’s right, I’m a Paul Heyman guy. You know who else was a Paul Heyman guy? Brock Lesnar. And he split just like I’m splitting. But the biggest difference between me and Brock is I’m going to leave with the WWE Championship.

I’ve grabbed so many of Vincent K. McMahon’s brass rings that it’s finally dawned on me that there just that, they’re completely imaginary. The only thing that’s real is me and the fact that day in and day out, for almost six years, I have proved to everybody in the world that I am the best on this microphone, in that ring, even in commentary! Nobody can touch me!

And yet no matter how many times I prove it, I’m not on your lovely little collector cups. I’m not on the cover of the program. I’m barely promoted. I don’t get to be in movies. I’m certainly not on any crappy show on the USA Network. I’m not on the poster of WrestleMania. I’m not on the signature that’s produced at the start of the show. I’m not on Conan O’Brian. I’m not on Jimmy Fallon. But the fact of the matter is, I should be. This isn’t sour grapes. But the fact that Dwayne is in the main event at WrestleMania next year and I’m not makes me sick!

Oh hey, let me get something straight. Those of you who are cheering me right now, you are just as big a part of me leaving as anything else. Because you’re the ones who are sipping on those collector cups right now. You’re the ones that buy those programs that my face isn’t on the cover of. And then at five in the morning at the airport, you try to shove it in my face and get an autograph and try to sell it on Ebay because you’re too lazy to go get a real job.

I’m leaving with the WWE Championship on July 17th. And hell, who knows, maybe I’ll go defend it in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Maybe…I’ll go back to Ring of Honor. (Punk looks at the camera and waves) Hey, Colt Cabana, how you doing?

The reason I’m leaving is you people. Because after I’m gone, you’re still going to pour money into this company. I’m just a spoke on the wheel. The wheel is going to keep turning and I understand that. Vince McMahon is going to make money despite himself. He’s a millionaire who should be a billionaire. You know why he’s not a billionaire? Because he surrounds himself with glad-handed, non-sensical, douchebag (censored)  yes men, like John Laurinaitis, who’s going to tell him everything he wants to hear, and I’d like to think that maybe this company will better after Vince McMahon is dead. But the fact is, it’s going to be taken over by his idiotic daughter and his doofus son-in-law and the rest of his stupid family.

Let me tell you a personal story about Vince McMahon alright. We do this whole (anti) bully campaign.. (Mic cut off)

Seth’s promo reads like an abridged Pipebomb; the similarities are clear. The “gotta be honest with you” framing, the explicit disdain for the sycophant audience, the hubris-filled declarations of self as best in the world, the opponents of John Cena and Randy Orton (those guys are each other’s doppelgangers, are they not?). The nature of influence is complex and convoluted here: I contend that Seth Rollins echoing CM Punk is both an homage and a subtle satire. Using the Pipebomb as a promo template acknowledges the powerful resonance of Punk’s words and the way they cut through all the layers of carny-corporate kayfabe to arrive at some very uncomfortable truths. By continuing to reference the Pipebomb, WWE keeps its power alive, even as they attempt to assimilate its dissident message for corporate gain.

On the other hand, Rollins has fully arrived as a first rate weasel of a heel. When the dust settles he may indeed be the best WWE World Heavyweight Champion of all time, but he’s crafting his legacy at the most ignoble level of self-serving douchebag trickery. Perhaps Seth Rollins is CM Punk’s doppleganger — another renegade-minded wrestler who sold out (bought in, whatever) instead of holding steadfast to his principles, like Punk tried to do.

Or perhaps the Seth Rollins promo is ultimately a poke in the eye to WWE’s ultimate anti-hero. From the company’s perspective, CM Punk is the real life douchebag Rollins is portraying. He was interested first and foremost in his own success, and he resented being used as merely another pawn in the game of human chess. He won both the moral and actual victory against WWE in his lawsuit, blew the whistle on some of their more questionable business practices, and made off with the character they helped him create so he could continue his career in the UFC, a rival concept. By echoing the Pipebomb, Seth Rollins offered CM Punk both respect and irreverence, delivering an ambiguous, conflicted message to the wrestler who lurks in WWE’s shadows with a far more powerful presence than old knock-off Sting in his trench coat.

But as the mobius strip continues to turn, isn’t it the highest form of flattery for the top heel in the company, a truly brilliant wrestler who was the only consistent success during a winter of storyline chaos, to echo the company outlaw? My point is, what complexity! When you really look at what Rollins did here, its meaning never settles into one definitive reading. Wrestling is at its best in moments like these, when the simple metaphors and stereotypes give way to an interplay of dynamic ideas that never settle into a definitive meaning. This is the stuff that compels me to blog. And might I add, this is my hundredth blog post! Let’s celebrate:

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