WWE champion Seth Rollins suffered a catastrophic injury Wednesday night at a show in Dublin. This is not an overstatement: he tore every ligament in his knee working a match with Kane. In the footage, Rollins means to do a sunset flip into a power bomb but doesn't. Instead, his leg buckles at a gruesome angle. He finished the match and still power bombed Kane through a table, for whatever that's worth.
Rollins is out for nine months with the injury. This means that he's probably out through WrestleMania, a supershow that WWE has been scrambling to make the Biggest Show of All Time. He's certainly out for Survivor Series on November 22, where he was set to do battle with Roman Reigns, his former tag-team partner and the promotion's chosen good-looking golden boy. That match was to serve as a taster for the next decade of top-flight feuds. It, like a great deal of WWE's plans for the future, is now delayed indefinitely.
WWE is in a terrible jam of its own making. Rollins' injury comes on the heels of Randy Orton's long-term injury and Daniel Bryan's continued struggles with concussion after-effects. John Cena is still on track for a lengthy hiatus, and Brock Lesnar's contract doesn't include the words "Survivor Series" anywhere in the fine print.
In short, WWE has no stars on hand which it can elevate to credible main-event status, the still-green Reigns notwithstanding. A decade-plus of 50-50 booking, with wrestlers trading wins back and forth, for everyone not named John Cena meant that a power vacuum at the top wasn't just possible but inevitable. That nightmare situation has finally arrived.
For all the talk of Reigns as the WWE's next superstar, Rollins has quietly become The Guy. Certainly his record is tainted, with only a handful of clean wins to his name, but that's diminished neither his heat with the crowd nor WWE's backstage satisfaction with him. His iron grip on the title since WrestleMania, eight months ago, is testament to that.
For the one guy they've pushed to the moon with few hiccups over the past year to blow his knee to bits on a fluke is a cruel fate, both for Rollins and for WWE. He may never be the same again. Even though surgery has advanced since the days when an ACL tear was a career-ender, there's every possibility that Rollins will have to diminish or alter his style, stuffed as it is with knee impacts, high-flying jumps, and start-and-stop motions. That's bad news for everyone that likes to watch wrestling.
WWE, for its part, has other troubles to consider, starting with the Survivor Series. Its plan in the aftermath of the Rollins injury is to have a tournament at the event to determine a new WWE champion, with Rollins officially vacating on this coming Monday's Raw.
This is a good move. Wrestling Twitter immediately begged for a reprise of Survivor Series 1998, when a well-received title tournament ended in an impeccable double turn after the Rock beat Mankind. The hopes of a repeat were palpable, with everyone from Reigns and Dean Ambrose to Dolph Ziggler and Kevin Owens filling the roles of the Rock and Mankind.
WWE also bought itself a small reprieve after being savaged for their Raw of three weeks ago, which was listless and lazily larded with old-timers. They've strung two good Raws in a row since, which is saying something given how lousy it had been in recent months. There have been whispers that Triple H was taking back the reigns a bit more on the creative front. At the very least, momentum finally seemed to be building toward something watchable.
The combination of that momentum and the clean slate forced by Rollins' injury means there is some cause for cautious optimism. Whoever wins the tournament is going to be someone new, unless they turn to John Cena. Even if it's the polarizing and not-quite-beloved Reigns, it will provide the same hit of fresh blood as when Rollins won the title at the last WrestleMania. In the category of long shot, there's one of the members of The New Day, the hottest comedic heel stable in recent memory. There is, for the first time in a long while, a sense of possibility.
Of course, it's equally likely that the answer once again becomes "John Cena to the rescue." There's also the figure of Sheamus, a big Irishman of medium talent and maximum bad haircut, lurking in the background. He won the Money in the Bank briefcase, allowing him to start a match with the champion any time he wants, and he won it for a reason. He'll win it sometime, maybe as soon as Monday night.
WWE is always at its best, and maybe only at its best, when the promotion's back is to the wall. It's perhaps the most amazing thing about the company. They can put on objectively bad television with terrible angles for years, only to pull out something that thrills and delights when it seems like they're spent. It's like the WWE is governed by the exact same script that shapes its matches.
For that reason, if only for that reason, I'm hopeful that we will get something awesome. Kevin Owens beating everyone up, or Dean Ambrose finally grasping his brief flirtation with Stone Cold Steve Austin pops from last summer. Or, yes, even Roman Reigns for a little while.
Or they could just give it to Cena again. We'll find out soon enough.