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Seth Rollins overcame a chronic back injury to defeat Drew McIntyre, retaining his World Heavyweight Championship and prompting Wade Barrett to ask on commentary: “How many times can you come within millimeters of losing your title?”
If that seems familiar, it’s because fans of wrestling beyond the WWE Universe have seen it unfold both recently and in the not-so-distant past.
Over in All Elite Wrestling, Orange Cassidy spent a year defending the international title despite a body wracked with pain before he finally succumbed to the pain during the All Out main event against Jon Moxley in September.
Before that, Matt Jackson of The Young Bucks spent months nursing a back injury in New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
It is a long-term storytelling tool that builds sympathy and drama when executed effectively.
Thus far, it has worked for Rollins, but the overwhelmingly positive reaction for McIntyre on Saturday begs the question: How long can WWE tell that story without paying it off?
The Visionary has repeatedly overcome the injury, but it will be little more than a storytelling crutch if it continues. It’s the equivalent to the “insurmountable odds” John Cena regularly faced as the top babyface in WWE during the late 2000s.
Fans rejected that particular trope then, turning on Cena and rooting for any opponent who could end his run as champion and save them from the monotony of the booking.
Rollins is not there yet, thanks to a more layered character and a performer the fans respect, but the injury story has to pay off at some point. It will likely be in the form of Damian Priest cashing in Money in the Bank and winning the title as the back issue serves as the “out” for The Visionary.
If that is the case, then the story will likely go the way of the Cassidy and Jackson tales, which ultimately saw the mounting physical damage cost them their gold.
As is often the case, timing will be everything.