On April 7th the state of Iowa will be watching their favorite son Seth Rollins challenge “The Beast Incarnate” Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 35 in the Big Apple, New York City. It’s strange that a fight of this magnitude has lacked so much buzz when you consider these two have met in singles competition only once. He earned the shot at The Beast by winning the Royal Rumble in January, and looks to add more Gold to a career that may seem unexpected, but went exactly the way it was designed.
Seth “Freakin” Rollins was born Colby Lopez in Buffalo, Iowa on May 28th, 1986, a sleepy town outside of Davenport with no stoplights. He lived next door to his grandparents and played football, baseball, basketball and despite being good at all three he knew at an early age he wanted to be a WWE Superstar. Seth went to his first WWE Live Event at Wharton Field House in Moline, Illinois when he was 4 years old and was hooked. Rollins had a Hulk Hogan wrestling buddy who regularly faced off with his brothers’ Ultimate Warrior edition.
Like many kids, including yours truly, Rollins performed moves in front of the television imitating his wrestling heroes, and it’s in these innocent moments of youth where Champions are born (NOT yours truly). There was never a doubt in Rollins’ mind that he was not only going to be a Professional Wrestler but that he was going to be great at it. Before going to basketball camp he tearfully told his family of his decision, and despite some pushback he worked hard during high school eating right, working out, and took public speaking/acting classes to prepare for his wrestling career. He took Public Speaking classes and bought his own weight set.
The first “official” promotion Rollins competed in was called Extreme Hardcore Wrestling (EHW) which was the promotion he started with his brother and friends. They competed on a trampoline his parents bought, and everyone had their own entrance and character. After graduating Davenport West High School in 2004, his wrestling journey began in his Blue Chevy Corsica with his buddy going to a Ring of Honor tryout in Philadelphia held by CM Punk. The tryout went terrible, and then he floundered. His buddy had already gone home, but Rollins refused to give up. He was convinced that if he went back to Iowa his dream would be over. Seth lived in his car before an unlikely conversation with a complete stranger changed the course of his wrestling career. He felt like a failure and refused to call his Mom and return home. The stranger was a college kid who lived at the place Rollins was staying. Rollins opened up about his circumstances and the young man convinced him that he wasn’t a failure if he went home and that things like this were a part of life. After the conversation, Rollins was ready to recalibrate where his career was at, and back home in Iowa was the place to do it.
Iowa and wrestling are synonymous with each other. Wrestling became popular during the 1880s when wrestlers such as Martin “Farmer” Burns from Wheatland, Iowa, wrestled for money, travelling around, calling for challengers. Farmer Burns later began a school and taught his method of wrestling even publishing a mail order course “Lessons in Wrestling and Physical Culture.” The 12 lessons centered on exercise, wrestling techniques, and overall health tips. Frank Gotch, who grew up on a farm near Humboldt, and later became a world champion and one of the most famous wrestlers in history, Gotch was well liked in Iowa. Babies, farm equipment, buildings, and toys were named in his honor. He is still ranked among the greatest professional wrestlers in history. The International Wrestling Institute and Museum, a bucket list item for many, also resides in Waterloo. Grappling Pioneer Toots Mondt, the man who can be credited with Professional Wrestling the way it is today was born in Garden Grove, and Kansas City wrestling Icon and promoter Bob Geigel was born in Algona and attended the University of Iowa.
Despite the ability to live anywhere he still calls Iowa home. Rollins told the Chicago Tribune in a 2015 Interview “I’m never leaving. I just like the people and the attitude. I like the seasons. Fall, right now, is the best time of year. It’s so perfect outside. I love the simplicity of it. I travel a lot and life is crazy, particularly now that I’m the world heavyweight champion. It’s nice when I have days off to go home and relax and literally take the weight off my shoulders and enjoy the simple things.”
With his friend and former tag partner Marek Brave started the Black and Brave Wrestling Academy in downtown Davenport which is a take off their tag team The Black and The Brave. Earlier this year Rollins opened 392DPort, a coffee shop next door to the academy. Rollins wanted to bring great coffee to Davenport after he’d sampled it all over the world.
Davenport, Iowa is located along the banks of the Mississippi River and is the largest of the Quad Cities Metropolitan area that includes Bettendorf, Iowa and Moline, East Moline, and Rock Island Illinois. The city’s website declares Davenport “a vibrant and progressive community that has been declared “The Most Livable Small City in America.” We boast a thriving downtown and business-friendly environment, with a focus on development and revitalization.” Black & Brave and 392DPort have been part of downtown Davenport’s revitalization. Rollins isn’t the only athlete with Davenport roots, as MMA Legend Pat Miletich and National Football League Great Roger Craig are also from the border city. Roger Craig belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He changed the Running Back position. End of rant.
In 2004 Rollins moved back home, got a side job, and enrolled in Community College. He had no interest in going to school, but it was the deal he made with his parents, so he’d have the old “something to fall back on.” After collecting himself like great Champions do he began rejuvenating his career in Chicago working with Danny Daniels. Davenport is approximately halfway between Chicago and Iowa’s Capital Des Moines. Seth drove three hours one-way 2-3 times a week or more to Daniels’ warehouse on the border of Chicago and Oak Park. One of the cool things about going to an Indie wrestling show is that minutes after it’s over the same wrestlers you boo and cheer walk out and take the ring down, and just like those wrestlers he cut his teeth working the local Indie shows helping set up the ring, backstage, and selling merchandise.
Don’s Pub in Donahue, Iowa was the unlikely place to begin harvesting a future WWE Superstar. Donahue is a one drag town in Scott County where his legend grew. In a large reception hall connected to the Bar & Restaurant was where he honed his craft with Scott County Wrestling (SCW) beginning in 2005. When he was 19 Rollins faced AJ Styles in a town called Muscatine with Styles saying after the match, “he’s (Rollins/Black) the future of our business.” Iowa had another one.
He started out with one-off names like Gixx and Taj The Destroyer (from Magic The Gathering) but settled on Tyler Black. The name is a cross between two of Rollins’ favorite movie characters Tyler Durden of Fight Club and Sirius Black from Harry Potter. He was getting noticed in the Midwest, but at this point, his goal was to prove himself to Ring of Honor. He competed as Tyler Black across the Midwest against the likes of Chris Hero/Kassius Ohno, Jimmy Jacobs, Matt Sydal, Nigel McGuinness, Rhino and Jerry Lynn.
Rollins had two goals:
- An ROH Contract
- Main Event Wrestlemania
The ROH contract came in 2007 when he signed with Gabe Sapolsky and Ring of Honor. His debut with ROH began nearly the same way his WWE career would begin three years later as part of a three-man faction attacking someone on a pay-per-view. This time Rollins/Black was with Jimmy Jacobs and Necro Butcher in what would become The Age of the Fall and took out the Briscoe Brothers (Jay and Mark). Rollins said his career floundered for a year after Gabe Sapolsky was fired in October 2008, he got it back on track October 10th, 2009 when he won the Survival of the Fittest. He chased Austin Aries for the ROH World Title including wrestling him to a 60 Minute Time Limit-Draw at Final Battle. On February 10th Rollins would become ROH World Champion at their 8th Anniversary show defeating Austin Aries also at the Manhattan Center in New York City. His Title run consisted of wins against ROH Legend Kenny King, Chris Hero/Kassius Ohno, Roderick Strong, Davey Richards, and Kevin Steen (Owens).
His final year with ROH led to strong interest from Total Nonstop Action (TNA). He was contacted by D’Lo Brown of TNA and began negotiating with Terry Taylor who was also representing them at the time. They wanted to sign him to a three-year deal, but he still reached out to his friend Joey Mercury of WWE with no answer. Rollins held off Taylor as long as possible, and when he didn’t think New York was ready for him he verbally agreed to sign with TNA.
Taylor faxed over a contract, but at the eleventh hour he was given the opportunity to wrestle with WWE affiliate Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) and Seth Rollins was officially born…with some help from “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Rollins was ready to join TNA, but as soon as WWE was interested that was it. It didn’t matter where it was as long as it was WWE. Goal number two was on its way to fruition. He wanted to Main Event WrestleMania, and that wasn’t going to happen in TNA.
Despite the fact that FCW got little attention from the WWE brass, Rollins continued working hard, and his habit of winning Championships continued as he’d become the first FCW Grand Slam Champion and the first NXT Champion after the company rebranded. Seth has no problem calling his shot, and told Triple H he wanted to be the first NXT Champion then went out and did it. You started hearing more about NXT because of the work Rollins was doing underground, where nobody was watching. In many ways Rollins was back at Don’s Pub grinding, clawing, and scratching his way to greatness.
Rollins got the call-up to WWE, but it was a false alarm. He, Dean Ambrose, and Roman Reigns waited to make their WWE debuts, but it never happened. Seth never knew why they didn’t use him that night although now it doesn’t matter. It was just one more time the kid from Iowa stuck to his blue-collar roots and kept working hard. It was discouraging and disappointing, but it was part of the journey. His official debut came in a turtleneck in 2012 at Survivor Series. Seth was in WWE now and nobody could change it. The trio became etched in history as The Shield, but the three anonymously attacked Ryback ultimately at the behest of CM Punk. The trio known as The Shield became one of the most dominant factions in pro wrestling history. These three friends travelled everywhere together, and all of them would see their own levels of success.
His first title was Tag Team Gold with Reigns, but it was on March 29, 2015, in Santa Clara, California at a little show called WrestleMania 31. Months before Rollins forced the split of The Shield on RAW in a truly great heel turn. It was time for Rollins to go it alone and he thrived.
He won the Money in the Bank Ladder Match in June which allows him to cash in a contract at any time for a WWE Title Shot. Rollins decided that WrestleMania was the place to do it by turning the Main Event between Brock Lesnar and Reigns into a Triple Threat pinning his former Shield-brother. The dream of being in the Main Event and ending WrestleMania with the Gold had come true. His Title run was going well when he went on a European Tour in the Fall of 2015. His WrestleMania was coming up in just months and he was ready to headline it. Unfortunately, a match in Dublin, Ireland with Kane changed that.
A torn ACL, MCL, and Meniscus in his right knee ended his Championship on November 4, 2015. After his surgery, Rollins went back to the only place he would draw strength…Iowa. He hadn’t spent extended time at home in a decade and despite the utter disappointment, he’d been in this position before. It was time to reconnect and he did it. His friends and family provided the support the Champion needed to return not only to the level he was at, but to soar even higher. The isolation from his parent’s divorce drew him back into wrestling after a three year sabbatical in the early nineties, and the isolation out of the wrestling mainstream in late 2015 drew him back into Iowa.
Once again his home gave him back joy and filled him with gratitude. He appreciated the time to get away and redesign, rebuild, and reclaim his career. He called his shot again after the surgery saying that we hadn’t seen the best Rollins yet. He was right. Rollins returned from the injury and the next three years would see him become a WWE Triple Crown and Grand Slam Champion with wins at Mania against Triple H and The Miz.
Now he faces The Beast in near anonymity. Roman Reigns has returned from “Kicking Leukemia’s ass again” and “what the heck is going on with Dean?” have been larger storylines going to New York City and WrestleMania 35 than the Universal Title Match. He’s never won the Universal Title, and beating Brock would cement his legacy. Seth has the style to give Lesnar problems with his wonderful combination of size, speed, and aerial ability. Some pundits have expressed that Rollins couldn’t be cooler right now. What they don’t realize is that’s the perfect set-up for him. When nobody expects it is when Rollins shines the brightest.
The Ghosts of Iowa’s wrestling legends will be there when Rollins steps into the ring with Lesnar to accomplish the impossible. He’s going into arguably the biggest match of his career April 7th against one of the most dominant Champions in WWE history, and it seems like nobody cares. All the focus has been on the first women’s Main Event in history, and Rollins and the Ghosts wouldn’t have it any other way.