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  1. #1
    Author of 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die Samuel 'Plan's Avatar
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    [KOTC Final] Just Business: Part of the Journey is the End

    “How you live your life is your business, just remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. And before you know it, your heart is worn out...”
    ~ Mr Perlman, Call Me By Your Name

    One night back in January, I wrapped up recording that week's The Right Side of the Pond podcast to find I had a couple of hours spare, so I opted to sponsor myself an evening off and sat down with a film, chosen quite at random though not entirely in ignorance.

    A novel before being adapted for the screen, Call Me By Your Name is a laconic, poetic movie chronicling how a precocious young Italian lad named Elio comes of age one long hot summer when he quite unexpectedly, though deeply and passionately falls in love with the visiting American grad student Oliver. It is no exaggeration to say the story reduced me to tears and lingered days in my memory. It is difficult to explain why, my best effort being to say that it had been as if watching a memory of a life I had never lived though might have done, had I been possessed of greater courage and embraced what I was born to be at an earlier age.

    Since those unexpectedly life-changing two hours, I've found myself in a relentlessly contemplative mood, that has solidified inside of me just as relentless a determination to remain focussed on what I want to achieve, so that I never have to mourn for life not lived again; as well as the realisation that I have recently been on a journey I never even realised I was travelling, which now approaches its end.

    That journey started in 2012, when The Shield turned up on the scene. Michael Cole was right that night: they changed the course of the industry forever. At first, I was dismissive, contemptuous even. Flashes of the ignominious failures of factions like the Nexus were fresh in my mind. Here's just another group, I thought, counting down the minutes until they amount to nothing.

    I can safely say I've never been happier to be so wrong. First, they tore down the house at TLC. Then they scored a pin fall over a team led by John Cena. Soon enough, they became champions; not long thereafter, stood as the muscle for the Authority. Slowly, they won my attention, changing my perception of WWE until, much more suddenly, Seth Rollins won my admiration. By the time the Architect was flying over the ropes opposite the Wyatt Family, I knew something entirely unexpected had happened: Bret Hart was no longer my all-time favourite.

    Over the years that followed, I watched Seth Rollins ascend the ranks of the company, myself accruing the irreplaceable experiences I never got to have through my retrospective love for the Hitman. I watched as Rollins was anointed the Undisputed Future. I watched as he became Mr Money in the Bank and cashed in to win his first WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the 'Heist of the Century.' I watched him headline pay-per-views alongside legends like John Cena and Sting. And I watched him injure his knee.

    Time and again I watched that, all the while incapable of predicting that, once again in quite sudden fashion, Seth Rollins would, upon returning, win my outright affection. By the time he was invading NXT in San Antonio, I knew something entirely unexpected had happened, again: Seth Rollins went from being just my favourite wrestler to being my inspiration. I saw a story evolve that, as little removed as two years prior, I would have never believed. A one-legged man won an ass-kicking contest. A once and future egotist learnt the value of humility in defeat. A brother reunited with a brother. Over sixty minutes on a Monday Night Raw, a remarkable man was propelled into pursuit of an Intercontinental Championship that would spend the rest of 2018 finding itself reaching lofty heights it hadn't known for a quarter of a century. A brotherhood was torn down and rebuilt. A Royal Rumble was won.

    And through all of this, I found greater and greater inspiration to become a better and better version of myself, to become more than the closeted, lethargic coward I was seven lifetimes ago in 2012, looking for somewhere to place the blame for my life not being what I wanted it to be.

    “As a man, I'm flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed, but as a symbol? As a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.”
    ~ Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins

    This story is more complex than all of that, though, because all of that was only one side of what I now understand was always two-sided coin. As a believer in fate, in as reflective a mindset as I am in, it is difficult for me not to see destiny in the timing that has 2012 being not just the year that Seth Rollins arrived on the main roster to change everything I thought I knew, but also the year Brock Lesnar returned as counterweight.

    Of course, this part we all know so well. The Beast Incarnate. Eat, sleep, conquer the Streak. Suplex City, bitch! It's not a prediction.... The lines are familiar, the routine the same. Brock Lesnar arrives and wreaks havoc. A new challenger steps up, only to find themselves subjugated and conquered like all the others, all the while Paul Heyman shouting his narrative for all to hear.

    Heyman will tell you that, once upon a time, WWE actively sought out Lesnar, and that Lesnar only left for having no more competition to conquer. He will tell you that when Lesnar went looking for fresh conquests in the UFC “it happened again,” and that Lesnar returned to WWE a prodigal Beast as a result. He will tell you that Lesnar fights when he chooses to fight because Lesnar is above the sort of schedules the average WWE superstar contends with and he will tell you that Lesnar is better than his contemporaries, an unstoppable force of nature, a conqueror and all-round legitimate bad ass who 'decided' to “own the championship.” Most frequently of all, he will tell you all about the harvest of his Beast: The Undertaker, John Cena, Randy Orton, AJ Styles, Finn Bálor, Daniel Bryan, Goldberg, Samoa Joe, Braun Strowman, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns.

    So the question, then, is how any man can hope to overcome this monster, once and for all? Why is it Seth Rollins and everything he stands for has any better a chance than anyone who came before him? The answer is simple: because everything Paul Heyman tells you is a lie, a myth built brick by brick since 2012, spun for a post-truth world, and we have all come to believe it without questioning it - including the long line of opponents stretching out behind Brock.

    The victims of Lesnar's so-called harvest all bought into this incorruptible, intimidating myth of Heyman's, that took Brock Lesnar and transformed him into something supernatural, and it was in the believing of that myth that they all defeated themselves before they ever stepped foot in the ring – because that was the reason they tried to fight fire with fire. For Strowman and Reigns and 'Taker, it was blunt force trauma equal to the Beast. For Ambrose and Orton and Cena, the same reckless abandon matching the Beast's. For Styles and Bálor and Bryan, the same martial prowess as the Beast's. But to fight fire with fire is to get yourself burned, and burn is what they all did, in a crucible heated by Heyman's incendiary propaganda.

    But when you strip that propaganda away, you're left with the pitiable reality.

    Lesnar left WWE because he didn't have what it took. He found the daily grind too hard, and when faced with adversity he crumbled and fled to the familiar. He never cut it on the football field, and he barely fought during his days in the UFC; when he did, he lost almost as often as he won. When he came back to WWE, he started with a loss, and it wasn't long before he lost again. He doesn't wrestle part-time because he's above anything other; he does it because he lacks the mental strength to endure the challenge of the lifestyle others, like Rollins, bleed. It took Heyman to focus his talents into winning ways and it takes Heyman to maintain them – by, most crucially, being able to sell them. It's not that Brock Lesnar isn't the Beast; it's that the Beast is just an idea, and when you remove that idea all you're left with is a mewling little farm boy complaining his way, like a spoiled child, to special exception.

    To answer my question, then, Rollins has all the same tools as those who challenged Lesnar before him had, but so too does he have something those same men did not: that inspiring journey, that saw him look his own devil in the eye without blinking and granted him a greater abundance of spiritual wisdom and mental strength than any other man in WWE's universe. That wisdom can pierce the cloak of Heyman's spin and ensure Rollins doesn't burn himself in the effort to fight fire with fire in panic, but instead move the fight to the mental battleground that matters most, whereupon Lesnar becomes less a beast and more a beggar.

    “Part of the journey is the end.”
    ~ Tony Stark, Avengers: Endgame

    It can't be coincidence, that 2012 saw Brock Lesnar return and Seth Rollins debut. It can't be coincidence, that over the years that followed WWE's product worsened because of the lopsided favouritism shown to Lesnar, while my life was legitimately changed for the better because of how much the story of Rollins, in all its glass ceiling shattering strength, spoke to and inspired my own. It can't be coincidence, that the journeys both of these characters have been on, that started the same year as each other, look set to culminate in a single match pitting one against the other, right at the same time as I approach a milestone in my life and come to recognise the importance of seizing your moment to make your dream a reality.

    I can't believe that's all just happen-stance, and it's this sense of fatalism that has me realising my own journey is now coming to an end.

    I turn 30 this year. I'm currently researching my second wrestling book. I've accrued more accolades at LOP and, I hope, won more respect than I ever would have dared to anticipate when I joined more than eleven years ago. But the truth is my dream was never to be a wrestling writer or internet columnist, and now is the time for me to take inspiration from my hero once more and make my actual dreams become realities, by making the choices I need to make to ensure I don't find myself reflecting on another life not lived in another seven years.

    That's why this will be my last tournament at LOP, why WrestleMania will be my final Aftershock and why, when my next book has been published, my time here will be through.

    Heyman called WrestleMania “the end of the story of a man named Seth Rollins.” He's wrong. Come WrestleMania, all we'll have witnessed is the end of the beginning of Seth Rollins in WWE, and it comes at the same time as what I consider to be the beginning of my end here at LOP; because it was my hero's journey to WrestleMania 35 that taught me how much better it is to be the man willing to risk it all to win it once, rather than the coward who owns nothing at all because of his fear of risking anything.

  2. #2
    Member #25 SirSam's Avatar
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    Damn man. This is such a good column, a true sequel to both the CSI final column from last year and your piece before the WM33 Rollins match.

    As with all your best columns you manage to draw out narrative strands that only you seem to be able to find and bind them together to make it into a far more compelling story than the WWE has ever consciously presented to us. That stuff about Brock not being able to hack it but has instead built a mythology around himself rings so damn true - when he was faced with adversity in the UFC, when the competition uncovered his very one dimensional style his response was to leave for pro wrestling and yet he is still built as an unstoppable force within UFC mythology. The comments about his previous conquers beating themselves likewise, and it all leaves one last hope for WWE, one last man entering through the fire and flames of his own redemption to finally slay him. It is just such a great story when presented that way.

    I've never hid my respect for your work, you have very much informed the way I enjoy wrestling and you are one of the reasons I write on this site so I will be sad to see you go when the time comes. However until then I will be more than happy to continue to enjoy amazing pieces like this. Amazing way to cap off the tournament that you have dominated.



    @Sir_Samuel

  3. #3
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    The blend between kayfabe and “behind-the-scenes” was really well done here. Dissecting Lesnar’s advantages over his opponents and exploring an alternative explanation for his eased schedule were tremendously insightful, and could exist entirely within the kayfabe universe. Yet, your professed admiration for Rollins comfortably overlaps both worlds and is better for it. In terms of a kayfabe argument, however, I will say that I think you might have a little too easily explained away the differences between Rollins’ chances and the like of a Balor or a Styles.

    I loved your take on the topic. While it was a unique approach and maybe not the predicted route, it still made the connection soundly and really got me thinking. You didn’t let it dominate your column, having the focus be on the parallels between your journey and the journeys of Rollins and Lesnar, but you made it a pivotal enough part of that journey that you earn full marks from me in that category.

    Nice selection of quotes interspersed throughout – from a variety of sources, and each fitting in aptly. An excellent swing around from the introductory paragraph to the conclusion. Found one rare and tiny error – “because all of that was only one side of what I now understand was always (a) two-sided coin” was missing the article. Something that can slip through even the most scrutinizing of proofreads, as I know from personal experience – and something that was duplicated by your competition as well!

    I think the best part of the column, as it often tends to be with yours, is the thought-provoking nature of it. I already mentioned your alternative take on Brock’s ostensible conveniences actually being weaknesses. Of course, the bigger one is your personal declaration of imminent retirement. Maybe it’s coincidence/luck, because the “I turn 30 this year” statement is particularly striking with me, as I also hit the milestone in 2019. So if yours happens when you’re not around these parts, cheers to 30! And best of luck in the final result.

  4. #4
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    Can an all time favourite really be replaced? I mean really, truly replaced? Seth may be your favourite right now, but I bet you can still go back & watch the Bret Hart classics with a different kind of fondness. A fondness that you can't yet rewatch Rollins matches with, because the love you have for him is still missing the nostalgia element of the relationship.

    An idea is formulating to explore this idea in a potential future column, but for me the favourites you settle upon from the start will always in the longer term usurp those other favourites you make along the way.

  5. #5
    The Brain
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    I loved how well written this was, which goes nearly without saying when it comes to your work, and I very much appreciated how personal and passionate you made it. Writing about wrestling with love will always be near to my heart. Even though I can't personally relate to your feelings on Rollins at all really, it wasn't necessarily important that I do so, just that I understand how his journey has affected you personally. Tying the story to the changes in your own life was a nice touch. I can't say I was convinced by your analysis of Brock either but it was contextualized nicely, so I did enjoy it as a nice bit of narrative. Best of luck to you here, and I hope you can find a way to progress your life but still make time for all your friends on this little corner of the internet.

  6. #6
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    Each person that comes on this kind of platform, to interact and connect with people who share the same passion, lives their fandom in their own way. When anyone says that heroes don't exist anymore, this column proves the opposite. It was inspiring to read how much a fictional character can influence someone in the most positive way. We don't always know where the road ahead of us will bring us and it's so important to enjoy the ride.

    Your column was beautifully written, as always. The reader knows instantly that it's a "'Plan column". You know Rollins' career like the back of your hand and you wrote a really convincing arc conclusion. I also want the Lesnar's story you exposed to be true, never liked the character he was given when he came back. It's against everything I support as professional entertainment or athlete.

    I'll enjoy the rest of the journey before the end comes.

  7. #7
    'Plan, you've offered a magisterial piece here displaying an amazing ability to weave your personal story into your passion for wrestling and Seth Rollins' arc specifically. It's another example in a body of work that reflects an unmatched skill in revealing the layers of character and narrative embedded in the world of wrestling. You have my respect and admiration, and I can't thank you enough for helping and encouraging me on my way into the CF. I hope you don't hang it up too soon, all my best on your personal journey.

  8. #8
    You know who I am, but you don't know why I'm here
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    This was fantastic in my opinion and I rated the highest of any column in the tournament. It had an emotional hook that connected with me instantly, it flowed through its word count extraordinarily well, it was expertly written...this was a masterpiece in column writing. Well done
    Author of The WrestleMania Era book series, author of The Doctor's Orders columns on LOP since 2010, LOP Columns Hall of Famer, former host of The Doc Says podcast on LOP Radio (2013-2018), former LOP Raw and WWE PPV Reviewer (2006-2007), and former LOP Smackdown Reviewer (2004-2006)

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