This week on The Right Side of the Pond (TRSOTP), Mazza, Maverick and I discuss a question I raised on social media around a week or so ago. It was a question that received a lively response and sparked interesting debate, and was one many might find contentious all things considered. The question was this: strictly from a creative point of view, is Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose the greatest feud in WWE history?
Now before you rush off to the comments section down below to provide me with an emphatic no, consider the caveat here. I fully accept there are a plethora of feuds throughout WWE’s history that have generated greater box office, had more all-time classics in the ring (by popular consensus) and lit up a fiercer response from live crowds across the globe. I’m not here to argue that Rollins vs. Ambrose outshines the leviathans of achievement in the industry’s history like Austin vs. Rock for example, or André vs. Hogan, hence the caveat. Rather, thinking only about the creativity within the feud – the writing, the character progression, the consistency of both across a prolonged period of time – it is tricky to consider any feud, I believe, that has managed the same infinitely layered, three-dimensional and ever-changing nature that the Rollins and Ambrose story has across a similar period of time.
Later tonight, we three regular Ponders put forward feuds that might contend for that same moniker, as we look at the likes of Hart vs. Austin, Jericho vs. Benoit and Triple H vs. The Rock in turn and discuss whether or not they share that same breadth of quality that Rollins vs. Ambrose has thus far enjoyed.
I don’t want to give away any of the real detail of our discussion on tonight’s podcast here, but I will say this: I remain unconvinced that any feud throughout WWE’s history has been written better and more consistently than that of the Architect and the Lunatic Fringe, at least across a period of as many years. You may roll yours eyes at that bold statement considering my infamous status as a Rollins mega-fan, but this conclusion is not rooted solely in biased fandom. It also comes from a more dispassionate consideration of the creative achievements, and factors therein, of how the evolving relationship between the Shield brethren has been crafted over the course of what is now six years (or seven, if you consider their FCW work).
The feud has demonstrated remarkable consistency of motivation, of character and of acknowledging past events. I say remarkable because it is a rarely come by thing in WWE today, when they so eagerly trip over themselves to constantly alter the central motivation of any two given characters or airbrush entire encounters from the history books as it suits. Not so with Rollins and Ambrose. While the surface of their feud has undergone cosmetic changes – from brotherhood to betrayal, from championship attainment through to reunion – the central motivation, that has ultimately informed the reasoning behind their actions and the changing nature of their relationship at each turn, can be traced back to the same core premise: race to become the best in the business. It was true even of their time in developmental.
So too does Rollins vs. Ambrose enjoy that little touch of fate that all the greatest feuds have benefitted from. Sometimes, the small and unpredictable coincidences are what help create that special feeling that the all-time best carry and Rollins vs. Ambrose is no different. Like Triple H and The Rock before them, the two Hounds have come up through the business with their individual character growth set on parallel trajectories. Their first encounter wasn’t until they both reached FCW, and the very first thing Ambrose did upon arrival was challenge the then-reigning FCW 15 Champion Seth Rollins. From there they made their mark as members of The Shield, rose locked in opposition to one another through the mid card into the upper echelons and opened the gate to the Renaissance Era together as the two first round draft picks – and on-the-night title contenders – during the nights that reinstituted the Brand Extension. That they will close out a WrestleMania together in some form feels inevitable. Such fateful circumstances cannot be replicated or written but simply happen, splicing themselves into already strong writing to transform any given rivalry into something uniquely, transcendentally special.
On a similar note, longevity is often a sign of a great feud too, and that WWE have now revisited the Rollins and Ambrose relationship in some form every single year since 2014 is demonstrative of how this particular rivalry seems to have, as my colleague Maverick comments tonight on the show, taken on a life of its own. While some of those visits have resulted in greater critical acclaim than others, none have been met with anything like a widespread negative reception. The reason for that is simple: it’s good. It’s damn good.
The quality of the writing is, in large part, a reason for that, and the quality of performers too. You think about something as simplistic and melodramatic as The Mega Powers Exploding storyline and you realise how important a part those obvious factors have in defining all-time great feuds. The writing has to be on point and the performers have to make you believe what you are seeing feels real. It’s a symbiotic relationship between material and performance that brings out the best form of both. Rollins and Ambrose always perform opposite and alongside one another with such conviction, executing tightly written chapters in their ongoing story together, that real is precisely how it feels. Not everyone will be as heavily immersed as any given fan, of course, but any clear-eyed and objective critique would give credit where it’s due to the wholehearted execution of a storyline that now has serious depth to it.
Perhaps the biggest sticking point from that strictly creative point of view I’m contextualising this grandiose claim with, though, is simple match quality. This is where, for many, my argument might fall down. There is a legion of fans – I dare say the majority – who share the view point of my Lords of Pain colleague Doc, who regularly reminds me that Rollins and Ambrose are yet to wrestle an all-time classic. Even speaking strictly creatively, all the all-time great feuds have at least one of those. The best have a number. Perhaps only the bespoke nature of Austin vs. McMahon can claim exception to that rule.
This is where I disagree, as you might have expected. Their genre-defining Lumberjack Match at Summerslam is, to my mind, an all-time great on two levels: the best match of its type WWE has seen and one of the best Summerslam mid card matches ever. Their Ladder Match is an unfashionable piece of work that goes against the grain of what the modern fan base expects, even demands from a match of its type, so that few share my love for it does not surprise me; though, know that I consider it the best match of its type since the initial collection in the late 1990s. Their dual championship matches that took place on the Monday Night Raw and Smackdown Live that reinstituted the Brand Extension are WrestleMania worthy both individually and together, and their Hell in a Cell Match watches as a historic best-of that tributes the most memorable Cell matches and moments in a single twenty minute span.
You might not consider any of these matches to be all-time classics even though I do, and I suppose more than anything that comes down to a simple matter of taste. I accept that, and appreciate it. Taste, opinion, both are vitally important to account for when we consider these grand proclamations like “Greatest Ever Feud,” even with caveats like that I attach to my own claim today. That’s why we discuss contenders for the ‘throne’ on tonight’s episode of The Right Side of the Pond, and why such debate was sparked by my post on social media.
In the end, I see it very simply: Rollins vs. Ambrose has the fateful coincidences of a Rock vs. Triple H, the pointed storytelling of a Hogan vs. Savage, the match quality of a Hart vs. Michaels and, arguably more importantly, has proven to possess greater long-term consistency and continuity than feuds like Undertaker vs. Mankind, with considerably more nuance and granular achievement than a relationship like that of Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho. It is, to my mind, at this stage, the greatest feud WWE has ever witnessed when speaking from the point of view of its creative enterprise.
But you can hear more on all of this, and on other all-time great feuds, from Maverick and I in just a couple of hours on the next instalment of The Right Side of the Pond, airing only on Lords of Pain Radio to kick your weekend off right! The Right Side of the Pond airs only on LOP Radio every Friday night, 9pm BST / 5pm EST, or can be listened to on demand at any time via BlogTalkRadio or on iTunes, so be sure to check it out!
Until then, if you have any thoughts on what you believe the greatest WWE feud of all-time is, when considering them strictly from a creative point of view, let them be known in the comments below, over on social media or even by signing up to our own LOPForums, where TRSOTP and every other LOP Radio show has its very own discussion thread for you to throw some responses our way without the limitations of Twitter or Facebook; just click here to sign up!