When I penned an article for this fine website a few months back, the premise of which was to consider who would emerge from the dust to rule an apocalyptic post-Cena world, I cast my eye over several possible candidates. The Shield boys were obvious picks to evaluate; so too was Wyatt while even my outside bet for future ‘Mania headliner, Big E, got a look in. But I didn’t pick the recently anointed World Champ, Sheamus. But then, no-one ever picks Sheamus do they?
Well, Vince does. Quite regularly in fact. Sheamus’ stats are impressive: four time World Champion; two time US title holder; and a Money in the Bank, King of the Ring and Royal Rumble winner. Even Michael Bay picks Sheamus (or at least his casting agent did): the Irishman will play Rocksteady in the next Ninja Turtles film (I always saw him as a Bebop myself). To make serious in-roads in such competitive industries, the Celtic Warrior must have some talent and real presence in front of a camera. He has certainly had some great, physical matches against diverse opponents. He has an interesting, unique look, cuts a very respectable promo and had a theme song ripe for parody. And did you know, he has threatened to hurt Gary Neville. Repeatedly. Shouldn't we at least grudgingly respect this guy by now?
Well it seems that many don’t: I was in New Jersey in April 2013 when the crowd (rather unfairly) gave Sheamus and Orton both barrels. Months of disinterest gave way to an outpouring of pure disdain. More recently, I witnessed the online vitriol (the most vicious of all vitriol) when he a) won MITB in June and b) cashed in the briefcase at Survivor Series. Sheamus is not popular amongst hardcore devotees. But is that on the performer or is it the fault of the machine that backs him?
For my money, WWE have had two real opportunities to effectively get Sheamus over as a bona fide main eventer: both times they started well but both times they stumbled. Opportunity number 1: following a brief stint with the ECW brand, he debuted on Raw in 2009 and was pushed hard as a smash mouth heel, squashing opponents and taking out Jerry Lawler in a dramatic angle at MSG. He even won his first WWE title from John Cena within four months; a quicker rise to the title scene than Brock Lesnar’s journey in 2002. Now that all sounds like a platform for wowing the audience and establishing a star but in reality, his win over Cena in a tables match was presented as a fluke as John simply fell through the table. Sadly flukes do not make smash mouth heels look legit. Indeed by the summer of 2010, he had lost any edge that he may have had, winning his second title from Cena, this time following a Nexus beatdown. The Irishman literally pinned Cena and then ran away from everyone in the ring. All remaining credibility was lost when a few months later, having dropped the title after a bland reign, he was saddled with the worst gimmick in wrestling: the losing streak.
After a prolonged spell in the mid card, where even-steven booking stalled his progress, he got his second chance. Whilst his winning the Rumble in 2012 wasn't overly dramatic or memorable, at least it didn’t lead to near rioting (see Batista/ Reigns) and WWE felt confident that fans would get behind their man handing out an 18 second mauling at Mania ’28. Now whilst the match in question was unpopular (and lay the seeds of the Yes movement that would run for two years), Sheamus escaped reasonable unscathed from the debacle. His subsequent world title run was solid, the best of his career. Yes, his belt was secondary to Punk’s WWE title but he was presented as a force, kind of like a strong Intercontinental champion from the late 80s/early 90s. Good matches with Del Rio and Ziggler were complimented by legitimately great matches with Bryan and Big Show. That’s right, Sheamus gave Big Show his best ever WWE match at Hell in a Cell 2012 as the two competed in a real thriller. It was here that WWE took the belt from him- in hindsight prematurely. Had they left it for a few more months and programmed him with notable stars, he could have made that final leap, demonstrating the consistency required to fully earn the respect of the audience. Winning a feud against a credible heel (either Orton or Jericho would have fit the bill) could have cemented the likeable Irishman as a main eventer. Not the next Hogan or Austin by any means but a solid alternate to John Cena.
As Sheamus went from world champ to perennial mid-carder to suddenly world champ again, it’s easy to blame inconsistent booking for his rather subdued status in the game. But it’s not just that: Sheamus is to some symbolic of the WWE machine. Whilst he did his time on the Indie circuit, it was in the UK and Ireland- he never had a run with a recognisable US outfit that would automatically make him an indie darling to the hardcore fans. When he debuted on WWE television, he was seen as another big guy with a strange look, plucked from no-where and pushed to the moon. Rumours that he was Triple H’s gym partner probably didn't help matters as whispers of favouritism accompanied his push ahead of more seasoned performers.
Despite the misgivings of many and the mistakes of the past, Sheamus is back on top. For now. His recent promos have been lively but still veer into comedy too much. The League of Nations gimmick seems to be an attempt to disguise his lack of heat and legitimacy as a threat to Reign. My guess is that the run is short lived and Roman wins the gold at the Rumble and moves onto Brock Lesnar. Where does that leave Sheamus? Well, Wrestlemania is in Dallas, Texas. Whilst he won’t wrestle a match, Stone Cold Steve Austin will appear in a heavily promoted angle and he will need a heel whose ass he can kick. Sheamus 5:15 might be the man for that gig.
Long term, it’s hard to see him as a regular main eventer that will truly win over the fan base. There have been too many false dawns with this performer for us to take him really seriously. That said, expect the “fella” to be around for a while yet. He’s a steady hand who can give rising babyfaces a rub and he and Barrett could do something fun with the Tag straps. There’s also the small matter of a feud with another Irishman in 2016: Finn Balor. So Sheamus will be fine- a good company man with a major movie on the way, his career will most likely be Hall of Fame worthy, albeit not in the headline spot. The real lesson here is for the Fed: if things had been handled different between 2009-2012, if some long term planning had been implemented, then maybe the cash in last month would have been met with real excitement and not such apathy.