Monday, January 25, 2016

Assorted Thoughts About the Royal Rumble

Roman Reigns was a victim of overbooking
Photo Credit:
So, Peyton Manning is getting ready to play in another Super Bowl, The X-Files season premiere garnered a lot of attention on non-wrestling television, and Triple H is the WWE Champion. Forgive me if I feel as if society has entered a time warp back into the past, but no, the world is firmly rooted in 2016, for better or worse. The Royal Rumble event on the whole was generally a satisfactory affair with its sore moments. Yeah, Triple H as the Champ ripped open some old scars, and moments during the night, like Kalisto and Alberto del Rio going full derp on a few occasions, Ric Flair stealing a kiss in the worst way possible, and the layout intentionally missing Kofi Kingston's elimination to focus on a stretcher angle were warts that were better left iced and removed. But overall, the show felt like a return to a better time, primarily the period between TLC 2012 and Payback 2014, when every pay-per-view delivered more than it didn't. Now that the generalities are out of the way, I'm going to go into a few specifics about the show.

I eat too much, I drink too much, I book too much, TOO MUCH - Triple H winning the Rumble made sense from a narrative standpoint. Triple H winning the Rumble also is enough to wound my own personal wrestling soul enough not to care about such things as "logic" or "story." That being said, the biggest problem with the decision process to the finish of the Rumble had nothing to do with the COO. The Royal Rumble match presented a confused idea of how the people who laid it out wanted to portray Roman Reigns. Basically, WWE officials, be it the agents or Vince McMahon himself or even Triple H tried to do too much with Reigns, and it ended up muddying the finish.

Midway through the match, McMahon had the League of Nations, well, at least the members of the League of Nations who could still walk and chew gum at the same time (Sorry Wade), drag Reigns out of the ring and stretcher him by putting him through a table. The stretcher spot is as tried and true a trope in wrestling as the ref bump. It's used to build up immense amounts of sympathy for the babyface so that when he comes back, the crowd gets that "hair standing up on the back of the neck" feeling when that competitor wins. Most recently, Daniel Bryan was the beneficiary of the "more guts than brains" rub at WrestleMania XXX.

But Reigns didn't win the match, and instead, when Triple H eliminated him from behind (on a stunning looking but ill-advised fast bump over the top rope), it came off confusing at best. If Reigns had hobbled from the back after missing a huge chunk of the match only to be dumped while selling his midsection, maybe it could have been salvaged, but he came roaring back down the aisle to Superman Punch Sheamus before clearing house in the ring. To me, that kind of procession means he should totally win the match, right? But WWE tried to do too much with Reigns and it bit the narrative in the ass.

This problem isn't new or even native to the RAW roster narrative. So much gets overbooked to the point of exhaustion. For example, remember Asuka vs. Emma at Takeover: London? The match had a ref bump and interference and distraction and the whole nine yards, and it was for a curtain-jerking match with little reason to have that much shenanigans going on in it. Of course, the match itself was at least three fire emojis in terms of quality, and it didn't have the stakes riding on it that the Rumble did. The forgiveness level was high.

Then again, the Rumble match itself was rollicking, fun, and well-done otherwise, so no harm, no foul, right? Well, the stakes were exponentially higher here. Reigns is supposed to be the top guy, and he honestly needn't be portrayed with the levels of wishy-washiness that WWE showed in presenting him last night. If the endgame was going to be Triple H taking him out, then shouldn't he have spent time in the bulk of the match getting ravaged by the Wyatt Family and Brock Lesnar? The calculus was off.

Get ready to FLY - The rumblings were true, and AJ Styles made his WWE debut after weeks of speculation where he might land after giving his notice to New Japan Pro Wrestling. He lasted 28 minutes in the Rumble match after entering at the three slot right after Reigns eliminated Rusev (still sore about that). When Kevin Owens finally eliminated him, Michael Cole announced that Styles "had nothing to be ashamed of." For once, the WWE hype machine jibed with reality. Styles felt like a big deal, from the pop when he first emerged from the back through his showdown with Reigns, the multiple teases of the Styles Clash, and the way he and Owens went at it when the latter first hit the ring. I'd like to think they were fighting over who loved the Young Bucks more.

Either way, Styles had a memorable debut, and he has a lot of cache to build upon. The fact that WWE is letting him keep his name is refreshing to say the least. OF all the recent signees, he and Shinsuke Nakamura are the ones who have reason to keep their familiar names. Whether or not he has a high-profile match at WrestleMania to match his big debut remains to be seen. WWE is great at introductions, but it has left much to be desired on follow-ups. But right now, AJ Styles is one of the most important wrestlers in the world.

Kevin Owens vs. The World - Remember when Randy Orton was making weight-cracks at Owens after Battleground, and everyone thought Kevin Dunn was out to get him? I do, because I was part of that crowd. As fate would have it, Owens was never in any real danger, and the fact that he currently could be embroiled in no fewer than three WrestleMania-caliber feuds going forward is a great sign that he's in WWE to stay for the long haul. The big question is, which feud will take him into Mania? The Dean Ambrose feud is probably over, because that Last Man Standing match, in addition to being the match of the night (and probably the best match in WWE so far in 2016) had an air of finality to it. He probably could feud with Styles into Mania, but why bring Sami Zayn into the Rumble if WWE wasn't going to run the second portion of their never-ending feud into the biggest Mania of all-time? Either way, Owens is a big fuckin' deal, and he should be, because he's one of the best guys ever to do this thing called pro wrestling.

OH MY GOD, YOU KILLED NEVILLE, YOU BASTARD - Why say it in words, when a .gif speaks so much more loudly:

.gif Credit: @NotAlex Jones

Get Ric Flair all the way outta here - "Kiss-stealin'" is a part of Ric Flair's mantra, but to see it happen live against an opponent of his daughter's felt kinda gross. Yeah, Becky Lynch punched him in the face afterwards. And the announce team made it clear that the action was disgusting. And Flair's a heel doing cheap shit for the benefit of Charlotte. At the same time, women in WWE are still shoveling their way out of the snow like most of the northern East Coast is, only their blizzard has been going on longer than Jupiter's Great Red Spot and has been as intense as three or four Superstorm Sandies. Maybe reminding women that they can be sexually assaulted like that isn't the best of looks.

"WE WANT SASHA... OH, WE GOT SASHA!" - At first, I thought Sasha Banks and Charlotte were going to recreate the BFFs and loudly wondered where the fuck Summer Rae was. In all honesty, Summer has been one of the most underutilized talents on all the RAW roster, and a chance for her to let her natural charisma shine through in roles that aren't relegated to insta-failure would be manna from heaven. But Banks' lot at the end of the Charlotte/Lynch match was more disruptive than collaborative.

The corporately-mandated Divas Revolution had been a sham up to this point because it had been mostly talk. However, it may have begun on the RAW roster in earnest last night if the endgame is a mind-blowing triple-threat match at Mania that allows women to have the same agency as men on Mondays, Thursdays, and every fourth-or-so Sunday. I will believe it when I see it, but if the division is built upon those three, it may have a chance.

The most important of the three, of course, is Banks. The crowd has clamored for her because she showed in NXT that the LEGIT BOSS wasn't just a gimmick, it was a lifestyle. I don't remember a single bad match she had for the Full Sail narrative, and even in limited shots to shine on RAW, she's made good on her reputation. Fans didn't chant "We want Sasha!" to be contrarian assholes. And the last time the crowd chanted en masse for someone in an attempt to push them, well, Daniel Bryan sure worked out fine for WWE's story-based wrestling show before he got hurt, didn't he?