|Too slow, Ronda, too slow|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
- AJ Styles retained the WWE World Championship against Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens with a casadora victory roll counter of the pop-up powerbomb.
- The Usos retained the Smackdown Tag Team Championships with a straight two-nothing sweep of Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin.
- Shinsuke Nakamura won the 2018 men's Royal Rumble match by lastly eliminating Roman Reigns.
- The Bar regained the RAW Tag Team Championships for a fourth time by defeating Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan. They hit Rollins with a double-team White Noise, as Jordan spent the entire match incapacitated.
- Brock Lesnar retained the WWE Universal Championship over Kane and Braun Strowman by F5ing Kane onto a chair.
- Asuka won the first ever women's Royal Rumble match, eliminating Nikki Bella last.
- After the match, Ronda Rousey debuted for WWE by coming down to the ring and confronting Asuka, Alexa Bliss, and Charlotte Flair before shaking Stephanie McMahon's hand.
- The Rumble telecast started with someone bringing a #COYS (Come On You Spurs, a rallying cry for Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premiere League soccer) sign to the show, which I guess is better than the "Wenger Out" signs you see at some of the other shows. Still, why do wrestling and soccer feel inextricably linked?
- Also, the dude dressed like Waldo in the front row did a really shitty job of hiding himself.
- I just noticed that Sami Zayn's announced weight is 212 lbs., which makes him a stomach virus away from rotting in the purgatory that is 205 Live.
- Zayn and Kevin Owens tried so hard to heel at the beginning with the rapid-fire tags in and out without engaging AJ Styles, but the Philly crowd still was split down the middle. That's the curse of having a show in front of a "smart" crowd; they cheer most people who are good at their jobs, not whether or not they're "good" or "bad" in terms of narrative parlance.
- I normally like Corey Graves, and Byron Saxton is inoffensive outside of the confines of this Owens/Zayn/Shane McMahon feud, but when they were telling each other to shut up during the match, I got bad flashbacks to the Jim Ross/Paul Heyman broadcast team, which is probably my least favorite of the "acclaimed" commentary pairings in history. I don't want enmity in the broadcast booth. I want avuncular disagreement.
- The big thing I noticed in the early stages of this match was that Owens channeled more of his violent Kevin Steen days on the indies rather than his resthold-heavy main roster oeuvre, and it worked. The gap between post-ironic Owens and super-violent Steen is vast, man.
- That being said, Owens yelling to his partner "Sami, watch this!" before whiffing on the corner cannonball was primo comic relief. Comedy doesn't have to be relegated to its own match, you know.
- Styles has had the best offense in WWE since getting there two years ago. The timing on his counter Pele kick was sublime, and he followed it up with a perfect counter of a monkey flip from Owens into a headscissors on Zayn, and it was the sort of thing that everyone who goes hard on bumps but has tepid offense should've been watching. Looking at you, Adam Cole and Dolph Ziggler.
- The entire finishing sequence was amazing and put the exclamation point that it was the best handicap match at least WWE has ever put on. I disliked the fact that they angled in whether or not a tag happened, because god this feud needs to end and end now, but the actual wrestling involved, from the fingertip near-tag through tossing Zayn out through the counter to the powerbomb was grappling caviar, man.
- Tom Phillips in introducing the Usos called them "Jimmy and Jimmy," which either meant he was wistful for the Jimmyz having broken up in Dragon Gate, or he was too busy dreaming about face-fucking someone other than his fiancee again to get the call right.
- Jimmy Uso threw a hard slapping uppercut early in the match, and I'm pretty sure the hairs on the back of my neck grew a couple of tenths of an inch after seeing that. I think that's why Chad Gable was a little snugger on the leg wrenching later on. Seriously, the snugness in this match was off the charts, and I dug it.
- The heat segments was off-the-charts brutal in a good way. It was *almost* excessive, but I think Shelton Benjamin and especially Gable played the strings deftly enough to get to the hot tag, which, uh, left a little bit to be desired. The Usos have been brilliant in the last year, but I think they're more used to working the other side of the chain, and it showed with how lethargic Jey came out of the corner.
- Getting excited over MOVEZ is so 2001 TH wrestling analysis, but I gotta admit I popped harder than I thought I would when Gable broke out the tiger suplex. Hell, his offense was on point all night, especially the moonsault from the top to the outside on both Usos and the picture perfect koppo kick.
- Seeing the two-nil sweep was surprising, but after sleeping on it, it probably was telegraphed all the way, especially given Jason Jordan's outcome later on in the card. I gotta wonder if a heel American Alpha reunion is in the cards...
- Everyone was angry in anticipation of Stephanie McMahon calling the women's Rumble, but WWE just sort of slid Jerry Lawler into the men's Rumble call real slick like, and he was by far a worse call.
- Beginning the Rumble with Aiden English as harbinger for Rusev Day was the absolute best call to get the crowd fired up from start. Seriously, the roar for Rusev when he came out rivaled the loudest chants at Lincoln Financial Field across the street the week before during the NFC Championship Game.
- "Rhyno, who is loved in Philadelphia," according to Michael Cole, came out to crickets at first, but at least once he started getting going, he got the requisite "ECW!" chants going.
- The first bit of brilliant staging happened with Baron Corbin entering and getting eliminated pretty quickly. In that sequence, it set up character development for him going forward as a petulant bully, it cleared out the ring without clearing out the competitors so that Elias had a blank canvas to do his musical act, and it set up Heath Slater's comic relief bit.
- Slater getting murked elicited a "He's got kids!" chant. My people remain undefeated.
- I was not expecting the big answer to Elias' musical number to be Andrade "Cien" Almas, but holy shit, he looked and felt like he belonged in that spot.
- Also, hello Zelina Vega.
- The spot where Rusev kept trying to reenter the ring after recovering from his Corbining and Bray Wyatt denying him entry repeatedly was almost too perfect a metaphor for WWE booking. Perhaps it would've been completely perfect if it were, say, Kane or some other part timer instead of Wyatt, but then again, who among the new school is harder pushed or has had more hopeful reboots with diminishing returns on being over than Wyatt?
- Everyone kicking the shit out Slater on their way to the ring to be followed up by Big E giving him pancakes was brilliant, but Graves selling the pancakes as WORSE than the beatings was even better.
- Everyone likes to cliche the fuck out of Philly with a lot of things like Rocky, but I agree with Corey Graves. I WOULD want to see a Sylvester Stallone-produced movie about Rusev Day.
- Tye Dillinger coming out at TEN again would've been nice albeit running up against WWE beating a dead horse, but having Zayn gank his spot put enough of a spin on it and helped advance a story.
- All the other commentators clowning on Saxton for his visceral, brown-nosed hatred for Zayn was amusing, but I swear to god, if Lawler's "BS" crack catches on, I'm lighting my ears on fire.
- Sheamus actually throwing Slater into the ring only for it to lead to his own elimination was some Greek tragedy bullshit, and coupled with it being his birthday made it Peak WWE. At least it kept him fresh for tag title match later on, I guess?
- Shinsuke Nakamura entered at 14 and just went straight for Zayn, which in addition to playing into the SMACKDOWN TROUBLES called back to the Takeover: Dallas match. The little things can elevate a good match to a great one.
- Cesaro charging into the ring and immediately laying a European uppercut to the first person he could find, in this case Big E, was exactly the kind of Rumble strategy everyone should have employed. Why is Cesaro the smartest and savviest wrestler ever in addition to being big and strong? Is that why he's balding now, to keep the playing field from being TOO stilted in his favor?
- To say Jinder Mahal eliminating Xavier Woods and Big E right away nonplussed me was an understatement. My least favorite act of 2017 not named Kane going after one of my favorites was, in a word, dismaying. But it led to Kofi Kingston's gonzo elimination avoidance and him throwing Mahal out, which all in all was one of the bright spots of the match altogether.
- One thing about Kingston's and later on, Naomi's big elimination escapes is that they both led to nearly instant eliminations. Outside of the fact that since John Morrison left that now these feats of dexterity are solely domain of Black wrestlers feels slightly racist, they really don't mean anything if they're going to be rendered for naught so quickly. It's probably my biggest critique of either Rumble match.
- Seth Rollins eliminating Cesaro via monkey flip was both perhaps the best elimination I've seen in the last two years and also something only Cesaro was both crazy enough and able to take out of anyone on the roster except possibly Styles.
- Everything about Hurricane Helms' appearance in the match was brilliant except for Michael Cole describing him in the fuckin' dorkiest way possible. I think Cole is a great play-by-play commentator, but god, he gets up his own ass sometimes, and it comes off so cheesily.
- I don't know if it was supposed to happen, but Helms getting dumped over the top and almost slipping on New Day's discarded pancakes was almost too perfect for words.
- I'm not sure I'd have had Aiden English come out AFTER Rusev got eliminated, but props to him for actually going through with being eliminated by being knocked off the top turnbuckle straight to the floor.
- As if the malaise of having Randy Orton come out late wasn't enough, someone clearly mistimed the tired-by-now attempt at doing gonzo counters into the RKO on Almas. I bet Vince McMahon always picked at his scabs when he was younger, before he stopped believing in sickness.
- Yeah, the Rey Mysterio entry sent goddamn shivers up and down my spine, and that was before he flew around the ring like he was frantically trying to save Nitro from its own nWo-bloated excess. He looked like he could have gone another hour last night.
- The sequence where the Miztourage saved Miz only to get clocked off the ropes through the two-thirds Shield Bomb elimination of Miz to Roman Reigns tossing Rollins out was another masterful sequence. So many different story threads from 2017 came together in one big swooping brush, and it worked, especially with Rollins and Reigns shooting each other knowing glances when it all finished up. WWE needs to build more on that kind of interaction, where you can have competition among friends without anyone turning on anyone else.
- My utter distaste for Dolph Ziggler might have clouded his run in the Rumble, but man, the schadenfreude at seeing him enter at 30 only to get tossed in short order by Bálor was tasty, man.
- I'm not one to laud the WWE's pre-CM Punk talent acquisition and development process, but seeing Cena, Orton, and Mysterio stand on one side of the ring across from Reigns, Nakamura, and Bálor was probably the defining visual of the entire show. Ohio Valley and WCW vs. Florida/NXT and New Japan... all meeting at a nexus point in the company's signature gimmick match.
- Watching Reigns and Cena go at it to the crowd serenading them to "YOU BOTH SUCK" chants was both Peak WWE and Peak Philly, but they were into it unlike in 2015. It just goes to show that a well-laid-out match can cure a lot of booking discontent, and Reigns wouldn't have been shit on as much back then if the match were laid out as well as it was this year.
- For as bad as the Orton/Almas RKO spot was poorly timed, Bálor hitting the Sling Blade as Cena was about to do the Five Knuckle Shuffle was expert level on timing. It just goes to show how much better at this Cena is than Orton among other things.
- Can you imagine Shawn Michaels putting over someone the way Cena and Reigns did for Nakamura at the end of that match? Like, any discussion on why this era is better than the Attitude Era should begin with how willing the top guys are to play the game and try to get the guys over that they're supposed to.
- Ric Flair's final official match being the Colonel Rumble is actually the most Ric Flair thing ever, and I hope the free fried chicken he's going to get fills the void in his soul left when he gave up drinking.
- I don't think the intros were over in the RAW Tag Title match before Booker T got on his Jason Jordan-hatin' high horse, and folks, it was extremely good. I'm going to miss Booker in the RAW broadcast booth now that Jonathan Coachman is back, but not too much. Maybe just during Jordan matches.
- Jordan got murked early in the match, and well now, I didn't know Rory Gulak was licensed medically to process concussion victims!
- Cesaro shit-talking Rollins while he and Sheamus were wailing on him in the corner was everything. Again, how is Cesaro not only jacked and godlike in physique and so savvy and naturally gifted in putting a wrestling match together? That motherfucker ain't fair.
- WWE is currently mired in concussion lawsuits, and while it got Jordan great heat, I can't believe it set up a situation where he was the villain for not wanting to compete while his bell was clearly rung. Even in the throes of adequate storytelling, this company can't get out of its own way sometimes.
- One way to get me excited in a match involving Kane is to have Braun Strowman come out of the gate throwing front dropkicks like he's some kind of meaty-ass Rey Mysterio, so mission accomplished with the opening of the Universal Championship match.
- The match was the Strowman Show early, and honestly, it had to be, because Kane fuckin' sucks, man. Also, because Strowman punching chairs out of people's hands was the right call and will never not be the right call.
- Just so you don't think I'm totally in the tank for Strowman, his attempt at a German suplex on Lesnar was, well, less than optimal. I wonder though how much of that was Strowman not getting enough backwards rotation and how much of it was Brock Lesnar perhaps sandbagging him.
- Lesnar hitting the F5 on Strowman on the German table and the table breaking on impact was evidence enough for me that you have to at least be as beefy as the Monster Among Men to break one of those WWE announce desks on the first try.
- Lesnar didn't even clear the monitors off the Spanish announce table before F5ing Kane onto it, which was both scary but also oddly satisfying for reasons I'll leave to you to discern.
- Strowman was really angry at Lesnar for not being able to beat him, and I'm left to wonder what he's doing at Mania. I reiterate from prior tweets and whatnot that I'm not sure Vince McMahon has thought five minutes what he wants Strowman to do at Mania, whereas I've been pegging him in the main event against Reigns since at least Great Balls of Fire. Someone buy me WWE for my birthday this year.
- David Shoemaker got his Andre the Giant doc some ad time on the Rumble. I guess if you can get Vince McMahon to sit down and talk to you without yelling for more than a minute, you get to advertise with WWE.
- Booing Maria Menounos was a low point for My People last night, but they rebounded by even more vociferously yelling at Stephanie McMahon.
- SASHA BANKS. BECKY LYNCH. LET'S DO THIS.
- McMahon said she was "nervous" at the prospect of the women's Rumble and I felt like saying "B, no one cares if you're nervous, you corporate shill," but no one was around by my bearded dragon so I just kept it to myself.
- Sarah Logan has gotten flak lately for being a bad promo, but that's less on her and more on the writers making her center her love of goddamn game meat as promotional material. But if you wanted any more reason why I think the absolute world of her, just go back and watch her doing a goddamn POP UP HEADBUTT. Like, if she can do that on the reg without giving herself or her opponent CTE, it's a fucking money spot.
- Lita got the first really HUGE pop of the women's Rumble in at five, and she did so lookin' like an extra from mo-cap on Tony Hawk Skater. To be fair though, that was her look for years and it suited her well.
- I did my best to tune out McMahon on commentary, and honestly, she was mostly inoffensive from the times I actually bothered to pay attention, but I got real mad when she credited Chyna only now after she'd passed on. Asshole, you stole her man away from her, had her blackballed from your company, and helped send her on the spiral of drugs and depression that ultimately caused her far-too-early death, and you only now dare to speak highly of her after she's passed from the safety of your corporately-protected position? Fuck. You. God, that STILL gets me heated just writing about it. Chyna deserved infinitely better than she got from this stupid, ratfuckingly sleazy business.
- Mandy Rose throwing around that bicycle kick like she was MAD at her opponents is gonna take her places. I hate that I think she's "surprisingly" good because WWE has conditioned people like myself to think the hot model types aren't going to be good at wrestling, which is why the company has had to backpedal from its shameful history with women with these kinds of HISTORY MAKING things it should've had all along.
- Kairi Sane out and Michael Cole gave a shoutout to STARDOM. What is this world?
- Sane immediately went into her high-powered joshi offense with theatrics, and it made even Banks and Lynch look like rank amateurs. She's so goddamn good.
- Your trivia answer for "who was the first elimination from the Women's Royal Rumble?" is Rose, who got the heave-ho from Lita. The returning stars got way too many eliminations for my liking on first watch, but after sleeping on it, this match was as much a make-good for them and how badly they were treated before even the Nikki Bella/AJ Lee/Paige group started to get things moving towards respectability, so this match belonged as much to them as it did the current crop.
- I don't wanna be that guy, but man, Lita looked gassed before she got into her signature feel-good spots. Thankfully, outside of Kelly Kelly, she was the only alumna who really didn't look all that good.
- Serendipitous that Sonya Deville's hero growing up was Allen Iverson, a Philly icon, as she participated in the first ever women's Rumble match in, hey, Philly.
- Molly Holly hit the ring and started working, and immediately she looked as if she'd fit right in going ham with Banks or Bayley or Alexa Bliss on RAW.
- I don't know why Michelle McCool coming right in and shaking Deville and Liv Morgan off Lana so she could bully her was funny, but I loved it so much.
- You wanna know how strong the Rusev Day Phenomenon is? LANA got Rusev Day chants.
- Of all the vindication for past women, Vickie Guerrero's was probably the sweetest, even if she was set up to be a punchline. It didn't feel like a cruel punchline like much of her WWE tenure was, and the visual of her thumping Carmella in the head with her own briefcase was just perfect.
- I thought Carmella was going to be the female Heath Slater, but she ended up trapping Natalya and taking her out. My People then went into a "SHE'S GOT CATS!" chant, which was the most enjoyable thing to come from anything Natalya related in the last two years.
- I'm glad that even after all these years, I can set my watch to Kelly Kelly being awful at professional wrestling. I don't have anything against her personally, but man, I'm glad she can calibrate what looks awful even now as people make claims that folks who are actually really good at wrestling like Bálor or Banks are actually bad.
- Naomi's entry into the Rumble and the fire she brought was surpassed by only Cesaro in the men's Rumble. People should take notes at how to enter a battle royale from those two.
- Jacqueline coming out and just wrecking people made me want her to have an extended tour so she and Asuka can beat the Christ out of each other for a two or three pay-per-view arc.
- Nia Jax eliminating Ruby Riott by doing a bounce pass off the top turnbuckle via gorilla press was the most savage elimination in any battle royale I have ever seen. Just the perfect intersection of monster wrestler manhandling someone a bit too willing to take body-destroying bumps.
- Ember Moon, coming out still selling her arm from Shayna Baszler at Takeover, and just horsing everyone with enough fire to burn down the Linc was an immediate starmaking performance. If you aren't convinced that she's going to be huge, I don't know what will.
- Beth Phoenix coming out and immediately looking to hoss it up with Nia Jax was perhaps the most perfect thing about that match. Cole and Graves mentioning that she was the youngest ever Hall of Fame inductee gave me a twinge of melancholy because you could see she could still go and a match between her and Jax would be the hoss war that the company, regardless of gender division, needs.
- I also got the feels from the Pin-up Strong reunion, yet another group that the company utterly botched. I mean, the Summer of Punk II will be forever remembered about how the company punted on CM Punk, but man, Nattie and Phoenix might have gotten skunked even worse.
- Asuka entering and Moon going right after her was another wonderful callback, but Moon hitting her with a one-armed Eclipse was perhaps the most HOLY SHIT moment of the night. Like, I can't fathom how she pulled it off to look as good as she did, but goddammit. GODDAMMIT.
- Nikki Bella getting a "John Cena sucks!" serenade to the tune of his theme song was so wrong, but it was still funny.
- Jax arising from her recovery only to get dropkicked by both Bella Twins back to the floor kept up a longstanding tradition of the twins bullying larger wrestlers. Speaking of which, man, maybe the only misstep was not having Kharma in the match just for a denouement to her career in the ring at least.
- The sigh of relief I made when Trish Stratus came out at 30 meaning neither Ronda Rousey nor McMahon would be in the match was so audible it almost woke my kids up from two floors below them.
- The face Bayley made when Stratus did the Sonya Blade handstand rana throw from the top was just proof that no matter how badly RAW continues to ruin her that she's just irrepressibly good getting what pro wrestling is all about.
- The Stratus/Mickie James interaction was incredible, but it was missing something, maybe because they both felt like they were old friends tangling instead of James giving off a psychosexual stalker vibe. Or it could just be me.
- Banks going full turncoat on Bayley and then talking mad shit to Asuka and Stratus showed why for 2015 she was the goddamn GOAT. I don't want happy history-making Banks. I fucking want the haughty, prick asshole Legit Boss, replete with the rubber stamp she uses to sign contracts.
- As soon as the Bellas eliminated Banks, I knew that Asuka was going to murder them both, except Nikki pulled left and went full "I WISH YOU DIED IN THE WOMB" on Brie to eliminate her. The women's Rumble was big on subversive betrayals, wasn't it?
- Asuka eliminating Nikki the way she did, with the Inoki kick from her back on the apron, was the most inventive thing I've seen her do in a hot second. She's always got surprises, which is why she'll be fine going forward.
- I have a lot more about Rousey below, but the one thing I took away from that closing angle was how dumb it was to have her enter and just be smiles and handshakes. I wanted to see her throw hands with Asuka and Bliss and Charlotte Flair and hell, even pull McMahon in too and hey, Menounos can bump.
- I will say that Asuka refusing the handshake and smirking at Rousey like she was going to murder her at some point superseded any criticism of her win being overshadowed. That was completely and totally bad-fucking-ass.
Match of the Night: The 2018 Men's Royal Rumble Match - I'll flat out say it. This year's men's Rumble match was the best Rumble match since 1992, which is considered the best ever. This year's match didn't have the one singular thread with dendritic stories branching off like roots in the soil like Ric Flair's signature moment in WWE did. It was more like an evolution of what the 2010 Rumble was. But the way it was laid out, the surprises, and the absolute tension at the end when it came down to the final four left me shaking in my seat as I was watching. I'm not sure any other wrestling match WWE has put on ever had that effect on me personally. The way each competitor worked dramatic beats to a final showdown between Roman Reigns and Shinsuke Nakamura was, in a word, exquisite.
Before the match even got to that climactic showdown, it was orchestrated and laid out nigh-perfectly. Whether it be the important developments like Baron Corbin laying waste to everyone in his vicinity after being eliminated, New Day's fracas with Jinder Mahal, or Finn Bálor's mad dash towards iron man history, or the silly shit like Heath Slater's continual punishment leading to his flash elimination of Sheamus or Hurricane Helms going toe to toe with John Cena, everything had a place and felt like a jigsaw puzzle fitting into a perfect picture. The Rumble match, when it's bad, can feel like a jumbled mass of chaos with no overarching sense of guidance, but even if the themes are disparate, it feels like a symphony when it's done well.
If last night's match was a symphony, the closing run was an epic crescendo, with the invisible conductor furiously directing action while the instrumentation ebbed and flowed with mighty swelling and crashing. Even before it came down to the final two, three, or four, the visual of Reigns, Nakamura, and Bálor on one side of the ring, and Cena, Randy Orton, and a shockingly returned Rey Mysterio on the other showed stark contrast between WWE's eras in the new millennium. Whether it was Mysterio flying around the ring like a crazed madman with the soul of 1998 alive in him, Reigns and Cena, and Bálor and Nakamura alternating their singular battles while making the crowd instantly alter between dual cheers and cacophonous boos, or the final run where Nakamura improbably took out Reigns in the weirdest but most satisfying end to a Rumble match I'd seen since Edge cleaned house in 2010, it was masterful. I can't heap enough praise on the men's Rumble match this year.
Overall Thoughts: The last time the Royal Rumble was in Philadelphia, WWE got it wrong. The easiest event to get right on its calendar was bungled, at least the Rumble match itself was. It's hard to hate on the Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins match on the undercard, but still, Rumble title matches are gravy compared to the big match on the show. This time around, the company had two Rumble matches to get right, and hoo boy, did it ever rebound. The women's Rumble match that headlined the show would've been sufficiently satisfying, to be honest. While the match had its flaws, it was an incredible Rumble match in and of itself, and honestly, for the reasons that Lacy laid out earlier today, some of the apparent flaws turned out not to be flaws at all. Adding in the men's Rumble match being in the top two all-time, and already this show was ahead of the curve.
In reality, none of the other four matches were really bad either, even the RAW Tag Title and Universal Championship matches. The former may not have been what people were expecting, and honestly, the decision to lay the match out in a way that it was a virtual handicap match when the show opened perhaps with the best handicap match in WWE history was puzzling. However, it laid important groundwork for Mania season, and hey, The Bar with tag gold is never a bad thing. The Universal Championship match contained Kane, but somehow, it wasn't offensive. Does that mean I want to see Kane in any position of importance in WWE ever again? That answer would be a huge NO. However, you can hide a lot of bad with plunder, and having weaponry introduced into the affair was a smart decision, especially since it led to Braun Strowman doing Braun Strowman things. Anytime you can have Braun Strowman doing Braun Strowman things, you're on the right path. That being said, it made me retroactively even more furious than I was at WrestleMania 32, when Brock Lesnar went into a hardcore match against Dean Ambrose and took less than one hardcore bump for him when he'd be willing to do so for fucking Kane. However, one cannot really do much about the past, can they?
However, the show immediately felt overshadowed when "Bad Reputation" started playing on the house speakers. When Trish Stratus came out at number 30 in the women's Rumble match, it gave a sense of relief that the match would be reserved for the women who were there or who helped build to where they were now, even if that build was at times demeaning and forgettable by design. No Rousey and no Stephanie McMahon glomming the spotlight was absolutely the right call, and it helped make Asuka's win feel like the right return on investment of the original announcement, when McMahon promised that they'd make history on their own merits. That feeling dissipated into the air when Rousey came out, because all the attention went from Asuka, Charlotte Flair, and Alexa Bliss to the MMA star-turned-wrestler (as confirmed by SOCIAL MEDIA right as the show went off the air).
And yet, was it completely bad? That question is one with which a lot of people are struggling today. Forgetting for a moment Rousey's grotesque views on Sandy Hook and transgender persons (an uncomfortable truth of being a fan of any medium of sport or entertainment is that 99 percent of the people within it might just be garbage, and no, that's not an excuse for those garbage views and actions), does her arrival mean good or bad things for WWE and its women's division? Your mileage may vary, to be honest. The men have had guest stars and part-timers glom up Mania card positions for as long WrestleMania has been a thing. The fact that Rousey, a bona fide star who actually loves wrestling and seems committed to it, will mark a new era of women's guest stars who actually matter to the narrative (unlike Snooki and Maria Menounos having spots in glorified exhibitions). So in a way, it's another part of this woefully late women's evolution into being made part of WWE's fabric instead of a glorified version of the cruiserweights.
That being said, Rousey's arrival points to WWE's seeping rot from within, where it has to rely on guest stars and part-timers to drive Mania instead of organically building up must-see matches to put on as the culmination of its year. It's not so much that Rousey is "undeserving" of the spot because she doesn't grind for 300 dates a year or whatever. It's that she feels like a quick fix, a glitzy name that is meant to attract fans who aren't incentivized to stick around after Mania is over. In short, she's not a supplement like Mr. T was at the first WrestleMania; she's a sucking chest wound like Lawrence Taylor and The Rock and even Brock Lesnar, who is probably better than the rest because he is technically "around" all year. Still, he's not a dude you can count on to see every week. He's not Braun Strowman or Roman Reigns.
In a perfect world, Strowman and Reigns would be headlining WrestleMania as a resolution to a feud that is still hot and that they never really finished in climactic fashion. Their run from Fastlane last year through SummerSlam was meant to have a final showdown at Mania, but instead, WWE is primed on doing what it should have done at WrestleMania 31 and have Reigns go over Lesnar. It's maddening because it shouldn't be happening this way and the fact that fixing it would require time travel makes apoplexy-levels of anger-inducing. In the same vein, it would be nice if Rousey were appearing to supplement a healthy card where Asuka had a clear target for Mania, and where the other titleholder had a challenger with historical and narrative weight.
Then again, caring about main roster booking is something that is best left to people who haven't been paying attention to trends from the last decade or so. Maybe that's the mark of a good show; it makes you care about things you know you shouldn't care about because what you just watched stoked those flames in a way it doesn't do week-in and week-out. The Royal Rumble was an incredibly good show that delivered from top to bottom, and it's the kind of thing that makes people passionate about what they're watching. If you can appreciate that in the moment without getting dragged into existential internal debate over the direction of main roster WWE, then you're a better person than I am.