Is this year’s Royal Rumble bound to disappoint WWE fans?
WWE, heading into Royal Rumble, usually my favorite pay-per-view, even including WrestleMania, is a mess right now.
The thinking is that we’re headed toward a Brock Lesnar-Seth Rollins main event at WrestleMania 35, which would seem to foretell a Rollins win in the Men’s Royal Rumble match. Except that: last year, WWE used its Elimination Chamber show in February as a Royal Rumble re-do, after Shinsuke Nakamura was given the win in the Rumble, and challenged then-WWE champ A.J. Styles.
So: could be Rollins winning Sunday night; could be Styles, now the top challenger to WWE champ Daniel Bryan.
The way WWE has been booking lately, it could be anybody, literally, who then loses the promised championship match at Elimination Chamber, or Fastlane, in March, or on some random episode of Raw or Smackdown.
That’s how unpredictable, and not in a good way, WWE has been creatively of late, and of late, I’m meaning, basically back to SummerSlam.
In part, this is due to the unfortunate, and unforeseen, leukemia diagnosis for Roman Reigns, who had been built up for nearly four years toward his Universal title win over Lesnar at SummerSlam, and is now on the sidelines, obviously, indefinitely, focused on fighting for his life right now.
It’s likely we don’t have even have Lesnar around for another WrestleMania season if Reigns isn’t on the shelf, but, that is what it is.
Braun Strowman, the hottest talent on the roster even before Reigns briefly dethroned Lesnar at SummerSlam, has cooled off significantly, the victim of, surprise, god-awful booking by WWE.
Strowman’s booking has been so bad that he was abruptly dropped from the Universal title match at Royal Rumble in favor of Finn Balor, a move so sudden in the making that Balor heads into the match on Sunday with as close to no push as you can imagine for a former champ challenging the current guy on a major show.
The Styles-Bryan story has been fine, but runs the risk of running stale by the time we get to WrestleMania in April, much like how WWE somehow ruined Styles-Nakamura last spring.
The women’s division, meanwhile, has been reduced to the T&A of yesteryear, with Mandy Rose and Alexa Bliss in awkward non-wrestling segments in lingerie (or less) taking the place of anything meaningful in-ring.
Remember when Becky Lynch was as hot as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was back in his heyday? A distant memory now, as we slog toward the spring, with Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey all diminished.
It would be nice if WWE would use the Rumble as a sort of reset, but despite having all the talent in the world, almost literally, at its disposal, it seems we’re destined to another winter of discontent, with an eye toward what might be brewing, months hence, at All Elite Wrestling, which is building an impressive roster – the Young Bucks, Chris Jericho, Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega? – though, buzzkill, it looks like it’s going to be a while before we see anything of substance from AEW.
The folks at WWE would be well-advised to up their game in advance of whatever AEW has in store, and what we’re hearing may be in store includes a possible major broadcast cable TV deal that could put that company on something of an interesting footing vis-à-vis WWE, so, we could be talking serious competition here.
It’s not looking to me that WWE is ready for its first real competition in almost two decades, but I’m hopeful nonetheless.
I’m a pro wrestling fan more than I’m a fan of just WWE or any one company or brand, and as a fan of the business, more to the point, the product, I want to see good wrestling from all corners.
WWE has some work to do to get my interest back into its product. Royal Rumble would be a good place to start.
Column by Chris Graham