Fake Fighting Frenzy: Royal Rumble 2017
Hooray for Gallows and Anderson finally not looking like inept babies. LOL at Nia Jax squashing the woman who has main evented Hell in a Cell and several episodes of Raw. I didn't watch the SmackDown six-woman tag but neither did most of the people who went to the show so...yeah...
Bayley v. Charlotte
This match kind of reflects the feud built around it. It was basically nothing. It's a fine match but mostly it's just going through the motions of good wrestling. No story, no emotional investment, no hook. It’s just...there. Also, this is kind of a poor choice for the opening match. I was honestly surprised how invested the crowd was in this match but that investment did kinda dissipate as the match went on. The opening match should take the anticipation of the crowd and work it up into a frenzy while not overshadowing the rest of the show. I guess there weren't a lot of better choices on this card but I think I would have gone with Reigns v. Owens to open the show. Maybe WWE thinks it kills the prestige of the most important title on the most important brand to have it open the show but I mean, shit, it went on second, so how much prestige is there in that?
Roman Reigns v. Kevin Owens
I really wish I cared more about this match. Maybe I would if only they hadn’t done it like ten times already with the EXACT same ending every single time. Reigns and Owens are both great at this but the only thing I care about in this match is this whole stupid storyline being over and both these guys getting to fight someone who isn't each other or Seth Rollins or Chris Jericho for the first time in like five months. The match itself is a lot of fun. Kevin Owens, as usual, brought out some super masochistic spot to shoot murder himself for everyone's enjoyment and that frog splash through the table was sick. I have to say, there were a lot of nearfalls that would have been a lot more believable if the "big spot" of the match hadn't already been set up for like ten minutes prior. Jericho dropped brass knucks in the ring to the surprise of literally no one who has ever seen a match with someone hanging over it in a cage but OF COURSE, Roman Reigns KICKS OUT of getting hit with brass knuckles just like NO ONE EVER IN THE HISTORY OF WRESTLING. I did like Braun Strowman getting revenge for that Goldberg/Roman double spear by costing Roman the match if only because A. it was unexpected, and B. it significantly decreased the likelihood of either of them challenging for the Universal title at WrestleMania.
Rich Swann v. Neville
This is another match I had zero interest in other than Neville finally being the cruiserweight champion we deserve. I’m sensing a pattern here. This is the only note I made about this match because I barely watched it while it was happening. The cruiserweights have been so wildly mismanaged that they have become the bathroom break portion of the show. I don't know how they could have bungled this so massively--ok, it's WWE, maybe I do--or why they think people want to see guys under 205 pounds wrestling the exact same by-the-numbers matches everybody else does--actually no, not everybody, because you literally have 300 pound guys frog splashing guys through tables and throwing themselves onto chair towers RIGHT BEFORE THIS--but whatever the reasoning, you've officially succeeded in making a thing that could have been the most exciting part of Raw into the least exciting part of everything. So.
John Cena v. AJ Styles
The only SmackDown match on the main card of this show is, coincidentally, the only one with a story I could even remember, let alone cared about, and was the best match on the card in a walk. In fact, saying it was the best match on the card in a walk feels like a massive understatement. It was better than literally everything else that happened on this show combined in a walk. WWE announcers love to throw around the term "Big Fight Feel" but it was super appropriate here. The waves of energy rolling through the crowd were palpable. I LOVED what they did with the story. It was the perfect sequel to their SummerSlam match. At SummerSlam, AJ had an answer for everything Cena threw at him. This time, Cena felt significantly more prepared for AJ, using his strength much more often and more effectively. AJ knows what's coming but Cena knows AJ knows what's coming and has an answer for his counters--but for most of the match, AJ has answers for Cena's answers, counters for his counters.
What he doesn't have answers for are the times when Cena brings stuff he's never shown before, moves he's never used before. So when we get to the end of the match and both guys are pulling out everything in their arsenal because they're both ready for everything else, Cena is able to get some good shots in on AJ. Cena tries to put AJ away with Avalanche AA again because he still can't quite believe it won't put him away but AJ kicks out of it again and Cena is stunned again. That allows AJ to hit the Styles Clash but AJ is smart--he realizes that Cena has been ready for everything he's thrown at him so far and that a Styles Clash won't be enough this time so he goes for the Phenomenal Forearm. But Cena is smarter and more desperate--like AJ said a couple weeks ago, Cena's the one that needs to win this time to prove that he belongs--so he takes the opportunity to grab AJ and hit him with TWO AAs for the win.
I wrote in a previous SmackDown write-up that if Cena were to win this match it would totally destroy the story they were trying to tell but I don't know if I still believe that. It does kind of nerf the whole idea that they were alluding to in the weeks leading up to this match that AJ is different, that he is truly John Cena's better rather than just another guy who beat him once before Cena gets his win back over and over and over. But the story they told was great and actually did a lot to make them seem like equals who both easily could have beaten the other. Still, it's hard to shake the feeling that all of the truth AJ dropped on John at the contract signing--he's a part-timer who was gifted a title match the second he walked back in the door and probably still has one foot out of it and that's fine because WWE doesn't need him to survive--has been invalidated by the John Cena of it all. The fact that John Cena always always gets the last word and that when he says that anyone new who wants to be the top guy has to go through him, there are an extra five unspoken words tacked on the end: "...and no one ever will." And that is really sad, especially in an era with quite possibly more pure wrestling talent than any other in WWE history.
The Royal Rumble Match
Sigh. I don't even know where to begin talking about this match other than to say that barely anything happened and most of what did happen was kind of depressing. On the positive side, Braun Strowman looked great, although he continues to be a little too reckless with the bodies of the people he works with--that chokeslam of James Ellsworth to the outside was pretty scary. Tye Dillinger got a huge pop coming out at #10. Sami Zayn got to do some stuff. I was also a huge fan of Roman Reigns eliminating the Undertaker because the idea of Taker challenging Cena for the belt at WrestleMania just seemed so unnecessary and dumb. Plus I loved seeing the tears of all the Attitude Era marks that live for all these appearances by Goldberg and Taker, many of whom only watch when they're on, which drives WWE to bring them on to get ratings rather than actually putting work into developing the characters and stories they already have which is probably why most of these people stopped watching in the first place. I dunno...that's kinda all the good stuff I can remember.
So, about everything else. First of all, NO big surprise entrants. Tye Dillinger, Apollo Crews, and James Ellsworth. That's what we got. And to top it off, the mother of all trolls: Roman Reigns enters at #30. They're literally trying to piss people off at this point, aren't they? I don't know what planet they live on where they think they can still make Roman Reigns a thing but it's not anywhere in the WWE Universe because everyone in that universe can't stand the guy. I'm not saying I agree with it entirely--I think Roman is a highly underrated performer in spite of the baffling way he's been booked for the past two and a half years--but at some point you have to face up to the fact that nobody likes the guy you're trying to ram down their throat and try something else. How they haven't turned him heel yet is baffling. It's the most obvious, natural turn imaginable. It's like if they kept Stone Cold Steve Austin heel all the way through the end of the 90s into the 2000s (maybe further, who knows how long they're going to keep doing this).
Now I'm going to skip over all the garbage with the part-timers because it's all the same shit--Goldberg makes Brock look like a baby and then continues to wrestle just as terribly as he always has (no, actually, even worse), Undertaker looks like a fifty-year-old leather shoe that gets super winded chokeslamming people, etc.--and talk about the baffling ending. It all comes down to three guys: Roman Reigns, Randy Orton, and Bray Wyatt. One literally just wrestled for his brand's top title like two hours ago. One has been world champion twelve times and one of the top guys in WWE for over a decade. One is one of the most talented, promising young talents in wrestling and has spent the last three and a half years making empty threats he can't back up and losing every important match he's in except the ones he wins by cheating. Guess who won...
I don't understand any part of this. NOBODY needed to win the Royal Rumble more than Bray Wyatt. There is no character and no talent whose career is in more dire need of a gigantic shot in the arm right now. Even if you give WWE the benefit of the doubt that they're not actually stupid enough to do John Cena v. Randy Orton part infinity at WrestleMania in 20 goddamn 17. Even if you assume that Bray is going to win the title at Elimination Chamber to set up Wyatt v. Orton at WrestleMania. How goddamn anticlimactic is that? The fans are DYING to cheer for Bray Wyatt. He's the most unique character WWE has created in YEARS and has seemingly infinite potential. Every time he gets within 10 yards of the WWE title, the fans lose their minds. And you're going to give him his big moment at WWE The One Before WrestleMania with two whole weeks of build and have him walk into WrestleMania as champion and probably lose? Having Bray chasing the title for the next two months could easily create enough good will to turn him into a babyface and Orton is the easiest guy to turn heel, especially if he's champion AGAIN because who the hell is excited about THAT? But now you blow your chance to get Bray over with the fans on a cheap title win and make Orton the natural babyface (because fans still want to cheer him because they love the damn RKO so much). Even if Bray retains the title at WrestleMania, it's so anticlimactic. You could have given him the biggest push you can give anyone: winning the biggest, most important single match in wrestling, headlining the biggest, most important show in wrestling, and getting his WrestleMania moment, beating one of the top stars of the last decade to win his first WWE Championship. Instead, he wins it on a throwaway show (assuming he's winning it at all) and gets to either retain or lose at WrestleMania. That's just mindboggling.
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