It has been a big week for the WWE. Beginning with the heavily promoted RAW 25 spectacle and ending with the Royal Rumble, WWE’s third biggest event of the year, there is plenty to comment upon. Interspersed between these two points were the typical offerings from SmackdownLive and NXT plus the major announcement of a returning XFL in 2020. It is however a week which perfectly encapsulates everything wrong with the product offered by World Wrestling Entertainment that is seeing casual and diehard fans turning away.
The 25th Anniversary of Monday Night Raw is a huge deal for the WWE. The self proclaimed ‘longest running weekly episodic television broadcast’ reached the landmark on January 11th but the go home show before the Royal Rumble was a good opportunity to combine promotion of the Pay Per View and a celebration of RAW. In terms of numbers, RAW 25 was a success achieving a 3.01 rating and an approximate average of 4.53million viewers over the 3 hours, the best figures for the show since the post-Wrestlemania 31 show in 2015. However, there was very little to encourage viewers to return the following week and highlighted to some why they had stopped watching in the first place.
The opening segment was perhaps the highlight but even that was flawed. The pop for a simple glass shattering was the biggest of the night but it was a shame to let Stone Cold, perhaps one of the greatest ever on a microphone to pass through without saying a word to those in attendance. In contrast another iconic legend in the form of The Undertaker was given the mic. Although composed with the vocals, absolutely nothing was said. In fact the majority of viewers would be hard pressed to explain what the Deadman was talking about. Will he be performing at Wrestlemania or will his beautifully poetic retirement last year remain untarnished?
Other advertised stars were less fortunate. They either appeared as a part of brief backstage vignettes or simply came out on stage to wave at the crowd. Closing the show however was an attempt to brush the gold dust from some legends onto members of the current roster. The DX plus Razor Ramon reunion saw the passing of the ‘Too Sweet’ baton to the Balor Club. Whilst well intentioned it required The Revival to take the role of sacrificial lambs. Even then the duo delivered a masterclass in how to take finishing manoeuvres.
The in-ring product was also typically average with the exception being the crowning of a new Intercontinental champion. Whilst absolutely the correct thing to do as it brought out the very best from The Miz it summed up the disastrous nature of The Shield’s reunion. It is no surprise that six days later Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose substitute Jason Jordan would also lose their tag team championships. Attempts to promote the Royal Rumble pay per view were also clumsy with Braun Strowman’s dominance telegraphing that the Universal Title would be retained by Brock Lesnar. This highlights the problem with WWE programming currently; predictability.
We have only just begun on the road to Wrestlemania and yet we know where all of this is going. Everyone knows that we are going to get another Roman Reigns v Brock Lesnar title match. The only two men to defeat The Undertaker on the biggest show of the year clashed in 2015 only for Seth Rollins to steal the gold. There is unfinished business and after a year with the title Lesnar is long overdue a defeat. His yearlong reign with part time schedule has weakened the title and hampered the flagship show on Monday night. So it was no surprise that Lesnar defied the odds and retained his title at the Royal Rumble. Had they attempted to give Roman Reigns another victory in the rumble match Philadelphia might have seen a riot. Instead expect a number one contenders Elimination Chamber match and a Roman Reigns victory.
On the blue brand an AJ Styles v Shinsuke Nakamura dream match was predicted. It is a pairing that stole the show at Wrestle Kingdom 10 in New Japan two years ago and fans around the world wanted to see it again. Perhaps the only surprise is that what the fans wanted will actually happen. It was as close to an unexpected result as viewers received. Victor in the historic Women’s Royal Rumble match was the undefeated Asuka which was once again entirely predictable. The only potential stumbling block was the incoming Ronda Rousey. There was no need to worry. One year on from her final UFC defeat Rousey only needed to show up and point at the Wrestlemania sign to book a place on the biggest show of the year. If the goal was to insult the 30 women who had just competed in the Royal Rumble then mission accomplished.
The arrogance of Ronda Rousey was offensive but failed to match the grotesquely poor taste concussion angle used in the RAW tag team championship match. The recently dismissed Enzo Amore suffered a genuine concussion during a match on pay per view, ending the contest and rightfully so. For medical professionals to allow a performer showing even a storyline head injury is reprehensible. Is this what we can expect from the new XFL in 2020? Athletes continuing playing with head injuries? I sure hope not!
An XFL Distraction?
This week also saw the predicted announcement that the brainchild of Vince McMahon, the XFL, would return in 2020. For those interested in learning the story of the league’s only other season in 2001 I highly recommend the ESPN 30 for 30 on the subject. With this on McMahon’s mind once again there is the possibility that the WWE product will suffer. Perhaps this has already begun with the predictable booking at the Royal Rumble and the deeply flawed RAW25 special episode.