By Will Pruett
Before I start my review today, I want to mention that the Royal Rumble marks my anniversary writing for prowrestling.net. I want to thank Jason Powell for the platform to share my thoughts on the world of wrestling and I want to thank everyone who reads my work on the site. It means quite a bit to me.
Take away the names and look at the scenario. A wrestler was assaulted over a month ago when he was not involved in a match. He was not seen after. The wrestler who assaulted him went on to win the WWE Championship. The assaulted party appeared in a surprise moment, absorbed punishment from many wrestlers upon entering the ring, and emerged victorious in the end. Who is the hero here?
If you’re watching WWE at this moment and see Roman Reigns being presented as a hero, you’re not watching close enough. Roman Reigns was not the hero in this Rumble match. Sure, Roman was assaulted on the outside. Roman walked away from this beating and walked to the back. He waited about 30 minutes before returning. Roman had to prove he could still walk, but he walked away. Roman Reigns is not a hero.
Triple H came to the ring receiving a god-like superstar pop (while his legacy awesome theme music blared). The second he got into the ring, he proved his superiority. Triple H was then beat down by multiple wrestlers, taking finisher after finisher and valiantly hanging on. Triple H would go on to receive one of the loudest reactions of the night when he dumped Reigns from the ring and celebrated after.
Who is the hero here?
There has been something funny going on for the last few months with Roman Reigns. Despite WWE trying to throw everything they have behind him (even resurrecting the Mr. McMahon character), Reigns is not being presented as a total hero. This is a direct contrast to the presentation of Triple H, who has yet to do anything truly nefarious to Reigns. Reigns attacked Triple H multiple times. Reigns has displayed his dominance over Triple H. Triple H is the man out for revenge.
The traditional wrestling narrative presents the avenging party as the protagonist. Triple H has been the protagonist of WWE for a long time. This affirms it.
Roman Reigns may have been WWE’s choice for a hero at one point, but he isn’t anymore. He failed to truly be heroic. He may be occasionally presented as a hero from here on out, but in a key moment in the Royal Rumble, he left heroism behind. Roman Reigns walked away under his own power and then ran back. He waited. When Roman was eliminated, he merely sulked away. He walked again. Roman Reigns, instead of staying and fighting for something he cared about, walked away. Heroes don’t walk away.
What does all of this actually mean? WWE’s chosen narrative is playing in direct contrast to what they think it is. Someone or something is masterfully manipulating the narrative. They’re shifting and changing what WWE is actually presenting. They’re making sure Roman Reigns is not the hero he is supposed to be.
And now for some random thoughts:
– Please don’t mistake my evaluation of WWE’s current narrative for me disliking the show. This was a really good edition of the Royal Rumble topped off by a very fun Rumble match. WWE hasn’t produced a Rumble this good since 2010, which had the surprise Edge return/win and a great Shawn Michaels narrative throughout. It’s about time we get a good one, after WWE spent the last two years proving how boring Rumble matches can be.
– A.J. Styles made his long awaited WWE debut as the #3 entrant in the Rumble. While a lot has and will be said about how he chose to do business with TNA (TL;DR – He was probably a bit of a jerkface), one can’t deny the excitement his arrival in WWE delivered. His theme music was unique and pretty fun. His walk to the ring was suitable for a true superstar. Styles instantly seemed like he fit on the roster. He was given a long stay in the Rumble and a chance for fans to get to know him. It was fun.
– With all of those positives about A.J. Styles’ debut mentioned, it is also worth noting WWE has slotted him already. Styles was not presented in the upper echelon of WWE with Brock Lesnar, Triple H, and Roman Reigns. A.J. was slotted beneath them, on par with Ambrose, Owens, Sheamus, Jericho, and others. This isn’t necessarily negative. It does show WWE not making A.J. a centerpiece mega-star, but simply another one of their guys.
– I had quite a few complaints about Bray Wyatt getting the better of Brock Lesnar to close out Raw last Monday. I stand by most of them. Some simple rebuilding of Bray over the last five months would have helped this situation. Of course, I doubt WWE was expecting all of their champions from last year’s WrestleMania to be out with injuries this year. Wyatt’s feud with Lesnar seems like WWE making the best (or attempting to) of a bad hand.
– Why did Brock Lesnar simply accept three men who were not in the Rumble match anymore eliminating him? Brock probably should have gone a little crazy and smashed some homies.
– Kevin Owens and Dean Ambrose had a very nice Last Man Standing match to open this show. Ambrose’s story throughout the show was one of the most interesting portions of what WWE did. Ambrose was the victor in the insane match to kick of the night, then he was the last man in the ring with the eventual winner, Triple H, to close out the night. Ambrose was presented as more of a star on this show than he has been in a long time. Part of it was the quality of the Owens vs. Ambrose match. Part of it was how hard he fought throughout the entire show. Unlike Roman Reigns, who walked away, Ambrose fought hard and still kept fighting to the end.
– As many people know, I throw an annual party filled with non-wrestling folks for the Royal Rumble. It features my world-famous Royal Rumble Drinking Game and is super fun. It’s also a delightful chance to see how non-fans approach wrestling. People found The New Day quite likable, questioned Ambrose’s potential enthusiasm for meth, called Chris Jericho dad-like in a negative way, and wondered why the rules of the Rumble were so flexible. It was a fun evening. Also, I made it through the Rumble this year. Success.
– New Day vs. Usos was fun, but nothing truly special. WWE needs a couple more convincing tag teams in this mix.
– Kalisto defeating Alberto Del Rio to win the United States Championship once again was a major surprise. I like what WWE is doing with the Kalisto character currently. I hope they actually continue to develop him instead of turning him into just the “ultimate underdog” as they did so often with Rey Mysterio. Allowing fans to get to know the wrestlers is a super important part of character creation WWE often ignores.
– Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch was not the match I hoped these two women would have for the Diva’s Championship. It wasn’t awful, but it had some clunky moments. I wasn’t enthusiastic about Ric Flair randomly kissing Becky either. These are things we do not need in a serious women’s division. Becky and Charlotte have both done better work than this recently. It was a letdown.
– Sasha Banks received one of the best reactions of the night by coming to the ring to attack Charlotte. While the moment was cool, I must question the storytelling effort WWE put forth here. Is Sasha supposed to be the protagonist in this division, picking up for the fallen Lynch? If yes, why did she attack Becky? Did Charlotte look too sympathetic by being attacked after a match? The lines of the WWE women’s division were blurred once again here. It’s not a wise choice.
– With all of this said, Charlotte vs. Sasha was a fun NXT feud and could be a fun WWE feud. I’m for it. Hopefully Becky isn’t lost in the shuffle from this point forward.
– Call me a sucker, but Sami Zayn entering the Rumble and eliminating Kevin Owens made me almost giddy.
– WWE did a nice job controlling/playing the crowd in this Royal Rumble. When a fan favorite like Zayn or Styles was eliminated, it was immediately followed by a big moment/entrance. When Styles was eliminated, they allowed Owens to do so. This helped Owens and made the fans okay with it. WWE learned a lot from the last two Rumbles and played reactions rather well.
– How nice would it be to see a Rumble without Big Show, Kane, and Mark Henry? I know we will always have monsters in WWE, but at least there is a new generation of monster on the rise. Braun Strowman isn’t great, but at least he is young.
– Kofi Kingston getting eliminated off camera was pretty mean. His big spot this year was pretty fun though.
– R-Truth tried to climb a ladder because racism is a thing.
– Styles repeatedly going for the Styles Clash was fun. Hopefully he is given a good match on Raw and a chance to hit the move.
– “There are no disqualifications in the Rumble match, but Roman Reigns is not angry enough at the man who cheated repeatedly to eliminate him to help his best friend win.” – Things Michael Cole should have said.
This was a delightful show from beginning to end and it set the course for WrestleMania rather well. While we all assume we know the WrestleMania main event, we don’t know how WWE plans to get there. This is a delightful part of the Rumble for the WWE Championship twist. WWE has a lot of things to play with between now and April. Hopefully they play in an entertaining and compelling way.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? If they aren’t super annoying thoughts, hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @itswilltime or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.