By Will Pruett
Last week on a podcast (available on PWaudio.net!) I referred to the Royal Rumble as disappointing Christmas. For much of the last decade, it has felt that way. I would get excited and start dreaming of possibilities only to have the Rumble match happen and Randy Orton win. Alright, so that only happened once, but before him it was Triple H, Roman Reigns, Batista, John Cena, and Sheamus! The era of shock returns winning the Rumble ended and the era of disappointment settled in. On Sunday, WWE prioritized fan service in both Royal Rumbles and they were triumphs.
Shinsuke Nakamura winning the men’s Royal Rumble was the expected result, but it felt too good to be true. After years of destroying fan expectations (Chris Jericho has to be winning the 2012 Rumble, right? Sheamus? WHY?), WWE went with the popular expected choice. It worked. Fans were nervous for the entire match, especially once Roman Reigns and John Cena were the only wrestlers left with Nakamura. WWE’s past infliction of sadness worked to their benefit as Nakamura’s triumph was both the expectation and a surprise.
The surprises in this year’s men’s Rumble were some expert level fan service. Rey Mysterio received his redemption after 2015’s disastrous #30 entry. The Hurricane is always a favorite to see pop up. Adam Cole will always get a good ovation in Philly. Adrade Almas deserved the massive pop he got after his perfect performance the night before. It was a great mix of past and future.
And how about that women’s Royal Rumble match? It’ll be hard to find a wrestling match that brought me more joy or made me cry more often throughout the entirety of 2018. The first major bit of fan service in this match was putting it on last. WWE has be reluctant to have women main event major shows. WWE’s women were only featured in one WWE pay-per-view main event and one NXT Takeover main event prior to Sunday. Now, the Rumble was on last!
The surprises in this match were even better than the men’s, as WWE assemble an all-star roster of past, present, and future to inaugurate this new tradition. Seeing Trish Stratus and Mickie James get a standing ovation as they faced off was perfect fan service. Seeing Trish and Sasha get a moment was delightful. WWE kept this match moving with surprises and big moments. It was virtually perfect.
Asuka’s win was WWE giving one of their most popular wrestlers with hardcore fans a major win. It worked!
I’ve spent a ton of time detailing how WWE and wrestling in general is often derisive towards the most passionate fans, but on this night, WWE embraced them all. Wrestling last weekend was so much fun and we’re all better for it.
What I absolutely positively love in wrestling this week:
This week broke a record for the number of times wrestling has made me cry in a seven day period. What a weekend! How are we supposed to process and recover from wrestling giving us all of those feelings?!?
Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade Almas – This match might be my new religion. From the pre-match video package (Johnny Gargano KNOWS WHO HE IS) to final image of Candice LaRae guarding Johnny Gargano’s body from Tomasso Ciampa, everything here was perfect. I’m serious. Picture perfect. This was pro wrestling it was easy to invest and believe in. It was wrestling that made me start yelling and crying as Candice jumped the rail to stop Zelina Vega. I audibly reacted when Almas hit the Hanging Hammerlock DDT at the end. This is my favorite match in decades. Wrestling, when it’s this great, is the best thing. I was in tears as this concluded. This was art at the highest level.
The Women’s Royal Rumble Match – Of course I love this. I loved basically everything about this. We saw women who gave a ton to WWE throughout its history and never had a chance to main event in the gosh dang main event. We saw a celebration of the past, present, and future of women’s wrestling in WWE. We saw so much in this one excellent match. The right woman won with Asuka, but seeing Trish Stratus come in at #30 still delighted my heart. This was a celebration. This was a party. This was a strong demonstration of the joy of professional wrestling.
The Golden Lovers (Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi) reunite – Give me wrestling with all of the possible queer subtext, please. Omega and Ibushi brought out all of the feelings here. This was a well done moment from NJPW and a great forwarding of the story of Cody Rhodes and Kenny Omega battling for control of the Bullet Club.
Minoru Suzuki – The new NJPW Intercontinental Champion is a total unhinged badass. I can even find it in my heart to forgive him for what he did to noted beautiful man Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Raw’s Visual Refresh – Monday Night Raw had some kickass graphics and a new logo on Monday. I was thankful for this. Raw didn’t look bad before, but it looked great on Monday.
SSMGOTW (Superfluous Shane McMahon Gif of the Week):
We’ve all been there, Shane.
We’re Done Here:
What the cuss was wrestling for the past week? Look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now!
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To see his video series “What I Love About Professional Wrestling” subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email him at email@example.com.
This continues to be the worst writing about anything, anywhere.
I enjoyed the women’s Rumble a lot, but I think calling it “virtually perfect” is going a bit far. Some blasts from the past are great, but I would rather have seen a couple of Mae Young Classic alumni get a chance rather than wasting spots on Kelly Kelly and Torrie Wilson, who couldn’t wrestle the first time around. Molly Holly looked amazing and should have been handed a starring role, but hey, she isn’t married to the Undertaker. Still, it was good fun and they got the winner right. Roll on next year!