By Will Pruett, ProWrestling.net Senior Staffer (@wilpruett)
Instead of the usual main feature, I have a couple smaller ones to share with y’all this week:
Falling in Love with the Golden Lovers
Today I did something I have not done during my entire time writing for this site (7 years!). I bought a wrestling t-shirt. I’ve been on the verge of doing this before. I’ve been extremely close. I haven’t been able to pull the trigger. Usually I remember that WWE makes their shirts with the graphic design expertise of a 4th grader and out of a fabric one could easily mistake for sandpaper. Sometimes, I lose passion just before finalizing the order. Today, neither of these things were obstacles. I needed to get my hands on a Golden Lovers t-shirt.
If you haven’t been watching NJPW or reading the excellent NJPW coverage Jason Powell has been doing (note: he has not coerced me into saying that), The Golden Lovers are Kota Ibushi and Kenny Omega. They were one of the best tag teams in the world for a long time, then they went their separate ways. One of the longest running stories in NJPW (and as a through-line of everything either man has done) for many years has been when they would share the ring together again, either as opponents or a team. This week, it finally happened.
Among the many wonderful things about Omega and Ibushi as a team is the way it transcends wrestling or a simple friendship. Whether both men are expert storytellers or simply living the gimmick, the love between them feels real. There is a passion to their interactions. There is a longing to everything they do, and it has been there for years. Ever since Kota Ibushi challenged AJ Styles for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in 2015 and Omega’s distraction cost him the match, watching Omega and Ibushi go without each other has been painful. Their reunion was as tear-jerking a moment as Miss Elizabeth saving Randy Savage at WrestleMania VII.
Cut to me in my living room…
Wrestling has a major issue with representation, especially considering it is a genre built on a specific image and version of masculinity. More than loving this story (and it’s one of the best wrestling stories this decade), I love how Omega and Ibushi, undeniably two of the best wrestlers in the world, are telling a queer love story.
Wrestling can transcend genres, break barriers, and lead to true enlightenment. Wrestling, as a storytelling medium, is capable of so much. Ibushi and Omega are flipping a genre based on the premise of toxic masculinity on its head and using it to tell an epic love story. I am utterly charmed. I am in love with The Golden Lovers.
Looking ahead to Elimination Chamber and WrestleMania
Since I won’t have the opportunity to podcast preview Elimination Chamber as I usually would (I swear I’ll record more for y’all soon), I figured I’d write something up bout it. The container-based show happening this weekend in Las Vegas feels like WWE kicking WrestleMania season into high gear. Since the Raw portion of WWE’s main roster is the only portion capable of telling a halfway decent story, I have a lot of confidence in this show being good.
Men’s Elimination Chamber Match: Is it okay to type “LOLROMANWINS” and be done with it? No? Alright good, because while Roman Reigns will ultimately win this thing, WWE has a lot brewing for all seven of these men. This was shown in the excellent two hour Gauntlet Match on Monday’s Raw. WWE has found unexpected success with Elias and I hope WrestleMania season doesn’t see him on the outside looking in like 2017 Braun Strowman.
Speaking of Strowman, I want to see him wreck this chamber thoroughly. It’s time for the full chamber to be pulled down on someone. Finn Balor and The Miz have reached almost the same plain, which is great for Miz and slightly less great for Balor. I believe they’re WrestleMania dance partners and will foreshadow that here. Seth Rollins was rebuilt and given some bonus fire after all his tag partners died and it’s necessary. Adding him to this match feels like a last minute move, but the right kind of one.
John Cena has a really interesting story if you can ignore that he’ll always have a WrestleMania match. I love the idea of him losing focus. It plays into the very things he accused The Rock of during their feud and shows why Cena found them detrimental. John Cena is going to get an interesting path to WrestleMania and I can’t wait to watch it develop weekly.
And yeah, Roman Reigns wins. He’s going to win the main event of WrestleMania too. More interesting and exciting for Roman is what comes after. He had an amazing feud with AJ Styles after WrestleMania 32, which was another LOLROMANWINS show. He’s a great professional wrestler capable of telling great stories. I’m looking forward to Roman being on top again.
Women’s Elimination Chamber Match: Alright, so I am excited about women getting more opportunities to have WWE’s marquee matches. This is awesome and important and the right thing to do. I am a little miffed about the character developments going into this one though. WWE hasn’t set up much for Alexa Bliss, Mickie James, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Sonya Deville, and Mandy Rose. While this is still a better story than anything on Smackdown, that’s a comedically low bar.
Deville and Rose feel like henchmen forced too soon into the spotlight. WWE hasn’t told us much about them individually. Rose had more personality development on the Mixed Match Challenge (a great show, by the way) than she’s had on Raw. Neither woman would be a good winner for this match, but hopefully they get to show something.
Mickie James is still in search of the great veteran storytelling WWE could do, but rarely does. Her match with Asuka in NXT might be the closest we get.
Bayley is in serious need of character rehabilitation, but this is not the place to do so. I see her as a potential Sasha Banks opponent for WrestleMania, which could be set up here. It’s the right thing to do for these two women. I’m all about more women’s feuds not centering around a championship.
Alexa Bliss feels like the foregone conclusion to win this one and go on to face Asuka, as she should be. Alexa will be a great foil for Asuka going into WrestleMania and I hope WWE gives them the time to tell a fun story.
Nia Jax vs. Asuka: Now is not the time to end Asuka’s streak. Nia Jax is not the person to end it. This should be really great though.
And, those are all the matches I really care about on this show!
SSMGOTW (Superfluous Shane McMahon Gif of the Week):
Well, at least he’s the commissioner on a brand booked just as poorly as late era WCW…
We’re Done Here:
So originally, I had a third topic to write a mini essay on, but my research into what brand had more matches on WWE’s co-branded PPVs since the 2016 draft went against my expectations. I figured Raw would have had almost double the matches Smackdown did on all of the co-branded shows, but I was wrong. While Raw did have more matches, it was just 20 Raw matches vs. 16 Smackdown matches. Spread out across 7 PPVs, that is hardly a relevant figure.
Add to this the 18 matches that were co-branded (both Survivor Series shows account for 13 of these 18 matches), and WWE has been shockingly even with their brand splits. Sure, Smackdown’s writing team is a garbage fire, but at least they get almost equal time?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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