By Jeff Lutz, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@JLutz82)
Goldberg is returning to WWE on Friday, right on time.
WWE is holding its next in a far too long line of Saudi Arabia shows later this month, and surely the “kingdom” – it’s an actual kingdom, I guess, but it still deserves to be mocked – wants to see Goldberg and other various stars from the past. The 53-year-old “legend” – he’s an actual legend, I guess, but his presence in WWE at this stage of his life still deserves to be mocked – could be joined by other relics such as Triple H, The Undertaker, Kane, Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels.
Ruby Riott returned to WWE on Monday, right on time.
Riott, who missed several months after undergoing surgeries on both shoulders, is a welcome addition to a main-roster women’s division that has been spinning its wheels since Ronda Rousey worked her most recent match nearly a year ago at WrestleMania.
Speaking of WrestleMania, Riott’s return, in a perfect world, would be used to set up a spot for her on what was once the biggest show of the year. Not a spot in a meaningless battle royal, either; a spot in a match that receives proper promotion, build and television time. Since Saudi Arabia is where legends return and most dream matches now occur, WrestleMania can and should be used to highlight the women’s roster and reverse the regression it has suffered over the past year.
Riott is just one wrestler who should receive more prominent utilization during WrestleMania season and beyond. WWE, with NXT to supplement it and perhaps a returning star such as Rousey, has the depth to spotlight at least five women’s matches on WrestleMania. It doesn’t seem like a realistic proposition, especially considering WWE’s recent lack of direction for its women’s stars, until the lack of viable men’s matches is considered.
Outside of the Edge-Randy Orton program that will hopefully be saved for WrestleMania, there doesn’t seem to be many strong men’s matches that don’t involve championships on the horizon. Even the United States and Intercontinental championships seem to be in flux, with U.S. Champion Andrade recently suspended for a wellness violation and new IC champ Braun Strowman without an obvious opponent.
Yes, WrestleMania is more than two months away. But if time is all that’s needed to build to worthy matches, that time would best be used to reestablish some of the women who have lost their way during the last 12 months. Is someone like Shinsuke Nakamura, who recently lost the Intercontinental title to Strowman, any more worthy of a WrestleMania singles match than, say, multi-time women’s champion Alexa Bliss? Should Baron Corbin be spotlighted at the expense of a hopefully healthy Sasha Banks?
The obvious answer to those questions is no.
The most crucial question, however, is whether Vince McMahon, Raw executive director Paul Heyman and his Smackdown counterpart Bruce Prichard are willing to dedicate ample time over the next two months to women and their WrestleMania exploits. I similarly feel most confident and most hopeless toward Heyman.
Since around November, Heyman’s vision (or so it seems) has made bigger stars out of former unknowns such as Andrade, Aleister Black, Ricochet, Buddy Murphy, AOP, The Viking Raiders, and Humberto Carrillo. He’s increased the profiles of established stars like Kevin Owens, Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, Seth Rollins and Bobby Lashley.
It seems like he could do the same for Raw’s women’s wrestlers, too – except he hasn’t. Outside of maybe Asuka, no women’s wrestler on Raw is in a higher position on the card with Heyman’s influence than without it. Lana was involved in the show’s central angle, the love triangle with Lashley and Rusev, for several weeks, but none of that really involved her in-ring work, and nobody wants to see that anyway.
If Heyman can make me care about Carrillo and Murphy, he should be able to tell a viable story involving Riott. He could spark similar fan investment in Peyton Royce and Natalya. Why not?
Over on Smackdown, Prichard has given us a bland babyface turn by Lacey Evans but not much else, even with a women’s roster with greater depth than Raw’s, boasting Sonya Deville, Carmella, and Naomi as wrestlers who could shine with greater roles.
With potential combinations including Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Shayna Baszler, Rhea Ripley, Banks, Bayley, Asuka, Riott, Naomi, Bliss, Carmella, Natalya, Bianca Belair, maybe Rousey, and a returning Nia Jax, there are numerous interesting, fresh match possibilities for WWE’s women at WrestleMania. There used to be similar opportunities for the biggest current men’s stars and legends, but those have been squandered in favor of the kingdom.
WWE should use WrestleMania to show the kingdom what it’s missing.