You’d be forgiven for thinking WWE had accidentally stumbled into its best long-term storyline, including last night’s Royal Rumble. He is so fixated on providing “moments”, where the audience jumps on the wild lionthe and (these days) social networks start spinning and buzzing like a slot machine. Whatever led to it, the company doesn’t seem to care too much or put that much effort into it. Luckily for them, they have enough performers who are so good at putting it together that most viewers won’t notice.
Let’s start here:
Sami Zayn was the story he’s going into the Rumble, and he’s going to be the story that comes out of that, which was obviously the goal of the entire production. Yes, the post-match drama with Sami and Roman Reigns and Bloodline and Kevin Owens was endlessly long. It certainly wasn’t the best way to get to where we are, and it’s even questionable whether this program should be where it is now. And yet, all WWE and Triple H cared about were the echoes of Seth Rollins hitting Roman with a chair into the turnbuckle by Sami doing it, and the reaction of the live audience, which was certainly stormy. It was a moment they simply couldn’t miss.
All the questions that come after that are not important to them, even if they are important to some of us. Right now, the biggest game, as we have already said, WWE can run Sami vs. Roman. That hasn’t changed, but it hasn’t made it any clearer how WWE got there or if they even care. We’d like to believe they’d like to put on their biggest possible match in years on the biggest possible stage, but there’s a wide swath of fans who’ve gotten pretty tired of hearing, “Let’s see where they’re going with this.”
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Cody Rhodes won the Rumble, now what?
This is because Cody Rhodes won the Rumble, allowing him to face Reigns at Wrestlemania. Which is just two big names going head to head for it. No story, little history, hardly any tension. All WWE had was Cody’s return and then an unsurprising win at the Rumble, but that’s all they wanted. His return wasn’t even a surprise, thanks to a weeks-long video package campaign that, at least in my head, was created at Cody’s insistence. It didn’t matter that there was barely anything there.
Am I bitter that I apparently screwed over Sami Zayn, which may be the biggest crime I’ve ever committed? Enough. And my feelings for Cody they are hardly secret or subtle more. But there were many ways to do it that could have been better for everyone.
What if Roman sent Sami to the Rumble to prevent the chosen opponents from winning? With intrigue, he puts the company’s biggest star, Sami, into the game. If Cody gets over it, he’ll get more attention than just being CODY RHODES, and now he’s connected to the story. That’s just one way they could have done it. Sami could have won her by accident. But WWE was so dead set on its Cody moment that this is what we got. Everything seemed a bit paint-by-numbers.
One of the pitfalls of running two Rumble matches on the same card is that it’s a challenge to make them feel unique to each other or follow different paths. Common elements bleed into both, whether it’s the big star clearing the ring or alliances forming or the mini skirmishes we see in a larger match, such as two players fighting each other.
Still, it would be nice to feel that they tried. The men’s rumble match started the show, with Gunther coming in at #1 and lasting until the end before being eliminated last. Which somewhat dampened the brilliance of Rhea Ripley who was doing the same thing on the women’s side, although she won. But then again, WWE only cares about the moment and the image of Rhea hanging from the top rope and strong enough to hurricanrana Liv Morgan off the apron. It doesn’t really matter that the rest of the female noise, or even the whole show, was kind of “meh” up to that point.
What about the women’s Rumble?
The big surprises were either Nia Jaxx, a wrestler who most fans concluded didn’t really know how to wrestle and was mostly known for injuring her counterparts, or Booker T’s comedic appearance that ended within 30 seconds. Maybe there weren’t any wrestlers around who could provide the kind of surprise entrances we’ve seen in the past, but they also didn’t seem all that interested in making them.
Bianca’s match with Alex Bliss never felt like anything more than a Bianca procession, and Bliss’ return to Bray Wyatt’s second half barely moved forward. Wyatt’s own match, the Pitch Black match, was really nothing more than barely fine wrestling on the Tron set.
Most, if not all, of the show was the path of least resistance. They want Cody vs. Roman in the main event of Wrestlemania, so they took the shortest route to it. They wanted a moment where Sami turns against Roman, so they found the easiest way possible. They wanted Rhea to be the star at Mania, so they took the most obvious route to get her there. And it doesn’t really matter if it leaves more questions in the future. Because all they have to do at the upcoming shows and Wrestlemania is secure another moment or two. There’s a small possibility that fans might turn on the Cody-Reigns match because they want Sami in it, and they might find a way around that. But this isn’t 2015, because Cody is still a beloved face instead of one imposed on the unconvinced masses who, funny enough I was Roman instead of Bryan Danielson (then Daniel Bryan). Even if I feel like Cody is just another code for “things forced upon us.”
There were a lot more interesting ways to get to where they are now, but what was evident last night is that WWE is only interested in the bottom line. That’s all they have to be, because everyone is so trained to react to “moments”. If there’s one thing WWE knows how to do, it’s serve them up on the reg.