The Royal Rumble match last night was one of the most anticipated Rumbles in probably the last decade, for a variety of reasons including:
1) There was no obvious outcome unlike in recent years, and so there was that element of unpredictability
2) A lot of the WWE’s heavy hitters were in the match including Taker, Brock, Goldberg and Braun
3) There were eight spots that were not yet publicly spoken for as of the morning of the Rumble, leading to anticipation of what surprises WWE had in store with respect to old-timers and/or NXT talent
The takeaway from the weekend, again, was that whenever a WWE event is highly anticipated, more times than not you walk away disappointed. Meanwhile whenever a show appears to be lackluster as NXT Takeover was on Saturday night, you oftentimes are left pleasantly surprised and content with the results. Now, could this be because your expectations are so high, there’s no way for WWE to meet them? Perhaps. But when you look at this year’s Rumble and what the consensus seems to be about it, it’s clear that WWE could have met those expectations by simply giving the people want they wanted, and what they expected.
The Rumble match for me was another example of how Vince McMahon has lost touch with his audience and doesn’t know what his audience wants. I say this because if you ask any wrestling fan why they love the Royal Rumble match, the vast majority (if not all of them) will say they love the surprise entrants every year. Even Shawn Michaels while serving on the pre-show panel said as much. That had become the calling card of the Rumble year after year. And so to me, when you have eight spots open as of the morning of the show and only produce one surprise entrant (ie Tye Dilliger), you clearly don’t understand what your fans want and you don’t understand what makes the Rumble a fun event every year.
On our post-Rumble podcast show, the guys spoke about how “surprise” entrants like Kalisto, Apollo Crews and Enzo Amore may have gotten those spots because they work a full-time schedule for WWE and deserve a Rumble “rub”. And I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. But those were still only three of the eight available spots. They could have kept those three in and given other spots that went to guys that had already performed on the show – Sheamus, Cesaro, Roman Reigns – to outsiders. Besides, even if you leave the lower card guys out of the match but you deliver an entertaining show for your fans and make them happy, you maximize the potential of getting their dollars with respect to paid network subscriptions which will help the company bottom line and in theory, help provide financial security for guys like Kalisto and Crews moving forward.
It was also suggested on the podcast that the SmackDown! talent was mostly made to look inferior to the Raw talent with the exception of Orton winning. I don’t necessarily agree with that since Baron Corbin was also booked well as was Bray Wyatt, plus the same could be said for the Raw crew with the exception of the big guys like Strowman, Reigns, Brock and Goldberg.
With respect to storylines, whether it be starting new ones or progressing existing ones, the Rumble delivered. You saw the continuation of the Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg feud, as well as the progression of the Wyatt Family saga with Luke Harper seemingly breaking ties. They also planted seeds for new programs with Reigns vs. Taker, Strowman vs. Corbin, and even Sheamus/Cesaro vs. New Day in some sort of tag contender’s match. If anything the Rumble may have breathed new life into Randy Orton’s character after he’d spent much of 2016 in an upper mid-card role with the Wyatts. So those were all positives. But again, most fans seemed to walk away disappointed due to seeing almost no outside surprises.
It’s not like there was no talent available for those surprise spots. Samoa Joe was there and didn’t even appear on NXT Takeover so he should have been an obvious one. And then what about Shinsuke Nakamura, or even Bobby Roode? What about an old-timer like a Diamond Dallas Page who’s going into the Hall of Fame this year? Or booking a name still working indies like a Scott Steiner or Buff Bagwell for the night? They could have even turned to their agents and booked Road Dogg, or D-Von Dudley (maybe even as Brother Devon for one night!) or IRS. There was certainly no talent shortage. The company simply chose to avoid doing the one thing that had become synonymous with the Rumble for so many years.
So now we head into Wrestlemania season. And I suppose the one good thing about Orton’s victory is it leaves a lot of question marks about the World Title going into Mania. Will John Cena get through Elimination Chamber with the title intact and face Orton (AGAIN)? Will Bray Wyatt leave the chamber with the title and be forced to face his family member at Mania? Time will tell.
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