NEW ORLEANS—The wrestling world is turning up the heat as we get closer and closer to this year’s Royal Rumble.
It seems that for some reason, something that I can’t quite put my finger on, everyone’s trying a little harder this January. You could say that it’s because it’s already the beginning of WrestleMania season, but it’s more than just the WWE. You could probably theorize that it’s a new year and companies have some sort of New Year’s resolution to do better. That could be a thing, too.
I’d just like to think that the smartest of them all understand that pro wrestling is about to enter a boom period. Mainstream outlets are beginning to adopt it again, slowly but surely. But the industry still has only one foot in that door, though, and the product has to match those expectations if they want to stay on places like ESPN and Forbes (yes, believe it or not, Forbes now covers wrestling news). Maybe this is them revitalized, and this is them gearing up to make everything better.
That also doesn’t always mean that everything is now great. Nope; there are lessons still left to be learned, and there are attitudes that still need to be, well, adjusted. The industry leaders still stumble, but for the most part, they’re doing pretty okay. More okay than people think, and certainly more than they’d give credit for.
Let’s check out this past week—which wasn’t really as crazy as the last one, but still all right nonetheless.
Brock Lesnar is back
The Rumble favorite is finally here. After being denied a spot against whoever wins it at the main event of WrestleMania, the Beast Incarnate is taking the second best thing and joining the 30-man melee.
Right now, the plan we all know about is Roman Reigns vs. Triple H in the main event of WrestleMania. But we don’t know how we’re going to get there, and we don’t know if it’s for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. If it is, is Roman Reigns going to retain? Is Triple H going to win the championship? (Reigns can’t win if they’re setting up that main event.) How is Brock Lesnar, a force of nature to be reckoned with, going to lose the Rumble match if ever?
There are so many questions that give me a little bit of apprehension when I think about them, but I’m optimistic that they can pull it off in the match itself. They needed to shake the Rumble up after a lackluster past few years, and they already have us with the stipulation. All that’s left is the follow through.
There’s been a nice little side story brewing over in the United States Championship picture. After we all discovered Cena has to pull out of any plans in the foreseeable future thanks to a shoulder injury, WWE decided to go with Kalisto.
And when I say “go with Kalisto,” I mean really go with Kalisto:
But then, in this same week’s SmackDown episode, they decided to go another way:
Now, I can hear you from all the way up here. You don’t like that Kalisto got such a quick reign, and a guy you don’t especially like got it back. You’re upset.
But have you considered that maybe they’re pulling Kalisto back so he can get even more sympathy? If you watched the entire match at RAW, you can see the whole crowd pulling for Kalisto by the time he wins it. Even if you weren’t, you can see them being invested. Now that he lost the championship, a lot more people are up in arms about it—people who cared about Kalisto more than they thought. You know that thing about arrows and how they’re pulled back so that they can go further? This is one of those times.
Granted, it’s too soon to tell whether this is actually going to play out well for him. The main reason why fans are upset is because they’ve been left pessimistic by the boneheaded WWE machine, and I can’t blame any of you for feeling that way. All I’d like to tell you is to wait. If this ends up being like Christian’s sniff at the World Heavyweight Championship back in 2011 and Kalisto doesn’t end up winning the inevitable rubber match at Royal Rumble—or whenever—then you can start throwing rotten tomatoes. There’s just not much to judge here at the moment.
Shinsuke Nakamura is stripped of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship
In a bizarre move (by their standards) New Japan Pro Wrestling has decided to turn back on its booking plans and strip superstar Shinsuke Nakamura of the Intercontinental Championship. He was originally going to defend (and most likely drop) the title to new Bullet Club leader Kenny Omega at some point. Nakamura is now going to work his last show for NJPW on January 30 in a 6-man tag match.
That’s certainly weird, especially considering NJPW has always had the product and their top-quality wrestling in mind. We don’t know what happened here, and why he couldn’t just wrestle Omega in his last appearance for the company. It could possibly be politics, but again, politics wouldn’t force NJPW to have a title change hands offscreen.
Regardless, that all but confirms that Nakamura is headed stateside, and most likely in WWE. There’s no reason to deal with the question of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship now; we look forward to how he’s going to make his WWE debut. Will it be on NXT? Will it be on the main roster? Is he going to take more time? I personally want to see him as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble, even though it’s a long shot.
Matt Hardy is TNA World Heavyweight Champion (again)
Here’s what’s been up with TNA lately.
First, they had Matt Hardy win the world title back at Bound for Glory in October, their version of WrestleMania. Then they stripped the title from him as part of a storyline, so they could set up a two-month long tournament to crown a new World Heavyweight Champion from the roster. They had Ethan Carter III, the guy Hardy won the title from, win that whole tournament just last week, so whatever. On a PPV they held just 3 days after… Hardy won the championship back from Carter.
I don’t even know, man.
I know I said back in the Kalisto bit that we should wait and see, but at least Kalisto/del Rio is a budding new program. Carter/Hardy has been months in the making—if the entire point was to get the championship back on Matt Hardy’s waist and have Carter’s bodyguard Tyrus turn on him in the process, then why not attempt to do this during the finals of the World Title Series? You know, the biggest moment?
There’s still time to regroup as it’s very early in the year, but creative decisions like this really don’t bode well for TNA’s new direction. I don’t really have a problem with seeing Matt Hardy as a world champion, but they’re not setting him up well at all.
Smark Gilas-Pilipinas and PWR are teaming up once again this year to present a live Royal Rumble viewing party! It will be at Skinny Mike’s Sports Bar once again on the morning of Monday, Jan. 25—and of course, admission is free! Stay tuned for an event page and more info!
Do you listen to podcasts? Would you want to listen to a local podcast about pro wrestling? If the answers to those questions – especially that last one – are yes, then you should check out the cleverly-named Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast, featuring Mellow 94.7 DJ and PWR General Manager Stan Sy, wrestling writer Romeo Moran, and all-around multimedia person and former voice of PWR Raf Camus! On their latest episode, former PWR Champion “Classical” Bryan Leo join Stan and Ro to talk about his loss back at PWR Terminus, and a special new project they’ve been working on with FOX Philippines to bring you pre-show analysis for the Royal Rumble PPV! Listen to it here! – Rappler.com
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