RAW Deal: The Royal Rumble weekend postmortem
It’s been a wild 4 days of wrestling to officially kick off the WWE’s WrestleMania season, and believe me when I say there’s quite a lot to unpack.
There’s not a lot of time for introductions when most of you have already seen or know what went down last weekend, so let’s get to it, shall we—in descending order of importance.
Samoa Joe has debuted to face… we don’t know yet
Two things: Samoa Joe has finally arrived from NXT after a year of dominance. That’s the good news. The bad news—yes, bad news—is he debuted as a Triple H lackey. (You know the other bit of bad news, but we’ll tackle this one first.) It makes sense, given the metanarrative Corporate Triple H has set up for himself with the proliferation of the NXT brand under his rule, but at the end of the day it’s really just another version of the Triple H-Young Prodigy trope. Joe is no youngin' by any means, but it’s the same thing that’s happened to blue chippers like Randy Orton, Batista, and Seth Rollins, and you’d think a guy like Samoa Joe deserves better.
It’s probably another manifestation of the WWE’s need to win over the companies it considers its rivals, but take a look—if guys like Sting and AJ Styles were still able to become successful under the banner, then what’s stopping Joe? I also get that it’s most likely a necessity for him to fill this role, and it’s too early to call it, but they need to find a way to subvert the trope for him before it’s too late.
The other bit of bad news is that Seth Rollins, Joe’s slated opponent as Triple H’s champion in this arena, apparently reinjured his destroyed knee in that main event segment on RAW. That leaves their storyline in a bit of a pickle: it’s highly possible that Rollins can still rehab like crazy in order to make WrestleMania, but whatever he does, he’s going to need to take some time away from the road.
What remains is a storyline where one of the players is absent—remember when Roman Reigns got suspended for violating the Wellness Policy, but was still booked to be part of the WWE Championship main event at last year’s Battleground? At least that match had two other guys to build it up; Samoa Joe will have no one but himself.
That is, of course, unless someone like Finn Balor steps in to replace Seth Rollins. While Balor has no overt beef with Triple H, he’s got history with Samoa Joe, and one could easily write a storyline where Balor feels horrified that Triple H would basically just hand over the Universal Championship—a title he and Rollins fought for, tearing his shoulder in the process—to Kevin Owens. That’s one route they could take, but if Balor is still slated to return in March, that’s still a month’s wait derailing Joe’s momentum. It all remains to be seen what they’ll do from here.
That Royal Rumble match
The dust from this year’s big Royal Rumble match has finally settled. It was very easy to call it one of the worst Royal Rumbles ever in the heat of the moment—all because Roman Reigns entered the coveted #30 spot, sealing the deal for any other potential surprise entrants—but all things considered, it wasn’t that bad. None of my potential Rumble picks I listed last week came close to sniffing the final two except Randy Orton, who I didn’t really want to win, but was heavily rumored to take it all home in the last days leading up to last Sunday.
All things considered, it wasn’t a terrible match; it was a decent affair that just refused to be truly great. A lot of great nods to storylines to as far back as the last two years were there, showing that both writers and wrestlers were paying some good attention to continuity. Future matches and feuds were also built well in the match, allowing it to serve its true purpose as a nexus where most of the company’s big stories merge and interact with each other. Things like James Ellsworth facing off against Braun Strowman as he went into the match, and subsequently getting eliminated by Strowman as well, and the final 3 of Orton, Reigns, and Bray Wyatt echoing Wyatt’s “Anyone but you” rallying cry against Reigns from a few years ago.
It’s just that as always, it didn’t dare to become the best it could be. I felt like the WWE decided to go complacent once it told its guys to not sweat the little details. No young star got the honor of eliminating one of the top-billing part-timers. Braun Strowman got eliminated by Baron Corbin with no interference from Roman Reigns, setting up an interaction that only makes sense if they push through with it (and even then, now wouldn’t be the right time for that feud). The only reason why Randy Orton got a good reaction was because he simply wasn’t Roman Reigns; thinking about it a little more after the fact makes you think that you didn’t really need Orton as a winner. Unless he does go on to face Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania, as the rumors hint, and eventually falls to him as this year’s Royal Rumble winner, you’re building no stars with this move at all.
The status quo largely remains the status quo, when the Royal Rumble had always been the best time and the best way to shake it up. Perhaps that’s why it hasn’t had much of a shine as of late.
Passing of the NXT torch
With Bobby Roode’s win against Shinsuke Nakamura to become the new NXT Champion at NXT Takeover: San Antonio, it’s official: Nakamura may be the least credible NXT Champion, from a booking standpoint. After Sami Zayn, of course.
That leads us to an important question: does Shinsuke Nakamura really need to hold a top championship in order to be a lynchpin of a show? Is he even made to anchor an entire show and hold it up on his shoulders?
The answer seems to be no; Nakamura is too mysterious, enigmatic, and mercurial to be a constant presence on the top of a card. It’s probably why he and NJPW preferred to keep him on the IWGP Intercontinental Championship level instead of the Heavyweight Championship. One other reason to consider is that he might lose his magic if he was forced to be on the major parts of the show all the time. He’s like a unicorn that only descends to earth when he’s ready to amaze everyone.
That, or the setup of NXT really isn’t favorable to him, which is why he doesn’t seem to look as dominant as he does back in NJPW. If they’re starting to ease him out of the developmental territory, then it may finally be time for his much-awaited main roster debut. Here’s to really hoping it finally happens sooner rather than later, as both shows are in need of his presence.
I still prefer SmackDown over RAW, though. – Rappler.com
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