Are You Ready To Rumble?

Are you ready to Rumble?

Unfortunately, this Sunday’s pay-per-view looks less like the “most exciting 60 minutes in sports entertainment,” an old tagline from the event, and more like the horrendous David Arquette film from twenty years ago.

The topic among most fans for the majority of the pandemic era is the lack of compelling television on Raw, while Smackdown has its moment, a status that might provide some insight into a “road to Wrestlemania” that has no clear path at this point. As we saw during the main event segment on Raw this past week, the Randy Orton/Fiend storyline with Alexa Bliss continues to resemble a B-movie Sci-fi film and is just too hokey for anything useful to booked from it. It’s the type of angle that makes you look silly for watching it, which would explain the decline in viewership. It’s ironic that retaining viewers in the third hour has been an obstacle for the company since the addition of an extra hour a decade ago, but somehow the most cringe worthy aspects of the product get scheduled for the conclusion of the show.

Usually, The Royal Rumble starts a buzz toward what might be on the horizon for WM, a two-night event this year, and who might be scheduled to challenge for the championship. A lack of direction and a rather flat build up keeps most of this a mystery ahead of the broadcast. As I wrote when the initial angle was done on Raw to set up the Goldberg/Drew McIntyre angle, I think management has overplayed the Goldberg hand and the nostalgia pop is a stale retread. One of the reasons the 2016 comeback worked was because it was spontaneous and the fans wanted to see Goldberg have a better conclusion in the WWE than getting booed out of the building in 2004. It was booked perfectly, as it maximized what he could do and didn’t expose his weaknesses. They emptied the playbook for the final match in the series at WM 33 and the storyline was very successful. Four years later, the fans have arguably seen too much of Goldberg in the ring, the prime example being the terrible Saudi match with The Undertaker, which is the risk of overexposing a limited performer. The bottom line is, is there a demand for more Goldberg in any capacity, especially when a quick squash match against The Miz would yield much better results?

That being said, the result of Goldberg/Drew could have a domino effect on where the office goes for the WWE title match at WM and thus who could win the Rumble for the title shot.

We’ve discussed before that the previously canceled Goldberg/Roman Reigns match was being hinted at as recently as last month so that would appear to still be on the table. It’s possible that they book a title vs. title bout if Goldberg beats McIntyre, but that more or less finishes Drew’s run as a top star, particularly if he loses to a 54-year-old part-timer. That’s not meant as a jab against Goldberg, the real-life athlete seems like a good guy that wants to use his celebrity to be a good example, which is very admirable, but at the same time, if the writing team can’t build an opponent for Drew from the very talented current roster, what does that say about the star power on the brand?

If the bigger picture is to book the title vs. title match and then put Roman over as the ultimate champion in the company then there’s an argument to be made for that because the organization is clearly invested in the successful future of Reigns, who has done the best work of his career in recent months alongside Paul Heyman on Smackdown.

However, if Goldberg is being brought back just to lose a short match to Drew then it again goes back to the fact that the office couldn’t manufacture a challenger for him. Basically, if Drew wins, he beats an aging part-timer, and if he loses, I’m not sure how management maintains his credibility as a top star so the scenario itself has big risk with low reward as far as the perception of the audience. Besides all of that, Goldberg hasn’t worked a match in almost a year so if the quality is subpar, it doesn’t do Drew’s reign as champion any favors either.

On the blue brand, we know that Kevin Owens won’t win the Universal title, which is fine, but the previous matches against Roman have been solid so at least there’s the match quality aspect. Assuming WWE brass doesn’t book the title vs. title match with Goldberg for WM 37, Smackdown might be the show that has a winner emerge from the Rumble to challenge Reigns. More recently, Shinsuke Nakamura is getting a renewed baby face push on the show with the return of his original theme music and the sudden spotlight put on him after he seemingly got lost in the shuffle the past two years might be an indication that he might be penciled in for a main event match against Reigns. Make no mistake about it, Nakamura is a top-tier performer, but the WWE missed their opportunity to make him a main event star when he won The Rumble in 2018, and lost against AJ Styles to turn heel immediately after the match. This decision halted any momentum he had as a baby face and as talented as he is, it appears that he performed down to the level of where he was booked on the card, as he hasn’t had many standout performances since 2018. If Nakamura wins this year’s Rumble, it’s another example of a cycled concept within the WWE landscape and won’t have nearly the anticipation of the original Rumble win. If management wasn’t going to book him to win the championship when he actually had some hype around him, it’s very doubtful a title victory would even be a consideration at this point in his career.

Another option would be Daniel Bryan, who has delivered some very solid performances on television and is still one of the most over characters on the show. Bryan has the in-ring ability and the persona to always be in the conversation as the underdog challenger because he’s simply that good of a performer. If Daniel Bryan wins, it gives the writing team a storyline to work with ahead of WM, but again, it’s somewhat of a recycled concept because his original push was associated The Rumble match.

All that being said, I think Nakamura or Bryan are the two with the best chance to be scheduled to win the Rumble match, mostly because they are the only two competitors outside of the title picture that have any buzz prior to the pay-per-view. In my opinion, this scenario speaks volumes about how stagnant the product is during the pandemic era. Yes, Edge announced that he will return for the Rumble match, but there’s literally a “been there done that” aspect to that situation. More importantly, is Edge vs. Roman a bigger enough match for WM 37? As mentioned, the product has been stagnant for most of the pandemic era and there hasn’t been enough progress made for the company to build any hype around any particular star in the past year because even the Royal Rumble doesn’t seem like a major event.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta