It has been a while since I wrote a wrestling column but, as we move into the first moments of Wrestlemania season, now seems like a good time to delve back into the world of WWE to discuss the state of play. We’re just 48 hours ahead of the Royal Rumble, which is not just the starting point of the ‘Road to Wrestlemania‘, but perhaps the most entertaining and unpredictable night on the entire WWE calendar.
This week also brought us Raw 25, as the red brand celebrated a quarter of a century on our screens. It was an evening packed with nostalgia, bursting at the seams with returning wrestling legends and spread across two venues. Despite this, though, many were left disappointed by this blockbuster event. Meanwhile, the main event scene on SmackDown Live continues to be a baffling conundrum.
Who will be the last man and woman standing?
For the first time in history, there are two Rumble matches taking place at the Royal Rumble event on Sunday. Both the men and the women of WWE will take part in a 30-person, over the top rope battle royal, with each winner earning the chance to compete for the top title in their division at Wrestlemania. It’s usually possible to make a decent prediction as to who will win the Rumble but, this year, both of the matches are very difficult to call in terms of a winner.
On the women’s side of things, all of the buzz is about Ronda Rousey. Rumours abound that the company has enticed her over for a big Wrestlemania bout and, if that’s the case, winning the Rumble would be the perfect way to introduce her. If she turns up in the match, she will win. There’s no point having her in the bout unless she’s going to emerge victorious when the dust settles. Rousey herself has denied the rumours, but she would say that, wouldn’t she?
It’s more interesting, however, if Ronda Rousey does not turn up. There are then a number of potential winners, from Becky Lynch to a more unusual choice like one of the members of Absolution or the Riott Club. The smart money in any women’s match is on Asuka, given her dominance, but she will likely be able to earn her way into a Wrestlemania title match anyway, so she doesn’t need a Rumble victory. If I had to put money down, I’d go with Becky.
Over on the men’s side of things, the situation is even more difficult to predict. This Rumble match is not short of big hitters, though we’re not quite on the level of last year’s star-packed bout, but it doesn’t seem likely that any of those massive names will win. John Cena isn’t heading to Mania for another title bout, Randy Orton isn’t winning for the second year in a row and there’s very little chance WWE risks another anointment of Roman Reigns. Braun Strowman is already in a title match at the Royal Rumble event, so he’s almost certainly off the table as well.
I have no doubt in my mind that Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar is inked in as the main event of WrestleMania this year, which is not a problem. That bout, if it’s even half as entertaining as their match three years ago, will be a stunning climax to the show. Given the certainty of that match, and my equal certainty that Reigns won’t win the Rumble, that leaves a SmackDown Live performer as the most likely victor on Sunday.
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are already firmly ensconced in a deeply unusual main event feud, of which there will be more discussion later, so they’re off the table. I have already said that Randy Orton isn’t winning twice in a row. WWE has soured on Baron Corbin. That pretty much leaves one name on the table – the artist known as Shinsuke Nakamura. He needs something to elevate him into the main event scene and the prospect of Nakamura vs. AJ Styles for the belt at Wrestlemania is the kind of smark dream match that might encourage them not to be too upset about Roman Reigns being in his fourth consecutive main event.
Raw 25 leaves Manhattan Center fans in the dark
Fans could not possibly have been more excited for the Raw 25 show. The three-hour event, split across the Barclays Center and the Manhattan Center, had been hyped to an absurd degree for several months, with dozens of legends confirmed to make an appearance. There’s an argument that the resulting show was always going to be something of a disappointment and that indeed proved to be true.
The central concept for Raw 25 simply didn’t work. The switching between the venues led to a jumbled and incoherent show, which must have been even worse for the people in those arenas. The Manhattan Center crowd, in particular, simply watched the show on a big screen for the first 45 minutes. Opening the show with the McMahon family taking Stone Cold Stunners was a perfect move, blasting the audience in the face with pure adrenaline, but what followed was something of a damp squib.
The show’s nostalgia segments were enjoyable, but the Raw 25 momentum was all over the place. The in-ring content was all too brief and stars like the Revival were left to look very silly indeed. Nothing was able to match the entertainment value of Vince McMahon’s vintage heel promo in the opening segment and it was the smaller, sillier moments that shone through in the show, including Chris Jericho putting Elias on the list.
Raw 25 overran enormously and, as a result, it felt as if the final segment involving Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman and Kane was cut for time. Every wrestler involved in the show was out at ringside, as if the huge brawl you’d expect from a Royal Rumble go-home show was about to take place. However, there was no such brawl and, in fact, the three-way fight that unfolded came to an end very quickly and abruptly, without any of the creativity WWE has shown with recent Strowman rampages. That’s not how to hype a title bout.
The confusion of SmackDown’s title picture
This week’s SmackDown Live was dedicated to building the ludicrous WWE Championship handicap match it has booked for the Royal Rumble, pitting champion AJ Styles against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, or ‘Kami’ as only AJ is calling them. It’s a ridiculous match on the face of it and one that is almost certainly going to have to be booked in a way that makes the heels look like idiots in order for Styles to retain his title.
The entire booking scenario around this match has been hopelessly convoluted, with Styles being overshadowed by the ongoing drama between Daniel Bryan, Shane McMahon and the heel best friends. The tension between McMahon and Bryan has to be going somewhere, but with Bryan unable to get physical, it’s difficult to know what the possible result of this can be, other than a Bryan heel turn, which is a laughably stupid idea.
The nonsensical title match will no doubt be yet another example of wrestlers desperately attempting to work around a stupid gimmick, which has been something of a pattern in the SmackDown main event scene for the last few months. Hopefully they can sort this out in time to construct a compelling Wrestlemania build.
Who do you think will win the Royal Rumble this weekend? Were you left disappointed by Raw 25? Where do you think the SmackDown Live main event storyline is going? Let me know in the comments section and check out my other wrestling content.