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Probably the biggest goal for WWE in 2021 needs to be the creation of new stars who are over and can draw at the main event level. The Royal Rumble, with the exception of WrestleMania, is probably the best event to do that, since many fans only watch the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania all year, so if you can get someone over at the Royal Rumble, it can go a long way in making them a mainstream star.

WWE did a decent job doing that at the Royal Rumble, particularly in the Women’s Royal Rumble match which had a great finish that featured two of the brightest new names they have. The Men’s Rumble match was not quite as successful, but did have decent moments for some new names, particularly Damien Priest.

Drew McIntyre also beat Goldberg, which was a lot better than the alternative. Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens had a big match in a prominent spot. WWE still has a ton of work to do in successfully creating a new generation of legitimate top stars, but they made some progress tonight. We will see what they do on the way to WrestleMania.

Men’s Royal Rumble Match: ****

Edge picked up the win here. I don’t mind Edge winnin the Royal Rumble, even if in an idea scenario there was a ready-made young star who would be the logical choice to win this match, go on to WrestleMania and beat Roman Reigns to become a new top babyface star. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone on WWE’s roster really fits that bill at this point in time because they have done a lousy job getting guys ready. Edge, if he goes on to face Reigns at WrestleMania, could have a really good program with Reigns because he is such a good promo and has a lot of star power.

The finish was strange. I think we all figured Orton would come back in at the end to try and screw Edge, which is what happened and Orton hit the RKO. Somehow, Edge, after just eating the most deadly finisher in the company and wrestling an hour-long match, was able to recover in time to toss Orton out. It was almost like Orton was supposed to land on the apron but he slipped. Anyway, I have no problem with it. Why? Because there was no Fiend, which meant no magic, which meant I could enjoy normal professional wrestling for the night. I’ll take that every time.

Some more thoughts:

Christian is awesome, glad to see him back and he would have gotten a huge pop if fans were there. He took some bumps so he appears to be medically cleared, lot of potential for him with one last run. Edge obviously has bigger things to do right now, but I think a tag team run would get over big.

Rollins came back in this match and looked good. I’d wish he would ditch the Messiah gimmick because it’s such a lame act, but I would be very interested in either a Riddle vs Rollins or Bryan vs Rollins feud. Would be another good program for SmackDown.

Bad Bunny is a legitimately huge star (he was the number one artist in the world on Spotify in 2020) so it’s kind of a big deal that WWE got him to do something physical. Getting to work some with Damien Priest is also a nice little bonus for Priest, who had a very good match.

Carlito is the kind of guy who would have gotten a huge pop from the crowd because his entrance music is well-known and people haven’t seen him for a while. He was in…suspiciously good shape, and looked great during his brief run. He could stick around and work more dates and be a useful edition to RAW or SmackDown.

The AJ Styles/Omos relationship seems to be more and more about Omos and less and less about Styles. It’s clear WWE is interesting in making him a star. That will be a tough battle because its hard to do a lot with guys that big.

I enjoyed seeing Ricochet in the match because he’s awesome…but he was involved in an angle where he needed to win a match to qualify, and he lost that match and it was supposed to be a big deal that he didn’t qualify. If he was supposed to be in the match, why not have him just beat someone to get into the match, so he doesn’t look like a total geek? And getting eliminated by a 53 year old politician who works one match a year? Bleh.

Hurricane Helms had the annual “guy takes bump out of the ring and looks like he blew out his ACL” spot.

Women’s Royal Rumble Match: ***

The Royal Rumble match really just comes down to two things; the entrances and the different angles that take place through the eliminations, and the final sequence where there are four people or less left in the ring. I thought most of this match was lame, not a lot of real surprises in the entrants and not a lot of action during the beginning. WWE nailed the finish though; good final three participants and the final two showdown was one of the better final exchanges in Rumble history.

Some more thoughts:

Belair was a good choice to win. I wish they had done more with her creatively during her time between her call-up in this match, it felt like she just did the vignettes and a few segments with Bayley and that was it. She was very good in this match and WWE really needs more new women to get into the main event picture. It was a very good ending with her in Ripley.

Ripley, even more than Belair, was the star of the match to me. She was in the Kane spot, the person who eliminates a ton of people but loses in the end. She was by far the most interesting person to me in the match and while I have no problem with Belair winning, my main takeaway from the match was that Ripley was the most talented person in the match and should get a giant push  ASAP.

The entire Lana sequence of events just feel useless. On and on we go with her getting beat up, crying, occasionally getting a tiny W, and then immediately getting reeled back in. She also just isn’t a good enough in-ring performer to really pay any of this off in a meaningful way.

I was worried that when Alexa Bliss came out we were just going to get a bunch of magic, but thankfully Ripley did the only sensible thing to do which was to dump her ass out of the ring before she could “transform.” It kept the shenanigans in this match to a minimum.

The camera work in this match, which is always a difficult task in a match like this with so much happening on the screen at once, was not up to par. The key mistake was missing Bianca Belair’s elimination of Bayley, which was one of the most significant moments of the entire match. There were also multiple moments where the excessive camera cuts during high-impact moves ended up missing the actual impact of those moves. The excessive camera cuts are a legitimate problem with WWE production, which for years has been the standard in the industry.

WWE brought Jerry Lawler back to do commentary on this match, which was a weird choice. Lawler’s act really hasn’t aged well and shouldn’t be taking place in 2021 when it comes to treating the women as respectful competitors; so he can’t be that guy on commentary. In place of that, he just felt stale and boring, uttering out generic comments about many performers he was not particularly familiar with.

Roman Reigns vs Kevin Owens: *

Alright, alright, I know people really liked this match. To me, it was a boring slog, a spotfest filled with spots that I’ve seen before. If I had never seen a match like this before, I would have probably really enjoyed it. The problem is that I’ve seen about 10,000 of these types of matches in WWE, and on top of that, I never had any confidence that Owens was going to win the match. So we got the regular walk-and-brawl full of guys jumping into crashpads, and the referee counting to ten everytime someone took a hip toss.

The mechanics of the match began to deteriorate as it went on. The first questionable moment was when Reigns was laying on the painters table for at least 15-20 seconds while Owens set up the forklift, while the referee mysteriously didn’t count. Then we had the finish, which was pretty rough. The spot was supposed to involve Heyman freeing Reigns from the handcuffs before the ref reached ten, allowing him to stand. The problem was that Heyman couldn’t unlock the handcuffs in time, so the referee, dead center on camera, just stopped counting at 6 as it was clear Heyman needed more time. So Heyman had to spend a good 20 seconds or so trying to get the cuffs off like someone trying to jimmy their car door open. Reigns finally got out, and then immediately choked Owens out to get the win.

Look, I know people are going to overreact to the one star rating, but this was a boring match, with a predictable winner, filled with overdramatic spots that I didn’t buy, and had an awkward, botched finish that made the product look terrible. This was a really bad match. I still enjoy the Roman Reigns heel run, I thought both guys worked hard and Owens did his best to hang with Roman, but this was not a success tonight.

I will say that several people I’ve heard from that are not regular viewers of WWE really enjoyed this match, although they did notice the ending was botched, so clearly the match resonated with casual fans more than hardcore fans who might be conditioned to this sort of match. Which is fine; but I rate these matches based on my own personal thoughts about them and I did not care for this match.

Drew McIntyre vs Goldberg: *1/2

I’m pretty much done with Goldberg. The matches to me have become pretty bad; everybody knows they are going to be these three-minute sprints where the guys just spam big moves and rush to the finish. Goldberg also botched the Jackhammer, which is a problem because that is one of his two moves, and he now struggles to hit it. I understand there is a particular kind of drama because you know the match can end at any time, but I’ve seen enough of these Goldberg (and Brock Lesnar) matches to last a lifetime. I’m just not that interested in them at this point.

Over the weekend, I watched The Shield vs Evolution match from 2014. That match was awesome; a real war that had three established veteran stars, confidently putting over a new generation of stars. This felt really momentous when it took place; and it was not a short little match; it was a long, dramatic affair with back and forth action and so when The Shield finally won, it felt like they had really achieved something and it was no surprise all three guys went on to be big stars. To me; Drew McIntyre needs to win matches like that, not these quick little sprints that ultimately feel inconsequential.

Sasha Banks vs Carmella: **3/4

I thought there first match was superior, although there was nothing wrong with this match. I’ve enjoyed this Carmella push now that it has gotten more time; Carmella has improved a lot over the years and I think her repackaging has helped her look more like a star. That being said, I never thought Banks was in danger of losing this match, and WWE has struggled to create viable women’s challengers outside of the Four Horsewomen and Asuka. I thought it was a mistake to basically treat her like a total joke during the Royal Rumble match. Banks is really talented and 2021 should be another big year for her.

Must Watch Matches

Will Ospreay vs Satoshi Kojima: **** – NJPW New Beginning in Nagoya

Shingo Takagi vs Hiroshi Tanahashi: ***** – NJPW New Beginning in Nagoya

I went the full five stars with Takagi and Tanahashi, with Tanahashi outlasting Takagi for the NEVER Openweight Championship in an 35-minute epic. This was true art; since they were going long it was not the most immediately exciting match; they didn’t come out and hit a bunch of moves early. What made the match special was that they spent the first half of the match focusing on storytelling, particularly Tanahashi working over Takagi’s knee; which set up the long struggle that Takagi would have to get back into the match, including an incredible Texas Cloverleaf spot where Takagi’s selling and will to fight on were amazing. Tanahashi, after spending a year telling the story that he is washed up; looked fresh as a daisy 35 minutes into this match to get the win. This felt like a great Dragon Gate sprint to the finish, except it also featured the best babyface of their generation. Definitely go out of your way to watch it.

 

In the latest episode of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast,  Jesse Collings (@Jesse Collings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) discuss the career of CM Punk. They go over what made him so successful in WWE, the forces that ultimately led to his departure from the wrestling industry, the influence that he had over WWE’s product throughout the 2010s and his possible future in the industry.