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In this issue of “Five Count,” I’ll be looking at five lessons that WWE can learn from recent Royal Rumble matches, analyzing what has worked well in recent history and how WWE has managed to drain both the excitement for the outcome of the Rumble match along with the rub that comes from it.
(1) A True Crowd Favorite Needs To Win
If WWE hasn’t learned this lesson by now then they never will. The Rumble matches in 2014 and 2015 were unmitigated disasters, and that might even be selling them short. Last year wasn’t quite a disaster, largely because it was anyone but Roman winning. However, it was still Triple H. It wasn’t even close to being the moment that fans have demanded for years now where THEIR guy wins the Rumble. Where THEY win the Rumble through that guy. And honestly it’s been so long since a true fan favourite has won the Rumble that it’s almost impossible to remember who the last one was.
Before you google “Royal Rumble winners,” try to think of the last Rumble winner where you and everyone else were all in unison going “Hell yeah!” when they tossed the last guy over the top rope. It’s tough isn’t it? It’s probably Undertaker TEN years ago. Maybe even Rey Mysterio the year prior. Maybe John Cena in 2008 because of the shock factor but Cena has never really fallen under “true fan favorite.” I guess there’s a decent case to be made for Edge in 2010, but that never felt like a hot win that created a ton of buzz. Likewise for Sheamus in 2012. Even 2012 is too far to be going, back but 2007 to find a winner of one your most popular attractions that was unanimously positively received? Yikes.
At any point in time in any promotion this would be a cause for concern that needs correcting, but in WWE’s current climate? It’s basically the worst possible time ever to be pulling this shit on what fans they haven’t already chased away. So much of WWE’s “less informed of the inner workings of WWE” audience have already departed that the “hardcore wrestling fan” (someone needs to come up with a better title that I can use to represent this segment of the audience) is becoming the dominant demographic of WWE’s audience. And that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. So WWE needs to be throwing them a bone every now and again to ensure that at least keep hold of that segment of viewers and giving them a Rumble winner that feels like they as a viewer also won the Rumble is a much needed make good. Not even a make good. It’s really just common sense booking.
But is it likely to happen? Will 2017 be the year that the tide finally swings? I wouldn’t get my hopes up. Strowman winning isn’t that moment. Jericho winning would probably fall just short. Maybe Undertaker would be? I sense that with one of the old guard winning there would be a deflated feeling among a sizeable percentage of the audience that are against the idea of these acts being given all the opportunities that they want new and fresher wrestlers to be receiving. Is Undertaker popular enough to overcome that? Would Goldberg be? At least it’d be an improvement and most likely at least well received by the live crowd. The most suitable pick would be a returning Finn Balor (personal enjoyment aside). An unannounced surprise entrant, a true fan favourite and a fresh new talent that would elevated to new heights. It would spark a buzz and it’d be a positive one. That’s exactly the type of winner and moment that the Rumble badly needs so look out for Braun Strowman winning to setup being fed to Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania.
(2) Debuting A Fan Favourite In The Rumble Will Get A Great Pop & Make Them Look Like A Star
Also known as the A.J. Styles template (only without the camera focusing on Roman Reigns while A.J. comes out to the huge pop…). If WWE have any intentions of debuting someone in the foreseeable future then the Rumble is the best platform to debut them on. Even if you’re planning on bringing a Samoa Joe in after the February PPVs for a Wrestlemania match, debuting them in the Rumble gives them the hottest possible start that it’s just daft to debut them at any other point.
The Rumble crowds are now very much made up of the type of fan who follows NXT, even more so than your typical Raw or Smackdown crowd. If Samoa Joe were to debut in the Rumble he’d get a huge pop and those who don’t know what a Samoa Joe is perceive him straight away as a star because of the way the live crowd are reacting to him. First impressions count and the Rumble provides hot NXT attractions the perfect platform to jumpstart their careers on the main roster.
The Rumble is a great platform for featuring NXT acts even if WWE don’t intend on adding them to the main roster quite yet. If WWE are tuned in enough to have Tye Dillinger come out at no. 10 in the Rumble then he’ll be treated like a superstar by that live crowd and that does wonders for the brand image of NXT. To people not watching NXT this makes the product appear like must see television and definitely doesn’t do any harm in expanding NXT’s fanbase. Better to give some exposure to some NXT talent regardless of their direction afterwards than to have Jimmy Uso come out to no reaction.
(3) Nostalgia Entrants Are Better Than Mid-card Geeks
Similarly, you may as well have The Boogeyman come out to a cheap nostalgia pop than have Jimmy Uso come out to no reaction. From a logic perspective nostalgia entrants make no sense and are borderline insulting but from that same perspective the whole concept of the Royal Rumble is much the same.
Last year’s match strayed away from the formula of using nostalgia entrants and, while last year had so many more major problems, it was a notable exclusion. If Jimmy Uso comes out instead of Scotty 2 Hotty, then it really doesn’t matter in the grand scale of actions that have consequences? No. But, at the same time, which gets a more positive return; Jimmy Uso coming out to be Jimmy Uso for a few minutes to no reaction or “TURN IT UP” blaring it out and Scotty 2 Hotty doing The Worm?
(4) There Needs To Be More Than The Odd One Or Two Legit Possible Winners
In recent years, the outcome of the Rumble has been very predictable, whether it be completely one-dimensionally predictable as it was with Batista or a two horse race as it was last year between Roman Reigns and “surprise entrant” Triple H. And that’s been a big problem along with multiple other major issues that have seriously dampened the reputation of WWE’s most anticipated annual tradition. When you have a 30 person match that lasts for the better part of an hour and you can only buy into one or two of those 30 actually winning the match, it leads to a lack of excitement for the vast majority of the eliminations.
Bray Wyatt, for instance, gets eliminated and it’s not a big moment because nobody buys into him winning because WWE did nothing in the build to the match to even plant that seed in your mind. “Okay, Bray Wyatt most likely won’t win, but maybe that angle that they did between him and the champion last month was planting a subtle but intentional seed.” That hasn’t existed in recent years. Even when you strip away the layer of informed fans basing their predictions on backstage reports, it’s still the same. It’s WWE’s job to use their TV time to plant that seed of doubt in the mind of their viewers.
And in fairness, they have a done a better job this year, but there’s still so much room for improvement on this front. Do something to give someone like a Dean Ambrose a 5 percent chance of winning rather than a 0 percent. Rather than just having wrestlers state their entry into the match, give them some more promo time to address the match and the champion whom they’re going to be challenging when they win. Rather than just have Ambrose totally focused on The Miz, have him sneak in a quick reference to unfinished business with both A.J. and Cena that he’s going to finish at WrestleMania when he wins the Rumble. It takes not even a minute of TV time. Apply the same to the likes of Dolph Ziggler, Bray Wyatt, heck even someone like a Big Cass. Plant them little seeds all over the show and, by doing that, you’ll also be reinvesting equity in your world titles by showing that EVERYONE’s ultimate goal is to win the Rumble, main event WrestleMania, and become the world champion.
(5) WWE Need To Re-Establish Equity In Winning The Rumble
Remember “the good old days” when the Royal Rumble was about as prestigious of an event as WWE had. When winning the Rumble shot someone to the very top of the biggest event of the year and established them as THE guy for the year to come? When winning the Rumble set up a key piece of the undisputed main event of WrestleMania? Sadly, the days of the Royal Rumble match being all of that are a thing of the past, a distant memory.
When was the last time winning the Rumble turned into a great rub for someone? It did nothing for Hunter last year, did DAMAGE to Roman Reigns and Batista, did little for Cena besides setting up a match that didn’t need the Rumble rub, did nothing to make Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio top acts, didn’t do a great deal for Edge. The most recent one you could make a fair argument (and even then by no means a great one) is Randy Orton in 2009. Compare that to the run that they had at the start of the 2000s. Hunter winning in 2002 re-established him as a main eventer upon his return from injury, Brock in 2003 helped established him as not only a top guy on Smackdown, but a top guy period. Benoit winning in 2004 was a huge launching pad for his main event run; likewise, Batista in 2005 and 2006 setup Rey Mysterio for the biggest push of his career. THAT is what the Rumble should do for people.
And it’s not only the choice of winners that has drained the Rumble victory of the vast amount of equity they had previously built into it. It’s also the follow up. Six of the last eight Rumble winners have gone on to lose their title shot at WrestleMania. Compare that to the first fourteen Rumble winners (discounting 97 & 99 but including both 94 winners) where the winner lost only THREE times. The Rumble used to be a sure-fire shot towards winning the world title at WrestleMania, but it’s nothing resembling that anymore. So much so that since Batista in 2005, the Rumble winner has gone on to win the world title in the main event at WrestleMania ONCE – John Cena in 2013.
Accomplishments are all about the rubs that they can pass on and, in order for them rubs to count for anything, equity has to be built into the accomplishment. WWE need to start re-establishing equity into the Rumble for the rub of winning it to start having a real impact on the wrestler winning the Rumble and the fans’ perception of him.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S ARTICLE: FIVE COUNT: Five lessons that WWE can learn from 2016 including good heels, Roman Reigns experiment, Shinsuke Nakamura, and NXT revival