SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
We are less than a week away from the Royal Rumble and both brands gave us solid go-home episodes leading up to the big event. There are so many people in play to come out on top and a number of those wrestlers gave us good reason to believe they may win. Let’s take a closer look at who performed well and who fell short.
RAW ALL-STAR: SAMI ZAYN
While Monday’s episode of Raw was enjoyable as a whole, no one truly stood out or did anything outside the norm to separate themselves from the pack aside from Sami Zayn. Zayn has been locked in a feud with Braun Strowman and taking losses and beatings consistently. Sure, he has held his own, but at some point he would have started to lose credibility. Monday, he had the opportunity to work a babyface vs. babyface match against Seth Rollins which allowed both men to put their athleticism and wrestling ability on full display. Sayn worked at a very high pace and showed why he deserves a place at the top of the card. While Triple H’s music ultimately lead to Sami’s victory, it was a win nonetheless against one of WWE’s most formidable opponents. This also sets Sami up nicely to be a believable potential winner of the Rumble. While still an outside shot, beating a former champion will certainly start to make people think.
RAW UNDER PERFORMER: GOLDBERG
Up until Monday Goldberg has given us every reason to believe that he is still capable of performing at the highest level. From the passionate and truly believable promo he delivered upon his return to his shocking victory over Brock Lesnar, the Goldberg project has been quite the success. That all came to a screeching halt on Raw with one swift headbutt to a door. Reminiscent of Hulk Hogan’s infamous “Right guy at the wrong place at the… uh let me try this one more time” promo, Goldberg tried three different times to articulate his point and seemingly forgot what title he would be challenging for after he eliminated 29 other competitors on Sunday. It was a like a terrible car crash that we just could not look away from and frankly, I felt awfully bad for the guy. He was put in a spot to promote an upcoming PPV which couldn’t be further from his wheelhouse. The key to any returning veteran is to suspend the disbelief of the fans and convince them that this person is still capable of what he/she did in their prime. For me, and many other WWE fans, the clunky and embarrassing nature of this segment exposed Goldberg’s biggest weakness and tarnished some of the nostalgia and believability we were experiencing for him during this run. Let us hope that he can redeem himself with an impressive showing at the Royal Rumble.
SMACKDOWN ALL-STARS: JOHN CENA & AJ STYLES
John Cena and AJ Styles are not just the two best performers on Smackdown, they are the best in the company and showed again Tuesday why that is so true. The segment these two were involved in was brilliant and reminded me of the most recent presidential debates. Controversy aside, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were both criticized for only appealing to their base while never making strong arguments to sway the opinions of their detractors. When you are in a presidential race this may not be the best strategy, but in professional wrestling it makes for extremely compelling television. AJ complaining about his spot on the Royal Rumble poster and making claims that he does not get enough respect absolutely resonated with his fan base that has followed him around the world. Cena passionately spoke about his dedication to and dominance of WWE while poking fun at independent wrestling. The battle lines have been drawn and WWE seems to be completely fine promoting this match in a 50/50 fashion that can feed off of the division amongst the fans. The crowd reactions these two men get every time they share a ring is extraordinary and they always find creative ways to make us wonder if this is truly all a work, or an outlet to air frustrations. Either way, their match at Royal Rumble has a lot to live up to after their bout in August, and I have no doubt Cena and Styles will deliver.
SMACKDOWN UNDER PERFORMERS: CARMELLA & JAMES ELLSWORTH
The blue brand has done a great job of creating a show that is diverse and entertaining throughout. With that in mind, a trip to the fashion store featuring Carmella and James Ellsworth completely missed the mark. Since the roster split, Raw has seemingly been the entertainment show while Smackdown has been the wrestling show which has provided for a fun dynamic. This shopping trip, however, felt like a horribly scripted Raw segment that has much to do about nothing. This segment was also a glaringly obvious reason for why wrestlers need to do a better job protecting their characters while WWE should not shine the brightest lights on wrestlers’ personal lives. Most wrestling fans who have an Instagram account or watched Breaking Ground know that Carmella is in a serious relationship with Big Cass and James Ellsworth has said multiple times on WWE television that he has a wife and kids. It makes this segment completely unbelievable and by far the worst on the show this week. I am very much in favor of keeping wrestlers relevant while they are not in a major program, but this poor attempt at humor did not come off well at all.
Hope everyone enjoys NXT Takeover and the Royal Rumble!