FIVE COUNT: Five lessons WWE can learn from Royal Rumble weekend including Reigns going heel, making outcomes matter more

By Matt Seabridge, PWTorch Specialist

Chris Jericho (art credit Grant Gould (c) PWTorch)

SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...

(1) So Much More Could Have Been Done With The Royal Rumble Match

The Rumble match was ight. I wouldn’t go as far to call it a bad match or even a poorly booked one. The 2016 version was a poorly booked Rumble match, this year’s was just an underwhelming one, the biggest problem being that it was lazily booked. They got the important stories of the match in and kinda just left everything else just… be. Not wanting to take away from the main story arcs of the match isn’t an excuse for just doing nothing with the other two-thirds of the match and what turned into a big stretch of time in the middle.

Chris Jericho was in the match for over an hour. If the plan was for him to spend most of the match on the outside, then at least sell that angle during the match. Have the commentary play up the heelish nature of it. Similarly, Sami Zayn was in the match for 47 minutes and I can’t remember one thing that he did besides give Strowman the Helluva Kick. Baron Corbin got the big elimination of Braun Strowman but I can’t recall anything else he did in what should have been a showcase for him. Strowman was the only guy he got to eliminate. How hard would it have been to have him eliminate a couple more people to solidify the rub from eliminating Strowman.

Dolph Ziggler, Apollo Crews, and Kalisto were all in the match, yet none of them were at the same time together. How does that even happen? Rather than having Apollo Crews in the match doing nothing send out a nostalgia entry instead to at least liven the match up during the drab middle portion and give the match something extra to be remembered by. The irony of WWE marketing the Rumble with “Remember The Rumble” and then 90 percent of the Rumble match is totally forgettable less than a week later likely isn’t lost on people.

There were very few “moments” in the match. And this is a 60-plus minute match featuring practically all of your top acts, you should be struggling to fit in everything worth talking about not clutching at straws for memorable spots from the match. They had Brock in the match with the sole purpose of laying the field out and then get taken out by Goldberg, which is exactly what should have happened but there could have been more substance to it than just that. For instance, they had Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton in the same ring at the same time for the first time on TV since the memorable ending to the Summerslam main event and there was absolutely nothing done. Brock just suplexed him like everyone else. There was no big face off between the pair. No intensity from Orton at getting to go toe-to-toe with Brock for the first time since then (house shows don’t count towards the on-air narrative). That would have gotten a huge pop and been a memorable moment, but instead it was the bare minimum (not meant as a knock on what they did do) and nothing else. Laziness.

Assuming that Bray Wyatt is the soon-to-be WWE Champion and faces the Rumble winner, he did absolutely nothing in the match to be presented as a threat or a credible talent in that position. Despite Orton winning, his program was never a priority in the booking of the match and, like anything else that wasn’t a priority, they did nothing with it. They weren’t working together as this unstoppable force to clear the field for Orton to win. There were no teases of the split between the pair despite it being in an environment designed for teases just like that. Even the follow up to the Rumble has been lazy. Assuming that the direction with this program is indeed Randy turning back face and revealing he’s been dismantling The Wyatt Family from within, why isn’t Orton spending the time between then and Elimination Chamber teasing which champion he’ll challenge at WrestleMania which would then play perfectly into Bray as the new WWE Champion assuming Randy will change the Universal Champion and not him. Instead, it’s just, ‘Yeah, we’ll give Orton the win and make his match with Bray for the title instead now.’ And there’s no more layers to it than that.

The Royal Rumble match should be jam-packed full with talking points, with little moments, with little story arcs, not just the key talking points and everything else being down time. There’s really no excuse for it other than laziness.

(2) If Roman Reigns Is Facing Undertaker, He HAS to Turn Heel

Yeah yeah yeah I know, another Roman Reigns has to turn heel column. But if he really is on course for a WrestleMania showdown with Undertaker, then it’s not even a point of debate. At the start of 2016, it was a discussion worth having and there was merit to sticking with the current hand. Coming out of WrestleMania there was a case to be made. Even coming off his wellness violation and into a program with Rusev, you could make somewhat of an argument for giving Roman Reigns babyface Superstar yet another shot. But now there’s not even a smidgen of a case left. If he’s facing Undertaker at WrestleMania he’s well and truly massacred as a potential babyface beyond any repair. There’ll be no hope for him. Any potential of him finally succeeding as a babyface will be well and truly dried up.

Let’s imagine it does happen and he does stay babyface. He sure isn’t getting anywhere near the cheers Taker (sorry John, Undertaker…) will get and, in the case of Taker, it’s not just the part of the audience that hates Roman, EVERYONE will be cheering for Taker, so you’re not only ensuring that Roman’s haters are against him but also that Roman’s fans are too. At that point, you then have another WrestleMania where he’ll likely be the most over heel on the show and getting booed out of WrestleMania isn’t the type of thing that gets you over with new fans. Imagine you’re not much of a WWE viewer, but you tune into WrestleMania because it’s Mania and you’re watching with some mates. You’re not going to be sucked in by the Roman Reigns act because he’s out there getting totally rejected. And that also transfers to the product as a whole. Hey, tune in the following night to watch Raw and see more of the crowd rejecting our top storylines. That’s not the image of a successful show or a show that people watch and feel they need to see more of.

And let’s not even get started on the possibility of a babyface Roman Reigns actually beating Undertaker at WrestleMania. Granted, it’s not the same anymore without The Streak, but that’s the kind of defiant act that will be the tipping point for so many fans that will cause them to finally just throw in the towel and stop following WWE.

The people who are rejecting what the Roman Reigns character stands for make up more of WWE’s audience than ever before and, while their pain threshold for WWE constantly kicking them in the balls is higher than most, everyone has their breaking point before they just quit on something they love. There’s only so many times the girl of your dreams can leave you heartbroken before you decide enough is enough, and if sitting through this version of Roman Reigns beating Undertaker at WrestleMania doesn’t finish them off, then I’m not sure what will. Just for context of how close we are to that stage, a buddy of mine (Hello Michael) was at the show and said, “I’d also say thousands of people started leaving once Roman came out.”

But of course if they do turn him heel, then what a catalyst. Either before or at WrestleMania, turning on probably the most over act WWE has. It’s not like Reigns needs a hot angle to garner interest in the start of his run as a heel or to ensure he actually gets received as a heel, but this is the strongest opportunity to finally cash in on the emotions of the fans towards him with maximum rewards.

(3) The Cruiserweight Division Is Well and Truly In A Ditch

We’ve now progressed up to two fan favorites with established reputations outside of WWE, having a well-worked match that had good build in front of the exact audience the cruiserweights are targeted at and people still don’t care. First impressions count, and the negative stigma the division bought up itself in those first few weeks has stuck ever since. And it’s becoming a real hard stench to get rid of. A fresh and exciting heel turn for a great talent like Neville isn’t doing it. Having a better match isn’t doing it. Giving them their own show isn’t doing it.

If you needed any proof that barely anyone is watching 205 Live (besides the fans leaving every arena in masses once Smackdown finishes), then you got it here. Neville and Swann had a match on 205 Live only a month earlier which Neville won with a top rope suplex. Here they did that exact same spot for a two count and it got no reaction at all. Granted, Swann kicking out on two without milking the near fall for all it was worth didn’t help, but it was abundantly clear that nobody realized the purpose of the spot because nobody is watching 205 Live.

And this isn’t getting better anytime soon. Just “good” isn’t changing the perception of the division. It needs to be Statement Making good. It needs to be Match of the Night good. It needs to be “talking about this match this time next year” good. Until that happens, the cruiserweights will continue to be an utter waste of everyone’s time.

(4) The NXT Women’s Division May Not Be As Bad As Perceived

The positioning and quality of the NXT Women’s Division was always going to experience a drop off once “The Four Horsewomen” all left. It wasn’t helped any by the next set of pushed talent in Nia Jax, Alexa Bliss, and Carmella also getting called up last summer. For a while now, the division has been perceived as “Asuka and the rest,” but for me at least, Takeover San Antonio dispelled that myth a little.

“The rest” certainly have a lot more going for them then they’ve been credited with. Nikki Cross’s performance on Saturday definitely made people reassess their perception of her and her value as her own entity on the NXT roster. The crazy lunatic gimmick often doesn’t lend itself well to generating great matches out of it, but Nikki displayed a tremendous mix of working that particular gimmick effectively while also using it to make the in-ring work more exciting rather than at the expense of it. Coming out of the hype, levels for an Asuka vs Nikki Cross match went way up.

On the other end of the scale, while Peyton Royce and Billie Kay may not yet be in a position to get viewers excited for the actual ring work element of their package, they displayed on Saturday that they’ve got the character work of their act down pat. For me, they’re at a similar stage that Sasha Banks was during the early days of her run in NXT when she was teaming with Summer Rae and her ring work was like Royce and Kay’s – solid but largely reliant on character work. For as important as the ability to have good matches is in the NXT way of life, character work is still what pushes acts up to the highest level. It’s why Sasha and Bayley reached heights that didn’t dare to be dreamt of by many and why the likes of Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura experience more success than the likes of Roderick Strong. Where people may just write acts like Royce and Kay off as not much to watch for, Saturday was proof that there’s good ground work there from both an in-ring and character work aspect to be built upon.

Now having said all that, time isn’t NXT’s friend and, through “The Four Horsewomen,” a very high standard for match quality has been set that has become the expectancy now. While it’s fine to say the likes of Peyton Royce and Liv Morgan have good ground work set with their characters, the reality is NXT also needs women who can put on Match of the Night contenders on every Takeover show. There’s definitely much better talent in NXT’s Women’s Division than it gets credit for, but it’s largely talent to be built on for down the road. In order to maintain the established perception of the division, NXT needs acts on the level of Asuka who can perform at that Match of the Night standard and maintain the perception of the division while the work-in-progress projects work their way up to that level too.

(5) Nothing Matters

When you think back over Royal Rumble weekend, quite a lot happened. But how much of it actually mattered? #DIY lost the NXT tag belts to Authors of Pain. Does it really change anything? They’ll likely just rematch and work the same match they would if #DIY were defending rather than chasing. Asuka won again, but with the level her opponents were at it doesn’t feel significant or consequential. Roode beat Nakamura, but does that really change anything? Presumably they’ll just rematch and also work the same dynamic. The build to the rematch will be much the same. Roode will gloat about being the best and being glorious and Nakamura will do whatever he would have done if he’d won.

Cesaro & Sheamus lost the titles and we’ve already seen how little that has meant. They just continue their program with Anderson & Gallows and work the same reluctant-but-kick-ass partners dynamic just the same whether they won or lost on Sunday. The two refs gimmick? Meant nothing. Anderson still got away with pulling the tights for the win. Charlotte beat Bayley fair and square. Bayley comes back and will just get another title shot because she got another pin on her on Raw so Charlotte winning on Sunday didn’t mean anything. Chris Jericho being locked in the Shark Cage? Meant nothing. He still interfered and Reigns was still screwed out of another title match. Randy Orton won the Rumble, but will it matter? Will anything drastically change as a result of that? Unlikely. Orton will still be Orton on Smackdown after the show and he’ll still be the same Randy Orton after WrestleMania season is over.

Now obviously some aspects of Royal Rumble weekend mattered somewhat. I’m not making a case that NOTHING means ANYTHING. But barely anything means anything at all and what does mean anything is a very little amount. John Cena tying Ric Flair’s record with his 16th title win does matter and it does mean something, but really how much? Nobody is really looking at Cena any differently for tying the record.

Wrestling is at its most exciting when matches have consequences, when outcomes have impacts. When a Bayley gets a title shot and she loses, she goes to the back of the line and has to work her way back up to another title shot. When losing your title doesn’t mean you just automatically rematch, but when winning a title is a big deal and a difference maker to your position on the card and when winning a title makes a difference to how people perceive you, wrestling is at it’s most exciting. And all of that is a big part of the reason why UFC does so well. THINGS MATTER. Barely anything matters these days in WWE and this has been the case for years now. It’s essential that they start making people care about the outcomes of matches because THAT is how you will start to grow your audience again. No number of wrestlers can be used to their potential before that happens.


NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS ARTICLE: FIVE COUNT: Five lessons WWE can learn from recent Royal Rumble matches including which recent mistakes to avoid

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