I have been an off and on wrestling fan since I was a kid. I haven’t followed wrestling or, more specifically WWE since Triple H was still wrestling. Nothing specifically occurred to make me stop watching, but the last time I watched Raw with any regularity, it was fairly boring and formulaic. I decided a few years back to cancel my cable package, and that was the end of my Monday nights, with little regret for the loss.
I had watched for years, seeing the same old pablum over and over again, and I really didn't feel any loss when it went away. Like many other exiled fans, I’m sure, the idea of an app, coupled with the obviously manufactured hype of new, fresh faces as well as the return of classic fan favorites to the ring drew me back in.
Last night was the WWE Royal Rumble, where a varied collective of corny characters and racial stereotypes throw each other around for 20 minutes and then one guy ends up the last ego remaining in the ring. Then, at WRESTLEMANIA!!!!!!! The winner gets to blah blah blah. This morning, the internets were ablaze with hashtags and vitriol about the results of the royal bumble. Today, like the fucking sheep I am, I decided to plop down my 10 dollars and check out the hoopla.
I decided to give my match by match review, as a returning fan, and share what I saw upon my return to the “WWE Universe” (which is another annoying and contrived internet era term for all things WWE).
The Royal Rumble starts with the introduction by “The New Age Outlaws”, who any long-term fan is familiar with from their tenure in DX, back in the “Attitude Era”. As I watched the opening, all I could think was that they should probably change their name to “The Old Age Outlaws”. They appeal to our collective nostalgia for a few minutes, transitioning to a previous night of RAW where a number of other WWE Legends have reunited in the ring, giving the fans some degree of context as to why Road Dog and Billy Gunn are opening the Royal Rumble. Next, some music plays and some goofy looking guys in Ren Faire armor with Egyptian-ish symbols on their man skirts come out to wrestle the Legends. I have no idea what their team is called, nor am I willing to click over to the browser window to find out. What follows is five boring and unremarkable minutes of old school Wrastlin’ that made me want to go get a coffee. It was an obvious attempt to put some newcomers over, and all it really did for me was bore the shit out of me. The new guys win, the night moves on.
Up next is another tag match. As an aside, I am actually kind of pleased that the WWE is seemingly refocusing on tag matches. When I stopped watching a few years ago, tag teams were all but forgotten by McMahon and Co. I don’t recall any real stables at that point, and I’m pleased that they've refocused on them to some degree. Also, at some point they cut away to Triple H and Stephanie having the world’s most convincing conversation about how Sting of all people snuck into the arena the week before and interrupted the villainous Corporate Power, or whatever the fuck they are calling themselves now from cheating John Cena out of ugh, who fucking cares. Anyways, Sting is getting paid by the WWE, so I’m assuming that very shortly, it’ll start raining toads.
Match number two comes up, and it’s The Miz and his “stunt double” Damien Mizdow against the Usos. Three of the wrestlers in the second match are complete unknowns to me, and The Miz is annoying and I don’t find him to be particularly skilled as a wrestler or a heel. He’s been humping around for years, and I’m just not into what he’s selling. The Usos come out and they do a Haka, which is a thing. There’s some wrestling and it’s all quite remarkable. The stereotypical Samoans thankfully won, and wrestled well in my opinion. Even though I was unfamiliar with them, they aren’t The Miz, and for that, I thank them.
Up next, a match by the Divas, which I don’t even remember, it was so boring. Wikipedia tells me The Bella Twins (Brie Bella and Nikki Bella) defeated Paige and Natalya. What this means, I couldn’t tell you.
Next is the three-way, triple threat, and much hyped championship match between John Cena, Seth Rollins (who I don’t know) and the guy who does suplexes (suplex. All kidding aside, regardless of his skill set, Brock Lesnar has always been entertaining to me). John Cena is John Cena, and love him or hate him, he’s always been consistent. My lack of familiarity with Seth Rollins isn’t a deterrent for me at all.
Ugh. The rest of this doesn’t even matter. I was really trying to write a traditional review for this PPV, but I just can’t finish it. In the process of writing this, about a week’s worth of time has elapsed. I’ve watched about three episodes of WCW Monday Nitro since I watched the Pay-Per-View, and I’ve come to a conclusion about Professional Wrestling after comparing the two, past and present. I watched three episodes of Monday Nitro from July of ’96. In 1996, at the beginning of the accent of WCW, the wrestling, the ACTUAL wrestling, was fucking amazing. In a two hour episode of classic WCW, you’d see about 10 matches. Every one of the matches was full bore, and even the unknown wrestlers were incredibly skilled and fluid. You’d have 45 seconds to a minute of promos in between matches, with the wrestlers hyping their storylines, etc. Honestly, most of the promo work was INCREDIBLY bad.
But that’s ok. The matches were exciting and fast paced. The results were fairly unpredictable. Sure, you’d have the occasional run-in or DQ match to keep it mixed up. The point is, the wrestling was the primary focus. The action was the glue that bound the show together, and it was good. Watch any wrestling from the three big ones in the late 90’s, and the action blows everything away that’s being pushed today. Any of the opening matches picked at random would be more entertaining than the first 4 or 5 matches during the Royal Rumble last week. It’s not the specific characters or wrestlers that made the difference, it is the “entertainment” in sports entertainment that’s different. Now, the action has taken a huge back seat to the “stories” the WWE (and other somehow inferior organizations) are trying to sell. The wrestlers that are popular today can tell a story, they are charismatic and I guess interesting, but the action and actual wrestling part of the equation is just utter shit.
Wrestling has always been insensitive, base, mindless, a little racist (or at least xenophobic), and downright fucking silly. It still is today, but at least 20 years ago, that spectacle was tempered by the skill and physicality of the athletes. The excitement was played out in the drama of the exhibition. Your heroes blathered on about destroying their rivals and archenemies, then spent twenty plus minutes leaving it all in the ring. We all know the outcome is scripted, but now EVERYTHING is scripted. I hate to break the news to you, WWE, but if I wanted to watch a poorly scripted, formulaic show with stiff acting, where action is so rare it’s nearly non-existent, I’d watch daytime drama.