I’m trying my best to keep this charmingly eclectic website from morphing into an all-wrestling blog, but I feel compelled to discuss a few things that happened last night after spending so much time in fevered anticipation of same. I will preface this by making two points.
First, I like Sheamus. I really do. I thought him winning the WWE Title in his first year in the company was great, and the creative team executed that angle superbly. I think he’s a main-event-level star.
Secondly, I’m a borderline-apologist for the WWE. I’ve said over and over that the writing on RAW in the post-Attitude Era, from a television perspective, has been as good as or better than it’s ever been. The point is that I’m not the stereotypical older fan who thinks “everything sucks,” or that nothing is as good as it was in 1998. As I said in my Rumble preview linked above, I had been very impressed with the character development for Daniel Bryan, John Cena, and Chris Jericho heading into the Rumble (and, by extension, WrestleMania 28). I’m generally happy with the product.
However . . . the one thing I can’t abide is a breakdown in narrative integrity. Poor storytelling. That’s what happened last night.
I can live with continuing the slow burn on Cena. Have him face Kane again in a month. That’s all fine. Punk and Ziggler had a decent match (that probably would have been better had there not been so much “business” that needed to be done). No problems there. Daniel Bryan retaining the title is also not a bad thing. All of that went about as I expected.
But the heart of the PPV is the Rumble match itself. And the WWE dropped the proverbial ball.
I’m not even going to address the thin talent pool in this year’s event. Injuries are injuries. I can’t fault the WWE for the fact that the 30-man Rumble seemed more diluted than last year’s 40-man version.
There were some nice moments during the Rumble. Kofi’s handstand to avoid elimination was fun. There was good humor throughout, highlighted by Ricardo Rodriguez’ entrance and subsequent antics.
The ending, though, approached “disastrous.” It appeared to be booked by someone who hasn’t watched WWE programming for the past several months.
As I said at the top, I think Sheamus is a main event guy. But he certainly hasn’t been presented as such in quite a while. His main role on WWE television has been to be a surprise opponent for various mid-card performers whom he usually squashes.
His last several PPV matches have been as follows: Did not compete at Capitol Punishment, failed to win the Smackdown MITB match at Money in the Bank, lost to Mark Henry by count-out at Summerslam, did not compete at Night of Champions, defeated Christian in the opening match of Hell in a Cell, defeated Christian again at Vengeance, was eliminated by disqualification while a member of the losing team at Survivor Series, defeated Jack Swagger in the fifth-to-last match at TLC, won the Royal Rumble. I think I have the bends after reading that list.
Even as abrupt as Sheamus’ win was, that still wouldn’t be a bad thing per se. A surprising win by a past WWE Champion might have been a great way to go. The massive problem is a contextual one.
The man that Sheamus eliminated to win the Rumble was Chris Jericho. Mysterious vignettes foretold Jericho’s return for a couple of months prior to his arrival in January. The vignettes created the distinct impression that his re-entry into the WWE would be the harbinger of something earth-shattering. His brilliantly creative promos furthered his build as an enigmatic and powerful character. Finally, his last promo prior to the Royal Rumble ended with him proclaiming that last night would be “the end of the world as we know it,” a tagline referenced throughout the series of vignettes in November and December.
The WWE and Chris Jericho had done incredible work in building Y2J up to be an instant contender without having wrestled a match in over a year. Furthermore, they had created significant expectations for the Rumble. What would Jericho do? Would he win? Would he even enter the ring? If not, what creative and unexpected trick would Jericho pull off to entertain or surprise the crowd?
This is where we ran into problems.
The WWE had Jericho enter at #29. He was the 29th man eliminated. His one-on-one performance with Sheamus was fine enough, but there was absolutely nothing Jericho did that was in any way “special” or different from what any of a half-dozen other superstars might have done in that spot. It was an oddly generic performance that seemed totally out-of-character for Jericho.
Put simply: There was no payoff whatsoever to a character that was months in the making.
I’m not suggesting that Jericho had to win the Rumble, although that would have been the simplest way to make good on the build-up. But, when the WWE spends months creating vignettes—and lets Chris Jericho create promos as only he can—all of which point to this guy being a huge star, only to have him lose in a manner that was in no way distinct or memorable, they have blown a wonderful opportunity.
I mentioned in the Royal Rumble preview that pro wrestling is certainly known for failing to pay off angles. However, I thought that the normally strong WWE would not be so poor as to fail to deliver any significance for “the end of the world.” I was wrong. And I’m not sure where they go with Jericho now.
Feuding with CM Punk for calling himself the “Best in the World?” Harder to make the argument about being the best when you enter at #29 and don’t win. Going after the Undertaker’s undefeated mark at ‘Mania? Completely implausible for a guy who hasn’t had a victory since 2010.
The best-case scenario as of this moment may be for Jericho to feud with Sheamus (for some reason), win the World Title at Elimination Chamber, then job it to the Great White at WrestleMania. The alternative is to pretend the Rumble never happened, feud with Punk, and reach a similar conclusion.
Jericho has tweeted twice so far today, once to tell people to “stop whining,” the other to say he’ll address matters on RAW.
Those of us who shelled out $55 for the Rumble don’t take much solace in the fact that an explanation will be provided on cable the day after.
If anyone can revive what appears to be a dead angle, it’s Chris Jericho. Having said that, if all of this is merely a build-up for a “What’s the matter? It’s not the end of the world”-type joke, I’ll consider scaling back my consumption of this product for the foreseeable future.
Professional wrestling is outlandish and sometimes silly, but it’s ultimately about the same thing most television programs are: producing a story that’s compelling and entertaining. At the core of that is narrative integrity. I’m willing to suspend disbelief or go wherever the WWE wants to take me.
But the one thing it shouldn’t do is to blaze a months-long trail for fans to follow that ultimately winds up being a dead end—and a $55 dead end at that.