The evolving card for the upcoming WWE Royal Rumble that typically starts us, as John Cena is back to remind everyone, “On the road to WrestleMania”, and the AEW rally in Jacksonville this past week are two stories at the forefront of our musings this week In This Corner.
After taped editions of Raw and Smackdown struggled mightily in the ratings over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, WWE came back with strong shows for Raw and Smackdown in storyline preparation for its next major offering-the 2019 Royal Rumble to be held on January 27th at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona.
One of the original “Big Four” pay per views and a signature concept of Vince McMahon’s former right hand man Pat Patterson, this will be the 32nd rendition of the Rumble. The winners of the men’s and women’s events become the number one contender for the championship and automatic main event players for WrestleMania, so the show is definitely one that begins to shape the landscape of the annual spring extravaganza.
Raw began this past Monday with a major brawl between Seth Rollins and Bobby Lashley that traveled all over the arena in Orlando. That led to Rollins demanding a match with Ambrose for the Intercontinental title, which Triple H granted despite having his beverage knocked out of his hand by the enraged Rollins. That bout ended up at the end of the show as the evening’s main event and was a solid affair that went back and forth before Seth appeared to be on the verge of victory when Lashley interfered to cost Rollins the contest and set up what appears to be the next program for those two.
Hulk Hogan came out to do a tribute for his long-time friend Gene Okerlund. It was pretty well done and got an appropriately positive reaction despite the obvious risk of having the Hulkster as the delivery man. There appeared to be a bit of a quick change in plans set in motion when they went with a Sasha Banks- Ronda Rousey match for the Rumble pay per view. Banks made Nia Jax “Cry Aunt” to the bank statement to establish her resume as the new top contender for Rowdy Ronda.
John Cena returned and reminded everybody it was RR time, which also meant we are on the road to WM. McIntyre challenged him and it turned into a brawl with outside rescues from various combatants that ended up turning into a six-man tag between Cena, Balor and Rollins against McIntyre, Ambrose and Lashley won by the babyfaces after about twenty minutes of solid action. Roode and Gable retained the tag titles with a win over the Revival in a lumberjack match and Lesnar and Strowman had a back and forth debate about their upcoming match at the RR. Even advocate Paul Heyman couldn’t make this interesting. It kind of died a slow death and that does not bode well for their encounter at the ppv.
Smackdown saw them make a tag match for the Rumble with Shane and Miz against the Bar for the tag straps. The Bar bested the Usos in a very good battle. It will be Becky Lynch challenging Asuka for the women’s belt after she came out on top over Charlotte and Carmella in a good three-way match. Daniel Bryan, who beat R-Truth after being out with the crowd at the concession stand doing a vintage Bob Backlund bad guy routine on them for eating the wrong foods, will be putting his WWE championship on the line against former champ AJ Styles in yet another rematch between two top workers that Vince has tried to inject some life into with his prodding of Styles to reach deep down to find that something extra that has been missing in previous tangles with the “New” Daniel Bryan. Vince knows the two can put on a great wrestling match, but is apparently looking to get more personality from them. Rusev and Nakamura promoted their program with an angle based upon the previous Lana injury segment.
The AEW rally this past week in Jacksonville at the Jaguar’s stadium parking lot was said to draw more than a thousand die- hard fans for some significant announcements from the key players involved up to this point in time. Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks, as well as Hangman Page, Joey Janella and Penelope Ford were on hand as expected. The major revelation was that Chris Jericho was signed and on board, though he had been rumored to likely be a part of the new promotion months ago. The group’s ability to sign Kenny Omega after his New Japan contract expires at the end of this month could be AEW’s biggest coup in terms of its talent roster.
There was no television deal announced, but rest assured that they are negotiating with some people and are most likely confident about getting one or they would not be signing talent to two and three-year deals. Money man Shad Khan, billionaire owner of the Jaguars, acknowledged he is “All In” and his son Tony, will be running the show together with Rhodes, the Bucks and others brought on for merchandise and various other duties. Alex Marvez, an NFL writer and life-long wrestling fan, is expected to be an announcer and there have been rumors for months that Jim Ross was a real possibility when his WWE contract expires in a couple of months. This writer has even heard a rumor that the group is interested in trying to pry Goldberg out of retirement.
There are so many challenges to starting a new national promotion and having it last. Ultimately, the number of fans willing to support the endeavor in terms of television ratings and attendance at whatever shows they run will be keys to the level of success and longevity. Pay per view buys and merchandise sales will also be factors, but there has to be more than just a limited hardcore base. If enough people think the type of pro wrestling AEW plans to offer is cool, it may catch on and have a fighting chance, but the odds are that even a good or even great start will cool off just like most new products eventually do and where the typical results settle will determine how viable All Elite Wrestling will be in the long term. Here’s to hoping it works for the sake of the business and its fans.