This week’s post will be a little shorter because the Royal Rumble is this weekend. Fear not, however, as all you faithful readers will be getting double the content next week, after what I’m sure will be an exciting weekend. With this post, I’m just going to give a few insights into what to expect for the weekend.
The biggest takeaway from Sunday will absolutely be the rumble match itself, but the two big championship matches happening beforehand are noteworthy. First, the John Cena v. AJ Styles match for the WWE Championship should have set incredibly high expectations, after they put on, arguably, the best match in WWE last year at Summerslam. That said, the narrative of these two – so focused and well told as it is – is missing the possibility of history. If, as has been widely speculated (but something I disagree with as I’ll get to later), John Cena wins the belt here, he’ll match Ric Flair’s 16 time World Heavyweight Championship record. The enormity of that statistic is something WWE usually would harp on, but it’s an underrated narrative to this match. The fact of the matter is, love him or hate him, Cena has been the face of WWE for about a decade at this point, and the record would be deserving. That said, it’s really difficult to contextualize Flair’s number by the shear force of the longevity of his career. There’s a lot of frustration thrown toward Cena, much of it undeserved, but him taking the record from Flair would be another source for Smark hatred. When he does overtake Flair, because it’s absolutely going to happen, it’s important to keep this in mind: even without the record, there’s an excellent case to be made for Flair being the best wrestler of all time. As loyal fans, we shouldn’t let outrage over a record blind us to that.
The other championship match has far more immediate repercussions, as Owens defends his Universal title against Roman Reigns. The match itself makes sense, and the story has been well told, but the negative feeling from Reigns’ fans is looking like it’ll be an issue leaving this match. From reading the booking tea leaves, meaning total speculation, it’s hard to imagine Reigns losing. By the simple fact that Jericho and Owens appear to be building to a break up and Wrestlemania match (which stands on its own without the title involved), Reigns looks like he’ll leave with the belt. I tend to let the story play out before snapping to judgement, but this “Roman Reigns as champion” angle has almost never worked, and the crowd continues to grow more and more resentful every time it happens. It’s clear to see that WWE wants to make Reigns the face of the company, as Cena’s role continues to diminish, but to do that without fan support (or without turning him heel) is going to be tough. I’m not going to get into why Reigns struggles to get support -that’s an article all its own – but it doesn’t bode well for the future of that championship going into Wrestlemania. Also, since I’m feeling fairly confident about this title change, it would be completely shocking to see Cena win his match. With Cena having similar problems with the crowd that Reigns does (to a lesser extent), WWE would be spitting in the face of half their fans with having both Smark fan favorites (AJ and Owens) lose .
Even with the fantasy booking and speculation that I have, WWE always manages to surprise with these events. If Reigns wins, who’s to say someone like Finn Balor or another fan favorite won’t win the rumble, adding a new flavor to the Universal Title scene. The point to be made here is, yes, speculating is great and it’s always good to get behind your wrestlers, but you should also have a sense of trust in WWE to tell a decent story going forward. Even though the possible WWE/Universal title changes together seem problematic, at this point I have faith they wouldn’t intentionally blow off half their audience. This is one of the most exciting times of the year to be a wrestling fan, so don’t be discouraged by one tiny decision; it’s always part of a grander, better story.