Tuesday, January 24, 2023

WWE Royal Rumble 2023 Preview & Predictions

Oh it's Royal Rumble time again.  Weird...

Yeah, so this Saturday is WWE's second-most popular PPV of the year once again, the 36th edition of the Royal Rumble.  Aaaand, they've announced a combined total of 22 people for TWO Rumble matches (WWE's website didn't even bother to make up a graphic for either match).  Guys, I know everyone goes ga-ga over "surprise entrants" in these stupid matches these days, but you're taking it way too far now.  Back in MY day they'd announce the entire field ahead of time.  Did anyone complain that there were no surprises?  Nope.  Because the Rumble back then wasn't so much about cheap entrance pops as it was about kicking off WrestleMania season with a story.  Either a babyface was overcoming the odds or returning from injury to punch their ticket to the biggest main event of the year, or a dominant heel was making his mark on his way to conquering the babyface champion at the Show of Shows.  Plus numerous other 'Mania matches would be set up.  Ya know, STORYTELLING.  That thing WWE prides itself on, that today's Royal Rumble matches are totally lacking.  Last year's Rumble PPV featured not one but two surprise entrants going on to win their respective Rumbles, with literally nothing of interest happening aside from that.  No stories within each Rumble match, no real feuds set up or explored (aside from Sami Zayn vs. Johnny Knoxville, which sadly stole the show at 'Mania Night 2, very much by default).  Just a bunch of guys and women doing moves until it was time for the important folks to show up.  And from the looks of this year's lineup that's what they plan on doing again.  Yeah, let's just throw a buncha whoevers in there, the crowd will pop for the entrances, and then we don't have to bother telling an actual story.  Crap like this is why so many of us former diehard fans have deserted WWE over the years.  If the pops are so goddamn important, why not just turn the Rumble into an entrance pageant and save everyone an hour?

Anyway, here's the lineup for the 2023 Rumble....

Mountain Dew Pitch Black Match: Bray Wyatt vs. LA Knight

Yes, what screams "terrifying horror character" more than a match sponsored by Mountain fucking Dew?  "Everyone's favorite piss-colored soft drink presents SCARY GIMMICK MATCH!"  I have no idea what the rules of this shitshow are, nor do I much care.  The upshot is likely to be that Bray Wyatt under Triple H's creative direction isn't much more watchable than he was under Vince's creative direction.  Wyatt has crafted a great outside-the-box persona who can't pay off any of his unorthodox ideas in a wrestling match.  And really that's what everything is supposed to lead to.  You build a rivalry or a story, in a way that makes people want to see the two guys beat each other up in the ring.  When the payoff is cartoonish B-movie tropes instead of an engaging athletic contest, there's no payoff.

Pick: Wyatt, obviously

RAW Women's Championship: Bianca Belair vs. Alexa Bliss

Oh super, we have two of these dumbass horror movie matches?  Now that Bray is back, Alexa is back to being an insufferable supernatural sidekick who, like her inspiration, can't close the deal between the ropes.  I have to think Bianca retains here and Jesus H. Chist, she'd better.

Pick: Bianca retains

WWE/Universal Championship: Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens

This is the third meeting of these two at a Royal Rumble PPV, and if Owens were ever presented as a credible threat to Roman's title that would be noteworthy.  But Owens, even as Universal Champ himself, was never presented as really being worthy of that honor; hell, they jobbed him out to Goldberg in 21 seconds.  Two years ago there was never a shred of doubt that Roman would get past Owens in their Last Man Standing match, and there isn't here either.  The one upside to this is that Owens and Sami Zayn will likely get a title match with the Usos at 'Mania.  I'm sure this match will be fine, but I have no reason to be invested in it.

Pick: Roman retains

Women's Royal Rumble

Seven.  That's right, seven women announced for this damn thing as of this writing.  And the show is in five days.  That's inexcusible.  The company does not give two fucks about this match, obviously, so why should I?  Of the women announced so far, Rhea Ripley is the only one I could see winning it, and I'd have no problem with that.  Bianca vs. Ripley at WrestleMania.  Book that shit.  But aside from that story there's literally nothing going on here.  We'll all be killing time till Rhea shows up and either wins or doesn't win.  Because "storytelling."

Pick: Rhea Ripley

Men's Royal Rumble

For this one they've announced half the field at least.  But that doesn't mean many of them could win it.  Basically it's Cody Rhodes, Seth Rollins, Drew McIntyre, or as a longshot Gunther.  I'm sure they'll add Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley to further their inevitable "match" at WrestleMania (I put quotes around "match" because as we all know it will be a series of suplexes, followed by a series of suplexes, followed by a spear through the dasherboards, followed by one or more F5s to end it).  Hey, at least that's a subplot, which is more than I can say for the women's match.  Oh there's also the "will Sami Zayn help the Bloodline" story, which I guess would involve....helping Jimmy or Jey or Solo win the Rumble so they can challenge Roman?  Wait, what?  But as with the women's match there's one heavy favorite that makes the most sense, and I'm not even complaining about that aspect.  Like Shawn Michaels in 1996 or Triple H in 2002, Cody is returning from injury and aiming for a shot at redemption.  If WWE is smart and wants to court other wrestlers from AEW, they should go all-in on Cody.  First off, it's a good story, second, it shows that WWE is actually open to pushing talent who became stars elsewhere, something they've only ever done reluctantly.  Aside from Dwayne showing up and winning, which would be a serious indictment of WWE's inability to push anyone new, Cody is the only winner that makes sense.

Pick: Cody Rhodes

Ya know, I was looking forward to experiencing a WrestleMania season without Vince in charge, but as of now this show still feels like Vince is in charge.  The singles matches are either full of lame-ass gimmicks or they're retreads of shit we've seen numerous times, and the two Rumbles are clearly built much more around surprise appearances than actual stories.  It's like, "Hey it's January, time to trot out that 30-man schmozz again."  There hasn't been any magic surrounding this show in the last five years.

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