Welcome to Wrestling Wrecap, a column focused on discussing and dissecting the week in pro wrestling.
The 2019 Royal Rumble was a painfully long but surprisingly enjoyable experience. The first WWE event I’ve watched live since Wrestlemaina 34 and there was one big reason for it, The Man, Becky Lynch. It makes sense then that the first half of the show, which featured both Asuka/Becky and the women’s Royal Rumble, was the more engaging portion.
The show opened with Lynch attempting to regain the Smackdown Women’s championship against the formidable Asuka. To say the two tore the house down would be a disservice to the particular demolition they performed. In the end, the match became a battle of two submissions, The Asuka Lock and the Disarm-Her with Lynch being trapped and forced to submit. It was a devastating loss, but one that took nothing away from Becky who gave it everything. The match, aside from being an incredible display, was also a fantastic showcase for Asuka who went toe-to-toe with The Man and bested her.
This was not the end of Lynch’s night though. In a rare moment of perfect intersecting stories, something WWE rarely pulls off, Lana was unable to perform in the Rumble due to an injury she sustained during Rusev and Nakamura’s bout on the pre-show. An injury further exacerbated by Nia Jax attacking her on the way to the ring. Much to Jax’s dismay, this set up Lynch to enter the Rumble in Lana’s place, a fantastic example of instant karma. Jax was eventually eliminated by Lynch and immediately tossed her off the steel steps and into the barricade, injuring Lynch’s leg.
Unable to even stand, Lynch watched as Charlotte gloated in the ring. Once again, it looked like The Queen was going to be awarded something in spite of Becky. Fueled by that anger and resentment, Lynch willed herself into the ring and the Rumble match ended the only way it could with these two former friends battling. Despite her injury, Lynch powered through and managed to knock Charlotte out of the ring, winning the Rumble and a trip to the main event of Wrestlemania. If anyone had any lingering doubts about Lynch’s popularity the deafening reaction she got here should quash it.
Initially, I wasn’t excited about the prospect of Charlotte being added to the Lynch/Rousey match. Like many, I simply wanted to see Becky main event on her own terms. However, after Monday, I was all for it. Seeing the, normally cheered, Rousey get mercilessly booed by the crowd hammered home that without Charlotte this feud becomes very one-sided. The fact is Rousey simply can’t compete on the mic with Lynch and it showed. While not every crowd is going to be as openly anti-Ronda as Phoenix, it isn’t going to get any easier for her in the months to come. Adding Charlotte gives both Rousey and the crowd someone else to focus on. It also leads to a perfect ending to the Becky/Charlotte feud. After all this time, it only makes sense that Becky would want to beat both Charlotte and Rousey on the biggest possible stage. Plus, let’s face it, Rousey is solid in the ring, but she is still new to this, having Charlotte in there will only add to the match quality. Honestly, for as much as Charlotte is clearly the hand-picked ace of the women’s roster, she is more than deserving of a spot in the potential first women’s Wrestlemania main event and I’m finally on board.
NXT Takeover: Phoenix was another phenomenal event from a brand that has made a name for itself with consistently entertaining shows. The closest thing to a weak match on the card was the sluggish Riddle/Ohno encounter and even that managed to give us Kassius Ohno: Foot Fetishist. The gem of the night, and really the whole Rumble weekend, was Gargano/Ricochet.
The fast-paced bout was an incredible display of athleticism from both men with Ricochet showing off his near inhuman speed and Gargano trying to keep up. The story of the match was how far Johnny would be willing to go to defeat his opponent. I’ve seen some skepticism about Gargano’s heel turn and the whole story with Ciampa, but for me the story has been a great example of long-term storytelling in wrestling. Even here, with Ciampa nowhere in sight, the specter of his influence loomed. Near the end of the match, Gargano pulled up the mat at ringside to reveal the unforgiving concrete underneath. A callback to Gargano and Ciampa’s previous matches and a sign of Johnny’s corrupting obsession with his former tag team partner.
Later, Ciampa retained his title against Aleister Black and he did it with no help. In fact, he even teased using the same concrete floor that Gargano used, but ended up defeating Black on his own. A subtle sign to those paying attention that Ciampa is still the one in control. The show may have ended with the former DIY raising their belts in the air in a show of camaraderie, but Ciampa still has Gargano’s number. DIY may be back together, but they are far from being on equal footing and that is exactly how the NXT champion wants it.
Slay The Beast
The men’s Royal Rumble match ended up being a more by-the-numbers affair than the female equivalent, a fine showcase of how the male roster has been outshone for much of the last six months by the women. That isn’t to diminish Seth Rollin’s win, I happen to like Seth a lot and with the news of Dean Ambrose leaving the company post-Wrestlemania, Rollins will be the last member of the Shield currently active. His Rumble win was expected but enjoyable. To be honest, that feels like a lot of Rollins work lately. He is consistently enjoyable in the ring but everything about him is expected.
Seth is the classic example of a common trait in WWE, wrestlers losing their characters when turning face. Take a moment and ask yourself what Seth Rollins purpose is? It might be hard to think of anything other than “attractive wrestling man.” His entrance claims that he is here to BURN IT DOWN, but his character can barely light a candle. Perhaps this is why Rollins, and most of the babyfaces on Raw and Smackdown, feel so lackluster. They have nothing that makes them unique, being a gifted wrestler is no longer the only thing you need to get by when almost everyone you face is as talented.
This is really just my long-winded way of saying that while Lesnar vs Rollins will probably be a good match, I’m not currently invested too much in it. Sure, I hope Seth wins and finally ends the absurd stranglehold Brock has had on the Universal title, but what comes afterwards? Raw this week was built on the decision of who Rollins would chose to face at Wrestlemania. It was a choice that was never in doubt because Rollins choosing Lesnar is the only thing that makes sense. He has no reason to want to go after Bryan and while Rollins made a decent enough case for why he needs to beat Lesnar, I’m still not interested too much. Thankfully, we have two months to go and I’m hoping by then Rollins can get back some of the character he has lost along the way.
A Change in the Climate
Last week, I discussed my continued enjoyment with the freedom Daniel Bryan has been given since turning heel and here I am one week later about to do it again. After a fairly disappointing match against AJ at the Rumble, one that felt by-the-numbers for a feud that is two months deep, Bryan rebounded on Smackdown.
Coming out to the ring with his new ally Rowan (complete with recycling symbol that replaces the “o” on his Titantron), Bryan preceded to admit that he had been a hypocrite because he continued to hold a title that was a symbol of all that he despised. So, he threw the old title in the trash and revealed the new, “100% sustainable,” WWE championship. Made from hemp and wood from a “naturally fallen oak,” the new title is actually pretty nice and a good sign that Bryan truly has the freedom he needs to make this heel act work.
Of course, I can’t talk just about Bryan in a segment that featured five other wrestlers coming out. Styles did his usual babyface promo asking Bryan if he smoked the prototype, sadly Bryan never gets to correct him on how hemp actually works. Strangely enough a commercial break happens and suddenly Randy Orton and Jeff Hardy are there while Mustafa Ali tries to cut a promo. It’s a decent effort, but it is quickly overshadowed by Samoa Joe.
Joe comes out quickly spitting bars, probably because he saw how much time was left on the show, and soon a fight breaks out and everyone, sans Bryan, is brawling. Naturally, this sets up our Elimination Chamber match and Bryan is furious but hey, maybe Rowan has some other Family that can help him out. We’ll have to wait and see, in the meantime I’m gonna go back and laugh at Joe’s line to Jeff about the AA meeting.
Performer of the Week: Becky Lynch
Johnny Takeover might have had the single best match of the weekend, but it would be hard to top The Man having a clinic with Asuka and then winning the Rumble in the same night. Plus, come on, we all heard that reaction she got on Raw. Becky Lynch is the single most popular star in wrestling right now and this past week has made that perfectly clear.
If you made it down here, thanks for reading! Tell me what you thought about this week’s events in wrestling in the comments and, as always, any feedback is appreciated. Cheers!