Jan 30, 2017

WWE Royal Rumble Results, Roman Reigns, WrestleMania Implications & News

The 2017 Royal Rumble is a wrap and there's a lot of news and notes as a result. I've got a lot to say about this show both negative and positive. Let's get to it.

PLEASE NOTE: If you do not want the months leading up to WrestleMania 33 revealed to you, stop reading now!

Before I get too deep into the negative of the results, I need to say that I was very entertained by the Universal Championship match between Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens. Owens has really put it all on the line in every big match he's had in WWE, and tonight may have been one of his best. Reigns can add a third excellent singles match to his record, the first two being his bout with Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 31 and his classic first meeting with AJ Styles at the 2016 Extreme Rules event. Those are the three that stand out to me personally, although I'm sure someone has a different perspective. Regardless, Owens and Reigns used the no-disqualification stipulation to their advantage, which gave them an out and prevented Reigns from having to sell for a majority of the match. Owens barely escaped with the title after interference from Strowman, capping off a match that really over-delivered in my opinion. Reigns looks to be moving on to a different program, but more on that later.

AJ Styles and John Cena hit a grand slam tonight in their match for the WWE Championship. They had a classic at SummerSlam, but I think it's safe to say that this one was their best. Their last bout had drama and crowd heat that many wrestlers would kill for, but something about this match out-shined the last. Typically in Cena main events the match is built around finishers and kick-outs with not a whole lot in between. In this match, the moments and transitions between false finishes were razor sharp. They had the crowd in a frenzy and Cena's final sequence somewhat resembled a New Japan finish as he rattled off two AA's for the win. Cena became a 16-time world champion and even the smart crowd in San Antonio gave him an incredible ovation. Upon victory, referee Charles Robinson, had a conversation with him. It appeared to be very heartfelt congratulatory comment. For those that aren't aware, Robinson has been on record as being a huge fan of Ric Flair and refereed many of his matches over the years. Fitting that he officiated Cena's record tying match.

Now let's talk about the Royal Rumble match. When it was all said and done, I had the exact same feeling as I did after Triple H won it last year. I felt that the match was solid in many aspects and very exciting at times. I'm just not so intrigued with the fallout. Here's where we get to spoilers. And yes, I understand that knowing the big matches on the 'Mania 33 card probably adds to my lack of interest, but if the road seemed interesting, I'd still be interested. Regardless, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported that the plan for 'Mania 33 is for Randy Orton to face Bray Wyatt for the WWE Championship after Wyatt wins the belt at Elimination Chamber. Now, I'm not going to say that this is a terrible direction or anything like that, I'm just personally not too excited for it. The rumble seemed to be shrouded in mystery this year. Though Orton seemed like an unlikely winner, the result doesn't feel fresh. Recent rumble winners have been Batista, Roman Reigns, Triple H, and now Randy Orton. Pretty expected names in my opinion.

On the Raw side, Meltzer is reporting that Goldberg is expected to have the Universal Championship by Fastlane and defend it against Lesnar at 'Mania 33. In this situation, I see WWE's viewpoint. Goldberg and Lesnar have certainly gotten reactions over the past few months that dwarf the rest of the roster. From their perspective, I can understand why they think that the biggest stars need the championship program. You could argue the match will draw based on name value alone, but does WWE really want to overshadow a separate title program belonging to the brand that Lesnar and Goldberg largely represent? That, I understand. But it's again an illustration of WWE's major issue: the inability to create real superstars. They relied on the Rock to carry the WWE title into 'Mania 29. They put the belt on Lesnar entering 'Mania 31 and most recently on Triple H for 'Mania 32. You can argue that no one on the roster currently is a big enough draw to carry the title into the biggest show of the year. It leaves one wondering: how will you ever elevate anyone on the full-time roster to that level if you don't give them a shot? Eventually, someone is going to need the rub of a WrestleMania main event title match. Roman Reigns was the handpicked choice, but as it stands right now, the crowd still has yet to warm up to him as a babyface and it doesn't appear that they ever will. There's got to be a breaking point here. Somewhere down the line, someone is going to have to get an opportunity. Guys like the Rock, Undertaker, Lesnar, and Goldberg aren't getting any younger.

Lastly, it appears that we're looking at Roman Reigns taking on the Undertaker at 'Mania 33. There's two ways this can go, one much more likely than the other. The more likely scenario sees WWE taking yet another shot at getting Reigns over as a babyface. I'm not too certain that Reigns will beat Taker, but at this rate, he probably will. Regardless, it looks like we're about to see a similar post-match where Undertaker will endorse Reigns. Of course, this has already been tried with Reigns having received in-ring endorsements from both Daniel Bryan and the Rock. It didn't work then, it most likely won't work now, and if Reigns beats Undertaker at 'Mania, the fans will probably never forgive him.

Here's scenario two for Roman Reigns......TURN HEEL. Yeah, about two years later, I still have to bring this up. Like a broken record trying to play the most annoying song anyone's ever heard, here I go again. But seriously, a legitimate second chance to turn Reigns has surfaced and it's truly now or never. Just imagine the heat Reigns could get off of this. Lesnar's win over Taker at 'Mania 30 turned him from a damaged part-timer to an unstoppable monster. If Reigns could turn heel on the way to 'Mania or at the event itself, he could beat Undertaker taking super heat from the fans and moving on to face a babyface Universal Champion. Now, assuming Lesnar wins the Universal Title from Goldberg at 'Mania, some work would have to be done to solidify him as a babyface champion. But at the same time, does it really matter if Lesnar is a babyface? A fresh, heel Reigns taking on Brock at SummerSlam would be a huge match and the rematch we never got. Remember, Reigns/Lesnar at 'Mania 31 was great from a physical standpoint. That match was downright brutal, but in a captivating way. A second meeting would certainly be no different.

So there you have it, some news and reactions to the 2017 Royal Rumble. With the intrigue of the long-overdue Reigns heel-turn, there is some hope that 'Mania season will really heat up. Outside of that, we're set to see some interesting matches, though the results may prove to be textbook, recent WWE booking.

-Brady Sauvageau
The Heater

Jan 8, 2017

The Rise of Omega, Greatness of Okada, & Wrestle Kingdom 11

Those who tuned in during the early hours of Jan. 4, 2017 were treated to a pure showcase of professional wrestling mastery at New Japan Pro-Wrestling's annual event, Wrestle Kingdom. 

Wrestle Kingdom 11 was a show fans will remember forever. The final four matches encompassed everything that professional wrestling can be when it's at its best. But the main event in particular shook the wrestling business at its core, with the reverberations being felt from the Tokyo Dome all the way to anywhere wrestling has ever taken place in the world. The floors of WWE headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut may have just stopped shaking.

The WK 11 main event of Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada was a match that had been built for months, following Omega's unprecedented victory at New Japan's G1 Climax Tournament in 2016. Until then, a foreign wrestler had never won the tournament. Okada, the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, had solidified himself as the company's number one wrestler after taking the crown from one of the decade's best talents, Hiroshi Tanahashi. The match had an unbelievable amount of hype surrounding it.

Though the pressure on the two was nearly insurmountable, the results saw Okada and Omega having what was arguably the greatest match in professional wrestling history. If WWE considers itself to be the master of storytelling in a pro-wrestling context, they should definitely take notice of the main event of WK 11.

Storytelling in pro-wrestling is undoubtedly an art. It takes years of honing your craft to perfect and truly understand it. Omega's career began early in the year 2000, while Okada's started in mid-2004. This match was the culmination of approximately 30 years combined experience between the two.

The match itself featured a opening of beautiful back and forth wrestling. The tone was set. Okada hit a crossbody on the outside, over the guardrail near some of the best seats in the house. Omega hit an enormous Golden Triangle Moonsault from the top rope, to the outside of the ring, past the guardrail. Omega was the victim of a giant back drop from inside the ring through a table on the outside. In a death-defying spot, Omega executed a dragon suplex from the top rope, putting Okada directly on his head and shoulder.

These classic spots gave the match its modern feel. But what made it so memorable was the story told in the ring.

Omega brutalized Okada's core, while slowly working his way to the neck. All of which to set up his finishing maneuver, the One Winged Angel. Every time he attempted this move, Okada escaped in a different way, as the results of the move could've proved to be the deciding factor. Okada executed his finishing move, the Rainmaker Clothesline, multiple times, but could not put Omega away. In the closing moments of the bout, Omega demolished Okada with strikes, including a Rainmaker style knee. The Tokyo Dome frantically roared as Omega went for the One Winged Angel for the final time. His efforts were futile though, as Okada again countered the move, transitioning into a jumping tombstone piledriver, and hit the Rainmaker to retain his title. Omega never hit his finisher, leaving many to ponder the result if he had.

In victory, Kazuchika Okada appears to be stronger than ever at the top of the New Japan mountain. In defeat, Kenny Omega solidified himself as the best foreign wrestler in the history of the company.

The fallout from the main event of WK 11 has garnered much praise and criticism alike from fans and critics all over the world. Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter gave the match a six-star rating based on his five-star scale. This was the first time any match has received more than five stars through Meltzer's rating system. Though the match was groundbreaking in so many positive aspects, many have criticized it based on the incredible risks that were taken. But in praise and criticism, everyone is buzzing.

Much has changed in the world of professional wrestling over the past year. Independent wrestlers are flourishing in WWE, US independents are beginning to get more press, European companies are on the rise, and New Japan Pro-Wrestling is about to begin global expansion. 2017 looks poised to see pro-wrestling reach new heights. There's no telling what we will see in this new year. One thing is for certain though: Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada's match has set the tone. Now the rest of the wrestling world has to follow it.

Brady Sauvageau
The Heater