Welcome to the new wrestling column, formerly I Am the Future, now entitled Let's Book. In this space, I will no longer attempt to predict the outcome of future sports entertainment events. I'm bad at that. Instead, I will book these future shows in my own imagination, creating an alternate universe where wrestling is better. That's right: I'm taking a fake sport and making it even faker.
Historically, The Royal Rumble has been my favorite wrestling event. When it's done right, you get a visual feast, a ton of men in silly costumes throwing each other around all at once. At its best, you get an hour-long match, often showcasing the talents of a few top-tier performers. For my money, the best Rumble was Ric Flair's 1992 victory, especially the post-match interview. The guy was in his forties at the time, and gave the performance of his career. On top of that, you had a ton of great characters in that match, from Hulk Hogan to a freshly-heel Shawn Michaels to Roddy Piper at his peak.
Since then, the Rumble has had its ups and downs, like the WWE product as a whole. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin won it three times, the best being his win in San Antonio, where he cheated and still got cheered. We've seen surprise, retro entries from the Honky Tonk Man, Mr. Perfect, and Kevin Nash. Even Gillberg is in one of them. For every great Rumble moment, though, there are far too many disappointments, from those years they put the Rumble match in the middle of the pay-per-view, to Batista's win last year, to the possibility that Roman Reigns might take it tomorrow.
Don't get me wrong. I like Roman Reigns as an in-ring performer. He's got the right look. His character, however, is sorely lacking, and even though the Rumble is a purely physical contest (i. e., not much mic work), Reigns's promos as of late have been sorely lacking. The real bummer is that he comes off as charming, funny guy in sit-down interviews. Watch a few recent episodes of WWE Countdown, and you'll see that Reigns, when allowed to be himself, is every bit as likable as John Cena or Daniel Bryan. In character, though, he's working with shoddy scripts, given monologues that would make Steven Segal roll his eyes. So, even though I'm not on board with the whole "Reigns can't wrestle" thing, I'm definitely in the "not this year" camp. He needs to develop his character before WWE gives him such a prestigious win. And with the amount of smart-ass marks in Philly, a Reigns win would make the boos for Batista seem like cheers.
The most sensible option would be to have Daniel Bryan win, but that wouldn't be much of a surprise, either. I'm as big a Bryan fan as anyone, but we've already seen him triumph. His presence was sorely missed after he took time off to heal. Bryan and CM Punk were at the crest of a new wave of great performers, a roster that included the likes of Cesaro, Dolph Ziggler, Bray Wyatt, and the Shield. These men turned Monday Night Raw back into appointment television, providing a respite from the snooze-fests of previous post-Attitude years. Bryan deserves the win, and that's exactly why he shouldn't get it. If Bryan isn't facing some kind of adversity, some outside force keeping him down (The Man, to my fellow Dolemite fans), he's just a smaller Hulk Hogan, another made man.
That's why I'd have Dean Ambrose win it. Like Bryan, he represents a new style of WWE performer, the kind of guy who doesn't need to have the body of an Adonis to be interesting in the ring. He's also great on a mic, equal parts Randy Savage and Roddy Piper. Of the three members of the Shield, he's the most fascinating to watch, Seth Rollins's talents and that stupid spot with the exploding TV notwithstanding.
If WWE really wants to make WrestleMania a surprise, they need only let Ambrose win the Rumble, and have Rollins win the title in the triple-threat match. An even bigger upside is that it would get Brock Lesnar, a non-entity since his win over Cena at Summerslam, out of the picture, and return the title to television, where it belongs.
As for the other matches, I'd love to see New Day turn heel, although I don't think tomorrow is the right time. I'd have Cesaro, Tyson Kidd and Adam Rose win, then have New Day try to stay positive about it the next night on Raw, then have New Day get mega-pissed about it all. It need not be Nation of Domination 2.0, but it would be great for character development.
It looks like the Miz and Mizdow are slowly beginning to unravel as a team, which makes sense. The stuntman gimmick has been great for the former Damien Sandow. I only fear that once he gets out from under the Miz's shadow, WWE won't know what else to do with him. Sandow was a fantastic heel, a nod to smarmy pricks like the Genius and Mr. Perfect. The fans have turned him into a babyface, but there's always hope.
I'd like to see Paige and Natalya win over the Bella Twins, mainly because Paige and Natalya are better wrestlers. The Divas division really needs work. A great start would be to cancel Total Divas, ditch the reality show connection altogether, drop the word "diva" and reinstate the original Womens' Championship. They're wrestlers, not Barbie dolls. The company that gave us Lita, Chyna, and Sensational Sherri has somehow made women's wrestling boring. It makes no sense to actively treat women's wrestling as mid-card filler when it used to be the highlight of the show.
The Ascension will probably beat the New Age Outlaws, if only because WWE wants us to fear men who wear make-up again. They were a great team on NXT, but somehow their old-school toughness hasn't done much to win over to the larger crowds of Raw. The recent flap over their comments about the Road Warriors and other teams is just hoopla, a nontroversy on the level of the War on Christmas. Social media is the new way of yelling at your television, so of course the tough, new heels will say faux-controversial things. It seems, though, that their comments have served only to piss off retired wrestlers. I say beat the Outlaws, ditch the make-up and shoulder pads, and just wrestle.
All in all, it looks like it will be a fun show. Let's hope this road leads to a great WrestleMania.