WWE is as stale as it’s ever been, but I’m watching Royal Rumble anyway

It’s a good opportunity for the industry giant to bring back lapsed fans

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Image: WWE/peacock

It’s a good opportunity for the industry giant to bring back lapsed fans.

For transparency’s sake, I’ll lead with this. I’m a 20-year-plus fan of professional wrestling. My interest and desire to support WWE has never been lower. That’s a combination of a few things.

As you get older, more important things in life take over. You still make time for the hobbies or television shows that most intrigue you. And WWE hasn’t been that for a few years now, no doubt since the start of the pandemic. That hurts to say, as I have a ton of amazing memories involving watching and going to WWE events.


There have been lower points in the product with the same recycled talent. My view during the mid-2000s shove-down-our-throats-fest of John Cena, Randy Orton, Triple H and at times others was more palatable. At the beginning of 2015, the product was also stale, but things still felt special. Remember when the crowd booed most of the big spots in the Royal Rumble match in Philadelphia?

Arguably the most popular superstar of all-time, The Rock, came out to give a hero’s touch to Roman Reigns, Dwayne Johnson’s real-life cousin, and to beat up typical heels to no such desired effect. At one point, Rusev, portraying the gimmick of the evil foreigner, got massive cheers in the city where the First Continental Congress was held and the Declaration of Independence was signed. All thanks to WWE’s bad booking. And my care for the product then was still higher than now.


I was outraged at that match. Not because WWE couldn’t do better. It was because they obviously could at the time. Also on that late January 2015 Royal Rumble card was an amazing triple-threat world title match between Cena, Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar. All three wrestlers looked phenomenal and made the championship appear like their holy grail. That’s how it should be.

Why the lead-up to the 2022 Royal Rumble is different is because if that scenario played out now, I’d throw my hands up in the air. I’d be indifferent instead of upset. That’s much worse. In wrestling, generating a reaction from the audience is everything. It’s live theater and the unscripted nature of the crowd is one reason why every match feels different. With a silent crowd, anything that happens inside the squared circle means considerably less. Ricky Steamboat vs. Ric Flair with an asleep crowd? Not as good. Bayley vs. Sasha Banks from the first NXT Takeover: Brooklyn? That crowd took that match from sensational to one of the most important matches of the last two decades.


This needs to be pointed out now due to the Royal Rumble representing the most important stretch of time every year in WWE canon. Should you watch the Saturday’s show on Peacock, you’ll hear some iteration of the phrase “The road to WrestleMania starts here!” on the show more than a dozen times. Wrestling fans already know the winners of both rumble matches earn championship opportunities at WrestleMania, WWE’s biggest show every year.

The movie industry draws its biggest buzz around the Oscars. Golf and tennis have the most eyes on them during each of their sports for major tournaments. Tax accountants are thought to be the busiest in the lead-up to April 15. WWE will hold its first WrestleMania without a crowd restriction since 2019 in a little more than two months. There will be a big crowd no matter what and because of ticket prices, likely an engaged audience filling AT&T Stadium Arlington, home of the Dallas Cowboys, in a few weeks.


Saturday’s extravaganza from St. Louis starts a critical period for the WWE, a prime chance to reengage a large portion of its fanbase. In April 2019, there wasn’t another promotion with a national television deal. All Elite Wrestling started on TNT that October. How much the wrestling landscape has changed since then is unfathomable, in a good way for most. Not for WWE. Arguably its two most important stars to its “smart” fanbase are now both key cogs in AEW.

CM Punk debuted for the company in his hometown of Chicago in August. He’s the “I loathe WWE” flag-bearer. So much angst comes out of him that makes him relatable with fans that’ve felt neglected by Vince McMahon’s product. Only a few weeks later Bryan Danielson, formerly known as Daniel Bryan, signed with the company. He’s at the opposite end of the spectrum. By the former ROH, PWG and WWE world champions’ own admission, he loved working for McMahon. And he still joined the competition.


Moves between the two companies are normal and will continue to happen. Danielson’s defection was by far the biggest over the last three years. He’s a phenomenal example of unbridled passion for the art form. And he’s in AEW. There are examples of big-name talent staying put, like Kevin Owens re-signing with WWE over the last few months, but nothing has been as big as the leader of the Yes! movement plying his trade in a company not owned by McMahon.

So where does WWE go from here? Elevating younger and fresher talent to win both Royal Rumble matches would be a great start. According to Oddschecker, Matt Riddle has a 3.8 percent chance to win the men’s rumble. A legitimate new challenger to any of the four world title combatants on Saturday would be welcomed. On the women’s side, there are more options for a good-choice winner. Anyone announced in the field outside of Charlotte Flair, Lita, or the Bella Twins would be fine with me. Best of luck WWE. I’ll be watching.