Sadly, as the credits rolled on a momentous and exhausting night of pro wrestling, it became clear that last year’s dual triumph was an aberration: WWE failed, as it often does, to promote a truly excellent Royal Rumble match.
The narrative continues to intensify, though it hasn’t quite engulfed the nostalgic magic inherent to the spectacle. Slowly, the so-called most fun match of the year feels more and more like a subjective nightmare pulled apart by a fanbase both fractured and emboldened. The Royal Rumble supposedly unites us. It didn’t on Sunday, and if we’re being honest, it hasn’t for some number of years.
It was thought that WWE’s antagonistic insistence on defying the fans’ clear, vocal choice of victor was the issue. That wasn’t true on Sunday: both Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch, the default and unanimous choices, pointed to a version of the WrestleMania sign having emerged victorious from their respective matches—both of which received wildly conflicting critical receptions.
The winners did not elevate the matches, for the Royal Rumble has been weighed down for too long by its ultra-gimmicked, goofy, counterproductive approach.
Consider the surprise entrant trope that remains a fixture. To reconcile the idea of Jeff Jarrett, The Hurricane, the Boogeyman, or Michael Cole entering the match, we are to presume that the invitation extends to every performer or personality associated with WWE, past and present—and isn’t it some coincidence that one or three of those performers is a relic, and the remaining field are full-time talents?
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