The WWE has been the top wrestling company in the world ever since WCW folded. But over the past few years, despite having the best roster in the world, the product has become incredibly stale and the poor booking lately hasn’t restored much of that faith… but this past weekend has gone a long way to bringing them back. So let’s look back on the weekend that was.
Saturday: NXT Takeover: Philadelphia
This was yet another epic installment in the NXT series that has become quite honestly the best thing WWE has ever done (in-ring wise). Despite fans sleeping on this one going in, the developmental brand yet again delivered. The first three matches were good, Takeover-quality bouts, but nothing to write home about, but it was the final two that proved why NXT is so brilliant.
Adam Cole and Aleister Black had a hot rivalry coming in, and although there wasn’t any blood or over the top violence, it was a brutal match. The interference from Sanity and Fish & O’Reilly verged the match into overbooked territory, but looking back, it was done fairly well and helped the match overall. Cole and Black told a story of a few different paces throughout, but by the end, both men had gone to hell and back, and it bodes well for both of them moving forward. Cole made his Rumble debut a night later, so it proves he has a bright future, and this should definitely lead to Black vs. Almas at NXT Takeover: New Orleans.
Speaking of Almas, the champion was defending against the hottest performer in NXT, and the best babyface in wrestling, Johnny Freaking Wrestling. Although the outcome somewhat sucked the wind out of the crowd, it was a Match of the Year contender. From start to finish, these two had the crowd eating out of their hands, and the involvement from Zelina Vega and Candice LeRae helped what was yet another stellar bout for both men. In the end, Almas was the better man on this night, and one has to now consider that he is a top 10 performer in the entire wrestling business because he’s putting on classic after classic at this point. Following the match, Gargano was attacked by his former partner on the ramp, and Ciampa was looking as vicious as ever, meaning this bout will be NXT’s hottest rivalry, perhaps in its history.
Overall, the show was very easy to watch, as every match told a different story, and was very good in its own right, and to add to that, we saw the on screen debut of EC3, War Machine, Candice LeRae and Ricochet, so again, NXT delivers an amazing show and gives us a glimpse into its future.
Sunday: The Royal Rumble
This show was hyped as a historic one, and by the time “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey appeared late in the night, I was satisfied after a main roster PPV for the first time in quite a while. Sure, there were things to pick apart on the show (announcing was average at best, not enough investment in some of the lower card matches), but overall, it was another fantastic show for WWE.
The Pre-Show, as usual was nothing to write home about, and for anyone but the most hardcore WWE fans, it wasn’t worth watching. But the main roster kicked off hot with The Usos vs. Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin, and didn’t slow down much from there. That match was fantastic, and went with the 2-0 finish, a change from the traditional 2-1 tiebreaker, with The Usos retaining in yet another fantastic match, which suggests that their 2018 could be as good as their 2017. There was then the WWE Championship match, that again showcased AJ’s brilliance, but it’s the result we all knew was coming, and wasn’t anything to write home about.
We then had the Royal Rumble match, and while it wasn’t the best match in the events history, it was fantastic. It wove many stories into the one bout, and finally, we got a Royal Rumble finish that we can all agree with. We saw the return of Hurricane Helms, Rey Mysterio, and the main roster debut (for one night) of Andrade “Cien” Almas and Adam Cole. The fans were incredibly behind Rusev Day, and there was action from start to finish. We could go on all day about the moments (a personal favorite of mine was the usual Kofi Kingston Rumble spot, mostly because I can’t get enough of Big E and his pancakes), but it was all about the finish in this one. The new generation faced off against the past, and in the end, Shinsuke Nakamura survived John Cena and Roman Reigns, much to the joy of the fans, and we got the announcement we were all waiting for. At WrestleMania, The King of Strong Style will face off against AJ Styles, and that’s worth getting excited about enough.
We then had a RAW Tag Team title match that was decent, with a very well told story between Jordan and Rollins, and a decent hoss battle for The Universal Championship. Those had the results we expected to likely set up some matches for ‘Mania, but then came the main event.
The Women’s Royal Rumble was fantastic, and although I have some reservations about how well this can be done in the future (as there was an over reliance on returning Legends in this one), this one had me invested from start to finish. We saw the likes of Lita, Molly Holly, Vickie Guerrero, Michelle McCool, Beth Phoenix and Trish Stratus, and it was exciting from start to finish. In the end, it was Asuka who outlasted The Bella Twins, and it may have been a focus on the past rather than the future, the right winner was named. It was the right decision, and leaving the WrestleMania match up in the air following the match will give Asuka even more intrigue going forward.
Obviously the biggest moment of the night closed the show, as we saw the debut of Rowdy Ronda Rousey, and it’s clear she’ll be a huge part of the women’s division going forward. It may have been a bit awkward in places, but we got the message: Rousey is a huge star, and she’ll be big for WWE come WrestleMania time.
This was the beginning of the Road to WrestleMania, and we’ve got several exciting stories with some big matches coming for the Showcase of the Immortals. With some great, intricate stories being told over the weekend, the WWE is showing that they can book well if they want. I’m not saying WWE is going to be the best it’s ever been, but when you look back on the booking since 2012, it’s hard to argue that this was the best weekend in recent WWE history. It is a good sign going forward that this quality could be a consistent thing.