As we approach the first WWE RAW of 2017 (10 hours away, at the time of writing!), the hype for WWE Royal Rumble 2017 has finally got real. Or at least, it has for fans of RAW, whereas Smackdown Live fans have probably been excited ever since John Cena and A.J. Styles confirmed they’d wrestle for the WWE Championship at the PPV. With the beginning of the marketing campaign for the event, comes the tweets, adverts, and TV time devoted to the returning Goldberg and Brock Lesnar.
The return of old ‘legends’ is hardly a new thing in WWE, and it’s something that fans of the company have become used to over the years. In recent years, the dependance on these so-called “part-timers” has increased, becoming the focus of many conversations about WWE‘s perceived over-reliance on old stars rather than new. This became a real hot topic in November 2016, when the returning Goldberg became the first man to beat Brock Lesnar clean in a number of years.
Given Brock Lesnar is the only man to beat The Undertaker at Wrestlemania, it was long thought that Lesnar would eventually be beaten by a mainstay on the WWE roster, giving that person the rub from Lesnar’s win again The Undertaker. That this rub went to a man who hadn’t wrestled in over a decade, and who had no intention of returning to the road full time, angered many fans. It would be fair to say that, for those who’d been complaining about “part-timers” returning to take the top spots at each big event, Goldberg’s destruction of Lesnar was the final straw irregardless of how entertaining and shocking it was at the time.
The night after that victory, Goldberg declared that he would be taking part in 2017’s Royal Rumble match. Lesnar soon said the same, and then both men were neither seen nor mentioned on air again. Now, on 2nd January 2017, Goldberg returns to RAW to begin the build for the PPV.
That Goldberg is going to be in the match is not an issue, nor Lesnar, and it does in fact make it appear that much more prestigious. The problem is that we are already seeing the Royal Rumble match being made about these two men, which by default means the PPV itself will find itself built around the two ageing stars. It is believed by many that the manner in which Lesnar was beaten at WWE Survivor Series 2017, combined with both men being at this months PPV event, means we are headed towards a rematch at Wrestlemania 33. As such, WWE will likely build the Royal Rumble around their feud.
But they mustn’t.
Using these big names from era’s long gone is absolutely fine, and draws more eyes on the product, but under no circumstances should these two men have yet another show built around them and their importance. Not due to any belief that the full-time WWE stars deserve the focus, but due to the very real fact that it risks making the current weekly TV stars seem incredibly unimportant. That Lesnar and Goldberg got the main event position on Survivor Series‘ card could be accepted as a one off, but if this next PPV is completely built around both men yet again, why should viewers care about the talents that they are meant to tune in to see each week?
There’s an argument to be made that, as WWE has utilised more and more part-time talent or ‘legendary’ wrestlers from the past, its ratings have in fact deteriorated rather than increased. There are many reasons for this, and this writer is certainly not putting it all at the feet of the old legends, but it is a fact that can’t be overlooked. That WWE have, on-air, acknowledged current full-time wrestlers ill-feelings towards part-timers taking main event spots hasn’t helped fan perception either, if we’re being honest.
At the Royal Rumble, John Cena goes head-to-head with the reigning WWE Champion A.J. Styles. Without question, 2016 was Styles’ year, and his feud with Cena has been simmering nicely during Cena’s time on TV, and during his time away. Given the quality of their matches previously, combined with the fact that a title win would see Cena equal Ric Flair’s 16 World Title Wins record, this is the headline match. It shouldn’t be the ‘true’ headline match for fans of the sport, it should be the headline match.
If Lesnar and Goldberg are going to face each other at Wrestlemania 33, it will create some buzz, but after that show they’ll both be gone again and there will be no lasting rub for anyone else on the roster who could have at least claimed they’d faced one of them at the biggest event of the year. However, Styles and Cena will still be on TV, and it’s incredibly important that WWE focuses on its present and future stars, not past stars who are now locked in a feud with each other instead of giving a rub to present-day stars.
Even John Cena, a man who has been around for so long yet is still clearly the face of the company, needs to be shown to be the man. We can’t see the media for three PPV’s in six months be all about people who make a handful of appearances per year, we really can’t.
It’s going to be an interesting January, and an even more interesting road to Wrestlemania…