Ring Notes #1
Welcome to my weekly rundown of things in and out of the professional wrestling ring. I try not to clog up (w)hole hearted with too much wrestling, but if you're curious of this bizarre love of mine, you can check out my Cageside Seats profile. Wrestling never takes a week off and moves at the base of your average soap opera, though sometimes with significantly less direction. This is your cheat sheet of what you need to know.
1. The Greatest Royal Rumble
In an unorthodox move, just a month after the Superbowl of Wrestling, WrestleMania, WWE is holding a major Network Special in Saudi Arabia. The card is stacked top to bottom, with every title on the line. Well, that is, except for the women's titles. Women aren't allowed to compete in this event, or presumably in any future events that are a part of this 10-year contract. I'm not a political commentator, and I won't pretend to be. This is a seriously sticky situation and actual commentator Alfred Konwa at Forbes (who has my dream job, by the way) does a great job of explaining why this feels so...weird.
It should be recognized that it's a huge globalization move, not unlike last year's United Kingdom Championship tournament. We're at a place now where it's so easy to watch wrestling happening across the globe, like in Japan for example. WWE sees this opportunity and they're pouncing, lest they lose their audience to a foreign promotion. The event starts at 11am EST on Friday, and if you watch in real time or catch up on highlights later, keep your eye on the Cruiserweight Champion, Cedric Alexander. This will be his first defense of the title and his coronation was years in the making. The greatest wrestler of all time, Chris Jericho, will be in action during the 50-man Royal Rumble, which makes the price of admission worth it.
2. Women’s Tag Team Championships
Alright that was fine, but let’s talk about the ladies! In this age of social media, rumors can take on a life of their own and change the course of WWE’s plans. That’s what might just happen with the Women’s Tag Team Championships. In its history, WWE has never taken a shot at this, but after an article on WWE.com caught fire on Twitter, it looks likely to happen. Teams like The Bella Twins, The IIconics, and Charlotte Flair/Becky Lynch have all expressed how excited they would be to compete in that division. Although WWE hardly controls every tweet their employees send out, it seems unlikely they would let it get so big without any plans to deliver.
In all likelihood, a tournament will be held between brands and the champions will be crowned at SummerSlam in August. For my money, the IIconics, a team of real-life best friends and possibly on-screen lovers, are the first Tag Team Champs. I see them facing the Bella Twins, Nikki and Brie, who are the company’s women and have been for a long time. However, the Bellas are polarizing figures and while they deserve one last title run, the timing’s not right. Having them in the match will bring plenty of eyes but Nikki has been struggling with neck injury and Brie has only competed once since stepping away two years ago. I like the Bellas, I really do, but I also feel like the IIconics, in their insufferable, almost cartoony approach to the mean girl characters, are everything the Bellas should have been. They may not bring the credibility that other teams would, but they will be endlessly entertaining.
3. Just, Go Watch NXT
If you like to watch WWE, get a network subscription if you don’t have one already and watch NXT. If you don’t have a lot of familiarity with the product, get a network subscription (it’s $9.99), watch NXT and just tell yourself this is what WWE is. NXT, the developmental brand of WWE, is far and away, the greatest wrestling show they produce. It has a level of creativity that Raw and SmackDown haven’t even sniffed. The wrestling itself, from a technical standpoint, is consistently good to excellent. But the storytelling, man the storytelling is on a whole other level. If you only have one hour a week to watch wrestling, you should spend it watching NXT.
Let’s take the biggest feud of the year, Tommaso Ciampa vs Johnny Gargano. You could write a novel about their history as strangers who were put in a tag team together, to best friends, to bitter enemies. This week, their story continued as Ciampa attacked Gargano before his NXT Championship opportunity, sending him off in a stretcher. They’ve woven this amazing thread of Ciampa, who has been known as the Sicilian Psychopath, standing ominously cold over the damage he caused and waving ever so creepily. This week, he did so from the roof of the arena as the ambulance drove off with Gargano in it. I. Had. Chills.
So in short, watch NXT, put your bets on the IIconics, and decide for yourself if the ickiness of Greatest Royal Rumble means it won’t have your eyeballs this Friday. I’ll see you back here next Thursday for #2 in Ring Notes.