The first WWE marquee event of 2024, the Royal Rumble, had some of the biggest names in the sport in the wrestling ring. Vinu Syriac writes on the wrestling/entertainment phenomenon
Where do American screenwriters get their true due? I am going to go out on a limb and say it is in the World Wrestling Entertainment. Hear me out. It is not real wrestling, everyone knows that. It is too theatrical, some of the finishing moves are plain ridiculous and can be avoided by any conscious individual. It is repetitive, some of the championship holders must keep winning week after week so that they can be headliners in the monthly main events. But why does it still have such a humongous worldwide fan base? The simple answer - the storylines crafted by the screenwriters of the matches.
I watched my first wrestling match as a kid over four decades ago. I watched my latest wrestling match – the 2024 Royal Rumble – on Sunday morning. I can go months before catching a few minutes on TV sometime. The one special that I try to catch up on every year is the Royal Rumble. It is a spectacle. Thirty men enter the ring in regular intervals, elimination is when a wrestler is tossed over the top rope and both his feet touch the ground, the last man standing is the winner.
On the days when WWE is hosting one of its special events (15-17 times a year), that will be the biggest trending hashtag on X (formerly known as Twitter). This year, the party started earlier. Vince McMahon, the big boss of WWE was charged by a former employee with, among other things, sexual exploitation, trafficking and abuse. Vince was the genius who moved the company firmly into the area known as Sports Entertainment, rather than professional wrestling, and thereby minted millions. He is also a flamboyant in-front-of-the-scenes operator who is in frighteningly good shape at 78. He has been in trouble before, for the same offences. He had to pay a lot of money to women to prevent them from testifying against him. Then, he got in trouble for making the payments.
This time the accusations gathered more traction because the complainant and her lawyers were quite graphic in the filing. McMahon had to resign as the Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors. This was quite a challenge to the screenwriters. One of the wrestlers who was to have played a big role was Brock Lesnar, who was returning to the ring after almost five months. The complaint against McMahon also alluded to a certain American Football player turned wrestling superstar. Many had guessed this was Lesnar and there needed to be a last-minute improvisation of the script.
The 2024 Royal Rumble had four events – the Women and Men’s Rumbles, the WWE United States Championship match and the fatal four-way match for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. Here’s how I would rank them based on their screenplays.
No. 4: Fatal Four-way for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship
Any singles match involving more than two wrestlers is boring. While you get to see more for the price of two, the intensity is lost. In most cases, the extra participant(s) find themselves out of the ring for a period of time so that the audience can concentrate on just two at a time. Then they’d insert themselves back just when one of the in-ring guys was just about to get a countdown.
Randy Orton, AJ Styles and LA Knight wanted what Roman Reigns had for 1243 days. Roman was not prepared to oblige. The match moved along predictable lines. Punches were made. Trademark moves were executed and not. Roman did get beat a lot and almost got counted out when his Bloodline brother Solo made an entrance.
However, one couldn’t shake the feeling there was something rushed about the match. It got over in no time and Reigns continued his reign. The big hype turned out to be a damp squib.
No 3: Men’s Royal Rumble
It really doesn’t do much for the brand when the flagship event doesn’t rank as numero uno..The Royal Rumble should be easily won by the biggest wrestler on the show. Hauling another over the top rope is easier the bigger and more powerful you are. To avoid this happening, the writers have to dream up interesting scenarios to get the big guys out. After all, the winner goes directly to WWE’s marquee event – WrestleMania. The ‘both feet touching the ground’ condition for elimination has repeatedly been milked by the writers. Kofi Kingston became a highlights reel all by himself with his almost-eliminations.
Precious few people have been eliminated over the years by being lifted and pushed over the top rope. Yet that doesn’t stop people from trying it. After all, it is a good way to stall the action and take a few breaths. Similarly, tossing over an opponent and then turning your back is a good way for the other guy to slip back through the ropes. These shortcuts put a dampener on the smart moves that are written in other cases.
The hype was all about whether Cody Rhodes would become the first wrestler since Stone Cold Steve Austin to win back-to-back Rumbles. That itself ensured that Cody would be at least one of the last two men remaining. CM Punk’s redemption arc almost confirmed he would be the other. But the eventual winner is not the prime reason for me to watch the Rumble. If so, I would have given up ages ago.
Numbers one and two were the Uzo twins – Jed and Jimmy. This was smart and the audience’s attention was grabbed at the outset. However, after a few minutes, lethargy kicked in. There was no high-flying elimination and the performers themselves didn’t inspire too much interest. The one big giant was Omos and he didn’t last too long. Kofi arrived and was eliminated, thankfully, without much theatrics.
Cody Rhodes is the son of popular yesteryears wrestler Dusty Rhodes who went by the nickname ‘The American Dream. I find Cody to be really uncharismatic and can’t believe he is being trumped up as the next big thing. Obviously, the ending was disappointing. But it was sad to see how badly CM Punk had aged. It is unlikely that he would be getting a long contract.
No 2: Women’s Royal Rumble
The first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble was in 2018. This marked a big shift in changing the Diva monicker, that women performers had, to actual wrestler. There are much fewer women performers in WWE compared to men and as a result we would see wrestlers from other organisations and retired icons sometimes making up the numbers. The action was also tempered down to suit the physique of the participants. The finishing moves are even sillier.
This year’s Rumble surprised. Not by the quality of action, but by the general vibe. It began with the way the crowd greeted Natalya (Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart’s niece), the No 1 entrant. Then came Naomi, who was returning to WWE. It seemed almost like The Rock and Stone Cold were in the ring. The handshake before the proceedings also felt real.
The welcome shouts kept on as Bayley, Asuka, Bianca Belair, Becky Lynch and others made their way in. The big Nia Jax got boos, but there was drudging admiration when she ended up eliminating most participants. Chelsea Green provided the laughs by being the unlikely punching bag for almost every else.
The biggest cheers were saved for Jade Cargill. The basketball player-turned-wrestler who has both a masters in child psychology and a child was a recent signee to the WWE roster and she made a powerful debut. The electrifying atmosphere she created points to a long career here.
If the last three were surprising, the eventual winner was even more so. It was a case for unpredictability being the winner and that is one of the reasons I watch this thing.
No 1: The WWE United States Championship
The match had barely started when my 17-year-old walking by said, “Is that Logan Paul?” It was indeed, and even more surprising that this turned out to be the highlight of the night. Logan Paul, I was later told, is one of the biggest YouTubers in the world. He thrived on controversies and infuriated a lot of people. Got lots of followers and money in the bargain. It’s what he did after that surprised people. He got into shape and tried amateur boxing. After that he showed his face in the WWE. Some ringside shenanigans later, he joined as a full-time pro. In the last Royal Rumble, he and Ricochet leapt from opposite ends of the ring and smashed into each other mid-air. Sure, WWE is mostly fake, but antics like this would hurt. Over the past year, Paul built up on his reputation. He ended up winning the United States title, albeit with some help from some brass knuckles. Kevin Owens came calling.
The match was quite good because Paul has built up quite an arsenal of wrestling moves. Strangely enough it was quite a technical fight for most part. Logan’s brother played the distraction while brass knuckles reached Logan again. Owens saw it and removed it. He used it on Paul without the referee seeing. However, during the count, the referee saw it and disqualified Owens.
This was a really smart piece of writing. I am not sure how many times they would have practiced it, but Owens holding up Paul’s leg during the count and the knuckle accidentally coming to the referee’s eye was done in a seamless manner. Getting it out to the world were some of the most creative people out there – the cameramen. One of them had to be in the exact right spot for it to work and he was. Smart working, capable acting, brilliant camera work. I was sold.
I guess I might take a break till next January for the 2025 Rumble. In the meantime, I got a WWE subscription and am rewatching all the old ones. Some fixes just have to be had.
*The author, Vinu Syriac, is a part-time reader, part-time writer, part-time armchair critic, and full-time nostalgiamaniac.