Ring Psychology: Royal Rumble 2017

31 Jan

Hello, Nerd Lush readers. My name is Billy, and I’ve been invited to begin a new column on the site.

Most wrestling sites and dirtsheets give a play-by-play of the action. I won’t be doing that… mostly because I’m too busy marking out (geeking out) to actually take notes about what’s happening. Instead, I’ll be reviewing the shows in terms of Ring Psychology. What is Ring Psychology, you might ask? The term is used quite a bit, but I’ve had trouble finding a solid definition for it. In essence, Ring Psychology is the act of story-telling during the match. It’s that “entertainment” part of “sports entertainment,” the thread in the wrestling that connects story lines and plot points. It’s everything from big spots (flashy moments) which reinforce a character to the subtle nuances that suspend our disbelief.

For each match, I’ll be using the following criteria to rate the Ring Psychology:

  • Selling – Selling is the perceived reality of a wrestler being hurt by a move. This can be an immediate sell (someone is suplexed and arches their back in pain) or a long-term sell (someone limps throughout the match because of a leg injury).
  • Timing/Beats – Wrestling is about story-telling, and story-telling requires an almost musical ebb-and-flow. Some of the greatest matches have a natural timing to them. Intense action followed by a beat, followed by more intense action. This is partially to allow the wrestlers to catch their breath, but it’s also to allow the audience a time to reset, and get ready for the next big cheer.
  • Playing the Audience – It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a wrestler will interact with the audience. A bad guy may tell someone to “Shut up!” or a good guy may hug a fan. This reinforces their character traits.
  • Lead-up/Investment – The match is a point in the story. It is the culmination of, and platform for, non-action segments such as promos or interviews. While the previous criteria all occur within the match, the Lead-up/Investment occurs prior to the match to give the audience a reason to care about the stakes.

The ratings, or Psych Score, will be out of five points:

  • 1/5: This will rarely be given. It’s a match that is so insultingly bad that it barely passes criteria for a match. Mind you, this doesn’t automatically include “squashes” (matches where a wrestler absolutely dominates another, used to establish that wrestler’s dominance). Squashes at least have a purpose. This rating is used for debacles such as the finger poke of doom (if you don’t know what that is, I highly suggest searching for video of it).
  • 2/5: This rating is for matches which lacked ring psychology aspects to the point that the match suffered because of it. Not selling an obvious injury, a rushed plot-line, or excessive botches (moves that went wrong, or were executed poorly) will earn this rating.
  • 3/5: This will be the average rating most matches get. Any match with decent story-telling, a bit of lead-up, and believable selling will receive this “average” rating. This takes into account the suspension of disbelief that people can temporarily ignore injuries due to a rush of adrenaline. This rating encompasses the majority of televised matches.
  • 4/5: This will be an above-average rating for matches which demonstrated excellent story-telling, great lead-up, and excellent selling which (in some cases) may lead to an outcome. These matches will also use spots to enhance a storyline or character, and are evidently well thought out by both the performers and the writers.
  • 5/5: This rating will rarely be given. This is reserved for matches which exemplify the art of wrestling. The storylines have drawn us in, the matches are spectacles, and the memories are burned into our hearts. Think Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair or Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho. (Yes, I know there are many other 5 star matches out there from other organizations such as TNA, Lucha Underground, NJPW, etc…. but for the purposes of this blog, I’m sticking to the WWE matches).

In addition to the matches, I’ll review a few promos and segments that I feel are worth looking into.

Without further adieu, let’s review the Royal Rumble 2017!

PRE-SHOW

Note: I missed the Naomi, Nikki Bella, & Becky Lynch vs. Alexa Bliss, Micki James, & Natalya match because of technical problems. 

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson vs. Cesaro and Sheamus (c)

Cesaro and Sheamus is a weird pairing. One of them is a James Bond-type character with impressive physique, and the other is a bully-ish rogue. But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work. Their team is the culmination of a storyline where they had a best-of-seven series where they realized they work great together. It seems cheesy, but it allows for some tense ones-upmanship moments. The best part of their team is the entrance pose. Cesaro stands facing upstage, arms outstretched. Meanwhile, Sheamus stands with a similar pose but facing downstage. The camera pans around them, and the result is a badass Michael Bay-esque effect.

Gallows and Anderson don’t have a flashy entrance, but it fits their theme of no-nonsense brawlers. Their feud with Cesaro and Sheamus seemed rushed, and this matched relied heavily on the gimmick of having two referees. Overall, the set-up and execution is what I expected from a pre-show match. Gallows and Anderson win the belts via the most over-used cheap heat tactic available, grabbing the tights during the pin.

Winners and new champions: Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

Psych Score: 3/5

Cesaro executes a suplex as his partner, Sheamus, looks on. 

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[Image from WWE.com]

Interview with Dean Ambrose

I’m reviewing this segment because it just didn’t work for me. The interviewer, who I’ve seen before but haven’t invested into, kept interrupting Ambrose. The interviewer’s job is to enhance the talent and drive the storyline, but she kept interjecting jokes and small-talk. Ambrose also looked drugged out of his mind… I know it was supposed to be part of his “I don’t care” attitude, but it was off-putting. Overall, a segment with potential ended up being executed very awkwardly.

Psych Score: 2/5

Nia Jax vs. Sasha Banks

I enjoyed this match. Banks’s entrance, from the music to the stylish hip swing, has become a cue for the audience to pop like crazy. Jax’s entrance is art… it starts off with a close-up of her Titantron video and transitions seamlessly to a close-up of her eyes. The lead-up to this match has been focused on Jax seeking vengeance on Banks. Jax has been doing this by targeting her kayfabe-injured leg. This is accentuated by the sheer size difference between Jax and Banks, and parallels to David and Goliath could be seen as soon as they squared off in the ring. The match was realistic when accounting for the size discrepancy… especially when Jax draped Banks’s leg over her neck and swung her around like a ragdoll.

Jax plays the cold, no-nonsense warrior very well. I’ve seen a lot of physically intimidating wrestlers be forced to attempt wordy promos… only to have their intimidation factor diminished because they couldn’t pull it off. By having Jax communicate through violence, they’re preserving her bad-assery.

Banks’s nuanced commitment to selling her injury could be seen throughout the match. She would limp or hold leg, and the injury allows for Banks to keep credibility despite the loss… could she defeat Nia Jax if she was 100%? The match itself was short, with Banks attempting the occasional offense but ultimately succumbing to both her injury and the insurmountable size difference.

Winner: Nia Jax

Psych Score: 4/5 

Nia Jax rips apart the knee of Sasha Banks.

073_rr_01292017ej_1260-cc91826c1a4cd66d2aa49648b002059c

[Image from WWE.com]

Renee Young

Throughout the pre-show, there was one golden thread connecting the matches, promos/segments, and interviews… Renee Young. She’s eloquent, funny, charismatic, and plays kayfabe very well. She reacts to her fellow performers, unlike some of the other interviewers who ask a question then stare blankly ahead. She adds dignity, grace, and credibility to the WWE.

We need more Renee Young.

Royal Rumble Kick-Off with Shawn Michaels

The Sexy Boy came out to a huge pop from his hometown. I marked out, because I have been a huge HBK fan since I started watching the WWF/WWE. He is the king of ring psychology, and though he was obviously used for a cheap pop in his hometown, he still added that HBK flair to the event.

Bayley vs. Charlotte Flair (c) 

[Side Note: Bayley’s entrance is great, but I have a pet peeve. The announcer, Byron Saxton, gleefully calls them the “Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Men.” It’s a throwback to a running gag on Family Guy… and every time he says it, I get taken out of the WWE universe. They’ve started calling them “Bayley Buddies,” which I like much better… but Saxton won’t shut up with the phrase and it kills the entrance for me.]

The lead-up to this match has been interesting. It was intertwined with the Nia Jax/Sasha Banks storyline, but was able to eventually stay separate. Bayley plays the audience proxy, a fan-girl who grew up wanting to be a wrestler and living her dream of competing for the championship. Charlotte plays the regal queen, the dominant champ who boasts that she has never lost a Pay Per View match. Their personalities are a great contrast to each other. Granted, Charlotte is much more talented on the mic… in fact, I’d say she and Alexa Bliss are the two best women’s wrestlers on the mic right now (and I’d love to see them cut a segment together). I feel like Bayley is missing something on the mic… but her “I’m-a-fangirl-smile” more than makes up for it.

I would say that Charlotte’s physicality is on par with AJ Styles. She performs a move when she wraps her legs around her opponent’s neck, and flips them over to slam them… it looks brutal. Her moves are also nuanced… she didn’t just put Bayley into a sleeper… she rag-dolled Bayley into a sleeper. Likewise, Bayley played-up her growing frustration. She began to growl and slap the mat in frustration. I audibly gasped during Charlotte’s finishing maneuver, “Natural Selection,” on the ring apron. They played the personality dynamics well, with Charlotte pointing to the crowd and screaming, “You’re just one of them!” to Bayley as she lay helplessly prone on the mat. The only issues I saw was that the match had a few botches, such as a missed cue for Charlotte to be thrown out of the ring, resulting in Bayley randomly flailing her hands.

Winner: Charlotte Flair (c)

Psych Score: 3/5

Bayley performs an elbow drop.

114_rr_01292017jg_0702-4604ae1228ce0d2ee5d306112e468ce8

[Image from WWE.com]

Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens (c)

[Side note: It was during this match that I became oddly aware of the much-longer-than-average walkway to the ring.]

This was a gimmick match, in that Kevin Owens’ friend (Chris Jericho) would be suspended high above the ring in a shark cage to prevent interference.

Jericho sold the shark-cage flawlessly. He didn’t over-do it. Instead of flailing around and loudly proclaiming fear (which a few other wrestlers may have done), he took a subtle approach. He took deep breaths, walked in slow steps, and displayed hesitation. Jericho’s constant re-invention of himself, remaining not only relevant but damn-near irreplaceable, is astonishing. He’s still getting laughs, still hangs in the ring, and still teaching the young guys how it’s done.

Owens also sold the Jericho gimmick in consistent fashion. He continually motioned up and spoke with Jericho. At one point, he looked up and assured his friend, “It’s okay!” While setting up several chairs for a future spot, Owens filled the dead-time by speaking with Jericho, and telling him, “You’ll see!”

Likewise, Reigns did surprisingly well at ring psychology. A year or two ago, he was known as someone who was lacking a certain factor on the mic… but he’s been improving. Likewise, his reactions have been improving. He displayed a “what-the-hell” face during a few moments, each perfectly timed and appropriate for the context. For example, Reigns was returning to the ring when he noticed the chairs that Kevin set-up. He took a beat, looked at them, and allowed the audience to know that the structure was important. The same thing with the brass knuckles. Reigns’ physical prowess is great, and it seems he’s been taking a few pointers in other areas as well.

Braun Strowman came in to finish the match by choke-slamming Reigns on an announce table… except, he didn’t clear it first. I’m pretty sure Reigns’s head hit a monitor, though it didn’t seem to phase either wrestler. The interference set up a few possible angles between Braun and Reigns, and further solidified Braun’s aura of domination (which would be further strengthened in the main event).

Overall, I was impressed by the story-telling in this match. We had the bromance dynamic between KO and Jericho, the looks of confusion from Roman Reigns, and enough just enough spots to satisfy my lust for violence during a no-DQ match. These include a vicious frog-splash by KO to Reigns through a table, a crushing Samoan Drop by Reigns through a steel chair, and a power-bomb through the announce table.

Winner: Kevin Owens (c)

Psych Score: 4/5

Chris Jericho looks on, helplessly, as his best friend defends the championship. 

[Image from WWE.com]

Vignette with Sami Zayn and Dean Ambrose

A notable vignette occurred after this match, wherein Sami Zayn and Dean Ambrose picked their entrance numbers for the Rumble. I say it’s notable because I personally felt Zayn was funnier than Ambrose. Ambrose made a joke about the number 8 being upside down, but Zayn’s natural… goofyness… came across much more organically. The dirt sheets say that he’s got a bit of heat backstage because of his intense passion and social awkwardness, which is almost endearing.

Neville vs. Rich Swann (c) 

[Side note: Neville displays the most menacing glare of all the superstars. It makes me clutch my liver in fear that he will eat it a la’ Hannibal Lecter].

205 is the Cruiserweight Division of the WWE. Participants are under 205 lbs, and typically display a more acrobatic and agile aerial moveset than other superstars. Neville had been billed as a superhero, even teaming up with The Green Arrow himself Stephen Amell for a match. But he’s recently turned to the Dark Side and has decimated most of the 205 roster. In this match, he had his eyes on Rich Swann’s championship. Swann, on the other hand, is a light-hearted babyface (good guy). His entrance is reminiscent of Flash Funk or Brodus Clay, a disco-esque dance theme that makes you feel good. He’s also an against-all-odds story, and the WWE played up the fact that he lost his parents at a young age. This made his eventual defeat rather crushing.

The match itself was a flurry of acrobatic maneuvers. Of note, a crisp Superkick by Neville as Swann dove from the turnbuckles, and standing hurricanrana by Neville from the top rope. I don’t keep up with 205 as much as I should, but this performance makes me want to watch the division. Neville wins with a scissored armbar crossface.

Winner and new champion: Neville

Psych Score: 3/5

Swann crushed under Neville’s boot.

[Photo from WWE.com]

John Cena vs. AJ Styles (c)

[Side note: Cena entered this match shortly after it was announced that he would host the Kids Choice Awards. Needless to say, I imagined WWE wouldn’t send their ambassador without a belt].

The John Cena/AJ Styles feud has been going on for quite a while now. Cena is the controversial face of the company. His presence alone leads to dueling chants of: Let’s Go Cena!/Cena Sucks! Though it may seem like this divisive popularity is a bad thing… it’s actually one of the reasons he’s stuck around. The fans that love him love to love him, and the fans that hate him love to hate him. The fans that hate him also tend to be part of the Internet Wrestling Community (or IWC). The IWC’s interests go beyond the WWE… so when “indie darling” AJ Styles arrived and immediately challenged the popular babyface Cena, they rejoiced.

And with good reason. AJ Styles is quite possibly the best wrestler on the current roster. His moveset is infinite and his storytelling is phenomenal. He also has a great set of hair. Seriously. It’s luxurious and full-volumed. His voice is a little muffled on the mic, and not as crisp as Cena’s, but I’m willing to forgive that fact if only because his hair makes up for all sins he has ever committed.

The match itself started slow, but picked up in the middle and eventually became quite good. I honestly wasn’t too invested until Cena and Styles showed off their veteran chops during a smooth exchange of various submission moves. I became glued to the screen. False finishes abounded, but with enough variety that it kept my interest. Especially devastating was an Attitude Adjustment by Cena onto Styles from the second rope. The crowd roared after AJ kicked out of the pin. Throughout the entire match, I realized two things. People often forget about AJ Styles’s strength because of his agility, and people often forget about Cena’s agility because of his strength.

The finish was impressive, with Cena catching Styles during a Phenomenal Elbow to perform an Attitude Adjustment, only to roll over, pick Styles up, and perform another one.

If I was rating this match on pure physicality and ring-presence, it would receive a 4/5. Even in terms of ring psychology, the pacing was great and both players sold their frustration/shock/exhaustion (though I’m sure they were also legitimately exhausted). But the storyline buildup was too quick for me. We’ve seen the Cena/Styles feud already, and it’s become mildly stale (through no fault of the performers). The investment wasn’t there for me… especially considering I was already expecting a Cena win so that he could bring the belt to the Kids Choice Awards and loudly pronounce THAT THE CHAMP IS HERE!

After the match, Cena bee-lined to a kid in the audience. He was wearing a Make-a-Wish shirt. Cena lets him hold the championship. Whether you love him or hate him… whether you believe this is the real John Cena or a product of corporate molding… he’s a symbol of the good that the WWE can do for the world.

Winner and new champion: John Cena

Psych Score: 3/5

I forgot what’s happening here, but it looks painful.

[Image from WWE.com]

Main Event: The Royal Rumble

If you’re reading this article, you probably already know what the Royal Rumble is about. 30 Superstars enter the ring, one at a time, separated by a few minutes. They only become eliminated after being tossed over the top rope, and having both feet hit the ground. The full Rumble is a bit too long and chaotic to fully review, but here are some notable spots:

Big Cass and Jericho at #1 and #2

Everyone loves Jericho, but a lot of people were hoping for Nakamura. Shinsuke Nakamura lost the title at NXT Takeover the night before the Rumble. Losing is often a rite of passage for wrestlers before they leave, retire, or switch brands. Ric Flair lost to Shawn Michaels at retirement. Shawn Michaels lost to The Undertaker at retirement. Sami Zayn lost to Nakamura before being called up to the main roster. Nakamura just lost the NXT title to Bobby Roode, which many people assumed meant an entrance in the Royal Rumble as his main roster debut. Furthermore, his entrance takes a few minutes, which meant he would likely start the Rumble off. We were all wrong. In fact, he never showed up.

Low Blow by Jack Gallagher… with an umbrella.

Not just any umbrella. William III, I believe. The gimmick was a bit odd during the rumble, and took me out of my suspension of disbelief (why are the refs allowing an umbrella?), but it was worth it for a low-blow on Jericho. After the low-blow, Gallagher opens the umbrella and spins it. The camera pans around, and we see an awkward moment where it’s Jericho spinning the umbrella for comedic affect.

[Photo from WWE.com]

Strowman 

Braun Strowman has been built to look indestructible. The WWE has been booking this angle well… Strowman is vulnerable, but only when several people team-up against him for a prolonged period of time. Strowman was impressive, and eliminated the most participants of all members this year. Despite being eliminated himself, his dominant performance only solidified his monstrous character.

Kofi Kingston’s Annual Moment

Kofi Kingston has a legacy of creative moments in the Royal Rumble. He once walked, on his hands, back to the ring after being tossed out. He once hopped back to the ring on a chair. This year, he stood on the post behind the turn-buckles, and took a vicious fall onto his abdomen. It wasn’t as visually impressive as his previous spots, but it looked legitimately painful!

Cesaro Swing to… everyone

Despite his deceptive frame, Cesaro is known as one of the strongest athletes in the locker room. During the Rumble, he performed his signature “Cesaro Swing” to almost every wrestler in the ring… with the exception of Big E. Cesaro had already fought in a match earlier the night, and had already conducted several Cesaro Swings. He attempted on Big E., got about half a revolution in, and had to give up. Big E was, well, too big.

Funny Moments

The structure of the Royal Rumble allows for some great comedic moments. This Royal Rumble had quite a few, like the aforementioned umbrella low-blow. Another hilarious (albeit predictable) moment occurred with James Ellsworth. Ellsworth, an “every-man” teased on screen for his scrawny demeanor and awkward face, feared getting in the ring with the leviathan Braun Strowman.

Holy Shit Moments

Some Royal Rumbles lack “Holy Shit” moments. This Rumble did not. In an event that included the surprising elimination of Brock Lesnar by Goldberg and the elimination of The Undertaker by Roman Reigns, perhaps my favorite Holy Shit moment was the betrayal of Bray Wyatt by his brother and long-time tag-partner, Luke Harper. The crowd popped, and damn-near exploded when Harper set Wyatt up for Wyatt’s signature move: Sister Abigail. Harper’s physique, which is much taller and leaner than Wyatt’s, also made the maneuver’s set-up look far more impressive.

The Winner

At the end of the Rumble, we had a three-way match between Roman Reigns, Bray Wyatt, and Randy Orton… and I officially lost interest. I respect these three talents individually, but it looked like a throwback to a few-years ago. This occurs after a year where we saw some phenomenal talent rise to the top, and it almost seemed like a step backwards. Jericho winning would have set up a great storyline against his best friend. The same thing would have happened with other Superstars. I personally hoped that Finn Balor would return from his injury at #30, gain a win, and return to the ring at his expected cleared-date during Wrestlemania (I can still dream, right?).

Overall, this Rumble was okay. There weren’t any major surprises, which was disappointing. Still, the storylines were continued and there were quite a few character-driven moments.

[Photo from WWE.com]

Winner: Randy Orton

Psych Score: 3/5

Overall Score

The Royal Rumble is one of the four main Pay Per Views for the WWE. It’s the beginning of the “Road to Wrestlemania,” and needs to hype Wrestlemania from the get-go. Unfortunately, despite stellar performances by the performers, the actual Royal Rumble match left a bleh taste in most people’s mouths. I’m not particularly excited to watch Cena vs. Orton, especially considering there’s absolutely no lead-up to it. I’m hoping that the months between now and ‘mania give us something to care about for this match.

Psych Score: 3/5

Thanks for reading through this Royal Rumble review! I look forward to joining the NerdLush team and bringing you my analysis of Ring Psychology. You can find me on Twitter at: @Billi_sense

 

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