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Mishal’s Top 5 Things Learned Watching Wrestling During A Pandemic

Mishal picks wrestling back up during a pandemic–and man is it different! See how different it’s been for him…

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Randy Orton vs Edge WWE WrestleMania 36

Mishal picks wrestling back up during a pandemic–and man is it different! See how different it’s been for him…

I picked an odd time to get back into the world of professional wrestling.

The last time I was properly invested in this world or even published an article on this site was well back in late 2018, at time that doesn’t seem all that long ago but, in that period, has flipped almost everything right onto its head. Whether we look at the mainstream WWE product itself, the ever-impressive rise of NXT, the birth of AEW to arguably the company’s most substantial competition since the early 2000’s or the current circumstance of our planet & the pandemic we now face as a society. Of all the changes, the latter is probably the most noteworthy and is the basis for what the article is based on.

Facing the global pandemic for the coronavirus (or COVID-19, take your pick) has affected so much more than simple television viewing, and in no way is any of this to position the state of professional wrestling over the state of the lives of so many people during this time of crisis. It’s a time when everything we love or hold dear is different, maybe even non-existent for the time being, and like anything else professional wrestling fans such as myself are looking in on an industry being presented like never before.

I’ve been watching wrestling since I can remember. Since the fondest days of the Monday Night War all the way to now, where most of what we’re used to seeing has been stripped away from weekly programming. Wrestling isn’t what it once was, and likely won’t be the same for a long time like so many other things but it’s given me a good chance to look at the business from an angle I’d likely never see if not for the circumstances. With what’s usually considered the heart of each show, the fans, watching wrestling every week has taught me a few things about what makes a show like this special, and I thought I’d break down what sticks out.

5. Everything feels quicker

 To start of simply, the pacing of almost every wrestling show has been flipped upside down, whether for better or worse is your own personal call, but the manner in which things flow has certainly changed a great deal. Without a live audience it’s clear operating things under the same pattern as before would crush any momentum, so every company and the business has forced changes to how we know a wrestling product to be.

Promos are no longer overly long & crammed to the brim with too much content to actually care about, entrance are a third their length due to smaller production stages, rather than have an audience cover it up with a noise the impact of every punch & kick is felt with great physicality & the role of managers or having personalities around ringside has been more pivotal than ever before.

4. Match lengths

We all love a good, long professional wrestling match, or any lengthy contest from any kind of action-based sport for that matter. Whether it’s wrestling, mixed martial arts or boxing, a lengthy contest is what a lot of fans pay their money to see. The longer the match, the more grueling the action generally gets, it draws the crowd investment to new heights as the intensity surges & as a result it gives the competitors more energy to feed off of as they fight on. However, wrestling in an arena with no crowd, is an entirely different story.

If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from the last month or so, it’s that under these circumstances, it’s that sometimes-performing matches ranging above 30 minutes in an arena with no audience isn’t always the smartest idea. Without an audience presence the focus of your match no longer hinges on the fans sat in the audience, but is now re-directed to what’s going on in the ring, and unless completely warranted through effective storytelling, the performance you put in may not be enough to hold the viewers watching through their screens.

Edge vs Randy Orton from Wrestlemania, the AEW World Title bout between Jon Moxley & Jake Hager and the supposedly ‘final’ encounter between Johnny Gargano & Tomasso Ciampa pose the perfect examples of how length can work in your favour, and in the latter’s case against it. Edge & Randy Orton managed to hold interest not just due to it being the most well thought out & fascinating storyline for the first part of the year but also the nostalgia of having the ‘Rated-R Superstar’ back in a ring for the first time in 9 years and as a result despite still having my own issues with the final product, mostly warranted the 40-minute length it ended up going. Gargano & Ciampa however, had very little going for them in terms of stakes. The storyline possessed the aura of being completely forced from the setup it received at the NXT: Takeover show prior, as well as being an unnecessary chapter to a rivalry that was well past its expiry date and ended at the perfect time & place.

On the other hand, you have Moxley & Hager’s AEW bout which simply overstayed its welcome due to a simple lack of tension, as well as the clear hindrance in Hagger’s ability to hold a match longer than 15 minutes due to his arsenal not being the most diversified in the sport. It certainly had its moments but felt more like a chore than a piece of entertainment.

While I’m by no means inciting that every match should be relegated to being below the 15-minute mark (since other matches like Bryan vs Cesaro on Smackdown & Omega vs Guevara on Dynamite were all wonderfully executed) it’s pretty clear that the creative teams are working within a limited field creatively, and since their storytelling will struggle to expand itself for a little while, maybe following the mindset of ‘quantity over quality’ isn’t the wisest approach for the time being. Sometimes short & simple is all this sport needs.

 3. Wrestling is a cinematic experience

I think being held up in the mindset that you’re watching a ‘real’ sport or seeing competition in front of a live audience places us wrestling fans in a different place of perception. We’re constantly in the framework of what we’re watching being something legitimately competitive, like basketball or football when what we’re actually watching, is more like a blockbuster. Not to say there isn’t a competitive element to wrestling, just not the same as other sports worldwide. Wrestling is a collision of larger-than-life personalities, storylines, presentation & action all for the purpose of encapsulating the audience to the furthest extent, much like what todays biggest blockbusters are to most of us.

Wrestlemania in particular gave us a return to the more ‘cinematic’ style of wrestling, much in the spirit of ‘Broken’ Matt Hardy facing Jeff Hardy back in the summer of 2016. Matches such as the Boneyard Match between Undertaker & AJ Styles or the Firefly Funhouse between John Cena & Bray Wyatt weren’t just beautifully produced or well thought out, these were matches that encapsulated the absurdity of the industry while also making them cool enough to something truly memorable that also shifts the characters forward in a new direction. Removing those matches from the confines of an arena gave the creative teams of both brands something truly unique to work with, as a result delivering (in my opinion) the two best matches from the overall show by a mile. If there’s anything this period will teach wrestling fans looking back, it’s that the more creative a product gets the more memorable it becomes, especially in this industry. If only it wouldn’t have taken a pandemic to make a company like WWE in this case realize that.

2. Wrestling promos are weird

 Let’s face it, wrestling promos, they aren’t exactly Shakespeare. They aren’t exactly the kind of thing most generations will quote on a whim when they want to stand out among the crowd. However, they always have one saving grace, the paying audience.

Having a paying audience live for a wrestling promo generally saves us from the cringe-inducing dialogue so many wrestlers have to spout on a weekly basis, whether heel or babyface. Their reactions, interactions amongst each other or investment in the product tends to alleviate just how awkward some of these promos truly are. The likes of John Cena, The Rock, Steve Austin, Randy Savage, Chris Jericho, Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes & CM Punk to name a few haven’t just been made just due to their ridiculous passion behind their line delivery, but their respective audience of fans that hinge onto almost every word. And without the audience, promos have gotten a bit strange at the moment.

Promos under the global pandemic haven’t been all terrible, the likes of Bray Wyatt, Edge, John Cena, Becky Lynch & Asuka in WWE have held their own at this time but the same can’t be said for the likes of Braun Strowman, who’s promos aren’t exactly their standout trait. Without a paying audience there to provide some form of reaction it seems like someone like Braun just doesn’t seem like the imposing force he generally is. The content of his promos has been generally weak and failed to reflect the kind of character he should truly be, this also applies to other stars such as Shinsuke Nakamura, Lana or King Corbin who have used the crowd as a crutch to their characters for the longest of times to garner a reaction. It’s just a pretty stark reminder of the importance of a live audience & the advantages they could provide in a form of entertainment such as this one, where they’re just as big a part of your story as the characters within them.

1. It’s an incredibly strange time to be a fan

As mentioned earlier, the creative chops of WWE or other companies are finally flaring, more than they have over the past number of years in fact. Despite the unfortunate scenario we’re in at the moment, it’s placed products & companies in quite the predicament, one in which they’ve essentially been forced to adapt to their surroundings and put on a show unlike any we’ve ever seen. The lack of audience doesn’t mesh well to some, admittedly I do find it distracting at points, at the very least however it’s brought out a new spirit in the creative team that seems to be doing something fans clamor for all the time, try new things & take risks!

Whether that be the more cinematic matches, hysterically over-the-top evenings such as Steve Austin’s 3:16 day celebration, matches that spill all over the arena, debuts being presented in dozens of different manners or being able to feel the true impact of each individual match. It’s a bizarre but incredible time to be watching any wrestling product, whether that’s WWE, AEW or even TNA, to witness companies continue to put on shows solely for the cameras and viewers at home is surreal but also wonderful knowing that this is something we’ll likely (or hopefully) never see again.


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Opinion

King: Top 5 Championship Matches in WWE Royal Rumble History

Chris King looks at the best championship matches that have taken place at a WWE Royal Rumble event!

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2020 WWE Royal Rumble

Chris King looks at the best championship matches that have taken place at a WWE Royal Rumble event!

I have gone back in time to reflect over Royal Rumble’s over the last decade. From 2012 to 2022 the WWE Universe bared witness to some amazing matches including AJ Styles defending his WWE Championship against Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn, The Rock defeating CM Punk and ending his historic championship reign, and even the ‘Beast Incarnate’ Brock Lesnar successfully defending his WWE World Heavyweight Championship against John Cena & Mr. Money in the Bank Seth Rollins in a classic triple-threat match.

Here are the top five championship matches at the Royal Rumble over the last decade.

Honorable mentions:

  • Brock Lesnar VS. Finn Balor (Universal Championship): Royal Rumble 2019
  • Brock Lesnar VS. Kane VS. Braun Strowman (Universal Championship): Royal Rumble 2017
  • Randy Orton VS. John Cena WWE World Heavyweight Championship (Royal Rumble 2014)
  • Daniel Bryan VS. AJ Styles (WWE Championship): Royal Rumble 2019

Top 5 Royal Rumble Championship Matches 

5. Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns (Universal Championship): Royal Rumble 2017

In August of 2016, the WWE Universe was shocked when Triple H turned on his former protege Seth Rollins and essentially handed the Universal Championship to Kevin Owens in a crazy fatal-four-way match. Over the next few months, Owens and Chris Jericho would become best friends and true enemies of Rollins and former Shield-mate Roman Reigns. After Reigns was screwed out of the title at Roadblock they would deliver a Shield bomb through the announce table to Owens.

Reigns and Owens would battle again at the Royal Rumble this time, Jericho would be locked inside of a shark cage to prevent interference. Both superstars delivered an impressive performance and threw out everything to defeat one another. Reigns was minutes away from winning the Universal Championship until Braun Strowman obliterated him, which allowed Owens the conniving champion to keep his title.

4. CM Punk vs. The Rock (WWE Championship): Royal Rumble 2013

The self-proclaimed ‘Best in the World’ CM Punk was on a complete tear going through the roster successfully holding the title for a historic 434 days. At Raw 1000, The Rock came back and challenged whoever was the champion at the time to a WWE Championship match at Royal Rumble. Later in the night, Punk would turn heel attacking ‘The People’s Champion’ and aligning himself with Paul Heyman shortly afterwards.

The Shield would work as mercenaries for Punk to retain his title since the 2012 Survivor Series where they debuted. Vince McMahon informed Punk that if The Shield got involved in the championship match he would be stripped of the title. After twenty minutes of back and forth action between champion and challenger, the lights went out and The Shield interfered yet again. McMahon came out to strip Punk of his championship but, The Rock had other plans and the match was restarted. The People’s Champion would deliver the People’s Elbow to end the historic reign of Punk.

3.  Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins (Universal Championship): Royal Rumble 2022

‘The Head of the Table’ Roman Reigns had conquered all of his challengers on Friday Night SmackDown, so a handpicked wild card was chosen from Monday Night Raw to challenge for the Universal Championship. Enter Seth ‘Freakin’ Rollins. The two former Shield-mates had faced each other in the past but, this time felt different. Reigns was the arrogant and cocky heel while Rollins portrayed more of a tweener character. Rollins mocked the champion’s historic title reign and infuriated Reigns the go-home episode of SmackDown.

The Universal Championship match was the first match to open the show to a white-hot crowd. Reigns made his long grand entrance waiting for his challenger until a familiar theme erupted throughout the WWE Universe. Rollins not only mocked The Shield’s old entrance through the crowd but, was also decked in full Shield attire which pissed off the champion.

I feel like it’s impossible for these two superstars to have a bad match. They have incredible chemistry whether as partners or rivals. Reigns locked in his challenger with the Guillotine Choke but Rollins made it to the ropes. The Tribal Chief was relentless and would not break the hold so Rollins won by disqualification.

2. AJ Styles vs. John Cena (WWE Championship): Royal Rumble 2017

Let me start of by saying this was a very difficult choice to make because I went back and forth on making this number one. ‘The Phenomenal’ AJ Styles shocked the world in 2016 not only for turning heel on John Cena but, beating him at Money in the Bank via shenanigans and SummerSlam completely clean in the middle of the ring. Styles went on to have an incredible run as WWE Champion over on SmackDown Live.

Cena went off and did his own thing after a devastating loss to his rival but, came back returned in time to challenge for the title to not only become a sixteen-time champion but to tie the illustrious record held by Ric Flair. Both superstars used every maneuver in their arsenal to win the match, but it came down to the final sequence to understand where Cena’s passion lies. Mr. Never Give Up hit the Attitude Adjustment and deadlifted Styles to deliver another thunderous AA to become the sixteen-time WWE Champion. What a freaking match!

1. Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins vs. John Cena (WWE World Heavyweight Championship): Royal Rumble 2015

Even though the match before was tieing the legendary Ric Flair’s championship record, I still can say with full confidence that this triple threat match is one of the best matches in Royal Rumble history. Brock Lesnar had an impressive 2014 starting off with ending The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania, and then obliterating John Cena at SummerSlam to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

At Night of Champions Cena was minutes away from winning the title and defeating ‘The Beast Incarnate’ until the arrogant Mr. Money in the Bank Seth Rollins caused a disqualification. Leading up to the Royal Rumble, Cena and Rollins would face off in a tables match at the TLC pay-per-view, while Lesnar vanished. A huge triple threat match was set for the 2015 Royal Rumble pitting all three superstars against each other. Rollins who was still holding the briefcase bragged about if he didn’t win the title with Plan A, he would just cash-in and become the champion with Plan B.

From the moment the bell rang, the action began between Cena and Lesnar. Rollins played the manipulative cocky heel picking his moments to strike. Rollins and Cena took out The Beast on the outside to make it one-on-one. Lesnar was stretchered out of the match but miraculously came back and displayed his freakish strength taking anyone who moved to Suplex City. Rollins hit the champion twice with his briefcase and set up for the Curb Stomp. Lesnar bounced up and delivered a thunderous F5 to retain in a fantastic match.

I love this match so much because it was the first time that I believed Lesnar can deliver a great match and good story when he wants to. We’ve experienced this in his matches against AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, and even Finn Balor. The Beast is a very smart performer and knows how to sell for his opponents to make them look like a megastar.

There you have it, those are my top five championship matches at Royal Rumble. Let me know what you think!


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Opinion

Greg DeMarco’s Top 5: WWE WrestleMania 39 Opponents For Roman Reigns Not Named The Rock

The Road to The Royal Rumble is here, which means we will soon have an opponent for The Tribal Chief! Greg DeMarco explores potential candidates…

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Roman Reigns Seth Rollins WWE WrestleMania 39

The Road to The Royal Rumble is here, which means we will soon have an opponent for The Tribal Chief! Greg DeMarco explores potential candidates…

Daddy’s back with something for you that is meant to be fun–and a distraction from the news surrounding Vince McMahon’s (likely terrible) return to WWE. Being a fan is meant to be fun, and one of the most fun things we get to do is look ahead to WrestleMania.

The main question, for this article at least, is who will be Roman Reigns’ opponent at The Granddaddy Of ‘Em All? Now everyone wants it to be The Rock, so we will explore the alternatives to that match.

In order to do that, I am making the following assumptions, even if some might not be true in the end:

  • Roman Reigns only wrestles one match, the final match on Night 2.
  • Roman Reigns is defending both the WWE and the Universal Championships in that match.
  • Roman Reigns–and this is just purely me–is not losing.

Honorable Mentions

I did have a few ideas who simply didn’t make the list. Check ’em out:

  • Drew McIntyre – Simply put: Why? Why would we put Drew McIntyre against Roman Reigns in a football stadium when we just saw him against Reigns in a football futbol stadium last fall?
  • Kevin Owens – Similarly, why would we do this right after we do it at the Royal Rumble?
  • Karrion Kross – Ok, now I’m just trolling you. He ain’t the guy, brother–not with this gimmick.
  • Ricochet – Personally, as an underdog babyface against Roman Reigns, I love Ricochet winning the Royal Rumble and challenging The Tribal Chief. But we have a better underdog on the list already.

With that all out of the way, it’s time to have some fun. I give you…

My Top 5 WWE WrestleMania 39 Opponents For Roman Reigns Not Named The Rock

5. Sami Zayn

The bloom is off the rose for Sami Zayn, at least in the eyes of The Tribal Chief. The eventual turn is one of the most telegraphed things in recent memory, and in this instance that is perfectly fine. Sami Zayn is insanely over, and him fighting the uphill battle with The Bloodline would get him Daniel-Bryan-Danielson-at-WrestleMania-30 levels of heat along the way.

People love Sami Zayn. His awkward charm and seemingly unlimited charisma won over the audience so well that his storyline with The Bloodline had to get extended multiple times over. However, it’s obviously coming to an end.

The obvious match is Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn against The Usos, but you could also slot Kevin against Solo Sikoa if Sami were to indeed get the nod.

4. Bron Breakker

You probably think I’m crazy, and I totally get it. Bron Breakker comes from NXT and goes right to the WrestleMania main event?

If you want to create a new star in Bron Breakker, this is how you do it. (At least, it’s one way you can do it.) Look at Roman Reigns himself–part of the story of his WrestleMania 31 challenge of Brock Lesnar was that he was growing into the role. JBL told the story on commentary, and the match was all about Roman ascending to the level of Brock.

Of course it was all the perfect set-up for Seth Rollins to give us the greatest Money In The Bank cash-in in WWE history, but in the process Roman proved that he belongs.

So make this year’s Royal Rumble the ultimate opportunity–the most shocking winner since Rey Mysterio, the NXT Champion Bron Breakker.

3. Seth (Freakin’) Rollins

Seth Rollins seems to be in a never ending program with Austin Theory, and it’s time to move on. Seth is an automatic main eventer in WWE at this point. He’s a made man, probably the next biggest star (on the men’s side) in WWE after Roman Reigns.

And he also has a very specific distinction that no one else has: a singles victory over Roman Reigns since he made his huge return in 2020. Yes, it was by disqualification, but he has proven his abilities to get inside the head of the Tribal Chief.

And Seth Rollins is going to have a match at WrestleMania, and 50,000+ in Sofi Stadium are going to be singing his song. Might as well be in the match that closes WrestleMania Night 2.

2. Sheamus

This is purely a match on my playlist–but this is MY list. And to me, Sheamus makes perfect sense.

In fact, I thought the feud between The Bloodline and The Brawling Brutes would lead to Sheamus challenging Roman Reigns at the Royal Rumble. And had Sami Zayn’s involvement in The Bloodline not taken off the way it did, we still may have.

Sheamus is more popular now than ever, and at 44 years of age he is doing some of his best work. Sheamus winning his second Royal Rumble and challenging Roman Reigns would be the Lifetime Achievement Award he deserves.

But it’s more than that! The match? It would deliver in a big way. History? There’s plenty between Sheamus and Roman, going back to when Sheamus cashed in Money In The Bank on Reigns, and when Reigns eventually beat The Celtic Warrior to win one of his world championships. The fans? They would be solidly behind Sheamus, and would go nuts for every near fall. Don’t sleep on Sheamus as your WrestleMania 39 main event opponent for Roman Reigns.

1. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin

Full credit for this idea belongs to PC Tunney and Dave Ungar, as shared in the Chairshot Radio Twitter DM thread. And it’s steal-worthy indeed.

Three major legendary names are rumored for WrestleMania 39: The Rock, John Cena, and Steve Austin. All three make sense for a multitude of reasons. But The Rock will be launching a football league (which might be a reason to do this–the publicity), and is still in insane demand in Hollywood. Cena seems to be free at the present time, and we’ve seen the videos of Austin working out.

Remember, I am assuming Roman Reigns is going to win. If that’s the case, then this WrestleMania is but another moment in Reigns’ legacy. Why not add Steve Austin to his list of victories?

It would sell. ✅
The fans would buy it. ✅
Austin proved he can go. ✅

This type of match is what WrestleMania is all about. If it’s not The Rock, it should be “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.

And there you have it, my list of–

Wait a minute Greg, what about Cody Rhodes?!?!

Man, I thought I could slip this one past the goalie!

Cody Rhodes is a great question. But you have to look at my assumptions above. I am assuming Roman only wrestles one match, defends both championships, and–most importantly–doesn’t lose. Given those assumptions, you want Cody Rhodes as far away from this match as possible.

If we do split the titles, then Cody needs to be the guy to walk away with the WWE Championship. He does that either over Seth Rollins, or in a triple threat on Night 1 against Reigns and Rollins–but Rollins still eats the fall.

But under my conditions, losing at WrestleMania doesn’t do anything for Cody.


What do you think? Let me know on social media!

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Until next time, remember: enjoying wrestling is a choice…make the right choice!


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