The worst thing WWE could do at Sunday's Royal Rumble event is simple: regress back into making the main-event scenes a part-timer spectacle.
It's easy to forgive fans who have such fears. The last year or so has largely steered away from such things while the company worked through the throes of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But Goldberg's return to immediately challenge for Drew McIntyre's title and WWE hurrying to announce Edge's rumble entry are concerning, to say the least.
Call the last year an anomaly, at best. Long before the company announced McIntyre as top guy or used brilliant Superstars like Bayley to carry entire divisions, WWE habitually threw part-timers into main events at the expense of more deserving workhorses.
And it sure feels like WWE could get back to those bad habits with the rumble and its lead to WrestleMania 37.
According to Fightful Select (h/t Randall Ortman of Cageside Seats), WWE has let slip rumble entries like Edge in the hopes of getting fans to tune in since there won't be a live crowd in attendance, anyway. SK Wrestling has also reported (h/t Ortman) that this year's Mania will be "a parade of former stars."
Perhaps most concerning? WrestleVotes reported a proposed rumble finish is being considered that could earn quite the backlash from fans.
None of the supposed negative reaction from fans would come from a deserving star getting a win. This is especially the case in the context of last year's rumble, when McIntyre looked amazing while gunning for Brock Lesnar, looking every bit his equal before dethroning him—and then proceeding to carry the promotion on his back for the duration of the year.
It's guys like McIntyre who deserve the spotlight after enduring the strange audience-less era. Budding solo acts like Big E or even developmental guys like Keith Lee who continue to make strides amid the rare adversity should emerge winners.
Not, say, Edge. In fact, the report of WWE just up and announcing a legend's participation in the event because of the lack of live fans is a pretty good case against a legend winning it at all. Edge, specifically, won't have nearly the same reaction for his re-return as he did a year ago when he shocked a live crowd. Similarly, his winning the rumble Sunday without fans in the arena would just be odd.
It's a similar problem for the women's rumble, too. Superstars who shocked by thriving without fans in the stands—like Bayley or a rising star like Peyton Royce—should get the nod. Only 12 of 30 women's participants had been announced by January 29, so there's plenty of wiggle room for a part-timer to come in and shove aside deserving names, too.
There are specific exceptions, of course. Lesnar finally returning and winning, for example, wouldn't be the worst thing in the world because he'd probably go on to fight Roman Reigns and former advocate Paul Heyman, which is smooth storytelling.
But WWE doesn't need Lesnar to win the rumble to get there. And knowing how things tend to go with the company and part-timers, they're more likely to have Goldberg become a surprise entrant, win it and go on to have an ill-conceived spear-off with Reigns in the main event of Mania.
On the women's side, it would be a little hard to complain about a stunning outlier like Ronda Rousey coming back and gunning for an Asuka or Sasha Banks. But again, past booking of part-timers lately has caused more fan anger than excitement.
It's a case of expectation and fan wants, really. This past year has been trying on everyone, so Royal Rumble would seemingly sit nicely positioned to reward those Superstars who carried the company on a weekly basis while also building up some new players in the main-event scenes to sit alongside the McIntyres and Asukas of the world.
It doesn't help that what feels like the majority of the part-timer performances for a few years have been littered with issues. Goldberg has had multiple bad matches, Undertaker was in one and even Edge didn't have mind-blowing showings. Only doing this professional wrestling thing on a once or twice a year basis has its drawbacks, which could be especially pronounced in a year like this.
Maybe this is all misdirection by design. WWE did a good job last year of making it seem like more of the same before McIntyre captivated onlookers with one of the best rumble performances in a decade or more.
If so, great—the Superstars who were there every week deserve to have a legitimate shot at winning a rumble and main eventing a WrestleMania. A nostalgia-induced event that bleeds into Mania, especially during a year without fans, would just feel hollow and out of place. And that's not even considering the damage it would do to the weekly roster and shows.