The 2012 Pro Bowl took place on Sunday night, as did the 2012 edition of the Royal Rumble, the annual WWE event that kicks of each year's "Road to WrestleMania." While watching both events at the same time, it was striking that neither one seemed particularly "real" (to steal a word from the prevailing criticism of professional wrestling). At the end of the night, I was left disappointed by both programs, but at least one of them provided a little spectacle and excitement. Let's compare and contrast, shall we?
Wrestling: The Royal Rumble event kicks off the best, most compelling and most exciting season of professional wrestling each year, as the winner of the titular Royal Rumble match is guaranteed to headline WrestleMania and the interceding months deal with who will be the world champions when "the granddaddy of them all" rolls around in April.
Football: The Pro Bowl kicks off the last week of the NFL and is now sandwiched between the playoffs and the Super Bowl so NFL fans can fool themselves into thinking there's a football game every week until the biggest sporting event of the year. The often not-very-compelling exhibition game in Hawaii serves as a cruel reminder of the long, cold year of no football that lies ahead.
Wrestling: The Royal Rumble match is usually one of the four or five best-constructed matches of the year, each year, almost without fail. It usually runs between 45 and 60+ minutes and is chock full of surprise entrants, thrilling eliminations and a fairly unpredictable Final Four before the winner emerges.
Football: The Pro Bowl is usually one of the worst football games of the year, including preseason games and college blowouts. It's devoid of many top stars, because those guys are getting ready for the Super Bowl, which has actual consequences. Players aren't willing to risk injury in the exhibition game, so defense is practically nonexistent.
Wrestling: This year's Royal Rumble event was sadly disappointing. The actual Royal Rumble match was a real letdown, with the "guest stars" consisting mostly of nostalgia entrants like "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan and the Road Dogg. The PPV also featured a really, really, REALLY lousy match between John Cena and Kane that didn't even have an ending.
Football: This year's Pro Bowl was about as disappointing as the average Pro Bowl, which is still pretty disappointing. For much of the first half, the players appeared to be moving at half-speed, with a particularly lackluster run by LeSean McCoy drawing loud boos from the Aloha Stadium crowd. Quarterbacks spent ages in the pocket looking for a receiver while the offensive and defensive lines stood around and lightly shoved one another halfheartedly. It seemed unclear why it took the QBs so long to throw passes, as every time they would complete one, the pass defense was often nowhere near the receiver.
Wrestling: Both world title matches were really good and a lot of fun.
Football: Lots of inconsequential touchdowns were scored by passers and receivers.
In the end, it was a bad night for both real sports and fake fighting. But at least the wrestlers were really hitting one another from time to time and occasionally tackling one another with force. The wrestlers appeared to really want to be there and put on a show to delight the crowd.
Ultimately, I'd have to say that on Sunday night at least, professional wrestling was the more compelling event. And nobody got booed for a lackluster effort, unless you want to count John Cena.
It's going to be a log offseason after the Super Bowl, but at least there's always WrestleMania.
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