THE ROAD TO WRESTLEMANIA STARTS HERE – 5.5/10.
The Royal Rumble match is one of the biggest nights in the WWE calendar. Until recently it could be considered second only to Wrestlemania itself. It’s a night of surprises, unexpected returns, fantastic debuts, shocking eliminations and more. It’s where debts are settled and rivalries are ignited, truly setting the scene for the granddaddy of them all. Essentially the Royal Rumble could be considered the first act of Wrestlemania, whoever is left standing at the end of the night is on his way to the big dance and the fans can’t wait… Except that’s not really how it’s gone down the last two years.
2014 and 2015 were both creative car crashes that combined horrible booking with a point blank refusal to listen to the fans. In both cases the deafening chants for Daniel Bryan were ignored. He wasn’t even featured in 2014, and in 2015 the returning hero was quickly eliminated making way for a Roman Reigns victory. A victory that felt ill deserved and was deeply unpopular with the crowd. Reigns’ case wasn’t helped by the horrible booking of the 2015 Rumble. A successful Rumble features multiple stories and feuds, but the 2015 match was focused entirely on Reigns. That kind of booking may have worked for Austin and HBK but Reigns just isn’t at that level yet.
Like him or not, Reigns is the chosen one. The blame for the backlash against him can be placed squarely on the bookers. For every step they take forward with his character they seem to take three steps back. Reigns needed a strong showing in the 2016 rumble, but more importantly he couldn’t be the sole focal point of the match, other people needed to shine as well. Most importatly, there needed to be a sense of excitement to the match. Yes it’s scripted but so are movies, even though you know the hero is going to save the day, the story should be exciting enough to keep you engaged despite the obvious outcome.
The above picture is my prediction for the 2016 Rumble, it seemed to be the only logical conclusion to Roman Reigns’ story. His character needs that redemption at Wrestlemania after a year of soft losses. The question, is could Vince and co. find a way to get me invested in that story? More importantly, if I was right would anyone buy me a treat? With a roster crippled by injuries, a lack of major star power and a hero without the total support of the crowd, WWE desperately needed to hit a home run with this year’s Rumble. Did they do it? let’s find out…
DEAN AMBROSE (C) vs KEVIN OWENS: LAST MAN STANDING MATCH
FOR THE INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP
WINNER: DEAN AMBROSE
This was a really solid match to start the show, very physical, with strong pacing and great psychology from both. It helps that there is a storyline behind this match that goes beyond the IC title. You get the feeling that these two really hate each other, that they want to hurt each other, which makes it easier to invest in the match as it unfolds. The match featured some great spots, including a package piledriver from the top rope through a table, numerous hard chair shots, a cannonball through the time keeper’s barrier and a hard landing through two tables by Owens to end the bout.
The crowd were totally into the match, but the support was mostly for Owens. I am a huge fan of Ambrose and I have been since his John Moxley days, but I can’t help but feel he lost so much momentum following his red hot summer of 2014. WWE had an opportunity to build two huge stars but instead they placed Ambrose on the back burner following Reigns’ return from injury. Ambrose may well recover at some point but I doubt he will reach those heights again. That said the sky is the limit for Owens as a heel.
This was a nice blow-off match for this feud, with both men moving on to other things on the road to Wrestlemania. Whilst the match certainly was the ‘carnival ride of destruction’ that Ambrose promised it also featured a lot of entertaining moments, not least the two always vocal men screaming “I hate you” at each other. More spectacularly, Owens managed to launch himself at Michael Cole at one point, silencing the voice of the WWE for a satisfyingly long period of time.
THE NEW DAY (C) VS THE USOS
FOR THE TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS
WINNER: NEW DAY
I love the New Day; they are absolutely ridiculous, but quite possibly the most fun act in WWE right now. This team has given three floundering performers a chance to excel. Traditionally Kofi Kingston only got to shine at the Rumble and Money in the Bank events, now he gets to do it every single week. That said though my love of New Day isn’t enough to get me invested in this match. One of the downsides of the oversaturation of the WWE product is there are some matches that we seem destined to watch over and over again. Even the lengthy sabbatical recently taken by the Usos isn’t enough to make this match feel fresh.
Credit where credit is due, it’s not a bad match. As ever, Xavier Woods is the MVP, working the crowd like a pro. I really wish they would let him do more in the ring as he is a more than capable performer. The PPV crowd is a fairly smart one so they are all over the Usos and firmly behind New Day. After a lot of back and forth the match ends when Big E catches an Uso mid-air (No, I don’t know which one) and delivers the Big Finish for the win. Queue much gyrating and tromboning from New Day. It wasn’t an awful match but it certainly wasn’t a memorable one either. Still it’s always nice to hear a wrestler screaming quotes from Mortal Kombat at his opponent.
ALBERTO DEL RIO (C) VS KALISTO
FOR THE UNITES STATES CHAMPIONSHIP
The original plan was for Del Rio to start yet another programme with Cena on his return, presumably ending with John hustle, loyalty and respecting his way back to the US Championship. I actually would have been okay with that, Cena made the US Championship relevant and the US open challenge matches were the highlight of Raw for months on end. Alas a shoulder injury scuppered those plans and Del Rio has spent the last few weeks replaying the greatest hits from his feud with Rey Mysterio with Kalisto. Kalisto has a big future ahead of him and the crowd are already starting to get behind him but this feud just feels thrown together. Kalisto’s surprise win on Raw was a huge moment but having him immediately drop the belt back on Smackdown was a momentum killer.
The match itself started alright, Del Rio is a fantastic performer and his repertoire of moves always looks stunning, his inverted DDT suplex is a particular favourite. This was pretty much a WWE version of a lucha libre match, slowed down with a few high spot sequences. Del Rio even pulled out the classic luchador heel move of trying to remove his opponents mask, although he needs to stop leading the ‘si’ chants. As expected, Kalisto pulled out a lot of high flying manoeuvres, but towards the end the chemistry seemed to falter, leading to several awkward botches. The match culminates in a Salida Del Sol and a victory for Kalisto that would have meant so much more if it wasn’t the third title swap in as many weeks. Not a bad match, but one that had the inescapable feel of filler.
Next we were treated to a promo for the new Edge and Christian show brilliantly titled ‘The Edge and Christian Show That Totally Reeks of Awesomeness’. This show looks childish, idiotic and pointless… I absolutely can’t wait. E and C are always entertaining and their chemistry is second to none. I bet it was an absolute hoot to film. That’s right I am bringing back the word ‘hoot’.
BECKY LYNCH VS CHARLOTTE (C) WITH RIC FLAIR
The word ‘divas’ frustrates me. It demeans the entire division, we don’t want divas, we want women. Scrap that we want wrestlers, that’s what was so special about the women’s division in NXT. The women more often than not put the men to shame. That’s why it is so heart-breaking to see these talented women squandered on the main roster, thrust into a contrived ‘diva’s revolution’. But it seems that all is not lost and this Becky vs Charlotte feud has been a sign of change on its way. Is it as good as their feud in NXT? No, but at least it’s better than what we have been getting lately.
Becky and Charlotte have amazing chemistry together, they are capable of putting on a great match. Much the same as with Owens and Ambrose earlier, this match benefited from having an actual storyline behind it. We know why these two are fighting, it has actual stakes beyond the Diva’s (urgh) Championship. However, and I never thought I’d say this, I wish Ric Flair would go away. His presence does Charlotte no favours. Naitch can’t help but go into business for himself, it’s his way, it always has been. I’m hoping he is only here to help her transition in to a heel on the main roster and he will bid us farewell soon.
This was a decent match and it was good to see the crowd so solidly behind Becky. I was worried that there might be a backlash due to Sasha’s absence but the crowd were really into it. Becky is a talented worker and despite her awful mic skills she seems to be getting over organically. The bout features some great spots including charlotte reversing an arm bar into a powerbomb, she is deceptively strong. But I hated, HATED, Ric Flair distracting Becky by forcibly kissing her, although to be fair the fact that Flair can still take a bump in 2016 made me instantly forgive him.
Predictably the match ended with interference from Naitch leading to a Charlotte victory. But what followed next was simply glorious. Sasha Banks (AKA the person the crowd calls for week after week) came out and laid a beating down on both Becky and Charlotte. The smart money says that this is all leading to a triple threat at Mania. Could we maybe even see a call up for Bailey leading to a four-way between the four horsewomen in Texas? Now that is a Revolution I could get behind.
6/10 but it gets bumped up to 7/10 for the after match exchange
ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH
FOR WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
Now to the main event, this needed to be good, not just for Reigns but for WWE as a whole. The decision to kick things off with Rusev and Reigns, the final two from last year, wasn’t a bad one. Reigns quickly eliminated Rusev clearing the way for entrant number three… AJ STYLES. I love AJ Styles. I was actually dressed as him for the PPV (yes I like cosplay, no I don’t care what you think). Despite the new and much improved music the fans still popped hard for AJ in the WWE, no jobbing to the Hurricane this time round. The announcers did a great job of putting him over and he would go on to have a great performance in the rumble. I really, really hope they don’t drop the ball on this one.
In the following minutes a few mid carders arrived and were quickly dispatched, including Tyler Breeze, who is being so criminally misused on the main roster that I may start a petition to send him back to NXT. We got a bit more back and forth between AJ and Reigns before Jericho came out to a reasonable reaction, now I just wanted to start a petition to make Reigns go away so I could watch Jericho and AJ fight. Thankfully the ring started to fill up around this time. One of the many criticisms of last year’s event was that so little happened during the match. It was pretty much all targeted around Roman, but this year we have the seeds of feuds being formed during the Rumble match.
Of course it wouldn’t be the Royal Rumble without a Kofi Kingston spot. This year’s spot is New Day themed with Kofi getting thrown from the ring and landing on Big E’s shoulders where he would remain for a fairly long time, doing laps of the ring, eating popcorn and drinking cola until finally being knocked to the floor by Jericho. Not as flashy as previous years but definitely a lot of fun. Why? Because… NEW… DAY… ROCKS…. NEW… DAY… ROCKS. Another fun comedy spot was R Truth pulling out a ladder, climbing it in the ring and trying to claim an imvisible MITB briefcase. Say what you want about Ron Killings but he gives the dopey R Truth character his all.
It was at this point that the Corporation League of Nations charged the ring, pulling Reigns from under the ropes and laying a beating on him under Vince’s direction before Rusev belly flopped him through a table. As the League enjoyed a group hug with Vince a stretcher arrived to take away Reigns. Of course Roman refused, but he still walked to the back to have a little break and browse for flack jackets on Amazon. This is all a little reminiscent of the 1999 Rumble when the Corporation took Austin out of the Rumble for the majority of the match. As I have said on numerous occasions things that worked for Austin or Bryan won’t work for Reigns as he doesn’t have the same level of support that those men had.
Reigns absence gave the Rumble some breathing room. Business soon picked up as Kevin Owens limped his way down to the ring to a huge pop. He and AJ locked up resulting in AJ’s elimination. All in all it was a great debut for AJ. Plus Owens was the perfect person to eliminate him, he can take the heat that comes from it. The crowd is sad to see AJ go but invested enough in the match so as not to crap all over it like they did after Bryan’s elimination in 2015. It was around this point where the Wyatt presence began to be felt, with Luke Harper and the consistently underwhelming Braun Strowman dominating everyone they came into contact with. Strowman would go on to eliminate Kane, Big Show and Mark Henry, cementing his place as WWE’s new big man, but I still find it hard to get excited about him.
AJ‘s presence wasn’t a particularly well-kept secret but it was a delightful surprise to hear Sami Zayn’s music hit. The crowd love Sami and he more than deserves his place on the main roster, Owens helped to put him over with his reaction and they traded blows to a huge pop. Owens will likely be feuding with AJ in to Mania so it will be interesting to see where Sami goes from here. Zayn has a respectable showing in the match eliminating KO before his own eventual elimination. Eric Rowan’s arrival signals the beginning of total domination for the Wyatt’s that is until the arrival of the beast incarnate… BRRRRROOOOCKKK LEEEESNAAAAAAR. Brock made short work of the Wyatts, and everyone else for that matter, with suplex after suplex. It was’t pretty, but then again nothing ever is with Brock.
Brock eliminated the Wyatts single handed, including Braun, which would coincide with the arrival of their leader, Bray Wyatt. I was hoping Bray would have a good Rumble, if anyone has suffered from schizophrenic booking in WWE it’s Bray Wyatt. The eliminated Wyatts would return and attack Brock under Bray’s direction, he fought back but was quickly eliminated. Surprisingly he walked away instead of doing what I was hoping he would do… and F5ing Michael Cole. Please Brock, please just F5 Michael Cole again. It remains my single greatest moment, not just in wrestling but in the history of everything. Lesnar’s elimination took the air out of the room a bit and the situation wasn’t helped by the arrival of Sheamus and return of Reigns. But when Motorhead began to play the crowd would soon go wild.
HHH’s presence was easy to predict but it doesn’t stop it from being any less pleasing, like Lesnar he adds instant star power and energy to the Rumble. Reigns soon eliminated Wyatt and HHH eliminated Ziggler leaving just the Game, Roman, Jericho and Ambrose. Both Ambrose and Jericho put in a fantastic showing this year. Despite the fact that I am not enjoying Y2J’s current run he does seem to be ageless, clocking up an impressive 50 minutes in the Rumble before being eliminated by Ambrose. Now things would get interesting as HHH dumped Reigns out of the ring signalling, the end of his championship run. I was sure that it would come down to Reigns and HHH but instead we get a brief battle between Dean and Hunter.
The crowd was hugely behind Dean, again showing how badly Vince has missed the boat on him, but it came as little surprise when HHH eliminated Ambrose, securing his 14th title run. Queue much celebrating with the McMahons and a delightful bit of dancing from Vince. Truthfully, you didn’t need a crystal ball to see this coming, HHH’s prolonged absence all but guaranteed his inclusion in the Rumble. Vince acquiesced last year but Reigns is his boy and he will have his Wrestlemania moment in 2016. The best way to get that is by putting HHH in to full belt-gripping heel mode and having Reigns get the clean win. The Mania crowd will probably still cheer HHH over Reigns but it seems likely that he will have them on his side by the end of the match.
So there you have it, not a bad show but not a stand out either. Other than Owens vs Ambrose the card was pretty underwhelming outside of the main event. The Rumble match itself was a vast improvement on the two that preceded it, some good storytelling going on there even if it was somewhat undercut by the predictability of the end result. A few stars were made in Orlando, not that they weren’t already stars in their own right, but AJ, Zayn and Owens all got to shine. Whilst the focus was still on Reigns it was good to see some other stories being told at the same time. Moving forward it looks like we have a few matches set for Mania: AJ vs Owens, Ambrose vs Jericho, Lesnar vs The Wyatts, HHH vs Reigns and Becky vs Charlotte vs Sasha. Now the WWE needs to start building some serious momentum leading in to Texas.