There is something undeniably special about the Royal Rumble. It’s not that it’s the start of the “road to Wrestlemania”, it’s that it’s a night where there are always surprises, shocks and some interesting booking. Plus it’s the one time when nearly the whole toy box of the roster is emptied into the ring.
This years Royal Rumble had a new twist. For only the second time, the WWE title would be decided by the Royal Rumble itself. Defending WWE champion and new over pushed babyface Roman Reigns was entered as the Number one and would have to outlast twenty nine others whilst the way past it’s best Authority under Vince McMahon vowed to stop him.
The under card was quite hot. I skipped the pre-show. WWE Network has adverts enough on its paid website already so I don’t voluntarily watch more. Apparently two holdovers from 2011 were given a spot in the Rumble. Mark Henry could probably still play a role, though I’m not convinced he has anything to offer in the ring. Meanwhile Jack Swagger has zero heat as a face or heel now, he just exists, denying a spot to more over, more interesting workers.
The first televised match was a last man standing brawl between Intercontinental champion Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens. This heated, hard hitting brawl between two indie darlings should have been booked later in the card but, as it turned out, it was the highlight of the show in wrestling terms. Dean Ambrose, as good as a babyface as he is as a heel, played plucky fighting underdog in a way that the entitled pretty boy Roman Reigns never could. And the growling heel Kevin Owens simply has unmatched psychology. He’s the master of manipulating the crowd. The things he could do at the top of the roster…will simply never happen. But I can dream…
The match itself was hard hitting, full of weapon shots that actually looked pretty sore, stiff brawling and some big spots. Kevin Owens hit his top rope fisherman-buster through a table for an amazing moment. But the end came when Dean Ambrose rallied to push Owens off the ring-post out, through two stacked tables. Both men got over and the title stayed where it was.
Next up was The New Day vs The Usos. The New Day are very talented wrestlers who were saddled with an awful gimmick but got over anyway. Reacting to the fans who cheer them as dorky heels, they recall Edge and Christian at their peak for their characterisation. The New Day always thought they were the good guy anyway. Xavier Woods is hilarious, if a bit underused at ringside. Kofi Kingston has improved in this outfit but Big E is the star player, showing more charisma than he did during his initial run. The Usos are a reliable in-ring tag team but remain bland. The fans sided with the more exciting New Day and cheered when they went over. They were particularly glad to see a new trombone revealed! Xavier stated that he had to move on, “a brother has needs”.
Alberto del Rio defended his US title against Rey …no wait, it’s not Rey is it. It’s Kalisto who they are trying awfully hard to turn into the new Rey. Kalisto has the look and would connect with the same fan base (kids and the Hispanic demo) but he’s a bit raw and the match was awkward, full of blown spots. Del Rio hasn’t looked his best since returning the WWE, often looking like he’s just going through the motions. Kalisto went over in a shock result to recapture the hot potato US title.
Kalisto now needs a sustained run with the title and new opponents who suit him. A program opposite Neville could be quite something. This leads on to the Divas title match as Charlotte and her father Ric took on Becky Lynch. Poor Becky was overshadowed when she was first called up but standing alone she got a lot of babyface heat and looked crisp opposite one of the WWE’s better mechanics.
The match had a few strange moments like when Ric stole a kiss from Becky in a strange moment. But there was nothing stranger than the ending when Becky covered Charlotte, only for Ric to cause a distraction by throwing his jacket on Becky. Charlotte hit her truly awful spear to win this one. Then Sasha Banks came out and the fans exploded for her. Sasha was, for me, the best American wrestler I saw last year, male or female. She teased being out as a babyface before kicking Becky out of the ring. But then a backstabber and a Bank Statement were locked in to set up the next feud.
Poor Becky Lynch was cast aside again, like yesterdays news. The WWE Diva’s division only supports one real feud at a time so Becky is once again in turnaround, waiting for a turn that I fear will never come. And once Bayley is up from NXT, Becky will be leapfrogged most likely.
So the Royal Rumble began. Roman Reigns came out to the Shield’s old music, like he normally does but the normally somewhat mixed reaction was just all boos. The fans could sense him doing a John Cena, formally known as a Hogan, and they rebelled against him just steam-rolling the whole roster. Rusev came out at no#2 and they began to see their fears realised. Rusev, who only a year before had dominated at the Rumble, was easily overcome and eliminated.
Number#3 was called the crowd popped huge and I’m not going to lie, so did I! My friends and I, leapt off the couch when AJ Styles walked out. A slow, drawn out walk to the ring saw the former NJPW star face off with Roman Reigns. This amazing moment was then interrupted when NXT darling Tyler Breeze came out. He had a nice exchange with the two before being easily eliminated. Curtis Axel, accompanied by his Social Outcast stable was next. He didn’t last long before being dumped out.
Veteran star Chris Jericho came out. Despite having phoned it in for about a year, Jericho is still really over. Looking heavier than usual, he belied his age, battling away for a long time during the rumble and trading stiff chops with AJ Styles. Another veteran gatekeeper, Kane, was out next to relative silence. The nostalgia Rumble continued as Goldust came out. Goldust is smaller and faster than he was during his 1995 Royal Rumble appearance but still a veteran talent.
Ryback came out to boos though these were turned around a bit later. Kofi Kingston was sent down by the New Day to do his usual high spot and didn’t disappoint this year either, landing on Big E’s shoulders when tossed out of the ring. Titus O’ Neil came out next and scored an elimination, getting rid of Goldust.
R-Truth, who remains on the roster for some reason, rushed down and set up a ladder seemingly thinking this was the Money in the Bank match and was then chucked out. I’m sure someone though that was funny. I just thought it was a waste of a roster spot that could have gone to anyone else.
A Wyatt family invasion was begun when the superb Luke Harper came down the aisle. I love this guy. He’s a big, fast, hard hitting guy who reminds me of Bruiser Brody. At some point Chris Jericho knocked out Kofi Kingston and we had to see this happen in a replay. Stardust then came out to silence. What a fall for Cody Rhodes too, who had a fifty minute run in a Royal Rumble a few years ago but is now being wasted in this character that has nowhere to go.
Big Show, who must retire soon, came out looking like a giant cranky toddler who had been woken up from his nap. He still threw out promising young talent Titus O’Neil. Braun Strowman, who had a strong Royal Rumble, came down next. An awkward worker, he was to get five eliminations from the rumble.
At some point around here, the “League of Nations” ran in and mugged Roman Reigns, dragging him out and beating him down with some big kicks and an impressive splash through a table. This gave Roman the excuse to be taken backstage for a lie down with some milk and cookies. He would not come back until nearly the end of the show.
Kevin Owens limped down the aisle next, showing many how to sell, how to do psychology and sell the business. Owens just gets “it”. Oh and Ryback got knocked out by the Big Show too but literally no one in the world cares. Former NXT champion and the only Geordie on the roster, Neville, was next. He quickly discarded his cape and did some cool high spots.
Strowman made a quick impression, throwing out yesterdays monster heel of Kane. He then saw to Big Show too. Kevin Owens then did a bit of “Boy on Boy” homicide when he threw out indie darling AJ Styles. This was a mis-step. AJ hadn’t had enough offence and was massively over. But Owens milked his moment as a good heel should. Kevin Owens’s enemies began to flood down with first Dean Ambrose, now sporting a bandage and then shock return for Sami Zayn. Zayn and Owens had a heated exchange before Zayn knocked out his rival.
Erick Rowan, the runt of the Wyatt litter, was next to arrive. With three Wyatts in the ring, someone said “mid-carders out of the pool” and Stardust and Zayn were both thrown out by the Wyatts. Ambrose and Jericho got to survive for a bit. Then out came Brock Lesnar who did his usual bit. He threw suplexes, he smirked, he no-sold offence, he turned purple. Oh and Mark Henry came out and got thrown out again in seconds, showing he’s little more than a veteran jobber these days.
Jack Swagger came out next and did literally nothing before being tossed out by Lesnar. Lesnar then went on a tear against the Wyatt’s doing away with first Rowan, then Harper and then finally Strowman. However when Bray Wyatt arrived, the Wyatt’s flooded back in, mugged Lesnar and threw him out too in a bit of a shock.
The Miz came out to utter silence and just sat the action out at the announcer post, a place that suits him better. The Miz is over with no one now yet is a former WWE champion. Go figure. Alberto del Rio and Dolph Zigger came out to add some workhorses to the ring. Sheamus came out next but then Roman decided that he’d better come back before the end so ambushed Sheamus. He did a good deed by throwing out the Miz. He also got rid of Alberto del Rio and Sheamus, reducing the League of Nations to jobber status.
Then HHH’s music hit and I got the sinking feeling of who was going to pull an Ego trip and win the Royal Rumble and the World Title. Trips, the COO of the WWE and a legit powerhouse back stage, came down and smashed most of the young workers he should be building up, making Dolph Zigger look like a chump before dumping him out of the ring. Bray Wyatt was made an offer to join Triple H but turned it down. Foolish fellow, no one turns down the King of Kings. Triple H and his lifting buddy Sheamus saw to Bray Wyatt and got rid of the heel that has been built up so effective on Raw recently.
That left a final four of Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Sheamus and Triple H. Three former winners, three former champions. And Dean Ambrose, the internet darling. Roman Reigns was shockingly eliminated next, losing his second WWE title almost as glibly as he lost his first. Sheamus was thrown out next and Dean Ambrose had the will of the entire internet and smart-mark community, as well as the arena crowd, behind him as he went toe to toe with the man who writes the storylines.
Only one man could come out top and Ambrose was thrown out so that Triple H could win his 14th World title and set himself up in the main event of Wrestlemania, most likely to work a match with Roman Reigns before an angry crowd.
Almost as soon as the show finished I went to my account settings on the WWE network and cancelled my subscription. The WWE don’t give very much and ask for a lot. Whilst NXT is a delight, it alone can’t justify the subscription month in and month out. The horrible stuff on the main roster and this blatant show of contempt for the fans and the workers and the sport itself (and I use the word sport by choice) was just too much.
Triple H is a part time member of the roster. He’s a creative talent and no creative talent should be put over for more than a moment at the expense of the roster. It’s short term thinking. It smacks of arrogance, greediness and a lack of imagination.
WWE dug themselves a hole which was made worse by the injuries. But the booking needed a get out clause and they failed. The hope I felt when AJ debuted was quashed by how little time they gave him, how little offence he got and how easily he was jobbed out. He’s not going to be pushed strong, he’s an outsider from TNA which is still regarded as practically a capital crime by Vince.
I want to see Sami Zayn get a push, I want to see Dean Ambrose run for the big one. I want to see Paige and Becky and Sasha get the run they deserve. I want to see if Kalisto gets the real push he deserves. I want to see Bayley, Hideo Itami, Enzo and Cass and most importantly Finn Balor come up to the main roster.
But I can’t be doing this month in month out. I’ll be taking a break, reading the results on Bleacher Report and then checking back when I feel like I am over a bad nine months of WWE main roster stuff.
Royal Rumble 2016 started so brightly and ended with a brutal insult that was as disappointing as it was predictable. Will 2016 follow the same way? You guys watch it for me, I’ll check back with you later.
Written by Richard Hart.