|Royal Rumble - First Union Center - 1.25.15|
For the second straight year Vince McMahon's stubborn tone-deafness backfired on him at the Royal Rumble. The egregiousness of the booking was even worse than 2014's Rumble, and here's why: at least in 2014 an argument could be made that WWE didn't realize how badly Batista's comeback and Rumble win would be received. I mean, those of us with the capacity for logical thought knew Batista's return wasn't going to galvanize the fanbase like Vince hoped, and that 2014 was clearly Daniel Bryan's time. But WWE realized they'd made a mistake and worked diligently to correct it, and eventually we got the WrestleMania we deserved. But WWE learned nothing from this fiasco apparently, as you'll see.
Before I go on any further about this turd of a Rumble match, let's recap the undercard.
The Ascension experiment fell on its face out of the gate, as the fans didn't buy these two generic-looking Indie-style midcarders as the second coming of the Road Warriors. But no matter, they still got a decisive win over The New Age Outlaws. This stunk. Moving on.
Another tag match followed, this one a WWE Tag Title match between The Usos and Team Mizdow. Not bad but not much more than a run-of-the-mill RAW match.
Third time's the charm? Not so much. The Bella Twins faced Paige & Natalya in the third consecutive tag match on this show, and while probably the best bout so far, this also wasn't much to tell the grandkids about.
Amazingly, a memorable and awesome match broke out in the semi-main slot, as WWE Champ Brock Lesnar defended against John Cena and Seth Rollins. Man, what a stunningly worked match. All three guys wrestled like this was the main event of WrestleMania, packing the bout with non-stop action, near-falls, and high spots. Lesnar dominated early with German suplexes galore (including a double GS on Rollins flunkies Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury) before being put through a table by Rollins mid-match. Rollins would then turn in a career performance, nearly defeating John Cena for the Title if not for Lesnar's third-act comeback. Lesnar finally finished off Rollins by countering a Curb Stomp with an F5, retaining the Title and capping off his best match since SummerSlam 2013. One of the best Triple Threats I've ever seen.
Had the Rumble match been anywhere near as good as the three-way this PPV would've been saved. Alas it wasn't good. At all.
The booking of the annual 30-man match was so horrid and nonsensical it defied logic. Bray Wyatt, who lasted nearly 47 minutes, was the only guy to come out of this match looking stronger than he went in. Aside from eventual winner Roman Reigns everyone else looked worse (and Reigns gained no new fans here I assure you). Even crowd favorites Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose, and Dolph Ziggler were treated like afterthoughts, not one of them having spent more than 11 minutes in the ring. The final four actually included 40-plussers Kane and the Big Show, who dominated just about everyone the crowd cared about. What a fucking depressing Rumble match. After being tossed by Reigns, Big Show and Kane doubleteamed the former Shield member only for The Rock to run to his rescue. Rusev (who had slid under the ropes to the outside) tried to take advantage but Reigns ejected him as well, winning the match to one of the angriest live crowd reactions I've ever seen. That Philly crowd HATED this match, to the point that The Rock's endorsement of Reigns actually drew boos for Mr. Johnson. WWE clearly new full well the live audience would turn on Reigns, hence why they flew The Rock in for damage control. But even with The Rock's return (which made zero sense and felt totally contrived), the crowd shat all over Reigns and started cheering Rusev at the end! Imagine that, WWE actively pushing their handpicked new babyface star resulted in the live fans cheering an anti-American foreigner instead. Amazing.
The issue here isn't even that Reigns won the match. Obviously it was a mistake, but it's what we were all expecting. What made this such a wretched match is how the babyfaces who were actually over - Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler - were presented like total throwaway participants and eliminated unceremoniously without a strong showing. Bryan entered at number ten and lasted only ten minutes, being tossed less than halfway through the match. WWE had the chance to tell a great story of redemption, or even attempted redemption that fell just short of the mark. But instead they treated Bryan like a common midcarder who had no chance of winning, and the crowd lost all interest in the second half of the match. The Royal Rumble is supposed to be one of the most fun bouts of the entire year, and for the second straight year WWE turned it into a massive chore to sit through, (Christ, 2014's Rumble was at least a good match up until the ending - this one wasn't even particularly entertaining).
Participants: The Miz, R-Truth, Bubba Ray Dudley, Luke Harper, Bray Wyatt, Curtis Axel, The Boogeyman, Sin Cara, Zack Ryder, Daniel Bryan, Fandango, Tyson Kidd, Stardust, Diamond Dallas Page, Rusev, Goldust, Kofi Kingston, Adam Rose, Roman Reigns, Big E, Damien Mizdow, Jack Swagger, Ryback, Kane, Dean Ambrose, Titus O'Neil, Bad News Barrett, Cesaro, Big Show, Dolph Ziggler
Final Four: Roman Reigns, Rusev, Big Show, Kane
Long Man: Bray Wyatt (46:58)
Thanks to back-to-back WrestleMania seasons where WWE's booking was defiantly out of touch with what its audience wanted, the Royal Rumble became one of the worst events on the calendar. I'd call the 2015 Rumble match the worst in its near thirty-year history, and the event surrounding it wasn't much better. Were it not for the amazing WWE Title match this event would be high on my All-Time Worst PPVs list.
Best Match: Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins - everything else was shite
Worst Match: The Rumble
What I'd Change: Without changing the result, I'd have booked Bryan to almost run the table before being eliminated by Rusev (or someone with whom Bryan could feud until 'Mania), so the fans' anger is deflected away from Reigns. Then have Reigns toss out the guy who tossed out their favorite, avenging Bryan's defeat. That would at least have possibly given Reigns some mild crowd support instead of him incurring their merciless wrath. Also why not bring Orton back here to add some star power to the Rumble match?
Most Disappointing Match: Obviously the Rumble
Most Pleasant Surprise: Just how good the WWE Title match was
Overall Rating: 3/10 just for the Triple Threat
Better than WrestleMania 31, SummerSlam '15, and/or Survivor Series 2015? - No, Christ no, and not really
|Royal Rumble - Amway Center - 1.24.16|
In another case of low expectations paying off, I really enjoyed Royal Rumble 2016. For the first time in close to a decade WWE presented a Rumble card that had nary a bad match, plus a very fun Rumble match that felt like it shook things up a bit. The main event scene heading into WrestleMania 32 may have been the drizzling shits but starting here the undercard began to take a more interesting shape, thanks in part to a huge new addition to the roster.
The opening match on this card stole the show, as hated rivals Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens squared off in a Last Man Standing match for the I-C Championship. It's well-documented that I'm usually not too fond of the LSM stipulation, but these guys a) didn't waste much time on near-falls (or near-counts?) and b) worked in some clever spots (like Owens rolling out of the ring at the last second and landing on his feet to keep the match going). They got a solid 20 minutes to create a really strong fight and told a great story of two guys who really despised each other. Damn good stuff there.
|These two know how to stage a fight|
The New Day-Usos Tag Title bout was next, and while I was sick of seeing these two teams fight each other, it was a solid outing - well-worked and energetic, and The New Day retained to keep their historic Title run going.
The Kalisto-Alberto Del Rio US Title match was a fun little underdog story; Kalisto had beaten Del Rio for the belt the previous week only to lose it back a day later (I hate when they do that), but he managed to wrest the championship back on this show in a solid eleven-minute bout. Del Rio would go back to being booked alongside his League of Nations pals before exiting the company again several months later.
Next up was the Divas Championship, which again was a well-worked little match. Charlotte defended against Becky Lynch in a match nowhere near as good as these two were capable of, but still light-years better than anything since the Trish Stratus era. 2016 would see a major upturn for the main roster women, and this was a pretty good start. The finish was silly but I actually kinda liked it. Becky snared Charlotte in the Dis-Arm-Her, but Ric Flair tossed his jacket over Becky's head, distracting her long enough for Charlotte to hit a match-ending spear. The post-match angle got my engine all revved up, as Sasha Banks stepped up and challenged Charlotte, rekindling their feud from NXT and beginning a main roster rivalry that would last the whole calendar year.
Now for the Rumble match, where WWE Champion Roman Reigns entered at #1 and needed to outlast all 29 opponents in order to retain. I can't overstate how refreshing it was for the Rumble to be fun to watch again. After five straight Rumble matches either devoid of star power or full of confounding booking decisions, it felt so good to see multiple people get time to shine, multiple stories play out, and an ending that (while I had reservations about it) made sense on some level.
|This moment is STILL surreal for me|
The big story for me was of course the debut of AJ Styles. Seeing Styles in a WWE ring was absolutely surreal. When he entered at #3 I feared the worst - a three-minute cameo followed by a dump-out at the hands of Reigns. But AJ got nearly thirty minutes and got to eliminate some guys before being tossed out by Kevin Owens, and the Orlando crowd LOVED him. Not a bad debut for one of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in the world. Thus began one of the best years of AJ's legendary career.
The other stories included Brock Lesnar vs. The Wyatts, which was meant to lead to Brock vs. Bray at 'Mania before that plan was scrapped, and the surprise return of Sami Zayn, who eliminated Kevin Owens and kicked off the next chapter of their amazing feud.
Finally we had the match-ending storyline, where Triple H somewhat predictably entered at #30, out for revenge against Roman Reigns. And the crowd was almost entirely on Hunter's side. That's not so good for Reigns' prospects as a top babyface. Also not good for Reigns' fan support was taking Reigns out of the match for half of it - surely he would've looked stronger and more sympathetic if he'd lasted the full hour only for Hunter to swoop in and steal it. Instead an injured Reigns WALKED to the back, sat out of the match for thirty minutes, and then came back toward the end. Hunter tossed Reigns out and then turned his attention to the other finalist, Dean Ambrose, for whom the crowd erupted when he nearly won. Once again a Rumble match clearly demonstrated the disconnect between WWE and its fans when it came to Roman Reigns.
Participants: Roman Reigns, Rusev, AJ Styles, Tyler Breeze, Curtis Axel, Chris Jericho, Kane, Goldust, Ryback, Kofi Kingston, Titus O'Neil, R-Truth, Luke Harper, Stardust, Big Show, Neville, Braun Strowman, Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose, Sami Zayn, Erick Rowan, Mark Henry, Brock Lesnar, Jack Swagger, The Miz, Alberto Del Rio, Bray Wyatt, Dolph Ziggler, Sheamus, Triple H
Final Four: Triple H, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, Sheamus
Long Man: Roman Reigns (59:48)
|Sorry, did I wander into the year 2000 by mistake?|
The 'Mania main event was of course the lukewarm-at-best Triple H vs. Roman Reigns match, which went on too long and ended with Reigns predictably regaining the WWE Title, to the delight of no one in attendance. Whatever....
This Royal Rumble made me considerably more optimistic and intrigued for WrestleMania season, in and of itself a major improvement over Royal Rumble 2015. And it was a damn enjoyable night of wrestling to boot.
Best Match: Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens
Worst Match: Alberto Del Rio vs. Kalisto, by default
What I'd Change: I would've called an audible and had Ambrose win the belt, then had Reigns turn on him and challenge him at WrestleMania
Most Disappointing Match: Nothing really
Most Pleasant Surprise: That I actually enjoyed a Royal Rumble card again
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
Better than WrestleMania 32, Summerslam '16 and Survivor Series 2016? - Probably, about even, and no.
And there it is, a complete history of WWE's Royal Rumble. It's been quite the roller coaster ride over the years, but the Rumble match itself is still one of the year's most fun events, where stars can be created and the tone is usually set for WrestleMania.
Before I go, I'll share my top ten Rumble PPVs of all time, and my top twenty matches in Royal Rumble history.
Top Ten Rumble PPVs
Top 20 Matches in Royal Rumble History
20. Bam Bam Bigelow/Tatanka vs. 1-2-3 Kid/Bob Holly - 1995
19. Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens - 2016
18. Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt - 2014
17. Diesel vs. Bret Hart - 1995
16. Rumble Match - 1996
15. Rumble Match - 2003
14. Rumble Match - 2001
13. Rumble Match - 2005
12. Rockers vs. Orient Express - 1991
11. Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker - 1998
10. Triple H vs. Cactus Jack - 2000
9. Hardy Boyz vs. Dudley Boyz - 2000
8. Rumble Match - 1997
7. Bret Hart vs. Razor Ramon - 1993
6. Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins - 2015
5. Mankind vs. The Rock - 1999
4. Rumble Match - 2004
3. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho - 2001
2. Rumble Match - 1992
1. Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit - 2003
That'll do it for my Royal Rumble History folks! Thanks for reading, and check back on Friday for the official Enuffa.com Royal Rumble 2015 Predictions!