Thursday, January 25, 2024

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2014)

Vince McMahon's tone-deaf booking bites him in the ass, and one of his top stars abruptly ends his WWE career....

Royal Rumble 2014 - Consol Energy Center - 1.26.14

The 2014 Rumble PPV is a show that could've been remembered as one of the great ones had they just changed the final ten minutes.  WWE had a great story to tell but in their infinite wisdom they simply opted not to tell it, that is until their audience demanded it.  That story was of course The Journey of Daniel Bryan, who had been held down for months by The Authority and repeatedly screwed out of the WWE Title.  It seemed inevitable that Bryan was to win the 2014 Rumble and challenge for the belt at WrestleMania 30.  But instead the out-of-touch Vince McMahon insisted on bringing back Dave Batista as a surrogate for the unavailable Rock (In what universe is Batista a suitable early-2014 replacement for The Rock, in terms of broad mainstream appeal?).  Big Dave was instantly pushed to the moon and slated for a 'Mania showdown with Randy Orton, but there was just one problem - no one wanted to see that.  

More on that in a minute, but first let's discuss the excellent show opener.  Daniel Bryan had been feuding with The Wyatt Family for three months, and said feud included a brief and totally illogical heel turn by Bryan, who joined the Wyatts for two weeks.  This was intended to last longer, but the fans rejected it wholeheartedly, not at all wanting to boo Bryan.  Bryan would then reveal the whole thing as a ruse and get a measure of satisfaction by singlehandedly beating the crap out of all three Wyatt members.  This feud was seemingly over at this point, and logically Bryan would've moved on and refocused on the Championship.  Instead though, the company booked him for a singles match against Bray.  To be fair, this was one helluva match.  Intense, hard-hitting, and full of nice spots.  Bryan brought his A-game as usual, and Wyatt proved he could work a strong main event-level match.  Wyatt got the win, which again made little sense - as the blowoff to this kind of feud the rising babyface should generally emerge victorious.

Daniel Bryan delivers Sister Kick-in-face

Next up was the return of Brock Lesnar after a five-month layoff.  I know I'm not alone in this opinion, but WWE's handling of Lesnar over the first three years of his return was abysmal.  They bring back this massive PPV draw, job him out to Cena in his first match, have him fight Triple H exclusively for his next three matches (none of which were very good), book him in a spectacular one-off match with CM Punk, and then for this Rumble book him opposite The Big Show, with whom his previous matches were middling at best.  So out of six matches Lesnar only had two first-time opponents, and twice fought guys he already feuded with in 2003.  What sense does that make?  Wouldn't you want to book him against as many new opponents as possible to get a dozen or so dream matches out of his limited schedule?

This match consisted of Lesnar attacking Show with a chair for ten minutes and then finishing him off in two minutes of official match time.  Utterly pointless.

Lesnar would of course go on to defeat The Undertaker at WrestleMania (another guy he already fought in 2003), destroy John Cena for the WWE Title at SummerSlam, lose to Cena by DQ at Night of Champions, and disappear with the Championship for four months.   He was used more effectively in 2015, fortunately.
The WWE Title match was next, between the two guys no one wanted to see fight each other ever again, John Cena and Randy Orton.  In all fairness to both, this match was pretty good.  Sadly the crowd had no interest in it, and various chants of defiance could be heard throughout - "BORING," "We Want Bryan," etc.  Orton finally won after interference from the Wyatt Family.

Now about that Rumble match that totally backfired on Vince.  Look, this was a very entertaining Rumble match, with strong performances by CM Punk (who was never seen on WWE TV again after this), The Shield, and Kofi Kingston.  Punk and the three Shield members carried most of the workload, and the teased dissension of Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns made for a compelling story-within-a-match, as did Reigns' record-breaking number of eliminations (14 total; nearly half the field).  But it all came to a crashing halt when Dave Batista entered at #28 and was winded within minutes.  One thing you don't want in a returning mega-babyface is a guy who seemingly can't handle ten minutes of mildly strenuous activity.  As the match hurtled to its conclusion the live crowd chanted louder and louder for Daniel Bryan, anticipating him as the surprise 30th entrant.  When Rey Mysterio's music hit instead, the crowd went ballistic, showering the arena with Go Away heat the likes of which hadn't been seen since Scott Steiner vs. Triple H.  By willfully ignoring its audience, WWE managed the unthinkable - they got an entire building to boo Rey Mysterio half to death.  The match eventually boiled down to Batista vs. Reigns, and the entire crowd got behind the heel Shield member until Batista dumped him over.  Batista went from being Vince's intended Rock substitute to being the most hated man in wrestling.  And that kids, is what happens when you don't listen to your fanbase.  Of course the WrestleMania plan changed over the next two months and Daniel Bryan finally got his big moment in the sun, but the fact that WWE didn't see any of this coming when booking this PPV is a perfect illustration of just how tone deaf they can be.

Little known fact - Reigns got up from this spear first because
Big Dave was gassed like ya read about.  Okay, that might be made-up....

Participants: CM Punk, Seth Rollins, Damien Sandow, Cody Rhodes, Kane, Rusev, Jack Swagger, Kofi Kinston, Jimmy Uso, Goldust, Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, R-Truth, Kevin Nash, Roman Reigns, The Great Khali, Sheamus, The Miz, Fandango, El Torito, Cesaro, Luke Harper, Jey Uso, JBL, Erick Rowan, Ryback, Alberto Del Rio, Batista, Big E Langston, Rey Mysterio
Final FourBatista, Roman Reigns, Sheamus, CM Punk
Long Man: CM Punk (49:12)

The 2014 Royal Rumble will forever be one of the most memorable installments, for all the wrong reasons.  It should serve as a lesson for every wrestling promotion, present and future, about what not to do.  Do not defy your audience.  Do not let your own ego determine the direction of your product.  Do not book your calendar around short-term solutions while damaging your company's long-term future.  DO listen to your fans, DO build for tomorrow, and when one of your young stars gets the biggest reaction of anyone on your roster, for fuck's sake DO PUSH HIM AS FAR AS HE CAN GO.  Vince McMahon used to understand all these things.  Imagine if, in 1998 during Steve Austin's rise to the top, Vince decided WrestleMania 14 needed a proven draw from the past to sell the show, and instead of Steve Austin winning the Rumble and challenging Shawn Michaels for the belt, he brought back The Ultimate Warrior.  How disastrous would that have been?

Best Match: Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt
Worst Match: Brock Lesnar vs. Big Show
What I'd Change: I think it's obvious.
Most Disappointing Match: The Rumble
Most Pleasant Surprise: That the live crowd felt exactly as I did about the whole proceeding.
Overall Rating: 4/10
Better than WrestleMania XXX, SummerSlam '14 and/or Survivor Series 2014? - No.

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