|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, and a hugely successful WWE tenure.
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.
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