Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that I probably shouldn’t be writing wrestling reviews on any sort of basis. I don’t watch the WWE regularly apart from watching their NXT developmental territory. I’ve probably watched more New Japan in the last month than WWE since WrestleMania 30. But it’s the Road to WrestleMania and what better time to tune into the WWE for three months.
But even I with my limited WWE viewing knows that what’s best for business is paying customers. With the relative failure of the WWE Network launch, TV ratings that are stagnant at best and fans who are growing increasingly discontent with the product on-screen, the Royal Rumble had to be bigger than just your standard hype machine for WrestleMania.
It’s just too bad that the WWE failed entirely to get anyone interested in their annual showcase.
Pre-Show Match: The Masters of the WWE Universe (Tyson Kidd and Cesaro) vs. The New Day
The New Day were all out of sorts in this match. The crowd booed them mercilessly, chanted “New Day sucks” along with their clapping and Kofi missed a blind tag by two feet that threw a hitch into the finish when the ref rightly called him out for missing the tag. That ref actually botched seeing a unique sunset flip chock-block like move by Cesaro to help Kidd out and stopped counting after two and started again to call them out at two the second time. And the botch of all botches: There was a commercial break during this match on the pre-show. What the hell was that?
But stealing the pre-show were the team of Kidd and Cesaro. They came out in Bullet Club parody shirts portraying them (and Adam Rose) as The Brass Ring Club. They were busting out some great single and double-team moves that the crowd got behind. It’s probably not an exaggeration that Cesaro might have been one of the top three most over guys on this show.
This wasn’t a match that will go on anyone’s DVD when they retire but it was an enjoyable little match to get the crowd warmed up and keep them happy for the gong show that was to follow.
The Ascension vs. The New Age Outlaws
Well, I skipped this on the live viewing. An NXT call-up team that weren’t particularly over in NXT where the jobbers get massive pops against a team who retired like ten years ago. And you wonder why no one draws nowadays when the Fed is bringing back old acts rather than booking the new acts so that they get over.
Granted, the way The Ascension were booked, it’s unlikely that they’re going to get over any time soon. The structure of the match was simple enough. Billy Gunn gets a hot start. Road Dogg tags in and gets cut off until he gets the hot tag. Billy comes in like a bat out of hell until a cheap shot sets up the finish.
The problem was that I can’t name more than five moves while Road Dogg was the face in peril. Punches, kicks, clotheslines, a corner splash and far too many headlocks. If the match was seven minutes, about five of it was in headlocks. And I don’t know what the big Ascension fella was trying with that back suplex that looked botched but was supposed to start a comeback.
The long and short of it was that this was a nothing match and no one cared. If the Fed is going to treat The Ascension this way, they should at least have the decency of giving them ideas for new names when they go to TNA.
WWE Tag Team Championship Match: The Usos vs. The Miz and Mizdow
The Philly crowd certainly had their favourites and Mizdow was the first guy that was properly over on the pay-per-view. The guy’s stunt double schtick was loved by the fans and they wanted to see him get a star-making moment.
The match told a very simple but competent story. The Miz is the conceited Hollywood star who thinks that he’s the star of the team. As such, he wouldn’t tag in fan favourite Mizdow. Of course, Miz’s ego cost him the match and the tag titles.
The problem was that the fans had this hot angle where they want Mizdow to turn face on The Miz. They had the opportunity in this match and in the Rumble but they went absolutely nowhere with it. The relationship between Miz and Mizdow ended the night the same way it started despite all the signs on the wall of where the story is going. Unless the WWE is serious about giving the two a blow-off match at Mania, there’s no reason to hold off on this so that everyone can spin their wheels for another month with no more development coming from this story.
Also, how that one diving Uso didn’t kill himself on that dive is beyond me. Miz missed the catch by a good five feet and it looked like he landed on his neck and shoulders. Didn’t need a replay to see that really hurt.
The Bella Twins vs. Paige and Natalya
Unlike the previous match, no one in this match had any heat. They were doing the “ole” chant for Sami Zayn who JBL identified as a European football club. Well, not Sami by name. Bradshaw said that the “ole” chants were supporting Paige because of something to do with soccer. I didn’t get it but they weren’t going to let the fans hijack the show… yet.
Also unlike the previous match, this match didn’t tell a story. Moves happened. Then Natalya got cut off before the hot tag and a stiff forearm later, the Bellas won the match. No, Nikki Bella will never be considered the Queen of Strong Style but that was the single best move thrown in that match. However, it was clear before the outset that this was the bathroom break spot of the card.
And in a funny reversal of the pre-show tag match where the “faces” thought they made a tag but didn’t, in this match, the faces made a tag but thought they didn’t. The poor refs were actually having to enforce the rules like it’s a real sport because the competitors forgot their rules. Not all refs in the Fed are blind and useless.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins
I don’t like most triple threat matches because they tend to play out the same way until they go home. It’s a series of cycling one-on-one matches as someone gets dumped out to leave two in the ring and the pairing change after a pin/submission is broken up or after a double-team move. There really isn’t a story but a sequence of spots.
Like the Miz(dow)/Usos match, this one told a story the crowd got behind. Brock is an inhuman beast who is capable of dishing out and taking punishment that mere mortals cannot handle. That left Cena and Rollins to attempt anything possible to take Brock out since nobody can defeat him in a straight fight.
So we saw Brock ragdolling the other two with German Suplexes and J&J Security with a double German. He didn’t so much front suplex them as hurl them to the other side of the ring. He looked like he was trying to murder them rather than wrestle them. And that doesn’t mention catching Rollins from midair for an F5. So naturally Cena came back with the same old shit but he did bust out a Michinoku Driver so points for that.
Rollins, on the other hand, was a superstar. Not in that WWE way of not calling them wrestlers but superstars. He was a legit star who was willing to dug deep to kick out at 2 to stay in the match, busted out the big moves to try to score the pin (including a Phoenix Splash [that was more of a Phoenix Headbutt-to-the-dick but still looked awesome) and a long-distance elbow drop on Lesnar through the Spanish announce table which might be the best HOLY SHIT moment since And when he wasn’t doing that, he was playing a great heel by playing the opportunist to score the win.
There was only one problem with the match. They made Lesnar the face and Royal Rumble winner is supposed to be a face. Lesnar was double-teamed, hit with finisher after finisher and was kayfabe injured when he was put through a table. Nothing’s more babyface than overcoming all of that to win a match. The crowd cheered him like a hero when he won the match. The same would have happened in any other city because of how he was booked. Not that there’s anything wrong with Lesnar being a hero in Philly. For that run to WrestleMania, though…
Royal Rumble Match
Oh, the Rumble. It should be the most important match of the year for the WWE but this year’s seemed like an afterthought.
Traditionally, the Royal Rumble is used to make new stars with big performances of lengthy stays and numerous eliminations or those highlight reel moments that live on in video packages for all-time. The Rumble is also used to set up current and future storylines. The Road to WrestleMania isn’t just about revealing the challenger to the World Champion at Mania. Other feuds are setup through the Rumble.
Unfortunately, the WWE kind of dropped the ball on both counts. While the first half of the match seemed to have a logical flow to entrants and playing off storylines, the second half threw it all away.
The whole match turned when Daniel Bryan was tossed from the Rumble. The WWE was in a no win situation given where they were going but they couldn’t have booked it in a worse way. Bryan was the crowd favourite so the Fed booked it so Bryan wasn’t in the Rumble at the same time as Reigns. The problem was that the crowd turned on the match so for half to two-thirds of the main event, the crowd either booed or sat on its hands and sandbagged everyone and everything that wasn’t one of their last chance favourites like Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler or Mizdow.
But a dead and demoralized crowd didn’t make the second-half of the match terrible. They didn’t make it seem better than it was but the problem was all the booking. The first half had the surprise entrants in the form of the returning from TNA Bubba Ray Dudley, returning from saving the world Diamond Dallas Page and the returning whenever they need him Boogeyman. Saving them for later in the going might have helped pop the crowd since not much did after Bryan went out.
The early story was some early nostalgia pops that quickly gave way to the dominance of Bray Wyatt who racked up the most eliminations on the night and dominated so much in the first-third of the match that he had time to cut a little promo daring the locker room to empty out and take him on. You don’t create a monster with cheap wins and victories over jobbers. You have them act like they think they’re unbeatable monsters. If they don’t look like unbeatable monsters, no one will care when they are slain.
Anyway, Bryan came in at #10 and was bounced by the time #16 came out and that’s when the whole thing fell apart. They attempted a couple of stories during the match with the Dust boys threatening to turn on each other, the aforementioned Miz and Mizdow breakup that was teased but didn’t happen and Kane and Big Show teaming up to make the crowd’s heroes look like jobbers.
The problem is that when Bryan was eliminated, the crowd went from booing out of hatred to apathy when counting numbers to booing as go away heat. They just were having none of anything in the ring. Of course, that was assuming anything was happening in the ring.
When Reigns showed up, Wyatt found a lovely little corner to hide in. Reigns didn’t do anything noteworthy until the final half-dozen. Until that point, he spent most of his time in the Rumble hiding. Rusev ate someone’s super move and spent ten minutes outside the ring after battling Bray for most eliminations prior to Reigns’ arrival.
The biggest problem with this Rumble is that it stopped being the Royal Rumble at #15. when they entered the second-half, there were no new stories or development. Nobody got any hero moments. Reigns barely featured and got a series of weak eliminations to win. Even then, being bailed out by The Rock, who also got booed, made Reigns look weak. Never has getting busted open done so little to help someone’s cause of looking badass.
So Reigns won and the crowd was somewhere between open rebellion and complete apathy. Vince obviously knew that people wouldn’t like Reigns winning but he could have at least tried something to keep the crowd interested rather than just giving into the inevitable. Instead, the majority of the crowd that sees him as Vince’s chosen one rather than their chosen one. Being the boss’ chosen one has always been a heel position. There’s a reason why Reigns is being booed and why things may turn ugly at Mania.
When people talk about the Royal Rumble being a one-match show is because the Rumble is the only match that really matters and both Vince and the fans care about. This year’s Royal Rumble was also a one-match show. The difference between most Royal Rumble matches and this one is that this year, no one cared about the Rumble.
If it wasn’t for the WWE Match of the Year calibre WWE Title match, there was a very good chance that this would have gone down as an all-time terrible WWE pay-per-view. Giving away the Network free in February wouldn’t have saved the company from a fate that Vince himself spun.
The good news is that there’s an NXT Takeover live special next week. That’ll help wash the taste of 80% of this pay-per-view out of our mouths. After all, December’s NXT Takeover: [R]Evolution was the best WWE show of the year and that included WrestleMania 30. No pressure on the developmental team but it’s all up to them once again.