By Jason Powell
WWE Royal Rumble Hits
Royal Rumble match: All praise to the creator, Pat Patterson, for coming up with one of the greatest match concepts in the history of the pro wrestling industry. Patterson’s creation works so well when it’s not just about the winner. Those who lay out the match must show discipline by plotting out the order of entries and eliminations to avoid the match becoming a glorified battle royal where everyone stands around punching and kicking until it’s their turn to take a tumble over the top rope. This was clearly one of those years when the architects took their time and crafted a very good Royal Rumble match.
The first half of the Rumble was excellent. Little things such as a League of Nations member being the second entrant to counter Roman Reigns. A bigger thing like having A.J. Styles enter third, which never gave the anti-Reigns crowd a chance to hijack the match because they were too busy losing their minds once Styles arrived. And another bigger thing in following up the Styles elimination with the entrance of online fan favorite Sami Zayn, which brought the disappointed Styles fans up again, especially once Zayn and Kevin Owens went at it.
You can’t spotlight every wrestler in the Rumble match, but you can tell some key stories along the way. Dean Ambrose eliminating Chris Jericho is certainly one to watch given the issues they had with Jericho teamed with Ambrose and Roman Reigns. Main roster WWE fans got their first taste of Owens vs. Zayn. The fans got a moment when Styles went at it with Reigns, Jericho, etc. No, I don’t count the retelling of the same old R-Truth joke as a great storytelling moment. Look, I know Ron Killings is well liked by management and his peers, but if everyone in WWE would stop laughing at their buddy long enough to listen, they would notice that the fans stopped laughing at this joke the second time they told it. Find a new joke for Truth.
The second half of the Rumble was good, not great. The biggest disappointment was the use of Brock Lesnar. How could they not load up the ring with the Rumble pretenders and let The Beast run wild?!? This was the most obvious thing in the world. Instead, he toyed around with the Wyatt Family to set up what better be a Fastlane match, because Bray Wyatt feels like a big letdown opponent for Lesnar if they stretch this out to WrestleMania. And what’s with the silliness of The Wyatt Family all reentering the match and eliminating Lesnar? Yes, Michael Cole, we know there are no disqualifications in the Rumble match, but that was such a weak way to eliminate Lesnar. And just when I was certain that Lesnar was going to go crazy and destroy wrestlers, announcers, and maybe even fans, The Conquerer simply walked backstage having been conquered by lazy booking. What the hell?
The McMahon Family vs. Reigns angle hijacked the Rumble match the moment they announced the match was for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. It was obvious to me that Triple H was winning, but it wasn’t so obvious that fans never stopped asking “what about (fill in the wrestler) winning” questions leading into the match. League of Nations attacking Roman Reigns while Vince McMahon watched was silly. It was downright Dr. Evil dumb that they were content to leave him lying there rather than just make sure he was actually eliminated from the match before they left. And it was beyond stupid when Reigns refused to take a stretcher ride to the back. There are times when it makes sense to have the babyface act too tough for the stretcher, but this was not one of them. If you can walk to the back, then you could also get your ass back in the ring. You shouldn’t get to go backstage and take a 15-minute smoke break during a Rumble match.
I also hated when Reigns looked more surprised than anyone by Hunter entering the match. How stupid is his character? He’s always the last guy to pick up on things that fans figure out. In this case, why not have him give a knowing look to suggest that he saw this coming followed by a motion to Hunter to bring it on? I know Hunter is the Cerebral Assassin, but creative’s attempts to make him look like the smartest guy in the company sure make Roman Reigns look stupid.
The final four sequence was nothing to write home about. The match coming down to Hunter and Ambrose was flat in that there was no real suspense. And I couldn’t help but wonder why League of Nations wouldn’t just run out again and beat up Ambrose to guarantee that Hunter would win.
So now we have Hunter as the champion heading into WrestleMania. How will the McMahons not look stupid when they end up giving Reigns a chance to earn the title shot at Fastlane? Is it as simple as Hunter stating that he wants the match? And surely there must be a bigger WrestleMania match or two than this one. They have to be closing the show with Undertaker’s retirement match or The Rock or Steve Austin or Ronda Rousey or something, anything other than Hunter vs. Reigns in a match that everyone will assume Reigns winning because Hunter isn’t a full-time wrestler.
AJ Styles debut: Before you annoy me with “um, actually…” emails, please note that I am very aware that Styles worked a couple of matches for the company early in his career. Now go be a buzzkill by interrupting your friends in Cliff Clavin style and wonder why they keep “forgetting” to call you when they all get together on Friday nights. Too harsh? Anyway, the point is that this is the debut that fans are going to remember and it was a good one. Heck, it helped make the Royal Rumble a success. Styles had a lengthy run in the match and Michael Cole was right there to praise his performance once he was eliminated. All signs point to Styles feuding with Kevin Owens. And perhaps it will be for one of the secondary titles. Granted, Owens lost last night, but there’s nothing stopping WWE from having Owens beat Ambrose or even to be the guy who beats Kalisto for the U.S. Title. Either way, that feud will be a lot of fun.
Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens: A show stealing performance on any other night. It’s hard to top a good Royal Rumble match, but these guys delivered one hell of a match. Last Man Standing matches can be a mess if they work in too many spots with the referee counting at times when no one thinks the match is actually going to end. Ambrose and Owens paced this well and had several finish teases and some really big spots along the way. Ambrose won the match, but I came out of this feeling like Owens gained the respect of fans more than losing anything.
Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch: It’s so nice to have a Divas feud with clearly defined babyfaces and heels. It shouldn’t be that much to ask for, but for some reason creative really lost their way with the Divas until this feud finally started to come together over the last few weeks. The Ric Flair forced kiss spot was creepy and WWE had to know it going in or JBL would not have been right there with the line about how Flair has been known as “kiss stealing” throughout his career. Despite the Dirty Grandpa moment, this was a good outing from the women. It was cool to see Sasha Banks appear after the match and the live crowd absolutely loved her. I fear we are getting more shades of gray nonsense, though, as Sasha took out Lynch before attacking Charlotte. More than anything, I hope this means Team BAD and that horrendous “unity” line are finished.
WWE Royal Rumble Misses
Alberto Del Rio vs. Kalisto: It was nice to see Kalisto get the title back and I really hope they bring back the open challenge for him as the vulnerable underdog champion. That said, they really made a mess of this feud by having the wrestlers play hot potato with the title. The fans sat on their hands throughout most of the match, and even the title change felt flat since we just saw Kalisto win and lose the title before winning it again last night.
New Day vs. The Uso Brothers: Good effort by all four men, but this was one of those nights when New Day was more popular than the babyfaces they were facing. And why should fans be excited about the Uso Brothers? We have learned nothing about their characters in years (Total Divas doesn’t count because it rarely carries over) and we’ve already seen them win and lose the tag titles a couple times. I want to like the Uso Brothers, but WWE gives me no incentive. I’m ready for a double turn if New Day are not going to do anything to draw real heat and creative isn’t going to do right by the babyface teams. I don’t care if it’s The Uso Brothers or the Dudley Boyz, just give me something that results in New Day having a meaningful feud that’s about what happens in the ring more than the pre-match comedy routine.
Jack Swagger and Mark Henry vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Ascension vs. Darren Young and Damien Sandow: We had a Rumble qualifying match that resulted in the two winners being in the Rumble match for a combined total of 43 seconds. The Dudley Boyz are smart. Bubba Ray showed that he would have gotten the win had Swagger not pulled him off. More importantly, it’s better to not be in the Rumble match than it is to be in the match for a combined 43 seconds.
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