We’re in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL & Jerry Lawler.
This is the first PPV I’ve ever watched on the WWE Network. This includes the “Royal Rumble Kick-Off”. The basic replacement for Sunday Night Heat. The mentions of Jim Duggan, along with the “hoo” references in recent weeks, makes me think he’ll be a surprise entrant. Renee Young also points out The Rock is in Philadelphia. See, I stay off social media and WWE.com and all that business and the WWE still puts this on TV! HEY, THERE’S A SURPRISE LATER! You’ll be so surprised, or you would have been if we hadn’t told you. Who books a promotion this way? They probably figure they can’t ignore social media, because they’re in love with Twitter, but just analyse the damn matches. Idiotic stuff. The panel go with Bray Wyatt, Roman Reigns, Rusev (that was Booker T) and Daniel Bryan.
Booker T rather surprises me by referencing a recent UFC fight with regard to upsets. Are the WWE officially saying the UFC aren’t competition here? That’s always been the company line but CM Punk and Alberto del Rio both had UFC listed in their no-compete clauses. Interesting. There’s a Shawn Michaels interview on here too, where he makes comparisons between his 1995 and 1996 years and Daniel Bryan’s 2014 and 2015.
The New Day vs. Masters of the WWE Universe
The Philly crowd is already hot and Cesaro gets a lot of love just for tagging in. Just the suggestion of the Giant Swing gets them on their feet too. Always a good sign for an exciting event. The lack of push for Cesaro has been mystifying during 2014 after the big battle royal win at Wrestlemania XXX. He’s been having great matches though and the Philly fans appreciate that. They’re also, with Chicago (and sometimes New York), the crowd that’s most likely to heel on a face team that doesn’t appeal to them. Soon we hear “New Day sucks” and heat for Big E. He does manage a cool spear on Cesaro off the apron, as if he was going for a tope. Even Kofi gets heat for landing spots on Cesaro, which reflects his popularity. Kofi somehow kicks out of the superplex/Savage Elbow combo. They throw in a lot of near falls for an opening match that isn’t even on the PPV. Cesaro belts Kofi with the uppercut and Tyson wins with the Moss Covered Family Three Handled Credenza. I’m almost shocked the WWE put the right team over, rather than the one they’d invested time into. It’s a booking decision that gets the crowd amped for the PPV. Good match. A lot better than I was expecting.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Back at the WWE’s “Social Media Center”, the previously fired wrestlers; Ryback, Ziggler and Rowan answer questions from the fans on Twitter. Ryback says stamina is important. Rowan sulks off because he’s not in the Rumble match. Ziggler looks confident. As we head into the Rumble, the feeling is that it’s a match and event where the WWE can right the wrongs of the last six months of booking. The result of the free-for-all match reflects that. Finally Vince McMahon has tweeted “all in the family”, in an attempt to be all cryptic, complete with a photo of the Rock. I bet you’ll be so surprised when he appears later!
The New Age Outlaws vs. The Ascension
Outlaws run through their old shtick. It’s still over. Speaking of over; the Ascension are not. I don’t really understand the WWE’s booking of the team. They invested a lot of time and energy into them on NXT only to bury them as Roadwarriors wannabes as soon as they hit the main roster. To add injury to insult they were then beaten down by a bunch of old guys on Raw. Cole immediately annoys me by pointing out this isn’t for the tag titles. Why would it be? Is he going to point out every other match isn’t for the tag titles too? Incidentally the match absolutely kills the hot crowd because the Ascension, booked badly or not, aren’t very good. It’s weird how the booking here reflects the booking when the Outlaws first hit the tag scene, badmouthing the Legion of Doom. Only they were entertaining doing it. The Ascension are just death. Chinlocks and boredom. The whole ‘heels can’t be entertaining’ thing is bullshit. Billy Gunn looks really good, as good as he’s ever looked, but after the hot tag the Ascension pick him off with the Fall of Man. Really boring match. This could easily have been dumped on the pre-show and switched with the excellent tag match they put on there.
Final Rating: *
Video Control goes to the Authority who are confused how Sting managed to get into the building on Raw. Oh, logical thought processes? Whatever next? Steph points out this is the House of McMahon, which brings in Paul Heyman for a chat. He’s SERIOUSLY over because this is Philly. The solution to his problems so far has been Brock Lesnar so that should be the solution to Hunter’s Sting problems. Obviously the WWE is angling for Hunter vs. Sting at ‘Mania. The idea they’d try and swerve us with Lesnar vs. Sting is patently ridiculous.
WWE Tag Team Championship
The Usos (c) vs. The Miz & Damien Mizdow
Three tag team matches to start the show? Somebody needs a lesson in running orders. I criticise Indies for this! Mizdow is getting really over but everyone hates Miz so they’re about to split and feud. The trouble is; will Mizdow be over without the mockery of Miz? Will he carry on doing it? The Usos are an ok team, which rather reflects how weak the WWE’s tag team division is. They stand out without much effort at all. They get a few laughs here by doing silly moves just to see how Mizdow apes Miz. It’s really weird that the match is basically ignored and everyone is watching Mizdow messing around on the apron. It almost allows the fans to not notice all the mistakes Miz makes, like bumping clotheslines way early or missing the guy he’s supposed to be catching on a dive. Skull Crushing Finale gets 2. How the mighty have fallen. It’s amazing to think Miz used to be a main event guy and now he can’t beat a tag guy with his finisher. Mizdow hits Skull Crushing Finale and again Miz can’t get a pin. The WWE has an alarming amount of finisher killing nowadays. Miz gets powerbombed and hit with the Superfly Splash and that’ll do it for the champs. Match was ok but largely because of Mizdow goofing around. The interesting aspect of all these tag matches is that the Cesaro & Kidd vs. New Day on the Kick-Off show was far better than both tag matches on the PPV itself.
Final Rating: **1/4
Video Control takes us backstage where Joey Mercury explains the Immortals game to Jamie Noble. Seth Rollins isn’t happy about that and points out he’s not the future he’s the “right now”. Big pop from Philly for that. The WWE has two options here; Lesnar or Rollins.
Brie & Nikka Bella vs. Natalya & Paige
This is the wrestlers vs. the reality stars who are with wrestlers. It’s also completely pointless and only really exists to further the booking of Total Divas. Women’s wrestling, in the WWE, has shown improvement (Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks springs to mind) but when you’ve got the Bellas on one side of the ring the match is always going to struggle. They attempt to make it a wrestling match but it’s slow motion stuff compared to the men and the bored crowd drift easily. The Bellas are just too inexperienced and ineffective to work a long PPV match (at 8 minutes). It must be frustrating for Nattie and Paige as they’re capable of more. Not only that this is the fourth straight tag team match on this show and tag formula heat was dead in 1995 and here it is, 20 years later, still scraping along, dredging the depths of wrestling boredom. The Bellas win by grinding heat to death and isolating Nattie until she gets pinned. So, so, boring. This show is dying. I know it was only a two match card to begin with but the undercard has been dire.
Final Rating: DUD
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins
Cena predictably gets abuse from the moment his music kicks in. There’s no doubt the Philly fans prefer Lesnar to the other two options. Lesnar destroys everything from the bell, including J & J Security. It might as well be a handicap match as he mashes both Cena and Rollins without breaking a sweat. It’s like a suplex exhibition! Cena & Rollins have to team up, it’s the only way to stop Lesnar. FU for Lesnar but he kicks out at ONE and just goes back to destroying both guys. They manage to get Lesnar down on the outside to set up Cena running through his spots to heat only for Brock to come back in and destroy him again! Rollins has to use the ropes to stand any chance along with a stick and move offence. Meanwhile Cena tries to butt heads with the champion, clearly not learning from his previous matches. F5 for Rollins, after he was caught coming off the top in another freakish display of strength, but Cena saves. That gets him destroyed with more suplexes. At this point Brock realises he needs to eliminate one guy to stop the pinfalls being broken up and preps the Spanish table. Cena promptly hits him with THREE FU’s and Rollins breaks the pin. CURB STOMP for Lesnar and Cena breaks that up. Lesnar gets up first so Cena spears him through the rail. Lesnar has now taken five big spots consecutively. If there was ever a chance for one of the other two, it’s now but Brock won’t stay down! Cena has the look of Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. He is made of iron! Cena bashes Lesnar with the ring steps to set up Lesnar on the Spanish table and up goes Seth; SAVAGE ELBOW THROUGH THE ANNOUNCE TABLE!
Rollins and Cena have a few tricks left up their sleeve and Rollins flips out of the FU only to get planted with a sitout powerbomb. Rollins innovation mixed with Cena’s power is a great match up. Cena has it won with the STFU but Mercury & Noble save, because there’s no DQ in a three-way match. Meanwhile EMT’s are working on Brock Lesnar. This leads to Cena fighting the odds and numbers game of Seth Rollins. DOUBLE FU ON J & J! FU for Rollins…for 2! Rollins escapes the FU again, twice and hits the CURB STOMP…for 2. Rollins figures he needs something different and goes for the PHOENIX SPLASH but LESNAR IS BACK UP! MORE SUPLEXES! Seth hits him with the briefcase but runs into the F5 and Brock retains in glorious fashion. Insane match. Will very probably be WWE’s match of the year. Best three-way match since TNA’s ones from 2005. It was made believable by Lesnar’s dominance and then injury break. I was expecting a good match but I got epic.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Royal Rumble Match
#1 is The Miz. #2 is R-Truth. So much for someone getting pushed for being first in. #3 is Bubba Ray Dudley! Former TNA world champion Bully Ray making his first WWE appearance in 10 years (last was ECW One Night Stand in 2005) and it’s in Philly where the Dudleys were made. Truth replaces D-Von in the Dudleys spots; 3-D ON MIZ! He’s out. #4 is Luke Harper. Truth is out. #5 is Bray Wyatt. He’s the first big gun and he pairs up with Harper to throw Bubba out. #6 is Curtis Axel but Eric Rowan jumps him and steals his spot. They tease Harper turning on Bray, which is a cool idea but immediately abandon it and Wyatt throws both of them out. #7 is the Boogeyman. Well, that’s certainly unexpected. Bray is probably the only guy who wouldn’t be freaked out by him and they have a ‘weirding out’ competition. That does not last long and Bray throws Boogeyman out, thus officially establishing himself as the ‘early Rumble dominant guy’. So he’s getting a big push for ‘Mania. #8 is Sin Cara II. He gets Sister Abigail and Bray continues bossing the Rumble. He’s got the whole world in his hands. #9 is Zack Ryder. He doesn’t last long. #10 is DANIEL BRYAN! Business is about to pick up!
#11 is Fandango. I love Bryan leading the fans in a YES chant at the same time as the countdown. It’s fantastic crowd participation. Bryan even busts out the airplane spin on the newcomer. It’s not over like Cesaro’s giant swing. Pity. #12 is Tyson Kidd. #13 is Stardust. Bryan puts Kidd out. Bray goes through the ropes so Bryan hits him with a tope. JBL stops off to call Mil Mascaras a “dummy” (referencing the 1997 Royal Rumble where Mil eliminated himself by hitting a dive off the top). #14 is DDP! WWE looking to bust out the surprises tonight. I like it. DIAMOND CUTTER for Stardust. Shame about the spastic camerawork, which is the WWE’s attempt to ruin every single ringside shot. CUTTER for Fandango. CUTTER for Bray! BANG! #15 is Rusev. He blocks the Diamond Cutter and throws DDP out. Fandango too, as a virtual afterthought. Bryan working Bray and Rusev is fantastic stuff but then Bray throws Bryan out and the crowd do NOT like that. He was only out there for 10 minutes. #16 is Goldust and the fans turn on the match. And it had been going so well up to this point. LOUD “Daniel Bryan” chants follow. #17 is Kofi Kingston and even he gets booed because the WWE have really fucked up on the Daniel Bryan booking. BOOOOOOOO. That’s all the crowd are doing. It doesn’t help that the match grinds to a halt. Lots of rope hugging. #18 is Adam Rose. The purpose is obviously so the Rosebuds can help Kofi and they do that spot immediately with Kingston getting thrown to them and being carried around the ring back in. Rose is thrown out by Rusev and you’d think the Rosebuds would catch their own guy but no. Having done his ‘spot’ Kofi gets thrown out by Rusev. #19 is Roman Reigns and predictably Philly hate him as he’s the ‘chosen one’. I don’t know what the WWE was thinking here and the fans, who’d already turned on the match just shit all over it. Worse than last year. You pushed Roman too hard, too fast and nobody wants to know. #20 is Big E. BOOOOO.
#21 is Damien Mizdow. Miz stops him, drawing a tonne of heat and Mizdow shows some wonderful conflicted emotions before entering. So obviously, they’ve got someone over, and Rusev throws him out. Mizdow stops off to mimic the angry Miz for one last pop. I have no idea what they’ll do with Mizdow because he’s gotten really over but there’s nowhere for him to go. #22 is Jack Swagger. The crowd have stopped aimlessly booing now, perhaps interested to see where the WWE is going with this and hoping it’s not Reigns. #23 is Ryback. He gets heat until he clotheslines Reigns. The big question is now; have the WWE learned anything from last year's debacle? The crowd switch to chanting for “CM Punk” to show their dissatisfaction. That’d be highly unlikely. #24 is Kane. Too many guys in there, not much happening. #25 is Dean Ambrose. He gets the crowd’s support and they’d buy him as a winner. #26 is Titus O’Neil. Urgh, what a waste of a slot. They even botch his elimination as the former Shield guys knock him out. #27 is Bad News Barrett. Way too many guys out there now. The Rumble has become a congested mess. #28 is Cesaro. He doesn’t get the reaction I was hoping for, which is disappointing. Maybe he should have gone after Reigns instead of Ambrose. Rusev gets rid of Big E. #29 is the Big Show. More booing from Philly followed by a “let’s got Ziggler” chant. Ryback goes, as does Swagger. #30 is Dolph Ziggler and a bevy of superkicks. One of which eliminates Barrett. GIANT SWING for Ziggler! It occurs to me NXT got shafted with no guest appearances. Cesaro goes out to little fanfare as Ziggler survives on the apron a few times. Show knocks Ziggler unconscious with his punch and he and Kane dump him. Crowd do NOT care for that. They dump Bray Wyatt out too as the booking goes completely into the toilet.
FINAL FOUR: Big Show, Kane, Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose. Crowd is so quiet it might set a new record for lack of decibels at this point in the Rumble. Ambrose gets quietly thrown out and the fans absolutely SHIT on the match. It’s a booking disaster. A repeat of last year, which was an abject failure on all levels. Predictably the crowd loudly chant BULLSHIT because it is. The aim is clearly to get the fans to cheer for the WWE’s chosen one, Reigns, but they’re not playing along and just hate everything. Reigns wins. BOOOOOOO. Do the WWE even have the faintest idea what the fans think of their product? Second year running they’ve botched the Rumble. But that’s not all because THE ROCK (what a surprise…that would have been if they’d not announced it) is here, by way of apology to the fans to hit moves on Kane. Rusev then magically appears as he never got eliminated. Reigns throws him out to confirm that Roman is going to Wrestlemania. Started great, went south in the middle and was just a disaster in the final third.
Final Rating: *1/2
Short version: Fantastic title match. Everything else is garbage.
Long version: There were moments on the show where it seemed like the WWE had been paying attention to their own failures in the past. Cesaro & Tyson Kidd winning on the pre-show is an example. Maybe they are going to put the right people over in 2015. The undercard was largely worthless but the momentum was altered by an awesome, show-stealing WWE title match. If there’s a better match in a WWE (not NXT) ring this year I’ll be surprised. It had everything you’d expect from a big title match. Big spots, big performances and the right outcome. This match made Lesnar look indestructible. It made Rollins look like a main event guy in losing and it showed how John Cena could be used to get other guys over. Perfect booking all round.
But they had to go and ruin all that good will with the Rumble match itself. What an unspeakable disaster it was. The fans had made it abundantly clear they didn’t want Roman Reigns to win. Abundantly clear. The vast majority of the fans wanted Daniel Bryan to win. When the vast majority of the fans want a certain outcome, it’s unwise to book against them. It’d be booking Hogan to not win the title when he was hot. Or Austin. Imagine the 1998 Royal Rumble if instead of going with the obvious choice, in Austin, the WWF had decided to put over someone who they really wanted to get over. Like Bradshaw. Or Mark Henry. It might sound ludicrous but that’s basically what they’ve done here. Last year they made a big mistake by assuming the fans would buy into Batista’s comeback but they wanted the guy they’d invested their time in; Daniel Bryan. WWE decided they knew better and booked Batista to win anyway and ended up having to fire-fight and back-track and get Bryan into the match and win it. It saved Wrestlemania XXX. Imagine that show without Bryan’s matches? But here we are, 12 months later, and the WWE has learned nothing at all. We want to push Roman Reigns. BOOOOOO. No, we don’t think you understand, we want to push Roman Reigns. BOOOOO. But look at him, he’s big and strong. BOOOOO. Well, fuck you, he’s winning anyway. BOOOOOOOOOOOO. The WWE’s stubborn desire to push big guys regardless of what the fans want is indicative of their inability to connect to a modern audience. Vince’s mentality, when it comes to main eventers, is stuck in the steroid-driven 1980s. It’s 2015. The fans don’t want that anymore. They’re aware wrestling is a work. They want good matches, not muscular dudes. The exception being guys like Brock Lesnar, who are both. This Reigns thing won’t end well and I feel bad for Roman because he’s a decent worker but he’s not ready for this spot.