January 24 2016
The Royal Rumble has been a favourite PPV of mine stretching back to the early days of the event. It always conjures up such excitement. There’s a feeling that anything is possible and the company is all about setting up new ideas and programs, aimed to thrill on the largest scale at WrestleMania. Which is why the past two years have been so incredibly disappointing. Will this make it three in a row? Let’s hope not.
The PPV kicks off with the arrival of Vince McMahon and his daughter Stephanie. McMahon Sr.’s mood is ebullient. So much so he’s happy to see JoJo and puts over the opportunities everyone in the Rumble match has. “I love this night, almost as much as I love me” says Vince. That’s absolutely perfect. When Vince is on fire he’s a dynamo on the microphone, even as a pensioner. The Roman Reigns vs. everyone story is a bit of a bummer but that is offset by having the WWE title on the line in the Rumble match. It makes this night even more unpredictable. We’re in Orlando, Florida. Hosts are Michael Cole, Byron Saxton and JBL. We also have a Spanish and French commentary team. The French team looks borderline depressed!
Last Man Standing
WWE Intercontinental Championship
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Kevin Owens
This could well be the best match on the entire card so it makes sense to kick off with it, get the crowd going. A word on titles belts themselves; I happen to think the IC strap is the best looking belt WWE currently has. It’s still not as pretty as the IWGP equivalent but little in life is. These guys waste no time in going nuts as Owens flies into the announce table and cleans out Michael Cole. Please let him be replaced by Mauro Ranallo! Seeing as there are no DQ’s they go to the weapons. Ambrose is the instigator of that but Owens’ response is a sensational cannonball into the rail. These guys are letting it all hang out. It’s made all the better by Cole actually getting riled up at Owens having broken his glasses. A emotional commentator makes a big difference, which is why Jim Ross was so damn good. One of the reasons why Owens connects so well is that he runs his mouth the whole time. It adds to his matches because you’re not just waiting for his next spot but for his next piece of trash talk too. Unfortunately the match suffers from ‘spot setting up’ with Ambrose overselling. “I feel like you’re wasting time right now” confirms a ringside fan as Owens stacks tables. Owens does some wonderful work with near falls by rolling out of the ring on a nine count so he can drop his feet onto the floor. Clever stuff. The match escalates nicely and the only issue they really have is the stacked tables set up, it removes the excitement from the near falls. You know they’re going to use that stacked tables spot on the finish. They tease a spot before it with Ambrose laid out on chairs only to shove Owens off the top through the double tables and that’ll do it. That bump looked suitably horrific to finish but the set up rather took the shine off the big bumps that led up to it. Good match though with cracking big spots.
Final Rating: ****
WWE World Tag Team Championship
The New Day (c) vs. The Usos
Chris Jericho should be banished from TV forever for breaking Francesca. It is an outrage. The crowd chant “New Day Rocks” and “Fran-ces-ca” in support of the two-time tag team champs. But what’s this: Xavier Woods has a new trombone! It gets popped. Heavens be praised! Francesca II, I even named it during my SmackDown review last week! “I can’t mourn forever, a brothers got needs”. The Usos get heat because they’re not the New Day. This is one of the issues with having a heel team that’s mega-over as faces. Xavier Woods screaming at the commentators is more entertaining than the commentators and the crowd begin a “play Francesca” chant. Xavier tries really hard to stay heel by not playing the trombone and generally being irritating at ringside. It’s going to be exceptionally hard to keep New Day heel at this point. They blow a big spot at the finish where Xavier is supposed to help Kofi escape a pin and he doesn’t. Jay looks stupid yelling at him for interfering when he didn’t. Big E gets a blind tag though and hits the Big Ending for the pin. Which Kofi finds hilarious as he rolls around putting his foot on the rope. They blow a spot and make fun of themselves for it. You have to love these guys.
Final Rating: ***
Video Control gives us words from the Wyatt Family. They’re being hyped as being a big deal in the Rumble match, having seen off both Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar on RAW. Their four horsemen of the apocalypse promo is neat. If only they’d decide on how important the Wyatt’s are to the big scheme of things and either push them or not.
WWE United States Championship
Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Kalisto
I’m not sure what the point was of hot-shotting the belt to Kalisto and back again in recent weeks, other than to put a title change on SmackDown. We do often complain about WWE not making new stars but they’ve actually done a decent job with Kalisto, especially since Sin Cara got injured. He’s got the same unhelpful 50-50 booking as everybody else but his diminutive stature makes that more believable. He does feel like a new Rey Mysterio, albeit without the catalogue of great matches against a variety of opponents. The commentators also make that connection, as everyone will due to the size and style similarities. Kalisto certainly rocks an excellent sympathy card, taking a sizable beating. I like how Kalisto avoids big spots instead of surviving them. That’s how smaller wrestlers should work. WWE match structure doesn’t often allow that. Del Rio has issues as he keeps going after the mask of Kalisto and getting caught in moves because of his obsession. Kalisto’s biggest issue as a worker is that he’s prone to botches on his complex moves and manages a horrible one attempting a Code Red off Del Rio’s back. Another wonky spot sees Del Rio hit the buckles and Salida del Sol finishes. A couple of ugly botches brought this one crashing back to Earth.
Final Rating: **1/2
Video Control throws us to Renee Young, Corey Graves, Booker T and Jerry Lawler from the Kick-Off show. Booker is wearing a ridiculous scarf. Jack Swagger and Mark Henry won a match on the Kick-Off show to get spots in the Rumble match. Guaranteed they both do nothing. Elsewhere Stephanie McMahon has a chat with Paul Heyman. The short of it is that Heyman wants to renegotiate Lesnar’s contract and Steph is cool with it, as long as Roman loses. An assortment of shills follow including Fast Lane (with smoking hot but useless wrestler Eva Marie) and the Edge & Christian Show, which looks funny. I would probably watch that.
WWE Diva’s Championship
Charlotte (c) vs. Becky Lynch
This is actually one of the best storylines on the show at the moment, which is nice seeing as the divas division had been a disaster for months. With Charlotte’s solid heel turn and Becky’s superb underdog gimmick they have a strong build. Behind the Rumble and Owens-Ambrose it was the match I was most interested in. It helps that both ladies still have a lot of good will from their NXT matches. Although I’d love to see a Becky win I’m fine with either woman winning as they’ll both have good defences lined up. Lynch has a lot of support. They do some nice basic switches to start with Charlotte getting her cocky persona across and Becky looking plucky and going after the arm to set up her finish. Ric Flair is the x-factor out there and he slaps a liplock on Becky to turn the tide. It’s noticeable that the difficulty level is quite low, in an attempt to avoid any mistakes but the contest is fluid and logical. Charlotte perhaps uses too many rest holds but she is working heel. It’s pleasing that the match has heat throughout, unlike many recent diva contests, which have taken place in front of dead silence or, worse, mocking abuse. The finish is horribly screwy with Becky getting the Disarmer only for Ric to throw his jacket onto Lynch’s face. She confusingly breaks the hold only to turn into a spear and lose. Bad finish aside this was a decent match. I understand the urge to keep the belt on Charlotte with her drawing such good heat but poor Becky can’t catch a break.
Final Rating: ***
Post Match: Charlotte is celebrating and SASHA BANKS IS HERE! HUGE pop! She kicks poor Becky out of the ring. The crowd actually chant “Bayley” for a bit before chanting for “Sasha” to come after Charlotte’s strap. They make nice until Charlotte turns her back. BANK STATEMENT! Nobody points at the WrestleMania sign so that might be a match for Fast Lane. Consider me all in on that one. When Sasha has time to plan out a match with one her girlfriends from Florida magic happens. Hopes are high for that one and I marked out hard for Sasha’s music kicking in and the Bank Statement. Which is a great sign as it means I’m into the divas division. For the first time since Trish Stratus worked here.
[bump match rating up to ***3/4 including this]
Royal Rumble Match
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
#1 is Roman Reigns (c). He’s not well liked and is heavily booed. He first faces off, and eliminates Rusev, before the shocking arrival at #3 of AJ Styles, making his WWE debut. Sort of. You see when he was in the Indies way back in 2002 he did a few job matches for WWE and one of them, against The Hurricane, was televised on Jakked. He’s come a long way since then. We thought he might be in here somewhere but arriving at number three sees him one on one with the incumbent WWE champion in his first time in a WWE ring. The crowd know who he is and recognise the Styles Clash, thus rubbishing certain ‘no one knows who he is’ nonsense from inside WWE’s bubble. Styles gets popped hard and continues to be supported throughout his time in the match. Not only that he’s a complete showstealer, hitting Pele Kicks, springboard elbows and wicked strike combos at every opportunity. Not only that he takes sensational bumps to get everyone else over. It’s a dream debut, which makes it almost a pity that he’s stuck in the first half of the match where he can shine but isn’t as important as the big guns later on. A few jobbers are ousted before Chris Jericho arrives at #6. This teases AJ vs. Jericho, which I’m sure we’ll see at some point. There are now a fair few dream matches available to WWE based on Styles being in the promotion. Other early entries include Rumble favourites Kane and Kofi Kingston. Kofi doesn’t get to do a big spot like usual, although he avoids elimination by falling onto Big E’s shoulders and being paraded around ringside in a unicorn stampede to compensate for it.
The second third of the match sees a switch in focus with the Wyatt Family beginning to enter. First Luke Harper at #13 followed by Braun Strowman at #17 before Erik Rowan arrives at #21. Another big Rumble guy, The Big Show, also enters in this phase and gets ejected by Strowman. As does Kane, putting Strowman over as the companies new monster. The match isn’t totally joyless in this middle phase with AJ still involved, R-Truth accidentally thinking it’s a Money in the Bank match and climbing a ladder and also the arrivals of Neville and Kevin Owens. WWE also find a way around the problem of Roman Reigns having to wrestle for an hour by having the League of Nations take him out of the match around the mid point so he can rest out the back for a bit. It’s poor form. If you want to be the top guy in a company then you can work for an hour, sir. Owens is the one who takes over the entire match. He first battles AJ Styles in a phenomenal strike sequence before throwing AJ out of the match (“welcome to the WWE” he crows as AJ flies over the top). Then he gets to do the Steve Austin-Bret Hart Rumble reaction spot for the arrival of Dean Ambrose and then do it again, a mere 90 seconds later, for Sami Zayn! How can one man have two reaction spots that great that close together? Sami even throws Owens out to score a little retribution for the way his former best friend treated him in NXT.
The final third has heavy Wyatt presence until #23 Brock Lesnar arrives to sort them out. Lesnar manages to throw out all three Wyatt Family members only for Bray Wyatt to arrive at #27 and encourage his troops to gang up and throw Lesnar from the match. Not a popular decision with the crowd. While Owens tossing AJ and Zayn throwing Owens out were acceptable conclusions to those storylines, this one doesn’t sit well with the crowd at all. Especially as only Bray was legal when the four on one mugging took place. Lesnar’s destruction of everyone during his time in the Rumble was entertaining but all too brief. I’m a little upset he’s not involved in the conclusion. Speaking of the conclusion a lot of smaller wrestlers get to be involved with the likes of Alberto Del Rio, The Miz, Stardust and Dolph Ziggler filling late positions. As #29 Sheamus makes his way to the ring it’s time for the return of Roman Reigns. It goes about as well as you’d expect, given the crowd’s displeasure for his presence throughout the night. They wanted something new and WWE are giving them the same old, same old. There is somewhat of a shock as Triple H arrives at #30, unless you’d noticed the bookies odds over the past few weeks, which had Hunter as a favourite to win. Everyone bar Roman and Hunter get treated as an afterthought as the match heads towards its inevitable conclusion. Jericho, who was certainly in longest as Roman’s split participation doesn’t count, gets lobbed out late on for spending too long celebrating a Codebreaker on the Game.
FINAL FOUR: Roman Reigns, Triple H, Sheamus and Dean Ambrose. The last two champions, the champion’s best mate and the COO of the company. Hardly the revolutionary surprise finish I was hoping the company would have the guts to go for. Reigns puts Sheamus out but Hunter dumps Reigns. Roman’s second title run is over. Big pop for that. Anyone but you, Roman. Quite why WWE decided to leave it so late into the match is anyone’s guess but the pop justifies the decision. The crowd gets animated as Ambrose fires up. They want someone new and Ambrose qualifies. They tease Ambrose winning until Hunter backdrops him out. First half of the match was really solid and I liked Lesnar’s run but I wasn’t keen on the last few minutes, bar Ambrose being teased as a left field winner.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Summary: While it’s far from being one of the better Rumble shows the Rumble match itself was fine for the most part. When it got down to the nitty-gritty the final four contained nobody I was particularly invested in unfortunately, like Owens, AJ or Lesnar. The whole Roman stretcher job in the middle of the match took me out of the action almost completely because he would inevitably return. It was cheap booking. The undercard was fairly consistent though and the opening match is the one that entertained the most. Compared to the last two years the show definitely delivered. Although nothing here is anywhere close to last year’s WWE title match. Injuries cannot have helped WWE but they had a super hot crowd here and gave them a few luke warm turns during the main event. The departures of all the top guys were a bit weak. Especially the finish, which was flat. Don’t mind me though I’m still marking out for AJ Styles (and Sasha Banks).