The Royal Rumble PPV is historically one of the most anticipated on the WWE docket. There are usually surprises associated with this event, the stakes are high with a WrestleMania main event on the line, and the setup of the event makes it a bit more fun than usual. Did this year's event deliver the goods, or just leave us with a feeling of what might have been? Let's check it out.
For scoring purposes, decisions I agree with will get a Mysterio, an homage to the diminutive superstar who still holds the record for the longest time spent in a Royal Rumble match. Decisions that do not get a vote of approval will be labeled with the Santino, in honor of the wrestler who holds the shortest time in the match. Sounds simple? It is! Let's do it:
Mysterio: The Pre-Show Panel
I like the panel show as a concept. It's something I expect to be more fully fleshed out as the WWE Network dawns, but it gives wrestling events more of a sports feel and allows for some interesting debate. While I confess to not being quite sold on the analytical stylings of "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, his presence on the panel with the always-entertaining Shawn Michaels and the "thought he'd been barred from this type of thing" Ric Flair made sense given their shared history as previous Royal Rumble winners.
While my personal feeling is some more time should have been devoted to those three sharing their "best practices" for winning a Rumble match, they brought the correct level of enthusiasm to something that can be quite boring in theory. Picking guys with a connection to that particular PPV or a match on that card is a great idea and should be explored further. It's also quite a smart move in getting exposure to someone the fans recognize without having them actually get involved in the PPV proper. All in all, I like it.
I'm clearly on board with the Network costing ten bucks a month to get something I just paid fifty for, but adding commercials to the mix makes it feel worse. I'm hard-pressed to understand how the WWE needs cash enough that they must shill pizza rolls multiple times during the event. It's certainly true that you have to deal with advertisements during regular sports events (whatever brand sponsored that bowl game you watched definitely got their time in) but you can always change the channel and you're not plunking down extra cash just to watch the thing.
Bottom line: While WWE has a responsibility to make sure their sponsors get something out of the deal, it should not be at the expense of the paying audience. The company is profitable enough to be able to go it alone, sans traditional commercials, if necessary. The ads detract from the special feeling that you're watching something that not everyone else is. Save them for the weekly shows and focus on a couple backstage segments if you need to take some extra time away from the ring.
Santino: The Countdown Clock
No, not the clock that counts down the time before the next Rumble entrant. I refer instead to the clock set up during the preshow which told us when the Royal Rumble was going to start. That's also not to be confused with the clock counting down to the Network launch, so all in all there's a hell of a lot of timers going on at one time. In addition to the fact that all of us KNOW exactly when the Rumble is going to begin (considering it's pasted onto every advertisement for the PPV, it's a relatively easy thing to grasp), it deflates the potential for the pre-show match. Pretty difficult to imagine it running long since the Rumble starts in seven minutes, no?
Professional wrestling at its best suspends your disbelief. It makes you buy in a bit even when you know exactly what you're buying. The clock had the opposite effect for me. It hit me over the head with the fact that every bit of this event is planned. Did I really want to see The New Age Outlaws wrestle for twenty more minutes? Not a chance. Just would have been nice to pretend that that could happen. What about a setup where that match continued through the opening graphic package and kicked off the main show? That would be unique and might get an extra buy or two.
Santino: The New Age Outlaws
Speaking of the cornerstones of DX, congratulations to them for winning the Tag Team Titles from the Rhodes brothers, but what an utter mistake. There is and should always be a place to celebrate wrestling's past, but involving part-time players in current events is a dangerous affair unless it's very well handled. While the NOA can still go to a degree and Road Dogg has always been an entertaining guy on the mic, this concept lost its luster for me when the focus moved off of CM Punk. Having the Outlaws turn on Punk to further the rumored HHH match at WrestleMania is fine, but handing them the tag belts? Puzzling indeed.
The breakup of the Rhodes brothers has been teased for a bit and appears to have reached its moment, considering the miscommunication between them during the Rumble proper. But they've been on fire of late in a very competitive division and having semi-retired semi-heels be the ones to end their reign makes minimal sense to me. Had they been insistent about going in this direction, I'd have forced the miscommunication issue during the title match itself and then just added to it during the Rumble match. Taking the straps off the Rhodes boys could have rewarded a better team. This move took away from those titles a bit for me.
Mysterio: Bray Wyatt
If the Rumble was the return to the dance for Batista, it was simultaneously the coming-out party for Bray Wyatt. Wyatt's match against Daniel Bryan to open the show was the best of the night, without question, and set a tone that the rest of the event tried in vain to eclipse. The best thing about Bray is that he's different, from his entrance to his promos to his movements inside the ring. Creating an indelible character is tough enough, but doing it in an environment that is semi-rooted in some form of reality makes it even harder, particularly when so much has been done before. Kudos to Bray for getting that done in record time.
In addition, he showed he could go with the hottest commodity in the WWE right now in Daniel Bryan. Bryan can always get someone to a good match (it's one of the best things about him), but Bray carried his own and did a good job with conditioning in a high-impact match, which worried me at the outset. I'm not sure that it was necessary to book him for the pinfall win, as the match spoke for itself, but the minute Randy Orton mentioned him in his backstage promo before the title match it was evident there would be more in store for him. While I personally don't favor the World Title bout ending in the manner it did, Wyatt being inserted into the title scene is a good thing and backed up what was a very good night for the leader of the Wyatt Family. I think he opened some eyes here.
Santino: Brock Lesnar vs. The Big Show
The build for this match was pretty good, even though the outcome was expected. Once Show started being booked as "the only guy to do that to Lesnar" it reaches the status where metaphors and generalizations don't equal wins. I expected Lesnar to be booked in a dominant fashion, but was surprised and saddened to see the MVP of this match being a couple of steel chairs. The visual of a chair literally breaking over the Big Show was an indelible one, but having Lesnar resort to those tactics furthered the agenda of him doing anything it takes to win at the expense of him being the dominant monster he should be.
I won't dig too deeply into the events of the match itself, but Lesnar wearing out Show with a chair before the match started and then having the referee start the match with Brock still wielding a chair stretched credibility to a ridiculous degree. Also, since Brock clearly didn't care if he was disqualified, why bother going through the ruse of a pinfall? This match was far too short and featured very little actual wrestling. The post-match beatdown made sense and presented Lesnar as someone who doesn't care about the confines of the ring or the sport itself, but what went before seemed sloppy and rushed. The big-fight feel never transpired, and this becomes yet another testament that all the excitement involving Lesnar's return to the WWE might have been misplaced.
Final note: Paul Heyman's behavior during this match was impeccable, particularly when he was leaning on the ring steps watching with an expression of delight. It might go without saying, but get this guy an Oscar.
Santino: John Cena vs. Randy Orton
The match itself was fine, in my view. These two wrestlers have fought enough to tell a capable story and allow ample time for finishing moves to be kicked out of. Part of the downside of that, though, is that people have to get creative to tell the exact same story in a different way, and that's when the little things start to creep in and take away from the end result. Case in point: Randy Orton is locked in the STF and taps out immediately following the referee bump, but is able to not tap for a much longer time later when trapped in the same hold. Consistency, people. It could one day be your friend.
In addition, the "personal" side to this feud was not explored. I'm not sure why John Cena's dad was placed into this feud (other than to get him some more time on a WWE screen), but it added very little overall and wasn't even utilized here. Was he at home selling his injuries? If so, perhaps he could instruct Cena Jr. on those selling techniques. At the end of the day, the outside interference was just another way to extend Orton as champion against the wishes of just about everyone. Adding Wyatt to the mix (as mentioned before) was a positive development, but just put the exclamation point on a match of marginal proportions that played that way. Can we be done with this feud forever at this point?
Kane's entry into the Royal Rumble worked for me. I love that he came down to the ring in his business attire, and was promptly eliminated and embarrassed by CM Punk. It furthered the burgeoning feud between Triple H and Punk, and set the table for Kane to come down and cause Punk to be eliminated himself later in the match. Kane's current role is a challenging one, as he appears to be stepping away from the everyday wrestler role and into something a lot more verbal. That's a good call, as he is on the downswing of a successful career and actually a very good public speaker. He has previously been booked dominantly in this match, but the focus here was on the larger feud and therefore it made sense. Good use of an unexpected name in the Rumble match.
Santino: The Other Surprise Entrants
I won't put Alexander Rusev in this category, since his inclusion was a nice surprise and a great opportunity to see some new talent from NXT. But Kevin Nash, JBL and El Torito? Other than serving as cannon fodder for Roman Reigns, this was a weak crop at best. I was especially disheartened to see that there was no mention made of Nash's previous history with Punk (who was in the ring at that time). It could have been another opportunity to show the Authority sending down agents to get Punk tossed. Instead, it was another opportunity to see that Nash really should be off pursuing movie roles. Sheamus could technically be considered a surprise entrant, but he's booked as a main event player so I'm not including that either. Overall, having current guys held out of these spots should only be done when the talents are worthy.
Santino: The Rumble Match
The Royal Rumble itself is always hard to grade. I could join the litany of voices criticizing the decision to have Batista win the Royal Rumble, particularly before he's back into game shape, but it's an obvious move by the WWE. If you looked at that roster of names and didn't see Batista winning it, I'd be surprised. I'll let the fans of Pittsburgh do the talking for me on that one. Roman Reigns was booked predictably well, and I thought the Shield angle was well done. Unfortunately, I can't imagine anyone thought Reigns would be eliminating Batista or headlining WrestleMania, so without Punk as a factor, the only other potential winner was Sheamus.
There were also too many tag teams in this year's affair for my taste. It's always difficult to book teams in a match like this, but when deployed wisely it can be very dramatic and effective. This just suffered from overload. In addition to The Shield and Rhodes angles which both had to play out, The Real Americans, The Usos and Harper and Rowan were all in there. It's painfully clear no member of a tag team is going to be booked to win (at least under normal circumstances), so you're thinning the pool with all of those duos. Even the obligatory Kofi Kingston "How the hell did he do THAT?!?" moment felt forced. When the camera lingers on Kofi on the railings or Punk getting slammed through a table, it doesn't make what's happening in the ring feel important. No split screen?
All in all, while the early part of the Rumble match moved along well, and the Reigns story was well done, there just wasn't enough meat in this sandwich for me. The lack of Daniel Bryan being in the match hurt it big time, and whether the WWE wants to admit it or not, there was really no reason to not do it, barring the "injury" angle. Even then, having Bryan attempt to participate and being physically unable to do so might have gone a long way. Simply not using him as a punishment to fans who want to see it or because they have no way to write that angle is atrocious.
For those keeping score, it's 7 Santinos to 3 Mysterios, and therefore not a rave review. Disappointing to see such a hotly-anticipated event have a great opening match and then pretty much fall off the map and stay there. There might come a time with the Network in place when this can happen and fans won't feel cheated for their ten dollars a month. We're not there yet. Swing and a miss, WWE.
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