As the dust settles on a rather controversial edition of the Royal Rumble, the inquisition can now begin, as wrestling geeks around the world try to piece together the implications of last night’s events. The quality of the action was above average and actually pretty damn great at times. Most of the complaints circulating among fans are surrounding the absence of Daniel Bryan (and indeed most of the top stars) from the rumble match itself. The number of surprise entrants was also rather lacking, with Kevin Nash and Sheamus the only noteworthy returns. Apart from the New Age Outlaws‘ shock victory on the pre-show, the results of the card were exactly what everybody expected. Some of the stuff that went down raised some eyebrows, but that was mostly negative.
So what’s next for WWE? This week’s episode of RAW should shed some light on proceedings, and let’s hope that there are fireworks. With the network about to be launched, pay-per-views need more than ever to be enticing. Last night’s efforts certainly didn’t cut it. You only had to listen to the live crowd to know that. When they weren’t displaying silent indifference, they were crapping on the entire presentation from a great height. There were numerous major flaws with the show. The discontent of the fans needs to be addressed and quickly.
Before all the doom and gloom sets in, it’s important to point out the positives. The pre-show match – in which the Rhodes Brothers lost their Tag Team Titles to the Outlaws – was very good indeed. Considering the fact that 3/4 of the competitors in the match were middle aged, the athleticism on display was astounding.
It was a really cool blast-from-the-past to see Billy Gunn hit the Fame Asser and pick up the win, but I expected that to lead to some kind of family warfare in the rumble match. No such luck, as Cody and Goldust were both eliminated unceremoniously and not by each other. I guess we will have to see where they go with that. Everybody expected them to lay the groundwork for a brother versus brother match at Wrestlemania, but I didn’t see any such thing. At least we saw a title change hands, and if the Outlaws are to be transitional Champions, this could mean a long overdue run with the belts for The Usos.
Fan favourite Daniel Bryan opened up the main card against his nemesis Bray Wyatt. After the referee banished the other members of the faction to backstage, everybody was expecting Bryan to finally get his revenge, once and for all. Speaking of which, why are the referees only able to do such a thing once every few months? Now there is a logic gap! I for one, found it refreshing to see Wyatt get the clean win. I don’t think anybody saw that coming. The only problem with that is the damage it will do to his opponent’s credibility – talk about a fall from grace. The army of Daniel Bryan fans in the arena were outraged, and that sentiment was carried over into the rumble match itself. His future is not looking bright, and he looks destined to be another guy with huge potential who was needlessly put down, against the will of the majority of fans. Let’s hope there is an upside around the corner for him. It must be noted that the match between them was excellent. Bray Wyatt performed brilliantly and finally looked like a legitimate main event star, and Bryan was flawless as always.
Brock Lesnar absolutely annihilated Big Show with a vicious steel chair attack, before the referee had the chance to start their contest. He then officially got the win, with the giant putting up no resistance. This was perfectly done and there can be no complaints. My only grievance concerns Lesnar’s absence from the rumble. After barely breaking a sweat and only performing one wrestling move, he would surely have been capable of appearing again. His inclusion could have gone a long way to propping up the show-piece and adding some much needed star power, but no.
In the final singles match of the night – Orton v Cena 325 – the crowd were treated to a predictably boring contest. There isn’t a lot that these two could have done to surprise the fans, to be fair to them. We have all seen them battle countless times. The crowd made it clear how bored they were. The two of them attempted to get a reaction by doing each other’s finishing moves, but it didn’t sound like it was overly effective.
The one exciting moment came when The Wyatt Family showed up surrounding the ring apron. That distraction was enough to help Orton retain the title. Bray and his crew then beat Cena down in the ring. Wyatt v Cena at Wrestlemania has been rumoured for some time, and now that seems certain to be happening. I can’t see that being a classic, but at least the Wyatts’ arrival was unexpected.
After seeing their hero Daniel Bryan lose cleanly to Bray Wyatt, Brock Lesnar practice his swing for ten minutes, and Cena v Orton for the – insert wildly exaggerated figure here -, the fans were crying out for a classic Royal Rumble match! They were hoping for surprise stars of the past, big name star power and never-bef0re-seen moments of brilliance. Kofi Kingston pulled off his annual show-boat at least. He was thrown over the top, caught by NXT rookie Alexander Rusev (who’s inclusion was one positive surprise) and left draped over the barricade. He then ran along it and leaped back onto the apron, thus avoiding elimination. This was nowhere near as cool as his previous two rumble exploits, but I guess they are running out of wacky things to do in that respect.
Aside from that, it was very forgettable. Kevin Nash and JBL were the only non-regular competitors to return and neither did anything important. In fact, Layfield walked from the announce desk into the ring (still in suit), was eliminated by Roman Reigns almost immediately, and then returned to his commentary duties. Aside from those two, Sheamus was the only surprise. He was booed heavily by the crowd as he made it to the final two, despite returning from a lengthy injury absence. After the final entrant, the crowd knew that Daniel Bryan wouldn’t be coming out. That’s when they turned on the other guys in the ring. Rey Mysterio was the unlucky Number 30 and his elimination was cheered. El Torito made a novelty appearance, and eliminated Fandango. As the brilliant Aaron Rift pointed out, this was akin to career murder. Not since Chavo Guerrero jobbed to Hornswaggle has there been a worse situation for a wrestler to be put in. Ryback was booed, Rey Mysterio was heckled and Batista was hated.
The rumble match was an indictment of the way in which WWE operates these days. The many fans in attendance made their feelings known, but ultimately it doesn’t matter what they think. It doesn’t matter what any of us think. The company will do what they do, for better or worse. Bryan, Lesnar and Cena would have really legitimised the match. They didn’t have to win, but they should have been included. Gone are the days when top stars would compete in grudge matches on the card, but still appear in the rumble at the end of the night. Those spaces were filled by jobbers like R-Truth, Damien Sandow and The Miz. At least Dolph Ziggler was included, and boy did he get a positive reaction.
There were a few things that came as a surprise, but for the most part, it was what everybody expected. That predictability was summed up by Batista winning the rumble match for a second time. As it came down to him and Roman Reigns in the final two, the company decided to go for the old rather than the new. The Samoan did break Kane‘s record for most eliminations in one match and came off looking incredibly strong, but his journey to the very top seems to be temporarily on hold. The corporate monster even made an appearance in the match himself, and screwed over CM Punk. I’m actually excited for that feud, but I’m not entirely sure why.
The ending of the rumble match summed up the way most fans felt about the overall show. Three so-called babyfaces in Sheamus, Batista and Roman Reigns stood in the ring as the final three, to a cascade of boos. The volume was just crazy. However, there was hope for a more positive response when the Shield member eliminated Sheamus. Every time he got the upper hand on Batista, the crowd went nuts. The guy put in the performance of his short career and the crowd were right behind him. When he was thrown over the top rope by the returning hero, the crowd let out an immense boo. It was clear who they thought should have won, going against everything that WWE wanted them to feel about this match. Unlike those who question whether or not he is “ready”, I just look at the facts; He has been great in the ring throughout the faction’s run, he is good on the mic and has a tremendous look. Roman Reigns looked every bit a Champion last night, but they decided to play it safe and go with the old guy.
Aside from the few highs and the many, many lows, the big talking point coming out of the Royal Rumble is the crowd reaction. The legions of disgruntled Daniel Bryan fans in the arena hijacked the show on many occasions and made it perfectly clear to everyone watching at home, that WWE does not care for the desires of it’s viewers. They need to make some repairs, put some muscle behind their popular wrestlers, and pick up some momentum before the network launches. If they fail to do this, it could be a doomed venture from the start.
Legendary former three-time WWE Champion Mick Foley summed up the general feeling among fans on Twitter: “Does @WWE actually hate their own audience? I’ve never been so disgusted with a PPV.”