Considering the Royal Rumble is supposed to be one of the “Big 4” WWE events of the year, it sure has been unusually garbage for the last two years running (which, keep in mind, is the entire length of time that I’ve been watching wrestling). Maybe they meant one of the 4 worst events of the year. Anyway, this year’s Rumble feels like an apology for the last two, and it turned out to be the most consistently entertaining PPV start-to-finish that I’ve ever reviewed. With that said, it may also be my last, as I’m about to start student teaching, and it’s hard to write 4000 words about a 3 or 4 hour show when you’re working a full time job that you don’t get paid for. Maybe someday, when all my units are planned out and I have the whole teaching gig settled, I can come back to it. Or I could pull a Matt Striker, lose my mind, and use my sick days to become a professional wrestler instead. Anyway, those are problems for Future Josh. Reviewing the 2016 Royal Rumble is a problem for Present Josh, so without further ado, let’s get to it.
This is the Dean Ambrose/Kevin Owens match we’ve been waiting for. It’s a Last Man Standing match, but it feels more like a street fight that puts anything the former members of ECW have done recently to shame. Both men were working fast and kinetic, and the spots happened quickly and naturally as a result. It’s not Cage vs. The Mack, but at least the audience doesn’t have time to go get a pretzel between table spots. The highlight of the match came when Kevin Owens used Ambrose’ suicide dive as an excuse to launch himself into Michael Cole’s lap. If you don’t think it was intentional, go back and watch him slap the glasses off Cole’s face and claw him with both hands as he tries to stand up. Kevin Owens continues to be the living embodiment of the IWC, and I can’t think of a better avatar than a grumpy, overweight Canadian dad in basketball shorts. Also, props to Dean Ambrose for picking up Cole’s iPad without it exploding in his face.
Cole’s reaction to this makes me think the whole thing might have been a shoot, because as soon as he’s back on commentary, he’s furiously screaming into the mic. Ambrose takes a kendo stick to Owens and Cole is yelling “GOOD HIT HIM DEAN GET HIM WITH THE STICK!” and he sounds more genuine than he ever has before. Vince then flips the switch on Cole’s shock collar, because he goes back to Aloof Sports Announcer voice immediately, even as he complains about being unable to see without his glasses. The match continues at a frenetic pace, with Owens FLATTENING Ambrose (and the barricade) with a cannonball to keep the Lunatic French down for an 8 count.
Seriously, these guys got about as brutal as WWE will allow them to be, breaking kendo sticks in half and grinding in the sharp parts, ramming each other repeatedly into the steps, and generally trashing the arena. There’s an incredible moment where Ambrose throws a chair at Owens on the top rope and it lands PERFECTLY around his neck. First Roman Reigns with the phantom chair throw and now this. Owens proves he’s still the smartest wrestler on the roster, as he has an answer for pretty much everything in Ambrose’s arsenal (gameplanning!). Even when the tables turn against him and Ambrose hits two Dirty Deedses in a row, Owens survives by rolling off the apron and getting his feet on the ground. He still puts over Ambrose’s finisher but he finds a way to beat the stipulation. He also continues to innovate on offense, hitting an amazing pumphandle drop through a table. And then there’s the heel work. My god, the heel work.
Even the finish is satisfying, with a clean 10 count after Owens gets dropped through 2 tables. No gimmicky endings like burying people under the announce table or tying them to the turnbuckle. For once, a Last Man Standing match ends how it’s supposed to, and when it comes to certain wrestling tropes, the expected outcome is often the most unexpected. I think I would have rather seen Owens moonsault onto a bed of chairs, but I’ll take my clean finishes when I can get ’em.
Bless you, New Day marks. If we lived in a perfect world, every New Day entrance would be accompanied by thunderous cheers and every Uso entrance would be booed to hell and back. By the way, that trombone up there is Francesca II. Woods has moved on from the death of Francesca I because, in his words, “a brother has needs.” If there was any doubt about whether or not Woods has been using a wind instrument as a brass fleshlight, he kisses Francesca II all the way to the ring. The match is Kofi and Big E vs. the Usos, and at first it feels like a step down from the work of over-the-top genius that was last month’s ladder match, but this match quickly establishes a flavor of its own. Everybody’s working stiff on this one, and it feels like there might be some genuine animosity between these two teams, whether that’s because the crowd is violently anti-Uso or not. The announce team continues to bring up Mid-Life Crisis Jericho’s “rooty tooty booty” insult, and Byron Saxton claims the name gives the New Day street cred. “Street cred” and “rooty tooty booty” do not belong in the same sentence together. For that matter, “rooty tooty booty” doesn’t belong in any sentence ever.
As usual, this match was full of great character moments. The crowd begging Woods to play the trombone and Woods responding by laying Francesca II on the floor and yelling about how he only plays when he wants to gets some legitimate boos from this smarky New Day audience. You know you’ve made it as a heel when you can get people to both love and hate you simultaneously. At one point, Woods interferes, and he overhears Cole point out that he’s not legally in the match. This leads to a shouting match over the announce table, and the assault on Michael Cole continues to the delight of everyone except Michael Cole. The finish is pretty decisive by New Day standards, and it’s really refreshing to see them show off their wrestling ability in addition to their improv comedy ability. With Kofi in trouble, Big E tags himself in and catches a splash, turning it into the Big Ending for the pin. For once, it didn’t take all three members of the team (well, not really), and the match didn’t end with wacky hijinx. I’m not saying I don’t want wacky hijinx from the New Day, but I do want them to be three-dimensional characters, and being able to win a match every now and then goes a long way in that regard.
This wasn’t an awful match, but it was the undeniable low point of the show, and by the end of the Divas Championship match, I had kinda forgotten all about it. It doesn’t help that this is the third championship match between these two. The first win by Kalisto felt like a revelation. The loss felt like a tragedy. This win feels less like redemption and more like the second revolution of a revolving door. Are we going to 50/50 this feud into the ground like we do all the others? Instead of doing something with either of your popular latino stars, are you just going to keep them treading water against each other forever until they’re washed out to sea and eventually end up on Jack Swagger’s desert island?
At one point, Del Rio deliberately tries to pull off Kalisto’s mask, which probably isn’t a good idea to remind people of the time that he accidentally removed it for real and then sheepishly had to put it back on. There was also a huge botch where Kalisto jumped onto Del Rio’s back and they both went tumbling to the mat. Kalisto isn’t Sin Cara, so instead of putting himself in the hospital, he turns it into a pin attempt. There are some nice reversals late in the match, as Kalisto ducks a running enzuigiri (gameplanning!) and avoids the double footstomp again. To finish the match, Del Rio uncovers a turnbuckle and pushes Kalisto toward it, but Kalisto reverses and pushes Del Rio into the turnbuckle instead. He hits the SDS for the win, and I keep waiting for the feeling of joy and vicarious underdog pride to hit, but it never does. I think my brain is just waiting for the title to change hands again.
First off, the hype video recapping this feud is AMAZING, and it takes an already strong storyline (what? On the main roster? In the Divas Division? Seriously?) and ties it all together beautifully. Most of these PPV recap videos are just clip shows where WWE revises their own history almost as it happens to include only the events that they want us to remember for the feud going forward, and this video has elements of that, only it’s so much more. The clip show is interspersed with dueling interviews from Becky and Charlotte that put them both over as real people with real motivations that lead to a believable clash of ideals. Even better, they cut in clips from Becky’s life on the indy circuit, as well as goofy pictures of Becky and Charlotte being friends together, so now, when Becky says she’s wanted to be a wrestler all her life and Charlotte used to be her best friend, we actually buy it. We have context. See how easy this is, WWE? I’m more invested in this story now than I ever have been in the World Heavyweight Championship. You’re finally catching up to your developmental division.
Just listen to the Becky Lynch chants throughout this match. She’s one of the most consistent characters on the show, and now, the crowd actually knows a little bit about her. That’s all it takes. Well, okay, being a bomb-ass wrestler helps too, but you can’t just be a bomb-ass wrestler (see Exhibit A, otherwise known as Neville). Ric tries to go for the human shield again, but when he moves aside for Charlotte’s big boot, Becky ducks it (gameplanning!) and makes her pay with a clothesline. Since that doesn’t work, Ric, uh…sexually assaults Becky. That happened. He turns her around and kisses her, and she gives him a slap (when she should have realistically broken his arm off, but I guess they’re being careful with their legends after what happened to Sting and what’s almost happened on multiple occasions to the Undertaker). The moment is weird and gross, but it’s redeemed mostly by the fact that Ric Flair is Ric Flair, and the crowd boos the hell out of it. JBL tries to defend the stolen kiss, because he’s contractually obligated to be the worst human being possible, but even his defense is just “he’s Ric Flair, what do you expect?”
Charlotte takes over and gets Becky in a leg headlock. She starts throwing her around, but Becky powers out of it John Cena-style by standing and lifting Charlotte on her shoulders. It looks a lot more impressive when the person doing it isn’t a freak of nature like John Cena. The match continues with some more great reversals, and as you know by now, nothing makes me happier than smart wrestling. Charlotte and Becky are best friends, so of course they know how to counter the exploder suplex and the Figure Eight. Late in the match, Becky starts trying to lock in the Disarm-Her, and when she finally gets it on tight, Ric throws his jacket over her head as if Becky were a parrot, and because she is a parrot, this distracts her long enough for Charlotte to escape and hit her with a spear for the 3 count. Screwy finishes are always a bit of a letdown, but it’s Ric Flair, and it’s at least more complex and believable than a distraction rollup. Plus, with another tainted victory under Charlotte’s belt, the feud can only get hotter from here. This was the best main roster Divas match to date, and Becky is probably the purest, most successful babyface since Daniel Bryan, so I’m absolutely hyped to see where their feud goes from here. Becky was robbed of a title reign in NXT, so maybe this will finally be her time to shine.
Here come the chills again. For half a year, Sasha Banks has done little more than stand on the ring apron, and yet when her music interrupts Charlotte’s victory pose, the crowd nearly pops the roof off the arena. She’s so good that no amount of creative misuse can keep her down, and without a word spoken into a microphone, Sasha has just set the division on fire. First, she walks down to the ring and kicks Becky out of it. As much as I love Becky and want her to succeed, I LOVE in all caps that Sasha’s character hasn’t been contaminated by her success or her transition to the main roster. She’s still the world’s greatest heel, who has no reservations about stealing a little girl’s headband and making her cry on television, so she REALLY has no reservations about kicking her former partner out of the ring (and the spotlight) in order to put herself in the conversation for a title shot. Even Sasha’s challenge to Charlotte is sneaky and underhanded. She teases a BFFs reunion even though – come on – this is Sasha Banks, and as soon as Charlotte turns her back, she gets stabbed in it. Yes please. We did this on NXT, but let’s do it again. My only reservation is that I hope Becky doesn’t get swept aside like she always does. She has every reason to stay involved and make this a three-way feud, and even though Sasha Banks has become a folk hero in spite of (or because of) her evil ways, we still need a pure babyface, a Bayleyface if you will, to balance the equation.
This year’s Rumble match has its issues, but compared to last year’s bumbling train wreck, it was a damn masterpiece. It was also helped by a couple of huge surprise (and not so surprise) entries. Last year, the surprise entries were Bubba Ray Dudley and the Boogeyman. This year, we got AJ STYLES fresh from kicking ass all over New Japan and SAMI MOTHERFLIPPING ZAYN. Also Triple H, but more importantly AJ STYLES AND SAMI ZAYN. Last year, most of the guys in the Rumble just showed up, did nothing, and then got eliminated, but this one was full of great little moments (only some of which made it on camera, as the entire production team followed Roman Reigns at all times). For instance, AJ Styles lasts about 30 minutes, constantly teasing the Styles Clash, and the crowd can’t stop chanting his name. The Royal Rumble has become the AJ Styles Show, at least until he’s unceremoniously eliminated by Kevin Owens, who believes that Highlander rules apply to indy darlings and there can be only one. The immediate payoff for this crime is the appearance of Sami Zayn, the Batman to Owens’ Joker, who runs in and eliminates him with a vengeance. Not only do we have the triumphant return of Sami Zayn on the main roster (when his music hit, I forgot where I was for a moment and thought I was somehow watching NXT), not only does Zayn’s feud with Kevin Owens pick up where it left off, but Zayn gets to avenge the untimely elimination of AJ Styles. It’s a fantastic little subplot, and it opens up all kinds of possibilities for future feuds.
And then, there’s R-Truth’s continued descent into senility at the ripe old age of 44. This time around, he thought he was in a Money in the Bank ladder match, and didn’t realize his mistake until he was already at the top of the ladder. Truth is right in that sweet spot where he might either be a brilliant comedian or a genuinely insane person, and not knowing which makes him all the more entertaining. We also got Big E catching Kofi Kingston and giving him a ride on his shoulders, taking him around the ring to grab soda and popcorn from the fans, but I couldn’t tell you how he was eventually eliminated, because the cameramen were exclusively focused on the League of Nations, who ran out to drag Roman Reigns to the outside for a beatdown.
This is where the match falls apart. Mr. McMahon wants to stop Roman from winning the match. He does this by ordering the League of Nations to beat him up until he can’t even move, but he DOESN’T order them to throw him over the top rope. They even load the dude onto a stretcher and cart him out of the ring, but they don’t think to just roll him back in the ring and toss him over the ropes to be sure. Michael Cole even reminds us about ten times throughout the rest of the match that Roman was never eliminated. This is all set up as a blatant excuse for Reigns to sit out half the Rumble match, swoop back in at the end for the heroic save, and make people think he’s got a chance to win, but it doesn’t work. Mid-Life Crisis Jericho stayed in the ring for fifty f*cking minutes, you couldn’t let Precious Baby Roman Reigns take a beating in the corner like the rest of them? It’s not really One Versus All when you get to stroll back to the locker room and chill while the All eliminate each other.
The silver lining to this cloud is, as always, Rusev. During the League of Nations’ beatdown, they clear all three announce tables, set Roman up on one end, and Rusev on the other. Vince makes a kamehameha motion with his hands and Rusev runs across the tables to splash Reigns into the floor. Afterward, Rusev raises his fists in the air while lying on his back, as if he’d just scored a touchdown, and he’s so pleased with himself that he gets up and gives Vince a sweaty bear hug. It’s adorable. He also picks up a TV monitor as if to beat Reigns with it, but then he just carries it out of the arena with him like a trophy.
. @LanaWWE go make history. And I did. I took the tv monitor. Therefore I'm the new TV CHAMPION
— Rusev (@RusevBUL) January 25, 2016
Okay guys, you can all go home. Rusev just won the Royal Rumble. Still here? Okay, then let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Or rather, the Brock Lesnar in the room. His part in this whole match was SO WEIRD. He’s Brock Lesnar, right? He once destroyed an arena because he didn’t get a rematch when he wanted it. So when the eliminated members of the Wyatt Family rise up again at Bray’s bidding and toss him over the top rope like a chump, you’d think Brock would jump back in and choke Bray Wyatt out with his own intestines, right? Wrong. He just sort of huffs and shuffles out of the arena while Paul Heyman looks vaguely flustered behind him. It’s weird because WWE doesn’t get a lot of Brock Lesnar appearances, and it seems like such a waste for him to play the role of Big Show tonight.
Lastly, there’s the least surprising surprise entry of the night: Triple H at number 30. Everybody and their sister’s uncle’s crazy cat lady neighbor predicted that Triple H would win the Rumble, though considering Roman’s reaction in Orlando, doing the predictable thing was also probably the smartest thing. Reigns was starting to get over as Diet Steve Austin, but his narrative just keeps getting more convoluted and he keeps getting less and less likable. It seems like his good will from TLC is wearing thin, and while they probably could have gone with a more interesting choice than Triple H as the next champion, they’ve been burned by two Royal Rumbles in a row, and H is a known quantity. So yeah, the ending is safe and predictable, but that’s not terrible in and of itself. Ambrose got to be one of the final two, which is a surprising vote of confidence for the guy who was once beaten by a hologram. I’ve gotta say, it was also pretty refreshing to see a real Pedigree, and not the junky Seth Rollins version. Triple H beats both Reigns and Ambrose without outside interference (even though the Wyatts and the League of Nations proved earlier that he totally could have used it) and we have a strong heel as champion for the first time since those two weeks that Rollins was allowed to look competent before his injury.
As far as final PPV Reviews go, this was a pretty good one to end on. Unlike the last five reviews, I can’t think of a single match on the card that was straight up awful, or even all that bad. The Rumble itself was full of cool spots and fun character moments and strokes of sheer idiocy that I can mostly forgive thanks to all the good stuff. We got a near-NXT level Divas match, a fantastic Last Man Standing match, and the New Day being the New Day. Maybe the bar has been set too low on main roster PPVs, but if that’s the case, then the Royal Rumble has just inched the bar up a little bit. At this rate, maybe in a couple years we can judge PPVs on the same standards that we judge Takeovers. Maybe by then, I’ll have this teaching thing under control. Until that day, this is J.S. Conner, signing off.
- Last Man Standing Match
- Divas Championship Match
- Royal Rumble
- Tag Team Championship Match (though not really because this match was still pretty great but there were only 5 matches on the card so aaaaahhhh)
- Roman Reigns vs. The Amway Center
- Kalisto vs. The Ghost of Sin Cara