Sure, I got a mild boost of interest after watching the most recent Survivor Series (mostly due to the appearance of Sting aka STING!!!), but that declined quickly. I stopped watching the truncated Raw episodes on Hulu (which I watch because I no longer have cable) and I declined to renew my subscription to the WWE Network as December came to a close (it rarely was getting any play at that point).
That being said, I was convinced to renew my subscription Sunday afternoon due to the impending Royal Rumble pay-per-view. Sure, I thought, its only $9.99, so I could order it just for the PPV and still save out. Not to mention, Royal Rumble never fails. Other events can be bland, boring and badly booked, but the Royal Rumble match always is pleasing.
This thought comforted me through the rest of the day. My wife (who dislikes wrestling and thinks it says something about “violence in society”) even decided she wanted to wanted to watch the actual Royal Rumble match. That’s part of the key to the match’s success: it’s user friendly. Talent comes out every 90 seconds (or so; I think the interval changes depending on how the match is going), and it keeps the action going and the audience interested. It’s fast-paced and random enough that it makes people who are not interested in the product watch. In fact, my first exposure to wrestling was the Royal Rumble match in 1999. The surprise appearances are funny to long-time fans and fans who have fallen away alike. The storyline importance of the final outcome gives it some weight.
However, it turned out that the thing that I used to like the most was a disappointing, poorly booked mess.
But it didn’t seem like that would happen at first.
The first hour of the show easily can be ignored. The New Age Outlaws coming out for the first match was a nice way to get the Philadelphia crowd going, but they had to face the Ascension. Miz and Sandmizanin (or whatever his name is now) vs the Usos was just too familiar. Also, there was a divas tag match. Apparently.
The 3-way match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship came up at the 9-o’clock hour. This made me happy. A couple years ago, the title match went on last (this was Rock vs. CM Punk) and the Royal Rumble was second to last. This struck me as wrong, even though it had happened in the past.
As it turned out, this match should have gone on last. It was an amazing, 20-plus minute piece of wrestling art. Current champion Brock Lesnar and John Cena showed why they are where they are (I even gained a little more appreciation for Brock as a part-time champion). And Seth Rollins far and away showed his worth as a breakout character from the Shield. I still like Dean Ambrose more (and sort of like Roman Reigns), but Rollins put on a show with big spots with two big guys. His elbow drop from the top rope on Lesnar (who was conveniently on the Spanish announcers table) was the best moment of the night. Lesnar came away with the win, in the end, with an F5 on Rollins.
Then came the Rumble. WWE always makes great hype videos, but the Rumble hype video is a favorite of mine. The numbers and the explanation of the rules create “The Big Fight Atmosphere,” which can be hard to find at times in WWE’s product.
However, things went downhill.
Our first two competitors were Miz and R-Truth. Not great, but it prompted me to explain to my wife that Ron “R-Truth” Killings is an important footnote in wrestling history because he was the first African American NWA champion (too bad it was in 2002).
Then, Bubba Ray Dudley enters as our first surprise entrant. This was nice, though I was disappointed that the Philly crowd didn’t really catch on with Dudley’s call for tables (and this was after they chanted for tables). It appears that he has gained some weight back, and we could not see his calfs too well.
Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper provided the annual “Do I turn on my partner?” moment. Wyatt actually went on to stay in the match until almost the end. I liked this and found it to be the best part of the match. Any time a guy comes out early and stays in that long, it is compelling. He even got to cut a promo calling for people to try to eliminate him (too bad it was answered by Zack Ryder).
Kofi Kingston’s annual elimination save unfortunately was not a feat of amazing athleticism. Instead, he was caught by Adam Rose’s Rosebuds, who tossed him back into the ring. Ugh.
For surprise entrants, we had Diamond Dallas Page (who looked good, but prompted a few too many yoga jokes) and the Boogeyman (who was sufficiently random).
This does not outweigh the bad. Daniel Bryan made his long awaited return and he was eliminated in short order. There’s no other way to put it: this sucks. WWE did not have to bring him back for this match. He came out to the best reaction of the night, and his elimination prompted boos and “Daniel Bryan” chants at random points for the rest of the night. It’s not like the fans should be fully in charge of the product, but Bryan is still massively over nearly three years after he first became over (and that includes staying over after an embarrassing loss to Sheamus at WrestleMania 28, being pushed to a tag team with Kane and being out with injuries for months). This has to count for something.
Other eliminations that I was not a fan of included Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler. Ambrose clearly is a main-eventer who is over, though he still is new. I could do a match with him versus Lesnar at ‘Mania (and Rollins Money in the Bank would add tension). He was eliminated semi-quickly. Ziggler is a perennial favorite, but he continued his losing streak.
At the end, we were left with Roman Reigns (certainly a big guy with potential), the Big Show and “Corporate” Kane as the final three. This lasted a few minutes, which was a few minutes too long. It was too obvious that Reigns would win. Show and Kane both are heels and just are not going to face Lesnar in the MAIN EVENT of WRESTLEMANIA. I like Reigns, but really, the audience is not as behind him as they used to be. Rollins and Ambrose have far and away proven that they are the better parts of the Shield at this point.
Reigns pulled away with the win. However, that Philly crowd pointed out that Rusev had not been eliminated. So, of course, Rusev pops out from under the ring and attempts to take the win. It didn’t work. This should have been more fun, but it was lifeless.
The Philly crowd was not happy with Reigns. WWE even called in the Rock, a fact which was paraded about on WWE.com and WWE Network pre-shows. The Rock came out to help Reigns in the end and support him, which is supposed to put the audience behind Reigns (Hey, ya know, they are sort of, maybe related, right?). This also didn’t work.
This led me to conclude that the title fight should have gone on last but, as we learned a couple years ago, the Rock always goes on last.
What happens now? The build for WrestleMania has to be good. WWE has to make Lesnar look vicious and make Reigns look like an equal competitor. I also feel that Rollins has to be involved somehow. He still has that briefcase. I’d say he should call it ahead of time and cash in at the time of the match so he can be a full participant, but he hasn’t been booked to be that kind of guy. He also could cash in after the match at Mania (or even at Fastlane, provided there is a title match at the newly named pay-per-view).
Of course, it always could turn out like last year, where Bryan ended up in the match according to the fans’ will. WWE has two months to figure out a way to make the event work.