Since we last spoke, they finally did it. Ignoring all loud feedback and any kind of proper storytelling, they put the belt on Roman Reigns. I’ve gone back and forth on Reigns and I get no joy from ragging on him, but I feel WWE are forcing me to dislike him. He’s got the moves in the ring, but his promos and general scripted attitude just aren’t working. Creative have cut so many corners in trying to make him the next top babyface, they’ve ended up with a boring circle. Anyway- this is all pertinent because Roman has to defend his title in the titular Royal Rumble match. On paper any one of the 30 entrants could win it, but realistically it was going to be one of a handful. They billed the whole match as “One Vs. All”, one of Roman’s slogans, but I’m starting to think that “one” is Vince McMahon himself and his insane protection of Roman Reigns.
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Kevin Owens in a Last Man Standing match for the Intercontinental Championship
The night opened with the anticipated clash between Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens. Their rivalry has been decently built and I’m a fan of both. The Last Man Standing stipulation is always a fun one. It promises higher than usual levels of violence as the goal is to keep your opponent down for a 10 count whilst staying on your feet. It was a great match-up full of decent ring psychology and physical storytelling. Whilst Ambrose ended up winning, it was due to Owens’ hubris, which is as it should be. High points for me were mostly Owens orientated. The way he nonchalantly relaxed on a few chairs waiting for Ambrose to make it to his feet was classic heelish behaviour. The Fisherman suplex/whatever off the top rope driving Ambrose through a table looked brutal as balls. Both men fought a good fight and put on a fantastic show. A great start to Rumble night.
The New Day (c) vs. The Usos for the Tag Team Championships
If you want to see just how messed up WWE’s storytelling can be, look at the tag division and this match in particular. The New Day are meant to be obnoxious, cheating heels, yet the crowd love them. The Usos on the other hand are meant to be the classic good guys, yet every time they rallied, jeers echoed around the arena. It might just be the more vocal manchild fans, but there’s no reason to cheer the Usos whatsoever.
The match was pretty standard. I’m always scared that WWE will put the tag titles back on the boring Usos because kids like them and they must sell merch, but luckily New Day walked away the victors. The ending was fantastic. Jey Uso grappled with Kofi Kingston in the corner and Big E tagged himself in, unseen by Uso eyes. Kofi got planted and Jey went for a splash before being plucked out of the air by Big E, who slammed him to the mat with a Big Ending and covered for the three count. Going back to the storytelling, here’s the thing- New Day got an extended amusing entrance, had Xavier Woods at the sidelines and won clean, thanks to a quick tag and Big E’s physical prowess. The only vaguely heelish thing that occurred was Woods refusing to play the trombone when the crowd chanted for it, a smart move on Woods’ part that got him and his team a nice chorus of boos. Why are they the bad guys again?
Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Kalisto for the United States Championship
Lucha Dragon Kalisto has been enjoying a nice singles run of late and long may it continue. The guy is basically being groomed to be the next Rey Mysterio, but that doesn’t take away how talented and likeable he is in his own right. He briefly became United States champion, before losing it to Del Rio.
I really dug the match. It was sloppy in places, with a few nasty looking botches, but a) that’s the Lucha style for you and b) it didn’t diminish the core of the match one bit. The basic narrative thrust was that Del Rio saw Kalisto as a buzzing insect rather than a legitimate competitor. The way he brashly mobbed Kalisto and attempted to pull off his mask (a huge no-no in Lucha tradition) was contemptable, as it should have been. Del Rio punished Kalisto, but got frustrated when he couldn’t keep him down for the three count. He ripped off the turnbuckle padding in a desperate attempt to do some lasting damage, but Kalisto reversed it, driving Del Rio’s head into the steel and hitting the Salida del Sol for the victory. New U.S. champion. Good work, little dragon.
Charlotte (c) vs. Becky Lynch for the Divas Championship
It seems the darkest days of the branded and hashtagged “Divas Revolution” are behind us, thankfully. Although they can apparently on be spared enough focus for one rivalry at a time, I’ve been enjoying the Becky/Charlotte feud. It’s a classic friend betrayal storyline, but hey, it’s classic for a reason. Charlotte betrayed Becky and stepped on her to win and keep her title and now Lynch wants revenge. After challenging Charlotte directly and being declined, Becky called out the ultimate helicopter parent Ric Flair, who gave her the title shot.
Becky and Charlotte went right at it. Becky soon gained the upper hand, but Charlotte had answers for everything Lynch had. The action spilled outside and Charlotte hid behind Ric, before attempting to kick Lynch’s head off. Becky rallied and Ric grabbed her and kissed her, which was a really gross and out of place moment. I get that it was for a distraction and Flair is, by his own admission, a kiss-stealin’ son of a gun, but hey, we’ve moved on. It’s interesting to note this little section is missing from the Network replays. Anway, that basically became the story of the match- Ric Flair would get involved and shift focus away from the fight. The turning point came when Charlotte accidentally baseball slid into him, leaving herself open to Becky. Lynch eventually got her in this Disarmer, but Flair threw his jacket over her head, which somehow broke the hold. Lynch got up in Ric’s grill and Charlotte Speared her, retaining her title. It was an enjoyable match, but a really weak ending. I hated the fact that Charlotte won, but that’s what is meant to happen. Charlotte added insult to injury by beating Becky down some more and rubbing her title in her face.
As Ric raised Charlotte’s arm in ill-earned victory, Sasha Banks’ theme hit and the crowd went fucking nuts. She sashayed down the ramp with unclear intentions. She got in the ring, stalked past Charlotte and booted the injured Becky off the apron, earning huge boos. She gave Charlotte a secret handshake and both laughed as the crowd jeered. As Charlotte went to leave the ring, Sasha grabbed her and hit her from behind, locking her in the Banks Statement. When she was done, she left the beaten Charlotte on her face and picked up the Divas title, clearly announcing her intentions. It should be a very interesting road to Wrestlemania for the three women.
The 30 man Royal Rumble for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
This is a tough match to talk about because of the sheer number of competitors and events, but I’ll try my best. Overall, I enjoyed it. They managed to avoid the contempt that greeted the last two Rumbles. I thought the match was nicely booked with the surprise entrances and crowd favourites well spread out. The right people took out the right people and it was a lot of fun.
The highlight for me was wrestling legend AJ Styles making his WWE debut. When his unfamiliar music hit and we cut to Roman Reigns’ confused face, you knew something awesome was up. When Styles came out, the roof came unglued. I’ve watched his entrance an embarrassing number of times on Youtube since and it still hasn’t got old. It’s hard to explain how weird it is seeing AJ Styles in the WWE, but just imagine Batman showing up in an Avengers film and you’re somewhere close. Styles ended up lasting a long time and put in a great showing.
It was corny as hell, but I must admit I laughed when R-Truth stormed down the ramp, went under the apron and grabbed a ladder. He set the ladder up, climbed it only to find no belt at the top, having clearly thought it was a Money in the Bank match.
Kofi Kingston got his moment as he does every year, this time avoiding elimination by being caught by New Day teammate Big E. The team ran around ringside for a bit and Kofi had a swig of Coke before getting back into things. Not the best he’s ever done, but it was an opportunity for more New Day fun. Ain’t going to argue with that.
As the match went on, The League of Nations, under Vince’s orders, took Roman out of the match and beat the crap out of him, putting him through an announcers’ table. Reigns ended up being stretchered off backstage. Look, I get what you’re trying to do, Vince. The thing is, people don’t buy that goofy shit any more. If they do, it’s because it’s someone like Daniel Bryan, not a 6 foot meaty Samoan. All it said to me was that Reigns was definitely re-entering the Rumble and that he’d probably win it, despite what happened last year. With the Roman Sword of Damocles over proceedings, it was hard, but not impossible to concentrate on the rest of the match.
The usage of Kevin Owens exemplified the quality of the Rumble. Not only was he in the best match of the night, but his time in the actual match was well spent and booked. First, he was the one to eliminate AJ Styles, which was a smart move. Both are indie darlings and he’s one of the only wrestlers people would accept Styles being eliminated by. If Roman had done it, there would have been blood in the streets, or lengthy whiny forum posts. Whichever was easier. I loved KO screaming “Welcome to WWE!” before throwing Styles over and finishing it off with one of Styles’ signature poses. Perfect. Soon after that, a banged up Dean Ambrose came out and the two continued their beef. They both got distracted as the match played out, but as Owens started rib kicking Ambrose again, ex-best friend, current bitter enemy and straight-up babyface Sami Zayn came out and the two were unleashed on each other. Zayn eventually got the last laugh and hurled Owens over the top rope to eliminate him. That’s some tasty booking right there, rich with future possibilities.
The Wyatt family had a good showing. All of them had a big impact on the match. Braun Strowman proved what a monster he is by eliminating Kane almost immediately and then turning his attention to Big Show. He choked out the giant and pushed him over the top rope too. I like how they’ve made Strowman look by taking out two of the historic wrecking balls of Rumbles past. The collective also eliminated Mark Henry later on, meaning they are not to be fucked with. The three sheep dominated for a while before Brock Lesnar showed up to even the odds. Lesnar eventually eliminated all of them, including Strowman. When Bray did show up at No. 27, he directed his flock to take out Lesnar, joining in the big beast beatdown. All four turfed Brock over the top rope and Lesnar’s Rumble was over.
Sheamus came out as number 29, but was Superman Punched by a returning Reigns. Reigns ran in and started wrecking shop. I must admit, my heart sank. I mean, what was I meant to think? The Miz had come out earlier and refused to enter the match until some of the big scaries had been eliminated. Cowardice is always a proper heel tactic. However, I’m meant to cheer when Reigns comes back and does the exact same thing? Reigns stood tall over Bray, Ambrose, Ziggler and Jericho before number 30’s music hit. TIME TO PLAY THE GAME!
Triple H came out to do what his Authority buddies couldn’t. The last seven were slowly whittled down thanks to Sheamus and HHH working together. Reigns managed to eliminate Sheamus, but Trips took advantage and turfed Roman out as well. Thank Christ. Then it was just him and Dean Ambrose, who had lasted a hell of a long time. This was exciting! Was Ambrose finally going to get the monster push he deserved? Turns out- no. He fought valiantly, but Triple H finally got the best of him and eliminated him to win the Rumble and become a 14 time World Heavyweight Champion. Honestly, I wasn’t too mad. They’d written themselves into a corner and I was just so pleased the Reigns express didn’t steamroll the entire roster to somehow prove that he should be champ. This may be delaying the inevitable as it certainly looks like it’ll be Roman vs. Triple H for the WHC at Wrestlemania, but we’ll see.
So yeah, all in all, a fun show. It’s been a while since I wasn’t angry at how the Rumble turned out, so this was refreshing. See you after Fastlane