WWE Royal Rumble 2016 – January 24th 2016.
Amway Centre: Orlando, FL.
By recent standards, and especially compared to the last two years, the 2016 Royal Rumble turned out to be a pretty damn good show overall. Say what you want about some of the directions they are going in, a couple of which are baffling, but the Rumble match itself, for the most part, was laid out very well. Without burying the lead any further, HHH, in 2016, entered at number 30 and won his fourteenth WWE World title after dumping out Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose during the home stretch. AJ Styles debuted at number 3 and got the biggest reaction of anyone on the show other than maybe Brock Lesnar. Styles was eliminated after 28 minutes in the match by Kevin Owens, which was actually a genius move since Owens was pretty much the only guy in the ring at the time who the fans would accept eliminating AJ and not turn on the match like in previous years. Owens was then eliminated by Sami Zayn, who also got a great reaction, so Owens vs. AJ, or Owens vs. Zayn could be on the cards for WrestleMania. I would expect they go with Owens/Styles and hold of on Zayn a little longer but I suppose anything is possible at this stage. There were two other main storylines of the Rumble match. Vince McMahon brought out the League of Nations, who attacked Reigns about 20 minutes in to the match but didn’t actually bother eliminating him. They teased a stretcher job but Reigns refused and just walked to the back of his own accord. He returned a good 25 minutes later and beat up Sheamus, but HHH tossed him out for the penultimate elimination. Having Reigns eliminated second to last was another smart move, as it gave the fans to get their “Reigns isn’t the champion anymore” pop out of their system and allowed them to get behind Ambrose for the closing stages. The other story was the Wyatt Family (Harper, Rowan & Strowman), dominating until Brock Lesnar showed up and kicked all their asses. Brock eliminated all of Bray’s goons before Wyatt entered the match, however when he did Bray instructed the Family to attack Lesnar and Brock was eventually eliminated by all of the Wyatts. While some of the WrestleMania plans seem to be anything but enthralling, Reigns/HHH & Lesnar/Wyatt do absolutely nothing for me, most everything they booked during the Rumble made sense for where they are going and it didn’t feel like a huge egregious error when HHH won the match unlike Batista & Roman Reigns the past couple of years. Obviously, putting the World title on the 46 year-old Executive VP of Talent Relations, who is also the heir to the McMahon Empire, could most certainly be viewed as a gross example of narrow-sighted booking, not to mention a massive indictment of the company’s ability to make new stars. However, that is a discussion that I’m sure we’ll get into as the build to HHH vs. Roman Reigns continues. For now at least, I’m just happy they managed to have an entertaining and enjoyable Royal Rumble.
The pre-show was the customary waste of time. Dudley Boyz vs. Mark Henry & Jack Swagger vs. The Ascension vs. Darren Young & Damien Sandow was the four-way qualifier match with the winners advancing to the Rumble. Henry pinned Bubba Ray with a splash for the finish at 8:00; it was a total nothing match. Sandow was over pretty big with the crowd, so of course he will be off TV for another six months. The only other thing of note was that Jerry Lawler was one of the puppets spewing out tripe on the panel which meant we had to suffer through Byron Saxton calling the rest of the PPV. Lawler flat out called fans “idiots” if they paid their cable company for the PPV.
The PPV started with Vince & Stephanie McMahon arriving in a limo. JoJo tried to interview them, but Vince didn’t let her speak at all and he rambled about loving the Rumble almost as much as he loved himself.
Last Man Standing for the IC Championship: Dean Ambrose (C) vs. Kevin Owens. – Ambrose retained in 20:32. – Great opener. They started out hot with the Frye/Takayama spot. Ambrose did a tope early and sent Owens over the announce desk; Owens intentionally took out Michael Cole and, in what was assuredly a rib, started clawing at Cole’s face while they were on the ground. Cole apparently broke his glasses during the deal. Owens took over after a Cannonball through the barricades and essentially got the heat with some chair-related offence on Ambrose, who would come back with bursts of hope spot offence. At 13:00, Ambrose landed his DDT onto a chair and at the count of “nine”, Owens rolled to the outside and got his feet on the floor. The match had great pacing and each spot got bigger and more spectacular. Ambrose came off the top with an elbow drop through a table on the floor; Owens put Ambrose through another table with his Super Fisherman Buster. Owens hit the Pop-up Powerbomb at 18:00 then set up Ambrose on a bunch of chairs near the corner. Owens looked like he was going for a Moonsault, but Ambrose came to life and shoved Owens over the ring post and sent him crashing through two tables for the finish. – This is how you do a gimmick match! It was heated and fit the story of the feud, each spot got bigger and built to the next, plus, despite all the weaponry it was a pretty safe match all things considered and never felt out of control. (****)
WWE Tag Team Championship: New Day w/Xavier Woods (C) vs. The Usos. – New Day retained in 11:02. Beforehand, Kofi & Big E set up a moment of silence for Francesca, however Xavier interrupted playing a new trombone, which was creatively named, “Francesca II.” This was pretty much a RAW match; fans loved New Day and hated the Usos. Jey sold for the heat and nobody cared; Jimmy made the comeback and the fans cared even less. Finish was a cool little deal, as Jey went for a Splash off the top and Big E caught him and pinned him with his move. (**½)
They aired a spooky Wyatt Family pre-tape; it was the same thing we’ve seen for over three years.
US Championship: Alberto Del Rio (C) vs. Kalisto. – Kalisto became the new champ at 11:30. Compared to their TV matches, this was slightly disappointing and it fell apart in the middle with some noticeable botches and Del Rio loudly shouting spots. At one point Del Rio even told Kalisto to do his “Lucha” chant, like when Flair would have to tell Sting to beat his chest and howl. Kalisto landed on his head trying the Yoshi Tonic. Finish saw Del Rio remove the turnbuckle but it backfired, as Kalisto sent him into it with a ‘Rana then pinned him clean with the Shiranui. – This hot potato US title deal has done nobody any favours, so hopefully they give Kalisto a real push and don’t turn him into a champion that loses every week. (**)
Paul Heyman met with Stephanie in the back. Heyman said Brock would take out the League of Nations & the Wyatts then Steph said she wanted Lesnar to take out Reigns as well. Heyman told her the Roman Empire would fall to Suplex City.
WWE Diva’s Championship: Charlotte (C) w/Ric Flair vs. Becky Lynch. – Charlotte retained in 11:45. Solid match, but once again the women on the main roster fail to reach the lofty heights they achieved in NXT. Becky was over big as the babyface and Charlotte was roundly booed. Heat spot saw Ric kiss Becky, sexual assault is apparently fine if you are Ric Flair, and Charlotte took advantage of the distraction. They did a few near-falls and both women escaped the other’s submission hold. Fittingly for Becky’s idiotic character, the finish was another distraction as Becky got the Disarmer and Flair tossed his jacket over her head. Becky argued with Ric and Charlotte hit the spear for the win. Post-match saw Charlotte go after Becky some more. Sasha Banks showed up to a huge reaction and she kicked Becky out of the ring then teased an alliance with Charlotte. Charlotte & Ric went to leave but Sasha delivered the Banks Statement and held up the Diva’s title. (**½)
30-Man Royal Rumble Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. – HHH entered at #30 and became the new champion at 61:40. Not exactly high praise, but this was probably the best Rumble match in the last five years. Reigns was #1 and Rusev #2. Reigns quickly eliminated Rusev and AJ Styles showed up as #3. Place went insane. The production team missed Styles‘ Titan tron intro which said, “I Am Phenomenal.” Styles tried an early Styles Clash but couldn’t get it; he teased it a couple more times through the match but never hit it. Tyler Breeze was #4 and was swiftly ejected by Styles & Reigns. #5 was Curtis Axel and Reigns & Styles fought off the rest of the Social Outcasts then Styles tossed out Axel. Out at #6 was Chris Jericho and he worked quite a bit with Styles which was cool to see. #7 was DEMONKANE and he teased eliminating Styles. Goldust showed up at #8 then Ryback appeared at #9 and AJ took a huge backdrop for him. Kofi Kingston was #10 and at #11, Titus O’Neil, who eliminated Goldust. Out at #12 was R-Truth and he set up ladder and tried to climb it like it was a MITB match. After his token comedy spot, Kane dumped out Truth. Kofi’s annual wacky spot was to land on Big E’s shoulders after Kane tried to throw him out. Big E carried Kofi around ringside for a while and Kingston helped himself to some popcorn and soda. Luke Harper showed up at the 20:00 mark as #13 then Vince McMahon & the League of Nations ran down and attacked Roman Reigns to begin the story-ark of the match. Instead of all four guys just getting in the ring and eliminating Reigns, they pulled Roman under the bottom rope and Rusev ended up giving him a running splash through the announce table. During all of this, Stardust came out at #14 and Kofi, who was still on Big E’s shoulders, was eliminated by Jericho but Kevin Dunn missed it. Vince & the League left Reigns on the outside, still an active participant in the match. They teased a stretcher job, but Reigns got to his feet and walked to the back, which made no sense whatsoever. Big Show was #15 and he eliminated Titus & Ryback. Neville was #16 and he did some stuff with Styles. #17 was Braun Strowman and he dumped out Kane & Big Show in quick succession. Kevin Owens was #18 and he limped his way out, however he stopped selling immediately when he got in the ring. He paired off with Styles for an exchange that the fans went nuts for. Styles then went for the Clash on Neville but Owens gave him a Superkick then yelled, “WELCOME TO WWE!” before tossing Styles over the top for the elimination. Like I said earlier, it was a really smart move as the fans were upset, but they clearly didn’t want to turn on Owens, plus it set up a potential feud. #19 was Dean Ambrose, who didn’t bother selling the Last Man Standing match at all and he went right after Owens. Sami Zayn was the surprise entrant at #20 and he and Owens had an awesome Frye/Takayama exchange. Sami eliminated Owens to set up another potential program. #21 was Erick Rowan and they began the Wyatt Family domination portion of the match. Harper dumped out Neville & Stardust and Harper put Jericho in his head-and-arm choke. Mark Henry was #22 but was quickly sent packing by the Wyatts, who then eliminated Sami Zayn to loud boos. Brock Lesnar hit the ring at #23 and carnage ensued. He suplexed Harper & Rowan and beat the hell out of Strowman with some stiff clotheslines and running knees in the corner. Brock eliminated Rowan then Jack Swagger had the nerve to show up at #24 and he ate an F5 before being thrown out by Lesnar. Miz was #25 and he joined the announcers because he was scared of Lesnar, who eliminated Harper and then Strowman at about 45:00. #26 was Alberto Del Rio and he fought with Lesnar briefly. Bray Wyatt appeared at #27 and he instructed all his goons to get back in the ring and attacked Lesnar. Brock fought off the Wyatts and dumped them all out again then sent Bray to Suplex City. Lesnar went for an F5 but Harper broke it up with a Superkick and Bray gave Brock Sister Abigail. The Wyatt minions then dumped Lesnar out, which the fans were not happy about. #28 was Dolph Ziggler; Miz decided to get in the ring and went after Dolph. Sheamus was #29 but Roman Reigns reappeared and laid him out in the aisle with a Superman punch. Reigns eliminated Miz & Del Rio then gave Bray a Superman punch. HHH was #30 and the fans actually popped, because the McMahons are stars and everyone else is lucky to be employed by these benevolent demi-gods. HHH & Reigns faced-off; HHH gave Ziggler the Pedigree and Reigns speared Wyatt then they went after each other. Reigns escaped the Pedigree but Sheamus came back and nearly eliminated him. There was a parade of moves from the remaining guys, which culminated in Ziggler nearly eliminating HHH. – Imagine such a thing ever happening. HHH dumped out Ziggler then had a stare-down with Wyatt. HHH eliminated Bray with the help of Sheamus; Jericho gave HHH the Codebreaker but Ambrose tossed out Jericho, who was in the match for nearly 50 minutes. FINAL FOUR were HHH, Ambrose, Reigns & Sheamus. Reigns hit Sheamus with a Superman punch for the elimination, but HHH came from behind and threw Reigns out just before the hour mark. The people went crazy and HHH gave Reigns a crotch-chop; what a great heel. HHH & Ambrose were the final two and the fans got behind Ambrose big time. They did some basic stuff, it could have been better if they went longer but they were coming up on the 11pm hour and were pushed for time I guess. Finish saw Ambrose dump HHH onto the apron but HHH ended up giving him a backdrop over the top to win the Rumble and the WWE World title. (*** ¾)
Stephanie & Vince showed up to celebrate with Huntor the Conqueror, as a bunch of pyro went off around the WrestleMania sign.
The Rumble match wasn’t perfect by any means. The fact that AJ Styles was in for 28 minutes while Chris Jericho made it to 50 minutes is utterly absurd. They could have easily shuffled some things around and had Owens eliminate AJ later on in the match, and the same goes for Zayn eliminating Owens. It pretty much goes without saying that HHH being booked like the returning hero to get his revenge on Roman Reigns was totally ass-backwards, but it is hard to be too upset about this year’s Rumble. Even without a bunch of surprises or any returning legends, they managed to pretty much book the match so it felt like there was never too much down time with a bunch of geeks and mid-carders in there. Overall the strongest WWE PPV since SummerSlam.