So, here’s my second attempt at reviewing a current WWE show following last year’s NXT Takeover: Fatal4Way – this is the first step on the so-called ‘Road To WrestleMania’ and has already proved to be WWE’s most controversial show in a good while, at the very least since last year’s edition, this is the 2015 Royal Rumble!
Coming from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a town renowned for its rowdy wrestling crowds, the controversy was to come much later, so the majority of the undercard were, largely, celebrated for their efforts.
The first match pitted newcomers The Ascension against old hands, returning for (hopefully) a one-off, The New Age Outlaws. From the start the crowd were into the Outlaws shtick, which is always nice to hear again for nostalgia’s sake, and, along with Viktor and Konnor put on a reasonable show for their five minutes in the ring. Billy Gunn once again demonstrated that he can still go pretty well, while Road Dogg didn’t really do a great deal, but carried his end.
My main interest though was in the newcomers who, for the past few weeks, have been lumbered with a story of insulting great tag teams of the past in some cringe-worthy segments, while destroying unknowns. Here though a glimmer of their time in NXT came through, despite the best efforts of JBL burying them on commentary, and they soon hit their impressive finisher, The Fall Of Man, to pin Billy Gunn.
While the match was a bit sloppy the end should have given The Ascension a boost heading out of this angle, hopefully setting up a feud with a possible returning team hinted at later in the show, but some messy commentary from Michael Cole left it feeling a bit flat – I just hope Konnor and Viktor get the chance to be the monster heels they’ve already proved they can be now they’re on this bigger stage.
Next up came the first championship match of the show with the World Tag Team Championship up for grabs. While the match in the ring saw The Usos defending against The Miz and Damien ‘Mizdow’ the whole 10 minutes was really about the interaction between Mizdow and the crowd.
While we were treated to all the spots we’ve come to expect for this quartet as they have faced off time and again in recent months, the former ‘Intellectual Saviour of the Masses’ and his relationship with the crowd was the highlight as he aped The Miz’s actions in the ring while his partner didn’t let him in, much to the audience’s chagrin (to use an old wrestling cliché).
The match ended on a decent little tag spot from the Usos but they once again didn’t really do anything new or engaging that we haven’t been watching for the last five years and I can only hope this feud is coming to an end and Miz and ‘Mizdow’ can go on to singles feud that escalates the clearly talented, and over, Damien Sandow, to at least solid mid-card status.
Along with the pre-show this was the third tag team match of the night, which, to me, seems like an odd way of putting a big show together. Ok, it means none of the wrestlers have to put in as much work, before appearing again later in the Royal Rumble (in the case of those who did) but it also suggests that, despite having a lot of good hands in their roster, WWE doesn’t really have a lot going on with them and away from the main event scene the stories seem to be somewhat lacking in any sense of depth.
Another tag team match followed, this time featuring the ‘divas’, specifically The Bella Twins against the new pairing of Natalya Neidhart and Paige. The majority of the match was geared around stories from WWE’s reality show Total Divas and if you bothered listening to the commentary it felt more like and advert for that than anything else.
As ever, with Natalya involved it was at least solid as she was linchpin of proceedings making for a decent match though I’m not sure it actually went anywhere in the end as Diva’s champ Nikki Bella pinned Natalya after a decent looking forearm smash and some good selling from the current generation of the legendary Hart family.
With the undercard out the way it was time for the matches that actually felt like they had some purpose as World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar defended against John Cena and Seth Rollins.
From the start the triple threat was non-stop action with Cena doing his usual, Brock throwing everyone in sight and Rollins really proving why his elevation to top, full-time, heel is a good move. As the match went on it rarely had the feel that most triple threats do of a rotating series of one of one segments as the three men used the entirety of the ringside area to its full extent.
Of course Lesnar was booked as the monster, taking multiple finishers and still coming back. In the end it seemed to be boiling down to Cena and Rollins squaring off after some great spots that saw Lesnar put through stairs, barricades and the dreaded Spanish announce table.
After back and forth finishers and a spectacular phoenix splash from Rollins, Lesnar returned from nowhere for some more German suplexes and an F5 leaving Brock as champ and therefore making up half of the main event at April’s WrestleMania.
Following a generally lackluster opening few matches the triple threat very much turned the tide and is a standout match in all senses and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s still being talked about come the end of the year. It also, hopefully, cemented Rollins as a top-level player so once Lesnar leaves WWE will at least have someone to try to fill the void he creates.
And so, onto the Royal Rumble match itself, don’t worry for the sake of everyone’s sanity I won’t go through this blow-by-blow, but pick out the crucial moments and highlights.
It started off pretty so-so before the shock return of Bubba Ray Dudley, most recently seen as Bully Ray in TNA, who looked better than ever and went through the Dudley Boys’ classic spots with R-Truth in place of an injured D-Von to a chorus of ‘ECW’ chants from the Philly crowd who were reveling in celebrating one of the their hardcore heroes.
We then got a nice spot with the former Wyatt family members squaring off which sadly wasted Luke Harper’s time in the ring as he was ousted by Bray with an assist of sorts from Erick Rowan (who wasn’t officially part of the match). This did though set up one of the Rumble’s stand out performances from Bray Wyatt who came across as a super strong character, like he hasn’t in a while, and I hope this will lead somewhere as Wyatt looks like he could be one of the best all rounders the company has at present.
Across the match we got our usual guest spot characters as Diamond Dallas Page arrived to show Randy Orton what an effective Diamond Cutter ‘out of nowhere’ really is and The Boogeyman had a fun sequence with Wyatt.
The story of the middle of the match though was that of the recently returned hyper-underdog Daniel Bryan who the crowd were behind 100% like no one else on the night. While he put in a good performance (as always) his elimination changed the mood in the arena in an instant and, to be honest, I felt sorry for pretty much everyone who came out after.
This reached its peak when Roman Reigns, long predicted to win this one, came out and went on to spend the next half hour actually doing very little of any real importance while the others in the ring did their best to put on a good match that had suddenly become painfully predictable.
One thing that was certainly missing from the Rumble was much in the way of new angles being developed, aside from Wyatt’s performance and a hint at something between Intercontinental Champion Bad News Barrett and Dean Ambrose everything else was just so much pointless brawling – even Kofi Kingston didn’t really get his now standard athletic surviving elimination spot, instead being ‘rescued’ by the Rosebuds in a pointless twist on his usual routine.
As the match neared its end the crowd clearly became increasingly incensed as veteran monsters Kane and Big Show demolished anyone else who the crowd was cheering for and, while this may on paper have looked like something that would build heat for The Authority, all it seemed to do was further antagonise the audience.
A brief respite from this was the pop The Rock received for his shock appearance but, once it became clear he was there to help Reigns, even The Great One couldn’t salvage things and the Rumble boiled down to heel Rusev getting cheered while face Reigns was booed and heckled as he won his spot against Lesnar at WrestleMania 31.
For the second year in a row it seemed WWE had misjudged the crowd at the Royal Rumble as what should be the beginning of an epic feud between their top good guy and top bad guy has started out with a chorus of boos (and worse) for the good guy and at least appreciation for the bad guy. Added to this is the fact that with Reigns needing help to win here and Lesnar surviving a truly epic beatdown, Reigns looks, less than ever, like a convincing challenge to the champion.
Whether this situation is turned round remains to be seen, and I’m not going to go into a tirade about what WWE may or may not ‘owe’ their fans, it just seems that in their current state they are like a runaway train with no real sense as where their actions today might lead tomorrow, let alone in two months time.
In the end the 2015 Royal Rumble was a mixed bag highlighted by the must see World Championship Triple Threat Match, but while the Rumble match itself had some good spots, it’s mostly recommended as a talking point more than an actual good match and it left the Road To WrestleMania looking like a very rocky one indeed, both on and off-screen.
Photos from WWE.com