Tag Archives: Royal Rumble

Royal Rumble 2017 – The Alamodome, San Antonio – 29/01/17

Royal Rumble 2017 logoWhile there’s no denying that WrestleMania is the WWE’s, and all of pro-wrestling’s, biggest event of the year, what comes second could be debated, is it NJPW’s January fourth show (this year WrestleKingdom 11), is it SummerSlam (WWE’s WrestleMania of the summer) or is it the Royal Rumble where WWE kickstarts its year and the ‘Road to WrestleMania’?

If be hard pressed to argue against the Rumble, not only is it a launching off point for WWE’s hottest season its name has entered the pop culture lexicon like few things from pro-wrestling ever have and, with supposedly more than 50,000 in attendance the 2017 edition of the show could well confirm my argument.

Even in the pre show it was clear that The Alamodome was a vast arena and a far better scale of this was given than in the 1997 event which also took place here and even as the warm up matches got under way the crowd was already huge.

Kick Off Show

Becky Lynch, Nikki Bella and Naomi vs Alexa Bliss, Mickie James and Natalya

While a women’s six-man tag match screams throwaway warmup match it was clear that all six competitors, Superstars if you will, didn’t want this to be seen that way as all were obviously giving it their all.

Naomi flies at Alexa Bliss

Naomi flies at Alexa Bliss

Seeing Mickie James back on the main shows was great and gives a boost to the Smackdown roster that is otherwise made up of many lesser experienced performers or those moving out of the Diva-era into new WWE women’s wrestling.

As the match went on several storylines were developed or set up that could all feed into WrestleMania but it was the startlingly athletic Naomi pinning the Smackdown Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss after a split legged moonsalut that was the biggest story moment and I expect to see this play out as we head toward April.

WWE Raw Tag Team Championship
Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson (aka The Club) vs Cesaro & Sheamus (c)

Following a bit of a flat run in the middle of 2016, the new year has started with former IWGP Tag Team Champions, The Club, on great form while the development of the tag team champions has been equally great to watch so this felt like a natural match about who of these two rough and tough teams is the best.

The Club win the gold

The Club win the gold

As expected the action was hard-hitting throughout with The Club playing the classic heels and Sheamus and Cesaro’s teamwork growing to new heights, including some nice tandem attacks.

The gimmick of the second referee of course came into play in the conclusion as one ref ate a Brogue Kick from Sheamus allowing The Club to hit their Magic Killer finisher in the Irishman before Anderson rolled up Cesaro with a handful of tights to capture the gold.

This left stuff nicely open for the feud to continue on to Mania and showed The Club as they should have been all along, hard-hitting, dastardly heels of the old school.

Sasha Banks vs Nia Jax

While this match felt like it had come a little out of nowhere over the last few weeks Banks’ history shows she is rarely less than a good performer and Jax has developed into a solid, if slightly one-dimensional performer and that about sums up how the match went.

Nia Jax locks a strech muffler on Sasha Banks

Nia Jax locks a strech muffler on Sasha Banks

With a typical big wrestler vs small wrestler story it wasn’t anything special but Sasha is great at getting sympathy as Nia beat her with size and strength at every turn.

Sasha got a brief comeback after Jax went shoulder first into the ring post including hitting a nice double knee dive. Like Nakamura last night at NXT Takeover though this was Bank’s downfall and her knee injury allowed Jax to hit the pop-up Samoan Drop for the win.

While it’s no surprise to see Nia Jax get pushed (she is after all both an imposing presence and a cousin to The Rock) I’m not sure where she can go now as a dominating heel and Charlotte Flair also sitting atop the mountain as a dominant heel of a different flavour.

Main Show

As I’ve said previously the Royal Rumble is arguably the second biggest show in the pro-wrestling calendar and with an opening hype video like this it really got that across. Unlike many other shows which focus on all sorts of things it was clear that this was all about champions and contenders.

All the matches before the Rumble were for a title and then, of course, the Rumble itself is for a shot at the WWE World or Universal Championship at WrestleMania and from the off its clear this huge crowd was an excited for the show.

WWE Raw Women’s Championship
Bayley vs Charlotte Flair (c)

As her music hit and she made her way onto the stage in her ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage colours and tassels the crowd erupted for Bayley, showing the ongoing potential she has to be a top-level babyface like few female performers her.

Bayley attacks Charlotte Flair

Bayley attacks Charlotte Flair

Charlotte was greeted by a similarly loud reaction but suited to her heel persona as she has, over the past year, really grown into her role as a Flair to great effect.

As the heel champion Flair set the tone with a slow and steady pace, working down her faster more exuberant challenger before Bayley came back with speed and pace including a baseball slide hurricanrana, springboard cross body and Savage style diving elbow drop, before Charlotte regained the advantage with some brilliantly heelish use of the ring apron and steel stairs.

After that it was nearly all Charlotte as she continued to build her dominant persona culminating in a Natural Selection cutter on the ring apron. While this wasn’t the stormer I thought it might manage to be it was still a good, classically paced, contest and it remains great to see the women’s matches given the same level of importance and respect now as the men’s.

WWE Universal Championship
Roman Reigns vs Kevin Owens (c)
No Disqualification with Chris Jericho suspended above the ring in a shark cage!

While the gimmick may sound ridiculous it has its history back in the old territorial days and WWE have recently revived it with the same being used back at NXT Takeover: Toronto in November with Paul Ellering in the cage. Now it was Jericho’s turn to stop him from interfering in the match.

Kevin Owens frog splashes Roman Reigns

Kevin Owens frog splashes Roman Reigns

Owens and Jericho’s arrival got a very positive response (despite their heel role) while the reaction was typically very mixed with the lower, louder boos winning out.

The match itself was a great brawling affair starting with a walk and brawl through the crowd before Owens got the upper hand with a cannonball into the barricade and attempting to powerbomb Reigns throw a pyramid of steel chairs.

Back in the ring the pace slowed as Reigns took control in a far more heel way than anything Owen was really doing before ‘The Big Dog’ headed out the ring and set up a table. It wasn’t long before the table came into play with Owens getting the upper hand and hitting a top rope frog splash on Reigns through the table on the floor to a huge reaction.

After some more back and forth as Reigns survived the table splash Jericho dropped some brass knuckles into the ring and Owens attempted to use them to no avail before taking a Samoan drop onto a steel chair but coming back with a Stone Cold Stunner.

Roman sends Owens through the table

Roman sends Owens through the table

In what felt like the climax of the match Reigns again returned fire driving Owens through the announce table after sending him flying from the top rope through the pyramid of chairs as the crowd continued its mixed response to his every move.

As it looked like the win was secured though Braun Strowman appeared from nowhere chokeslamming Reigns through the table before powerslamming him through another allowing Owens to retain the Universal Championship.

While this felt like a great high stakes match it was once again a strange one with Reigns role as something of a ‘tweener’ still not really working in a satisfying way, though he is constantly putting on decent matches now. With most of the big bumps being taken by Kevin Owens really showed him as the more dedicated worker and the input of Strowman felt like it didn’t totally make sense given what came later in the night.

WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Neville vs Rich Swann (c)

Another match that had a great build through both Raw and the 205 Live show it was no surprise it got off to a fast start with Neville reinvigorated as the heel and Swann far more on the warpath than we’ve seen to date.

Neville hits a superkick on Swann

Neville hits a superkick on Swann

Neville looks like a beast now and after Swann getting the upper hand early the Geordie came back with a powerful missile dropkick from the top rope before slowing the pace down and using his strength to take the advantage.

Swann came back with a series of stiff kicks, showing he can play Neville’s game too, and hit his spinning heel kick finisher too close to the ropes to get the win.

The end came with a nasty looking superplex (it shows why smaller people doing this move is more dangerous) before Neville locked in his Rings of Saturn style double armbar to claim the Cruiserweight crown.

While the math was decent it didn’t sizzle quite as I thought it might but with the crowd in recovery mode from Roman/Owens and gearing up for Cena/Styles that’s not too surprising and with a solid heel at the top of the Cruiserweight roster now it can only help elevate the 205 Live brand further.

WWE World Championship
John Cena vs AJ Styles (c)

The build up to this match has been bubbling away since last summer and really hit a final burst in the last couple of weeks with an intense war of words between the pair that saw Cena take a darker turn than we’ve seen in a while and Styles’ role as well-travelled legit ‘world champion’ elevated even further.

Styles hits a Phenomenal Forearm on Cena

Styles hits a Phenomenal Forearm on Cena

As the pair were announced both received a mix response (showing how well tweener characters can work) before Cena got the early advantage with a, for him, vicious and physical attack.

For the whole match the crowd were loud and animated as the pair went back and forth time and again with both hitting their big moves early for near falls.

In a very nice sequence the pair traded holds from Cena’s AA to Styles Calf Crusher then STFs from each man and finally a figure-four leg lock from Cena referencing the fact that if he won this Cena would equal Ric Flair’s record number of world championships before AJ revered again into a cross arm breaker.

From there it was a flurry of big moves from both including powerbombs, an avalanche AA, the Styles Clash twice, an Ushigoroshi and more.

The crowd was going nuts for all the near falls as Styles set up for another Phenomenal Forearm before Cena countered, hitting a pair of AAs for the win to equal Flair’s record and, in a nice touch, the referee was long time Flair compatriot Charles Robinson.

Cena hits the AA on Styles

Cena hits the AA on Styles

While the match was very good (I don’t think it was ‘the best WWE Championship match ever’ as some have claimed) the logic of putting the belt on Cena again is lost on me.

He is a star with or without the belt both in the ring and out and he can’t be elevated any further in the wrestling world by having the championship again. While I respect his work and work ethic I will admit to never getting Cena but I am, as if it wasn’t obvious, a wrestling nerd not a casual fan, though I would have thought keeping the title on Styles going into WrestleMania would have helped elevate him while Cena remains the same star level he has been for the better part of a decade.

Royal Rumble
30 Man Battle Royal For A World of Universal Championship Match at WrestleMania

With more than 50,000 fans singalong to Enzo Amore and Big Cass the Rumble this year got going with the 7-foot New Yorker squaring off against the WWE United States Champion Chris Jericho.

Jack Gallagher gets eliminated

Jack Gallagher gets eliminated

With this being one of the most star-studded Rumbles in its 30 year history there was a real sense of anticipation and as Kalisto and Mojo Rawley entered the pace picked up and it got a nice flow going.

UK cruiserweight Jack Gallagher was a nice highlight early entrant and got up to some fun with his umbrella but was sadly the first man out at the hands of a returning (again) Mark Henry before the arrival of ‘The Monster Amongst Men’ Braun Strowman.

Strowman cleared most from the ring with Jericho sneaking away to hide with the announcers like the classic heel he is. It was clear at this point the first ‘story’ in this year’s Rumble would be based around Braun Strowman but his recent rival Sami Zayn survived the initial attack to stay in.

Entry number 10 was, as many had predicted and hoped, NXT’s ‘Perfect Ten’ Tye Dillinger and he and Zayn took the attack to Strowman while James Ellsworth provided a nice amusing moment leading to a nasty landing getting sent over the top rope by the monster.

The Wyatt Family explode

The Wyatt Family explode

Things became a battle of the big men as Baron Corbin hit the ring and after a flurry from all, including a stiff looking Helluva Kick from Zayn, Corbin sent Strowman out in something of a shock moment.

With Kofi Kingston’s usual survival spot not living up to past efforts the next part of the match saw Sheamus hit the ring in stiff mode battering his way through everyone before his tag team partner Cesaro arrived and hit his Giant Swing on anyone that got too close.

The pair soon eliminated The New Day, reinvigorating their rivalry, before being eliminated themselves by Jericho.

The next section of the match was built around the ongoing collapse of The Wyatt Family with Randy Orton hitting RKO’s on many before Luke Harper turned on Bray Wyatt and the feud hit a new high.

At this point it was clear the big name part timers were all coming late in the match and the crowd were getting impatient for it with regular Goldberg chants filling the Alamodome until Brock Lesnar’s music hit and the crowd erupted. The presence of quite so many part timers getting quite so much glory here is something that irks me a bit but I can see the draw they have to more casual fans, especially the three big names here Lesnar, Goldberg and The Undertaker.

Goldberg spears Lesnar

Goldberg spears Lesnar

Lesnar did what he does with multiple eliminations, suplexes and F-5s before the comparatively tiny Enzo Amore hit the ring all brash bluster and did one of the best sells on a clothesline I’ve seen in a long time before going over the top rope at the hands of the Beast.

With the field clear (or at least all downed at the hands of Lesnar) the epic music of Goldberg blared and he stalked to the ring face off with one of his greatest rivals. In a repeat of Survivor Series in November there’s a spear, a clothesline and Goldberg sends Lesnar packing in another shock moment that looks to be leading to a rematch at WrestleMania.

With an open moment Orton and Wyatt attack Goldberg before Goldberg gets the upper hand but the lights go out and The Undertaker appears in the ring attacking and eliminating Goldberg in another shock.

The final man out is, of course, Roman Reigns to another unbalanced reaction and he and Taker face off and go at it before Reigns sends Taker to the floor and I can only assume that WWE is finally pushing Reigns as an all out heel as the crowd chanted ‘bullshit’ at quite some volume.

Reigns stares down The Undertaker

Reigns stares down The Undertaker

With Reigns, Orton and Wyatt remaining Roman fought back eliminating Bray before Randy countered a spear into an RKO and got the, to me, surprise win to get a shot at John Cena at WrestleMania.

While I will admit to not being too hot on the idea of Cena vs Orton again at Mania the end of the match was nicely delivered but as a whole the match felt unbalanced.

The presence of the part timers in the final chunk added little to the overall match while their interactions with the main performers did nothing but make them look weaker leaving things on something of a downer

Randy Orton wins the Royal Rumble

Randy Orton wins the Royal Rumble

That said I remain hopeful that WWE have some good things planned heading into WrestleMania  as, while this whole show was certainly good, it lacked the magic thing to take it to the next level – maybe its too much hype that could never be lived up to?

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The True Story of the Royal Rumble – Blu-ray

The True Story of the Royal Rumble - blu-rayIn January 1988 WWE (then WWF) started their year with a TV special show featuring a new type of match. Based on the traditional ‘all in’ Battle Royal that has been a part of professional wrestling for decades, the Royal Rumble took the basic format of many men in the ring at once trying to throw each other out and, with a few tweaks, made it into something that is still one of the most anticipated and well-known pro-wrestling formats as we head to its 30th occurrence next month.

To mark what they are calling the ’30th anniversary’ WWE have released a ‘documentary’ looking at the ‘true story’ of the match and the surrounding event and, much like most other recent WWE productions it is a mixed bag, too focussed on short attention spans to present anything genuinely revealing.

In a conceit they’ve used a few times recently, most memorably in Daniel Bryan’s autobiography and accompanying video set, the historical story is interspersed with behind the scenes moments focussing on the most recent event (in this case 2016). While this behind the scenes stuff is vaguely interesting most of it is either things you’ll have seen before if you’ve seen anything about how WWE stages one or their shows or is clips of the actual show you’ve already seen, just with a bit more clever editing involved.

Hacksaw Jim Duggan wins the first Royal Rumble

Hacksaw Jim Duggan wins the first Royal Rumble

The most interesting elements of this are around the ‘surprise’ entries and how the surprise is maintained, though a few brief clips with AJ Styles do little more than suggest that somewhere in the WWE archive is a very interesting interview with one of the greatest wrestlers on the planet that we’re not being shown.

The historical segments are the most interesting part of this with the match’s creator, WWE legend and ‘Vince McMahon’s right hand man, Pat Paterson and NBC executive Dick Ebersol giving some insight into its creation (Ebersol stands out massively as a non-WWE figure on one of these documentaries though the archive shots of him promoting the XFL suggest he’s someone trusted by the McMahon machine) and the first event with that matches winner, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, actually speaking quite well on what it meant at the time and how the match came together in the ring.

From there it’s hard to escape it feeling like an hour-long trail for the next event with many current performers talking about how big and important the match has been over the years in clearly scripted ‘interviews’, with obvious accompanying clips.

Roman Reigns and The Rock at the 2015 Royal Rumble

Roman Reigns and The Rock at the 2015 Royal Rumble

The aforementioned Duggan interview, along with interviews with Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash and a few others do give a bit more context to the past events but, for various reasons (some obvious, some not), many of the key players are missing making it hard to get past a superficial or one-sided feeling to all this.

Unfortunately it makes the main ‘documentary’ feel like something of a wasted opportunity as there is certainly an interesting story to tell about this most famous of matches, but it feels as if the surface is barely scratched here with a chronologically muddled film that doesn’t seem to want to do anything but stress the importance of the event without any real back up to this while fitting into the current WWE network format that will do nothing but date it badly in the coming years. And with all of this phrase ‘make Roman look strong’ is never far away…

Chris Jericho and AJ Styles in the 2016 Royal Rumble

Chris Jericho and AJ Styles in the 2016 Royal Rumble

The Blu-ray set also includes a few ‘exclusives’ that are interesting asides in a few cases, particularly Duggan discussing his confrontations with The Undertaker at an early Rumble and then much later, Ric Flair talking about his return to wrestling in the WWE in the early 2000s and Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch discussing the idea of a women’s only Royal Rumble in the future.

Also included are a series of matches from Royal Rumble events over the years including four full Rumble matches. While all are interesting and a few are referenced in the documentary, there is a lack of any sense of coherent curation or explanation of ‘why these matches’ leaving it all feeling a bit disjointed, something that really sums up the whole package.

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Royal Rumble 2015

Royal Rumble 2015 posterSo, 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.

The Ascension

The Ascension

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).

Uso Crazy!

Uso Crazy!

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.

Natalya Neidhart and Nikki Bella

Natalya Neidhart and Nikki Bella

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.

Seth Rollins, Brock Lesnar and John Cena

Seth Rollins, Brock Lesnar and John Cena

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.

Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins

Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins

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.

Bubba Ray Dudley

Bubba Ray Dudley

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.

Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt

Daniel Bryan and Bray 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.

Diamond Dallas Page and Bray Wyatt

Diamond Dallas Page and Bray Wyatt

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.

Big Show & Kane and Ambrose and Reigns

Big Show & Kane and Ambrose and Reigns

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.

Roman Reigns and The Rock

Roman Reigns and The Rock

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

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Beyond The Mat

Beyond The Mat coverI probably first saw Beyond The Mat, a somewhat infamous (to fans at least), documentary about professional wrestling in 1999 or 2000 as I was getting back into WWE (or then WWF) and exploring further into the worlds of ECW and other independent promotions.

Revisiting it now, 12 or so years on, it remains a striking look at the ‘sport’ and the personalities behind it and, I have to say, it really is far from a positive view.

Across the film director/writer Barry W. Blaustein focuses on a few of the men who have become internationally famous for their involvement with pro-wrestling, Mick Foley, Terry Funk and Jake Roberts, and paints a picture of them as they all stand at different stages of their career.

It gives an insight into the little known backstage world which, at that time at least, still had a lot of the feeling of the travelling carnival it grew from hidden within its façade of big business, or so this film seems to suggest.

Terry Funk

Terry Funk

As a fan of wrestling I find this dichotomy fascinating and while Blaustein never really challenges much of what we are seeing (he is a self-confessed fan too) what we see does raise some questions and provides a few answers – if more by luck than judgement.

If you come to this film for the first time now, and have seen Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, there are some things, particularly in the story of Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, which may already be familiar but here we get something approaching the truth of it, particularly from Roberts’ estranged daughter.

Mick Foley and family

Mick Foley and family

While the picture that Beyond The Mat paints of both the wrestlers and their fans isn’t always entirely complementary there is an element of the film that hints that Blaustein himself may not be blameless in constructing some of this view.

Of course I have no proof of this beyond the feeling I get from the film, but there are moments where I wonder if the mere presence of Blaustein’s camera escalates the situations depicted.

This is particularly noticeable during the segment on the Mankind’s (Mick Foley) ‘I Quit’ match with The Rock from the 1999 Royal Rumble where Blaustein follows Foley’s wife and two young children as they watch the, frankly brutal, match and their reaction to it and I couldn’t help but think would Foley have brought them along and would they have stayed in the front row as long as they did if the film camera hadn’t been on them.

Jake 'The Snake' Roberts with a fan

Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts with a fan

But I guess that’s speculation.

In general terms the film doesn’t really feel like a cinematic documentary, rather it almost sits well as an extended edition of the episode of Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends which dealt with the same subject, but in greater detail and with more background knowledge on display.

Its hard for me to say whether Beyond The Mat would be of interest to non-wrestling fans but, as a fan, it is a fascinating look into a now seemingly lost era of attitude in “sports entertainment” and I can’t help but thinking a version of this film now would tell a very different story and that this film may have sparked a lot of those changes.

and just to give you an idea of the I Quit match a few (fan edited) highlights:

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