|Image Source: PWMania.com|
Written By: Mark Armstrong
Produced By: WWE
Date: January 25 2015
Location: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
The Royal Rumble traditionally starts the Road To WrestleMania, usually the most exciting time of the year in WWE. This, in turn, makes the Rumble one of the most anticipated matches of the year: the Rumble shapes the big one, WrestleMania, which in turn sets up the remainder of the year.
Last year, the Rumble misfired when Daniel Bryan was not entered into the match to the dismay of fans who wanted him to win, leading to resentment towards the victor Batista and storylines changing to give the people what they wanted. There was an element of risk heading into this year’s show too: Bryan was back from injury and was clearly a favourite to win, but reports dating back to last summer suggested that Roman Reigns was the man who WWE wanted to win. It would make for a fascinating Rumble, as we would all learn who got the big opportunity and what fate awaited the runner-up (it was very unlikely that somebody else was going to win).
Unfortunately, this time WWE not only misfired, it ended up shooting itself, and only for an amazing title match, the 2015 Rumble would go down as one of the worst WWE shows ever; fortunately, as I will explain, the card had some redeeming moments before the Rumble that nearly caused a riot.
Pre-show, we got Cesaro and Tyson Kidd vs. The New Day. Being in Philadelphia meant a strong possibility of “real” wrestlers being cheered over “gimmicks”, but the ovation that Kidd and Cesaro received and, more importantly, the boos which greeted The New Day were something else. This was actually a very good tag bout which saw the New Day fall, a result which pleased the Phillie throng. What could have been a career-enhancing character change for Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods has had the opposite effect so far; responses like this haven’t been uncommon for the trio, leading me to suspect that the group may not have a long shelf life.
On the PPV (the first to be shown in the UK on the WWE Network), the opener saw The Ascension battle The New Age Outlaws. It was a bit thrown-together, it was rather short and whilst the newcomers won with the Fall Of Man, it wasn’t particularly memorable either. An important result for Konor and Viktor, then, but unlikely to be remembered in future as a landmark career moment for The Ascension.
Next up was a WWE Tag Team Title match between The Usos and the team of The Miz and Damien Mizdow. Mizdow was his usual entertaining self, but he didn’t get much ring time, a decision that cost Miz as he ended up dropping the match for his side. Some complained that Damien wasn’t used much, but I felt that it fit within the story: yes, Miz is a cowardly villain, so he should be more inclined to let his stunt double do the work; however, the increasing jealousy towards Mizdow’s popularity is keeping Miz from allowing Mizdow to tag in, hence the reduced ring time. If used as part of what will no doubt be a break-up storyline, then it works. My bigger issue was that, whilst entertaining, this match could have been any tag bout from Raw, especially given their frequent meetings and the lack of build to this latest installment.
We then got the third consecutive tag team match of the supershow (fourth if you include the Kick-Off bout), this time involving Divas. The Bella Twins vs. Paige and Natalya was alright, but I didn’t see the point of the Bellas winning and preventing one of their opponents getting a non-title win in a tag environment which could lead to a title shot at a future event. Although it is likely that Paige and/or Natalya will challenge Nikki Bella next for the Divas crown, a result like this doesn’t really help. Mind you, the booking of this match is a very mild complaint compared to what was to come later on.
In the semi-final spot, Brock Lesnar finally defended the WWE World Heavyweight Championship after a four-month absence against John Cena and Seth Rollins in a Triple Threat match. Originally set to be the final chapter in the Cena-Lesnar rivalry (Cena had to win a Hell In A Cell match to get the title shot, and then win a Tables match to keep it), Rollins was abruptly added after he helped bring back The Authority. Although some didn’t want to see another Cena-Lesnar meeting, I did wonder whether adding the talented but credibility-challenged Rollins to this match would reduce it somehow. Nearer the time, and especially after the pre-Rumble Raw, I started to believe that Rollins would enhance it – he would undoubtedly increase the quality of wrestling on show, I was thinking more about the match’s big-fight feel – and felt we would be treated to a pretty good title match.
However, the 3-way ended up being an absolutely brilliant affair. The crowd heat was there from the start. All three competitors were on top form, especially Rollins in his biggest match to date who delivered a performance to rival that of Shawn Michaels as he was first ascending the ladder in the WWF. There were a ton of big moves, including an insane top rope elbow by Rollins to Lesnar through an announcer’s table and an astonishing Phoenix Splash by Mr. Money In The Bank onto Cena. The intensity was at a high, realistic level. There were a wealth of extremely close calls before the finish. In short, everything about this clash was spectacular. It was the match of 2015 thus far, and will probably be a strong contender come the end of the year as well. Lesnar won with an F5 on Rollins after he brilliantly intercepted a Curb Stomp. There was no MITB cash-in as some had predicted, but no matter: it enhanced all three participants, most notably the titleholder Lesnar who reacted to criticism of his light schedule with a performance to blow everyone away, and Seth Rollins who will look back on this as the day he proved that he indeed was, or will be a big part of, “The Future” in WWE.
All that remained, then, was the Royal Rumble match. Would it be Daniel Bryan or Roman Reigns to triumph – and, if so, how? Oh, boy, here we go …
The Rumble started well enough, even if having The Miz and R-Truth as the first two entries felt a bit stale. Bubba Ray Dudley returning after a 10-year absence from WWE as #3 was a massive surprise and blew the roof off the Wells Fargo Center (in the hometown of the original ECW, don’t forget). Miz going out before Mizdow even arrived was unexpected and not in a good way, but that would prove to be a recurring theme in this match. Luke Harper and Bray Wyatt entered, with Wyatt taking control (he eliminated Bubba quicker than most would have liked), before the non-participant Erick Rowan attacked Curtis Axel en route to the ring (so, Axel never entered). It seemed this would lead to a Wyatt Family reunion, something most seemed to want – until they suddenly started brawling, which was a bit disappointing. Wyatt cleared the ring before another retro character entered in The Boogeyman. Wyatt dispatched of him and began “owning” the ring, as he handily threw out Sin Cara and Zack Ryder, before Daniel Bryan came in at #10. Fans roared “Yes!” as one of the favourites had arrived, and whilst Fandango, Tyson Kidd, Stardust and even the returning Diamond Dallas Page entered, Bryan had taken control; all eyes were on him as fans looked out to see how he would either go on to win, or how he would be eliminated near the finish once Roman Reigns entered. Then Rusev entered, had an attempt to eliminate Bryan but of course DBryan repelled it; it was obviously too early for him to go out … then Wyatt knocked him off the apron and he was out.
Eliminated halfway through. Fairly easily. And he was a favourite!
Needless to say, fans were disappointed. Actually, that’s an understatement; they were livid. I wasn’t angry, but I did feel that his elimination was a big let-down. Rather than let him fight to the end, or even have his dream denied by The Authority, he was thrown out like a mid-carder who had no chance of winning. Fans booed as Goldust entered, which meant that a confrontation between Goldust and Stardust went unnoticed. Fans booed as Kofi Kingston came in (although he was also booed for being a New Day member), and as Adam Rose’s entourage saved Kofi in Kingston’s annual Rumble escape. The boos just kept coming, along with chants of “Daniel Bryan!”
Then, at number 19, Roman Reigns entered, and fans gave him a thunderous 100% boo. If it hadn’t already, the Royal Rumble match had just fallen apart.
At least in 2014, fans only booed from #30 to the finish, and booed specific people more than those making the decisions (even if the bookers were the target of their wrath). This time, the entire second half of the match was being greeted with an overwhelming negative reaction, and rightly so: Bryan’s treatment was inexplicable. The question going in was whether Reigns would be booed at all, and it seems that Bryan was eliminated early because WWE knew that his elimination would not be greeted warmly, so fans could release their boos before Reigns arrived to raise spirits. Instead, Bryan’s sudden and poorly-booked elimination took the entire energy out of the crowd, leaving the notoriously tough Philadelphia crowd to boo anything and everything else, especially Reigns. Far from receiving light boos because of Bryan’s popularity, the manner of Daniel’s ousting led the entire arena to turn on the former Shield member with a vengeance.
If that is the reason why Bryan went out in the manner that he did, that says more about WWE’s poor character development. Why would you have to do that to ensure that your next great hope to be top babyface would get cheered? Shouldn’t Reigns’ popularity overcome that of Bryan, no matter the circumstances? Back in 2001, The Rock entered midway through the Rumble, and eventual winner Stone Cold Steve Austin entered near the end. But Rock wasn’t eliminated early, and in fact Rock and Austin squared off in the match, and both were cheered. The reason: both were immensely popular, so there was no fear of fans turning on one for the other. Granted, they are exceptional examples, but the same applied to Batista and John Cena in 2005, when both were rising stars; to The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels in 2007; to John Cena and Triple H in 2008 (Cena was booed but he always is by some, and not anywhere to the degree that Reigns was here). There are other examples too. Case in point: if WWE had to do this to ensure that Reigns was cheered, then should Reigns be pushed ahead of Bryan? Alternatively, don’t enter Bryan in this bout at all and have him return from his neck injury at a later date so that Reigns would be the clear favourite. More predictable, yes, but the results wouldn’t have been so ugly.
Back to the match, then, and nothing really happened until the finish from there. Big E was booed. Damien Mizdow did get cheers, and his storyline with Miz took a step forward as Miz tried to prevent him entering and when he was denied, Mizdow did go in; however, this was a bit rushed which disappointed those expecting a major incident. Jack Swagger received a better reaction than expected, actually. Ryback’s pop was acceptable too, although the non-entrance portions had become an assault on the booking team via Reigns, and Reigns himself of course, and support of Daniel Bryan. I agree with their views, by the way, to an extent at least (I wouldn’t necessarily have heckled Reigns for the way Bryan went out, even if it was for his benefit), but for WWE this was a disaster of their own making. Kane was ignored when he entered. Dean Ambrose was loudly cheered. Titus O Neil and Bad News Barrett didn’t get much of a response. Cesaro got a decent reaction. Big Show was also ignored. And Dolph Ziggler at #30 got a very good pop.
I was disappointed, though, that whilst Bubba Ray, Boogeyman and DDP entered in the first half, no surprise retro names came in the second half. They would have actually been a genuine way to halt the boos that came after Bryan went out, especially if it had been Bubba at, say, #16 or #17. Additionally, no names familiar with current fans whose comebacks are imminent returned; no Randy Orton was a letdown, and the rumoured reappearance of The Undertaker and, according to his Twitter page as shown on the Kick-Off, The Rock did not materialise. (In the latter case, not yet, at least.) The first half of the match was done fairly well; the second half was done very badly.
More troubling, though, was that Kane and Big Show easily dismantled the remaining entries, including the very popular Ambrose and Ziggler, the only two remaining entries who had a chance of getting cheered for winning. I didn’t think Ambrose had a realistic chance, but I thought Ziggler was a dark horse given his renewed push in late 2014. That he lasted 2:29 was beyond belief. And the Authority giants also threw out Bray Wyatt easily, who had dominated much of the match and, of course, had thrown out Bryan. What a waste. This all would have been okay had Kane and Show not been in their mid-to-late 40’s, with their best days well behind them, with a slow ring style, and with the only remaining man in the ring being pelted with a shower of boos.
Therefore, the Reigns-Kane-Show ending was the most unpopular in Rumble history. Fans knew what was going on: the giants had dominated so that Reigns could look strong by throwing them out. Therefore, there was no excitement; just a whole lot of boos. Reigns did throw them out to apparently win, only for the mammoths to attack him. Even this was booed. This wasn’t like the anti-John Cena boos where his opponents are cheered; everything here was booed. This was a verbal attack on the booking team via the in-ring combatants. One was embarrassed for WWE watching it. They had totally misfired, far worse than last year.
But then The Rock came out! A clear surprise to those in attendance (and it would have been to the viewers at home had WWE not spoiled his presence on the Kick-Off), The Great One defended his cousin Reigns (their relation had not been acknowledged on-screen until now, which didn’t help) but when Roman helped Rock, the boos resurfaced. Contrary to reports, Rock was cheered except when he specifically endorsed Reigns after the match. Rock helped, but even he couldn’t save this mess. Which wasn’t over, by the way: Rusev hadn’t been eliminated, something that only became obvious when fans chanted “We want Rusev!” during the Show-Reigns-Kane exchange. Would Rusev surprise everyone by winning? Surely, when he returned to the action, he would at least look like he could win.
Erm, no. He ran back in after Rock cleared the ring of Kane and Show, but he was immediately speared by Reigns and thrown out within seconds. What was the point of having him wait outside for minutes for such a pointless cameo? In terms of actually booking a moment, this was probably the lowest point of the entire match presentation and, once Rusev was gone, there was no longer any doubt: the man who fans suspected would win, Roman Reigns, did so, and with very little to speak of in terms of his performance until it actually finished. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon came out afterwards and glared at Reigns and Rock, but the overwhelming boos made you wonder “what must they be thinking right now?” Fans booed once more as Reigns celebrated and the show went off the air. On the post-show, Rock and Reigns had a backstage interview where Rock was funny but more in a cruel manner, perhaps due to the negative crowd reaction, and Cena and Rusev had a confrontation to lead to a feud which had been predicted months ago for this time of the year. That’s not a good thing, by the way.
So, what started as a promising and unpredictable Rumble match disintegrated into a very poorly-booked mess that damaged everyone involved. Those who dominated were easily thrown out. The surprise entrants were quickly dispatched. Kane and Big Show were treated as a real annoyance. Daniel Bryan’s rep only survived because of the fans; judging by its actions here, it’s as if WWE wanted Bryan to be tarnished. Roman Reigns’ chances of being “the man” in WWE took a big hit despite his victory. And even The Rock suffered; it says a lot that Rock should make a surprise appearance at a major PPV and it’s almost as if it didn’t happen. An absolute car wreck of a Rumble match, then, for the second year in a row, and a bigger crisis this time around as thousands of fans had #CancelWWENetwork as the number one worldwide trend on Twitter afterwards as they literally cancelled their WWE Network subscriptions. I still say that the disappointing aspect wasn’t so much Reigns winning and Bryan not winning, but the manner in which Bryan was thrown out, and how little else was done for Reigns’ victory to seem unlikely. The other contenders were crushed, and those involved with potential storylines didn’t get much of a chance to advance them. In terms of action, in terms of excitement (early on), in terms of generally being a watchable match, the Royal Rumble wasn’t the worst in the event’s history, but in terms of booking and being a match which resonated with the audience, it was not only the worst Rumble to date, it was one of the worst-received wrestling matches of all-time. If nothing else, it will be very interesting to see where WWE goes from here.
The rest of the card was okay before the title match (which I don’t mind; the Rumble is all about, well, the Rumble, and the title match as well; the undercard matches are filler here more than on any other PPV), which was sensational. Only for the incredible 3-way, Royal Rumble 2015 would get an extremely low rating, but the phenomenal action in that encounter elevates the show as a whole to being decent. Unfortunately, WWE has a lot of work to do from here: if this was the beginning of the Road To WrestleMania, then the path to Levi’s Stadium could be a rocky one, and there is the very real possibility that as bad as the crowd reaction was to the Rumble match here, it could be even worse for the main event of WrestleMania. It did set up the main event of Mania storyline-wise, but in terms of preparing Mania entertainment-wise, the Royal Rumble flatlined for the second consecutive year. Believe that.
Still, there’s always next year, eh?
Overall Rating: 5/10 – Average