Dean Ambrose (c) vs Kevin Owens (Last Man Standing Match for the Intercontinental Championship)
The only worthwhile match on last year’s Royal Rumble was the Triple Threat match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. It was a Match of the Year contender, and this year’s Royal Rumble began with a Match of the Year contender. I’ve lamented that Owens and Ambrose haven’t put together a great match, but they certainly did in the opener. It contained the requisite amount of kendo sticks, tables and chairs for your typical hardcore match, but Owens and Ambrose mixed all of the elements together with panache. In the first five minutes, we saw Owens break the timekeeper’s barricade with a cannonball to Ambrose. The high spots came thick and fast, hooked together by some good in-ring psychology. A Last Man Standing match can feel disjointed, but Owens and Ambrose saved the real countdowns until the last ten minutes or so. This was easily the best match of the night, and it will take a hell of a match in the coming year to match its quality! Also, Ambrose’s victory signalled an end to his feud with Owens. Where will the two wrestlers go now? Hopefully to even bigger and better things!
WINNER: Dean Ambrose
VERDICT: 9/10. A great match, utilising the Last Man Standing gimmick to produce high spots and high drama.
The New Day (c) vs The Usos (Tag Team Championship Match)
The New Day were cheered during their elaborate entrance. The Usos were heavily booed during their entrance. It created an awkward atmosphere for the match and the performers struggled to overcome it. Of course, The Usos and The New Day are guaranteed to put on a decent match, but it’s a match we’ve seen far too many times before. They rarely deviated from their typical match, which is all well and good, but comes with no surprises. It felt like a glorified Raw bout. The only highlight of the match for me was Xavier Woods’ Tornado DDT on one of the Usos using the barricade, and Woods wasn’t even in the match! Big E speared one of the Usos through the ropes, but that is now an overused spot. The ending was muddled, as often happens with The New Day (being the heels, they rarely win clean!). Hopefully The Usos will go to the back of the queue in the tag team division…but who can face The New Day? We need a great babyface tag team…anyone?
WINNERS: The New Day
VERDICT: 6/10. Better than average, but the same match we’ve seen plenty of times before from the two tag team. And The Usos are stale, even after a six month absence due to injury.
Alberto Del Rio (c) vs Kalisto (United States Championship match)
Did we really need to see this match, one we’ve seen twice on TV in the past couple of weeks? Why the completely unnecessary title changes, one after another? However, there was plenty to enjoy in this match, bar a few very ugly botches. In one botch, Kalisto tried to jump off Del Rio’s back for something, but just fell over! Del Rio almost didn’t catch Kalisto with his double knees after Kalisto attempted a springboard manoeuvre. Apart from those few blips, I found myself enjoying the match. Del Rio controlled much of the bout, evading or countering many of Kalisto’s high risk offence. For example, Kalisto attempted a head scissor takedown, but Del Rio reversed it into a gut buster! However, the ending really confused me. Why have Kalisto win the title back? Why the hot potato with the US championship match? Kalisto should have won the title, and in the rematch have lost via count out or something. Thanks to his victory, we are due another rematch between the two wrestlers…
WINNER: (And New US Champ) Kalisto
VERDICT: 7/10. A good bout, considering we’ve seen the two battles twice in recent weeks. Some innovative spots were spoiled by a few botches, but overall entertaining!
Charlotte (c) vs Becky Lynch (Diva’s Championship Match)
I expected a lot more from these two talented women. The match was good, but they had a much better match in NXT last year. It’s as if they were holding something back; or rather, Ric Flair was holding them back. Charlotte doesn’t need him and her character feels restrained by his presence. His interference, on two occasions, made me question why the referee didn’t disqualify Charlotte. On the first one, he kissed Lynch! Come on, that’s sexual assault. His constant wooing also irritated me. Let Charlotte be her own person. Charlotte and Lynch know how to build a match, and there was nothing wrong with the build of this match. It built from feeling each other out to big moves towards the end. All of the elements for a great match were there, but they didn’t come together. However, the occurrence after the match made me forget all about the match!
Sasha Banks came out. After attacking Lynch, she swerved on Charlotte! The women’s match we’ve all been waiting for is on: Charlotte vs Banks!!! The crowd lapped it up, and so did I!
VERDICT: 7/10. Nothing wrong with the match, but nothing overly right with it either. These women are capable of so much more! But at least we are on the road to Charlotte feuding with Banks!
Royal Rumble Match for the WWE Heavyweight Champiosnship (Roman Reigns is the defending Champion)
For the past two years, the Royal Rumble match has been the worst part of the Special, in no part thanks to Daniel Bryan (either his absence in 2014 or his quick elimination last year). The crowd have poured absolute scorn on the matches, and the eventual winners (Batista and Reigns respectively). How could they mess up here? The good news is that this Rumble was better than the previous two. The bad news is that there was still a lot to grumble about (and there were possibly more negatives than positives).
Having Rusev out at Number 2 was pointless. Why didn’t McMahon have the League Of Nations come in at 2, 3, 4 and 5? Reigns eliminated Rusev with the greatest of ease. In at Number 3? Only AJ freaking Styles! The awful camera work botched his entrance, but I did mark out when I realised who had entered the Rumble. The crowd absolutely loved it! But why Number 3? What a peculiar number for a debut! Not only that, but it was clear who the crowd favoured in the Reigns and Styles confrontation: Styles! That was Error Number One in the booking of Reigns during the Rumble, who is supposedly the top babyface of the company.
After the excitement of Styles died down, the Rumble itself degenerated into a borefest, especially with the entries of Kane, Big Show and Chris Jericho. To distract from the borefest, Reigns was dragged out of the ring and attacked by the League of Nations. But they didn’t eliminate him; they just beat him up a lot. Reigns refused to be put on a stretcher, but walked out of the match anyway. It paved the way for his eventual comeback, but it was handled horribly. He was absent for about half of the match! It was supposed to be Reigns vs everyone else. The crowd needed to see him claw and fight his way to the end of the match, rather than be absent for half of it! That’s how you book a babyface!
However, the match heated up with the entrance of Owens, who sold his opening match beautifully. Not only that, but his immediate brawl with Styles was intense, even if it did lead to Owens eliminating Styles (cue the boos!). Sami Zayn got a massive pop with his surprise entrance, and eliminated Owens! Will we see either Owens against Zayn or Styles at Mania? Either one would be fantastic! Brock Lesnar came in and destroyed everybody. How doesn’t he seriously injure somebody? After eliminating all of the Wyatt Family bar Bray Wyatt, the eliminated members came back and beat him down. Wyatt eliminated him shortly afterwards. Wyatt vs Lesnar at Mania? What a peculiar match! Wyatt is the most frequent victim of WWE’s quick build and quick descent booking. Who thinks Wyatt has a chance against Lesnar? No one!
Reigns returned before Entrant Number 30 to boos. It led to Entrant 30 being…HHH, to a massive ovation! Errr, isn’t he supposed to be the big heel? The crowd cheered because HHH had the biggest possibility of eliminating Reigns. The other two in the Final Four were Ambrose and Sheamus, who had no chance of winning the Rumble. HHH’s surprise elimination of Reigns garnered another big pop, but meant that the final two were HHH and Ambrose…meaning that the winner would be HHH. And it sure was!
This is counter-productive booking. Reigns has only had the title for just over a month, after overcoming the odds. At the Rumble, he failed to overcome the odds simply to face HHH at Mania for the title. Why not have him defend the title against HHH at Mania? Not only that, but Reigns was booed heavily during the Rumble. After finally achieving some crowd acceptance since TLC 2015, WWE are now back to square one with him. But I could rant all night about the failures of the Rumble for the third time in a row…
WINNER: (And new WWE Champion) HHH
VERDICT: 4/10. This Rumble match was better than the previous two, but still gave us questionable booking and too many superfluous entries. R-Truth with a ladder? Mark Henry? Kane? Most of the real popular wrestlers were eliminated too early and too quickly. A decent middle, but a middling beginning and endings.
OVERALL VERDICT: 6/10. In general, a better Royal Rumble Special than we’ve been granted in the past few years. It started off with a Match of the Year contender between Owens and Ambrose, and the other straight matches offered something to entertain us. However, the Rumble itself was a truly mixed bag. We may have seen AJ Styles in a WWE ring, but we also saw a lot of time-wasting entries. Plus, the booking of Reigns made little sense…
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