Matt’s Last Look: Royal Rumble 2015

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The Royal Rumble was a night that nobody will forget – although not necessarily for the right reasons. Sound familiar? Thats because that was the exact same sentence I opened my review of last year’s Rumble. A year later, and the same situation arose. The supposed warrior that the fans would rally behind was absolutely rejected by the crowd in attendance, setting to road to WrestleMania off to a shaky start. With that said, lets jump right into the first PPV of 2015. The pre-show actually featured a pretty good match this time around, as the awesome team of Tyson Kidd & Cesaro (joined at ringside by Adam Rose and Natalya) defeated Big E & Kofi Kingston of the New Day. I was pleasantly surprised by the result, as Kidd & Cesaro had only been positioned as fodder since forming their team for the most part, however their victory here makes me hopeful of a push into the title scene for them. The New Day was crapped on by the fans throughout the whole match. Overall the match went just over 11 minutes but was a lot of fun to watch. Plenty of solid tag team action and it really would have made a good opener to the actual PPV. With the pre-show out of the way, we kicked off the actual PPV with a video package focusing on the Rumble match followed by the WWE title triple threat. Inside the arena, the pyro went off as usual and the announce team of Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler & John Bradshaw Layfield welcomed us to the show.

New Age Outlaws vs The Ascension Winners: The Ascension when Konnor pinned Billy Gunn following the Fall of Man at 5:25. Heading into this show I had one question about this match – what was the point of it even being booked? Sure, the Outlaws are a legendary tag team that the crowd loves and all, so a win over them is something the Ascension can talk about going forward, but the way they got to this match was terrible. I was a big fan of the Ascension in NXT. I was not the only one. I eagerly anticipated their call up to the main roster throughout much of the past year. Then the day finally came a few weeks ago, and they’ve been treated as jokes since. The dominant former NXT Tag Team Champions were buried on commentary and destroyed by a bunch of legends without any real purpose on the Raw before this show. You really have to wonder if the way the Ascension has translated to the main roster is part of this thinking that Vince has that “NXT is overrated” and the introduction of the Ascension in such a shitty way was done to try to prove that point. Crazier things would happen on this night after all. Anyway, this match was kept short as it should have been, with the new team getting the win that they should have got in a simple squash on Raw. Remember when they destroyed Too Cool at NXT Arrival last year? Thats what this whole thing should have been from the beginning. Hopefully the Ascension can regain some momentum coming off their win here. The tag division needs more credible teams at the moment. Overall, this should have been on the pre-show instead of the tag match that was. My Grade: *

Following that match we got a promo advertising Triple H as a guest on Stone Cold’s podcast on the Network in a weeks time. Definitely looking forward to that one. Speaking of Triple H, we then cut to him and Stephanie McMahon backstage angry about Sting getting into the building on Raw. Triple H promised to destroy Sting next time he got involved in their business, which led to Paul Heyman coming in and saying that Brock Lesnar was the answer to their problems. Not sure where that is going as we are obviously headed for Triple H/Sting at Mania.

WWE Tag Team Championship: The Usos (c) vs The Miz & Damien Mizdow Winners: The Usos when Jimmy Uso pinned the Miz following a Superfly Splash at 9:20. Our first title match of the evening was for the WWE Tag Team Championship as the Usos defended against the former champions in a rematch from last month’s TLC PPV. On that show, Miz & Mizdow were disqualified to retain the titles, however a few weeks later on Raw, the Usos won the titles, setting up this match which was likely the end of the rivalry. It was fairly easy to predict that the Usos were retaining the titles here, as they should have, being the team with more long term potential. The Miz and Mizdow pairing is awesome (no pun intended) and the crowd are still heavily behind Mizdow’s antics, but they won’t be teaming all that much longer. We saw the seeds planted for that later in the night. The match itself was the basic type of encounter we have come to expect from this pairing. All four guys have talent, but the Miz/Mizdow team isn’t necessarily conducive to good action. Its more story development as Miz deprives the fans of the chance to cheer for his stunt double in the ring. The Usos had their usual spots which got decent reactions from the crowd, but Mizdow was definitely the fan favourite in there. In the end it was teamwork from the Usos that allowed them to hold onto their titles, as Jey kicked Miz in the head to set up as splash from Jimmy to retain. The Usos should move on to new contenders from here such as Kidd/Cesaro and the Ascension. The Miz/Mizdow duo has run its course in the tag setting and the focus should be placed upon the coming split in the weeks that follow. Fine for what it was, but nothing you wouldn’t see on TV. My Grade: **1/2

At this point we checked in with the expert panel hosted by Renee Young. This month she was joined by Booker T, Byron Saxton and Corey Graves, which was a good way of getting a representative from each show’s announce team (including NXT). They talked about Kidd & Cesaro winning on the pre-show which perhaps is an indication they’ll be getting involved in the title picture in the near future coming off the title match.  In the locker room, Joey Mercury & Jamie Noble were playing the WWE Immortals game when Seth Rollins walked in and scolded them. He told them to focus on his upcoming title shot and vowed that he was no longer the future, but the present.

Bella Twins vs Paige & Natalya Winners: Bella Twins when Nikki pinned Natalya following a forearm to the face at 8:04. Our next match was a strange one in that it was just a divas tag match that could have been seen on TV heading into this show rather than Nikki defending her title against Paige and Natalya in a triple threat. Apparently the reason we got this instead was that Nikki had an injury so by Brie being in there she was able to carry most of the load for her team. Thats fair enough, but the booking here really confused me. You have the heel champion in a non-title match against two of the better female performers on the roster – doesn’t logic dictate you give Paige & Natalya the win here to set up one of them for a future diva’s title shot? Instead, the Bella Twins came out victorious here after a basic match. The end came when Natalya was about to get the hot tag to Paige after being worked over for much of the match, only for Brie to knock Paige off the apron. That allowed Nikki to secure the victory for her team. Perhaps the fact that Paige was unable to tag in will set her up as a future contender to Nikki, but as I said, pinning the champion in this setting would have done the job just as well. This seemed like a hold over match until AJ Lee returns from her injury which should be some time soon. She has unfinished business with the Bellas from TLC after all.  My Grade: *1/2

At this point in the show we got some old school styled pre-recorded promos from some participants in the match like last year. We heard from Roman Reigns, Goldust & Stardust, Rusev, Miz & Mizdow, Big Show, Fandango and Daniel Bryan. From there we headed into a video package hyping the WWE World Heavyweight title match.

WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) w/Paul Heyman vs John Cena vs Seth Rollins w/Joey Mercury & Jamie Noble Winner: Brock Lesnar by pinfall following an F-5 to Rollins at 22:44. For the first time since September, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship was defended in our next match. There was a lot of anticipation going into this one following the addition of Seth Rollins to what was originally set to be another rematch between Brock and Cena. That addition made the result of this one wide open and I had trouble predicting who would leave the Rumble with the title around their waist. Logic would dictate that after all that has been done to build Lesnar up he would be heading into Mania as the dominant heel champion, but in recent weeks he had been portrayed in a tweener like manner since having issues with the Authority and specifically Rollins. I thought there was a very strong chance Seth Rollins would cash in on John Cena after being pinned by Cena in the match here. That did not happen, and Brock retained the championship in the end without any signs of a cash in attempt by Mr Money in the Bank. I don’t have a problem with Brock retaining despite my prediction being wrong. He’s not around anywhere near as much as we would like, but when he does show up, he delivers a sense of star presence and intensity that is unmatched by anybody on the roster. Of course, Rollins deserves major credit in that he is doing so well as a heel right now that he is hated more by the crowd than the man who was booed out of the Superdome last year for ending the Undertaker’s streak at WrestleMania. Thats the mark of a good heel (not someone else later in the night who will likely do the same thing only that he’s supposed to be a face). Of course, we can’t forget Cena either, despite seeming a bit of an afterthought in the recent build to the match after the big deal they made over the fall and winter about his title shot against Brock at this show. Nonetheless, he showed up ready to work like he does in every big match despite his critics. In fact, all three men delivered here and the end result was an excellent title match that the crowd were into all the way through. Obviously its very early days but I wouldn’t be all that surprised if this match is at the very least in my top five match list when it comes to the end of 2015. It was that good. The early part of the match established Lesnar as the dominant champion as he dished out punishment with a frenzy of suplexes. The tide would turn however after numerous unsuccessful attempts to take Brock down, when Rollins delivered an elbow drop through the Spanish announce table. This took Brock out for an extended portion as Rollins and Cena continued their own rivalry, with the commentators stating that Brock had a broken rib. As Cena and Rollins went at it we got some great near falls and moves, including Rollins’ Phoenix Splash for the first time in the WWE to my knowledge. J&J Security were their usual great selves as well, interfering just the right amount not to take away from the flow of the match. Finally Lesnar came back after being tended to by medical personnel at ringside and dominated once more, ultimately putting Rollins away with an F-5. As I said, I’m surprised there was no cash in from there after being so heavily teased in promos, but Lesnar keeps the title. Great stuff from all involved. My Grade: ****3/4

We followed up that great match with an ad for Fast Lane. I thought that was notable for two things – the first being that Lesnar was featured suggesting that he will likely be at that show. The second thing was that there was no sign of Daniel Bryan in the ad. That set off a few alarm bells, but I didn’t think too much on it. After a brief chat by the announcers about the title match we witnessed, we threw to the updated “numbers” video package for the Rumble. Always good stuff.

Royal Rumble Match: Entrants:

  1. The Miz
  2. R-Truth
  3. Bubba Ray Dudley
  4. Luke Harper
  5. Bray Wyatt
  6. Curtis Axel
  7. The Boogeyman
  8. Sin Cara
  9. Zack Ryder
  10. Daniel Bryan
  11. Fandango
  12. Tyson Kidd
  13. Stardust
  14. Diamond Dallas Page
  15. Rusev
  16. Goldust
  17. Kofi Kingston
  18. Adam Rose
  19. Roman Reigns
  20. Big E
  21. Damien Mizdow
  22. Jack Swagger
  23. Ryback
  24. Kane
  25. Dean Ambrose
  26. Titus O’Neil
  27. Bad News Barrett
  28. Cesaro
  29. Big Show
  30. Dolph Ziggler

Winner: Roman Reigns by eliminating Rusev at 59:10

Well its like deja vu all over again. The atmosphere at the end of the 2015 Royal Rumble match was exactly the same as, if not worse, than the scene we witnessed last year with Batista winning. What makes it all the more ironic is that this year’s winner is the man we were desperately pleading for to win out of circumstance when our favourite was not in the match. Anyway, I’ll get into the whole Reigns thing in a bit. Lets talk about the rest of the match first. The first third or so was actually pretty good, even if R-Truth will go down as one of the most underwhelming #2 entrants in Rumble history. I was hoping for Mizdow to start things off in there with Miz to bring about that long awaited confrontation. Instead we got that later in the match when Miz attempted to take Mizdow’s spot after being eliminated, only for Mizdow to enter the match anyway to add to further tension between the two. It was fine, and while it got the crowd invested in Mizdow as usual, it was a brief reprieve after the match had lost all sense of momentum. We got some other memorable moments in the early part of the match, such as some mystery entrants, with Bubba Ray Dudley being the best of the bunch. The brief confrontation of the three former Wyatt Family members was also a cool moment when Erick Rowan took out Curtis Axel and entered the match illegally with Harper and Wyatt in the ring, but the following antics and quick elimination of the two big guys was executed poorly and in confusing fashion. Speaking of Bray Wyatt though, he was definitely portrayed as the star in the first half of the match, as he was often alone in the ring and got to cut a promo at one point similar to Punk in the 2010 match. That kind of showing will further add to speculation that he’s facing the Undertaker at WrestleMania this year, even if we was tossed rather unceremoniously late in the match. Ah yes, there was another man who was unceremoniously eliminated – the clear favourite and man who should have won the Rumble – Daniel Bryan. The most popular superstar in the company in recent memory made his long awaited return from injury in time for this show to last around ten minutes before being thrown over the top by Wyatt, with Michael Cole simply saying “Bryan’s dream came to an end much sooner than anybody expected”. Thats not the only thing that ended early – at that point, just like when Bryan didn’t come out at number thirty last year, the entire crowd interest vanished and after moments of silence were replaced by absolute rejection of pretty much everything going on in the match. I seriously do not get the stupidity here, especially since we got an almost identical situation last year. If you don’t want Bryan to win the Rumble, why even bring him back for this show in the first place? Have him come back in time for Mania if there’s no chance of him winning the Rumble. Its an absolute joke and the booking from that point on deserved to be crapped on by the crowd as it was.

Before the crowd were anywhere ready to accept Bryan’s elimination (not that they would be at all), Roman Reigns made his entrance a few minutes later. As anybody not out of touch with the fans would have expected, the hand picked heir apparent to be the face of the company was booed relentlessly. What followed was embarrassing. The company pulled out every stop they could think of to try to have the fans cheer Reigns, having the Mizdow shenanigans try to cheer up the crowd, have Ziggler come out at number thirty, have fellow fan favourites Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler treated as afterthoughts that were easily tossed aside, and having the two least interesting characters on the roster – Kane and Big Show, dominate the entire second half of the Rumble before Reigns fought back. It did not work. Reigns being in there against Kane and Big Show did not elicit cheers. The crowd took a dump on the pile of crap unfolding before its eyes. In a total act of desperation (which really makes you question these reports that they “didn’t expect such a negative reaction”) they flew in The Rock for the sole purpose of shielding Reigns from the boos. Sure, Rock got a big pop, but the moment he showed a sign of support for Reigns, the crowd turned on him as well. When Rock can’t get something over, you know you’ve screwed up. He looked upset about being put in the situation as well and I don’t blame him. Then there was the stupid ending with Rusev not being eliminated after Rock saved Reigns from Show and Kane. They were chanting “We Want Rusev” for god sake! Thats how against this plan the crowd was! They were cheering for the character that has done nothing but rip on the U.S since his arrival and drawn some of the most consistent heel reactions of the past year. What a mess! To add salt to the wound, Reigns easily tossed the undefeated Rusev as well, because he’s superman and all that. Ugh. I’m not normally this critical of the WWE’s product. I’ve enjoyed the past year more than some, but this was a joke. Sure, last year in this very review I pencilled in Reigns as the winner for 2015. At the time he had the chance to grow into a main event ready position. A combination of injury and bad writing prevented that from coming true. Lets make something clear – I like Reigns and have always considered him a future star, but he was not ready for this. Not even remotely after the past twelve months. Especially when you have hot babyfaces in Bryan, Ziggler and Ambrose that you intentionally made look bad for his supposed benefit. For now, one thing is clear – Roman Reigns is going to WrestleMania. Some serious changes are needed over the next two months to fix that. My Grade: **1/2

The show came to and end with Rock celebrating with Reigns to a chorus of boos. Triple H and Stephanie came out on stage to stare them down. No reaction for them. Yeah, this Reigns thing isn’t working.

Three Stars of the Night:

1. Brock Lesnar – Brock is always great when he is around, but these past few weeks he has been even more incredible. A great performance from the dominant champion which makes me suspect he might be re-signing come Mania. He seemed motivated here.

2. Seth Rollins – the star of 2014 kicks off 2015 with a great performance in what was his highest profile match yet. He’s definitely the member of the Shield that has come the furthest at this point. Unlike Reigns, he feels like a main event guy and was not out of place at all in this match.

3. John Cena – as always, he delivered in a big match situation.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Just like last year, the Royal Rumble left a bad taste in my mouth after it aired, and that seems to be the consensus from most fans. Sure, the WWE title match was one of the best matches we have seen in the past twelve months, but that is not what this show will be remembered for. Royal Rumble 2015 will be known for one thing – that Vince McMahon is indeed not in touch with what his fan base wants (or he just doesn’t care) and he was not able to learn from the same mistake he made last year. The Royal Rumble is supposed to be one of the most fun events of the year. Instead its sucked for the past two years due to the unwillingness of the company to move away from a plan that the crowd is not going to get behind. The fact that its happened two years in a row hurts WWE, the Royal Rumble match, and Roman Reigns. This is without a doubt worse than last year for that very reason. Reigns was struggling to be considered worthy of this spot prior to Sunday. They’ve now blown any chance of him being accepted as the successor to John Cena in the foreseeable near future.

I really don’t know what they do to fix this. Unlike last year, they don’t have the built in story that they were able to resort to with Daniel Bryan being left out of the match by the Authority and having to fight his way in. He was tossed fair and square in an uneventful fashion here. So was every other superstar that the fans cared enough about to get behind. One thing is clear – Reigns is not getting cheered at Levi’s Stadium in March. A heel turn is almost necessary at this point, and while there have been hints of a face turn and fan support for Lesnar in recent weeks, I’m not even sure a change in allegiance from Heyman can save this. I hope they do some serious thinking over the next two months because the WrestleMania main event as it currently stands is not going to work. Especially if Brock doesn’t end up re-signing and word gets out. You’ll have Lesnar vs Goldberg all over again. Not the start we were hoping for in 2015.

FINAL GRADE: 3.5 out of 10

Author: Matt McCulloch