On paper, the decision to have Triple H eliminate Roman Reigns and win the Royal Rumble match and WWE World Title made perfect sense within the story they have been telling since… well honestly, since the days of the Shield battling Evolution. In practice, however, with the way the story has been handled, it ended up being the most disheartening route to go. Throughout the match I had feelings of excitement that 2016 seemed to be setting up as a fresh start with some new players being pushed to the forefront and an influx of new talent blended with both NXT and WWE stalwarts to turnover the product. We saw the debut of AJ Styles (in a very encouraging way), the return of Sami Zayn (and the immediate reignition of his war with Kevin Owens) and the continued strong usage of Dean Ambrose (surprisingly in the final two), so the signs were there. And I think 2016 still could see a lot of those changes up and down the card, mainly out of sheer necessity, but in many ways the ending of the Rumble was yet another step back when the company desperately needs four steps forward.
I honestly don’t know what to think about Roman Reigns at this point. As recently as Survivor Series I thought the company should put the rocket on him, but as we sit here today I think too much damage has been done to salvage this for the time being. Reigns has the tools, the look and the pedigree but it just isn’t clicking right now and whether or not it is fair, the fans don’t seem keen on giving him a chance to win them over. As I discussed on this week’s Kevin Kelly Show, 2016 Roman Reigns reminds me a lot of 2005 Randy Orton. Orton had won the World Title at SummerSlam before dropping it to Triple H at Unforgiven. The plan was for Orton to regain the strap at WrestleMania and then take off as the top face of the company. Along the way, the crowd disconnected from his newly minted (and very forced) face character and shifted their support and energy to Batista, killing Orton’s aura and eventually his push. The company adapted, slowed Orton’s run down and turned him heel, letting him regroup and get heated back up the year after. I think a similar tact with Reigns could be viable. Have him lose the triple threat match at FastLane to Dean Ambrose (who the fans are really behind) and then, like Orton, Reigns angrily challenges Undertaker to a match at WrestleMania to prove to himself that he still can be a top guy. At Mania, Ambrose wins the title from Triple H and Reigns defeats Undertaker and officially turns heel, setting up a natural title feud and maybe salvaging Reigns. They owe it to him to try something different because the way everything has been handled so far has been less than optimal. It also would help if Reigns worked a bit more to connect and feel real, he has to hold up his end of the bargain too.
How awesome was it to see AJ Styles in Orlando on Sunday? The pop was tremendous and it really felt like such a big deal. And it seemed like the company felt that way too as he followed that up by getting a showcase match on Raw and picking up a hard fought, clean win over Chris Jericho. Oh, and he is also already racking up a ton of merchandise sales. Get the rocket strapped on, Vince!
Speaking of heel turns salvaging promising stars, they certainly have helped save Charlotte’s early career by having her go full Nature Girl and pairing her up with her conniving old man to cheat and lie their way to wins. It has been effective and turned things around for Charlotte, who had been floundering since the Diva Revolution kicked off in the summer. Her upcoming feud with Sasha Banks should rage into Dallas, where Sasha finally takes the title away to become the face of the division.
Mauro Ranallo has been a breath of fresh air on Smackdown and has even found a way to breathe life into the ever fading Jerry Lawler, making him the most effective he has been in over a decade. Reverting back to his heel stylings, Lawler and Ranallo have quickly bonded into the best announce team (faint praise, sure) on the main roster. That doesn’t mean improvement isn’t available, though, as a swap of Lawler for Corey Graves could make things even better. And speaking of announcers, I thought the main team did a solid job at Sunday’s Royal Rumble, perhaps their best performance in quite a while.
The Rock is back and was in vintage form as he took center stage in Miami at Raw, verbally tussling with a handful of stars, including a spirited tilt with the New Day that ended with Rocky and the Usos running the champions off after a brief skirmish. It will be interesting to see what his role in Dallas shakes out to be.
Samoa Joe. AJ Styles. Austin Aries. Who would have ever thought these guys would become such prominent free agent signing for WWE in 2016? What a world.
It would be really neat to see Peyton Manning close out his Hall of Fame career with an unlikely Super Bowl win, but it doesn’t seem likely. Carolina has been red hot and looks unbeatable, leading many to assume we could get a repeat of Seattle’s demolition of Denver from two years ago. It should be a fun game either way, but maybe Manning can pull one more trick out of the bag before possibly calling it a career.
Be sure to check out the newest Kevin Kelly Show! We had a great chat with John Walters and went in depth on many of the things we discussed above. Until next time…