For the second consecutive year, wrestling fans across the globe hoped Daniel Bryan would emerge victorious at the Royal Rumble, and go on to battle the heavyweight champion of the world at Wrestlemania. Indeed, the unmatched technical prowess and daring-do of the erstwhile “American Dragon” against the avalanche of brute force provided by the rightly nicknamed “Beast Incarnate” Brock Lesnar would’ve made an exceptional main event at the so-called grandest stage of ‘em all.
And just like in 2014, a less popular and infinitely less interesting wrestler won instead, and lots of people are pissed.
Bear in mind that this year’s Rumble victor, Roman Reigns, has been written as a babyface/good guy for several months, as was the case with Dave “Drax The Destroyer” Bautista last year. Let’s say you were watching a Die Hard movie, and by the end, everyone in the theater was throwing garbage and spitting bloody murder at the screen ‘cause John McClane ultimately came out on top, but absolutely no one wanted to see that happen. Clearly, many things would have had to have gone very wrong with a Die Hard movie like that, right? What if The Rock stopped by to tell McClane “congrats” right before the credits rolled, and that just made the audience even madder? That’s what watching the 2015 Royal Rumble was like.
The rest of the show was pretty “meh,” except for the actually pretty great World Title match. Here’s a recap of the all those things!
The New Day (Kofi Kingston and Big E Langston w/Xavier Woods) vs. Cesaro and Tyson Kidd w/Adam Rose
The Backstory: Because WWE didn’t learn their lesson with Brodus Clay, they packaged Adam Rose as a fun luvin’ goofball with a theatrical entrance, a catchy theme song, and no storyline. Mercifully, they recently threw their hands up on all of that and turned him into a Michael Alig-esque cult leader. “The Swiss Superman” Cesaro and Tyson Kidd appear way lower on this card than they deserve to, and therefore, resent TND for their commitment to positivity.
The Action: Major “Cae-sar-o” chants from the Wells Fargo Center throughout, and an especially big ol’ pop for his Giant Swing maneuver. Xavier Woods accidentally inspires a “New Day sucks” chant by repeatedly slapping three beats on the apron. Big E pulls off a probably dangerous inside-of-the-ring-to-the outside spear. Rose sticks his nose into the situation and consequently eats a Trouble in Paradise spin kick from Kofi. The South African with a rastafarian gimmick then stumbles into Cesaro’s European uppercut, and Kidd puts him down with a fisherman’s buster neckbreaker thingy.
Winners: Cesaro and Kidd
Thoughts: Neat match! Not sure if the audience’s clear preference for Cesaro over TND tells us the TND experiment ought to be abandoned sooner rather than later, or if a pre-show tag team match with no stakes is a tragic waste of Cesaro. Or both. Actually, nevermind, it’s both.
The New Age Outlaws vs. The Ascension
The Backstory: Since their recent migration from NXT to the main roster, The Ascension have enjoyed a monster push and dispatched several tandems of interchangeable enhancement talent. Plus, they said they’re better than old wrestlers, because the Ascension is cocky, disrespective pricks, or something. While beloved figures from the over-glorified Attitude Era of WWE, Road Dogg and Billy Gunn are a middle-aged greatest hits act by this point, and have no chance of winning against a pair of quasi-satanic powerhouses like Konnor and Viktor……Or do they?…..
The Action: No, they don’t, but they put on a serviceable match before Billy Gunn inevitably winds up the man who falls in The Ascension’s Fall Of Man finisher combo. Even though wrestlers aren’t allowed to say “Suck It!” in WWE anymore, it’s nice to see they can still get away with it indirectly. Like, when Billy Gunn says, “I’ve got two words for ya!” – so long as it’s the crowd who shouts back “SUCK IT!” then it’s still cool for PG, apparently.
Thoughts: The announcers remind us that The Ascension describes themselves as a new, superior version of the The Road Warriors. I’m not convinced the world needs another tag team with facepaint, crazy muscles, a heavy metal entrance song, and not a heck of much else going on.
The Usos vs. The Miz and Damien Mizdow (Tag Team Titles)
The Backstory: The Miz and Mizdow lost the belts to The Usos a while back. They want to have the belts again. You know how all that goes.
The Action: Audiences still boo Miz, then cheer Mizdow when he does the exact same thing Miz just did. I am bored with that routine, but the Philly crowd doesn’t seem to be, so it works, I guess. The Miz continues to refuse to tag in Mizdow. At one point, Miz counters a plancha by pushing a mid-air Uso down onto the top rope, which makes no sense, logistically. Like, wouldn’t Miz hurt himself even more by letting his opponent’s shoulder slam directly into his stomach, just to hotshot him back into the ring? Anyway, Jay kicks out of Skull Crushing Finales from both Miz and Mizdow, then a powerbomb/superkick/splash combo ends the Miz’s hopes of regaining the championship.
Winners: The Usos
Thoughts: That might’ve gone over better if we hadn’t seen a bunch of different iterations of the The Usos vs. Miz and Mizdow during the last few months. Miz’s apparent presumption that he can take on teams of The Usos’ caliber without any help from his partner is starting to feel like a big stretch in plausibility.
Paige and Natalya vs. The Bella Twins
The Backstory: Paige acts like Natalya’s friend, but it’s hinted that Paige has a vague ulterior agenda. I think it has something to do with whatever’s happening on Total Divas? Paige will doubtlessly kick one or both of The Bellas in the face, and really, isn’t that all that matters?
The Action: Actually, if any face-kicking occurs, I’m distracted while it happens. However, Paige does get some nasty headbutts in on Brie, so “yay” for that. The Bellas both botch spots while slapping around Natalya. In particular, Nikki bungles a snapmare roll, which you’d figure would be one of the harder wrestling moves to screw up. Paige never gets tagged in for a big comeback, and Natalya loses to a Nikki forearm shot? Wha?
Winners: The Bella Twins
Thoughts: I don’t know what to make of The Bellas. Part of me thinks, “They’re only presented as big deal asskickers because they’re dating John Cena and Daniel Bryan.” Another part of me thinks, “Wow, that’s a hugely misogynistic and unfair notion to throw out there.” Then yet another voice in my head says, “Yeah, it sounds sexist…Until you remember people have been saying the exact same thing about Triple H and his marriage to Stephanie McMahon for, like, decades. WWE runs on nepotism. This isn’t new information.” The third voice is the smartest.
Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins (World Title Triple Threat Match)
The Backstory: Seth Rollins threatened to murder Cena’s longtime frenemy Edge on live TV by stepping on Edge’s devastated neckbones, unless Cena reinstated Triple H and Stephanie McMahon as the head honchos of WWE. Cena buckled. Trips and Steph – “The Authority” – thanked Rollins by making this Cena/Lesnar main event a triple threat with Rollins for the strap. Rollins still holds the Money In The Bank briefcase, guaranteeing him a title match where and whenever he wants, so can’t he just hang back, wait for Cena or Lesnar to win, then pounce on an exhausted and helpless opponent for the big’un?
The Action: Philadelphia wrestling fans are not fond of John Cena. They seem to like Rollins okay, and are kind of split on Lesnar. Nobody’s quite a clear favorite. Lesnar repeatedly suplexes the living crap out of everybody, including Rollins’s J&J Security flunkies. The “Ee-Cee-Dub” chants roll in. Lesnar gets a submission on Cena, Rollins nails Les with a flying knee. An Attitude Adjustment on Lesnar doesn’t even earn a two-count. Cena feels the audible loathing from the massive peanut gallery during an attempted “You Can’t See Me” fistdrop dance of doom, but gets german suplexed by Les, who soon grabs a midair Rollins and F5s him into a squished pancake. Cena rushes Les through the barricade outside the ring, and Rollins murders Les with an elbow drop through the Spanish announce table, replayed in slow-mo to create the illusion of hangtime. The crowd breaks into a “This Is Awesome!” chant despite their hatred for Cena. Cena and Rollins work each other over for a bit. Rollins pulls off a damn near breathtaking phoenix splash, and looks like he’s got this thing wrapped up, until Les comes back to life and F5s him back into his aforementioned condition of being squished like a pancake that’s been stepped on by a very fat person.
Winner: Brock Lesnar
Thoughts: I don’t expect anyone’s going to complain much about that one. If the goal was to make Lesnar look unstoppable going into Wrestlemania, Cena look desperate enough to cross lines unbefitting of his Captain America-ish wholesome reputation, and Rollins look like he’s the any-day-now breakout star he says he is, then all three deftly accomplished their missions. Only gripe: Assuming Les wasn’t legitimately injured, having EMTs run out with a stretcher before his comeback might’ve been overkill.
THE ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH
The Backstory: Thirty combatants enter, one at a time, once every 90 seconds. Rumble participants are eliminated when they are thrown over the top rope, and both feet touch the ground. The last man standing receives a world title match at Wrestlemania. The Rock’s publicized presence in Philadelphia this evening leads one to foresee him triumphing as a surprise last-minute entrant, because wrestling logic says being in movies makes it easier to beat people up. But he only shows up after it’s over to pat Reigns on the back, and then he gets booed.
The Action: Before Bray Wyatt eliminated Daniel Bryan, things were actually going pretty well. Buh Buh Rey Dudley, Diamond Dallas Page, and The Boogeyman all made welcome cameos. Wyatt – who hung on for something like 40 minutes worth of the match – came off as a tank, especially during a flurry of rapid-fire eliminations. The break between new arrivals gave him time to grab a mic and sing “He’s got the whooooole world, in his hands,” which is something Bray Wyatt does for fun. Kofi Kingston avoided an elimination by crowd surfing on Adam Rose’s posse of “Rose Buds.” And it’s not that the Wells Fargo Center lost all hope once they knew a Bryan victory was out of the cards. Even after the bearded vegan exited, the crowd cheered Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler. But all others were greeted with a mix of apathy and contempt, and it certainly didn’t help that the second half of the Rumble came off cluttered and mostly kinda boring.
Winner: Roman Reigns
Thoughts: OK, so back when he was in The Shield, Roman Reigns made sense as a stoic, reticent sentinel who mostly kept his mouth shut while his more charismatic cohort did the interviews. Now he’s supposed to scan as a swaggerin’ anti-hero and it doesn’t work at all because he says things like “sufferin’ succotash” and “donkey dung” and tries to intimidate The Big Show by reminding him of the dead giant from Jack and the Beanstalk and generally talks like an 8-year-old trying too hard to be funny. Plus, it’s hard to envision Reigns putting on a ‘Mania-worthy match against Lesnar. But here’s my thing – Rollins still has the Money in the Bank briefcase, right? So if he successfully cashes it in before Wrestlemania, that changes the world title match from Lesnar vs. Reigns to the significantly more logical Rollins vs. Reigns. Remember, Reigns never quite got his revenge on Rollins for betraying and disbanding The Shield. That would give the world title match some storyline gravitas, plus we could end up getting the Brock Lesnar vs. Daniel Bryan match everyone seems to want after all.
Plus, Curtis Axel got mowed over by Erik Rowan before he ever made it to the ring, and was therefore never technically eliminated. Surely, the writers didn’t forget about that, and Curtis Axel will somehow play a major part in what’s to come.