Time for the 2016 Royal Rumble in Orlando, FL and Roman Reigns is on the poster! What could possibly go wrong? Some things but that was all deferred until later. I can tell you up front that this was better than 2015 in every way and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why. However the “smart fans” might not like the reasons for it. Our hosts are Michael Cole, JBL, and Jerry Lawler because for the love of God we can’t change THAT up. This match is for the WWE title just like 1992 because nothing is sacred anymore.
Unlike 24 years ago, the title is not vacant as indicated by Reigns holding the belt on the poster. He’s not even the first former Shield member forced to defend a title in a battle royal: Dean Ambrose lost his US title in a RAW battle royal in April 2014, because people can’t just lose titles anymore. It must be done in a convoluted fashion designed for complete morons. Reigns was forced to be #1 after a painful segment with Vince and Stephanie McMahon on an earlier RAW. I liked it way better when #1 was a surprise.
Rusev is #2 because he had the nerve to get engaged to the love of his life when Vince thinks he’s too ugly for her. Funny though that it’s a continuation of the last two guys of 2015’s match; that’s a first. An early slugfest leads into a Roman fireman’s carry but Rusev gets out and nails Reigns with a spin kick. Roman is on the ropes and ends up thru the ropes. The Bulgarian is unsure if he went over the top and Roman lands a drive-by dropkick, followed by a spear in the ring. Rusev is then tossed and what a colossal waste of a vital guy out of the chute. I can’t even repeat what I put in my notes.
Oh look! It’s AJ Styles at #3 making his WWE debut, well sort of, unless you count dark matches from 15 years ago. Camera kind of misses him and focuses on Roman’s reaction, which is actually pretty good. If he’s out before #4 I would have tossed my notebook at the TV. Crowd loves it because Orlando was TNA country before it was NXT country. Styles does a sunset flip which on its face makes no sense but it works into a Styles Clash try, which he doesn’t get. Not the first tease of that, and not the last. Pele kick connects, but Roman fights back and lands a Samoan drop because he’s Samoan.
Tyler Breeze is #4 and I’m sure this doesn’t last long. He lands a sweet Beauty Shot on Styles to give him his only shine before AJ takes command. “AJ Styles” chant and he gets Breeze up and Reigns comes over to help kill off Breeze tonight. I love the notion that a “vain pretty boy heel” gimmick will never work when it has literally worked for 60 years.
Curtis Axel actually makes it to the ring as #5 this year after the #SocialOutcasts figure out he’s their representative. He puts the boots to Roman and gets a knee lift on Styles. He’s no slouch as a former IC champ, but wait he is a tremendous slouch. Right hands by Roman on Axel then the rest of the Outcasts (Bo Dallas, Heath Slater, Adam Rose) are knocked off the apron. Styles gets this elimination with a clothesline.
A lot of people crap on Chris Jericho, who is #6 and that’s too bad because he would play a big role in this match in a very subtle fashion. Triangle staredown between the three before Y2J goes after Reigns, but AJ interrupts. Styles lands a huge lariat on Jericho. I define a lariat as a clothesline that is too good to be a clothesline. Styles Clash attempt on Jericho ends up into a Walls of Jericho attempt. Kane is #7 and he is the demon with the mask for the record. Styles takes a boot, then Roman gets side-slammed. Jericho is nearly sent out and looks very tentative hanging on: I have a theory for this. I really think he was set up to be the official Ring General of this match, something missing the last two years. If he slipped, this match is screwed. Yes, Styles is a veteran but he hasn’t been in this match, and it’s his first day! AJ has been watching the 1991 Rick Martel tapes on hanging on and hooking the ropes as Kane tries to eliminate him.
Goldust is #8 and Kane is the only guy on his feet so it’s a battle of two crafty vets. Kane backdrop try but Goldust goes to one knee for that punch spot that he does. Styles with a kick and chop on Goldust, but then Jericho scores with a suplex on AJ. Ryback is #9 and does his thing which is run over everyone for a bit. Styles hits a flying clothesline on Reigns and the new guy is just flying everywhere tonight. I’ve not watched much TNA in my life but I’ve seen enough NJPW from the last two years to know a bit about Styles. Ryback survives an elimination try from the odd combo of Jericho and Kane.
Kofi Kingston is somewhat of a Rumble legend for his near elimination spots, and when he’s in at #10 my thought was they may skip that because he’s a clear heel now. Styles nearly grazes the 2009 Orlando Magic Eastern Champions banner on a backdrop from Ryback, that’s how high he went. He’s in the three stars now no matter what happens. Titus O’Neil is #11 and he won’t be out in 4 seconds this time. He gets that sweet looking backbreaker. Titus eliminates Goldust and Kofi almost eliminates Reigns, who has done very little since Jericho hit the ring. Come on dude, I’m not expecting you to be Martel, but be something.
It’s time for a comedy respite at #12 as R-Truth runs down and grabs a ladder from under the ring and sets it up in the center of the ring and climbs quickly despite his previous declared fear of ladders. But he comes to the realization that this is NOT the Money in the Bank match. I love it, nice comedy for what it is. Kane chucks him out after he descends. Kofi is clotheslined but ends up on Big E’s shoulders and just stays up there on the outside.
Lucky #13 is Luke Harper and he would have a rather interesting night later on. New Day is just camping out on the outside with Kofi taking a seat on Big E’s shoulders. But the focus is shifted to the main story: the League of Nations (Sheamus, Rusev, Del Rio) are down to drag Roman UNDER the ropes to beat his ass. Yes, UNDER the ropes. Why not eliminate him? Because that would eliminate plot holes for everyone to poke at and enlarge. Big superkick by Rusev as Stardust is #14 but who cares says WWE production.
Roman is laid out on the table and Rusev moves back to the other announce table and runs to land a huge splash on the former Shield hot tag specialist. Then he gets up and does his huge exaggerated celebration that I love. Because I am crazy, it reminds me of the Charles Bukowski poem on beer shits: “You get up, turn around, look at it and you’re proud. The fumes, the stink of the turd, you look, you say, “God, I did it. I’m good.” That’s Rusev after he lands a big move, and I love it always.
Kofi Kingston is eliminated off-camera by Jericho as medics tend to Reigns who is taken off on a gurney….except he GETS UP AND WALKS TO THE BACK. Why is an active guy allowed to just walk off on his own during the match? Why does Joe Anoa’i the person not stand up for himself and his character and say how stupid this looks?
Big Show is #15 and Titus O’Neil ain’t gonna stand for him ruining this match. Oh wait, he’s dispatched to the outside and so is Ryback. Jericho hangs in for another close call. Neville is #16 and lands a missile dropkick to Luke Harper on the way in. After a ‘rana on Harper, Neville gets tossed but hangs in waving his feet wildly. There is another “AJ Styles” chant and I am starting to get that 1992 Ric Flair vibe now.
Braun Strowman is #17 and he runs over many people before fighting off and eliminating Kane. He then lands that weird “hug sleeper” on Big Show before getting him over the top, but not before nearly breaking Show’s ankle in the rope. Hey, all is forgiven but where the hell was this a year ago before those two 40-somethings hijacked the match?
Because he’s not a giant wuss like Reigns, Kevin Owens hobbles down at #18 still selling injury from his Last Man Standing match with Dean Ambrose earlier in the night. That was an incredible match, easily four stars even though I am not much of a match “rater” as you may have noticed. Owens and Styles have a go and several smarks ascend into heaven. Neville interrupts and a Styles Clash try again is stopped, this time by Owens who grabs Styles and yells “welcome to WWE!” and chucks the former IWGP heavyweight champion. Yet another “AJ Styles” chant and this was a helluva performance by him, and the right guy got the elimination too.
Owens is ready for Dean Ambrose at #19 and they continue their war. The usual 50/50 booking says Owens prevails but Ambrose controls with the old mudhole stomp.
Our one NXT guy at #20 and lord have mercy it’s Sami Zayn and of course he has a huge issue with Owens. Sami is PISSED and shows great fire reversing an Owens try and sending his fellow Quebecer over the top and out. Nice moment, and it was a nice continuation: Owens took out the last crowd favorite and the new one took him out. And that’s without mentioning their long history.
Lotta Wyatt members in the ring now with Erick Rowan at #21. He hits a suplex on Jericho and I give the guy credit for doing an honest to God wrestling move. Neville with another close call; if it wasn’t 5’6″ he’d have been out. But Luke Harper gets him out anyway and Stardust is next. You’d almost think Luke Harper was the leader of the Wyatts. Jericho ends up in the Strowman sleeper to give the big man something to do for a bit. That’s where Jericho’s value is: I really think he led this match along and was a bridge from his entry to the finish.
Mark Henry said this may be his last Rumble and he won a pre-show tag match with partner Jack Swagger to get in at #22. Strowman slams Henry with ease and eliminates him. Well that didn’t amount to much. Strowman and Harper turn their attention to Sami Zayn before Braun chucks him out.
In his first Rumble match appearance since 2004, Brock Lesnar is in at #23 and I think he wants to do suplexes. German on Rowan. Overhead belly to belly on Harper. Strowman won’t go down on a clothesline and Lesnar gets noticably pissed before knocking him over. Sell Brock’s offense, new guy. Rowan is elimintaed by Brock, who when hits Harper with another suplex. more arkwardness between Strowman and Lesnar ends with a forearm from the former UFC champion.
Jack Swagger is #24 is a bit of a step back. He gets F5’d and tossed immediately. That pre-show qualifying match was pointless, huh? Suplex City expands with Ambrose taking a vertical suplex, and Luke Harper does the same. Harper is trying to set some record for most times suplexed in a Rumble, as Lesnar hits more big knees on Strowman. For the love of God, don’t do that match at Mania.
The Miz is #25 and the thought of Miz-Lesnar makes me laugh and Miz decides to detour to commentary. Avoiding the fight fits his character so I will allow it, and also he’s not being presented as serious. He yells at Lesnar “Suplex City! Welcome to Mizney World!” I enjoy his work. Harper takes a German, because that’s what he does. Ambrose takes a German too, just to fit in. Cole says Miz should be in the ring, conveniently ignoring that REIGNS HAS BEEN IN THE BACK FOR OVER 20 MINUTES NOW! Luke Harper is actually German suplexed AGAIN, but is put out in the ultimate mercy killing.
You know what would be a fresh Lesnar matchup? Alberto Del Rio, who is #26 and they could play up his own MMA career. Alberto tries kicks and a front chancery and actually gets help from Dean Ambrose. But Del Rio gets vertical suplexed anyway. Lesnar finally gets Strowman out and moves onto Jericho which looks like a total mismatch.
Last year’s #2 star Bray Wyatt is #27 and orders the Family back to take out Lesnar. Brock fights back to get to a 1 on 1 with Bray, and a German suplex happens. But Harper breaks up an F5 try leading to a Sister Abigail on Brock. Lesner is sent out by this extreme interference from the Wyatts which is so dumb because there’s cheating, then there’s stuff to the point where it takes you out of what you’re watching. The guy who destroyed the post-Mania RAW last year leaves meekly after the screw job. Dolph Ziggler is #28 but here comes Miz into the ring, now that it is a Lesnar-free zone. After a Fameasser on Jericho, Dolph is hit with a Skull Crushing Finale from Miz. Nice to see him actually get offense.
Sheamus is #29 but here comes Reigns back from his evening nap to hit him with a Superman punch. Miz is out as the crowd is booing this, then Del Rio is sent out. It literally makes no sense to book the alleged babyface to be gone “resting” for much of this time, unless the Authority gets behind Reigns which would make no sense now because it’s too far gone. Unless they say this was hazing or something. Wyatt gets Superman punches and the countdown for #30 is on.
The oddmakers were right as always and it’s Triple H at #30. My notes at this point read “Oh [expletive] [expletive]. He’s actually going over.” Pedigree on Ziggler by HHH is answered by Roman Reigns with a spear on Bray Wyatt. They stare down and slug it out before a Pedigree try is countered into a fireman’s carry. Lots of trading on who is on top here. Jericho lands the Lionsault on Bray and I’m impressed he can do that at his age, though not quite to “54 year old Terry Funk doing Asai moonsults” level. Y2J gets hit with a Zig Zag, and then Ziggler hits the Fameasser on HHH. The move is pretty much no sold since Trips eliminates the Show-Off like 7 seconds later.
And now for one of my favorite moments: Bray and Trips stagger around and end up staring down in the center and the crowd makes this incredible “ohhhhhhh” noise. They tease an alliance with HHH pointing for him to get Reigns, but Bray smacks him. Pedigree attempt ends up into Sister Abigail but Sheamus lands a Brogue kick and eventually eliminates Wyatt. So much for that. There’s more random offense with Jericho hitting the Codebreaker on Triple H but Ambrose gets Y2J and eliminates the Ring General, setting this up for the finish.
The Final Four is Ambrose, Triple H, Sheamus, and fresh as a daisy Reigns. Dean is the only “pure” babyface for the Orlando crowd. Superman punch on Triple H by Roman to start. Brogue kick misses and Reigns takes advantage to eliminate Sheamus. But now here is HHH from behind to knock out Reigns to a pop as the crowd breathes easy knowing there will be a new champion. Of course Trips does a bunch of crotch chops to remind everyone that he got over by being “TV-14” when everyone now has to be PG or else.
But how new? The guy who has held it a million times before or will they make Ambrose for life here? After circling each other, fists of fury by Dean to start as the crowd is going insane. HHH gets a knee to counter a backdrop since he’s reverted back to his 1996 offense, but Dean follows with the silly clothesline off the ropes. Wacky line? I refuse to accept that name. Ambrose tosses trips to the apron but gets kneed on a charge, then just gets backdropped over and out. That was sudden but they were up against 11 pm. Well that’s a fresh booking perspective: give the guy who was champ at the 2000 Rumble the title in 2016. We’re right back where we started again, except Trips gets to live out his Ric Flair fetish because now he too won the WWE title in a Royal Rumble match. My notes were filled with expletives, but let’s just go to the awards. It might be unfair to judge the booking too quickly, though the track record of late is not good.
1st Star: AJ Styles – He made this match seem like a really big deal and was a breath of fresh air with everyone he lined up against. While I was hoping that maybe he would be a Triple H proxy and win this, the result for him was still pretty good.
2nd star: Chris Jericho – People like to dump on him for being in his mid-40s and the self-professed rock star thing. By the way, I think that’s trending toward being his heel gimmick now. This match needed a veteran guy to hold it all together and he was perfect for the role. There was no one else in the match who would have played the Ring General role while bringing actual Rumble match experience.
3rd star: Luke Harper – I was going to give this to Lesnar, but his “turn the other cheek” thing bumps him down. Did you SEE how many suplexes Harper took? My God, he had no regard for his own body. He also scored some eliminations before becoming a Suplexing Bag.
In lieu of the Murdoch Award, my favorite moment was Styles’ entrance at #3. That was pretty cool, with Sami Zayn’s battle with Kevin Owens being second.
Morrison Award: Stardust with 13:57 and I barely noticed him anyway. He came in while the stupid Reigns beatdown happened and didn’t stand out at all.
Summary: I loved this match for the first 75% of it until it became a vehicle for Trips to live out his Ric Flair fetish. Am I being markish? Perhaps but if you put the title on Ambrose at the end you have a real genuine moment and the place would have gone bonkers at a relatively unexpected result. You could still take the title off him later, even before Mania. But without knowing the full extent of the booking, would I say that we should crack each others heads open and feast on the goo inside? Yes I would, Kent.