WWE’s Royal Rumble Is Trending Up by Ron Pasceri

I don’t typically write reviews for PPVs because as we all know John Canton is the best in the business. There really is no need to double up on it or else every writer on the site would be writing reviews. So I won’t call this a review per say, but this being one of the biggest events on the calendar and this being the day after that event, it seems like almost a waste to write about anything else. I’m especially interested in this particular event because it was attending last year’s poorly received Royal Rumble in Philadelphia that propelled me into becoming wrestling obsessed once again. I had a blast last year, but I was among those fans booing at the end of the show. We all remember canceling the WWE Network was a trending hashtag on Twitter exactly a year ago. One year removed, it feels like WWE has taken a step forward.

First, for those of us lamenting Raw opening with a promo every week as opposed to a match got a treat to start the show. Arguably the most anticipated match of the evening began the night’s festivities. No, I’m not talking about the kickoff match, but the Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens Last Man Standing match for the Intercontinental Championship. I had hopes for this being the match of the evening and it didn’t disappoint. It was a bruising, physical battle for one of the biggest prizes in the business. They battered each other for over 20 minutes as Ambrose was able to keep Owens from regaining the prize he so desperately sought to regain. I love Owens as the Intercontinental champ but I think Ambrose deserves to hold it a little longer. I also believe Owens will be engaging in a feud very soon that won’t require a title to get over. It was a great touch in the latter half of the match when they shared an “I hate you!” with each other. Perhaps best of all, when Owen entered the rumble he was actually SELLING the punishment he absorbed in his previous match. He is great on the mic, great in the ring and he sold more on his walk down the ramp than most of the roster has since last year’s Royal Rumble.

For those of us that love The New Day, all of us it seems, we got the answer to whether Xavier’s trombone playing days were behind him. Thankfully the answer was an emphatic no as we were promptly introduced to Francesca II. Before even getting to the match, seeing Xavier’s reaction to Jericho destroying Francesca will never get old not to mention the brilliance of his answer to the question of what happened to Francesca I. His smile when he replied, “I can’t mourn forever, a brother’s got needs…” was one of the highlights of the night for me. Another highlight, as always, was Xavier’s work at ringside, specifically when the crowd started a “Play Francesca” chant and he teased it before declining and saying he plays when he wants to play. It was pretty odd and out of place that Jimmy Uso gave Big E a crotch chop out of nowhere, but that was one of the few downsides to this match. Big E’s blind tag and transition of Jey Uso’s frog splash into the Big Ending was a great finish. Later in the evening I wondered what else Kofi could possibly do to avoid elimination and it was cool to see him land on Big E’s shoulders. The New Day showed once again that their presence, style, creativity and unique in ring ability raises the level of the tag division. Last year they were getting booed, this year they are arguably the most dominant current champs in the company.

I tend to be slightly checked out on masked wrestlers because I feel there is a certain connection that is lost. That being said, Kalisto is really growing on me over the last couple months and I’m glad he took home the U.S. Championship. He is incredibly fun to watch and different than anyone else on the roster right now. Maybe we will begin to see some exciting matches for the U.S. title on Raw again over the next few weeks. At one point it appeared Kalisto landed on top of his head so luckily he was uninjured. I thought both men told a good story with this match and it was probably Alberto Del Rio’s best match since he won the title from John Cena. The loss for Del Rio makes the League of Nations appear a little weaker, but with Kalisto’s electrifying offense he has a real chance to help elevate the mid card going forward.

Prior to the Divas Championship match we got a fun promo between Paul Heyman and Stephanie McMahon. Heyman grossed out Steph by mentioning her pores just before putting over his client Brock Lesnar. As much as I anticipated the match between Charlotte and Becky Lynch, I think what happened just after overshadowed the match itself. It feels like Charlotte is coming into her own as a heel and getting over for herself as opposed to needing Ric Flair to get a reaction. Becky has quickly become the top babyface among the women and and her promos have been great over the past month or so. They built this match into something meaningful and it played out as a a highly competitive one. Becky came across as a credible threat and Charlotte got by with help from her father once again, capitalizing as a heel should. They got just under 12 minutes which is better than a lot of women’s matches on PPVs. When the match ended and Sky’s The Limit hit, I marked out pretty hard.

After nearly a month long absence, Sasha Banks’ entrance got arguably the biggest pop of the night. She came out and kicked Becky out of the ring and briefly teased a reunion with Charlotte. As the champion turned her back, Sasha rushed to attack her. Possibly more amazing than the crowd reaction upon her entrance was the pop the second Sasha made her move toward Charlotte. She hadn’t even reached her yet and the crowd exploded! As one of many Sasha Banks fans out there, I’ve missed her presence in 2015. This was an unexpected surprise better than any possible surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble match. Sasha got to make arguably her biggest impact since her arrival and set up what I assume will be an epic Divas title feud that will culminate at WrestleMania. The Boss is back and almost nothing could ruin this show for me.

That leads us to the Royal Rumble match itself, with Roman Reigns defending his championship from the No. 1 position. The last two years this match has proved to be a complete failure, being met with boos from crowds in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. I won’t go into too much detail as I know almost all of you have already seen it, but I felt this Rumble match was executed really well. AJ Styles coming out third with just Reigns in the ring was pretty brilliant. AJ milked his first ever entrance into a WWE ring and he was put face to face with the World Heavyweight Champion immediately. Jericho came out sixth and lasted about 40 minutes. He seems to come back and be irrelevant despite his name value. He’s talked a good game since his return and being one of the last five standing was a good accomplishment for him. Ron “R-Truth” Killings’ spot climbing the ladder was hilarious. I’m sure many people thought it was dumb, but that guy is so funny. He can do his “man confused by the world” bit every week and I will never get tired of it. Brock Lesnar only lasted 10 minutes or so but he was his usual dominant self, throwing everyone around who got within arm’s length of him. While he was eliminated relatively early, it did take the entire Wyatt Family to take him out.

Before I continue further, I will admit that the Rumble match was not perfect. While I liked the League of Nations and Wyatt Family making an impact on the match, I didn’t feel like it was quite enough. The League decimated Reigns early in the match only for him to come back 20-30 minutes later as if nothing had ever happened. If nothing else, he returned to the match rested. Other than beating down Reigns outside the ring, the League of Nations was pretty unimportant. The Wyatts took out the Beast Incarnate but at no point were they ever all in the match at once and were all taken out by Brock, except for Bray. As far as logic goes, what didn’t the Wyatt Family continue to help Bray after eliminating Lesnar? It doesn’t make much sense to me. I was also disappointed that AJ Styles really wasn’t given much of an opportunity to shine. Although the match as a whole was entertaining, the ending was kind of sloppy and didn’t necessarily play into current or future storylines so much. Triple H being in with Ambrose at the end was less than ideal because I didn’t truly think Ambrose was ever a threat to win. I also don’t think it makes sense to have Ambrose last so long when he was in such a grueling match earlier. Outside the ring Michael Cole was as annoying as always and didn’t do anything to elevate any performers, matches or titles.

Despite a few nitpicks, I felt this Rumble was a great event from top to bottom. The matches were good, the Orlando crowd seemed incredibly engaged and most of us got to be right by predicting Triple H would win the Rumble and the title. He doesn’t really need anymore title reigns and I think he should step away from being the biggest heel in the company, but him winning the Rumble could signal the beginning of the end. I believe Vince realizes that the most accepting fans have been of a non-Shield Roman Reigns was after he took out Triple H. That has worn off, but the one hope they have of Reigns getting over is the possibility of him ending The Authority angle for good. It is plausible to think that could be the end result of this story. That is something all of us can agree will be a great WrestleMania outcome. Aside from the match itself, not only were fans not clamoring on Twitter to cancel their Network subscriptions, when I last checked “Royal Rumble” was actually the highest trending topic, even outdoing the Super Bowl. A lot can change in a year and usually a lot does. It was far from a perfect show but it was significantly better than last year as well as better received by viewers. It’s safe to say that WrestleMania season is off to a hot start and if the improvement in the Royal Rumble is any indication, WrestleMania itself will be a show to remember.