Bless the ornery crowd in Philadelphia for becoming the biggest story out of the solidly mediocre Royal Rumble on Sunday.
Maybe “mediocre” is misleading — all of the matches leading up to the Royal Rumble were consistently excellent, as one expects PPV matches to be. The Ascension went over the New Age Outlaws, as I predicted at considerable length last week.
The Miz and “stunt double” Damien Mizdow went up against tag team champs the Usos for the title on Sunday, in an excellent match that was surprisingly bereft of cheating from either side and unsurprisingly bereft of Mizdow’s presence. While the Usos are technically solid high-flyers and frequently create exciting matches, their gimmick continues to be little more than “baby face people of color”; with all the interesting tag team talent in the WWE right now, it’s a shame the champs — who wore down Miz1 for the win — are some of the blandest characters in the WWE stable. What’s the use of a good match with a bad storyline? What am I, an MMA fan?
Divas champ Nikki Bella and twin Brie2 battled Natalya and, nominally, Paige, though the latter was only in the match long enough to slide atop a Bella for something that resembled a pin attempt. Like the preceding Miz-Usos match, Natalya would stay in the ring for the majority of the match, though mostly not of her own volition. Natalya, whose tremendous technical ability inside the ring as a grappler is probably unfairly attributed to training with her husband Tyson Kidd, put up an incredibly athletic performance against the consistently tagging Bellas, at one point deadlifting one of the twins on her shoulders from a lying-down position to standing fully erect. Nonetheless, the Bellas eventually pinned Natalya for the victory.
Cena’s entrance into the ring for the triple threat heavyweight title match drew huge boos from the gathered Philly fans,3 allowing us to see a smirking, defiant Cena, playing off the crowd’s aggression more than one might’ve guessed his gimmick would allow. My kingdom for a Cena heel turn. Lesnar and Rollins (accompanied by J&J security) entered behind Cena, and my Lesnar Suplex Count began.4
Some highlights from the match:
- Lesnar plants J&J simultaneously, taking care of their potential interference early in the match.
- Rollins, who ran away with the spotlight in this match, leaps onto a grappling mass of intertwined Cena/Lesnar, sending both of them crashing to the ground.
- Did I hear Michael Cole call Brock Lesnar “Mr. Wrestlemania”?
- Lesnar eats three AA’s from Cena and a curb stomp from Rollins and stands right up; with the exception of Ziggler and Wyatt, I can’t think of another wrestler the WWE would book to survive a beating like that.
- Cena whacks Lesnar a few times with the steel steps, which is about as heelish as Cena’s ever going to get.
- John Cena eats boos for breakfast.
- In the best spot of the night, Rollins leaps from the top rope onto a semi-conscious Lesnar sprawled out on the Spanish announcer’s table. Rollins gets incredible air and lands the jump perfectly. Despite playing a near perfect archetypal heel, it’s hard not to root for such an outrageously talented guy.
- Lesnar is almost taken away on a stretcher, but ~miraculously~ gets up to thrash the brawling Cena and Rollins. Lesnar makes quick work of Cena, but Rollins gets the better of him. Setting Lesnar up for a curb stomp against the Money in the Bank briefcase, Rollins looks like he’s all but won it. Lesnar counters and pins Rollins for the win, retaining his title.
Now for the Rumble itself.
WHY PEOPLE ARE MAD:
-Daniel Bryan didn’t win.
-Roman Reigns did.
It’s not that wrestling fans don’t like Reigns, despite his utter lack of mic skills,5 they just don’t like like him. And they do like Daniel Bryan, the obvious and wildly successful everyman stand-in who recently returned from a neck injury. Maybe fans thought he was owed a win in the Rumble and, therefore, a shot at the heavyweight title he vacated during his medical leave.
The other reason fans are mad, to the point of generating the petulant hashtag #cancelWWE that reportedly trended worldwide after the match, is because the Rumble itself was pretty dull. Fan favorite Bubba Ray Dudley emerged as the third entrant in the Rumble but was quickly disqualified; Bray Wyatt, who looked like the strongest contender for winning the Rumble for most of the match, eliminated another veteran The Boogeyman in an obvious creepy guy torch-passing moment. Wyatt would also eliminate Bryan by, like, shoving him. Seriously. He didn’t even get a decent fight in. For a brief while Wyatt and Harper teamed up to eliminate others, causing Erick Rowan to gatecrash the Rumble until Wyatt and Harper soundly defeated him.
Stardust and Goldust both stayed in the ring for quite a while, likely because they make their opponents look good beating them up and could kill some time as the ring filled up; Rusev was also an impressive force in the Rumble, coming back at the end Fatal Attraction-style and ambushing Reigns, who thought he’d already won. The Rock arrived to help cousin Reigns defend against his final opponents, but mostly to (at least attempt to) pass the torch and declare Reigns the winner to a vocally angry Philly crowd. Announcer Michael Cole’s “Reigns…has arrived” gushing sounded laughably hollow against a crowd still breaking out into “DAN-IEL BRY-AN” chants and booing everyone else.6
With Reigns headlining Wrestlemania and Rollins still in possession of the Money in the Bank briefcase, I’d be stunned of Rollins doesn’t weasel his way to the title ahead of Wrestlemania, making the main event the delayed Rollins-Reigns blowoff denied to viewers in late 2014 due to Reigns’ absence from the WWE, recovering from hernia. Whether or not people are still invested in an almost year-old Shield beef is anyone’s guess, though based off the Rumble fallout — and the snowstorm hitting the Northeast canceling the following Monday’s RAW and WWE’s chances to retcon events from the night before delayed a week — the WWE probably won’t guess correctly.
who refused to tag Mizdow in for more than a few moments ↩
who inexplicably reunited after Brie was Nikki’s indentured servant for a period after a feud dating back to Summer Slam ↩
without the usual counter-cheers largely produced by kids, none of whom apparently live around Philadelphia. ↩
Final result by my count — 10 Lesnar suplexes to Cena, seven to Rollins, and one to J&J simultaneously, bringing us to 18 total suplexes. That tops his Summer Slam count of 16, though all of those were delivered to Cena, which was ultimately more satisfying. ↩
Reigns’ cousin the Rock apparently hogged all the charisma genetics. ↩
I imagine the crowd would’ve been furious at anyone winning whose name wasn’t Bryan, though the utter predictability of the Reigns win was likely a source of part of the ire. Had a heel like Wyatt or Rusev or even a guy who rightfully deserves the push — like Luke Harper — won the match, the surprise might’ve at least stifled some of the ire at their fallen hero’s failed comeback. ↩