As far as gimmick matches in the WWE are concerned, the Royal Rumble is my favorite by a pretty wide margin. I don’t know exactly why that is, though it might have something to do with the 30 entrants and variety of storylines converging in the match making it one of the few things the WWE does that still has an air of unpredictability about it.
Before I get to this year’s Royal Rumble weekend, though, here are a few other random thoughts:
– If you haven’t watched New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 yet, I cannot recommend the show highly enough. The final four matches on the card—Kushida vs. Takahashi (fka Kamaitachi in ROH), Shibata vs. Goto, Tanahashi vs. Naito, and Okada vs. Omega—were probably the best run of four matches any promotion is likely to put on this year. And yes, Okada vs. Omega really is just as good as everyone is saying it is.
– Though speaking of WK11, I was a bit disappointed by the ROH title match between Cole and O’Reilly, and am a bit concerned about the immediate future of Ring of Honor in light of some of the recent departures, including O’Reilly choosing to not renew his contract after finally winning the ROH Championship and Keith Lee signing with EVOLVE. If Cole jumps to NXT in April like most expect, that leaves a definite void at the top of the card. There’s Jay Lethal and…Bobby Fish? Dalton Castle? Whoever wins the Decade of Excellence tourney? Uncertain times ahead…
– Is there anywhere in the world that Matt Riddle isn’t over? He’s all kinds of over in England, where he recently became the first non-UK wrestler to hold a title in Progress Wrestling by winning their Atlas Championship from Rampage Brown. Even in promotions where he’s a heel, like Beyond Wrestling, he’s still crazy over. It’s really only a matter of time before he ends up in NXT.
– I also highly recommend checking out the first episode of WWN’s Style Battle on FloSlam, especially the 30-minute draw between Fred Yehi and Anthony Henry. Not everything WWN is doing on FloSlam is working—the first episode of the ‘new attitude’ FIP in particular was kind of a tire fire—but there’s enough quality content (including the recent additions of wXw and IPW:UK) there to make it more than worth the $20/month subscription.
– For the most part, I enjoyed the WWE UK tourney, and was happy to see Progress Wrestling stable British Strong Style (Trent Seven, Pete Dunne, and Tyler Bate) have such a good showing. If you’re curious at all about the British scene, Progress is definitely the place to start. They might actually be my favorite promotion going right now.
Okay…that’s enough rambling. On to the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Royal Rumble weekend.
Honestly, I felt like just about everything that happened at both the Rumble and Takeover: San Antonio was pretty good. I may not have liked all of the booking decisions (I’m looking at you, Authors of Pain – you weren’t ready to go over #DIY yet for the belts), but as far as match quality, I think everyone pretty much delivered. I do think there were two standouts, though:
– First, to the surprise of probably absolutely no one, Cena and Styles had another absolute classic, even if I didn’t necessarily like the finish (especially since I think that Orton’s Rumble win means that Cena will drop the belt in two weeks at Elimination Chamber). A large part of what impressed me about the match is that it wasn’t just a rehash of their Survivor Series match. The series of submission spots in particular did a nice job of ratcheting up the tension of the match while introducing something new compared to their previous matches. And credit where it’s due: Cena even pulled out a few moves I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him use.
– Second, the Fatal 4-Way for the Women’s Title at Takeover was much better that I was expecting. I thought Peyton Royce and Billie Kay were going to really drag the match quality down, but their antics worked perfectly and they damn near stole the show. And by keeping Osuka and Nikki Cross (mostly) separate, it did a nice job of building anticipation for what I hope is an eventual singles program between the two.
– If I have one complaint about the Rumble match itself, it’s the same one that everyone else has – the lack of surprises. Tye Dillinger coming in at #10 was so logical a move that it barely counts as a surprise, and that was basically it. At the very least, I was expecting Samoa Joe to enter the match, and a Chris Hero/Kassius Ohno appearance could have blown the roof off the arena. Instead, they played it very safe in terms of both the entrants and the finish, which was kind of disappointing.
– With as much as they‘ve buried Gallows and Anderson on RAW, I did think it was kind of shitty that their match against Sheamus and Cesaro was relegated to the pre-show. They can’t even win the straps on the actual PPV?
– Not sure if this is necessarily something for the ‘bad’ column, but that NXT roster is starting to look a bit thin in terms of talent. I realize part of that is because of injuries – the tag division in particular is looking thin thanks to injuries to members of TM61 and Sanity. But it seemed odd that they couldn’t find a way to get either The Revival or Samoa Joe on the show considering that neither ended up in the Rumble match. The shot of Samoa Joe watching from the crowd was particularly strange – is he out with an injury they haven’t disclosed or something?
[EDIT: Okay, clearly Joe wasn’t hurt or anything, and I have to admit that his debut on RAW was a hell of a lot cooler than debuting in the Rumble match would have been. You win this time, WWE.]
And seriously – nothing against Bobby Roode (aside from his god-awful, Blind Guardian-level power metal nonsense of an entrance song – I fucking hate that song), but if they felt like they had to have Nakamura sell a knee injury that looked like it would leave him crippled for life in order to put the belt on Roode, it doesn’t seem like they have much faith in him as a champion. Ideally Kassius Ohno (Chris Hero) and Aleister Black (Tommy End) will ready to enter the main event picture sooner rather than later. End/Black had a really solid showing against Neville during their match at the WWE UK Tourney, so I hope that means he’ll be on TV soon.
Not much in the ugly column, really. I do hate to see what’s happening to the cruiserweight division, though, and I’m worried that they’re not long for WWE unless they can find a way to get more of the wrestlers in that division over. And with some of the UK Tourney wrestlers about to make their debuts—from what I’ve read, Wolfgang wrestled a dark match before Takeover, and Tyler Bate is supposed to make his first NXT appearance this week—the clock make be ticking on the entire division.
The match between Neville and Rich Swann was fine and all, but I did find the slower pace of the match a bit puzzling. Both of those guys are capable of putting on a much better match than they had at the Rumble, which leads me to believe that they were asked to tone things down and keep the match grounded so as not to overshadow the other championship matches on the card.
And the only cruiserweight in the Rumble match itself was Jack Gallagher, and as much as I enjoy his character—and as amusing as his Mary Poppins spot was right before he got eliminated—the only reason he was in the match was for comic relief. That division deserves better.