The 2015 Royal Rumble Review
I’m pretty sure not everyone who reads this site is a fan of professional wrestling. Hell, I’ve barely even touched upon the subject over the last decade and a half, but I’ve been a fan of it all my life. And when I say that, I say it as someone who more often detests the product than enjoys it, but can’t ever fully wean myself off of it. I’ve done that as much as I ever have at this point, eschewing all other organizations other than the WWE, and even in their case, never watching their secondary show Smackdown and only sort of half-watching their flagship program, RAW, while working on other projects. Essentially, I leave it on in the background and look up when I think something interesting might be happening. That happens fewer and farther between now than ever. I’ve even held off on subscribing to their network, which is only 10 bucks a month and is chock full of stuff that I would probably enjoy, like classic events and documentaries, because I’m just that ambivalent about the product.
However, there’s one event that I look forward to each year, and it happens toward the end of January. It’s the Royal Rumble, and it typically serves as a kickoff to the most exciting three months of the year, culminating in April’s WrestleMania. And while WrestleMania is like the Super Bowl of wrestling, the Rumble always appeals to me more.
Just a bit of history first. In 1988, I was a twelve year-old kid who was crazy for wrestling. I liked the NWA and what was left of the AWA, but the WWF was my bread and butter. So when I found out there was a special event being held on free television, I was excited – especially when it was built around a souped-up version of my favorite type of match at the time, the battle royale. I watched as “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan came out atop the 20 WWF Superstars and had a new favorite match. The next year, the field was expanded from 20 to 30, and it was put on Pay-Per-View cable. Within a couple of years, the match was used to crown Ric Flair the new WWF champion, and every year since, it’s been the match that determines who the #1 contender is for the title at WrestleMania. And it’s the match that, if I could only watch a single match in a year, I would choose.
And I’m not the only one who feels this way. The match has been used to tell some great stories in the past, is usually rife with big suprises and returns of some old favorites. Regardless of what other matches are booked for the show, I always watch the Rumble based on the fact that its titular match can always be expected to be a fun hour of television.
Or, so I thought.
I just got back from the home of the illustrious Phantom Troublemaker, who has hosted many a wrestling Pay-Per-View event. As is usually the case, he hosted the Rumble this year. With this event, we have the tradition of a contest where people draw numbers and get points based on the wrestlers who enter the match at that number’s eliminations and outcomes. We drew numbered ping pong balls out of a bowl, and thankfully, nobody did the trick that Cynthia did in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert with them. I drew 3, 4, and 19. We ate some junk food and had some refreshing beverages and sunk ourselves into the Phantom Mancave for the show.
I won’t even bother with the rest of the card. It honestly was pretty good. The WWE title match in particular was brutal and exciting and the highlight of the event. But honestly, it was the Rumble match that I was there for.
The match started with entrant #1, The Miz, and entrant #2, R-Truth. The Miz is an alum of The Real World who has done a few D-movies and now plays himself up as a big Hollywood star, complete with a stunt double. R-Truth is a rapper-turned wrestler who occasionally talks to an imaginary sidekick named “Little Jimmy”. Three years ago, these two were a tag team that headlined one of the WWE’s four major events. Times, how they change. They knocked each other around for a couple of minutes, and then the countdown timer started ticking down to zero. The buzzer went off, and out came entrant #3, Bubba Ray Dudley.
Bubba Ray was part of a large group of Dudleys, inspired by the Hanson brothers from Slap Shot, who thrived in Philadelphia-based ECW in the 1990s. They eventually found their way to the WWF, and Bubba Ray and his “brother” D-Von became a decorated tag team. Bubba hadn’t been seen in a WWF/WWE ring in a decade, and made a huge return in front of his hometown crowd. Normally, big surprises don’t come out this early, so this seemed like a sign of good things to come. Bubba Ray tossed out both Miz and Truth, and I added two points to my total in the pool we had going on.
Entrant number 4 was Luke Harper. Harper is a physically imposing psycho redneck who looks a lot like actor Jason Lee, which is why he used to use the name Brodie Lee. He and Bubba Ray traded blows, until entry #5, Bray Wyatt, entered the fray. Wyatt is a cult leader-type figure based on Max Cady from Cape Fear who used to be Harper’s mentor, so they sort of did this reunion thing. Bubba Ray got tossed out, and then the next entrant was #6, Curtis Axel. Axel is the charisma-devoid son of the late Curt Hennig, one of the most talented wrestlers in history. Thankfully, he didn’t make it five feet before he was laid out by Erick Rowan, who was the third guy in Bray Wyatt’s little Deliverance cult, but has since become one of the “good guys”. Fists flew, and Wyatt wound up the last man standing. My tally remained at two in our poll, as my #4 failed to deliver.
Now, this made me scratch my head. Why even bother having Axel, who hasn’t been featured on TV in months, be #6, when Rowan, who was part of a major storyline over the last couple weeks, was only there as an unofficial entrant? The same goal would have been achieved with Rowan as the official #6 entrant, and would make a lot more sense. This was the first of the idiotic booking mistakes in this match, but it was hardly an egregious one. It just seemed like a pointless decision.
Next up was entrant #7, The Boogeyman. Boogeyman is a horror-themed character who eats live worms and smashes clocks on his head. This was yet another surprise, as he has not been a regular with the company for several years. #8 was Sin Cara, a masked Mexican luchadore who is played by an entirely different guy than the one who was originally brought in with tons of fanfare a few years back. #9 was Zack Ryder, a “bro” from Long Island who has a cult fanbase but is a perennial loser. All three of these guys were dumped rather quickly by Wyatt. At one point, Wyatt got on the microphone and called out “anyone”, which made one expect we might get a big return, such as his rumored WrestleMania opponent, the legendary Undertaker. All we got was the “Woo woo woo” of Zach Ryder’s music in response, which kind of defeated the purpose of Wyatt’s boasting.
If you’re keeping track, that’s WTF-moment #2.
Entrant #10 was Daniel Bryan. Daniel was the biggest star thus far in the Rumble, and the crowd reacted accordingly. Many people had projected Bryan as the winner, and it seemed like the perfect story. You see, last year, the underdog Daniel Bryan overcame all the odds to win the title in the main event of WrestleMania 30, and then a series of unfortunate events led to him having to abandon the title for a neck surgery. A few weeks ago, he made his big return to announce his entry to the Rumble. Having him come in and overcome the odds all over again to again fight for the title he never lost was the perfect story. Plus, he and Bray Wyatt have plenty of history, so this clash made lots of sense.
Bodies started filling the ring as we hit the second act of the Rumble match. #11 was ballroom dancing Fandango, #12 was the talented Tyson Kidd, and #13 was Stardust, the alter ego of Cody Rhodes, one of the sons of the legendary “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. #14 was the third and final surprise entrant, Diamond Dallas Page, a big star from World Championship Wrestling in the 1990s and now a real life yoga instructor.
And then, something baffling happened.
Bray Wyatt eliminated Daniel Bryan. Not in some gallant, heroic fashion, but in an afterthought dumping. It didn’t make Wyatt look stronger, and it sure didn’t make Bryan seem stronger. But the real interesting part was the crowd’s reaction. As expected, they booed heartily. And as they deserved to, they shit on the rest of the match.
By the way, this is officially WTF-moment #3, and clearly the biggest one yet.
With Bryan gone, nobody gave a shit about entrant #15, the Bulgarian bruiser known as Rusev, or Stardusts’ half brother and partner Goldust, entrant #16. They really didn’t care when the brothers inexplicably came to blows with one another, preferring to chant “Daniel Bryan” instead. By the time entrant #17, Kofi Kingston, entered the ring, they were busy chanting the name of C.M. Punk, another favorite of the hardcore fans who quit the company exactly a year before and made some scintillating accusations about the company’s management in recent months. Kingston is usually a crowd favorite in the Rumble, coming up with innovative ways to avoid elimination. This year, as many expected, he was caught by the entourage of entrant #18, Adam Rose, who is kind of a poor man’s Russell Brand. The entourage helped him crowd surf his way back in to the ring, but Kingston didn’t last long after that. He soon joined Tyson Kidd, DDP, Fandango, and Adam Rose himself in the land of the eliminated.
Roman Reigns was entrant #19. This was good for me, since I had drawn #19 in the Rumble pool, and Reigns was one of the favorites to win. However, the crowd, still seething from the Daniel Bryan elimination, wasn’t cheering him, despite the WWE holding up Reigns as one of its top heroes in recent months. I quickly picked up two more points in my tally, as Reigns dumped both Goldust and Stardust. #20 was Big E, who lost his last name a year or so ago, and #21 was Damien Sandow, who has been known as “Mizdow” and serving as the stunt double I mentioned earlier for The Miz. The Miz stopped Sandow from entering and insisted on going in himself, but both The Miz and Mizdow were unceremoniously dumped within seconds.
Not much of interest happened as we entered the third act. #22 was Jack Swagger, the All-American jock, #23 was Ryback, a walking steroid, and #24 was “Corporate” Kane, a guy who’s been around for 20 years and seems like he should have retired years ago but keeps being put in top storylines because he’s tall and muscular and has a political stance that the people in charge seem to agree with. #25 was Dean Ambrose, a guy with all the talent in the world who should really be in a better spot than he is. #26 was Titus O’Neil, an afterthought, and #s 27 and 28, Bad News Barrett and Cesaro, are guys like Ambrose who are far more talented than their current roles would indicate. #29 was The Big Show, another veteran who has hung around way past his expiration date, and #30 was Dolph Ziggler, who was fortunate enough to get the crowd in his favor.
There hasn’t been a WTF-moment in a while, mainly because nothing interesting has happened in a while. But brace yourself, because it’s about to hit critical mass.
Some of the chaff was thinned out during this portion. O’Neil, Big E, Ryback, Barrett, and Cesaro were tossed out by various opponents, but nobody was really expecting much from any of them in the long run in this match. What happened next was the two old giants, Kane and The Big Show, teamed up to eliminate the real stars of the show: First Ziggler, then Wyatt (who had been in the match for over 45 minutes), then Ambrose. In other words, two wrestlers whose entire bodies of work are to be respected but should not be a major factor in the year 2015 were used to dispose of three young, popular, and viable talents as if they were as disposable as a Titus O’Neil or Zack Ryder. The crowd agreed with this reviewer, as they booed vociferously and chanted “bullshit”. It then came down to the final four, with Kane and the Big Show wearing down Roman Reigns in the ring while Rusev was laid out on the floor outside the ring, having been tossed underneath the ropes earlier. The announcers pretended that they had forgotten about Rusev, although the plausibity of that would be in question due to the fact that the entire crowd was shouting his name at this point. Bear in mind that Rusev is a villainous anti-American who is normally booed, but he was clearly the most popular person in this match by this point.
Roman Reigns overcame the odds, since he’s made out to be this long-haired tattooed Samoan Superman, and dumped the two evil giants out of the ring. At this point, the bell rang, as if Reigns is now the winner. Of course, we know Rusev is lying in wait outside the ring. Now, if I’m booking this match and Reigns has to win, Rusev now rushes in and gets the upper hand and teases eliminating Reigns and is eventually thwarted. In real life, Rusev runs in, gets bested immediately, and renders the whole tease null and void. WTF-moment #…ah, shit. I stopped counting a while ago.
To make matters worse, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson then runs down, gives Reigns his blessing, and subsequently makes himself the centerpiece of this whole event for no good reason whatsoever. All the work you just did, all the other talent you just buried in order to make your chosen winner look good, all for naught as you shift the spotlight to yet another star from another era who has a role for sure but doesn’t necessarily belong where he’s being placed.
In a room with a dozen or so other wrestling fans – some hardcore, some casual, some lapsed, but all fans in some way – there was incredulous disillusionment. We all knew what we just saw was done in the most wrong way possible. We all knew that even as a means to an end, this was just a clusterfuck of an event. “Worst Rumble Match Ever” was heard from quite few voices, and it may or may not have been hyperbole in this case.
We weren’t alone. The hashtag “#CancelWWENetwork” began trending globally. Reviews of the event started pouring in, criticizing many of the same things that we had discussed in our post-Rumble chat. The WWE, ignoring its fans in a vacuum of no competition, may have shot itself in the foot in a time when they’ve already lost immense amounts of money due to their failure to live up to expectations on their network. Last year, after a similar outcry from the fans after Dave Batista was brought back to win the Rumble, the WWE called an audible and Daniel Bryan was added to the main event of WrestleMania, but they can’t do that again. Batista, by the way, wound up starring in the biggest film of 2014 and is slated to appear in an upcoming James Bond film. That won’t happen for Roman Reigns anytime soon.
Next year, I’m skipping the Rumble, No, wait, I can’t even kid about that. I’ll be watching again, and hopefully not having to write a screed like this after it’s all said and done.
As for me, thanks to Roman Reigns’s performance in the Rumble, I won the pool and wound up with a Batman action figure and Blu-Ray, so at least one bit of justice was served.