The Royal Rumble is arguably the most important wrestling event in the entire sport of professional wrestling. Although WrestleMania sits atop as the grandest stage in the business, the Rumble is the start on the remarkable road to the show, and sets the stage for its main event bout. The Royal Rumble match itself is also one of the biggest matches in wrestling history, both in terms of its implications and the number of participants. From Hacksaw Jim Duggan to Batista, every winner of the prestigious event earns a marquee spot in history, and since 1993 a chance to win the world championship on the biggest show on the calendar.
So, did the 2015 edition of the premier event of the year live up to these mighty expectations? If you were to ask a significant number of fans in Philadelphia after the show’s conclusion, they would likely give you a firm no. There was a great deal to enjoy about the night as a whole. However, a mixture of the booking of its centerpiece match, and for many people the choice of winner, produced a negative reaction arguably greater than any other event in the company’s storied history. Even after last year’s storm following the victory of Batista, this surpassed this, leading many to get the #CancelWWENetwork movement one of the top worldwide trends on Twitter.
But, which matches hit the highlight reel, and which deserved to be sent flying over the top rope?
The Ascension vs. The New Age Outlaws
The lowest ranked match on this list beats out the much-maligned Royal Rumble match simply because that match actually had some excellent moments lighting up the disastrous booking decisions. This on the other hand was boring as soon as Road Dogg and Billy Gunn were finished rocking the microphone. They still have charisma coursing through their veins, and Gunn in particular still looks in phenomenal shape. But, when the bell rung, the years began to take its toll on the overall match quality. Yet, the only thing that’s worse than having some performers that have already been past successes disappointing, is having a new team you’re supposed to become invested in for the future being even worse.
For those that may have read my reviews of NXT episodes, I am not a fan of the Ascension in no way whatsoever. They are so average in the ring it’s unreal, from the endless rest-holds to their tandem strikes. The one thing going their way on NXT was the unique look and dark entrance which added an air of mystique about them. However, that is gone on the main roster, as they look like a pair of Road Warrior knock-offs that are trying to emulate their success. But, in an age where you have numerous teams in the wrestling world pushing boundaries, such as the Usos, Young Bucks, The Wolves and ReDragon, Konnor and Viktor look hopelessly old-fashioned. Although, I recognize there is little point complaining, as they will be Tag Team Champions by WrestleMania at the latest.
The Royal Rumble
From the boring to the bizarre, and unfortunately I was close to making this my lowest ranked match simply to how low it fell short of expectations. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some whining about the fact Daniel Bryan didn’t win and the company clearly not listening to the fans by choosing Roman Reigns as the winner. Reigns is not only a worthy winner but a genuinely interesting competitor to Brock Lesnar’s title reign, and I had already assumed he was the likely winner. Personally, I would have liked it to be Dolph Ziggler’s time to step out of the shadows, but it was not to be on this occasion.
My issues with the match stem into a case of poor booking which led to the crowd destroying the contest’s entire atmosphere. There were a number of really fun moments, especially in the first half of the match. The arrival of Bubba Ray Dudley at No. 3 was a great return, there was a Wyatt Family reunion, and surprise returns of the Boogeyman and DDP were also well-received. But then Bryan was eliminated halfway through, in a decision that currently appears utterly nonsensical. Maybe this will lead to some redemptive feud against his eliminator Bray Wyatt, but what was the booking team expecting to happen? Did they think the audience would eventually forget that one of the most over stars in the company had been tossed aside after 10 minutes? Even if the bearded Yes Man was not selected to win it, he could have stayed much longer.
The crowd were pretty much off from that point on, mixing sporadic Bryan chants in between a chorus of boos and deafening silence. The crowd came alive only for the arrivals of Damien Mizdow, Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler, and all three would come up short in their quest for victory. The elimination of Ziggler was particularly hard to stomach after he entered at No. 30, and after everything he endured last year, the Authority’s Kane and Big Show dispatched him remarkably quickly and with ease. The dominance of Kane and Show eventually made Reigns’ victory a certainty, which was a shame as prior the match it seemed to be one of the most open fields ever. Even a rescue appearance by the Rock couldn’t turn the fans back in favor of Reigns’ victory.
But to the WWE Universe I will say this; if you booed the way the match Rumble played out, then fair enough. If you booed simply because Reigns won and Bryan didn’t, then grow up a little.
The Bella Twins vs. Paige & Natalya
This Divas match was surprisingly intriguing, if only for the way it panned out in the second half. Divas matches on WWE PPVs have often been labeled the bathroom break matches, and unfortunately the quality of this match would be unlikely to change that perception. It certainly wasn’t a bad match, just nothing too special. However, compared to some of the incredibly short and uninspiring matches presented on television in recent weeks, it certainly was an improvement. And I actually applaud the creative direction of the match, as it took a different angle of a standard tag team match to lead to an interesting conclusion.
The Bella Twins were utterly dominant throughout the entire second half of the match. Some of their tandem offense they inflicted on Natalya whilst Paige was left hanging on the apron was pretty impressive. Especially a rolling leglace slam with was not too dissimilar to something the Hardy Boyz would pull off in matches, but of course being a women’s match it was never going to get as good a reaction. Natalya endured and desperately clawed towards her partner, but the Bellas kept her distinctly isolated. Eventually, Brie ripped the Brit off the apron when Natalya was inches from the tag, allowing Divas Champion Nikki to end it with a hard forearm to the face. It was a one-sided tag team match but not quite a squash, which was interesting to witness.
Cesaro & Tyson Kidd vs. The New Day
The kickoff show doesn’t often capture the imagination supremely well, which is why it’s kept distinct from the main card. But, this example proved to be very successful in hyping up the crowd for the Royal Rumble event, if not in the manner the backstage personnel would have hoped. Let’s just say that no matter how optimistic the New Day are, they probably couldn’t think they were very much cared for in the City of Brotherly Love. It seemed like things were going well, the audience were chanting back to them and seemed to be having plenty of fun. But then Cesaro and Tyson Kidd emerged, and then you realized what a true pop sounded like in the arena.
Cesaro was as over with the audience as it gets, which is pretty amazing when you have Adam Rose in your corner. The Swiss Superman had a tough 2014, and that seemed to have aggravated the wrestling fanatics in Philadelphia. So instead of getting on board with the New Day, they quickly became the Boo Day, as the crowd heckled them all match long in anticipation of a Cesaro and Kidd victory. And after an excellent match with plenty of quality, they received exactly that when Kidd connected with a swinging neckbreaker on Kofi Kingston. Very good for a kickoff match, and really got the crowd pumped up in the correct way leading onto the main show.
The Usos vs. The Miz & Damien Mizdow
One of only two title matches on the card, there was a great deal of pressure on these two teams to carry the burden of excitement on the undercard. Fortunately, for the most part they succeeded with a match chocked full of energy and near-falls. The Usos were two of the most consistently excellent performers of 2014, carrying a deceptively thin tag team division with stellar matches against the Wyatt Family and Gold/Stardust. And this match demonstrated that they are up to the task of doing so again in 2015. However, the main story was the increasing gulf between the Miz and his popular stunt double Damien Mizdow, as the bearded ‘lookalike’ began to show more and more individuality.
The bout started in a similar manner to most of their recent matches, as the Miz carried the burden of the action whilst constantly teasing both the audience and his partner with no tags. Eventually, with the Usos regaining the initiative, Mizdow eventually stepped in to rescue the match on numerous occasions. After saving the Miz from being pinned via a splash, Mizdow single-handedly took out both champions before connecting with his own Skull-Crushing Finale, but when his boss went for the pin, Jey Uso was able to power out. In the end, a stylish combination of a superkick, sunset powerbomb and second big splash were enough to give the Usos the victory. A very good match, and continued to cement Mizdow as a firm fan favorite.
Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins
The highest rank match was a no contest, as it blew every match of the night out of the water. Frankly, if any match is able to improve on the excellence of this bout, they will have done a remarkable job, as this match was booked to near perfection. The original concept of Brock Lesnar defending his WWE Championship to John Cena at the Rumble had a number of people cringing at the prospect. The addition of Rollins added another dimension of excitement and unpredictability, especially with that briefcase, that brought out the best of him, Cena and the champion.
Nevertheless, despite a great showing by Cena and an awesome performance by Rollins that cemented him as the future he proclaims to be, the night belonged to Lesnar. The champion looked as valiant and conquering as he ever had since his return to the ring, even more so than his victory over Undertaker at WrestleMania 30. In a sign of the kind of champion he should have always been booked like, throwing anybody that dared look at him funny. But it was not only his strength, but his fortitude that was so compelling, as he withstood the apex of ability and strength that Cena and Rollins could throw at him, and survived still in emphatic fashion.
Yet it wasn’t only this, but the multitude of amazing spots that made this an incredible encounter. A double German suplex on both members of J&J Security, added onto the double AA that followed later in the night. Lesnar withstood three AAs whilst still getting to his feet. He was then speared into the barricade, hit with steel steps, and then smashed through an announce table by a soaring Rollins. Even with Lesnar out at ringside the action in the center was fast and furious, and Lenar eventually recovered to break up the pin after an awe-inspiring Phoenix Splash by Rollins on Cena. Then, after two shots to the head with a briefcase, Lesnar sucked it up to hit one final F5 to retain his championship. Absolutely terrific match.