How does a one match show excel at every point except for the one match everyone counted on to deliver?
In an amazingly ridiculous disregard for the future, WWE decided to once again go back to the Attitude Era for one half of the Wrestlemania main event. Keep reaching for that brass ring all you want current stars, until all the Attitude Era stars are too broken down to perform be content clanking against that glass ceiling.
Last Man Standing – Kevin Owens
vs. Dean Ambrose
I’m buying into this feud and each time they lock up, it’s become a show-stealer.
This was no different as both guys worked hard and smartly built up on their previous matches to sell the stipulation.
Ambrose countered the pop-up powerbomb with a hurricarana and hit Dirty Deeds, which won him the title. While it was still good for a three count, it wasn’t enough for the 10-count. The match told a great story of move escalation and felt less like a video game where the guys are just trading moves with no sense of impact or repercussion.
Ambrose gets the win by dumping Owens through two stacked tables on the outside. This was a really strong match and a great way to kick off the show. It was definitely my match of the night.
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The New Day
vs. The Usos
New Day debuts Franciska II. I like both teams, but I’m really feeling like it’s time for new dance partners. Expanding the tag team division by about 3-4 more legitimate title contenders would help everyone. As is, there’s only so many times the Usos can come up short when challenging for the titles, but New Day is still too over to take the belts off them. The crowd is decidedly pro-New Day, which picks up the clean victory with Big E getting the blind tag and catching a flying Jey with the Big Ending for the win. The real question is where do both teams go from here as New Day needs new opponents and The Usos need another feud to re-establish themselves and make the audience get invested in them again.
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Wyatt Family promo. Against all odds, the WWE has done a very solid job getting the Wyatts back on track as a dominant force. Their booking in the Rumble is the most fascinating to me. If they use their numbers’ advantage and toss out the majority of the field, even if they lose, the Wyatts still come across like a threat.
U.S. Title: Alberto Del Rio
Every time I see Del Rio on WWE TV, I can’t help but wonder if with the exception of the money, if he regrets not re-signing with Lucha Underground. LU really went to great lengths to build him up like a major star and a focal point of the promotion while in WWE, he’s firmly back in the midcard ranks with a secondary title that’s only meant something in the last four years when John Cena was defending it every week.
Kalisto is at least a similar LU style opponent for Del Rio. Del Rio dominates and keeps going for the mask. If WWE is serious about building Kalisto as a solo star, putting him in a mask vs. title match at Wrestlemania would definitely be a step in the right direction. And really, WWE hasn’t had someone that’s such an obvious Rey Mysterio Jr. successor since he left, so building Kalisto up should be a priority.
Someone there agrees as Kalisto recovers from a slightly botched turnbuckle spot to hit his finisher and regain the US title. Remember when Cena stabilized the title and it wasn’t being hot-shotted from one guy to the next? Those were the days.
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Charlotte vs Becky Lynch
This is the first time in a long while I’m looking forward to a Divas title match on a Network special. Poor Paige had to dumb down her skills to match the Bella era Divas too much for her matches with Charlotte to reach that NXT level of awesome women’s matches. The bookers are doing Charlotte a disservice by having Flair come out with her. She’s never going to be able to develop her character with Flair grabbing the spotlight and she’s past the point where she needs him. WWE didn’t have “Cowboy” Bob Orton coming out every show with Randy Orton when he was called up from Ohio Valley Wrestling and he turned out just fine.
The main story is Becky keeps trying to hit the Disarmer and Charlotte keeps avoiding it. Sometimes that’s all a match needs and that story is fine here.
If they can stretch this out to Wrestlemania the perfect payoff is to have Ricky Steamboat appear in Becky’s corner to offset Flair and play off their rivalry one more time. Or not. Sasha Banks arrives and the fans immediately forget about poor Becky being screwed out of the title.
Sasha has been Teflon to to the bad booking of the Divas Revolution and the Orlando crowd is amped to see her. She kicks Becky out the ring and after playing nice with Charlotte for a second, hits the Banks Statement and raises the Divas title. This could work out in the end if we get a triple threat at Wrestlemania.
So the show has long exceeded expectations with even the weakest match — the US title match — being above serviceable. Time for the Rumble to deliver and we’ve got the WWE’s best ppv of 2016 all locked up, right? Slow down there partner.
Royal Rumble – One vs. All
Roman Reigns is defending his WWE title against every one in the Rumble. Arguably the biggest news — apart from the winner — is the debut of AJ Styles, who entered at No. 3. Styles’ arrival got the biggest pop of the night from the Orlando crowd who saw him make TNA watchable for so many years. If you’re a Styles fan — like me — this wasn’t a great showcase for him though as he was just another guy pin-balling around for the big guys and occasionally getting some token offense in. Styles’ 28 minutes stint wasn’t especially noteworthy, but at least the commentators acted like he was a big deal. The fans certainly did.
It didn’t take long for the match booking to look real suspect. Disregarding winning the title for a second, clearly eliminating Reigns would give any wrestler the Authority’s favorite son status with all the perks and opportunities to get the belt at a later date. If nothing else it would have made sense for everyone to keep going after Reigns to sell the idea of One vs. All. But the match played out like every other Rumble before it with guys pairing off and draping arms and legs around the ropes and generally looking busy until elimination time.
My biggest problem came here as McMahon happily celebrates with the League as they watch Reigns get led to the back instead of making them put Reigns in the ring and then getting eliminated. Clearly this was to give Reigns a nice break, but it killed off any bit of fan support Reigns had as this rest period allowed Reigns to avoid facing The Wyatt Family and Brock Lesnar.
The Wyatts did get the big Rumble push teaming up and eliminating a sizable chunk of the field. Braun Strowman was especially impressive as he single-handedly eliminated both Kane and the Big Show. Owens further earned respect by selling his injuries from the opening match before teasing two potentially high profile matches for him as he eliminated Styles and then got eliminated by a returning Sami Zayn.
Lesnar destroyed the field with a tour of Suplex City as he went on to eliminate the Wyatt Family. I’m not a fan of the No DQ aspect as the factions potentially could just go back in, damage someone and eliminate them. Bray Wyatt entered and he sicced his Family on Lesnar before hitting Sister Abigail and eliminating Lesnar. Mission accomplished for Wyatt Family booking at the Rumble.
Reigns returns just as Sheamus enters and predictably the fans boo him. Missing the majority of the Rumble could work for Stone Cold back in 1999, but Reigns is definitely no Stone Cold and it just looked cheap for him to re-enter. Triple H is No.30 and gets the NXT fans cheering in addition to the fact that Reigns kind of beat him down for no reason at Tables, Ladders Chairs. Now it’s just a matter of time as Ambrose, Jericho, Sheamus, Ziggler and Bray are meaningless losers now. The final 4 comes down to Sheamus, Triple H, Ambrose and Reigns. Reigns hits the Superman punch to eliminate Sheamus, but Triple H knocks him out leaving us with Triple H vs Ambrose. You get one guess how that works out for Ambrose. Maybe two minutes after a few false finishes, Triple H eliminates Ambrose to once again become the WWE champion.
Yes, the Wrestlemania end game is to have Reigns beat Triple H for the title, but what a major indictment on the WWE’s ability to build new stars that they’ve gotta put the belt on Triple H again to have an opponent on Reigns’ level.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The Royal Rumble is typically WWE’s one show of the year that’s all about one match. This year the rest of the card was really solid, but the booking of the Rumble beyond its uninspired ending left a lot to be desired.
Pictures Credit: WWE.com