By The Numbers Video - Since I'm sure I'll have to sit through it a million times, here are some thoughts on how they can make the "numbers" video package less annoying:
1. Cut out the irrelevant sh*t. This includes several categories of things, so I will simplify it by saying that if it isn't in some way theoretically pertinent to making this year's match feel important, don't include it. For example, if there are no women in this year's match, then the graphic about the number of women in the Rumble is irrelevant and should be cut. Also, anything about the number of times a specific city or state has hosted the Rumble should be cut because it doesn't actually hype the match. It's just a superficial statistic that is only being mentioned because they want another number to stick in their video package (to contrast, the number of fans who have attended the show is a good number because it shows that the match is important).
2. Minimize- if not totally excise- any humor in the tone of the video package. Hyping up the time record as "some people take their time" winning the Royal Rumble is taking what should be an impressive achievement and making it a joke.
3. When talking about the large number (or percentage, in this case) of participants who have never won the Rumble, instead of showing pictures of chumps like R-Truth, Santino, and Drew Carey, show pictures of big stars like Kurt Angle, Randy Savage, and Chris Jericho to put over that this is a rare and special thing that even some of the greatest of all time never manage to accomplish.
4. While we're at it, turn that percentage from above into an actual number of individual participants who have never won. It's silly to have every number be a hard number but then have one that is randomly a percentage.
5. Also, no one cares exactly how many people won from each set of ten numbers. That's too much technical detail (and using that as three different facts just so you could stretch yourself to get to thirty is really lame). The things people care about are stats like which number has won the most (speaking of which, lucky #27 is coming due again).
When Shawn Michaels said that "the Royal Rumble is your chance to expose yourself to the best in the WWE" I am absolutely certain that I heard Jerry Lawler and/or Renee Young start to giggle.
NATALYA, MICKIE JAMES, & ALEXA BLISS! vs. NIKKI BELLA, BECKY LYNCH, & NAOMI - 4.75/10
GRRR... I know I do this on every single pre-show, but that's because it never ceases to infuriate me: Why are we cutting away from a match on a show whose entire purpose is to hype up this PPV in order to air a commercial for a match on this PPV? I guarantee you that over the course of these two hours they will spend AT LEAST twenty minutes talking about the AJ Styles vs. John Cena match. Is a fifteen second spot here really going to be the thing that pushes anyone over the fence and gets them to buy this PPV?
Okay... can we please put a moratorium on those silly CHIKARA/2005 X-Division spots like that suplex thing? If you don't have a REALLY clever way to get into it, it just looks stupid and choreographed.
Other than that the match was fine, and as much as I don't like it, Naomi pinning Alexa basically justifies this match's existence because now it will actually have consequences as opposed to just being shoved onto this show for just for the purpose of having a Smackdown women's match on the show. Naomi's win here obviously sets her up as a challenger for Alexa at Elimination Chamber so that Alexa has something to do while Becky feuds with Mickie before moving on to reclaim the title at Wrestlemania.
CHARLY INTERVIEWS OWENS & JERICHO - Jericho was annoying, Owens was great.
Props to Renee for putting over the idea that Hunter has picked Owens to be champion rather than the way this has been portrayed so far, which is that Hunter picked Owens to be champion because Owens isn't Seth (or Roman). This way at least puts Owens over a bit as someone Hunter believes in rather than a dude who happened to be in the right place at the right time.
WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH WITH TWO REFEREES:
Sheamus & Cesaro(c) vs. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson - 6/10
The babyface champions are being introduced first, presumably in an attempt to give any traditionalists that might be watching an aneurysm. You're going to have to try a lot harder than that to get me Vince! If TNA couldn't do it in years of what seem like deliberate attempts to kill me, then you've got no chance in hell.
The match was decent but the finish was annoying. They did a good job with the two referees thing, but then the finish was Gallows & Anderson winning the belts on a roll-up while pulling the tights when one referee had already been taken out, which defeats the purpose of the stipulation. If Gallows and Anderson were going to win here, just let them win clean. The whole "pulling the tights for extra leverage" has never made any sense, and I despise the fact that WWE seems to feel the need to do it every single time a heel wins via roll-up. It's a roll-up! It's not going to kill someone to get pinned cleanly with one, and especially in a situation like this where Cesarmus are entitled to a tag title shot by virtue of the standard champions' rematch clause, so why can't the heels just win this one clean?
DEAN AMBROSE IN THE SOCIAL MEDIA LOUNGE - annoying.
SASHA BANKS vs. NIA JAX - 4/10
They seemed to be headed for a good story, but they really should have had some sort of submission finish on the knee with Sasha passing out or maybe even a referee stoppage due to injury with Sasha arguing the whole way up the ramp to keep her looking like a strong babyface.
As a result of his actions last night at Takeover, Seth Rollins has been "banned from the Alamo Dome" tonight. A good and logical reaction that of course tells us that he'll be in at some point. Actually, that probably means that Hunter will be in Rumble.
WWE RAW WOMEN'S TITLE MATCH:
Charlotte Flair(c) vs. Bayley- 6.5/10
Have we ever gotten a reason for why Dana has stopped being Charlotte's lackey? Anyway, Charlotte beats Bayley 100% clean. So much for Bayley. I know I have been railing against dirty finishes in basically every company other than Evolve which I have been putting over for avoiding them at all costs, but THIS is the sort of place where you SHOULD be using a dirty finish. Now what are you going to have her do to earn another title shot in a way that makes us think she can beat Charlotte? Have her pin Charlotte in a non-title match? We did that three times en route to this one, and this is now we know that Charlotte has just as much of a chance of beating Bayley so build loses some meaning (and that's on top of the fact that it would just be repeating the build to this match two months later).
NO DQ MATCH FOR THE WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE WITH CHRIS JERICHO LOCKED ABOVE THE RING IN A SHARK CAGE:
Kevin Owens(c) vs. Chris Jericho - 7.25/10
You see... the problem with making this a No Disqualifications Match is that when Jericho gives Owens the brass knuckles to use, no one is actually breaking any rules so there is nothing to get upset about. It's no different than if Owens had brought them himself.
Maybe I'm just a little sensitive to this because I watched Evolve 76 last night, but one of the ring ropes sounds kind of rickety. Wouldn't that make for an interesting Royal Rumble?
Anyway, they used lots of weapons and brawled around a lot and took some big bumps. Roman was about to win when Braun Strowman interfered to cost Roman the match, so once again nothing is solved in a Kevin Owens Universal Title defense. Well... at least Steph gave Foley a fully-justified burying for his stupid No DQs idea. What sort of f*cking idiot didn't foresee the possibility of someone interfering in the match- especially if they made it No DQs.
SAMI ZAYN & DEAN AMBROSE PICK THEIR ROYAL RUMBLE NUMBERS - Dean was obnoxious as hell. Sami Zayn will be number eight. Dean didn't even open his number and instead went to go take a nap and asked Bryan to wake him when his music hits. This "too cool for school" bullsh*t makes Dean look like an asshole, not a rebel. Also, having just one of these segments feels awkward.
WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Rich Swann(c) vs. Neville - 6.75/10
Good Cruiserweight action. I'm almost always an advocate of heels that can win clean, but this felt demoralizing to see yet another great human interests story Cruiserweight Champion lose the belt. There is no denying that Neville had to win the belt and should have done so cleanly, but I think WWE's mistake here was not dragging it out longer. I would have given Neville someone else to feud with here and done this match next month, then built Mania around Swann trying to get the belt back.
WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles(c) vs. John Cena - 8.75/10
I love how the video package for this feud basically tries to erase Cena's September-October run from history simply because it doesn't fit the story they want to tell. Well maybe you should have thought of that before you brought him back for that run, morons. This is why we plan things out in advance and don't change our minds all willy-nilly.
Like some of their previous matches, I'm sure people will criticize this one as being "all finishers and kick-outs" and I understand that people say that it was finisher overkill and that that kills the credulity of finishers and no one believes that anything will be the finish anymore, and I will admit to occasionally feeling that what would have otherwise been a HUGE move and a definite finish wasn't going to be the finish at the time it was hit... but in the second between the two and three as the referee's hand comes down, I always find myself doubting that the kick-out will come. AWESOME match.
I do, however, stand by my previous assertion that this finish in unproductive. Obviously you couldn't screw Cena here because you already screwed Roman earlier, but this loss hurt AJ a lot more than it helps Cena, and having it play second fiddle to the Rumble is not a worthy place for Cena tying such a major record. This is another fine example of a match that shouldn't have been booked for this PPV in the first place. This is the sort of thing that could (and should) main event a WrestleMania.
2017 ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH - 8/10
Enzo singing the "Deep in the Heart of Texas" in his New Jersey accent was quite amusing. I'm not actually going to do the usual "here are my stream of consciousness thoughts edited together and cleaned up a bit to hopefully make them either to read" this year because I think I can actually get all of my thoughts on this year's match into well-written paragraphs. Well... aside from that opening bit about Enzo singing. And the fact that the ramp was ridiculously long.
For me, this was a tale of two matches. I LOVED the first fifty-six minutes or so. I thought the comedy worked great (possibly the first time I've ever enjoyed seeing James Ellsworth), that a lot of people got a chance to shine in some way or another, and that they told some very good and/or interesting stories. I really liked Jericho finding a new variation on the "guy who stays on the floor the whole match" trope by occasionally getting back in the ring only to get put down by a WMD or a Brogue Kick or whatever and rolling back out. It also made it feel a little less like he was cheating, which means that it doesn't make me want to ask why he is allowed to just stand outside of the ring the whole time.
I also really liked what they did with Cesaro and Sheamus. I can see some people saying that having them argue again feels like going back to square one, but I think that saying that misses the symbolism of the broader picture. First they had their moment of unity, culminating by defeating The New Day, but once that immediate objective was gone they became opponents again, which led to their downfall. When they were arguing outside of the ring it wasn't going back to square one but rather calling to it in order to ask the question that will be answered with the next chapter of their story: Now that they have lost the tag titles, will they just go back to being foes or will they decide- for themselves this time, rather than with Foley forcing them into it- that this team is worth preserving and it is worth it to them to work together to try to regain the tag titles?
They did a particularly great job highlighting Braun Strowman to the point where Baron Corbin eliminating him not only felt like a big deal at the time, but it felt like a big enough deal that despite not eliminating anyone for the rest of the match despite a long tenure it still feels like Corbin came out of this match with his kayfabe stock up. It even felt big enough that I didn't even realize that Braun was the only guy Corbin eliminated until I was looking at stats after the match.
I liked the stuff they did with Brock and Goldberg. It feels repetitive in some ways, but it once again gets the point across to set up for the story of Brock redeeming himself at WrestleMania. Personally, I think it would have been better to have Brock get angry here and run in and eliminate Goldberg and have them do a big brawl that millions of security people would have had to come out and break up, but I can understand not wanting to do that in the middle of the Rumble, and also being a little reluctant to have Brock illegally eliminate Goldberg from the Royal Rumble to set up their match at WrestleMania simply because... well... that's exactly what they did to set it up the last time these two faced off at WrestleMania. Plus, if they did that we wouldn't have gotten the Taker-Goldberg face-off.
The one thing in the Rumble that I didn't like was Jack Gallagher's participation. The Cruiserweight Division has been segregated show strictly so far- special ropes, special graphics, special lighting... even a special commentator- that Gallagher felt extremely out of place here. Yes, I know that Enzo, Ellsworth, and Kalisto are all also under the weight limit, but none of them have been portrayed as part of the Cruiserweight Division (aside from Kalisto for one match) while Gallagher has. I also hated everything he did while in the ring. Yes, technically there are no DQs in a Royal Rumble, but when you're the only guy that brings a weapon it feels heelish. Same with that unprovoked low blow on Jericho.
The only other thing I thought definitely should have been changed (aside from the ending, which we'll get to in a moment) involved the Wyatt Family. On the whole I really liked what they did and thought it worked really well. The only thing I would have changed about it was that I would have had Randy and Bray together be the ones to eliminate Harper, to show the new Wyatt Family united against the man who had been Bray's most loyal servant.
There are some people who will complain that there weren't enough "surprises" in this year's Royal Rumble, but personally that doesn't bother me. People wanted Dillinger at number ten and they got it. Yes, we all would have liked to see Joe or whoever, but I'd rather have someone not debut in the Rumble if they're not going to do something extremely impressive, which no one was this year because the slots for eliminating the big guys- Brock, Goldberg, and Taker, plus the well-built (no pun intended, for the first time in my life) Strowman- were already assigned to others, and most on the necessity of setting up WrestleMania matches and/or getting that cool, once in a lifetime faceoff between Goldberg and Taker, so there was nothing here that Joe really could have done that would make it worthwhile to debut him here instead of having him come out and murderize someone tomorrow on Raw.
The one surprise I thought we would get but didn't was actually Triple H. I figured that Rollins being barred from the building tonight meant that he was obviously going to show up, and having him eliminate Hunter from the Rumble would be as close as you could get at this point to having him cost Hunter a world title as revenge for Hunter doing it to him, setting up WrestleMania. Plus, is there is anything that would piss the Triple H character off enough to come back for one more match, it's going to be screwing him out of a title shot. They're line of thought was probably that they got all of the build they needed this weekend from Takeover, and Rollins being barred from the building tonight was a logical reaction to those events that also served as an explanation for why a popular and well-pushed wrestler wasn't going to appear on tonight's show at all.
I'm actually HAPPY that there weren't many surprises (I think Dillinger, Gallagher, and Roman were the only guys who were in the match and weren't previously announced, and everyone expected Dillinger anyway, to the point where WWE also had to do it or else risking backlash (though I can't possibly imagine how we came to a world where an undercard dork with a dumb gimmick on the developmental show not being an entrant in the Royal Rumble became something that fans might turn on a match because of. He's not Daniel Bryan, guys. He's not even close. He's not even Brian Christopher!) In my opinion, almost any time you have someone who isn't on the main roster in the Royal Rumble and it isn't intended to lead to anything (i.e. a surprise just for the sake of having a surprise) it feels like a waste to me. "Oh look. It's the Godfather and his hoes. He's in the match! Now he's out." So what? No one will remember that in three weeks, anyway. I was trying my best to not have them in by ongoing fantasy booking thread (cheap plug! The last few days of build to Royal Rumble 2016 should be up tonight and I will hopefully have the Rumble itself finished sometime this week), but realized that I had to use them because I just didn't have enough people on the roster to have everyone go through qualifying matches while also not using the current world champions and setting up two or three other things I wanted set up which required certain people not even having qualifying matches).
So like I said, I loved the first fifty-six minutes of this match. Then Roman Reigns came out at #30 and everything went to hell.
It's not that the work was bad or anything, because it wasn't. The problem is what this says about WWE's mentality with Roman. And yes, I realize that this is now the third year in a row that we're talking about this and maybe I'm naive for thinking it but it seemed like WWE had finally been starting to get it recently. Yes, I know Roman has been in the Universal Title picture for the past two months despite already being the US Champion and that he has been heavily protected the whole time (hence the Strowman finish tonight), but the idea of this Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns WrestleMania match almost felt like WWE was finally willing to make a compromise with us. We realize that they're not going to turn Roman heel no matter how much we boo him and we understand that they will always do their best to protect him, but they were at least willing to give us something here by instead of just pushing Roman as if he's the unbeatable champion and beloved by all they were going to feature him in a big spot that was over here and off to the side, doing this thing were they build up Braun Strowman as this big, scary, dangerous monster for valiant Roman to show no fear of and slay at WrestleMania- the sort of thing that Vince loves- while the Universal Title scene was going to be filled with "our" guys like Owens and Jericho and Rollins and Balor. Just for a little while, of course, and then Vince will go back to pushing Roman down our throats as the world-beater champion and we'll all go back to being angry about it, but at least we'd have the consolation that 1) guys like Kevin Owens would get the chance to prove themselves to Vince and come of this stronger because of it, and 2) we would know, in the back of our minds, that Vince was willing to throw us a bone every two or three years, and that our support of Sami Zayn and Cesaro and Joe and Nakamura and whoever else comes up the pipeline in the interim will not have been wasted, just as our support for Daniel Bryan and Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins has not been wasted.
But then they went and did this. Merely protecting Roman Reigns on the finish with Owens by having him be about to win but then get attacked by Strowman wasn't enough. No. Instead we had to have Roman come out at #30, eliminate THE UNDERTAKER (in Texas, no less) then eliminate the guy who I think most fans at that point hoped would win (Jericho), then get double-teamed by those evil Wyatts but valiantly fight back and eliminate Bray (more on this in a moment) before getting beaten by Orton.
Did Roman really need this? You already protected him on the finish of the other match and made him look like he is the guy who should really be the Universal Champion. Was that not enough? Did you really need to send him out here at the end of the Rumble to amass enough eliminations to tie for the third-most in the match (and he already had 23 coming in to this match. By the time he's thirty-seven he'll be so far past the record that no one will ever be able to catch him) and eliminate everyone we like? This wasn't protecting Roman; this was about showing us all that Roman is "the guy."
ENOUGH ALREADY! WE F*CKING GET IT! He's "the guy." We know that because you make sure to tell us a million times on every show, and you only let him lose cleanly when your hand is forced because he gets caught shooting up steroids (and even then he gets special treatment by being the only guy allowed to put his apology in the public announcement of his suspension).
As I said above, we understand that you're not going to turn him heel and that you're not going to stop pushing him as the face of the company. Now WWE needs to understand that we're not going to stop booing him and that pushing him down our throats even more certainly isn't going to make us stop. If WWE still doesn't understand this after the last few years then I sincerely hope that Hunter and the kids manage to pull off some sort of corporate takeover and kick Vince and Kevin Dunn to the curb. And part of me almost hopes that what happened here is that WWE still somehow hasn't gotten the message about Roman, because the alternative is that they knew what the result of this would be; that they knew going in that doing this would not make us stop booing Roman and that it would only piss us off... and they went ahead and did it anyway just to show us that they could.
Oh. Right. Orton and Bray. A far secondary issue to all of this is the fact that Orton got the win instead of Bray. Not only has Randy done it before while Bray is supposedly a centerpiece of the next generation of stars who, despite being pushed as a main eventer from pretty much day one has literally nothing to show for it in his three and a half years on the main roster aside from a reign as a Smackdown Tag Team Champion that last a little longer than three weeks, but Randy winning the Rumble just plain makes for a worse story.
I assume that the way this is going to play out is that Bray will win the World Heavyweight Title at Elimination Chamber and then Randy will get a shot at Bray at WrestleMania, which will create inevitable friction that will lead to the Wyatts breaking up along the way. The problem is that this story would work a lot better with the rolls reversed. If Bray wins the Rumble here and Randy wins the belt next month (you can blow off Bray and Harper at Elimination Chamber with Bray winning and even retaining his WrestleMania title shot) and Bray then becomes jealous of Randy so instead of doing the "brotherly" thing that he should in a close-knit "family" by going for the top title on the other show, Bray wants Randy's title instead. Perhaps Bray is even afraid of failing against the Universal Champion but he sees a win against Randy as a sure thing because while Randy might be the World Heavyweight Champion, Bray is still the leader of the Wyatt Family and thus he is owed obedience from Randy. Maybe he even tells Randy that he expects Randy to lie down for him at WrestleMania and Randy refuses, thus leaving the evil cult.
This sort of story is much more appealing to me because it allows for that big moment where Randy is no longer being duped by Bray when Bray reveals that he doesn't see Randy or any of his other followers as anything more than pawns; that he might preach "brotherhood" but what he really wants from the members of his "family" is obedience. It lets Bray be a heel and Randy be a babyface. I'm not saying that Randy is doing anything morally wrong by challenging Bray in the scenario that WWE seems to be aiming for, but Bray isn't really doing anything wrong, either. I'd rather have a story where Bray does something wrong (demanding that Randy lie down for him in their title match) and Randy does something right (standing up for himself) than a story where neither of them do anything one way or the other.
Overall, I'd say this was a very good show from WWE, although with a lot of booking decisions that I find baffling and/or concerning, but ultimately it ended on a rather frustrating note. AJ vs. Cena definitely helps prop this show up, but everything else on the main card was definitely solid, too, and that shouldn't be overlooked.