The 2016 Royal Rumble kicked off of course as every monthly WWE special does, with a promotional video package for the show. While the video was played for viewers at home, the crowd in attendance at the Amway Center in Orlando voiced strong support for Brock Lesnar when he appeared on-screen and showered the image of Roman Reigns with boos.
After the intro played, a long black limousine, pulled up to the Amway Center and Vince McMahon exited along with his daughter Stephanie. One of the first moments of the night to receive a chorus of laughter in appreciation occurred as Mr. McMahon crouched down next to JoJo as she interviewed him.
Intercontinental Match: Last Man Standing – (c) Dean Ambrose v. Kevin Owens
These two had been meeting quite often as of late going back and forth in what has become a very entertaining rivalry. There are matchups that become tired because they don’t serve a purpose and then there are rivalries, as this seems to have become, as just stated. The trick though is to continue to show the audience something they haven’t seen in a previous match between the two. On top of that, the fans have been accustomed in the more recent past to seeing Last Man Standing matches that end with the Big Show being buried beneath an announce table. There were plenty of spots throughout this match that one could predict how things may end, but it did not. Ultimately, it was a clever finish of Kevin Owens falling victim to his own device when thrown off the top rope to the outside through two tables he had stacked previously in the night. With that, Ambrose retained. What made the match was the mixture of big spots and actual technical wrestling between the two.
Tag Team Match: (c) The New Day v. The Usos
Before the match even began the crowd was introduced to the newest member of The New Day, Franchesca II, which would be the new trombone of Xavier Woods. Instantly, the trombone became the focal point to the audience in attendance as opposed to the match itself, but Xavier Woods and BigE did a great job of redirecting the attention as the crowd chanted “Play Franchesca” by teasing that he would and then putting it down while BigE wagged his finger. The match itself was what one would expect as we’ve seen these two teams do battle multiple times over the past year. However, it was refreshing to see an original finish as BigE caught a flying Uso and turned it into the Big Ending for the win.
US Title Match: (c) Alberto Del Rio v. Kalisto
Another match that had recently been repeated multiple times and saw the belt go back and forth between the two, these two stars came in with arguably the least amount of history between them. With that being said many could have seen this as being the throw away card. Credit Alberto Del Rio for doing a tremendous job since his return to WWE in bringing an intensity to every match that when he puts someone over, it comes off as though that opponent truly did work for it. Kalisto is no doubt high-flying, but Del Rio helped to keep a pace about the entire match so that it was an entertaining and not just simply high spots. That being said, a recent gripe with Del Rio is that he’s a heel and yet still looks to the crowd when slapping his wrist and leading chants of “Si, si, si.” Meanwhile, give Kalisto his due, it seems more and more clear that the company wants to push him as a new Rey Misterio type, especially for the adoration of the younger crowd and its working well. So much so that after a Salida del Sol he walked away US champion yet again. Biggest point of contention here though would be that no League of Nations members attempted to assist Del Rio in the match.
Divas Title Match: (c) Charlotte v. Becky Lynch
Anyone who had ever seen the two of these ladies work together in NXT would be able to predict a good match here. When it comes to the main roster though, the build has been there for a feud typical of one best friend turning on the other. The addition of Ric Flair at ringside was confusing at first and seemed unnecessary, but has brought out a fantastic heel in Charlotte that gets better and more believable each week. The match itself may have just stolen the show when it came to the undercard that led to the actual Royal Rumble. Quite frankly, the ending seemed a bit rush and the crowd would’ve happily accepted a few more minutes. However, an ending that again saw Ric’s assist in distracting Becky to lead to a Charlotte victory helps to fuel what could be a long feud even more with more excellent matches along the way. If there was to be any disappointment it quickly vanished when Sasha Banks made her way to the ring, kicked Becky out of it and then essentially tricked Charlotte and applied the Bank Statement. If all of this leads to a three way dance at Wrestlemania, wrestling fans should feel so lucky. The best thing done here was that WWE gave these ladies time to work this match, something that hadn’t really been seen yet since the “Divas Revolution” was declared and it paid off.
Royal Rumble: (c) Roman Reigns v. 29 other Superstars
The 2016 Rumble began as the 2015 ended with Roman Reigns and Rusev as the only two men in the ring. Reigns would make relatively quick work of Rusev this time though and find himself waiting for entrant number 3…….Welcome to the WWE AJ Styles. His debut led to such a crowd reaction that the description could only be best summed up by a Jim Ross exaggeration. From there the match was wisely booked in terms of who would come and when allowing for fans to engage in the activity in-ring and every few minutes provide a pop to a bigger name with midcard talents sprinkled between. For the first time ever the WWE title was being defended within the Royal Rumble match itself and despite the vast amount of injuries the match did show the depth the roster just might have. It’s been a few years since a Rumble match hasn’t included Legends or surprise returns and instead it seemed to be believable that most anyone in the match for any length of time could have a legitimate argument to become champion. The entrance of AJ Styles and Sami Zayn drew arguably the largest crowd reactions with Styles’ name being chanted throughout his time in the match.
That is all of course until entrant number 30, Triple H, entered the match. In fairness to the pop that AJ Styles received, while listening to chatter throughout the arena, it seemed that WWE’s COO received such a large pop because the live WWE Universe felt that his entrance meant Roman Reigns would not win which is all they (the fans) cared about, which as it turned out went right in line with the Authority’s concerns and the storyline as well. It seems ridiculous that with a career fighting off rumors and words that Triple H has buried multiple people within the company and advanced his own personal agenda more than what was truly best for business, he would then place the belt around his waist. Sure, it may get some heat, but for he or Vince to feel that he is the only one who could main event Wrestlemania this year and draw, does not say much for their own confidence in the product they put out.
With the championship on the line, this was a perfect opportunity to push a star without having to worry about advancing any sort of storyline. In a match where anything could happen and anyone could win, an amazing chance to create a new star or rebuild an older one (for example: Strapping the Miz, who STILL seems to get more heat than anyone), was completely missed.
Triple H leaves as champion and aside from that though the match did have its moments that didn’t make sense, it also did have its great fun. Skill and humor both found its way during the course of the match. R-Truth provided laughter when he seemed to confuse the Royal Rumble for a Money In The Bank ladder match and climbed a ladder he set up only to find there was nothing hanging to grab. Kofi Kingston didn’t necessarily outdo himself with acrobatic to stay in the match this year and stave off elimination, but he did find himself atop the shoulders of BigE and the two paraded around the ring as Kofi snacked on a fan’s popcorn until he was ultimately eliminated. Details seemed to be missed, but that’s become a WWE creative staple these days and the match was overall an excellent one.
Overall: The creative team still continues to miss on the small details. Along with that goes the need to truly create characters, something the Royal Rumble used to be good for along with feuds. It will be nice to see a Lesnar-Wyatt rumored feud actually come from this and onto Wrestlemania. For now though, it’s onto Fastlane in Cleveland.
It’s only January, but this was a great way to kick off the monthly specials for WWE. Can they build momentum going into Fastlane and then Wrestlemania? Will the first show of 2016 be the best? Only time will tell.
Overall Rating: 4/5