The Royal Rumble is my favorite part of any wrestling year. My good friend MichaelC and I get on Skype or Facebook at ungodly times of night and day to talk about it. We rewatch previous rumbles. It was the first PPV my dad bought me (2000, second best rumble ever). I have all the Rumbles ranked empirically … well, empirically enough.
Reviewing wrestling is different from reviewing film. Removing my subjective wants and feelings from film has become easy with years of watching and loving the medium. But wrestling as a form of entertainment thrives on my subjective wants, and rewards my objective likes. A bad match featuring my favorite wrestlers hurts worse than a bad match featuring wrestlers I don’t care about. My own opinions are so entwined with wrestling that they are hard to pry apart. So I don’t make any qualms if you disagree, and I know I cannot 100% objectively review wrestling, but I’m gonna try.
New Age Outlaws defeat The Brotherhood (c) for the Tag Team Championships
This match was a solid tag team match that featured a real tag team finish. The WWE has a hard time doing that, or did because things are changing on this front. The fans months ago chanted “you still got it” to Road Dogg and Billy Gunn, and they proved it. Sure, they can’t hide their age, but they still put on a good match. It isn’t a barn burner, it is an upset. New Age Outlaws are champs again, 14 years after their last championship run. And the brothers Rhodes will get a rematch, which just may be even better.
Bray Wyatt defeats Daniel Bryan in Grudge Match
This match stole the show. It also opened the show. It was violent, physical, brutal, other synonyms. It was filled with great ring psychology and storytelling. These two guys had a war that no match on the PPV was going to live up to, including the rumble match itself. This match was awesome in every way. Bray Wyatt is the future. Daniel Bryan SHOULD be the present. The fans eat up everything he does, and they chant and cheer and cry for him, myself included, without remorse. Daniel Bryan is the man we want to see! He is Stone Cold 16 years ago. He is Hulk Hogan 25 years ago. He is the now. Or he should be. We’ll get to that in a minute.
They both worked as hard as can be to put on a match that was close to perfect in every way, from character to ring psychology (focusing on the inner thigh after a brutal kick, or on the side of Bryan's head when Bray got the advantage), with great nearfalls and just great work. It was a main event, and it jerked the curtain.
Verdict: Beyond Great
Brock Lesnar defeats Big Show in Grudge Match
I hated this. I do not like non-matches. I do not care for Brock Lesnar. I do not like the logic of Lesnar attacking Big Show in the ring before the bell rings with a chair for 5 minutes, then the bell rings, they trade finishers, Lesnar wins, then hits Big Show with a chair for another 10 minutes. It was uncomfortable, uninteresting, and serves no purposes except showing that Lesnar, this badass supposedly, cannot get the job done without cheating all to heck. He doesn’t act like a nasty heel monster, he looks like a bully who can’t win matches without Heyman’s help. Lesnar has limited matches under his contract, and you waste them like this. This wasn’t wrestling, it was just an extended, boring beatdown. Not only that, Big Show barely did anything but lay there. No babyface fire, no fighting back, no reacting to being hit with a chair. This was terrible, and a waste of time, especially after Bray/Bryan.
Randy Orton (c) defeats John Cena for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
The fans in attendance were very vocal. They didn’t want this match. None of us watching it together in my parent's sun room wanted this match. The fans made it very clear that they want Daniel Bryan, who was screwed out of the championship in a very real way. Not a storyline way, though there was storyline. But truly screwed. Beaten, never allowed comeuppance, never allowed to look like a champ. Three PPVS against Orton with screwy bad finishes, and they didn’t sell well, so the company blames Daniel Bryan instead of screwy bad finishes. Of course. Sigh. I got off on a tangent.
This match was bad for the most part. A rewatch made it worse. Long, boring, and same old same old. These two guys have been on the top for nine years. They should hopefully know better. But they don't/ Lots of headlocks. Lots of finishers getting no sold. Lots of John Cena ALWAYS KICKING OUT AT 2-and-a-HALF! It is the most irritating thing in the world to me. He kicks out the same way every time. Looking back at Bray/Bryan, Wyatt did a great job of slowly kicking out later and later, showing the wear, building up the confidence in the fans that Bryan could win. But Cena is a wrestling robot, programmed to always kick out at 2-and-a-half, to always stand up or get back in the ring from a count-out at 9, to always hit his moves the same way, to always sell like he’s been killed then ignore it when he is on the offense. This match, watching it, was amateur-hour after watching Bryan/Wyatt.
The crowd was amazing. “This is AWFUL” chants, “Daniel Bryan” chants, “Boring” chants, “We want Divas” chants! Eventually, Orton started being entertaining. Which is great. He should start doing that from the beginning. He started taunting the audience, like a heel should, when they chanted at him, which got him heat. That is what you are supposed to do! That makes us hate you! We tell you we would rather watch Divas wrestle (the greatest insult in the world, mind you) and you just strike your Legend-Killer pose. Perfect! More of that! Orton did a headlock variation of Cena’s TERRIBLE LOOKING STF that looked way better and more painful. Orton worked hard after an awful opening to be entertaining. Novel to think that that would work. I don’t like Orton at all, and I’m starting to because of how he did at the end of this match.
Also, Bray Wyatt showed up, distracted Cena, Orton gets the win, then the Wyatts all beat the crap out of Cena. Bray Wyatt is made a star tonight. Cena will bury him at Mania. But tonight, Wyatt is a star.
Verdict: Bad, Fine finish, Good Orton
Batista wins the 2014 Royal Rumble
This Rumble is … ok, lemme see, how do I start talking about this.
I liked the Rumble a whole bunch until right about entrant 21. Right then is where it started to lag. There were always a bunch of wrestlers in the ring, the big spots weren’t all that interesting, and they were all doing the same thing, hanging out in the corners trying to not get thrown. You think that sounds normal, but it was lacking some polish. It was just all samey and get tiresome. The final four spot got rushed, the Kofi spot was meh (but I don’t particularly care about Kofi spots) or stolen from Morrison. Alexander Rusev with a great debut that I called and feel proud of myself for doing so. Roman Reigns had just an amazing night, and another star was made. Kind of.
Number 30 comes rolling, and the fans are all cheering for Daniel Bryan! They want their uncrowned champion, as the commentary put it, their future of the business as the legends panel put it. And we got … Rey Mysterio. Who got booed. Everyone got booed at that point, except for Roman Reigns, who won over the crowd, and I think I know why beyond him just being awesome.
Ultimately, the problem with this rumble is a problem that is with the company as a whole, and not really the match, which I did enjoy despite the lull and the downer ending. The fans want new. They/we want to see Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt and CM Punk and Dolph Ziggler! We want new stars! But the company continues to push Cena v. Orton, or Batista who showed up out of nowhere, said he was going to win, and did. Only two people said they were going to win on TV, Batista and Del Rio. Batista was the easy pick, and indeed, he won. Just like last year with Cena. Or two years ago with Del Rio.
WWE has forgotten how to tell compelling stories. They’ve forgotten how to listen to their fans. They think they know better than the fans. Imagine if they had had this mindset with the Attitude Era, when fans were rooting for Stone Cold. The phenomenon of Austin 3:16 is arguably on par with Daniel Bryan’s Yes Movement! Fans WANT Daniel Bryan! They crave him! And the company refuses to listen, and then blames Daniel Bryan for bad buyrates and turn outs. They refuse to push him and give the fans what they ask for, then blame him for it not working. Can you imagine them doing that with Austin? The company would have died!
But nowadays, WWE is going strong. They have no competition, they are going to make lots of money with the WWE Network, and it sucks because I want to see all the old PPVs, I’m going to get the Network. But in doing so, I am supporting their part-timer, same-old-same-old thinking.
Just look at the card this year. We had the New Age Outlaws win the Tag Titles again after 14 years away. You had Cena v. Orton, a feud we’ve seen a billion times and almost no fan wanted to see again. You have Big Show v. Brock, another feud we’ve seen before. You have Batista winning the Rumble. Again. Specifically winning over 3 new talents, Punk, Reigns, and Sheamus. The WWE is not listening to us, and I don’t know what we can do. Keep cheering for Bryan. Keep crapping on Cena and Orton and Batista (as much as I hate that, because I am truly happy to see Batista here, and am mad at the company for the handling of things, not Batista for his win).
Verdict: Fine Rumble, Great Reigns, Awful that the company doesn’t listen to its fans and hasn’t for half a year at least.
I feel deflated after watching this. And I just deflate even more now as I write this. I've spent hours staring at footage, pictures, other reviews, and my own writing as I try to put into words the problems I see for the future of a sport I love and wrestlers I love. Read Mick Foley's thoughts. Go listen to other people. This is a problem that even the BBC is reporting on. And all I can do is share my opinion and perspective on it. To get my words out there. Maybe WWE will finally listen to their fans. Or maybe WWE has a plan. And we'll just have to see if this is leading to something great. I highly suspect it is leading to something ... safe.