Time To Play The Game? 2016 WWE Royal Rumble Recap

I have to say this was the most solid pay-per-view I’ve seen since I started watching WWE again 18 months ago. Other than some predictability, it was hard to feel like WWE got anything inherently “wrong” this year compared to the previous two Rumbles. 

Generally speaking, the crowd was on-point last night, too. Probably has something to do with the fact that the Amway Center in Orlando is only a 20-minute drive from Full Sail University (home of most NXT tapings), but I want to give credit where credit’s due—the product last night was entertaining. When the live audience gets invested like they did last night, it adds a whole new level of immersion. Hype begets hype. Good on you, Orlando.

Enough intro—let’s take a look at the event.

Royal Rumble

  • Sponsor: Chex Mix
  • Theme Song: Some string instrumental
  • Suggested Beer Pairing: Pseudo Sue (Pale Ale) from Toppling Goliath Brewing Company
 A ten-day cleanse and 14 days of "clean eating" made totally irrelevant in three hours.

A ten-day cleanse and 14 days of "clean eating" made totally irrelevant in three hours.

The Ascension vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. Mark Henry and Jack Swagger vs. Darren Young and Damien Sandow

Like most pre-show matches, this one seemed to be haphazardly thrown together a few days before the event for no rhyme or reason whatsoever. This one had the added bonus of the winners being automatically guaranteed entry in the Royal Rumble (and subsequently guaranteed elimination from the Royal Rumble).

Gonna be real honest with you here, gang—I didn’t pay much attention to this match. I was elbow-deep in a Roscoe’s Chicago-style pizza after three weeks of strict dieting, so needless to say, I was a bit distracted because of the total and complete nirvana I was experiencing. Here’s what I did notice between spurts of euphoria:

  • Damien Sandow is back to his gimmick where he’s a Redditor, I guess.
  • Sandow’s still over.
  • A “sexual chocolate” chant erupted at one point and Mark Henry began gyrating his hips to thunderous ovation.
  • I like Mark Henry and Jack Swagger together.

Winners: Henry and Swagger (American Chocolate? Sexual Americans?)

This outcome was pretty obvious if you believe any of the comments the World’s Strongest Man’s been making about his impending retirement.

Kevin Owens vs. Dean Ambrose (c) for the Intercontinental Title in a Last Man Standing Match

Starting the PPV with this match was simultaneously the best and worst thing WWE could have done.

On the one hand, it was a great match. It felt like a main event, and got the crowd hyped and invested from the start.

On the negative side of things, any subsequent match was doomed to be “not as good” by comparison.

STRONG TAKE TIME (sponsored by the #RIMCAST lol): I’m annoyed by Dean Ambrose 90 percent of the time. He’s the non-craziest crazy person alive.

His signature moves (the Lunatic Lariat, the suicide dive that ends with him landing on his feet after gently nudging his opponent, the chop-jabs, etc.) all look goofy and unnatural. But every once in a while, he has a match that makes me a believer. Usually, those matches are against Seth Rollins, but last night, Kevin Owens brought out the Dean Ambrose that I love to see—the scrappy guy who will break his body out of total disdain for his opponent.
 
Which leads me to my next point: this match was brutal. At one point, KO broke a kendo stick in half and stabbed it into Dean’s abdomen. I was waiting for the camera feed to cut off because #PGera and all. These two really made me believe that they hate one other. And this was before they literally yelled it at each other from across the ring.

 Kevin Owens, right before Dean pushed him off the top rope through two, stacked tables.

Kevin Owens, right before Dean pushed him off the top rope through two, stacked tables.

Winner: Dean Ambrose

General Banter/Mark-out Moments: 

  • Waiting on video or a .gif of Kevin Owens manhandling Michael Cole after he's thrown over the announce table. Owens apparently broke Cole’s glasses and an iPad while he was back there. (This was within, like, the first two minutes of the match.)
  • “Get him, Dean! Hit him with the stick!” – Stone Cold Michael Cole after being assaulted
  • Kevin rolling out of the ring onto his feet to avoid the ten-count at the last second.

The Usos vs. The New Day (c) for the Tag Team Titles

 WWE.com

WWE.com

How many times have we seen this match in the last year? The Divas division looks to be in a good spot, WWE. Maybe spend a little bit of time on the tag teams...

With that said, The New Day can do no wrong in my book. I think that’s the general sentiment of other fans as well. You know you have a booking problem when your faces are getting booed during their intro and a chant breaks out for a trombone.

This match wasn’t anything we haven’t seen before, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It also, like I mentioned before, had the odds stacked against it by having to follow Ambrose vs. Owens.

Winners: The New Day

General Banter/Mark-out Moments:

  • “I’m marking out for a trombone, y’all.” – My brother, speaking vicariously for all of us
  •  “Play Francesca” chants
  • “Francesca’s over” – JBL
  • Anyone know why the Usos were wearing grills?
  • Big E and Kofi just air-humping in the ring while Xavier plays the trombone after the victory was amazing. Find a gif if you can.

Kalisto vs. Alberto Del Rio (c) for the United States Title

Another average match with a bunch of botches. One of which featured Kalisto spiking himself.

Winner: Kalisto

General Banter/Mark-out Moment:

  • Alberto Del Rio’s Enziguri is truly beautiful.

Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte (c) w/ Ric Flair for the Divas Championship

The feud between Becky and Charlotte was probably the best-booked leading up to the event, and the match didn’t disappoint.

This was a testament to good, old-fashioned ring psychology—telling a story during the match, not just during the preceding promos. It got off the rails a little bit toward the end (Ric kissing Becky as a distraction; Charlotte’s baseball slide into her dad), but all anyone’s going to be talking about after this match is THE GODDAMN BOSS SASHA BANKS IS BACK AND SHE COMIN' FOR THAT DIVAS TITLE, BAYBAY.

I have to think this is building to a triple-threat match at WrestleMania for the Divas Championship. Anything else will be a huge letdown. These three have a history of putting on great matches together.

Winner: Charlotte

General Banter/Mark-out Moments:

  • Before Sasha came out, it appeared Charlotte was upset with her dad, possibly setting the stage for her to get even more heat when she turns on the two-time Hall of Famer? Just a random moment I’m reading too far into? GUESS WE’LL SEE
  • Sasha looks like she’s finally breaking out on her own. Btw, did you guys know she sings her own theme song?
  • Charlotte’s flexibility makes it look like Sasha was breaking her in half during the Banks Statement.
  • Poor Becky :-(

30-Man Royal Rumble Match for the WWE Title

I was a big believer that Roman Reigns would retain the WWE Championship after the Rumble for two reasons:

  1. The odds were impossibly stacked against him
  2. He just won the title last month.
 Obviously, the night ended a little differently. 

Obviously, the night ended a little differently. 

I was feeling pretty good about my prediction when Roman easily eliminated Rusev (entrant #2), but after AJ Styles debuted at #3, I kind of forgot about my prediction. 

Due to a little bit of shoddy camera work, we missed AJ’s titantron introduction, but after seeing a different camera angle of his debut online, we can see the words, “I. Am. Phenomenal.” appear on the large screens around the arena, followed by one of the biggest crowd pops of the night.

The match continued normally until R-Truth (#12) came in and gave us the most lol-worthy moment of the night, living to his gimmick of “guy who may or may not have dementia.”

Around this time, Vince McMahon and the League of Nations pulled Roman Reigns out of the ring and beat him up. In one of the night's dumber segments, they went through all of this effort to beat up Roman, but no one thought to actually make sure he was eliminated from the Royal Rumble match. It was pretty obvious—as Roman walked himself backstage with (minimal) assistance from the medical staff—that he was going to make some big, dramatic return to the match to reclaim his throne at the end of the night.

For as poorly as that particular segment was handled, the mini-IWC feud that took place in the ring was exceptional. Kevin Owens returned to the ring limping after his destructive match with Dean Ambrose. He and AJ Styles immediately set their sights on one another and began trading blows.

This lead to AJ’s elimination and a classic KO heel move as he yelled over the top rope at AJ, “WELCOME TO THE WWE!” By having one internet darling eliminate another, the company protected itself from another instance of the crowd completely turning on the product (see: 2014; 2015)

Kevin faced off with Dean again, briefly, before Sami Zayn made his Royal Rumble debut. Sami got justice for smarks everywhere by eliminating Owens, his longtime rival.

(Side note: Sami Zayn’s theme music will always sound like the America’s Funniest Home Videos intro song to me.)

 WWE.com

WWE.com

Next up, water the blossoming feud between Brock Lesnar and the Wyatt Family. Brock eliminated three of the four Wyatts, but Bray and the gang didn’t go quietly. The eliminated Wyatt memebers got back in the ring and eliminated Brock. Seems like this match could use some updated rules, but that ain’t my place to say.

Roman came back fresh as ever, but then it was time for #30.

I knew who it was gonna be. You knew who it was gonna be, but damn it that didn’t stop the hype train from hitting hard when we Lemmy told us it was “TIME TO PLAY THE GAAAAME.”

 A video game final boss in human form.

A video game final boss in human form.

What happened next was probably the most well-choreographed portion of a wrestling match I’ve ever seen. Controlled chaos and pandemonium. Finishers everywhere until only three men were left: Roman, Triple H and Dean Ambrose.

Then, to almost everyone’s surprise, Triple H sent Roman over the top rope. He threw in a couple crotch chops for good measure (lol), then found himself face to face with the “Lunatic Fringe,” Dean Ambrose.

The crowd was going ballistic. Michael Cole actually sold the moment like a champ on commentary: “I’ve got goosebumps!”  And in the excitement, I kind of forgot who I was rooting for. Suddenly, I was just enjoying the entertainment. 

As Trips sent Dean over the top rope, I wasn’t disappointed or lashing out online because a 46-year-old is the new WWE Champion. I ended the night feeling content with a product that, for all of the current injuries on its roster, shouldn’t be half as good as it is.

Winner: Triple H

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Was Triple H winning the Rumble the right choice? Is Becky out of the Divas title picture? What’s next for Dean Ambrose? Want to suggest a beer for me for Fastlane in February? Leave your thoughts below, or get at Cole on Twitter.

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