The Old and the New Elevate a Good Royal Rumble

The unusual structure of the Royal Rumble provides many an opportunity to shake things up, and yet despite mostly predictable results, the 2016 version of the event still managed to be a whole lot of fun. Every match on the card was at least solid, and the 30-man main event bucked conventional wisdom just enough to stay interesting and place a bit of doubt in the back of my mind as to how everything would unfold.Early speculation was that real-life WWE COO and million-time champion Triple H would return from the storyline beating he took at the hands of Roman Reigns a couple of months ago and win the Rumble in nasty fashion. While this totally turned out to be the case, it didn’t play out exactly as most would have guessed. My initial thought was that Reigns and Triple H would be the last two men in the ring before ol’ Trips called on the League of Nations squad to summarily devastate Reigns and allow for him to easily be tossed over the top rope. Instead, Reigns was dumped over the top by Triple H after eliminating Sheamus, thus leaving Dean Ambrose and his new haircut as a finalist.

I didn’t think Ambrose would be booked to win this match and take the heavyweight title, but it would have made for a cool angle given how thoroughly his friendship with Roman Reigns has been driven into our skulls by this point. Ambrose wound up on the short side of things as usual, cementing him as the most frequent silver medalist working in the company today, but the fact that he was chosen for this spot says a lot, particularly given that he had a lengthy and brutal Last Man Standing match with Kevin Owens to open the show.

The Rumble match also notably featured the WWE debut of recent signee A.J. Styles, a veteran independent wrestler who got a massive reaction from the crowd. Styles had a nice showing before an exit courtesy of Owens, and it looks like he’ll be thrust into big matches early thanks to the rash of injuries to many of WWE’s top stars. Chris Jericho’s return for the match saw him last over 50 minutes before finally being ousted, and I’m kind of hoping he sticks around a while longer to be catty on the microphone and display unusually intact ring skills for a 45-year-old. Brock Lesnar dished out his usual plethora of suplexes, but in the end a devious Wyatt family assault kept him from standing a chance.

The only real problem I had with the Rumble match itself–or even the entire pay-per-view–was the handling of how exactly Roman Reigns would be written to look like some sort of super hero. This time around Reigns was beaten down outside the ring by the League of Nations early on outside the ring, but of course he didn’t clear the top rope and thus wasn’t technically eliminated. It was a cheap move to keep Reigns from looking overexposed in a match this long, and it broke the necessary suspension of disbelief once the League neglected to toss Reigns back in for easy elimination.

If that wasn’t sigh-inducing enough, Reigns refused to be carted backstage on a gurney, instead walking to the back and then spending forever fucking around back there before being well enough to return and use his two boring signature moves repeatedly. Basically the story reads that Reigns is too much of a tough guy not to walk back on his own, but he isn’t tough enough not to spend like half-an-hour back there recuperating. I don’t enjoy Reigns because he’s boring, so stuff like this only serves to make his push to the top more insufferable.

The Ambrose-Owens match for the Intercontinental title I mentioned earlier was easily the match of the night for me, a sprawling and violent affair that was wisely chosen to kick the show off in glorious fashion. Ambrose eventually kept Owens down for the 10-count by shoving him off the corner turnbuckle through two tables that had been set up a while back. It was a creative finish to a match that saw both men believably get up from taking each other’s finishing maneuvers. I’m not even sure JBL referred to Owens as a “prizefighter” even once, although I probably just missed it.

Alberto del Rio lost his United States title to the smaller Kalisto for the second time this month in what was once again a surprisingly good match. The two battled back and forth with del Rio looking good for the victory right up until he didn’t. I like that Kalisto, who is not the type of wrestler Vince McMahon typically gives anything to, is being allowed a true opportunity to shine against a quality opponent for a championship belt. This is a pretty fun feud, and del Rio’s overemotional reactions to losing to a smaller man are always great.

The New Day and Charlotte kept their respective titles, with the Charlotte-Becky Lynch match ending interestingly. After Charlotte’s famous dad (the bleached-out wall goblin known as Ric Flair) sullied the lips of the beautiful Becky for a distraction, the women’s champ was able to grab the victory. Ultra-popular Sasha Banks then sauntered down to the ring to beat down Becky and then pull the rug out from under Charlotte, a move that signifies her entry into the top of the women’s division. Sasha is a great wrestler with tons of charisma, so this should be fun to watch in the coming months. It would be nice to see Becky remain in the title picture as well, as fans have rightfully become quite taken with her. It’s rare that the WWE creative team gives more than two women a chance at top honors simultaneously, and this is a good time to change that.

So Triple H, now 46 years of age, is the WWE champion for the first time in eight years. Everyone (myself included) gets annoyed with young talent being passed over to bolster the resume of the same few guys, but I really don’t mind this decision. Triple H was a favorite of mine as a youngster thanks to his unique move set, talking abilities, and success as a big-time heel. Sure, this sets up a predictable feud with Reigns and gives us a champion that likely won’t defend until Wrestlemania, but it should be a little bit of fun until the writing staff eventually figures out a compelling way to give Reigns a more contemporary foil. I’m hoping that eventually means Owens continues his descent into maniacal heeldom or Ambrose turns on his buddy, but this will do just fine for the time being.

Now for a list of miscellaneous bullet points!

  • We didn’t really get a nostalgic entry this year, but that’s okay given everything else that went down. Still, it’s always nice to see an idiosyncratic old guy get in there and pull off his signature moves a time or two. Just think back to a year ago when DDP was issuing Diamond Cutters like tickets to speeders anytime a man got near him.
  • So I guess Jerry Lawler is fully relegated to the pre-show desk for these now? That’s fine unless someone brings Jim Ross and his love of barbecue sauce back; at that point his presence will be demanded.
  • I have some guesses with regards to what all this means for Wrestlemania, but I don’t think much is truly set in stone. If a few big names from the past decide to participate, everything could change.
  • I really wish WWE would use a more interesting tag team than the Usos to feud with the delightful New Day. May I submit Stardust and R-Truth as a possible combination? It won’t happen, but I have all these images in my head of Cody Rhodes hissing at trombones and R-Truth thinking every match is a singles match.
  • Paige remains atop my Diva Crush rankings, although Becky and Sasha have been coming on strong lately. And who can forget my boyhood thing for Stephanie McMahon? She’s just so powerful.
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