It was just last year when the WWE was heavily criticized for having Batista win the Royal Rumble. On Sunday night, recent history seemed to repeat itself when Roman Reigns won the Rumble, amidst a chorus of boos.
In my preview column, I wrote that while Roman Reigns could win the Rumble, he'd need to be protected. The WWE did very little to protect him on Sunday night. First off, Daniel Bryan, who entered at number 10, was eliminated before Reigns even came out, which set the disgruntled Philadelphia fans off. Boos rained down on Reigns, and most of the wrestlers in the ring, in a scene eerily reminiscent of 2014.
Finally, seemingly with a final four of Reigns, Kane, Big Show and Dean Ambrose, the two members of the Authority were able to get Ambrose out before Reigns dumped both of them over at the same time. However, Rusev had gone to the outside before, though without going over the top rope. With the match not quite over, Kane and Big Show got back in the ring, attacking Reigns.
The Rock made his return to the WWE to save Reigns, and when Rusev got back in the ring (to cheers, which was striking considering the boos he had earlier in the night), Reigns threw him out to win it, and while Rock held up Reigns' hand, the boos continued.
Quite frankly, the WWE threw Roman Reigns into the deep end without a life vest. From the location of the show to the booking of the match, they couldn't have done much more to make Sunday night's reaction happen. Even the addition of Daniel Bryan to the Rumble looks baffling in retrospect.
I will give them credit for at least trying to mollify the crowd with The Rock, but there wasn't enough done to help Roman Reigns out. It's baffling that the WWE wouldn't have seen this coming, especially when the crowd booed Reigns promo video early in the night. The sight of Roman Reigns, in what was supposed to be the biggest moment of his career, being assisted by The Rock while getting booed is something that would have been unfathomable six months ago. Yet, the WWE managed to make that happen.
It's not just the fans in Philadelphia who were upset. After the finish, #CancelWWENetwork was the top trend on Twitter. The WWE Network canceling page crashed on the website, and people took the various social media outlets to voice their displeasure.
Last year, the solution was obvious: get Daniel Bryan in the main event. This year, it's trickier. It doesn't make sense to put Bryan into this match as it stands, despite still being the most popular superstar on the roster. So the WWE is going to need to get creative if it wants to salvage the main event of WrestleMania. Unfortunately, if the Rumble is any indication, creativity might not be their strong suit at the moment.
The Rest of the Royal Rumble:
** As disappointing as the Rumble was, the triple-threat match for the title was an instant Match of the Year contender. All three really pulled out the stops to put on an entertaining match. This included Seth Rollins hitting the Phoenix Splash (his finisher when he was in ROH) for, I believe, the first time as a member of the WWE roster. Rollins was the star of this match, not only hitting Cena with the Phoenix Splash, but also sending Lesnar through a table with a big move from the top rope. All three did their work, but at the end, it was Lesnar who emerged victorious, presumably setting up the match with Reigns (though we didn't know it was Reigns at the time) at WrestleMania.
The match was great, and the crowd was hot for it. Interestingly, Lesnar got far and away the best reaction from the crowd. Whether it was because ECW-icon Paul Heyman was in his corner, or just because that they didn't want to cheer for Cena or Rollins, he received as big a cheer as he's had since returning to the WWE. While I don't expect to see a face turn for Lesnar, mainly because he might be leaving, one may not be completely out of the question either.
** The Royal Rumble, of course, had some surprise returns. Bubba Ray Dudley came in at No. 3 and got a huge pop from the ECW-faithful. He hit several of his big moves, with the help of R-Truth, and was extremely over before Bray Wyatt threw him out (one of six superstars Wyatt eliminated). The Boogeyman entered at No. 7, and also was eliminated by Wyatt. Diamond Dallas Page entered at No. 14 and was able to snap off a few Diamond Cutters while he was in the ring, before being eliminated by Rusev.
If there was one surprise in a negative way as far as the entrants go, it's that there were no NXT superstars in the Rumble. We had seen NXT stars enter the past couple years -- Bo Dallas in 2013, and Rusev in 2014. But there wasn't room this year, despite having room for Titus O'Neil and Zack Ryder.
** The Usos beat Miz and Mizdow to retain their titles. Miz continued to refuse to tag Mizdow in, and he paid for it this time. Miz and Mizdow also had some problems in the Rumble match. Miz was eliminated early, after drawing No. 1. Mizdow came out at No. 21, but Miz stopped him and insisted on taking his spot. As Miz got on the apron, he was knocked off, and since he didn't officially enter the ring, Mizdow took his rightful spot, before being quickly eliminated. So they're teasing some dissension between the two.
** The Bella Twins beat Paige and Natalya. Nikki ended up picking up the pin for her team after blindsiding Natalya with a big forearm to the face.
** The Ascension beat the New Age Outlaws. I believe the Outlaws actually ended up getting more offense than The Ascension in this match, before The Ascension hit the Fall of Man for the win.
** In the pre-show, Cesaro and Tyson Kidd beat the New Day. Cesaro looked great in this match.
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