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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Royal Rumble 2016.
Best: Remember Damien Sandow?
There were a lot of heartwarming moments at the Royal Rumble — Sami Zayn eliminating Kevin Owens, AJ Styles making his WWE debut, Ric Flair throwing his jacket in a lady’s face — but the most heartwarming moment of the night has to be a WWE crowd remembering that Damien Sandow exists.
Sandow’s been the butt of a lot of my jokes since WrestleMania, where his run as one of the most popular and entertaining performers in the company hit the tallest, thickest, sturdiest brick wall in the world. Dude went from must-see television to a total embarrassment, finally earning the freedom to “be himself,” only to immediately jump into a Macho Man cosplaying gimmick he wasn’t even good at doing. He disappeared, and aside from some vague “Damien Sandow wore his old entrance robe at a live event” news, he seemed like a total non-factor … like a happy memory already half-faded in our brains.
Sandow showed up as the one half of the fourth most important tag team in an incredibly meaningless Kickoff match (more on that in a second), and the crowd treated him like a God. It was great. After all this time here was Sandow, Intellectual Savior of the Masses in his Joey Gladstone robe and pink trunks, getting the second or third biggest reaction of the night. I want to hope that WWE watched this and says, “okay, we’ve kept him in the doghouse long enough, let’s get him back on the shows and do something with him,” but I think they’ve beaten that optimism out of me.
Still, Intellectual Savior Sandow is the objective Best Sandow, and I want to see him back in rotation. Get him in the ring with The Miz again. Get him in the ring with Stardust. Hell, if you think “good dad” is a gimmick that Titus O’Neil can’t do with friends, keep Sandow with Darren Young and let them be Millions of Scholars. Use the man for something, even if it’s being the Pete Best of the Social Outcasts.
Worst: The Least Important Match Of The Year
So, the Kickoff match was The Dudley Boyz vs. The Ascension vs. Sandow and Young vs. Mark Henry and Jack Swagger, with the winning team getting spots in the Rumble match. That’s a good stipulation and a solid use of your Kickoff, but here’s the problem: the winning team, Henry and Swagger, lasted about 20 seconds in the Rumble. Combined. Mark Henry gets tossed by the Wyatt Family almost as soon he’s in the ring, and Jack Swagger jogged out just to get F-5’d by Brock and tossed out like a garbage. What was the point of this? If it was to get Mark Henry into a final Rumble before he retires, just put him in the match. You don’t have to spend 8 minutes of pre-show and tease us with the possibility of resurgent Sandow for less than half a minute of an hourlong main.
Best: Frye Vs. Takayama, All Night Long
Kevin Owens was really into the Frye/Takayama opening at the Rumble. He did it three times.
If you don’t know what that is, Don Frye and Yoshihiro Takayama fought each other at PRIDE 21 back in 2002. It quickly turned into a hockey fight, where they simultaneously held each other by the back of the head and repeatedly punched each other in the face. Owens and Ambrose started the Last Man Standing match doing the same thing, and Owens brought it back twice in the Rumble.
Best: The People Vs. Michael Cole
I liked the fast opening, and I appreciate that Owens and Ambrose started the show with a sense of urgency. WWE gimmick matches like this sometimes worry too much about setting the right tone and making the drama so clear to everyone in the building that they sacrifice excitement. A lot of ladder matches and tables matches are just guys wandering around setting up spots, and sometimes Last Man Standing matches go to the “slow 10 count” well a little too fast. Actually, one thing I really liked about this one is how the early 10-counts were fast. Charles Robinson just burned through them, because they’re necessary tentpoles to make the rules clear and let the crowd know what to look for, but nobody buys them as the finish. Then later, when the wrestlers are spent and you might actually buy the finishes, he slows it down to build drama.
The entire match was entertaining (including the finish, with Owens going off the top rope through two tables like Sabu attacking a ghost Alex Wright), but my very favorite moment happened early-on. Owens rolls to the outside, so Ambrose dives out through the ropes and Gentle Pushes him over the announce table. Owens makes a point of steamrolling Michael Cole to the ground, the uses his entire recovery effort to paw Cole in the face. He even removes Cole’s glasses and throws them away. Meanwhile, Ambrose is standing over them on the table with Cole’s phone (I’m assuming). He throws that on the ground, too.
Aside from that, I think my favorite moment was Owens doing the “roll under the bottom rope and come up to your feet on the floor to break the 10-count,” which is maybe the best unfair, actually totally fair way to save yourself in a Last Man Standing Match. I also want to take a second to applaud WWE for letting Dean Ambrose look tough and win, and not lose in the goofiest way imaginable because the stipulation allowed for it. I kept waiting for Owens to catch Ambrose in a bear trap or fool him into falling into a hole by putting branches over it. I live in constant fear that Ambrose is going to lose a match one day trying to run through a tunnel that’s been painted on a wall.
Best: Francesca II, And What Happens When Your Babyface Team Is Less Popular Than A Trombone
I don’t know what I like more:
1. a moment of silence for a dead trombone
2. a moment of silence for a dead trombone naturally evolving into a trombone-fueled booty dance
3. The New Day being able to contextually introduce a new member of their team and have it be the second in a mascot line of trumpets
Best: That Finish
I’ve been extremely frustrated with the tag team division for the past several months. The only story they’ve got is The New Day losing non-title matches via distractions, rollups or just plan getting beaten, only to retain when the belts are on the line. The good news is that the “New Day retains” payoffs are usually pretty good — see also the ladder match at TLC — and the Rumble gave us one of the best yet:
I didn’t think there was gonna be a moment in the match that topped the crowd chanting for Xavier Woods to play Francesca II and him responding by putting it on the ground, but here we are. Big E is one of those guys I hope they really figure out one day, because to me, he’s in that Cesaro category of wrestlers who are just too strong and good at stuff and made for this not to be top-level guys. E just doesn’t have the same level of experience. Now I’m sad Big E didn’t spend a decade wrestling Helios at shows I could get into for 10 bucks. WWE should spend some time focusing on The New Day actually being good wrestlers who can win some matches, because that’ll give them the depth to give their gimmick legs.
My hope for the next cycle is that The Usos do something else, Sin Cara stays gone, and we get some new blood in the tag division. Give me the New Day vs. Sandow and Young. Give me New Day vs. the Social Outcasts. There are so many directions to go, and I hope we pick one very far away from the Tag Team Of The Year.
Worst: Playing The Role Of Kalisto Tonight Will Be Sin Cara
This didn’t work for me. To be fair, I may just be bummed out by the booking. I still think if you’re going to put the United States Championship on a guy like Kalisto, the last thing you should be doing is having him win it on Raw, lose it the next night, then lose a tag team match to build to him winning. It just doesn’t make sense. The only way I could justify it is if WWE was treating it like a loosely organized 2-out-of-3 falls match. If that were case, Kalisto winning here and Del Rio being shuffled out of the title scene would show he’s the “better man” and won the feud. My WWE brain says they’ll have another match on Raw, because there’s nothing WWE loves more than a rematch clause. You could lead the entire company off a cliff if you tied a rematch clause to a string and dangled it in front of them.
On top of that, there was stuff like this:
The missed moves, the weird booking and the Alberto Del Rio of it all made this the low point of the night for me. That’s honestly pretty good, because it’s not the worst match you’ll ever see. I just kinda don’t ever want to see it again.
I don’t think I’ll ever figure out why cruiserweight wrestling can never seen to “catch” in WWE. The best it ever got was Rey Mysterio toning down his offensive input by 90% and just getting beaten up until he could do the two most gentle moves in lucha libre history: jumping off the ropes and letting you catch him butt-to-chest and fall backwards, and the 619. Almost anything else performed with regularity falls apart. If you ARE one of those guys with a flashy move who can pull it off with confidence — Matt Sydal’s shooting star press, Neville’s Red Arrow — you’re just repeatedly positioned in feuds with big guys, and every match is built around the same Mysterio blueprint of getting beaten up until you maybe get to do your safe move.
Anything that attempts to recreate the balls-out vibe of 90s WCW cruiserweights in WWE gives you sh*t like Sin Cara, and that’s a shame. Before he was Sin Cara, Mistico was a pretty trusted performer and one of the biggest box office draws in the world. Before he was Sin Cara II, Hunico was reliable as hell. Now you got reliable-ass Kalisto jumping on Del Rio’s back, slipping in a puddle of furry baby oil and braining himself.
Best: The Boss
Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch was good, but it was overshadowed something fierce by Sasha Banks. I’m okay with that.
There’s so much to love. If you didn’t actually watch the show, Charlotte cheated to beat Becky (more on that in a sec), but her celebration was cut short by Banks. It’s a fresh start for her, I guess, so she’s wearing the pink-purple and yellow, her “debut” colors that she wears for big moments in her career. She comes to the ring and tosses Becky, and they tease Charlotte and Sasha being best friends forever again. Sorry, beautiful fierce females.
I’m all the way the hell in on the NXT women dragging NXT history into their main-roster feuds. Anyway, as Charlotte’s leaving the ring thinking she’s got a friend, Sasha jumps her from behind, hits her with a Banks Statement and chokes her out. Note: I’m never totally sure if the Banks Statement is the crossface or the crossface plus the lungblower, but I like to think of it as the whole thing. Like Planet Terror and Death Proof.
This was the moment Sasha needed, and the crowd response for her (in Orlando, where she probably deserves it most) was AWESOME. If you followed her on NXT, you know that even at her most heelish, Sasha is the ultimate female tweener. She sometimes does awful things in the name of unbridled confidence and arrogance, but it always comes with an undercurrent of self-doubt. She became “The Boss” because she HAD to. She had to stop believing in fairy tales and become a monster to fight the monsters of the world. She’s a good person deep down — that’s what all the post-match hugging is about — but she fundamentally understands what it takes to make it in WWE. She’s been watching it her whole life. She’s here to be the Eddie Guerrero, and she’s never pretended otherwise.
I love it, and I think getting to work with Becky and Sasha exclusively again is going to help Charlotte get to where she needs to be. The Becky feud was already a colossal step up for her in her in-ring and character work on the main roster, and I don’t really see it as a slam on the rest of the Divas … she just came up with these wrestlers and they do the same stuff she’s been taught to do for years. There’s no clash of styles, no crossed wires as far as what the crowd expects and wants, and no having to squat there while Brie Bella throws the worst kicks in human history.
(Okay, maybe it’s kind of a slam.)
Also Best: Ric Flair, Jacket Lobber
I don’t want to totally ignore Becky, though, because as I said, Becky and Charlotte was very good. The best main roster Divas match in a long time, frankly, punctuated by Ric Flair being the worst and weirdest old man in the world.
He had two big moments here. The first was him sexually assaulting Becky to distract her, which maybe the first documented proof of Ric being a “kiss stealer.” He’s always advertised himself as that, in his oral resume that includes jet flying, limousine riding, wheeling, dealing and the like. But all his onscreen interactions with women have seemed consensual, you know? It’s like getting closure I never asked for. Also, it makes him the sh*ttiest and skeeviest old man, and if he tries that sh*t with Sasha she’s gonna run him over in her Escalade.
The other was the finish, which was top-shelf weird Ric Flair. Naitch is prone to removing his clothes and using them in odd ways, so when Becky appears to have Charlotte beaten, Ric just takes off his jacket and gently lobs it into Becky’s face. It’s SO WEIRD. Both the forced kiss and the jacket interference probably should’ve been disqualifications, but it made the Flairs look like awful human beings, and that’s a good place to go. Thank God he didn’t hit her with one of his shoes, she’d still be knocked out.
Worst: I Don’t Want To Tell You What To Do, But It May Be Time To Reevaluate That Whole ‘Making Roman Reigns The Man’ Thing
We’ve had the “is Roman Reigns ready or not” discussion so many times it feels like a joke, but here was are again.
So, the idea here is that The Authority wants to get the WWE World Heavyweight Championship off of Roman Reigns in the most passive-aggressive wrestling way possible, so they’ve put him into the Rumble at #1 and made the Rumble for the belt. In theory, that kind of Odds Overcoming should get at least most of the crowd behind Roman, but it doesn’t. We’ve spent so long going back and forth and watching Roman routinely overcome said odds that nothing really has dramatic weight anymore, and you’ve got him opening the f*cking Royal Rumble with a crowd full of murmury boos. You’ve got an arena full of people who paid to go to the Royal Rumble booing the Royal Rumble.
But let’s say we knew all that coming in, and this match was an attempt to change peoples’ minds. They did an okay job of this around Survivor Series, having Roman go through a string of great tournament matches instead of “taking the easy way out” and throwing in with The Authority, and again at TLC, where he got screwed and responded with hella violence instead of nonchalant smirking. Roman loves to smirk. He doesn’t care about ANYTHING. He’s the guy who’ll steal the WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt because he thinks he deserves it, then give it back with a smirk in the next segment. He goes into 4-on-1 handicap matches and wins them like he’s on the side with four dudes. It’s 50/50 booking with our hearts. We want to like the guy. He’s strong and handsome and honestly pretty great at wrestling. We just don’t want to be told to like him. We want to like him at our own pace, based on sh*t we’ve decided. So they go back and forth, and we’re never really sure what to think.
But no, yeah, let’s say the Rumble match is intended to change peoples’ minds. You’ve got him entering first, one versus all, with the belt on the line. What do you do? You have him at the very least fight valiantly for the entire match, so that when Triple H pulls the decade’s most obvious swerve and shows up to eliminate him, he’s done his best. Right? We watch him fight his ass off and do everything he can to beat these odds, only to come up short. That’d give him some much needed vulnerability, and actually make it seem like he’s locked in a struggle instead of just scoffing his way through an entitled life. Right? That’s how you do it.
Instead, WWE has the League of Nations jump him in the middle of the match, pull him through the ropes to the outside and put him through a table. Trainers, referees, EMTs down to help him. They send him to the back, where he sits out of the match for half an hour. You remember how they were building up a Roman vs. Brock confrontation in the Rumble, and built the ending to the go-home Raw around it? You know, that mystery of whether they’d attack each other outright or maybe team up to defeat some common enemies, like the League and the Wyatts? NOOOPE, Roman misses the entire Brock section of the match. He comes back at the end, totally rested up and selling nothing, and then loses fair and square.
No idea. Roman Reigns.
Best: GET READY TO FLY
In happier news, here’s goddamn AJ Styles making his goddamn f*cking WWE debut. F*ck!
I’ve never been the world’s biggest AJ Styles fan — I was more of an Air Pairs guy, if we’re being honest — but that guy put in WORK when he left TNA. The stuff he did in New Japan earned him pretty much all the good will you can give a wrestler, and seeing an 18-year veteran made literally everywhere but WWE show up in the Royal Rumble and get treated like wrestling royalty was pretty amazing.
-1 to the camera guys for not only missing his big entrance and TitanTron, but for missing his first WWE springboard elbow. What the hell were you guys doing in production? Don’t you have enough extreme close-ups of Roman?
Worst: Offscreen Eliminations
Speaking of bad production and All Roman Everything, we missed the second half of Kofi Kingston’s annual Royal Rumble save — the elimination part, even — because Roman was getting beaten up outside the ring. We had to see it in a “moments ago” clip when somebody realized The New Day. That really sold out a great moment, to give more TV time to moments we already weren’t buying.
A supplemental Best for Rusev, though, both for the splash through the table and for stealing a monitor and crowning himself the new TV Champion.
Worst: Dumb Heels
A supplemental Worst to all of them, though, for being idiots. Name-calling, woo!
Seriously though, the League of Nations (minus King Barrett, who couldn’t be this close to a battle royal for fear of breaking all of his poor avian bones) and Vince McMahon show up to incapacitate Roman. Ignoring all the “why don’t they just strip him of the belt and fire him if they hate him so much” stuff we’ve already covered in weeks and weeks and weeks of Raw, they could’ve, you know, teamed up and thrown Roman over the top. It’s not that much harder than throwing him out through the ropes, and hell, the Wyatt Family do the exactly same thing to eliminate Lesnar. A bunch of guys who aren’t in the match go into the ring and throw a guy out. It’s a strange WWE no-disqualification rule that makes you wonder why everyone in the Rumble doesn’t show up with a posse of non-participants to help them win, but whatever, it’s smart and not technically against the rules.
On top of not doing that, they destroy the guy and hurt him so bad he’s gotta get wheeled to the back on a stretcher, but they never think to then roll him back into the ring and toss him out. It’s so dumb. Were they just sent out there to soften him up for Triple H, because they knew he was the surprise #30? If that’s the case, didn’t them beating him up just give Roman an excuse to chill in the back for half an hour, regain his full strength and have a much better chance of winning the match?
Best: Rumble In The Bank
God bless R-Truth.
This wonderful motherf*cker tried to win Money in the Bank in the middle of a Royal Rumble. He grabs a ladder, sets it up, climbs to the top and actually REACHES UP HIS ARMS WITH A SMILE ON HIS FACE before realizing there’s nothing hanging over the ring. Like, he gets that far into the process before he notices something’s wrong. I love it. Then, of course, he’s immediately eliminated. I hope he gets a WrestleMania payoff to this story, and I don’t even want to begin to speculate as to what it’d be. I want Triple H to do another Terminator entrance, and before he’s all the way to the ring I want the camera to realize Truth is on stage fighting a bunch of animatronic robots. I want him to accidentally get sent to the future or something, I don’t even know.
Best: Destined To Do This Forever
My favorite actual wrestling portion of the Rumble had to be Sami Zayn showing up, because it was plotted out so perfectly.
AJ Styles spends most of the Rumble teasing the Styles Clash. When it looks like he’s finally going to hit it, Kevin Owens superkicks him in the face, screams WELCOME TO WWE and eliminates him. His karmic payback for that? His eternal blood rival Sami Zayn returning and eliminating him. Love it. Love love love it.
Sami’s been a little too preoccupied with becoming a 2-time NXT Champion since returning from injury, and hadn’t seemed worried about getting back at the guy who took the title and indirectly put him on the shelf in the first place. He seemed so uninterested that Owens had to confront SAMI at an NXT live event in Milwaukee to talk sh*t and remind him. The best heels are the ones who win but can’t be happy about it, and now the feud is on again.
If this gives us some version of Owens vs. Styles vs. Zayn at Fast Lane or WrestleMania, it will be the best. I’d say keep all of Owens ongoing beefs tied together and do another Intercontinental Championship ladder match at Mania, but I don’t want everyone to lose their shoulders again.
Best/Worst: Brock Lesnar
Brock showed up, and on Monday afternoon my major thought is how bummed I am that Lesnar wasn’t more of a factor. You could’ve replaced Brock with Ryback or whoever and the match would’ve been exactly the same, minus Braun Strowman getting hit really hard in the face a few times.
I was hoping there’d be more to it. Lesnar is a big attraction. He’s a thing that matters, and his most recent appearance was him getting emasculated by Roman Reigns and beaten up by the Wyatt Family, who like a month ago were getting beaten up by Tommy Dreamer. Here, Lesnar is again focused on the Wyatts, and after some suplexes and cool Sagat-style flying knees, they team up to eliminate him. When it’s done, that’s … it. No Brock going nuts and wrecking shop, no big moment with Roman, nothing. He’s just another guy. He’s BROCK LESNAR, how are you gonna make him just another guy? The more I think about it, the more it makes my brow furrow in the middle.
Best, Surprisingly: The Obvious Swerve
Triple H shows up at #30, pulling the strings on that revenge promise Stephanie McMahon said would happen when Roman Reigns least expected it. If you needed a subtle clue as to how this was going to end, dude showed up in black, gold and red gear that perfectly matches the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. I think most of us predicted that he’d just show up, do something screwy and win, but it played a lot better here than in my head. H looks great, but he also spent some time actually participating in the match, taking offense from folks like Dolph Ziggler and having an INCREDIBLE standoff with Dean Ambrose at the end. That moment was HOT.
Sometimes the obvious story is the one you have to tell. I don’t want to watch Roman vs. Triple H at WrestleMania, but I’d watch the hell out of it at a Fast Lane. I hope the end game isn’t just Roman getting a third title reign in like three months. I know you’re sick to death of my constant fantasy booking of this, but how great would it be if Triple H had the McMahons and the League of Nations on his side in the match and all Roman had was Ambrose, and then Seth Rollins showed up? That moment where he looks like he’s going to help The Authority only to smash Triple H in the back with a chair and make Ambrose make that Shield breakup face for the opposite reason would be the best moment ever.
I’m not going to convince myself that that’ll happen, but they turned Reigns vs. Lesnar into an unforgettable thing last year. You never know.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
I want to bottle up the crowd realizing it’s AJ Styles’ debut and sell it to people.
Vince: So aj styles, seems really popular, is he another one of your home grown NXT guys?
Triple H: “uuuh, sure!”
The Real Birdman
[R-Truth’s] deathly afraid of heights! Your continuity is garbage!
Vince: “I took care of Roman for your guys.”
Triple H: “He’s eliminated?”
Vince: “No, I had Sheamus’ Superfriends beat the crap out of him.”
Triple H: “Then you threw him over the top rope?”
Stephanie: “Its a Battle Royale, Daddy. He has to be eliminated or he’s still in it.”
Vince: “He’s unconscious outside the ring. He’s not coming back.”
Stephanie: “So not only did you not eliminate him, you left him outside the ring so he can’t be eliminated.”
Triple H: “Put me in the Rumble at #30, Steph. I can’t even get a night off…” (trails off muttering)
HHH is World Champion, The X-Files are on and a Clinton is on their way to the White House. The Dream of the 90s is alive in Rawland.
Miami Weiss Number 1 New Show!
CM Punk is DYING laughing
Jushin Thunder Bieber
*Sasha Banks’s music hits again*
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the only way you’ll ever see Triple H put Ziggler over.
GUYS DON’T FORGET CARMELLA
Thanks, everybody. Be sure to share the column, and be here on Monday night for Raw. And Tuesday for the Best and Worst of the post-Rumble Raw! Daniel Bryan’s showing up, right?