I know, we don’t really cover wrestling a lot around here. Or at all. Just bear with me here.
Last weekend was the second-biggest event of the year, the Royal Rumble. The Rumble sets the stage for the next few months of programming as the WWE heads toward its biggest pay-per-view, jump-starting the feuds and rivalries that will (usually) be settled at Wrestlemania. Each year, the Rumble features novelty acts making a quick appearance, a couple surprising returns from wrestlers past, and then a handful of contenders battling it out for a championship match in the main event.
In this year’s RR match, Roman Reigns beat 29 other Superstars (ha ha…no) to emerge victorious. Reigns is supposed to be a fan favorite, yet he entered the match to boos and won the match to even more boos. Hell, he had his real-life cousin The Rock come out to help him against an unfair circumstance, and you know what the fans in Philadelphia did? They booed him too. That’s right: The Rock, the eternal babyface, the throwback to the biggest era in all of wrestling…got booed just for being associated with Roman Reigns.
Some fans have expressed outrage at Reigns getting pushed this quickly, because they feel he hasn’t earned his spot yet. I don’t honestly care about that — in fact, I think Roman has been put in a bad spot. He could use a little more time to get some seasoning on the mic and hone his in-ring skills more, rather than being put on a rocket ship and sent straight to the top. But that’s not why I walked away from the event pissed off. Reigns had been rumored as the winner for months, so it’s not like the result was a huge surprise.
The bigger problem was the way the WWE handled ALMOST EVERY OTHER WRESTLER IN THE MATCH.
Let’s break it down from the beginning. The match starts with two wrestlers getting their full intros, and subsequent entrants appear every 90 seconds after that. We started the 2015 Royal Rumble with…The Miz and R-Truth? Yes, that’s right, the disastrous former tag team that was once wasted on a John Cena/The Rock dream pairing was what we wanted here. Usually, you see a strong worker in the early positions, like a Chris Jericho or a Shawn Michaels, to help carry the pace of the match for something like 30-50 minutes. Not here. So we’re off to a bad start. (NOTE: I actually like the work that Miz has done since his return, blossoming into a full-fledged heel with his Hollywood gimmick. But let’s not put him at #1, mmkay?)
At No. 3, we get our first big surprise of the night: Bubba Ray Dudley, back for the first time in more than a decade. The crowd is alive for the first time, and after some fun throwbacks with R-Truth (a 3D and a diving headbutt tag spot), he ends up tossing both of our early entrants. Philly is pleased by this. Fast-forward a bit to #5, Bray Wyatt. After some shenanigans with his former family members and an elimination of Bubba Ray — which does not please Philly — he starts eliminating a series of jobbers and even cuts a promo when he’s the only person in the ring. This is all fine and good, because they’re probably building him up to face the Undertaker at Wrestlemania, so he needs to look strong.
Wyatt asks for a real challenger, and he gets one: Daniel Bryan at #10. This is where everything starts to fall apart. Bryan is immensely popular, and only lost the title last year because of a legit injury. Fans are hoping that he’ll be the winner of this match, mostly because they love Bryan, but partially because that means Reigns doesn’t win. DB comes in like a house of fire, and the crowd eats it up. Some time passes before another surprise hits at #14: SELF-HIGH FIVE. Diamond Dallas Page, looking damn good for a dude in his late-50s, heads down the entrance ramp. He does exactly what a past-his-prime legend should: hits a few Diamond Cutter finishers before getting tossed over the top rope. No problem there.
Shortly after that, Wyatt unceremoniously eliminates Daniel Bryan.
This is met with huge boos. The crowd likes Wyatt, but not at the expense of Daniel Bryan. In fact, they spend the next few minutes alternating between booing and chanting his name while the match continues. And a few minutes later when Reigns makes his appearance at #19? The bad taste is still in their mouths, so…more boos.
In fact, almost every entrant from 15 through 29 is a goddamn disaster. Adam Rose, Big E, Jack Swagger, Titus O’Neil, and other assorted wastes of space. Kane and Big Show, who are a combined 14,000 years old (more on them in a bit). Damien Mizdow, who the fans actually love — but he gets tossed after just a few seconds. The only exception in this sprawling dumpster fire of a stretch is Dean Ambrose, another former Shield member, who gives the fans some hope at #25.
So here’s the situation. A bunch of filler is in the ring, plus some legitimately unpopular choices, and somehow Bray Wyatt is still in there. As the final person is set to enter, the fans finally get excited again, because they know who’s left: Dolph Ziggler. They love Ziggler more than anyone not named Daniel Bryan, and there’s still a slim chance he could actually win the whole thing. He’s also not named Roman Reigns, so that’s nice.
Because of their current gimmick, Kane and Big Show are working together. After some of the meaningless folks get tossed, they start working together to throw out potential threats. That means after a long run where he stood tall for several minutes and eliminated the most popular guy in the event, Bray Wyatt’s lifeless body gets dumped out. Then Big Show hits his KO Punch on Ziggler, and they toss him out too. Eventually this just leaves Show, Kane, Reigns and Ambrose (with Rusev lurking on the outside, having not been thrown over the top). The fans are once again unsettled — Ziggler is gone after just two minutes, and they hate three-fourths of what’s left. What should be a cool moment with Reigns and Ambrose deciding to work together again is immediately cut short when the two giants end Ambrose’s run, and then turn their attenti–BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
Now that they know all hope is lost, the fans in Philadelphia turn on the event. A “WE WANT RUSEV” chant breaks out. Rusev is working a gimmick right now where he is Russian and loves Vladamir Putin and Russia and disparages the U.S. at every opportunity — and he’s getting cheered, because he beats the alternatives. A clustermuck finish ensues, with Show and Kane trying to take out Reigns, but he turns the tables on them and gets them both over the top rope! But they’re mad, so they come back in to get revenge, but then The Rock shows up and does The Rock stuff, like a People’s Elbow! And…oh yeah, Rusev. He comes back in, quickly gets eliminated, and Reigns wins. This sequence might have been cool if most of the people involved weren’t despised.
So why all the hate? Not because of the result, even though I’m not a huge fan. What kills me is the gross misunderstanding WWE has for its more hardcore fans. It’s bad enough that folks like Bryan and Ambrose and Ziggler didn’t win, but that was expected. You know how long Daniel Bryan was in the Royal Rumble? 10 minutes. You know how long Dolph Ziggler was in the Royal Rumble? Two minutes. TWO GODDAMN MINUTES. Big E was in there for almost 15, just to put this in perspective.
They could have at least given the fans hope that one of their favorites would win the match. Imagine that wacky sequence at the end, but with a final four of Reigns, Bryan, Ziggler and Wyatt. A huge missed opportunity. Instead, a big-time favorite gets 2:20 before getting tossed aside like he’s nothing. Good call.
I’m glad that I don’t follow wrestling all that closely, because if I were super invested, last Sunday would have pissed me off something fierece. As it was, I spent my time after the event being legitimately baffled at how tone-deaf and unaware the WWE looked. Remember the old saying about it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, but how you play the game? Apparently someone forgot to give Vince McMahon the memo.