Monday, January 27, 2014

Instant Feedback from a Live Audience: 2014 Royal Rumble Review

Photo Credit:
In the TH Style, of course.

  • After taking out Goldust on the outside of the ring, Billy Gunn hit Cody Rhodes with the Fame Asser, winning the WWE Tag Team Championships for the New Age Outlaws in the pre-show.
  • Despite having his minions tossed from ringside, Bray Wyatt used two Sister Abigail's Kisses, one off a counter to a plancha, to put down Daniel Bryan.
  • Brock Lesnar viciously attacked Big Show before the bell. Show never got a chance to recover all too much, and Lesnar put him down with the F5.
  • Thanks to a distraction from the Wyatt Family and a well-placed RKO, Randy Orton retained the WWE World Championship over John Cena.
  • Roman Reigns set the elimination record in the Royal Rumble with 12. However, he couldn't translate it into a win, as Batista eliminated him to win the Royal Rumble match.

General Observations:
  • Jim Duggan wearing a suit only made me think of the phrase "Unfrozen Caveman Hacksaw." However, he was dressed better than Shawn Michaels, who looked like he just came off the set of his shitty hunting show. Christ, when the drooling dude whose sole purpose was to get people chanting USA! USA! is dressed better than you, it might be time to stay home.
  • OLD SCHOOL NUMBER DRAW SEGMENT! YES! Of course Damien Sandow got the lulzworthy draw though. Just been that kind of year for him.
  • The Pittsburgh crowd was chanting along with Road Dogg's opening spiel. I'd have blamed them for being sheepish, but shouldn't the fucking New Age Outlaws have known that they're the heels in this situation?
  • Goldust may be the most adaptable wrestler of all-time. Most wrestlers pare their movesets when they hit their 40s. Goldie was busting out a tope con giro off the apron in his tonight. Amazing what that man continues to do for his career.
  • Cody Rhodes countered the pumphandle slam into Cross Rhodes, which was easily the best spot in the match.
  • As soon as Goldust ate the barricade, I knew what the result was going to be in this match. Fuck, what's next, Big E Langston losing the belt to Val "Kaptain Kannabis" Venis?
  • No, seriously, "Kaptain Kannabis" is what Venis has as his Twitter name nowadays. Dude also claims to be a Constitution-loving libertarian, but he spent all day Saturday rattling off all his executive orders like he didn't know two other branches of government existed.
  • Moving onto Rumble picks, and Duggan selected Dolph Ziggler as his winner. Either he was pulling a Chris Berman and tipping his hat to a return, or he didn't know what he was talking about. Still, Duggan was better at his job of analyzing a "fake" sport than most NFL studio analysts do at analyzing their real ones. Most pleasant surprise of the night.
  • The pre-match staredown between Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt was amazing. Bryan legitimately looked like he wanted to kill Wyatt, and Wyatt's blank stare and talking to himself was regoddamndiculously on point for his character.
  • The camera work when the Family got tossed and Bryan came in like a diving eagle on a flopping fish was exquisite. Also, I loved the juxtaposition of Wyatt telling Luke Harper "I don't need you to fight this war for me" and Bryan coming in to make Wyatt's statement look foolish was outstanding too. Sometimes, the wrestlers within a match can frame a story a billion times better than the writers can do out of it, and by sometimes, I mean all the time.
  • I would be scared taking that rocket senton from Wyatt in the ring, let alone on the floor. To that point in the match, it had felt more like the Battle of the Bulge than a wrestling match.
  • Oh God, Wyatt found a way to make his spider walk even creepier by just falling limp and rising up like a Dry-bones in Super Mario Bros. 3.
  • Biting Bryan's hand to escape the YES! Lock was the most Bray Wyatt thing he's done on the big roster so far.
  • Oh man, Sister Abigail's Kiss ONTO THE BARRICADE?
  • "Ladies and gentlemen, and you, Renee..." Oh fuck you Heyman. Don't throw shade at Renee Young like that, you ECW-killing thief.
  • Brock Lesnar just up and murked Big Show from jump, because even he knows they couldn't follow that Wyatt/Bryan match with any semblance of an actual long-form wrestling match.
  • At one point during the fracas, referee Mike Chiota bailed and looked like he was going to run to the back. I wouldn't have blamed him.
  • Did someone forget to tell Show and Lesnar that the rating was TV-PG? The seven-second delay censors got a workout tonight.
  • I don't care how many times he's done it, Lesnar F5ing Big Show never looks unimpressive. BAH GAWD.
  • The biggest bump of the night to date was Lesnar shoving Chiota to the ground, and the prior match featured Bryan getting his face shoved into the barricade forcefully.
  • The Shield cut a promo, and Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose asked each other for their numbers. They both balked, of course, and Ambrose replied "I have all the numbers." Oh Dean.
  • John Cena's new shirt had the same color scheme as the New Age Outlaws' new one. Man, WWE's merch department is getting lazy.
  • The crowd could not give a fuck about the Cena/Randy Orton match from jump, as they went right in with "DANIEL BRYAN" chants. They'd go onto chant for Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Randy Savage (Orton gave a knowing smirk at that one, nice), and capped it all off with "This is awful." The sad thing was, the match wasn't that bad, but I could empathize with the crowd. I didn't wanna see another Cena/Orton match either, especially one with no stipulations.
  • OF course, at the "Jericho" chant, Cena teased the Walls. Say what you want about the man, but he knows how to roll with the punches.
  • The way Orton and Cena were throwing MOVEZ out at the end, especially each others' signatures, felt like they were trying to parody what they thought a Ring of Honor main event was.
  • If the endgame was going to have the Wyatt Family come out, then why pull out the ref bump? That was just another example of not knowing that sometimes, less is more.
  • But yeah, if you had told me three years ago that Brodie Lee was going to be throwing kicks at John Cena at the second biggest pay-per-view of the year, I'd probably have laughed at you. What a world this is.
  • Rhodes delivering the Cross Rhodes to Damien Sandow was a nice nod to continuity. And I guess if the main story of "Sandow gets pooped on" continues, Punk eliminating him first was another nod as well.
  • The fifth guy out was Kane, who literally tore off his business shirt upon heading to the ring. He wrestled in business casual. I think I love Libertarian Office Kane.
  • He may not have eliminated anyone, but man, Rusev was made to look like a million bucks in his short time in the match. He hossed people around, got in some key offense, and it took a village to eliminate him.
  • Kingston got TWO big death-defying elimination avoidance moments. First, he got planted onto the guardrail by Rusev after being tossed into his arms. He got up and MADE THE LEAP from the guardrail to the ring apron. Then, Jack Swagger had him hanging down with his ankles holding onto the bottom rope. Kingston removed Swagger's boot and HIT HIM with it, and then climbed back into the ring. His offense and timing might be shit, but he sure does have a knack for those cool Rumble moments.
  • Both Ambrose and Reigns entered via the ramp and not the crowd. Weak.
  • Duggan WAS pulling a Berman, because Ziggler drew No. 12. And of course, his first order of business was going FULL ZIGGLER, because that man has no goddamn regard for his own safety.
  • Kevin Nash came out to his nWo music. That visual was cool for a second, and I liked that Reigns eliminated him as symbolism for his own "Diesel push," but Nash's novelty wore off when he came out as Diesel a few years back.
  • Goldust eliminated Rhodes, and then was eliminated promptly by Reigns. A twist on the prior years when the younger brother would be the one doing the tossing, but I guess this is how their Mania feud is going to start.
  • Drawing No. 17... SHEAMUS! Even though he'll more than likely devolve into some kind of shitty racist feud and be utterly butt outside of the ring, I missed seeing that big galoot inside of it.
  • EL TORITO MADE THE ROYAL RUMBLE! YES! BEST RUMBLE EVER! Well, it wasn't the best Rumble ever, but dammit, so glad El Torito got to be in. He was made to be a guest appearance in this match.
  • Fandango teasing eliminating Torito with the military press was funny, especially when he ended up eating a headscissors that led to his own tossing, but when Reigns did the same to the little bull, I was legitimately afraid he was going to end up in the third row. Reigns probably could have tossed him halfway to Cleveland, but I'm glad he held back some.
  • Antonio Cesaro hit the ring and right away got to work giant swinging The Miz. I dug Punk giving a subtle nod to Kassius Ohno/Chris Hero by busting out the dropkick finish on the move, which was one of the Kings of Wrestling's staples back in the halcyon days of yore.
  • 20 swings of the giant on Rollins!
  • Then Cesaro got into it with Luke Harper, and I got Chikara flashbacks. The worlds, they are melding!
  • Right when JBL was announced to be in the Rumble, I thought I saw Kane still lurking around ringside.
  • JBL was eliminated in like ten seconds, and he got a "You Still Got It!" chant DRIPPING with sarcasm. Best chant ever.
  • No. 30 was... Rey Mysterio. No Daniel Bryan for the Rumble match. When Mysterio hit the ring, the crowd turned absolutely sour. I mean, they curdled like sour milk. Honestly, I don't know if I could have blamed them.
  • Not only did Reigns eliminate both Rollins and Ambrose simultaneously, but he nabbed Cesaro too. Getting the "Diesel push" is one thing, but Reigns looked damn beastly in the process.
  • Sheamus did a Finlay roll and pointed prematurely to the WrestleMania sign. Haha.
  • When the final two were revealed as Reigns and Batista, the crowd was in full hate mode. They finally warmed up to Reigns, which I thought was a positive sign. Neither guy really deserved the hate; that all should have fallen on WWE Creative and Vince McMahon, but Reigns especially didn't need their shit. He was a perfectly viable winner.
  • Of course, that meant Batista would be the one who had to win. What a shit way to end a perfectly cromluent match.
  • Seriously, the crowd absolutely defecated on that finish. I read a bunch of reports that Batista flipped off the crowd and mocked the YES! chants too, so maybe WWE has a silver lining in place? I don't know, but yeah, that finish sucked maggot cheese out of mold-encrusted sponge.

Match of the Night: Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt - Bray Wyatt and Daniel Bryan went out in the proper opening of the Royal Rumble event, told everyone to top that, and no one could even come close. I could write nothing more about this match, and the description would be sufficient, but no lie, Bray Wyatt and Daniel Bryan told everyone else to "top that," and no one came close. Brock Lesnar and Big Show didn't even try. John Cena and Randy Orton weren't physically able to. The Rumble was the Rumble. But this match was the best non-Rumble match at the Royal Rumble event in history.

Bryan did all the things that have made Bryan matches great in his history. He bumped hard. Apron spots are still coming into vogue in WWE, but he set the bar high by taking that extra-fast arm-wringer from Wyatt. Then he let Wyatt senton him on the floor, and I am not sure what he was thinking when he agreed to take the Sister Abigail's Kiss into the barricade. No sane man would take that spot, but Bryan, by all accounts, is a guy who takes his craft very seriously. Of course he was going to throw himself into the wind like he always does. However, the way he escalated his offense, especially with the curb stomp, set him apart in other performances. The dude wrestled like he was trying to kill a man who had been tormenting him for months.

And Wyatt turned in his first signature match in a big league ring since adopting the persona. He even found a way to make the inverted crab walk look even creepier, but he actually put it together in the ring completely. He was confident, diabolical, and sharp. His facial expressions were amazing, and his knack for offense was second to none. All in all, both men looked like they hit harder, tore at each other more intensely, and put their beef in corporeal form for the time they got to tell their story. One was a master at work that was known to us. The other was a wild card who needed something to hang his fedora on. They overdelivered, and their performance may have salvaged an otherwise dreary show.

Overall Thoughts: WWE blew it.

Obviously, Daniel Bryan not even being in the Rumble was the spark that set the fuse, but the creative direction could've gone in nearly any other way. Literally, El Torito could have won, and the company would have been better off for Mania. However, Batista winning the Rumble was as big a fuck you to any semblance of creative direction. Bryan has been screwed for months. Cody Rhodes has unfinished business with Orton. Any member of The Shield could have turned inward against their ally during all this. But they went with the returning "star" who won't actually be able to pimp his movie because it's not a WWE Films production. The last time he was a good babyface was when he won the Rumble for the first time. WWE still has time to course-correct, but man, things aren't looking good for the immediate future.

I'm not one to book in reaction to crowds shitting on things, and a great direction should be in place regardless of what an outlier group of people thinks, but Bryan has been over everywhere, and he has a story behind him. That story happens to coincide with the Championship, and hey, what do you know, no matter how much WWE wants to pretend that people care about the angles, in spite of the booking team's best efforts, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship is fucking over.

Of course, Bryan is going to be fine overall because he's a fantastic wrestler and he can get a crowd behind him with his mic work. But while giving the crowd what it wants all the time is a bad idea, times exist where the best option is probably a resolution to a long term story. Ring of Honor is arguably STILL trying to recover from putting their Championship on Tyler Black two years too late. The WrestleMania Era was built upon Hulk Hogan's back, and Hogan was gift-wrapped to them by a clueless Verne Gagne. The Monday Night Wars were won on the strength of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, a guy they wanted to fucking name Chilly McFreeze for crying out loud. He got over after everything broke his way. Yet WWE still wants to believe that they can't enter the Network Era on the efforts of a true folk hero.

But Batista is the same kind of recursive booking that has made Vince McMahon lazy in the last decade since he bought WCW. This decision is like having Bruno Sammartino come out and beat The Iron Sheik, or like Howdy Doody Bob Backlund beating Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV. At least if Reigns won the Rumble, the narrative would have been moving forward.

The Rock coming back to engage in a clash of the titans with John Cena was worth doing because that dude is a fucking movie star legit, and that match had enough juice to do twice, and the story was at least redeemable and defensible. Batista walked out on the company because he allegedly was pissed that he couldn't curse or bleed, and has been in bit roles that wouldn't even amount to Roddy Piper's turn in They Live. He was the milquetoast option, no matter what crowd that it was in front of.

Of course, the counterargument is "WAIT AND SEE," but I've been waiting and seeing with Bryan for the last fucking five months. Sure, Batista can turn heel the next night and render Orton a non-factor, setting up a true underdog battle into Mania. That is a thing that can possibly and plausibly happen. But sometimes, when a decision so godawful is made in the moment by a company that is not known for making great artistic choices in storytelling, you'd have to forgive me and people like me for reacting in such a manner.

So the Rumble event gets distilled down to one crummy booking decision, doesn't it? Well, maybe I should have seen it coming. They kicked the whole thing off by having the Rhodes Boys drop their straps to an even more recursive option. The New Age fucking Outlaws can't give a better rub to the Usos or Real Americans than the Rhodes Boys could have. But hey, I'm just some fucking jerkoff on the Internet, right?