Monday, January 26, 2015

WWE's Own Deflate-Gate: 2015 Royal Rumble Review

Not even Rollins' biggest dive was enough to kill The Beast
Photo Credit: WWE.com
In the TH Style, of course. Watch this on the WWE Network if just for the replay of the crazy-go-nuts three-way WWE Title match.

Highlights:
  • The Ascension defeated the New Age Outlaws after hitting Billy Gunn with the Fall of Man.
  • The Usos retained the WWE Tag Team Championships over The Miz and Damien Sandow when Jey Uso hit Miz with a top rope splash.
  • The Bella Twins beat Natalya and Paige after Nikki hit Nattie with a stiff elbow to the dome.
  • In one of the most insane matches and perhaps the best triple-threat in WWE history, Brock Lesnar retained the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against John Cena and Seth Rollins by countering a curb stomp on the Money in the Bank briefcase into a F5 on Rollins.
  • Roman Reigns won the Royal Rumble match by lastly eliminating Rusev after getting help from The Rock to fend off Kane and Big Show, who came back to attack him after he eliminated them.

General Observations:
  • The New Age Outlaws opened the show coming out in Phillie Phanatic hats, which is really bad form after wearing Dallas Cowboy t-shirts at RAW last week. They sure picked a bad time in WWE's NFC East scheduling quirks to adopt pandering to the home crowd sports teams as their new gimmick.
  • I would just like everyone to know that I have no idea who those people in the crowd were chanting "You still got it!" at Billy Gunn were. At all. They were NOT my people.
  • Yeah, the Ascension won with the Fall of Man in the middle of the ring, but were they really put over? When the announcers keep talking about how the New Age Outlaws were actually in there with THE REAL ROAD WARRIORS and how these new wrestlers couldn't hold a candle to those old tag teams, then no one wins. The cacophony turns people off to the new guys, and then when they beat the old guys who actually DID face off against that comparison base, they look even worse.
  • Jimmy Uso took an under-the-radar sick bump early on in the Tag Team Championship match when he slid face first into the steel ring rope after Miz ol├ęd him. It was the kind of bump that looked almost standard, but on replay, when Jimmy's face twisted back, the nastiness popped off the screen.
  • That superkick-assisted sunset-flip powerbomb that the Usos pulled off on Miz was straight cash, homey.
  • Really, Miz can't get enough credit for how much he's putting into this tandem with Damien Sandow. He's not only wrestling handicap matches (and doing them pretty well if you ask me for someone of his paygrade), but he is just as much invested in making the act work as Sandow is imitating him. Example here, after Miz used his patented slam-dunk counter on one Uso flying at him, he pulled Sandow in front of him to take the other plancha attempt.  Maybe it was for the best because Sandow could probably do better catching a flying diver than Miz can, but still, it's the timing and the execution. Sandow's great, but it's a two-man effort.
  • Natalya debuted a new cape to go with her entrance gear. I hope she doesn't end up flying too close to a jet engine though...
  • I want LGBTQ fans to feel comfortable and safe within WWE audiences, but the company's heavy-handedness and irresponsibility when it comes to portrayals of lesbianism within its storylines just makes that ideal so far off in the horizon. It's like the writers, be it of the main RAW narrative or of Total Divas, told Paige to act like a lesbian and she's doing so with no subtlety at all. It's all "HEY LET ME KISS NATTIE'S  HAND AND THEN COVER MY OPPONENTS LIKE I'M DRY-HUMPING THEM," which is the worst kind of sensationalism that can be applied to the same-sex struggle. A person can be gay and not have it be their entire character, something that consumes their every being, y'know?
  • Outside of that one really nasty flub by Brie, the Bella Twins really functioned like a well-oiled machine when they got to take their heat segment all the way home. A lot of attention will be paid to Nikki channeling the departed spirit of Mitsuharu Misawa with that elbow, but Brie yanking Paige off the apron and Paige taking that bump was one of the best single things I saw all night.
  • Was the Seth Rollins-yelling-at-J and J Security bit a SHOOT on Shelton Benjamin's video game habits? Horb Flerbminber says YES, but everyone else says shut up, TH.
  • I really don't have much to add to what the "Why I'm Going to Win the Rumble" vignettes added on their own except the way Big Show was standing during his made his head look extremely tiny, almost like he encountered the headshrinker from Beetlejuice.
  • Rollins bailing right away at the start of the title match and allowing Brock Lesnar to get the jump on a distracted John Cena for the quick-start German suplex was such a perfect open to the match, and then it was followed up by Lesnar suplexing both members of J and J Security at the same time. Absolutely flawless.
  • Lesnar's vertical suplex was proven to be better than everyone else's, yet I'm not sure anyone else could do it like him. The throwing motion at the end is not something everyone can pull off correctly, I think.
  • I lost track of how many times SURPRISE LESNAR popped up to interrupt something from either one of the other two competitors. For being an overinflated infant with video game muscles, Lesnar has surprising quickness, although no time was his GOTCHA appreciated more than when he interrupted the second Five Knuckle Shuffle attempt on Rollins with a big German.
  • Rollins flew through the air to try and catch Lesnar off guard AND HE JUST SNATCHED HIM AND F5ED HIM. Lesnar is not a human being.
  • Then almost right after, Cena put Lesnar through the timekeeper's barricade. I could run through nearly every spot in this match and I'd have a hard time picking out what would be the second most insane or brutal after, of course...
  • When Rollins went from the top through the Spanish Announce Table on Lesnar, I was absolutely shocked that Lesnar didn't immediately rise from his grave. But I guess one has to establish a baseline of what will keep him down since he eventually DOES have to be defeated for his title, right? Right?
  • PHOENIX SPLASH BY SETH ROLLINS. HOLY SHIT.
  • HOLY SHIT, BROCK LESNAR WAS RIGHT THERE TO SUPLEX HIM.
  • I honestly thought Rollins was going to win the title with that curb stomp through the briefcase, but Lesnar countering it with the F5? That was almost as good as when he plucked Rollins from the air.
  • The shot of Joey Mercury consoling Rollins after the match was sweet and sad and evoked way too much empathy for spineless sellout that everyone's supposed to hate.
  • Wait, why did R-Truth draw #2? Sandow going the Demolition-in-1989 route against Miz would've been the way better route.
  • But then once #3, Bubba Ray Dudley, was announced, everything started to make sense. WWE didn't have the sense to get BOTH Dudley Boys in the Rumble, so it just figured that any ol' black guy could have done. Then again, WWE is the company that thinks Shiny Happy Time Black Folk is an acceptable gimmick in 2015.
  • Poor Curtis Axel, he finally got a shot to do more than job to international talent on NXT, and he got waylaid by a pissed off Erick Rowan who wanted to reunite the Wyatt Family in the Royal Rumble. As many may have figured out from various well-actuallying killjoys across the land, Axel never made it to the ring before the guy after him made it, so he was eliminated, but in my heart, he'll always be the uncrowned winner of the 2015 Royal Rumble.
  • Rowan, Luke Harper, and Bray Wyatt all throwing fists at each other should have been a far bigger moment than what it was, but hey, when Papa Vince's booking plan is throwing darts against  the wall...
  • Wyatt staring down the Boogeyman, however? Yeah, that matchup was weird enough that I forgot that I was skeeved out by every fiber of Boog's being for a moment.
  • HOLY SHIT, WWE LET ZACK RYDER INTO THE ROYAL RUMBLE? AND HE GOT SHINE?
  • Daniel Bryan entered at #10 ready to conquer the world. He even did the airplane spin on Fandango and peppered Tyson Kidd with European uppercuts to remind him that Cesaro was HIS teammate first, and then... uh. He was weakly eliminated by Wyatt barely halfway through the match. The exact moment that the Wells Fargo Center was absolutely deflated was when Bryan hit the floor.
  • But hey, at least DDP came out and threw a few Diamond Cutters before everything went to shit, right?
  • God, after Bryan got eliminated, everything just went to absolute hell in a goddamn handbasket. Even in the immediate, Goldust and Stardust didn't eliminate one another, they were both sacrificed to the KEEP ROMAN REIGNS STRONG altar. Kofi Kingston's trick elimination avoidance was just falling on Rosebuds? Jesus.
  • Seriously, outside of Sandow coming in and popping the crowd for a minute or so, everything just felt like a slog. Nothing felt right at all. IT didn't help that Big Show and Kane were given the biggest Rumble shines of anyone not named Reigns. How was Vince McMahon allowed to make the call that Dean Ambrose, Wyatt, and Dolph Ziggler would be weakly tossed by these two geriatric fuckers?
  • Oh hey, it's The Rock and he's here to save his cousin even though the last time Reigns and Rock were in a WWE ring, The Shield was mercilessly handing him his lunch.
  • And hey, Rusev got to be the worst possible Santino Marella in '11? Fuck this shit.
Match of the Night: Brock Lesnar (c) vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins, WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match - The last match before the Royal Rumble was a tale of three wrestlers. Each competitor brought something unique and valuable to the match, escalating the action into a crescendo that had to be seen to be believed. It wasn't a standard wrestling match, one like the bouts that received plaudits at WrestleKingdom or even during other WWE cards in the past. Much like every other Lesnar match that has been critically acclaimed since his return (read, all of them except for the Triple H, Undertaker, and Big Show matches), it was a throwback to the mass chaos of the Attitude Era, only where all the progressions made sense rather than being shocks for shock's sake. The roles were cast well, and each one was played to perfection.

The Champion was the seemingly indestructible golem, brought to life by the ersatz rabbi Paul Heyman, dropping his heavy clay fists and fighting through any counterattacks. He began methodically throwing German suplexes like it was built into his programming, and not even a launching sky attack from the highest point in the ring to the outside could keep him down for more than a couple of minutes. He assumed the persona least likely to be believable in a pro wrestling ring, and yet I doubt anyone could imagine him playing any other part. His lack of vulnerability was the central theme and drew both the amateur strong man and the daredevil to use their most powerful attacks against him.

And what attacks did they use. Cena tried burying Lesnar with three Attitude Adjustments, but Rollins wouldn't let him see if that attack combo actually was able to put down the Beast. Lesnar's defensive adjustments were almost as impressive as his at-will offense, at one point snatching Rollins out of the air and F5ing him in one fell swoop. Even that aforementioned trump card elbow through the table couldn't keep Lesnar down. It was a frustrating, bleak tale in conquering a rampaging leviathan, and yet the ending held some kind of satisfaction, as if it played to a capacity within wrestling fans to root for Goliath that is as large as their capacity to pull for David at least.

Overall Thoughts: You know, Daniel Bryan didn't have to win the Royal Rumble match. Hell, Roman Reigns could have won the match and maybe the crowd would have still shit all over it, but it wouldn't have been as extreme. But having Bryan get eliminated from the Rumble match so weakly from a guy who'd only get dumped by Kane and Big Show later on was such a punch in the gut. Chikara lampooned the Deflate-Gate scandal literally, but WWE in its own way dealt with deflation by letting the air out of that building when Bryan went over the top and out to the floor. It's almost as if Vince McMahon, who is rumored to have taken over the book absolutely, has forgotten how to read his crowd and promote wrestlers accordingly within his masterplan. Then again, age and having no worlds left to conquer make a man soft, flabby, weak.

Bryan's placement and fate in the match wasn't the only symptom of dystrophy. Bray Wyatt entered the match early, lasted for over 40 minutes, and he was tossed like a limp sack of potatoes by guys who should have been used as fodder to help build the roster, not just Reigns. Rusev got the weakest version of the Santino Marella in '11 finish possible. A lot of noise was made after RAW Reunion about how WWE's fetishism of old guys at the behest of the current roster was self-destructive and baffling, and that was at the expense of the Ascension, a tag team that had the proverbial odds against them anyway.

But building up Kane and Big Show to be the worlds that Reigns needed to conquer rather than real, valuable talents like Rusev or Wyatt seems more of that "no one matters except those who mattered before" attitude, because those are the wrestlers upon whose backs great things could be built. Steve Austin didn't rise to power beating up King Kong Bundy or other also-rans that McMahon could have kept around. He rose with The Rock and Mick Foley, and the established guys he did beat up on were still relevant. Imagine a final four of Reigns, Bryan, John Cena, and Rusev. Wouldn't Reigns dumping Cena over the top rope after a struggle have at least blunted the sting of not seeing Bryan win? Wouldn't Bryan lasting until the end and eating it spectacularly instead of just being bumped off the apron have been worthwhile?

The problem is that when the Royal Rumble match is flat, the rest of the show gets hurt, and honestly, the rest of the show, the matches seemingly no one wanted to see, all delivered in spades. Even the pre-show match, which I didn't cover here, had hard work from four guys who deserve better that got reactions. Plus, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match blew my mind with how insane and brutal it played out. IT may have been the best three-way match of all-time, and the only thing people will remember is how Vince McMahon, in the most ham-fisted way possible, wanted to keep Roman Reigns strong.

WWE, now more than ever, is not a company one watches for good booking, and that fact became eminently clear with the Rumble. It is a company that assembles good to great workers that bust their asses and put on matches that compete with any company in the world, no matter what anyone else says. It's a shell corporation that funds perhaps the best weekly televised wrestling show in America in NXT. It's an archive for all the great stuff from the past that gets fetishized or remembered fondly, depending on the viewpoint. But it is not a company one watches for storytelling. I guess that's okay in some respects, but if WWE claims it tells stories and "is in the business of putting smiles on faces," then either it needs to change that mission statement, or it needs to do better.