WWE Royal Rumble 2016
Orlando, Florida 1/24/16
1.) Fatal Four-Way Tag Team Royal Rumble Qualifying Match - The Ascension vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. Jack Swagger & Mark Henry vs. Damien Sandow & Darren Young: **1/2
One of the things that I enjoyed about the brand split is that we got to see Royal Rumble Qualifying Matches featured on RAW & SmackDown. I think having those qualifiers made the Royal Rumble Match itself feel a little more important. They seemed to go away when the brand split ended, but fortunately, we got a qualifying match here on the Kickoff Show! Essentially, the winning team gets entered into the Royal Rumble. What’s interesting here is that we have two regular tag teams, in the form of The Ascension & The Dudley Boyz, we also got two totally makeshift pairings. Jack Swagger & Mark Henry doesn’t seem quite as random, but Damien Sandow & Darren Young has got to be one of the most random tag team pairings ever. As far as the match goes, it was fine for a pre-show match. The only real item of note here is that the finish was very weird, as it seemed like someone forgot who the legal man was. Ultimately, Jack Swagger & Mark Henry got the win here to qualify for the Royal Rumble Match. Again, there’s really not much to say about this match.
1.) WWE Intercontinental Title - Last Man Standing Match - Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens: ****1/4
Dean Ambrose won the Intercontinental Title from Kevin Owens back at TLC 2015. I was really looking forward to this match going into it, since both men have a wealth of experience with hardcore matches like this, but it really exceeded my expectations. I thought this was a fantastic match! This was easily the best match on the undercard, and depending on what you thought about the Royal Rumble Match, it might have been the best match on the entire show. There was great action throughout this match, and it certainly delivered as a hardcore brawl which, as I just mentioned, these two know how to do so well. The steel rings steps, kendo sticks, steel chairs, and tables were all used in this match. The crowd was really into this match, and it was definitely the best match (by far) in the series that these two have had in the months prior. The match ended in spectacular fashion, as Owens went for a moonsault, but Ambrose sent Owens to the outside through a stack of two tables!! This kept Owens down for the ten count, and Ambrose retained his title. This was an awesome match, and a great way to kick off the show!
2.) WWE Tag Team Titles - The New Day (Big E & Kofi Kingston with Xavier Woods) vs. The Usos: ***1/4
Of course, we get a promo from The New Day as they make their way out to the ring, though this one was more noteworthy than others. Xavier Woods introduced us to his new trombone, called Francesca 2 (The original Francesca was destroyed on an episode of RAW a few weeks prior by the returning Chris Jericho). They’re defending their WWE Tag Team Titles against The Usos here, and I thought the match was pretty solid. These two teams are both very good, so it was no surprise that this delivered. It was by no means spectacular, but for a mid-card tag team match, this was good. The match featured a combination of entertaining action, along with some comedic stuff from The New Day. A fun tag team match for sure. In the end, The New Day got the win to retain their WWE Tag Team Titles.
3.) WWE United States Title - Alberto Del Rio vs. Kalisto: ***
So between the last PPV and this PPV, the United States Title turned into a hot potato. Kalisto won the title Alberto Del Rio on the January 11th edition of RAW, but won the title back on the January 14th edition of SmackDown. I’m all for Kalisto getting a singles push in the mid-card, but I’m not sure if swapping the title back & forth like this is doing any good. As far as this match goes, I liked it as a whole, but to say it was rough around the edges would be an understatement. There were parts of the match that I liked, but it also featured some pretty noticeable botches that definitely hurt the match. It was still a good match (at least, in my opinion), but your enjoyment will definitely depend on how much the botches impacted your enjoyment. In the end, Kalisto was able to get the victory to regain the United States Title. It sucks that this title was such a hot potato in the first month of the year, but as I said, I’m happy that Kalisto is (at least) getting a push.
4.) WWE Diva’s Title - Charlotte (with Ric Flair) vs. Becky Lynch: ***1/2
This match has been slowly building for several weeks. It really dates back to when Ric Flair started to accompany Charlotte more regularly. She started to win matches in a more heelish manner, much to the dismay of Becky Lynch (who was part of Team PCB with Charlotte), which has led us to this title match. It was honestly one of the best stories they’ve told in the buildup to a match since the whole “Diva’s Revolution” thing started. As for the match, I thought it was very good. It was definitely a big step up from the Charlotte/Paige matches we’ve gotten on the preview two PPV’s. The wrestling was, for the most part, pretty solid, and both women played their roles well. While the action and the storytelling were good, the match was hurt by Ric Flair’s involvement. I understand why he got involved (it’s a big part of Charlotte’s heel turn), but what he did here was just so odd. At one point, he kissed Becky Lynch (which was very strange), and later, when it seemed like Lynch had the match won with the Dis-Arm-Her, Flair threw his jacket on her as a distraction. Again, another strange move from “The Nature Boy”, but it ultimately proved to be effective, as it led to Charlotte getting the win to retain the Diva’s Title.
After the match, Charlotte continued to attack Becky Lynch, but then is interrupted by Sasha Banks, who gets a huge reaction from the crowd! Banks shoved Lynch out of the ring, and had a staredown with Charlotte. For a second, they appeared to be allies (harkening back to their early days in NXT, when they were part of a stable with Summer Rae called B.F.F., or Beautiful Fierce Females), but then Banks attacked Charlotte, putting her in the Bank Statement! The segment ended with Banks standing tall. As a whole, I enjoyed this post-match segment. It finally brought Sasha Banks back into the title picture, and at just the right time, as the Road To WrestleMania had truly begun.
5.) WWE World Heavyweight Title - 2016 Royal Rumble Match: ****1/4
A lot of things happened between the previous PPV (TLC 2015) and this show. Following the brutal beating Triple H received at the hands of Roman Reigns, Vince McMahon himself got involved, in an attempt to stop Roman Reigns, but this backfired, as Reigns won the WWE World Heavyweight Title from Sheamus in a Title vs. Career Match on the December 14th edition of RAW. This led to the McMahons (Vince & Stephanie) declaring that Roman Reigns would defend the WWE World Heavyweight Title in the Royal Rumble Match itself. This isn’t the first time that the Royal Rumble Match was a title match, but unlike the critically acclaimed 1992 Royal Rumble, we have a champion defending a title in the match instead of the match deciding a new champion after the title was vacated.
I think most people, going into this match, were a little unsure of how this one was going to turn out, since the previous two Royal Rumble Matches (in 2014 & 2015) were both disasters for a variety of reasons. Fortunately, when the dust settled, this turned out to be a great Royal Rumble Match! Reigns started the match at #1 (a mandate from The McMahons), and started against Rusev, which was actually cool, since they were the last two in the Royal Rumble the year prior. Reigns made quick work of Rusev, but then, the highlight of the night (and quite possibly the biggest moment in WWE in 2016) was Entrant #3, who turned out to be “The Phenomenal” AJ Styles!!! The place exploded when Styles came out, and he was really put over as a big deal by the commentary team. It was such an amazing moment to see AJ Styles in a WWE ring. Plus, he was in there for fair amount of time, lasting nearly a half-hour. I guess the next big moment in the match was when Kevin Owens limped out to the ring, still selling the injuries from the Last Man Standing Match earliers. He ended up eliminating AJ Styles, and I think that was smart, because the crowd would’ve revolted against the match if someone like Braun Strowman or Big Show eliminated him. I think people, in the moment, were more accepting of his elimination because it was done by Kevin Owens.
What was also smart is that, almost immediately after Owens eliminated Styles, Sami Zayn came out as the next entrant, and the crowd exploded when those two went at it. I think it’s so cool that the long feud between these two was able to continue in the Royal Rumble. In the end, Zayn ended up eliminating Owens. From there, we really into the backend of this match, as The Wyatt Family filled the ring. Brock Lesnar came out, and he eliminates Erick Rowan, Luke Harper, & Braun Strowman. Unfortunately for Lesnar, The Wyatt Family ganged up on him, and they all tossed him out. From there, the big moment was the (obvious) reveal of Triple H as the 30th (and final) entrant, making his first appearance since getting destroyed by Roman Reigns at TLC 2015. The match came down to Dolph Ziggler, Bray Wyatt, Chris Jericho, Sheamus, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Triple H. They actually did a nice little tease between Bray Wyatt & Triple H before Wyatt was eliminated. Once we got down to the Final Four, Reigns eliminated Sheamus, but then Triple H eliminated Reigns, meaning it came down to Dean Ambrose & Triple H. I actually liked how it didn’t come down to Reigns vs. Triple H, and they had someone like Ambrose as the last one left to go against Triple H. In the end, Ambrose was eliminated, meaning that Triple H is your 2016 Royal Rumble Winner, and your new WWE World Heavyweight Champion. As a whole, this was a great Royal Rumble Match. Yes, the winner was pretty predictable, but there were plenty of cool moments, and they managed to tell a fun story throughout the match, giving you a ton of potential directions coming out of the show. It was honestly a fun to watch from the start to finish, and at its core, that’s what the Royal Rumble Match should be, at a bare minimum.
Royal Rumble PPVs are really dependent on how the Royal Rumble Match itself goes, regardless of the quality of the undercard. The 2016 edition of the Royal Rumble Match was, fortunately, great. Thus, the card as a whole was much better as a result. The qualifying match on the Kickoff Show was the worst match of the night, but the main card didn’t really feature any bad matches. Alberto Del Rio vs. Kalisto was the worst match on the PPV itself, but despite some significant botches, it was still a fine match. The Last Man Standing Match & The Royal Rumble Match were easily the highlights of the night, and even though Triple H walked out as WWE World Heavyweight Champion, the biggest moment on the show was the debut of AJ Styles, who would go on to be a major player for WWE as 2016 progressed.