We are days away from the 2016 Royal Rumble PPV. The official start to the road to Wrestlemania. The Rumble itself is one of the biggest PPV’s of the year and most looked forward to matches as well. It hasn’t been smooth sailing for the WWE the last two years though. Firstly in 2014 Batista’s return and victory were booed. It was too predictable, too boring. The fans wanted new stars to cheers for, the fans wanted Daniel Bryan. 2015 came around, they wouldn’t mess it up twice in a row would they? They bloody well did!
For a second year in a row the fans turned on both the match itself and the winner. Two years in a row a supposed good guy pointed towards the Wrestlemania sign to a chorus of boos. How could this have happened again?
So Royal Rumble 2015, what went wrong?
It certainly wasn’t any of the preliminary matches or the WWE World Heavyweight Champion bout that’s for sure. Oddly the first four matches (including the pre show) are all tag team matches. There’s no place on the card for either the Intercontinental or US Titles though, which unfortunately was the style at the time.
Pre show: Tyson Kidd & Cesaro Vs The New Day (Kofi Kingston & Big E)
Cesaro was hot even back in January 2015 even after months of doing nothing! Cesaro and Tyson Kidd were only just into their tag team run, but the crowd recognised the talent and made them the firm favourites here, despite being the official heels. The match itself was an entertaining affair, but with that much talent in the ring it had to be.
The Ascension Vs The New Age Outlaws
The Ascension had recently been promoted from NXT but from the get go they had not been taken seriously. Saddled with a Legion of Doom style gimmick the duo looked more like wanna-be’s than actual contenders. The commentators laughed at them and insult them. As a result, fans didn’t take them seriously either, but a quick victory over The New Age Outlaws looked like it could be a turning point.
Tag Team Championship: The Usos (c) Vs The Miz and Damien Mizdow
Damien Mizdow was so incredibly over during this period. People loved his shtick and he undeniably works well with The Miz. During the match The Miz refused to tag in Mizdow, jealous over the better reactions he’d been getting. This only made the crowd long for him more, cheering ferociously every time he got involved.
The Bella Twins Vs Paige & Natalya
The Bella Twins picked up the victory after a stiff forearm from Nikki to get the win. The match was okay, nothing really against it but no real reason to get worked up for it either. Weakest match on the card but it did its job.
World Heavyweight Title Triple Threat: Brock Lesnar (c) Vs John Cena Vs Seth Rollins
When you hear about people talking about a ‘big fight feel’. This match had it. The match felt huge and the crowd loved it. All three competitors gave their all. It was a masterclass in booking and a masterpiece in execution. This was rightly WWE.com’s match of the year, it certainly was mine. It truly was an excellent match.
The bout continued Brock Lesnar’s monumental push as a true beast and a freak of nature. John Cena pulled out an incredible performance, something he’d be doing a lot of later in the year. Seth Rollins was the star of the show for me, this is the match in which he proved he could hang with the big dogs. He’s elbow drop from the top rope to the announce table was incredible, the height he got was huge and he even pulled out a Phoenix Splash later in the match for Gods sake!
All good so far then, so what went wrong?!
So everything up until the main event has so far either been good or great. What could go wrong?
Royal Rumble Match
What an excellent start this Royal Rumble match had. The fans are still high from the triple threat match and are ready to continue their fun. We are treated to early surprise return of Bubba Ray Dudley. We had a freak off between Bray Wyatt and The Boogeyman, which was great. A period solo of domination, complete with mid match promo for Bray Wyatt. Before Daniel Bryan enters, a nice nod to their excellent match the previous year. The fans are delighted to see him back. Another surprise entrant at number 14 with Diamond Dallas Page making an appearance. Diamond Cutters for everyone! This is amazing!
Then everything changed. Out of nowhere the combination of Rusev and Bray Wyatt eliminate Daniel Bryan. The crowd didn’t know how to react, they honestly couldn’t believe it. The fans chanted for Daniel Bryan and began to boo new entrants to show their disapproval. When Roman Reigns entered at number 19 the boos were deafening.
Now the problem here isn’t the elimination of Daniel Bryan itself. It’s just the execution that created a lot of the problems. Firstly, WWE intentionally hyped up the return of Daniel Bryan. He’d recently cut a promo on Raw that heavily teased that he was going to be forced into early retirement. Instead he announced that he would enter the Royal Rumble match and go onto Wrestlemania to recapture that title that he never lost. Naturally fans were excited by this prospect.
Secondly, during the build up to the event it was apparent that there were only two real choices for who was going to win. Daniel Bryan or Roman Reigns. With Bryan gone so early there was a lot of match left to cover with a now very predictable destination. Predictable, most of the time, is boring. By eliminating Bryan so early they made one of the biggest matches of the year boring.
Finally, the random elimination that didn’t do any favours. Everyone knew Rusev was going to feud with John Cena for the US Title at Wrestlemania, and Bray Wyatt was heavily rumoured to go against The Undertaker. Had Daniel Bryan’s elimination been shown with a storyline element with it, a hint of what would come or a direction to follow, fans would have been kinder. They still wouldn’t have been happy, but it would have appeased some. Instead all they saw was their favourite being thrown aside yet again by WWE.
So why didn’t the fans in Philadelphia and around the world didn’t want Reigns to win. After all, they cheered for him last year to win. What has changed? It’s simple, the previous year Roman Reigns had been booked extremely well. He looked a million dollars. As part of The Shield he was over with the fans. So when he was the last chance for someone other than Batista to win the Royal Rumble he was easy to cheer for.
The problem is that since Seth Rollins turned heel and The Shield disbanded Reigns has been more vulnerable. He’s promo work needed work. It didn’t help that WWE were handing him some of the worst scripts ever written of course either. He was unproven as a singles competitor and in the eyes of many not ready to be a top guy, so for the fans to see a rocket strapped to his back and be positioned for the main event of Wrestlemania was odd. Especially over their favourites like Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro, Wade Barrett and Daniel Bryan who had been slogging away for years. It wasn’t so much of a rejection of Roman himself, but everything his push stood for. He was the hand picked golden child of Vince McMahon, instead of him pushing one of their favourites.
To make matters worse for some reason WWE thought it would be a good idea to have fan favourites like Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt (even though he’s heel, he’s still popular) dumped over the top rope like rag dolls by The Big Show and Kane. In a normal situation this would have been excellent heat generating antics from two heels, but in this situation it represented far more.
Just like the previous year fans began to cheer for the only other remaining superstar. In 2014 it had been Reigns being cheered on instead of Batista. In 2015 it was the anti USA monster Russian heel Rusev. That’s when you know WWE really messed this up. Anywhere else Rusev would be subject to USA chants and a negative reaction. But when the crowd realised he was their last hope from the inevitable they cheered him instead. If that’s not a rejection for Reigns I don’t know what is.
When The Rock came out, he initially received a positive response but the fans even booed him when he raised Roman’s hand in victory. You managed to get fans to cheers The Rock. I didn’t even think that was possible at this point.
The night of the Royal Rumble #cancelwwenetwork trended worldwide on twitter. The online cancellation page crashed and subscribers who called WWE to cancel were told to call back as there were too many people attempting to manually cancel.
The day after the Royal Rumble, Dave Meltzer reported that WWE had expected Reigns’ victory would receive some backlash, but not to the level they had experienced. Despite this, WWE would not add Daniel Bryan to the main event at WrestleMania 31 like they had for 30. This is because Vince felt that it would just be a repeat of the previous year, which is actually true. Had they gone down the same route, it would have received half as much traction as it did the first time.
Roman Reigns was received negatively most nights on Raw in the build to Wrestlemania. The feud between Reigns and Lesnar was booked poorly. They under utilised the limited dates they had booked for Brock. WWE fans looked unfavourably at Reigns being chosen to end the domination of a man who a year previously had broken the undefeated streak of The Undertaker. Despite a having a good match against Daniel Bryan at Fastlane, intended to show that he was the real deal, fan favour could not be regained.
Oddly Wrestlemania 31 turned out to be a much better show than it had any right to be. Despite awful build up for most of the show, in particular the main event, WWE really pulled it out of the bag on the night. It actually turned out to be one of the best ‘Mania’s of all time.
It was clear that Lesnar was the crowd favourite from the get go, receiving a huge cheer when his music hit. A stark contrast to the reaction that Roman Reigns got. The match itself was phenomenal, a contender for best of the year. Reigns held his own despite receiving a prison style beating and impressed many with his resiliency. Both Lesnar and Reigns worked stiff during this match, making the whole affair that much more physical and brutal. As the match built towards its crescendo Seth Rollins’ music hit and cashed in his Money in the Bank contract to make it a triple threat. Which he then won. Had Reigns won the title the crowd would have turned on the entire event, of that I am sure. Oddly Seth Rollins, a hated heel, stealing the World Title from under Reigns and Lesnar’s noses sent the crowd home happy. Very happy.