Saturday, 30 January 2016

TV Review: WWE Royal Rumble

Traditionally it’s the first stop on the road to Wrestlemania, a thirty man battle that carried even more significance this year. But did it deliver what it set out to do? That’s what I’m hoping to find out by watching WWE’s Royal Rumble, shown live in the early hours of this past Monday morning on Sky Box Office here in Britain.

In a show filled with title matches the show began with Kevin Owens challenging Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental title in a last man standing match.

Can you say slobber-knocker kiddies? Because this is just what we got, and it was a hell of a way to open the main show.

These two went about beating the proverbial out of each other as soon as the bell sounded, and it wasn’t long before the toys were brought into the equation. Kendo sticks, tables and chairs were all fair game in this environment, and at one point Michael Cole was even taken out of action momentarily when an Ambrose suicide dive sent him crashing over the announcer’s table.

Sadly Cole wasn’t out for long (I am a Mauro Ranallo fan after all), and as the match went on the stakes got even higher. Thankfully for Ambrose Owens failed to superplex him from the top rope onto a stack of tables at ringside, but they soon found themselves going through the wood, with Ambrose coming down off the top rope and elbow dropping Owens through a table at ringside before Owens returned the favour by planting his man through the wood with that package piledriver-like move.

These and many other moves failed to get the job done, so Owens decided to up the stakes even more. After setting up a stack of five chairs and placing Ambrose on them he climbed to the top rope, intent on coming down with a moonsault. Ambrose was one step ahead of him though as he got to his feet and pushed his challenger off the top rope, sending him crashing through the tables Owens himself had set up earlier in the match. That was enough to finish him off, and with Owens failing to beat the ten count Ambrose took the title-retaining win.

Then it was on to the Tag Team Championship as the Usos challenged the New Day’s Big E and Kofi Kingston for the titles.

Well, we may have seen these two teams go at it in various formats before, but that doesn’t mean they’re not capable of putting on another highly entertaining encounter, which is just what we had here.

Both teams looked in top form as they went about their business, especially Kingston and Biggie as the brothers both got their fair share of the punching bag treatment. There were also some nice high-flying spots mixed in as well, with Biggie even getting a few air miles in.

The ending came when Kingston and Jey were going at it, but as he was about to take Kingston out with a superfly splash he didn’t realise that Biggie was the legal man, so when he came off the top rope the big man caught him and put him away with the big ending for the title-retaining pin.

Next up was the rubber match between United States Champion Alberto Del Rio and his challenger Kalisto.

Now I haven’t seen their two previous matches, so I don’t have anything to compare this one to. It had a couple of iffy moments, but overall it was quite entertaining and reminded me of ADR’s matches with Rey Mysterio a few years back.

In many ways this was your typical heavyweight versus cruiserweight battle. Del Rio did his best to ground his masked opponent, while Kalisto was more than adept at speeding the pace up and taking his man down with a wide variety of high-flying moves.

Both men came close to getting the win on numerous occasions, and as the match went on ADR began to get more and more frustrated at his inability to put away the masked man, so much so in fact that he took one of the turnbuckle pads off.

His evil plan never came to fruition though when Kalisto sent him crashing into the bolt head first with a head scissors-like move. Moments later the second selida del sol of the match took the champion down as Kalisto took the winning pin.

The penultimate match saw Becky Lynch challenge Charlotte for the Divas title.

Well, I think it’s safe to say that this definitely wasn’t filler material, and some of those who’ve said that the Divas revolution has fizzled out may have changed their opinions after this match.

These two put on one of the best women’s matches I’ve seen in a WWE ring in recent years. They put together some great sequences throughout this encounter, and I don’t think I’d be underestimating things if I said they had the fans in attendance eating out of the palms of their hands.

Everything they did just looked so good. In fact the only downer was the lip lock Charlotte’s old man Ric Flair put on Lynch early on. Seriously folks, it’s 2016. Can you really get away with something like that in a wrestling match now? And a Divas match at that?

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. The lass kicker put in a great stint, but despite her best efforts Charlotte kept coming back, and even though the champion was matching her challenger’s efforts it was old man Flair who played a pivotal part in the outcome.

As Lynch lay propped up against the bottom rope Charlotte went for a baseball slide dropkick. Lynch moved out of the way though as Charlotte’s kick hit Daddy in the chest. Lynch almost got the pin with a roll-up, but when she locked in her disarmer submission hold Flair jumped up onto the ring apron and threw his jacket into her face.

As the referee tried to stop the old man from getting involved further Charlotte used some underhanded tactics to take control before she took Lynch down with a spear for the winning pin.

That wasn’t enough for the champion though. After celebrating her win she attacked Lynch again, slamming her head into the title belt. It was then that the Boss herself, Sasha Banks arrived on the scene, signalling the start of the mixed messages segment.

Banks’ appearance stopped Charlotte’s attack on her defeated challenger, but when Banks kicked Lynch out of the ring it looked like young Miss Flair had found herself a new ally, especially when they slapped hands. But when Charlotte went to leave the ring Banks connected with a back stabber before she locked in her bank statement submission, and after the champion tapped out Banks grabbed held the title aloft, a sign of intent if ever there was one.

The main event saw Roman Reigns defending his WWE World title in the Royal Rumble match.

As far as Rumble matches go this was quite enjoyable. It had it’s fair share of surprises, as well as it’s fair share of great moments.

Beginning with Reigns and the quickly eliminated Rusev, it wasn’t long before the worst kept secret in professional wrestling was revealed when A.J. Styles made his WWE debut at number three. To say that he was over with the crowd would be a colossal understatement. Performance-wise he looked right at home in there and did pretty well for himself, lasting nearly thirty minutes until he was eliminated by Kevin Owens.

It proved to be quite an eventful match for Brock Lesnar. Entering at number twenty-three Lesnar found himself up against three of his adversaries in the form of Luke Harper, Erick Rowan and Braun Strowman. Paul Heyman’s guy sent them on a few trips to Suplex City before eliminating each and every one of them, but when head honcho Bray Wyatt entered the match his cronies ambushed Lesnar and threw him over the top rope.

The second most-over man in the match, after Styles, was probably NXT star Sami Zayn. I have to admit I had a big smile on my face when the fans broke out their “ole ole ole” chant, harking back to his days as the generic luchadore, and when he eliminated his old friend/foe Owens it brought back fond memories of their ROH rivalry.

As for Reigns, his night was probably more eventful than Lesnar’s, especially when Vince McMahon orchestrated an attack by Sheamus, Rusev and Alberto Del Rio on him which ended in the big Bulgarian splashing him through one of the commentator’s tables.

It looked like that was it for the champion when he was helped to the back by the medical types, but as Sheamus came in at number twenty-nine he came running back out, taking the Irishman out with a Superman punch in the aisle before re-entering the match.

Things didn’t get easier for him though when the last man to enter was the man he’d put on the shelf a month before, none other than the company’s Chief Operating Officer, and thirteen-time former champion, Triple H. The tension levels certainly went up a notch or two as the final combatants went about their business, with Sheamus giving Trips some help along the way when they took out Wyatt.

The final four were Reigns, Trips, Sheamus, and Dean Ambrose. Sheamus was the first of the quartet to go when Ambrose ducked his brogue kick and his momentum took him over the top rope. Reigns finished the job with a Superman punch that sent him crashing to the floor.

But seconds later it was all over for the champion when Trips came up from behind and dumped him over the top rope, which meant that we were guaranteed a new title holder.

This left Ambrose and Trips to fight it out. Despite everything he’d gone through earlier in the show Ambrose put up a hell of a fight and came close to eliminating the Game when he threw him over the top rope, and when Trips landed on the apron he did everything he could to knock him down to the floor, until Trips connected with a knee to the face as he came charging off the ropes. The Game then leaned in through the ropes and back dropped Ambrose to the floor, for the title-winning elimination.

In conclusion – well, it was a while before I got around to watching this show, but I’m glad I did, because this was a quality outing from WWE here, and a good way to kick off their pay-per-view year.

From top to bottom every match delivered. The four undercard matches made for great viewing, while the Rumble gave us enough twists and turns to keep you hooked from start to finish, beginning with A.J. Styles’ debut right through to Triple H’s entry and elimination of Roman Reigns, on his way to winning the title.

As for my prestigious match of the night no-prize there’s plenty of competition here, but I’m going for the Divas title match between Charlotte and Becky Lynch. Now that was good, one of the best women’s matches I’ve seen in a while.

So with all that out of the way there’s just one more thing left to do, and that’s to give the Royal Rumble the thumbs up.