The new World Wrestling Entertainment Heavyweight Champion is one of the men that runs the company: Triple H. Even though he hasn’t been a full time wrestler in about five years, WWE chose to make him a 14-time World Champion at the annual Royal Rumble event held in the Amway Arena in Orlando on Sunday night.
As the son-in-law of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, Triple H has served as an on-air authority figure as well the head of WWE Talent Relations for several years. He’s also one of the main decision makers in WWE along with McMahon, although it’s still Vince who has final say in things. Did Triple H make a push for this move or was it a Vince call? We’ll likely never know.
It wasn’t a move that’s surprising to a lot of people because when the betting odds came out for the event, Triple H was the frontrunner. However, if you only watch WWE programming then you would think of it as a surprise because he has been away from the spotlight for over a month due to Roman Reigns destroying him at last month’s WWE TLC event.
Triple H won the Royal Rumble as the final and 30th entrant. He was not advertised for the event, so when his music hit, the main WWE announcer Michael Cole reacted as if it was a huge surprise. He ended up eliminating Reigns and in the final two, he beat Dean Ambrose thanks to a well placed knee and back body drop that sent Ambrose over the top to the floor.
As for Reigns, he entered at #1 with the odds stacked against him. He was the WWE Champion that had to defend the title in this match – no WWE Champion has ever had to do that before. They ended up having the League of Nations trio of Sheamus, Rusev and Alberto Del Rio attack Reigns during the match, which caused him to spend about a half hour in the back getting looked at by medical personnel.
The decision to put the WWE Title on Triple H again has led to a lot of different reactions among online fans. On the one hand, he isn’t a full time wrestler anymore. Putting the title on a guy that’s nearly 50 is a sign of desperation. On the other hand, they don’t have a lot of top heels right now due to injuries and poor booking.
Even though Reigns was booed for most of this match, it’s likely that he’ll face Triple H for the WWE Title at WrestleMania 32. Reigns will probably win the title back at that event. Will he get booed at that show too? Probably. WWE doesn’t seem to care. They want Reigns to be the guy even though I think it’s a mistake that he’s already held the WWE Title twice and will likely get it for a third time. He’s not much of a sympathetic figure when he’s already been champion before.
The Triple H/Reigns match was likely the “Plan C” scenario for WWE. Triple H was going to face The Rock at this year’s WrestleMania, but that’s not happening because insurance companies in Hollywood don’t want Rock wrestling. Then Triple H was going to face Seth Rollins at WrestleMania, but Rollins tore his ACL in November and won’t be ready. Reigns was rumored to face John Cena at WrestleMania. That’s not going to happen due to Cena’s shoulder surgery.
It’s easy to criticize WWE for their decisions. However, injuries to so many top guys like Cena, Rollins and Orton among others have really altered their plans a lot. It makes sense for Reigns to face Triple H even though it doesn’t have the feel of a true WrestleMania main event. Perhaps over the next two months it will get to that level.
As a match, the Rumble was entertaining with a few surprises thrown in there as well.
Here are some other notes from the Royal Rumble main event:
– AJ Styles made his much anticipated WWE debut as the #3 entrant. He received a huge ovation from the crowd. Styles lasted 28 minutes and only eliminated two guys, but had a really good exchange with Kevin Owens, who ended up tossing Styles out. The announcers did a good job of talking about him as a huge international star. Now that he’s here for good, it’s up to WWE to treat him like a huge star right away. Styles could be put into a feud with Owens right away or they could match him up with another top heel.
– Brock Lesnar was dominant as the 23rd entrant in the match. He suplexed everybody he could get his hands on. He even tossed out the Wyatt Family trio of Luke Harper, Erick Rowan and Braun Strowman. Then the Wyatt Family leader Bray Wyatt entered the match and ordered the three guys to go after Lesnar. Even though they were eliminated, they took care of Lesnar pretty easily as they tossed him out. It was a cheap way to get rid of Lesnar. The expectation is that Lesnar will face Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania. Wyatt has lost feuds to the likes of John Cena, Roman Reigns and The Undertaker in the last couple of years, so it’s going to be tough for WWE to build him up to be at Lesnar’s level. He’s not as big of a star as he should be.
– Roman Reigns was in the match the longest at 59:50 although as noted he was out of the ring for half of the match. Chris Jericho was second in terms of endurance at 50:50. Not bad for a 45-year-old. He only eliminated Kofi Kingston in the match.
– Speaking of Lesnar and Reigns, they had no interaction at all even though they were considered favorites to win. When Lesnar entered at #23, Reigns was backstage getting looked at by doctors and didn’t return until after Lesnar was eliminated.
– Braun Strowman eliminated the most people in the match with five total. Strowman is considered the giant of the future in WWE. They made a point to have him eliminate two veteran giants in Big Show and Kane during the match.
– In terms of surprises, aside from Styles and Triple H, former NXT Champion Sami Zayn was in the match at #20. Everybody else is on the active WWE main roster. He quickly eliminated his long time rival (and real life best friend) Kevin Owens to a huge ovation. Zayn was only in the match for about five minutes and was eliminated by Strowman. Zayn hasn’t been moved to the main roster full time yet although he certainly deserves it.
– The man that was in the match for the least amount of time was Jack Swagger for 15 seconds. He was met with a F5 by Lesnar and tossed out shortly after. What’s funny about that is Swagger actually won a tag match with Mark Henry on the Kickoff Show to earn a spot in the Rumble. Henry lasted 30 seconds. What a great tag team!
As a whole, the match was well booked and an improvement over the last couple of years. It wasn’t as good as the Royal Rumble’s in 1992, 2007 or 2001 which are my three favorites, but it was well done.
Prior to the Rumble match main event, there were four title matches with one title change.
Dean Ambrose Beats Kevin Owens In The Match Of The Night
Ambrose defended the Intercontinental Title against Kevin Owens in a Last Man Standing match. The rules state that you can only win if you keep your opponent down for a count of ten. The match was an outstanding brawl where they battled outside the ring using tables for big spots as well as chairs, kendo sticks and the steel steps. It was the kind of fight where they looked like they hated each other, while even saying “I hate you” at one point!
There were some cool near finishes in the match. Ambrose nailed his Dirty Deeds finishing move on a steel chair. It looked like Owens was done, but he rolled out of the ring and got to his feet by standing on the floor. When Owens nailed his Popup Powerbomb, Ambrose got to his feet and stumbled back down again. For the finish, Owens set him up for a moonsault onto chairs. Ambrose shoved him off to top rope, which caused Owens to flip onto two stacked tables and that kept Owens down for a ten count as Ambrose retained the title.
The win for Ambrose was actually the third straight win over Owens in PPV matches. Hopefully Owens is okay after the loss because he’s one of the best performers in WWE. They were the two biggest stars of the night.
The New Day Retained The Tag Team Titles
WWE’s best tag team, The New Day, held onto their titles against The Usos. What was interesting about this match is that The Usos were booed a lot by the fans in Orlando. They’ve been a popular face team for years, yet this crowd turned against them. It could be because their gimmick is stale. They don’t get to talk much, so that hurts them.
It was a clever win by The New Day. When Kofi Kingston looked like he was about to get beat, Big E did a blind tag, then caught Jey Uso jumping off the top rope and dropped him with the Big Ending for the win. The New Day continues to be one of the best acts in WWE. Their title reign has passed 150 days and it should continue until WrestleMania at least because they are one of the best acts in WWE today.
Kalisto Won The US Title Again
Alberto Del Rio defended the US Title against Kalisto, who is WWE’s new version of Rey Mysterio. They even mentioned Mysterio a lot during the match and he doesn’t work there anymore (he’s in Lucha Underground). Del Rio originally dropped the US Title to Kalisto on Raw a few weeks ago, then won it back on the next Smackdown and now Kalisto’s the champion again. All of those title changes got people talking, but it hurts the value of the title because it shows how weak the champions are.
This match wasn’t at the level of the other matches they have had partly because we’ve seen it so often. Still, it’s a good sign that a younger wrestler like Kalisto was put over clean by a veteran like Del Rio. His second US Title win should last longer than the first one.
Charlotte Beat Becky Lynch Thanks To Ric Flair’s Help
Charlotte is turning into “The Nature Girl” in a lot of ways because her father, the legendary “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, has taught her how to cheat to win. In this match against former best friend Becky Lynch, Charlotte had a tough time putting her away. It was only after Flair tossed his jacket on Lynch’s head (while Lynch had the Disarmer on) that Charlotte was able to get the victory. WWE did a great job of hyping this match while also giving them about 11 minutes to have a great match.
After the match, Charlotte attacked Lynch. Sasha Banks showed up to a huge ovation. She’s been off TV for about a month due to a knee injury. It looked like she was there to help Charlotte, but then after a handshake she attacked her. Banks applied her Banks Statement submission move, which led to even more cheers. It’s likely that Charlotte vs. Banks for the Divas Title will happen at WrestleMania with Banks in the face role because the crowd loves her too much to boo her at this point. If it does happen, it will be a classic.
The 2016 Royal Rumble was a successful show that did an excellent job in getting WWE fans excited about WrestleMania season. It’s been a rough couple of months for WWE due to all the injuries they have dealt with, but they are doing the best they can. The presence of a guy as good as AJ Styles will certainly help things.
If I were to grade it using letter grades, it would come in at around a B+ thanks to the strong undercard and a main event Rumble match with a few memorable moments. Plus, it made history with a new WWE Champion leaving the show.
The next major event is Fastlane in Cleveland on February 21. Then it’s the biggest show of the year on April 3 in Dallas: WrestleMania 32. The road to WrestleMania is officially here.