A. Jack Swagger and Mark Henry def.The Dudley Boyz, The Ascension, and the odd-ball tag team of Darren Young and Damien Sandow at 7:58 in a Fatal-Four Way Tag Team Match to determine which two Superstars would be allowed to enter the Royal Rumble Match. Sandow, who has been off TV for most of the last six-months, with the exception of one appearance on Smackdown and Main Event, received the best reaction of the match, and might have just been thrown out there knowing the crowd would react well to him. Of course, even at the height of his popularlity, the TV crowds died for his matches with the Miz during the blow-off of their angle, so sometimes you shouldnít make major booking decisions around the attention-seeking crowds. Total nothing match. Mark Henry hit Bubba Ray with a Splash, then covered Viktor, who had moments earlier taken the 3D, for the three count. Iím sure Swagger and Henry would make an impact in the Rumble. Ĺ*
1. Dean Ambrose def. Kevin Owens at 20:21 in a Last Man Standing Match to retain the WWE Intercontinental Championship. After week I complain about how disappointed I was by a match between Ambrose and Owens, expecting more based on their abilities and potential with each other. This is not one of those times. One of the few times in recent memory where the Last Man Standing stipulation makes sense to the storyline. Great brawling, well-timed and jaw-dropping spots, and clearly two men going all out to put on a great show. Highspots include Ambrose putting Owens through a table at ringside with an elbow drop, and Owens putting Ambrose through a table in the ring with a Fisherman-Buster from the second rope. Earlier in the match, Owens stacked two tables adjacent to the turnbuckle, but never got around to using it. The finish came when Owens set up a death-trap of chairs, only for Ambrose to push him off the top rope, putting him through the double-decker table. It would be hard for the rest of the undercard to top this. ****1/4
2. The New Day def. The Usos at 10:53 to retain the WWE Tag Team Championship. The New Day continues to be all about their entrance and little more, spending several minutes dancing, telling jokes, and Xavier Woods introducing the world to his new Trombone, cleverly named "Francesca 2." As if it was going to be called anything else? Woods at least lived up to his status of a heel by refusing to give in to the crowds demands to play her. Standard affair between these two teams. It appeared that the Usos had the match won when Jimmy came off the top with a splash on Kofi, but Woods helped pull his foot under the ropes to save their titles. Big E. got the blind tag in on Kofi while it looked like Jey was about to win the match, caught him in mid-air off the top rope and put him away with the Big Ending. **1/2
3. Kalisto def. Alberto Del Rio at 11:30 to win the WWE United States Championship for the second time in two weeks. With them switching the Titles back and forth three times in less than two weeks, one has to hope Kalisto gets a decent length reign. Since I doubt this Title will be defended at WrestleMania, itís a strong possibility he can hold onto the Championship at least until the Post-Mania Reset. Both worked hard, but damn if there wasnít a lot of blown spots and awkwardness. Sometimes working hard canít make up for a complete lack of chemistry. Midway in the match, Del Rio was almost successful in ripping Kalistoís mask off. Finish came when Del Rio missed his top rope Double Stomp (itís still a terrible finisher) and Kalisto hit his second Salida del Sol of the match for the three count. **3/4
4. Charlotte def. Becky Lynch at 11:41 to retain the WWE Divas Championship. Iím not going to lie... knowing this to be the last of the undercard matches, I was mostly distracted anticipating the Rumble Match. Despite my lack of interest, these two worked incredibly hard, easily the second best match of the non-Rumble matches. After months of lackluster (and less) crowd responses to the Divas Championship Matches, they finally clicked and were into the entire match, especially Becky, who until about three weeks ago, was treated as an after-thought and a goof. Becky seemingly had the match won with the Dis-Arm-Her, but Ric Flair, as casual as can be, tossed his jacket on Becky, annoying her enough to let the hold go. Charlotte recovered, raked the eyes (that finish has become a bit tired across both genders), and hit the Spear. Post-match, Sasha Banks made her first big declaration for the Championship, first throwing Becky to the floor, where she remained for the next few minutes, which was a sure sign sheís back to being a scrub, and then Sasha surprised Charlotte with the Bank Statement. ***1/4
5. Triple H won the 30-Man Royal Rumble Match at 1:01:44 to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, last eliminating Dean Ambrose. A really good, borderline great, Rumble Match, with a lot of fun spots, sequences, and well-booked altercations. The only negative I could think of was how Brock Lesnar was eliminated through cheap means, and meekly left the ring without so much as showing any true frustration (see: Vader in 1996, going nuts and throwing people out illegally after his own elimination at the hands of Michaels).
Roman Reigns entered at #1 of course and was mostly booed, because the PPV audience does that while the live arena crowds adore him (OK, maybe adore is a stretch, but he doesnít get booed when the cameras arenít rolling). Rusev (briefly accompanied by Lana) was #2 and they had a hot sequence before Rusev was eliminated. A.J. Styles came in at #3 to one of the best reactions of the night and was put over as well as one could without referencing "TNA." Tyler Breeze was #4 and was dumped like a geek. Curtis Axel was #5, with the Social Outcasts, but Styles and Reigns cleaned all their clocks. Chris Jericho was #6 and stayed until the end, (allegedly) to help pace out the match. "The Greatest Rumble Performer of All-Time", Kane, was #7 and didnít do much. Goldust was #8 and the same could be said for him. Ryback was #9. Kofi Kingston entered at #10, the only New Day member to officially enter. He didnít do much until he was thrown out, caught on the shoulders of Big E, and the New Day did a Unicorn Parade to celebrate. This was the last we saw of Kofi, as his elimination wasnít seen in a rare production miss.
Titus OíNeil was #11, and actually eliminated someone (Goldust). R-Truth was #12, ran in with a ladder, and climbed up expecting a briefcase to be hanging. Kane tossed him out shortly after. Luke Harper was #13 and at this point Vince McMahon lead the League of Nations out to put a hurting on Reigns, taking him out of the Rumble Match... or so it seemed. Meanwhile, Stardust entered at #14 and the Big Show at #15. He KO punched Ryback out. The Man That Gravity Forgot entered at #16 and should win the Rumble if the gimmick were a literal translation to his abilities. #17 was Braun Strowman and proceeded to clear out the Big Show and Kane, but not before having a truly awful one-on-one with Show. Does anyone think Strowman will get a singles match at WrestleMania. Kevin Owens was #18, dragging his leg behind him like heís Bret Hart in 1994. He tossed out A.J. Styles to the biggest heat of the match. Dean Ambrose was #19, selling his beating as well, but not as much since he walked away the winner. Sami Zayn was #20, and in a surprise, the announcers referenced his feud from NXT with Owens before dumping Owens out.
Erick Rowan was #21, and now itís time for the Wyatt Family to clean house. Mark Henry was #22 and was dumped out in about 45-seconds. Brock Lesnar was #23 and instantly started throwing people around, except Strowman, since it would kill his gimmick. Jack Swagger was #24, walked into an F5, and thrown out. Lesnar ended up throwing out the remaining members of the Wyatt Family, who all suspiciously werenít seen leaving. #25 was the Miz, who decided to join commentary until he could seize the opportunity. Alberto Del Rio was #26. Bray Wyatt entered at Lucky #27 and this is when the rest of the Wyatts re-entered the ring to help eliminate Lesnar. Dolph Ziggler was #28 but at this point, nobody really cares. Sheamus was #29 and suddenly Reigns returns from his nap to re-enter the match. As expected, Triple H entered at #30, and we all should know the finish at this point. The Final Four came down to Reigns, Ambrose, Sheamus, and Hunter. Sheamus missed a Brogue Kick and got dumped by Reigns, and Hunter instantly came up from behind and threw Reigns out to the second biggest pop of the match. For a brief moment, I almost bought into Ambrose winning, but then Cole and JBL hammered it home how he could be the WWE and IC Champion, so we knew he was screwed. Hunter eventually caught him off guard from the apron, back dropping him out to earn his second Rumble victory and 14th World Title. ***3/4
1. Dolph Ziggler def. Tyler Breeze at the 13-minute mark. Hot opener. Ziggler received a strong response while Breeze was greeted with a lot of indifference. I guess being taken off the important TV shows will do that to someone, but considering weíre only a few hours from NXT territory and he didnít receive much of a reaction the last time they came to Ft. Myers, it didnít matter too much. Surprised that Breeze kicked out of the Famouser, mostly since itís a Non-Championship opening match. They did the big sequence of pinfall reversals and near-falls that we were tortured with for years in all those Torrie Wilson/Stacy Keibler matches in the early 2000ís, except these two actually know what the hell they are doing. They immediately went to the finish, with Ziggler getting the three count after a Super-Kick. ***
2. Braun Strowman def. Curtis Axel at the 4-minute mark. I wasnít sure who to expect when the Social Outcasts music started playing, and was a bit relieved it ended up being Curtis Axel. Iím assuming he got the nod since he was set to appear in the Rumble Match tomorrow and even exposure in a squash mach is still exposure. Strowman received a shockingly decent amount of baby-face reactions, but throwing someone around like a rag doll will do that, especially for someone who bumps as well as Axel does. Not much to this, other than the clubbing offense, a few rest-holds, and a couple of clotheslines. Strowman finished with the Yokosuka Cutter. *
3. Chris Jericho def. Alberto Del Rio at the 15-minute mark. Del Rioís US Championship was not on the line, with the standard house show rule coming into play: put the babyface substitute in one of the main events over clean to make the crowd happy. Jericho got the best reaction of the night for his entrance and the crowd stayed hot for him early. They did a bit of comedy early, with Del Rio taunting the sign-guy fan (backwards red cap, blue shirt) and ripping up one of his signs, then flinging his hat into the crowd. Jericho made up for it by taking Del Rioís shirt and wiping down his arm-pits and doing the butt-floss. Main Event quality match. Del Rio had the Cross Arm-Breaker on, but Jericho countered it into the Walls of Jericho. Finish came when Del Rio went for the Double Stomp, but Jericho moved out of the way and hit the Code Breaker. ***1/2
4. The New Day def. The Usos at the 12-minute mark to retain the WWE Tag Team Championship. Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods represented the team tonight, with Big E. mostly dancing at ringside, taunting Greg Hamilton, and eating one of the signs from the above-mentioned fan. No, that wasnít a typo. He just kept chewing pieces off and spitting it at people. Lots of dancing early, mostly from the New Day, but Jimmy Uso showed up his dance skills, too. Itís funny to see the crowd reactions here compared to the Rumble. Here, the Usoís were easily cheered more, while the New Day at best were getting about 70% heel reactions. So-so Match with a hot finish, including a pretty cool suicide dive from Jey. Big E. interfered behind the back of the referee, allowing Woods to roll up Jimmy with a handful of tights for the three count. Post-match, the Usos laid them all out and celebrated with the belts before leaving them in the center of the ring. **1/4
5. Dean Ambrose def. Kevin Owens at the 12-minute mark to retain the WWE Interconintental Championship. Disappointing match, but it was to be expected. With the Rumble the next night, it would be wise for them to hold a little back to put on a show-stealing performance in Orlando. This wasnít "bad", but kind of the abridged version of what they are capable of. Owens did a lot of taunting of the crowd, exchanging insults and basically allowed to be a heel. I was surprised they allowed Ambrose to kick out of the Pop-Up Powerbomb, since that finisher has been well protected on TV. Owens tried using a chair, but the referee pulled it away from behind his back, giving Ambrose the moment to recover and connect with Dirty Deeds for the three count. **
6. We came back from intermission with Becky Lynch def. Tamina at the 10-minute mark. Alicia Fox was the special referee, wearing an outfit that could barely qualify as referee appropriate attire. Tamina had Naomi with her, but no Sasha Banks. Crowd didnít react at all to them. Becky Lynch was surprisingly popular, and lots of young girls in attendance had her signature sunglasses. Not much to this one. Naomi tried getting heat at ringside, but it wasnít working. Team BAD had a miscommunication, allowing Becky to roll Tamina up for three. Cheap finish for someone challenging for a Championship the next night. Post-match, they beat down Becky until Natalya made a "surprise" return to help out and put Tamina in the Sharpshooter. I say "surprise" since the Germain Arenaís official website listed her under scheduled to appear.
7. Bray Wyatt def. Kane at the 9-minute mark. Wyatt had Strowman with him. I swear, there were enough flashlights out for Wyatt that it practically illuminated the entire arena. Crowd was into his entrance, but not so much during the match. Kane, on the other hand, got a good reaction for his entrance and the crowd stayed into him for the entire match, with a handful of Kane chants during the short heat sequences. They did what you would expect: brawling in and out of the ring, Kaneís multiple failed attempts at a Chokeslam, and the Zombie Sit-Up vs. Spider-Walk. The finish came when Strowman pushed Kane off the top rope while attempting his signature flying clothesline, and Wyatt finished him with Sister Abigail. **
8. Roman Reigns def. Rusev at the 16-minute mark to retain the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Rusev had Lana with him, who cut a pre-match promo about Rusev winning the Title and then entering and defending it tomorrow night at the Royal Rumble. Long match, maybe a bit long for them as they went to a few too many rest-holds towards the end. They did some impressive power stuff and did a lot of brawling. They had a hot final few minutes, including near falls off the Rusev spinning heel kick and Reignsí Superman Punch. Rusev used a distraction from Lana to take control and applied the Accolade, but Reigns fought out, bounced off the ropes, and hit the Spear for the three count. **3/4
With the obvious issues with roster depth (weíll ignore that NXT exists to be a feeder system to the Main Roster), it shouldnít come as much of a surprise when Roman Reigns is featured or the subject of multiple segments: the opening promo parade, the opening match, the Main Event interview segment, and of course, my personal favorite, and Iím sure a feature in the newest edition of Botchamania, the epic drawing of who comes in at #1, conducted by the McMahon Family (minus the ones people like) themselves. Roman Reignsí name being drawn repeatedly, a rehash of the 1999 angle with McMahon and Steve Austin, isnít much of a surprise, but the comical visual of Vince trying and failing, repeatedly, at opening the little bubble-gum machine balls has to be one of the best ribs of the year.
The other main segment featuring everyoneís favorite World Champion since Big Daddy Cool was the above mentioned "Main Event" Highlight Reel, where we were teased a confrontation between Reigns and Brock Lesnar. After a brief altercation, the whole segment started falling apart, and I guess itís time to resuscitate the Wyatt Family, as they collectively put a beat-down on Reigns and Lesnar to close the show. Iím sorry, but as much as I like Wyatt and his midcard brigade of goofs, he keeps losing every top-of-the-card program, and just came off losing, with a 4-on-2 advantage, to the Undertaker and Kane. Youíre telling me that all of a sudden weíre expected to buy these four as the conquerors of Reigns and Lesnar? If the rumors of Wyatt vs. Lesnar at WrestleMania are true, then that one is going to be a hard sell. You have one man whose gimmick is about creeping people out and never really following through on his promises, and the other is BROCK FREAKINí LESNAR. It just feels like an incompatible pairing, but we could always be surprised.
Itís hard to imagine it, especially considering where we were about 4-6 weeks ago, but theyíve found some momentum with Charlotte and Becky Lynch feuding over the DIVAS Championship. At first, portraying Becky as a gullible fool was definitely a poor direction creatively, but now that she is being treated as an equal to Charlotte, and theyíve actually made Charlotte seem like she has a personality after months of nothing, giving her an obnoxious make-over. Having Ric Flair in her corner to add interest to the act helps too, but maybe letting someone act like their famous parent is all she needed to do (cough:Curtis Axel:cough). After refusing a title opportunity, Charlotte was suckered into a defense when her father took exception to some derogatory comments made from Becky. Usually this would lead to the heel dumping their manager/mentor for being suckered into putting them in a Championship Match that they clearly were too afraid to accept on their own.
With the undercard for the Royal Rumble filled out, that means itís a week of filling time and just throwing whatever you want out there, since it doesnít really matter. The Ambrose vs. Owens storyline? Well, theyíve done so much to hype up a big Last Man Standing Match, so Ambrose and Kalisto are teaming up to face Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio. I get the inclusion of Del Rio and Kalisto since they are scheduled for a match at the Rumble and traded the US Title on consecutive shows last week, but Sheamus? That seems out of place. He went from a cornball with a dumb haircut, to WWE World Heavyweight Champion, to meaningless upper-card threat who probably wonít see that level of success again. Weíve got to push that youngster Triple H, you know.
The Tag Team Division continues to suffer too, with the New Day and not a whole lot more. Thankfully theyíve cut a down a bit on the New Day, as the constant over-exposure on Raw has started to make their act a bit less entertaining. With a gimmick like that, too many segments in too short a period of time can really hurt the level of enjoyment. Is it sad that their trombone, Francesca, has been more over than the Usos? Ever since they returned to TV, it feels like theyíve been receiving lukewarm reactions at best, even when not in the ring with the New Day. Itís not like the other options presently on the roster are much better. The Dudleys were used up and over-exposed within two months of their return, the Lucha Dragons are no more while Sin Cara recovers from a separated shoulder, the Ascension are a joke, and the rest of the "teams" are thrown together nothings like Swagger and Henry.
Speaking of a thrown-together Tag Team, how about those Social Outcasts? Tyler Breeze isnít getting TV exposure because of (insert pointless Vince reasoning here), but we needed a stable of Heath Slater, Curtis Axel, Bo Dallas, and Adam Rose to trot out and have Big Show destroy, as if anyone really cares about the Big Show, or needs convincing that heís big and can squash a handful of geeks. I didnít expect them to do anything with these four, but it only took the third week to really bury them as nothing more than bottom-of-the-barrel scrubs. A few years down the line and theyíll be one of those "remember THAT stable" kind of trivia note, like the J.O.B. Squad or the Oddities of the Attitude Era.
From WWE Main Event, taped on January 19th from Dayton, OH... Jack Swagger (9-1) and Mark Henry (3-0) def. The Ascension (0-7) for what feels like the 3rd time in four weeks. The Ascension sure have been doing a lot of jobs lately, especially without a scrub team like Los Matadores to beat up on... Neville, The Man That Gravity Forgot (3-1) pinned Tyler Breeze (3-2) with the Red Arrow. A former NXT Main Event is a nothing match on Main Event. Now I know why Triple H doesnít want to promote anyone from the NXT roster... Curtis Axel (1-1) and Heath Slater (1-8) def. The Dudley Boyz (2-1) in the upset of the century. Yes, THE DUDLEYS lost to Axel and Slater. My job is now finished.
From WWE Superstars, taped on January 18th from Columbus, OH, but technically broadcast after Main Event... Jack Swagger (10-1) def. Fandango (2-4) to reach double-digit victories, which I guess shows you how often heís featured on these shows, and Dolph Ziggler (2-1) def. The Miz (2-2) in what seems like their monthly appearance on Superstars. Welcome to the 50/50 Club, Maggle!
Final Thoughts: The Road to WrestleMania begins, but before we get there, we have a quick stop coming on February 21st, WWE Fastlane. Where will the pieces for WrestleMania land? How will they convince the PPV audience that Roman Reigns deserves to be cheered over Triple H? How can they possibly make Bray Wyatt vs. Brock Lesnar a believable encounter? Will there be call-ups from NXT to create interest in the undercard? What of the Undertaker? So many questions to be answered in the coming weeks. Until then...