By Matt Straub
Once again, the Royal Rumble showed why it is the best Pay-Per-View of the year. The structure of the event itself makes booking crucial and allows for the most debate of any show. It can make or break wrestlers as well, and 2016’s version did just that.
Here’s a look at who was made and broken by the big match, as well as the undercard, which was much, much better than I expected.
Dean Ambrose: The amount of support he got from the fans was tremendous, particularly at the end. There was a second late in the Rumble when I thought, “you know, he could win and set up a friend vs. friend match with Reigns”. It didn’t happen, but if the thought of a wrestler getting the title is believable, that wrestler has made the leap to top-level guy. Oh, and he was in the match of the night as well.
A.J. Styles: If anyone doubted if Styles would be over, they were wrong. Styles, who at least to me is everything Daniel Bryan wasn’t, did a good job in a match which didn’t allow him to showcase his talent very well. More importantly, the fans LOVED him. He won’t be in the title picture for a while, but he’s already a star.
Kalisto: While I don’t get it, WWE put a significant title on him. If it’s a one-night thing, it’s a shame and bizarre. If this is his chance to get a push and see if he can be the new Rey Mysterio, good for him. At least they’re trying someone new.
The New Day: They are now approaching the DX territory where their matches are insignificant. Comedy acts don’t usually work as a big part of a card, but these guys are hysterical and have avoided getting tiresome with their act. Plus, they can hold their own in the ring, even if this year’s Kofi Rumble escape was lackluster compared to his others.
Brock Lesnar: He didn’t have a big impact last night, but he wins because he still looked strong while being unimportant. He ended up with a new feud (even if I’d rather see him go with Bray Wyatt than the rumored match with Stroman) and looking dominant tossing people out of the ring. He wasn’t hurt by his bad night results-wise. A lot of guys aren’t as fortunate.
Kevin Owens: He was great. He threw himself around and carried his match with Ambrose, who was also good. He also proved he could tell a story, as the match had some well-done emotion to it. You saw everything which makes Owens so good. So why is he here? Because he lost. Again. He’s not in Wyatt territory yet, but he’s not far from being the “good opponent” who loses all his big matches. That’s a scary place to be.
Chris Jericho: He got a nice push going into the Rumble and was in the match for nearly 51 minutes, but still came out a loser because of how undersold his work was. He was in the match all night, and you barely thought of him until late in the match, and that thought was brief. It was a good performance which somehow felt bland like a pitcher who goes seven strong innings by getting ground balls all night. You know in your mind it was a good night, but the work didn’t captivate you the way it should.
Logic: So much of the Royal Rumble is storytelling, and WWE botched some of it. First there were timing and production issues. We missed much of Kofi’s bit outside the ring and elimination because the timing of the League of Nation’s entrance. Speaking of which, why didn’t they just pull Reigns over the top rope and save themselves and everyone else all the trouble? Jericho’s effort was undersold. The Wyatt family came off as weak, which is a bad way to go into WrestleMania. There were some good rivalries during the match, but too much of the show seemed random. Why didn’t Miz wait until Triple H was the only person left to come in the ring?
Roman Reigns: We talked yesterday about this being a career-defining night for the now ex-champ. He had plenty of time to win the crowd over. Instead, any momentum he had gained in recent months went away. The boos were back. Even worse, WWE showed a lack of confidence in him. If they had left him in the ring for an hour, maybe he could have done enough to gain some respect. I’m not saying he would have, but at least you let him sink or swim. Instead, they hid him. Instead of creating the surprise return WWE was hoping for, it came off as exactly what it was: an excuse to prevent him from having to be in the ring all that time. There’s talk he’s going to beat Triple H for the title at WrestleMania, but I don’t see how they can do that now. WWE pulled the rug from under him and the fans made it clear Brad was right yesterday: The lack of booing lately wasn’t indicative of the fans turning in his favor, they were indicative of boredom or resignation to the fact that he’s going to be around.