The Royal Rumble is drawing closer, which means in roughly two weeks time, we’ll be on the road to WrestleMania: Star. If you have been paying attention, the last WWE PPV took place more than a month ago, and yes, that’s worth mentioning because of the insane amount of PPV’s and "Network Specials" WWE has broadcast in the last calendar year. Even with that much time between shows, the Rumble PPV is barely shaping up, and for a match that requires at least 30 people to be participants, barely one-third of that field has been officially confirmed, but we’ll get into that a bit more later on in the Royal Rumble Rundown™. First, let us look back at the Week That Wuz courtesy of Monday Night Raw and (Thursday Night) Smackdown...
The top story continues to center around Roman Reigns and those Evil, Dastardly, Conniving, Mischievous McMahons (Vince and Stephanie) and their displeasure of having Roman Reigns walking around as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Last week, they dropped the bomb-shell on Roman that he would be defending the WWE Championship in the 30-Man Royal Rumble Match, the first time such a thing will ever take place (yes, the prize of the 1992 Rumble was the Title, but a Champion wasn’t being forced to defend it). To further punish and humiliate Reigns, he’s going to be forced to wrestle a "1 vs. All" Match, possibly found on a left-over cocktail napkin from the old filing cabinet that belonged to Vince Russo. Even though this was hyped as Roman fighting EVERYONE, it really just ends up being Roman vs. Kevin Owens while a bunch of heels stood on the floor. It’s a totally nothing match until Roman has to fight off a bunch of scrubs before the pushed talent starts running in. Then, after three hours of waiting, Brock Lesnar finally returns and cleans house, including an F5 to Roman Reigns to close the show... and if you expected any of the more "important" names to be on Smackdown this week, you clearly never pay attention to what happens on that show.
The major stars from the week-to-week Thursday Night show are usually fighting over the Intercontinental Championship, and in the case of the present angle, that would be Champion Dean Ambrose and former Champion, ”. It seems like their big deal is attacking each other and trying to incapacitate them to the point they can’t fight back, but each time, they come back angrier than before. This week on Raw, Owens did a brutal beat-down on Ambrose following his match with Sheamus (my, how his stock has fallen on TV with the McMahon’s running amuck). Ambrose vowed vengeance, ignoring medical attention. After all that has gone down for the last month-plus, Ambrose finally laid down the challenge on Smackdown. Royal Rumble. Intercontinental Championship Match. LAST. MAN. STANDING. To be honest, their series of matches have been a bit underwhelming to me, but considering the booking since TLC, this actually makes sense and doesn’t feel like they’re just digging up the gimmick just for the sake of doing it.
John Cena’s unfortunately and untimely injury has definitely altered the plans surrounding the United States Championship. Luckily for Kalisto, his tag team partner, Sin Cara, is injured (again... even though he’s a different guy now), so instead of being buried on Superstars until he’s healed up, he gets to take the place of Cena, being shuttled into a program with Del Rio. Last week on Smackdown, Kalisto won a Non-Title Match, Del Rio’s SECOND pinfall loss since returning (thank you to the WON for reminding everyone Roman pinned Del Rio at Survivor Series), but first on nationally televised programming. Kalisto earned himself a Title Match on Raw... and actually defeated Alberto del Rio for the Championship! Foolish Kalisto granted Del Rio an immediate rematch for Smackdown, and with a little help from fellow League of Nations member King Barrett (is the League of Nations still a thing? Rusev and Barrett a hurt.), Del Rio was able to reclaim the Championship, ending Kalisto’s reign after a meager 24 hours (3 days in television time). You can bet your arse that this will not be the last we see between Del Rio and Kalisto.
With the Lucha Dragons off the table, the Prime Time Players in limbo, Los Matadores MIA, and every other available team being jobbers (The Ascension), that means it is officially time to make the Usos the new #1 Contenders. Again, why not just bring up a team from NXT, like Enzo and Cass? The whole thing was set up through the tired formula of a "talk show" segment, and in this case, it was Jericho’s Highlight Reel. Highlight Reel, Miz TV, who the hell cares, it’s the same boring thing with the same boring script. Jericho taunts New Day, New Day calls him out, Usos continue to lose heat at an incredibly accelerated rate, and then the Usos win a Non-Title Match to earn themselves a Championship Match, all while Xavier Woods had to suffer watching his trombone being trashed. It seemed odd not to futher things on Smackdown, but that show was already loaded to advance the other undercard storylines, so I guess we’ll find out this coming Monday where we go from here.
Charlotte and Becky Lynch continue to further their issues that at times feels like it’s more important than the Championship. Could you imagine if they did a match at the Royal Rumble and it was Non-Title because they hate each other so much right now it’s not about the Championship? It doesn’t sound like too horrible of an idea, to be honest, but Becky cut a promo on Smackdown directly acknowledging her quest to win the DIVAS Championship, so there’s that theory out the window. This past Monday on Raw, Charlotte was scheduled to face Brie Bella, but Becky attacked her before the bell and a gaggle of officials had to pull them apart. Later in the week on Smackdown, Becky Lynch picked up a victory over Brie Bella, who I guess was mad at Becky for ruining her chance to face the DIVAS Champion.
With only so many spots on the card for the Royal Rumble with most of the show committed to the Rumble match itself, lets acknowledge some of the other undercard activities that might not come across as important enough for the second biggest PPV of the year... The Wyatt Family feels a bit in limbo, not really doing anything that implies they have direction at the moment. Unless you count their altercation with the SOCIAL OUTCASTS. Again, if this is your first week reading, that would be a newly formed stable featuring Heath Slater (who won a match over Dolph Ziggler), Bo Dallas, Curtis Axel, and Adam Rose (no more Rose-Bush!). They even picked up an 8-Man Tag Team victory on Smackdown over the equally random team of Goldust, DAMIEN SANDOW, Zack Ryder, and Jack Swagger... Titus O’Neil and Stardust continue to have matches that nobody cares about, and we’re still waiting for them to drop the stupid Stardust gimmick, but I don’t think we’ll be that lucky... Finally, not really a storyline, but the first inductee into the Hall of Fame Class of 2016 is the Man They Call Sting™. Not to go off on a rant, but why do "insider columnists" keep saying "Sting is 0-2" when he clearly and cleanly made Seth Rollins tap to the Scorpion Deathlock on the Raw before Night of Champions? I guess "0-2" sounds more embarrassing than "at least 1 win in a statistic that is meaningless because who the hell cares that much if Sting isn’t going over the Champion for the Title?"
From WWE Main Event, taped on January 12th from Lafayette, LA... Stardust (1-6) picks up his first victory in what feels like forever (or two months) over Fandango (2-3), the baby-face version of Heath Slater (yes, even worse than Zack Ryder!)... Alicia Fox (1-2) def. Tamina (0-1) in a match that absolutely nobody gave a shit about. With Paige nursing a concussion, Nikki out, Sasha hurt, the main roster DIVAS are getting dangerously thin when it comes to depth... Jack Swagger (7-1) and Mark Henry (2-0) def. the Ascension (0-5) in a rematch from two weeks ago, set up at the start of the show.
From WWE Superstars, taped on January 11th from New Orleans, LA, but technically broadcast at a later date than Main Event... The Dudley Boyz (2-0) hang around doing nothing, picking up a victory over the Ascension (0-6). There’s got to be a more fitting name for them considering their inability to win matches. The Submerged? I know I just said with Sting wins and losses don’t matter, but when you’re on TV, doing job after job after job, it gives you a label that is hard to shake... Jack Swagger (8-1) gave Tyler Breeze (3-1) his first loss on the Superstars/Main Event circuit in a rematch from last week, because we all know how much Vince McMahon isn’t impressed by him. And by "we", I mean people who read the WON and steal their news from Meltzer.
1. The 30-Man Royal Rumble Match is going to, for the first time ever, include a defended WWE Championship, with Roman Reigns being forced to defend the WWE World Heavyweight Title against 29 other participants. No idea on if Roman has to start the match or anything, but this should be interesting, and definitely a new twist on the gimmick, and if their goal is to get sympathy for Reigns on route to victory, it might actually work. As of Saturday, January 16th, this CONFIRMED list of participants is as followed... Roman Reigns (obviously), Big Show (the first man to sign up), Curtis Axel (comedy spot), the Wyatt Family (Erick Rowan for a comedy spot), Ryback, Chris Jericho, Dolph Ziggler, BROCK LESNAR, Stardust, and Sheamus. Hopefully they don’t fill the match out with a bunch of scrubs like Bo Dallas and Adam Rose unless they think someone in their right mind would enjoy a Wyatts vs. Outcasts Rumble. I’ll have a more detailed rundown of this match next week, with official predictions and fantasy booking ideas that in no way would ever happen.
2. Dean Ambrose defends the Intercontinental Championship against Kevin Owens in a Last Man Standing Match. After weeks of both men taking turns trying to hospitalize the other man, Ambrose finally threw down the challenge for such a barbaric encounter. This being the most high-profile singles match on the card, one has to believe this will get plenty of time, especially with Last Man Standing Matches being known to run upwards of 20-minutes. The only fear I have for this match is that they go for the comedy route of someone being tied up or "buried under the table" as we’ve seen in too many of these matches over the years.
And with that, we have the only confirmed matches for the PPV. I’m sure the rest of the show will come together this coming Monday Night, but until then, one can only speculate what we’ll be seeing featured on the undercard. Just like last week, I have to believe we’ll be getting some combination of the following matches: Charlotte defending the DIVAS Championship against Becky Lynch, The New Day defending the Tag Titles against the Usos, and Alberto Del Rio defending the US Championship against Kalisto. Not the prettiest of undercards, but the roster continues to suffer from untimely injuries, and with the weird refusal of calling up people from NXT to spark a fire in the product, we just have to suffer with the same handful of matches being recycled over and over again.
Final Thoughts: Even though there seems to be a lot going on, both Monday Night Raw and Smackdown were complete chores to sit through, as the "McMahon vs. Rebellious Champion" is a tired trope, so tired it’s celebrating its 17th anniversary. Seriously, has ANYONE given a crap about these long term angles between the heel authority figure and whoever crosses their path? It’s over-kill, and even when it was good, it was sometimes done way too much. I’m a bit disappointed at the lack of confirmation for what will happen at the Royal Rumble, but I have faith in the product churning out something a bit more meaningful (in a positive way) when it comes to the 30-Man Rumble itself. Next week the Road to the Royal Rumble concludes, and we should know the rest of what will be taking place on Sunday Night from Orlando. Until next time...