CONSOL Energy Center (Pittsburgh, PA)
First things first – as far as Royal Rumble matches go, I thought this was slightly better than average. The ring never got too crowded, it kept a nice pace, and there were some cool moments. Kofi Kingston’s leap from the guard rail to the ring apron was ridiculously impressive and athletic. It didn’t seem like that jump was doable but he made it with relative ease. The Shield were used very well and Roman Reigns had a defining performance without it coming off as forced. Punk was fine throughout and El Torito was great, as he always is whenever they let him fly around the ring. The surprises (Kevin Nash, JBL, Sheamus) were so-so but that is not a big factor for me. Rusev looked impressive in his big league debut. The elimination of Cody seems to hint that the Rhodes Brothers breakup is still in the books, which is a shame.
With that out of the way, the big story is of course the crowd crapping on the match once #30 was announced and it wasn’t Daniel Bryan. Poor Rey having to take the brunt of the boos simply because he is not Daniel Bryan. Booing Rey in any circumstance feels wrong (it’s like booing Santa Clause . . . or Ricky Steamboat). The crowd then turned on the rest of the match – particularly Batista who they knew was going to win – but did cheer on Reigns when he became their last hope.
My main takeaway is this is something the WWE surely saw coming. In fact, there is a solid chance they kept Bryan out of the Rumble just because they did not want a negative reaction when he didn’t win. That seems shortsighted now. The crowd turned on the match anyway. Do a Final 4 of Bryan, Reigns, Punk, and Batista, and you likely end up with a Rumble match that is better received throughout, even if the crowd still turns at the end once Bryan is gone. That probably would have turned out better with no real obvious drawbacks from my viewpoint.
More to the point, Bryan being way over and a guy the live crowds really want to see is not anything new. Nobody is suggesting that the WWE switch directions based on one crowd reaction. Bryan is very over with live crowds and has been. As Dave Meltzer points out, that has not translated to ticket sales, buy rates or ratings and because Bryan is not a front office favorite like Orton nor does he have the look they traditionally go for, he won’t get the gigantic push until he somehow is able to prove his worth to the bottom line. It is unfortunate and even unfair, but that’s how WWE looks at stuff. Doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. Unless Batista continues to be a huge ratings draw (he almost certainly will not) there is no harm in giving it the old college try and riding Bryan’s current momentum as far as it can be taken.
Putting aside the boos for a second, Batista did not look good. I am sure he will get better once he has more time back in the ring but how much better (at age 45) is questionable. Batista/Orton at WrestleMania will certainly receive an extreme negative reaction and it is hard to imagine the match being any good. Batista has value but perhaps not as a heavily pushed baby face during a crucial time in the promotion’s calendar.
It will be interesting to see if the promotion does call an audible after this one. There are easily workable scenarios to get Bryan into the title match at WrestleMania but I doubt that happens. They could settle for something in the middle but that would involve altering other programs as well. It would not be altogether indefensible to turn Sheamus heel as corporate muscle for Triple H and go with that match (as currently planned) at WrestleMania. It would continue to play into the perception that Bryan is being held down and the match should have great heat. There are worse scenarios than Bryan defeating Sheamus with things coming full circle from WrestleMania 2012, then going onto challenge for (and win) the World Title in Seattle in May.
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