Photo Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment
If you watched the WWE Royal Rumble this weekend, you no doubt saw the debacle it turned into. Let’s ignore the fact that outside of the Brock Lesnar, vs John Cena vs Jimmy Rollins match, the wrestling on the card was terrible, and instead lets focus on the Rumble match itself.
Roman Reigns emerged victorious, which going in was considered rather obvious. It has been the plan for close to a year for Reigns to main event against Lesnar. There was some late belief that plans could change because if Lesnar opts not to re-sign with the promotion and instead return to the UFC, you have a lame duck main event with everyone knowing the result, and also the possibility of the crowd turning on it like the not so fondly remembered Lesnar vs Bill Goldberg match. The crowd in attendance and even watching at home, hoped that the other change would be taking Reigns out of the match.
The crowd favorite as always was Daniel Bryan. Bryan is over with the crowd in every building, partially because he is everything Vince McMahon has been against. Vince has always liked the big guys, the tall and the muscular. From “Superstar” Billy Graham to Hulk Hogan to Triple H to Batista. Sure, there have been smaller guys that have been pushed and given title runs, like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, but those were the rare examples. Usually when a smaller guy wins the title, it is to be a transitional champion or a way to briefly give the fans what they want. But Vince always knows better. He seems to think at times that we are still in the 1980’s and if he tells you to root for Hulk Hogan, Tito Santana and Jimmy Snuka, that you will root for them. That is not how it is today. Ever since Kevin Nash and Scott Hall arrived in WCW and the NWO started and they played the “cool heel” characters, fans now root for who they want, who the consider cool. Roman Reigns could have been that guy. When the Shield was together, the crowd turned them babyface. The crowd decided they were “good guys”. It became evident that Reigns, even though he has the worst work rate of the three members, was going to be the guy getting the push. At first that was o.k., the fans liked him. He was the bad ass.
But that began to change. When Reigns returned from an injury, they had him doing terrible promos. Not the kind of promos the fans want from the guy they view as a bad ass. In fact, it was Dean Ambrose that the fans took to. His gimmick was more of what the fans expected for Reigns. Ambrose even became the companies number two merchandise seller at house shows. This is when there became a belief plans may change.
Then comes the Royal Rumble. As mentioned, Daniel Bryan was the obvious crowd favorite. Now, you can’t have the crowd favorite win every time, unless it is a house show where the baby face wins almost every match. Bryan was eliminated, and was not in for an exceptionally long time. As soon as Bryan was eliminated, the place went silent and then was booing the rest of the night. Did WWE not expect this? Did they really expect that the crowd would not turn on the rest of the match? They had to have some inkling because they had The Rock come in to save Reigns at the end, with the hope that the endorsement from The Rock would sway the fans to start cheering Reigns. That did not work at all. There were chants of “refund”, “bull shit” and even a “C.M. Punk” chant. Social media also saw fans ripping on it and saying the were canceling their WWE Network subscription. It was a mess. One of the few pops was when Mizdow came out, and the crowd as always was into him, and they just had him get eliminated quickly, further angering the crowd.
Were there alternatives? Sure there were. When Bryan got injured and took nine months off, they used a beating from Kane as the excuse. They could have kept Bryan and Kane apart until the Rumble and had them work a singles match or some kind of gimmick match so Bryan could get his revenge and the crowd would not expect him in the Rumble. Would it have made fans root for Reigns? Probably not, but they also would not have been so hostile. Why have Bubba Ray Dudley come in so early? It was Philadelphia, the crowd was going to love him. Have him come in late and maybe pick up the crowd. Granted, Dudley’s position in WWE is going to mostly be that of a trainer, but if he is also going to be wrestling, it wouldn’t have hurt to had him in till near the end and get the crowd behind him and have him get a couple big eliminations. There could have been a decision to turn Reigns heel, and at the end, have Randy Orton sneak attack him and lay him out. Get Reigns his win but still send the crowd home happy, cause Orton is the bad ass gimmick that the crowd likes which is why even as a heel, he gets cheers.
Did WWE drop the ball with the Royal Rumble? They absolutely did. There is no way Lesnar vs Reigns can main event Wrestlemania. The only way is if Lesnar does re-sign and they do what had been talked about and turn Brock face. Unless that is what they do, there is no way Lesnar vs Reigns remains the main event. Last year they had the same problem with Orton vs Batista and were forced to add Daniel Bryan to the match. Could they do that this year as well? It is an option.
Regardless, WWE must do a better job understanding their audience. It is clear that they don’t and clear that the writing team is really only writing for an audience of one. They are writing to entertain Vince McMahon, not the fans. Unless they change that, more and more you will see nights like at the Royal Rumble, where the fans turn on the entire event.