WWE 'Royal Rumble' Recap: The Philadelphia Phuck You

Reigns wins the Rumble, and Lesnar takes the triple threat match, setting up a 'WrestleMania' main event nobody wanted

'Royal Rumble' winner Roman Reigns and the Rock attempt to win over the Philly crowd. Credit: WWE

It was all a blur.

January's annual prestige pay-per-view event had barely found its legs before hurrying to a conclusion and signing off after roughly two hours and 45 minutes. What had we just witnessed? The champion retained, Roman's hero moment went up in flames and two monsters whose combined age is more noteworthy than their collective half-tonnage gingerly delivered armfuls of next-generation superstars over the top rope and left baffled – to put it mildly – millions saying, "Where's Daniel Bryan again? Oh, right, he was unceremoniously eliminated 20 minutes ago."

So, without any further delay due to streaming-network technical difficulties, or Vince's master plan, here are the five things I took away (in addition to some sidebar observations) from the 2015 Royal Rumble.

5. City of Smotherly Love
WWE's economy must be booming after last night, cause host-city Philadelphia gave them the business. From their sing-song Bronx cheering of John Cena to their simmering – and, eventually, deafening – disapproval of virtually everything that transpired during the Rumble battle royal's final two thirds, the crowd came to demand their money's worth and vocalize dissent when offered a veritable déjà vu of last year's show. Not to mention their memorable signage. Kudos to the fan who smuggled in a plus-sized Colt Cabana head. Ditto for the stray Bo Dallas disciple whose oak tag declared them a "Jo Liever" and whatever a certain ticketholder/possible Phish lover meant with their "Fluff Head" decree. Though none of it compared to one Seth Rollins loyalist's crude artistic rendering of Mr. Money in the Bank (if anyone captured a still of said artwork, please feel free to share). Philly may be known for its Liberty Bell, but on this evening, spirited and creative critique rang loudest throughout the Wells Fargo Center.

4. Intercontinental, Intercontischmental
And a nanny-nanny-foo-foo to boot. Playful antagonism aside, the IC title absorbed yet more damage to its mystique throughout the Rumble match. Recent (and frequent) champ and first entrant the Miz was relegated to being the returning (for good?) Bubba Ray Dudley's bitch. Soon after, Erick Rowan took out 2013 strap-holder Curtis Axel atop the ramp before Mr. Perfect's baby boy ever flashed his patented Superman pantomime. And then there's the belt's current owner, Bad News Barrett, who hardly made an impact prior to adversary Dolph Ziggler sending him to the showers (though at least that fits into future storyline fodder). One could also observe that it's not as if fellow IC alums including Ziggler, Big E and Kofi Kingston fared much better, but the bottom line is: If you want to ensure future marginalization, step right up and take a crack at the Intercontinental gold.

3. Rollins Got His Rub
And to be fair, Seth went out there and earned his stripes, doing battle with Brock Lesnar and John Cena in what emerged as the Rumble's signature bout (with Bubba Ray's return earning honors for best moment). What could possibly get the ex-Shield architect more over as a main-event player than nearly sending Lesnar to the dreaded stretcher after an epic elbow through the announce table, curb-stomping both the Beast and Cena into near-defeat, executing some kind of insane corkscrew 450 (give or take 100 degrees) off the top rope and – while ultimately coming up short – absolutely stealing the spotlight from Cena? Not every spot between the three competitors was without a hitch, and Lesnar's win was all but undeniable, but all objectives were accomplished: Brock's still the Terminator, Cena remains the relentless alpha-face and most crucially, Rollins feels ready to outmaneuver anyone in that ring. Now if only he'd stop doing this.

2. Worst Rumble Match Ever?
It's just a question. I'm not suggesting one can make such assessments in real time. Though, that is ostensibly what I'm paid to do here. I'll merely say this (and by "this," I mean these many things): After sacrificing Daniel Bryan's return to the Thursday SmackDown gods, he gets nudged over the Rumble ropes and onto the floor by Bray Wyatt without so much as a characteristic show of mettle, even if he were never destined to win?

And then Wyatt, after owning the first several minutes, dropping his old foe DB and sustaining until the last several participants, gets tossed like a stone into the ocean by Big Show and Kane? And Big Show and Kane – two guys who've entered a combined nearly 30 Rumble matches, never won and have proven increasingly plodding and surmountable in this environment over the past several years – find themselves toe-to-toe among the final four after inexplicably dispatching of not only Wyatt and Dean Ambrose, but the two top faces (i.e. Ziggler and Ryback) whose individual and story momentum was abbreviated for much of the past month so they could accommodate an inane unemployment saga? And with quickness and ease? All so the man who was all but anointed this year's winner 12 months ago – Roman Reigns – could prove himself the fairy-tale giant slayer by giving Kane and Show some extra help eliminating one another, all in a smark-centric city determined to bury him (and everything he represents) at all costs?

And wait, where was Rusev? And why was the Rock here? Well, at least we had Titus O'Neil come through the curtain at Number 26 to energize the crowd. Where's Santino where you need him? Ah, right, hosting a lottery special that really just repackaged the same highlight-reel moments from Rumble history we've seen on every Raw the past month. That was less a Rumble match – i.e. the kind replete with feats of endurance and athleticism, free-for-all chaos and dozens of developing stories – than random gauntlet of triple-threat and four-way slugfests with no pacing or point. Unless, that is, you still think serving some idea of the Authority's omnipresence is really what's best for business.

1. Time to Pay $49.99
If that's what it takes to ensure quality resolution, a stream that doesn't whiplash back and forth and generally less disorienting viewing, then sign me up.

I'm a member of the WWE Network. I like the WWE Network. But I have yet to watch a live event that hasn't lost its immediacy due to technical difficulties. Yet every Monday night, Michael Cole and Co. confidently aver that only a fool would pay premium PPV prices when they could secure the entire annual calendar of marquee events, not to mention the company's vast archive of past programming and original docu-series, for $120 a year. It's akin to an infomercial demonstrating how ineffective and untested their product is, then exhorting the public to pay their clearly agreeable price plus shipping and handling.

Unfortunately, the glitches aren't limited to PPVs or live Network exclusives. Loading issues bedevil vintage content; efforts to "Continue Watching" paused shows are typically compromised by messages about inaccessible content; finding standalone matches with the search function and/or scanning for specific moments within three-hour streams can become a maddening scavenge; and the steady addition of new, original material simply doesn't justify a dedicated monthly subscription. Not yet. But the experiment is almost a year in. It's time to either deliver on what's been promised (beyond lording exclusive content-ownership over fans' heads) or demonstrate a bit less hubris about an imperfect product. Or after this show, worry less about how people are watching than if they'll be tuning in at all. There was a reason #CancelWWENetwork was a worldwide trending topic last night, though only part of it had to do with the quality of the streaming experience.

Below the Belt

  • Man, Nikki Bella works stiff.
  • A guy like Tyson Kidd would have been a good worker to keep in the Rumble longer.
  • Why, really, are there are ever tag teams in the Rumble?
  • The Miz/Mizdow antics were played up perfectly.
  • There's gotta be better Immortals spokespeople than J&J.
  • And next time, leave Rollins out of those vignettes.
  • Did Bray really need to look so silly against DDP?
  • Woo woo woo!
  • Move of the Night: Whatever than tandem, tumbling move the Bellas pulled on Natalya was pretty sweet, but that Rollins elbow through Lesnar and the table was money.