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Posted in: The Eternal Optimist
The Eternal Optimist Presents a 30 Part Column Series - Ranking the Royal Rumbles (#20)
By Dave Fenichel
Jan 23, 2018 - 7:46:28 PM


Hi kids.

I’m back with part 11 of my 30 part column series, “Ranking the Royal Rumble Matches”. Today, I’ll discuss the Royal Rumble that came in at #20 on the countdown. As a reminder, here are the criteria that I used to analyze the matches:

The Participants - The easiest way to create a Royal Rumble is to have a compelling roster that people want to see participate. I’ll take a look at the level star power, the level of “overness” of the other players, and whether or not there were an unnecessary amount of jobbers and/or non-factors in the match.

The Storylines and Flow of the Match - The storylines are without question the most important part of a Royal Rumble match. I’ll look at whether or not the storylines presented enhanced the match. I’ll also look at the surprise entrants and evaluate whether or not they added value. Lastly, I’ll look at whether or not the match had a solid flow or if it dragged at times. This is by far the most important category, and it will be the category in which I spend the majority of each column discussing.

The Final Four - Every Rumble inevitably comes down to a “show down” between the final four competitors. Here, I’ll look at whether the WWE chose a strong group to represent the final four, and whether or not the end game to the Rumble was compelling.

The Winner - I’ll evaluate three things relating to the winner of each Rumble. First, was the winner a surprise? I have a strong appreciation for Rumble winners that weren’t necessarily expected to win. Second, was the winner satisfying? Just because the winner wasn’t someone I expected doesn’t mean that I enjoyed the outcome. On the other hand, just because the winner was a foregone conclusion doesn’t mean that I didn’t love every minute of it. Lastly, how did winning the Royal Rumble impact this wrestler at Wrestlemania and beyond? The overall success of the subsequent push impacts how I view many of the Rumbles and their winner.

A couple additional disclaimers:

First – lengthy Royal Rumble runs rarely move me. Sure, you might love Rick Martel lasting 53 minutes in 1991. I didn’t. He, as well as almost everyone else that goes coast to coast, spent the majority of the match sitting in the corner getting kicked. For me, a single wrestler’s longevity is the most overrated factor in evaluating the strength of a Royal Rumble.

Second – these factors aren’t weighted evenly. They are merely talking points. My overall impression of the Rumble is what ultimately mattered when I made my rankings.

Last, but certainly not least – I’ve added a new wrinkle to this column series. As you already know, my thought process on wrestling seems to wildly differ from the majority of the fans in our community. Many have taken me to task in other forums over where my rankings ultimately landed. I’ve decided to incorporate that into this column series. As such, every entry will end with a guest “rebuttal” telling me exactly why I’m an idiot for ranking that particular Rumble where I did. The guests range from my fellow columnists, both on the main page and the Forums, to real life friends, to buddies I frequently interact with on social media. I try not to take myself too seriously, and I think you’ll enjoy the alternative takes.

Today’s rebuttal once comes from Sam Brown, aka SirSam – an up and coming writer in the LOP Forums.

Here is where the countdown currently stands:


#30. The 2009 Royal Rumble.
#29. The 1991 Royal Rumble.
#28. The 2011 Royal Rumble.
#27. The 1998 Royal Rumble.
#26. The 2000 Royal Rumble.
#25. The 1995 Royal Rumble.
#24. The 2015 Royal Rumble.
#23. The 1993 Royal Rumble.
#22. The 1988 Royal Rumble.
#21. The 2006 Royal Rumble.


Question of the Day: Given the box office draw that “Guardians of the Galaxy” became, should Batista have gone over at Wrestlemania XXX?

#20. The 2014 Royal Rumble.


The Roster.



CM Punk
Seth Rollins
Damien Sandow
Code Rhodes
Kane
Rusev (NXT)
Jack Swagger
Kofi Kingston
Jimmy Uso
Goldust
Dean Ambrose
Dolph Ziggler
R Truth
Kevin Nash
Roman Reigns
The Great Khali
Sheamus
The Miz
Fandango
El Torito
Cesaro
Luke Harper
Jey Uso
JBL
Erick Rowan
Ryback
Alberto Del Rio
Batista
Big E
Mysterio

I thought the roster for the 2014 Royal Rumble was very strong. The WWE in 2014 was like a baseball team whose farm system had finally started to develop.

You had holdovers at the top of the card. CM Punk and Batista were unquestioned Wrestlemania main event level superstars. Rey Mysterio and Kane were still top stars even if they weren’t what they had been in the past. Dolph Ziggler was still very popular at the time. Alberto Del Rio was coming down off his main event run but was a significant contributor. Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow were both on the cusp on the main event, and everyone was doing both the “Fandango” dance and the “We The People” schtick.

Most important of all were the three rising stars that made up The Shield. We all know where Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins are now. This was just the beginning of their reign of terror.

All in all this Rumble was deep and loaded with talent. Much as some of the weaker Rumble rosters were a sign of the times, the strength of this roster was a sign of how strong the WWE was rolling along in 2014.


The Storylines and Flow.

To lump the 2014 and 2015 Royal Rumbles together is extremely unfair. The 2015 Royal Rumble was a reasonably weak Rumble where questionable Daniel Bryan-related booking caused almost the entire second half of the match to be hated. The 2014 Rumble was a very strong Rumble where the Daniel Bryan-related booking only caused the last 5-10 minutes to be a mess. People seem to not be willing to distinguish between the two, and I can’t understand why.

Batista’s recent return was not the only storyline heading into the 2014 Rumble. CM Punk v The Authority had been going on for a while. People knew that Batista was going to win, but there was a lot of drama surrounding how Punk would be booked and what his Wrestlemania role will be. I’ll get more into the specifics a little later on, but Punk being the iron man of the Rumble helped the flow tremendously. As long as he was around, people were going to be interested.

I really enjoyed the in-ring action of 2014’s Rumble. Having both Punk and Rollins in early really helped, but it was more than that. The WWE did the little things right.

The Great Khali was more or less a jobber at the time, but his size still made him formidable in a match of this nature. He was fed to the Shield and as it result it made the group look even stronger than they already did.

Cesaro’s Giant Swing was incredibly over at the time, and the WWE took advantage by having him execute a crazy one on Seth Rollins. It helped put Cesaro over further and added a really cool moment to the match.

This Rumble marked Rusev’s main roster debut. Rusev has always had an incredible moveset for a wrestler his size. The WWE allowed him to shine and it wasn’t a coincidence that he was able to hit the ground running early on in his career.

Speaking of Rusev, he was involved in the annual Kofi Kingston spot in 2014. For those of you who don’t remember this one – Kofi was standing on the apron and was knocked off. This normally would lead to an elimination, but he landed in Rusev’s arms. He managed to squirm out and land on the guardrail. He walks across the guardrail and jumps onto the ring steps, saving himself yet again. The Kofi spot had become must-see TV by this point, and the 2014 version did not disappoint.

I thought the surprises were particularly diverse this year.

Kevin Nash filled the “nostalgic legend” role. He had a much better run in 2014 than he had in other years as a surprise entrant. I liked that he came in as Nash instead of Diesel and used the N.W.O. theme instead of the cheesy early 90s truck engine. That theme always got a big pop from the crowd, and the 2014 Rumble was no exception.

Sheamus checked off the box for a “returning superstar” surprise. While I can argue against whether he really was ever main event worthy, his return here was well received and he definitely added to the match.

El Torito was great comic relief. He really was a sneaky little midget. His antics definitely helped with the flow.

Only JBL’s surprise entrant was a letdown. He was a mega-star and current commentator. His stint should have been a highlight of the match. Instead, he was clotheslined over the top immediately upon his entrance into the ring. I didn’t understand it then and I don’t understand it now. He didn’t have to be a major factor, but at least let the guy drop someone with a Clothesline From Hell. The WWE roster was so deep that Wade Barrett was left out of the Rumble in favor of JBL’s inclusion. To turn this into an irrelevant spot made no sense at all.

Without question, the best part of the 2014 Royal Rumble was Roman Reigns. He put in one of my favorite performances by any wrestler in any Rumble. Not only did he break the record for the most eliminations in a single match, but he did so in spectacular fashion. He was dominant. People really underestimate what this outing did for his career. He was the least polished member of the Shield by far. His stint here made the WWE brass realize that the fans would latch onto him as a solo act. What would the last four years look like without this run?

There was a tremendous amount of good about the 2014 Rumble. Unfortunately, the WWE had a tremendous problem on their hands. They wanted to push Batista as the Rumble winner and have him headline Mania to capitalize on what they were hoping would be his budding movie career. The issue? Daniel Bryan had caught fire and the crowd was dying for him to headline Wrestlemania.

The solution? The WWE completely left him out of the match. They banked on the idea that the fans wouldn’t hate the fact that Daniel Bryan didn’t win the Rumble if he wasn’t even a participant. They were wrong. In hindsight, I don’t really blame them. Batista became a household name through Guardians of the Galaxy and the WWE probably would have had some significant crossover attention had they put the belt back on him.

Furthermore, unlike in 2015 when the WWE a) had plenty of reason to think mistreatment of Bryan would cause the fans to rebel and b) had a completely reasonable booking path to avoid the backlash, they were completely screwed in 2014. They had no idea how badly the fans would turn on the match and there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that they could have done differently to keep Batista as the winner and send the fans home happy.

The unavoidable was bad though. Batista got booed out of the building and even perennial sympathetic baby-face Rey Mysterio was met with derision. The audience could not believe that their hero wasn’t even booked, and they took a giant dump on the remainder of the match.

It’s hard not to look at how the match ended when evaluating this Rumble. However, there was a tremendous amount of good that in my mind, still far outweighed the bad.


The Final Four.

I really need to distinguish between the crowd rebellion and what was actually happening here. The Final Four of Batista, Reigns, Sheamus and Punk was an excellent grouping.

I hated the elimination of Punk by Kane on so many levels, but I think that was the point. I was supposed to hate that the guy I was cheering for was eliminated by a guy I didn’t like. From a storyline perspective, Kane seemed like something for CM Punk to do to bridge the gap to a showdown with Triple H at Wrestlemania XXX. Outside of a storyline standpoint, this had far greater implications. Punk walked out on the WWE the following night and hasn’t been seen in a wrestling ring again. I don’t blame him. I think he was both worn down and recognized that the writing was on the wall. The WWE was never going to put him in a Wrestlemania Main Event.

Sheamus’s role in the final four was fine, but I was shocked when he got bumped and the final two were Batista and Reigns. This was one of those moments where a reaction is so organic that you get goosebumps. The dynamic of Reigns being cheered despite being a heel was crazy to me. Once again, this goes to show that the IWC’s hatred of Reigns’ is complete horse doodoo. They were ready to anoint him as the second coming until the WWE actually pushed him as such.

I thought the finish of the match was excellent even though the crowd hated it. The Daniel Bryan backlash just wasn’t going away. I don’t blame the fans for being upset, but it’s hard to argue that the Final Four was anything less than stellar.


The Winner.

The winner was as predictable as predictable can be. Batista wasn’t brought back in after such a long layoff to be anything less than the Wrestlemania headliner. His victory here was a foregone conclusion. Needless to say, Batista’s victory wasn’t at all satisfying either. The real story that needed to be told was one of redemption for Daniel Bryan.

This Rumble actually HURT Batista’s career. Under any other circumstance, a Batista return would have been a big deal. The WWE could have used him to make a ton of money and he could have headlined a lot of important events. Because it represented the WWE rejecting what the fans wanted, he bombed. He stayed in the Wrestlemania XXX main event, but the WWE eventually got it right and made it all about Daniel Bryan.

Batista never recovered from the hate. The WWE were forced to turn him heel and jobbed him out pretty heavily until he left. I still don’t know whether or not the WWE made the right move.

On one hand, Daniel Bryan was as over as over gets and his story through Wrestlemania XXX was one of the best ever told. However, his story ended at Wrestlemania XXX. Much like Chris Benoit ten years prior, there wasn’t anything left to tell once he became champion. His popularity was starting to fade even before he was permanently sidelined with an injury. Batista as champion through the summer would have brought mainstream attention once Guardians of the Galaxy exploded – something that the WWE was sorely lacking.

In the end, the WWE was in a no win situation. They did the best that they could with the information they had and the landscape at the time.


Overall.

2014 is a good Royal Rumble. The first 29 entrants provided some fun stuff that really made the match flow nicely. Unfortunately, this one was hurt tremendously by the fans turning on everyone once they realized Daniel Bryan wasn’t going to be involved. Without the ending falling flat on its face, the 2014 may very well have cracked my top ten.

The Rebuttal – by SirSam, aka Sam Brown:

So no doubt everyone remembers this Rumble for the time that WWE stuffed up their booking so badly that Rey Mysterio got booed. Indeed, I will acknowledge up front that it sucks that Daniel Bryan didn’t show up in the 2014 Royal Rumble. However, when we are looking at ranking it amongst other Royal Rumbles, we have to look at the match for what it actually is - not what people wanted at the time. The cold hard facts are that this Rumble is far better than it ever gets credit for.

This match is defined by the rise of The Shield and is a high water mark of their power in the company. Seth Rollins starts and as each of the members enter throughout the intensity level rises. The other combatants in the fight - guys like CM Punk, Cody Rhodes, Goldust, Kofi Kingston and Jimmy Uso had previously been on the receiving end of The Shield’s beatings. As a result, they worked tirelessly to keep them all apart. However whenever The Shield do manage to combine either as an incomplete duo or as a trio they immediately take control the ring and eliminations are not far off. The ending sequence of the match is kicked off when Dean Ambrose attempts to eliminate Roman Reigns and Reigns returns the favour by actually eliminating both Ambrose and Rollins.

This kind of clear consistent narrative that runs throughout the match gives it a clear beginning, middle and ending and allows the other performers a chance to get their spots in (such as Kofi Kingston's insane jump from the barricade back to the ring) without the match ever feeling like it lacks momentum or is simply made up of unrelated spots. I would actually not be surprised if the 2018 Rumble takes on a similar shape to 2014 with three members of The Shield being the anchors for the action.

No though doubt Dave has pulled out the fact that Batista took the win here and wants to hold it against the Rumble overall but even that I will defend. While it was not warmly received by the crowd at the time (to put it mildly) once it gets down to the final 3 Batista is easily the freshest of them and at the end is facing off against a Roman Reigns that has no experience in this situation so is outsmarted and out-maneuvered but not overpowered. It is a smart ending that too many disqualify because it wasn’t who they wanted.

Overall this match is a great example of a Rumble that tells a unified story and even takes the opportunity to make a star in the meantime that is criticized by fans who can’t appreciate something that is different to what they want.


That’s a wrap kids. Tune in next week to see which Rumble ranked #18 on the countdown. Agree or disagree? Sound off below!

Facebook: David Fenichel
Twitter: @FFFightLeague

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