REQUESTING FLYBY: A Story Driven Preview Of The 2016 Royal Rumble
Jan 22, 2016 - 7:00:21 AM
A Story Driven Preview Of The 2016 Royal Rumble
Two weeks ago, I wrote to all of you imploring you to get excited about WWE’s 2016, on the back of the brilliant booking decision on the 01/04 Raw to make Roman Reigns defend his WWE World Heavyweight Championship against 29 other men in the Royal Rumble match, something that has never happened before. Since then, we’ve had the return of Brock Lesnar and the revelation that he’ll also be in the Rumble despite not wanting to be, a secondary screwing of Reigns by fixing his entry at number one (using the exact tumbler they used for Austin in 1999, no less), and a dominant few weeks for The Wyatt Family. My fellow columnist The Doc took up the cry for positivity towards this year's show on Tuesday, as have my colleagues on LOP Radio’s The Right Side Of The Pond. The thing is, when I started thinking yesterday, I realised that as well as all the “smart” reasons for feeling excited for the January classic, there were a heap of STORY reasons as well, which I believe shows just how far WWE have come from last January when there wasn't a story in sight. Like my colleague ‘Plan, I believe that WWE is best viewed through the “shared universe” vision of something like the Marvel films or the Buffyverse, and when you actually comb through the narratives, you realise just how closely linked events and causations actually are, and how much history has gone into creating this Royal Rumble. Here are the story arcs of the main players.
The alpha male of The Shield has been through hell and back through 2014 to present. Having huge issues with his brother Dean Ambrose in the lead up to and during the 2014 Royal Rumble, he nevertheless tasted personal success by breaking Kane’s longstanding elimination record. The intervention of The Wyatt Family on The Shield’s turf in February of that year forced the Hounds of Justice to reconcile and they ultimately waged a successful war against The Authority as represented by The New Age Outlaws, Kane and Evolution. However, at the very peak of their success, The Shield were splintered from within as Seth Rollins was revealed as Triple H’s “Plan B”. Following this betrayal, Roman was lost in a vain pursuit of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship before finally waking up to the danger of Rollins after Summerslam. Before he could avenge the on the shelf Dean Ambrose, Reigns suffered an injury. Upon his return, he fought his way through The Big Show and Kane, before going one better than the year before and winning the Royal Rumble. Unfortunately, he found crowds on his back and the people's favourite Daniel Bryan goading him into putting his Wrestlemania title match on the line at Fast Lane. Despite surviving that threat, Roman would be unsuccessful at Wrestlemania due to the cash in of his former brother Seth Rollins. After failing to win the title in a Fatal Fourway, Reigns entered the Money In The Bank ladder match, and was within touching distance of the briefcase when Bray Wyatt reared his ugly head. “Anyone but you Roman,” was the mantra of the Eater of Worlds, and Reigns needed back up from his loyal friend Ambrose to fight off the threat of the Family again. Due a title match against Seth Rollins at Survivor Series, he was robbed of it by fate when the champion was forced to vacate. A title tournament followed in which The Big Dog fought through the likes of Cesaro, Del Rio, and Ambrose to finally win the big one...only to have it snatched away from him by Sheamus, who had ironically won the Money In The Bank match after Wyatt intervened to stop Roman. After the cash in, Reigns took out his frustration on Triple H, destroying the C.O.O with fifteen minutes of pure frustrated brutality. Provoking the ire of The Authority in this way ironically gave the former Shield man the chance to win his title back, which he duly did. Defending it successfully despite a stacked deck led us to where we stand today: the champion facing almost certain defeat, with a huge target on his back. Is there any way he can get to Wrestlemania with his title reign intact?
The Beast Incarnate had a number of hurdles to overcome in 2015. Having been the dominant force in the company from his defeat of CM Punk at Summerslam 2013 until his defeat of Seth Rollins and John Cena at Royal Rumble 2015, Lesnar suddenly found things starting to slip away at Wrestlemania XXXI. Stunned and bleeding, he faced the very real prospect of losing to upstart challenger Roman Reigns when Seth Rollins’ music hit. As the match became a triple threat, he frustratingly found himself not a part of the decision, as The Architect pinned Reigns to steal The Beast’s championship. Volcanic with rage, Brock demanded, through his advocate Paul Heyman, to have an instant rematch the next night on Raw, only to be mocked and trolled by Seth, who never intended to go through with such a thing. Provoked to the top of his bent, Lesnar destroyed the ringside area, taking out the lead announcers in the process. A smirking Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley declared Brock suspended indefinitely from WWE, leaving Seth, her chosen champion, the scope to avoid the vengeance of The Anomaly. At home kicking his heels, Lesnar was suddenly granted a reprieve as part of Triple H’s desire to make his handpicked successor probe himself amidst more and more cowardly and petulant behaviour. The return of The Beast was spectacular as he maimed J&J Security and Kane, leaving Rollins without protection. However, at Battleground he was foiled again as a Ghost of Wrestlemania Past arrived in the form of The Undertaker. Faced with the prospect of once again facing the man whose Streak he broke, Lesnar was confident about cementing his reputation as conqueror even further, but he hadn't reckoned with the Deadman’s sheer desire to get his win back, and the dirty tactics used by the veteran grappled saw him grab the victory. Stung by this further affront to his dominance, The Anomaly finished the job at Hell In A Cell in an almost unhinged main event in the titular cell. With all obstacles cleared by his client, Paul Heyman believed that Brock should now have an automatic pass to the main event of Wrestlemania, but he reckoned without the business savvy of the McMahons, who understand the box office appeal of Lesnar cannot be confined purely to Jerry World. The Conqueror now enters the Rumble with a sense of entitlement, something he made clear by decimating the top half of the roster on the 01/18 Raw. However, his cloak of invincibility may be slipping as Bray Wyatt and his Family led a successful ambush on this week's go home show. Nevertheless, only a fool would bet against The Beast’s chances of success this Sunday...wouldn't they?
Bray Wyatt and His Family
The machinations of the Eater of Worlds are clear only to him. Having targeted Kane, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, The Shield, John Cena, Chris Jericho, Dean Ambrose and The Undertaker in his first two years in WWE, it is clear that he targets the heroes of this world and seeks to bring them low. Chinks in the armour of the feted, hypocrisy, streaks of hubris, this psychological master can find them all. Whether he wins or loses the matches is irrelevant to him in many ways. It is mental degradation that he seeks to bring about. In the middle of 2014, Bray set his Family free to further their development, but both he and they were lesser than the sum of their parts when they were apart. After resurrecting The Undertaker and coming off the worse for it, Bray went after Roman Reigns with one thing in mind: “Anyone but you, Roman.” Bringing back Luke Harper as his hitman at Battleground, Wyatt then brought in his “Black Sheep”, the hulking Braun Strowman as a difference maker. By Night Of Champions, Erick Rowan was back too, and the original modus operandi of the Wyatts - playing the numbers game - was back. Although The Eater Of Worlds was unsuccessful in defeating Roman Reigns inside the Cell, he promised that one day their paths would cross again. What we didn't realise was how soon that might be. Having sharpened themselves up with dominant displays against the ECW Originals, The Wyatt Family dramatically materialised on Raw during the confrontation between the McMahons and Roman Reigns. “Anyone but you, Roman...anyone but you.” The Wyatts put an explanation mark on their plan to dominate by also taking out The Big Show, Ryback, and most impressively of all, Brock Lesnar, who Bray even had the audacity to kiss on the forehead on signature style before Sister Abigail. Remember that The Eater Of Worlds was dominant through most of the Rumble last year without the benefit of back up. What might he do this year with the prospect of three mighty big men to help him win?
The self-appointed “prize fighter” came in from the indy cold with one goal in mind: to provide for his family by competing for the largest purses possible. How to do that? By winning prizes, of course. His betrayal of long term friend Sami Zayn in December 2014 was the first step in a calculating path to the top, and his mind games with Zayn led to a dominant NXT Title win at Takeover: Rival. Defending the title against Balor, Neville and Zayn, he repeated his mission statement over and over; the end justified the means. So long as he was providing for his family, he would do whatever it took, and he did not care whose feathers were ruffled in the process. Underlying all of this, though, was a deep seated insecurity, a chip on his shoulder a mile wide and deep. He had wrestled around the world for fourteen years. Why was everyone treating him a rookie? Why were they ignoring his pedigree? He would show everybody just how serious a contender he was by punking John Cena out on Raw, and then defeating him cleanly in the middle of the ring in his first main roster pay-per-view. After declaring that he had no use for Cena’s US Title during the run up to the first match, he suddenly decided he wanted it after all, even going so far as to cost Cesaro at the very point when the Swiss Superman looked set to dethrone the Franchise Player out of pure spite and jealousy. Owens’ twin losses to Cena at the next two pay-per-views and his loss of the NXT Championship to Fin Balor made him all the more determined to hold gold again, and so it was that he used his ring smarts to get a cheap win against Ryback and become the Intercontinental Champion. During the WWE World Heavyweight Championship Tournament, he sought to emulate the likes of The Ultimate Warrior by becoming Intercontinental and World Champion at the same time, but ran into a buzz saw named Dean Ambrose, a man who could not be intimidated or worked. This has been Owens’ greatest challenge to date, a man on whom mind games are completely ineffective. Ambrose took his Intercontinental Championship and has embarrassed Owens on numerous occasions. Now Owens has the opportunity to rid himself of The Lunatic Fringe in a gruelling Last Man Standing Match, and then enter the Rumble to claim the biggest prize of all. Are there any steps the Canadian will baulk at in his quest to be the ultimate prize fighter?
Ambrose’s world fell out from under him at the moment of Seth Rollins’ betrayal in June 2014. Having created stability for himself under the auspices of The Shield, the chair shot heard around the world comprehensively shattered that illusion. What was left for him to do but to pursue Rollins until vengeance was satisfied? From Money In The Bank to Summerslam, the pursuit was all encompassing. Every time Seth turned around, Dean was there, bursting out of a box or leaping from the boot of a car. And yet The Lunatic Fringe let his quarry slip through his fingers. At Money In The Bank, he could not overcome the interference of the Director Of Operations. At Battleground his obsession with revenge led to the match being thrown out before it ever started. At Summerslam, the numbers game was again decisive as Kane saved Rollins’ bacon a second time, and a night later, he was curb stomped through a pile of cinder blocks and put on the shelf. Rising from the ashes of this humiliation, Ambrose once again returned in an avenging fury at Night of Champions 2014, and came so close to gaining his final revenge on Seth, the brother who betrayed him, but the intervention of Bray Wyatt changed that in an instant. The Eater Of Worlds forced Ambrose to raise an army of demons from his soul, unleashing a kamikaze, self-destructive streak that led to Dean being beaten at TLC. But like any self-respecting lunatic, he got up, brushed himself down, and entered the Royal Rumble. And although he was not successful there, a snow walk to WWE HQ and a perusal of the history of the Intercontinental Championship saw Ambrose decide to resurrect the glories of the fabled second strap. However, a disqualification against Wade Barrett and a lottery of a ladder match saw him fail in that goal too. The thing with Dean, though, was the fact that fate had a funny way of bringing him back into focus. An opportunity on Raw saw him pin his arch enemy Seth Rollins to be added to the Fatal Fourway at Payback, and although Rollins escaped by pinning Randy Orton, it was Ambrose who came out of the match with the momentum, and a one on one title shot at Elimination Chamber had Rollins on the brink of losing his grip on the title, until a timely disqualification saw him retain on that age old technicality. However, Dean took the title as a ransom, and a ladder match was booked to determine its ultimate owner. In an epic confrontation, the two men systematically destroyed each other with psychotic abandon, until Rollins fortunately fell to the canvas with the contested piece of gold. Following this disappointment, The Lunatic Fringe would team up with his brother Roman Reigns to fight off the Wyatts, and their teamwork would bring back some fond memories of their days in The Shield. The bromance actually faced each other in the finals of the Survivor Series tournament, and Dean was happy to give his friend the spotlight after a competitive match ended in Reigns’ favour. As Ambrose had dispatched Kevin Owens in the semi-finals, and KO owned the Intercontinental Championship Ambrose had coveted since January, the two began a back and forth feud which featured Owens’ brand of psychological warfare against a Dean Ambrose unintimidated by such an approach, having learnt from his mistakes against Wyatt. Now Ambrose is the Intercontinental Champion, proudly wearing the title with the grand old history, and he has an opportunity to add to that legacy by defeating his enemy in a Last Man Standing Match. And once that is gone, what might The Lunatic Fringe do in the Rumble itself?
The Best of the Rest
The League of Nations features two members who are previous Rumble winners. Alberto Del Rio and Sheamus undoubtedly feel aggrieved and disrespected by the world, a world that refuses to acknowledge their previous success. Rusev has been dominant in the two Rumbles he has participated in, whilst Wade Barrett once led an invasion that looked set to change the face of the company. Anyone who underestimates this quartet is asking for trouble. The four men are more than capable of systematically taking apart the field together.
The New Day are united in all things. If one of them wins the Rumble, they ALL win the Rumble. Whether all three men enter, or whether one does, with support from the other two, it would be a New Day at Wrestlemania where they were ALL the main eventer. Kofi Kingston has the enviable skill of avoiding elimination in ingenious ways, Big E has the power to eliminate even superheavyweights, and Xavier...weren’t you paying attention? He has a PhD!
Chris Jericho’s best days are behind him, but try telling that to The Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah. He is in this Rumble because he believes that the people deserve Y2J in the main event of Wrestlemania, and he is in the Rumble match to ensure that it happens. Jericho has an excellent Rumble record, with notable performances in 2003 and 2009 in particular, but he has never won it. In fact, it’s one of the few WWE accolades he has never held. Will he put that right on Sunday?
Daniel Bryan lost the WWE World Heavyweight Championship he moved heaven and earth to win without ever being pinned or submitted. He came back last year, to enter the Rumble...and failed. He goaded Reigns into the title eliminator at Fast Lane...and failed. He won a consolation Intercontinental Championship, but injury called again. If Bryan is cleared to compete, can he work through the ring rust to finally perform to par in the Royal Rumble?
NXT stars eagerly await the call up to the main roster. Who will get the chance to announce themselves on the grand stage this Sunday? Or will a veteran of many other companies finally arrive to change the game?
I hope that you’re all excited now. Enjoy Sunday...it’s the best weekend of the wrestling year!
This is Maverick, requesting flyby!