It was the event that paved the Road to Wrestlemania. Fans at the Amway Arena, in Orlando, Florida, anxiously awaited the WWE Royal Rumble, specifically, the match of the same name that would headline the event. It promised to be a night full of action, drama and anticipation. Prior to the main event, there were four matches that proved to be entertaining and action-packed. The first contest was a Last Man Standing Match for the WWE Intercontinental title.

The champion, Dean Ambrose battled Kevin Owens in a wild and action-packed match, with just one rule. To win the match, a wrestler must incapacitate his opponent, so he does not answer the ten count. That gave the competitors free reign to do whatever they wanted to each other. Outside the ring, Ambrose set up a table and positioned his opponent there. The champion went up to the top turnbuckle and hit a diving elbowdrop to his opponent. Both wrestlers crashed through the table, and the crowd went nuts.

The conclusion came once Owens placed four steel chairs in the middle of the ring. With Ambrose flat on the chairs, the challenger climbed to the top rope. He attempted a moonsault onto Ambrose, but Dean popped up and pushed his opponent off the top. That push sent Owens crashing through two tables, that the wrestlers placed on the outside of the ring, earlier in the match. Ambrose stayed in the ring, as Owens was counted out. As a result, Dean Ambrose retained the Intercontinental title in a crazy, wild and exciting Last Man Standing Match. But, Ambrose’s night would get much better later on. WWE made sure the match was entertaining. At times, it was harsh for both wrestlers, but it was obvious that the fans enjoyed this match.

The WWE Tag Team Championships were at stake in the next match, as the champions, the New Day battled the Usos. These two teams have had numerous matches against each other – so there is familiarity between the teams. Jey Uso was likely about to win the titles after a splash on Kofi Kingston. But, he tagged Big E, without Jey seeing it. Big E entered and applied his Big Ending finisher on the Uso for the victory. The New Day retained the tag titles. The match was good, but it was nothing new. I think the champions need new challengers, because if they face the same team over and over again, the matches become repetitive and predictable. The WWE has to become creative in situations like this, because fans are already anticipating the outcome. Maybe bringing up a tag team from NXT, or even debuting a new tag team to feud with the New Day, would give the tag team scene a fresh and different feel.

In the month of January, Alberto Del Rio and Kalisto each became the United States Champion, by defeating each other in separate matches. Heading into the Rumble, Del Rio was the champion. The crowd was solidly supporting the challenger. The end came when Del Rio removed the turnbuckle padding to likely perform a move that would knock Kalisto out. However, the challenger never allowed that to transpire as he sent the champion into the exposed steel, and applied his Salida Del Sol finisher for the three count. The crowd was thrilled with the result. What a moment for that young man! It just goes to show that in wrestling, size does not really matter. You can accomplish anything if you have the heart and desire to succeed.

The match prior to the Rumble featured the Diva’s Champion, Charlotte and Becky Lynch, for the title. These two have an ongoing rivalry with each other. As a result, they are familiar with each other’s style and moves. The match concluded after the champion used a spear to pin her challenger. The fans were disappointed. I think it was the right call. Charlotte is doing well in her role as a heel performer. After all, she is learning how to act the part, from her father, Ric Flair, who was once dubbed “the dirtiest player in the game.” But, the best part occurred after the match.

Charlotte attacked Becky until Sasha Banks’ music hit. The crowd went crazy. She entered the ring and kicked Becky out. It seemed that Sasha and Charlotte were on the same page – they shook hands and high-fived each other. The champion was satisfied with what transpired, and attempted to leave the ring. The fans erupted in cheers when Banks attacked the champion and applied her Banks Statement submission. When she released the hold, she picked up the title, looked at it, and dropped it on Charlotte. That was a statement!

I sincerely hope the WWE paid attention to the crowd’s reaction during this segment. They should let those two women have a lengthy match at ‘Mania, and have Sasha win to give her the Wrestlemania moment she rightly deserves.

The main event was the 30-man Royal Rumble match. Elimination occurs when a wrestler is thrown over the top rope, and both feet hit the floor. The prize is usually a WWE Heavyweight Championship match at Wrestlemania. This year, Vince McMahon (who portrays a heel on television, despite the cheers he sometimes receives when walking to the ring) forced Roman Reigns to defend the title against the other 29 wrestlers. The champion was also given the number 1 entrant by Vince. It seemed as if the odds were stacked against Reigns retaining. The second entrant was Rusev. After some back and forth action, the champion eliminated his first challenger and Roman awaited the next participant.

When the buzzer sounded in the arena, strange music filled the building. Everyone was intrigued. Someone very familiar to wrestling fans stood on the ramp, with his face covered. When he removed his hood, it was A.J. Styles. Styles is someone who wrestled in T.N.A. (which ran most of their shows in Orlando) and in Japan. The crowd went wild. He was eventually eliminated by the number 18 entrant – Kevin Owens. Styles made an excellent showing for himself in his WWE debut, lasting 30 minutes in the Rumble match and eliminating a couple of wrestlers.

Entry number 20 was another pleasant surprise. As the music played, the crowd started to stand and cheer because they knew who it was – one of the best wrestlers in NXT, Sami Zayn. He went right after Owens, in a continuation of their rivalry in NXT. Sami eventually eliminated Kevin, and the crowd was fired up for that. Unfortunately, Sami was thrown out by Braun Stroman, after Luke Harper and Erick Rowan weakened Zayn. I hope that when Zayn gets called up to the main roster for good, he and Kevin Owens would get the opportunity to resume their rivalry. They can have some great matches, if their battles on NXT are any indication.

Number 23 was my pick to win the Rumble, Brock Lesnar. As soon as he entered, he began suplexing everyone in sight, much to the crowd’s pleasure. Lesnar eliminated Jack Swagger, Erick Rowan, Luke Harper and Braun Stroman. The next man to enter was Bray Wyatt. He took his time entering the ring, because there was a plan. Rowan, Harper and Stroman re-entered the ring, and attacked Brock. Bray Wyatt entered and joined in the attack. Eventually, all four of the Wyatt Family members eliminated Lesnar to the disappointment of the crowd. Now, should the three who were eliminated re-enter the Rumble? There is no way that should be allowed, but there are no rules against that in a battle royal. So, the Wyatt Family took advantage of the rules, and eliminated one of the biggest stars in the match.

In the middle of the match, Vince McMahon and the League of Nations (Sheamus, Del Rio, Rusev, and Wade Barrett) appeared at ringside. Vince demanded the League pull Reigns from the ring. They obeyed the orders. They grabbed Roman and pulled him out from under the ropes. The League of Nations relentlessly attacked the champion, as McMahon looked on gleefully. They placed Reigns on the French announcer’s table and Rusev ran from one table to the final table, hitting a huge splash on Roman, breaking the French table. This move looked to be the end of Roman Reigns night, even though he was never officially eliminated from the match. So, it seemed as if a new champion would be crowned, as Roman went backstage to “check for injuries.”

The second to last entrant was Sheamus. As he entered, he was attacked by Roman Reigns. Fans booed, as the champion re-entered the fray. The final entrant was a surprise. This wrestler got cheered for two reasons. One, he is credited for helping NXT (which is based out of Orlando) become as popular as it is, and because fans saw it as the best opportunity for a new WWE Champion to be crowned. That man, is Triple H.

The final four were Reigns, Triple H, Sheamus, and Dean Ambrose. Sheamus tried to eliminate the champion with a Brogue Kick, but landed on the ring apron. Reigns then used his Superman Punch to knock Shemus off the apron, for the elimination. Then, Triple H eliminated Reigns from the match. The fans loudly cheered this, because it meant a new champion would be crowned, heading into Wrestlemania. So, who would it be? Tripe H? Or Dean Ambrose? Fans were anxious to find out.

It seemed as if the crowd was a little more supportive of Ambrose. After a few minutes of back and forth action, Ambrose threw his adversary over the top rope, but Triple H landed on the apron. When he re-entered the ring, Triple H ended it by backdropping Dean to the arena floor, therefore winning his 14th WWE Heavyweight Championship. Despite their support for Ambrose, the fans were relatively happy with the result. The new champion celebrated in the ring with his wife Stephanie, and father-in-law, and owner of the company, Vince McMahon. In the end, I think everyone was thrilled there was a new champion.

The Road to Wrestlemania has officially begun. All that is known is Triple H will defend his title. The opponent will be decided at the next event, WWE Fastlane. I am sure there will be some surprises along the way to make ‘Mania a must watch. The WWE usually puts on intriguing and memorable television over these upcoming months, so we will see what transpires.

The Royal Rumble was indeed action-packed

Azeem Kayum

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