Royal Rumble (January 24th)
The Royal Rumble match decided who would be the champion for the first time since Ric Flair won the WWF title in 1992. As Roman Reigns was champion going in, many fans were hoping he would be dethroned.It featured four matches on the main card aside from the Royal Rumble.
Charlotte defended her Divas Championship against Becky Lynch, New Day retained against The Usos, and Kalisto won the United States title from Alberto Del Rio. But by far the best was a Last Man Standing match for the Intercontinental title between champion Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens. They opened the show with what would’ve easily been a main event on any card. Ambrose retained, but it helped Owens a lot in
the long run.
The Royal Rumble was met with mixed reception. AJ Styles’ debut will certainly be remembered for years to come. One annoying aspect was Brock Lesnar getting eliminated only to walk away with no repercussions for The Wyatt Family. Reigns
getting taken out on the outside, helped to the back, and re-entering the match later (selling none of the injuries) was a huge negative as it didn’t make sense when you look back at previous Rumbles; anyone taken to the back would not be allowed to return.
Triple H went on to win the match and the title, which was unexpected to some, but also to legends like Bret Hart tiresome: “I didn’t like the decision that Triple H, surprise, put the belt on himself again… it just showed a real lack of imagination if you ask me”.
Personally I enjoyed the event. I liked that Triple H won as I didn’t expect it. The rest of the card was acceptable, and seeing AJ Styles in a WWE ring was like watching an alternate universe. I never believed it would happen, so WWE really outdid themselves and while I can understand some of the criticisms, the PPV delivered and didn’t end like previous Rumbles with a chorus of boo’s for the winner.
Fastlane (February 21st)
I don’t like this event much as it always feels like a throwaway. Not much happened in this one .. Becky and Sasha won a tag match against Team B.A.D, Kevin Owens retained the IC title against Ziggler, The Wyatt Family showed they could still lose to random teams like Big Show, Kane & Ryback, and Charlotte defended her title against Brie Bella.
Probably the only gem to be found in this mess was AJ Styles facing Chris Jericho for the first time. WWE let AJ do what he does, and Jericho showed what he’s paid to do. Y2J put Styles over, even though it was a little unnecessary to kick out of the Styles Clash so early in his WWE career. Regardless, AJ facing Jericho so early after debuting was a sign of things to come.
For no reason at all, a Superstars match broke out between Curtis Axel and R-Truth, wasting a couple of minutes which could’ve been given to the main event.
The main event was a triple threat to become #1 contender between Dean Ambrose, Brock Lesnar, and Roman Reigns. The predictable WWE super hero booking of Reigns told everyone he was 99.99% sure to win and face Triple H at Wrestlemania.
To me, I felt like the main event was decent, yet Brock Lesnar looked out-of-place and not well-suited for a triple threat match with two guys who were nowhere near his level of intensity. Reigns typically no-sold chair shots and other moves before spearing Ambrose for the win. Yawn! The fans were firmly in Ambrose’s corner so they didn’t like it too much.
Roadblock (March 12th)
Just another throwaway before Wrestlemania. It was a bit of a tease as it gave fans some hope of a different WM main event, but we all knew deep down nothing was going to change.
New Day retained against League Of Nations. Jericho made Swagger submit .. just because. Surprisingly, WWE found space to add a NXT Tag Team title match between The Revival and SAWFT which went down very well. I believe this was both teams debut on the main roster, and the reaction SAWFT got was pretty amazing. Rather telling of the main roster when NXT talents get all the buzz though .. and SAWFT were unsuccessful in their challenge.
Natalya put on a great performance against Charlotte, but could not take the title from her. Brock Lesnar was scheduled to face Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper in a handicap match, but due to Bray being injured .. Harper was fed to him and they lost the forgettable match and feud in four minutes. Sami Zayn and Stardust had a forgettable one before the main event.
The main event was actually pretty good despite the obvious outcome. What this did was show the fans what would’ve happened at Wrestlemania instead of HHH vs. Reigns. It would have been better received, as Ambrose showed he could go toe to toe with The Game. A false finish generated some excitement, but a pedigree put an end to a lengthy main event which was worthy of at least four stars. It helped to establish Ambrose as a main event player for the rest of the year.
Still, Roadblock should have generated a lot more excitement going into the biggest PPV of the year and it failed to deliver much outside the main event. A glorified house show.
NXT TakeOver: Dallas (April 1st)
What I love about NXT TakeOver events is they don’t happen every month, and when they do .. every match means something as the feuds and characters are built up over an extended period. With just five matches and a much lower budget than Wrestlemania, many considered TakeOver: Dallas superior in many aspects.
The first match was for the NXT Tag Team titles between American Alpha and champions The Revival. After 15-minutes of fast-paced exciting action with two teams displaying superb chemistry, American Alpha made themselves known by winning the titles. An excellent way to start the show.
Next up was the debut of “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” Austin Aries, facing off against the arrogant big man Baron Corbin. Despite it being the weakest match on the card, Aries made Corbin look good in defeat, and almost a year later we are beginning to see Corbin challenge for the WWE Championship.
Shinsuke Nakamura made his debut and instantly became a star in the WWE universe, so much so that some said he should appear at Wrestlemania in the main event. The NJPW style translated over into his debut match with Sami Zayn, who was there defending the honour of NXT and vowing to leave the promotion on a high. It was a brutal and very exciting match which many will consider match of the year.