By Luke Winkie
January 26, 2015

The Ascension look strong, but who cares?


Tonight, The Ascension found redemption...#TheAscension have risen. #RoyalRumble

Une photo publiée par WWE (@wwe) le

It’s good that The New Age Outlaws did the right thing and put over The Ascension clean. The promise of a legacy where these guys go around and squash old former tag-teams could be pretty fun, and the heat they got off the pin wasn’t an accident.

But here’s the thing: as good as it is that these dudes aren’t getting buried, is anyone prepared to care about The Ascension? They can’t talk, their gimmick is either cheeky or stupid, they don’t particularly have the look, and their in-ring work is shoddy. I don’t dislike the dudes, but I wasn’t a fan in NXT and not really a fan now.

The idea of getting called up from developmental is counter-intuitive. I get that. However, as much as it’s painful to say, some guys don’t have it. The Ascension don’t have it.

Hey! The Divas got time!

I’d be lying if I said I remembered a ton of this Diva’s match. I remember the double suplex thing the Bellas did, I remember Natty’s fighting spirit, and Brie ripping Paige off the ropes. I do remember them getting a significant amount of time, which, considering I’ve seen recent PPV Divas matches last less than a minute, seems like a good trend!

Early Match of the Year candidate

It speaks to the fickleness of your average wrestling fan that the #CancelWWENetwork hashtag popped up on the same night as this match.

Man oh man, was this good! 

Brock Lesnar looked almost more beastly than he did when he killed Cena at SummerSlam. The first 10 minutes of this thing is him stomping around the ring alternatively wrecking Rollins and Cena while Paul Heyman makes vampire faces at ringside. I’ve never seen a man so powerful and so bored. I think that’s what makes Lesnar so scary; he doesn’t need any facial expressions to rip you limb from limb.

That Phoenix Splash from Rollins. Holy cow, was that incredible.

I actually sort of bought that injury Brock was selling on the table. Rollins landed on him hard. Broken ribs did not seem out of the question.

Cena and Rollins have gotten so good at wrestling each other that we just kind of take it for granted. That sequence they had without Lesnar was some of the best stuff on the entire show.

Lastly, Lesnar kicking out after three AAs and a curbstomp was unbelievable. I don’t think Brock has looked more scary in his entire career. Reigns had better check himself if he thinks he’s taking the strap off with that dopey Superman Punch.

Ranking the Royal Rumble surprise entrants

  1. Bubba Ray Dudley. I loved him doing old Dudleyz moves with a bewildered R-Truth. Him getting dumped by Bray was a great precursor for all the hearts he was going to break.
  2. Diamond Dallas Page. Bonus points for wearing a DDPYoga shirt. He basically just Diamond Cutter’d everyone and gave Rusev some heat. Not a bad guest spot!
  3. Boogeyman. Bray ate him alive. Nobody cares about the Boogeyman.

Daniel Bryan getting eliminated was my favorite thing from The Royal Rumble

Part of appreciating wrestling is understanding that sometimes hating the product is a good thing.

Daniel Bryan is standing outside the ropes. Bray Wyatt, sensing opportunity, charges forward and pushes him off the edge. The crowd slumps, and you feel the energy get tapped from the stadium. There’s booing and some chants, but it’s mostly just a Daniel Bryan-shaped hole in our hearts. It reminds me of when Shawn Michaels got knocked out by Batista, costing his shot at a rematch with The Undertaker.

I love this. I love how early it came, I love that Bray is the one responsible, and I love how it positions Daniel Bryan as the guy we need to will into relevance. He’s at his most over when he’s getting, or at least appears to be getting buried. The way JBL puts it over, the way the camera swings in on Bryan’s devastated face, it’s all outstanding.

If you’re mad, good. You’re supposed to be mad. You need to get worked to enjoy good wrestling.

Dolph had me, then he lost me

We’ll get to Roman’s… colorful coronation in a second. But I have to say, WWE must be self-aware enough to understand the divisiveness of crowning Reigns, so it’s a little strange how much they thoroughly heeled it up down the stretch. You had Dolph, Ryback, and Bray all unceremoniously dumped over the top ropes, setting the internet ablaze. You had that incredible moment with Roman and Ambrose in the ring, clutching each other’s heads like the brothers they are, before storming in against Big Show and Kane. Ambrose was dumped, and the fix was in.

I think Dolph was the most heartbreaking. When he was the last to enter, I really did believe for a few minutes. I was wrong. But I believed.

I’m all for working the crowd. Like I said, I loved Daniel Bryan’s early exit. But man, you were making an audience pretty angry leading up to a victory that you knew was going to cause some disruptions. In a perfect world, they should’ve had Batista enter at 30. Maybe that would’ve gotten the people on Reign’s side.

Roman Reigns is okay

Roman Reigns won the 2015 Royal Rumble. He managed to pull Kane and Big Show over the ropes at the same time, and dodged an oncoming Rusev playing possum under the apron. He pointed at the WrestleMania sign with blood in his mouth and tears in his eyes.

He was also booed incessantly. Seriously from the moment he made his way to the ring, to each of his eliminations, to his celebration with The Rock (THE ROCK!) the crowd refused to let up.

This isn’t as big of a deal as it may seem. This is in Philadelphia, the city that famously booed Santa Claus. Earlier in the night they gave the same treatment to John Cena, who’s doing fine business-wise, last I checked. Personally, I was disappointed. I like Roman fine, he has plenty of upside, but I’d rather see Bray, or Dolph, or, yeah, Daniel Bryan take home the Rumble.

However, the people acting like putting Reigns over this way is a travesty really need some perspective.

Roman Reigns is 29. He spent a couple years in NXT and debuted with The Shield, then The Authority’s SWAT team, in 2012. By 2014, The Shield had completely taken off, and he’s been a key part of some phenomenal matches with The Wyatt Family, The New Age Outlaws, and Evolution twice. Six months, ago everyone loved him. Seriously, there wasn’t a single person deriding the dude for anything. Then, he had a couple of bad promos over these last few weeks.

Keep in mind, his in-ring work is still solid, his look is still impeccable, and he still cocks his fist like a gun and punches the ground. But he said a weird thing about Jack and the Beanstalk on Raw and suffering succotash on Smackdown, so now he’s become the biggest target for a depressingly entitled internet wrestling scene.

It seems to me that the problem people have with Roman has less to do with his wrestling and more to do with his becoming too big. You’re loved, you’re held up, and people sour on you before you know it. There’s this natural issue people have with the idea that the WWE could possibly know what you might like. So when Roman gets tapped for greatness, a response to his genuine over-ness, there’s an immediate cantankerous reaction. You might not think it’s possible to hate Dolph, or Daniel Bryan, or Bray Wyatt, but you absolutely can. Remember when you started to hate The Rock, or John Cena, or Hulk Hogan, or Edge, or anyone who’s been given widescreen opportunities? Daniel Bryan was protected from that stain because he got injured; who knows what you’d think of him if he were carrying the title into Mania this year? People were already turning on him during his Kane feud. There was a meme that sprung up on various wrestling sites about “Roman Looking Strong,” and how that’s a bad thing, how we don’t like WWE making Roman Look Strong. But again, is that really about Roman? Or is it about the WWE’s audacity to make a star?

Roman Reigns has a ton of promise. He’s most of the way there. Destroying him for getting this opportunity in the early moments of his career is bonkers. Remember last year? And how desperately we wanted to see him outlast Batista? There are ulterior motives here. You know it and I know it.

Roman will be fine. He isn’t my first choice, and the tepid reaction to his win has much more to do with Daniel Bryan’s early departure than it does with his actual reputation. I feel the frustration, but the next time you assassinate Reigns’ character, make sure you understand exactly why you’re angry.

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