The Eternal Optimist Presents: Ranking The Royal Rumbles (#2)

QUESTION OF THE DAY:  Do you believe having the WWE or Universal Title on the line adds or detracts from the Royal Rumble match?


Hi kids.

Welcome back to another edition in my Royal Rumble column series.

In today’s column, I’ll discuss the Royal Rumble that came in at 2nd place on my 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.

No rebuttal for this entry – sorry folks.

Here is where the countdown currently stands – links to the previous columns are embedded:

Without further ado, here’s the Rumble that came in at #2 on the countdown:


#02:  The 2016 Royal Rumble:

The Roster:

  1. Roman Reigns
  2. Rusev 
  3. AJ Styles
  4. Tyler Breeze 
  5. Curtis Axel 
  6. Chris Jericho 
  7. Kane 
  8. Goldust 
  9. Ryback 
  10. Kofi Kingston 
  11. Titus O’Neill 
  12. R Truth 
  13. Luke Harper 
  14. Stardust 
  15. Big Show 
  16. Neville 
  17. Braun Strowmann 
  18. Kevin Owens 
  19. Dean Ambrose 
  20. Sami Zayn 
  21. Erick Rowan 
  22. Mark Henry 
  23. Brock Lesnar 
  24. Jack Swagger 
  25. The Miz 
  26. Alberto Del Rio 
  27. Bray Wyatt 
  28. Dolph Ziggler 
  29. Sheamus
  30. Triple H

I wouldn’t call the 2016 roster the best in the history of the event, but it was plenty good.  There were a few too many jobbers towards the back end, but man was it strong at the top.  Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Brock Lesnar, Triple H, Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens and A.J. Styles were all bonafide superstars.  There was plenty of strength in the upper mid-card with the likes of The Wyatt Family, The League of Nations, The Miz and Kofi Kingston.  The Big Show and Kane always add value to every Rumble that they participate in, and 2016 was no exception.  

All in all, while the roster wasn’t strong enough to earn additional points on the countdown, it also wasn’t weak enough to detract from the amazingly high score that I gave every other aspect of the match.

The Storylines & Flow:

It should be obvious by its ranking on the countdown that I found the 2016 Royal Rumble to be unbelievably compelling.  I can’t start anywhere else but with Roman Reigns.  I feel the need to dispel some “truths” surrounding Roman Reigns at the beginning of 2016.

A lot of people want to play revisionist history and take a giant dump on the WWE for featuring Roman so prominently in the manner that they did.  The REAL truth is that he’s never been booked better than he was towards the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016.  The WWE stopped putting him in positions to be unsuccessful and booked him against legitimate heels that people legitimately wanted to see him beat.  He spoke less and let his actions do the talking.  His world title win over Sheamus that saw him thwart Vince McMahon led to a thunderous explosion from the crowd.  Anything other than admitting that the Roman Reigns’ train was rolling along at this point in time is silly and incorrect.

This match had such a great built in story line to it.  The WWE had effectively positioned Roman as the anti-authority character he needed to be at the time.  The 1992 Royal Rumble is considered one of the best in history largely because of the stakes.  The WWE was smart to put the title on the line here.  it raised the profile of the match and by putting Roman as champ in at #1, the match felt important from the minute it started until the minute it ended.

Everything about this match is just so damn good that I struggle with where to begin.  I liked that the WWE went with Roman v Rusev to start the match.  They were the final two in the previous year’s Royal Rumble and I always enjoy when the WWE provides that type of continuity.  Furthermore, Rusev was a member of The League of Nations, an authority-backed heel stable whose primary purpose was to take out Reigns.  A quick elimination of Rusev got the crowd going and into the match immediately.

A.J. Styles showing up out of nowhere at #3 shocked everyone, myself included.  I’ll comfortably state that this was my second favorite surprise in any Royal Rumble match – the only one better to be discussed in the #1 entry.  There had been rumors that Styles was going to sign with the WWE, but those rumors had died down a bit and all speculation was that A.J. would end up in NXT like everyone else that comes in from outside of the company.

Kudos to the WWE for recognizing what they had.  It was A.J. freakin’ Styles.  The rules that applied to other superstars with other organizations need not apply to him.  Instead, they put him in a prominent position in the Royal Rumble and immediately booked him as an EQUAL to their biggest star during the early course of the match.

Most wrestling fans already knew who Styles was, but the WWE booked him in the 2016 Rumble in a manner that told anyone who didn’t that he was a massive star and he was important.  The ramifications from this cannot be understated.  A.J. went on to headlining success almost immediately.  His initial reign atop the Smackdown brand as WWE champion was amongst the best in history and ultimately helped usher in a golden age for the show.  He’s one of if not THE top merchandise mover in the company and he more than helped soften the blow of the WWE losing the services of Daniel Bryan.  

As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, events within a Rumble that have significant long-term impact are major point scorers on my countdown.  This was one of the biggest.

Aside from the tremendous star power and singular story carrying the early portion of the Rumble, the WWE did a few subtle things that really helped with the flow of the match. 

Axelmania running wild was great.  In fact, all of the Social Outcasts out-kicked their coverage in this match.  The Social Outcasts were a jobber stable not to be taken seriously.  Their role in this Rumble was perfect – they made both Roman Reigns and A.J. Styles look incredibly strong.

R-Truth is someone that consistently provides value even in minor roles.  I loved his involvement in the 2016 Rumble.  Bringing out a ladder and climbing it to reach for a title that wasn’t there is one of the more underrated comedic moments in Royal Rumble history.  These are the types of moments that are often forgotten about but really help keep the match moving along upon re-watch.

One of the places where this Rumble really distinguished itself from say, 1992, is the decision to remove Roman Reigns from the match a little less than halfway through.  From a story line standpoint, it made sense to have The League of Nations do Vince’s dirty-work and take him out.  From a big picture standpoint, it was a home run on many levels.

As I mentioned in my write-up on 1992, the shortfall of that match is that everyone else stood around while the entire match was all about Ric Flair.  Once the title was on the line and once Roman Reigns was announced as the #1 entrant, you knew that he’d have to be involved from the start of the match until the finish.  There was absolutely no need to have him do a coast-to-coast run.  He’s not Ric Flair and he never will be.  Any attempt at doing so would have felt like a watered down version of 1992.

Instead, by removing Roman from the equation, the WWE allowed for plenty of time in the 2016 Rumble for other people to tell their portion of the story.  It made for a far more complete and re-watchable presentation.

As I’ve referenced in many of my entries, I’m such a sucker for hoss v hoss action.  With the shift towards smaller more athletic wrestlers in recent years, the WWE had also shifted away from hoss action being important in recent Royal Rumble matches.  I was happy to see that they decided to give the big men their fair shake through a great exchange between Strowman and The Big Show.  These moments pop the crowd and there’s still an appetite to see them within a Royal Rumble match.  

Kevin Owens was such a great heel at the time.  It was a great heat-building moment to see K.O. be the person to eliminate Styles.  There was EXCELLENT three way action between Owens, Styles and Neville prior to the elimination.  Not only did the elimination generate a tremendous amount of heat for KO, but it helped avoid a potential issue with booking the end of the match. 

Styles couldn’t be around at the finish.  He was so popular and his return such a shock that it would have detracted from the story that needed to be told.  Eliminating him a little over halfway through the match struck the correct balance between booking him strongly and keeping him away from the major angle at the end.

Man, I had completely forgotten that Brock Lesnar was in the 2016 Rumble until I re-watched it.  Like him or hate him, Brock generates tremendous excitement every single time he appears.  The 2016 Rumble was no exception.  He was awesome and did what he always does – elevate every match that he’s involved in to a more important event than it would otherwise be.

I absolutely loved the brief nature of his run and the way that the WWE went about his elimination.  He was such a force to be reckoned with that it made sense to have a stable gang up and do the deed.  I loved the proposed direction of Brock Lesnar v The Wyatt Family.  Brock v Bray Wyatt could have been a very compelling Wrestlemania 32 attraction, and the entire story line could have very easily led into Summerslam if booked correctly.  

Instead – the WWE abandoned ship for reasons still unbeknownst to me.  Nonetheless, that’s a conversation for another day.  Everyone expected the Rumble to come down to Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns.  It was such a shock to see Brock eliminated in relatively short order and not be a factor in the finish.  This was a great example of the WWE using someone’s tremendous star power to significantly enhance a Royal Rumble match without making the match all about said star.

When Roman Reigns showed back up during Sheamus’s entrance at the #29 spot, the crowd went nuts.  The angle from earlier in the Rumble had accomplished what it needed to do and when he started tossing wrestlers out right and left, his pending victory appeared to be inevitable.

Triple H showing up as the 30th entrant was a tremendous surprise.  I had advocated for him to do exactly this and it made for a compelling and surprising end to the match.

All in all – I simply can’t find a weakness in how any part of this match was booked.  It’s as close to flawless as one can ask for.

The Final Four:

The final four was incredibly compelling for obvious reasons.  On one side you had Roman Reigns and his main partner in crime in Dean Ambrose.  On the other end, you had authority figure Triple H and his number one henchmen in Sheamus.

The action in the final four was fast and furious.  Sheamus getting eliminated quickly was expected but the sudden elimination of Roman Reigns by Triple H certainly was not.  Once Triple H appeared and the dust settled, it felt like a foregone conclusion that Reigns and Triple H would square off as the final two.  When Reigns was dumped and Triple H was left to go one on one with Dean Ambrose, a jolt of excitement shot through the entire arena.

The ending sequence between Triple H and Dean Ambrose was amazing.  At no point during his entire WWE run was Dean Ambrose as close to being a top guy as he was here.  You really felt like he could do the impossible and win the WWE Title, and the fans were more than ready for it.  This was a gigantic push for him that led to two of his most prominent positions ever – an amazing main event against Triple H at the next PPV and a Wrestlemania spot against Brock Lesnar.

All in all, the final four was everything that you could ask it to be.

The Winner:

Triple H was such a shock winner.  I had advocated for it, but I didn’t really expect that the WWE would go down this path.  Most expected one of two outcomes – Roman Reigns to go coast to coast or Brock Lesnar to emerge victorious and set up a rematch from the previous Wrestlemania.

Triple H showing up to win the title was absolutely needed.  As mentioned earlier, Roman Reigns was incredibly strong as a baby-face but there was absolutely NO ONE that could match up with him as the top heel and the WWE clearly didn’t want to move Lesnar back into that position.  Triple H was the only sensible candidate and the execution was FLAWLESS.

It was impossible for the Rumble to elevate Triple H.  He was already one of the greatest superstars of all time and there wasn’t anywhere further “up” that he could go.  As you’ll see in both this and the #1 entrant on my countdown, I’m not going to hold it against a specific Rumble for not elevating a winner that could not possibly be elevating any further than he already was.

On the other hand, by having Triple H win, the 2016 did a tremendous amount to further elevate Roman Reigns.  Like him or hate him, Roman is this generation’s John Cena and the WWE has made a tremendous amount of money with him as their lynch pin for the past four Wrestlemania events.  

The WWE dipped their toe in the water with Roman at Wrestlemania 31 and didn’t ultimately pull the trigger.  They went all in on him the following year.  Much in the same way that his victory over Triple H at Wrestlemania 22 cemented John Cena’s status as “the guy”, Roman’s victory over Triple H at Wrestlemania 32 was the final stamp on his ascension to the top.

Overall:

All in all, this Rumble is as close to perfect in every way.  It was a razor thin decision between this and the Rumble that grabbed the number one spot on the countdown.  Ultimately, 2016 lost out simply because the biggest moment of the Rumble yet to come stood taller than any single moment that occurred in this one.

That’s a wrap kids.  Head back to the main page right now and check out my write-up on the Royal Rumble entry that snagged the #1 spot on the countdown.  Thank you for reading.  Sound off below!

I can best be reached on Twitter @The_Eternal_Optimist

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