Cheap Heat: Integrity of the Royal Rumble By Jacob Fox
The 2015 Royal Rumble has caused more division in wrestling fandom than any previous rumble, including the divisive 2014 match. Shortly after Daniel Bryan’s elimination only 10 minutes after entering at number 10, the Philadelphia crowd died. As we all know now, the crowd booed the eventual winner Roman Reigns and even heckled arguably the most popular wrestler in history, the Rock. Only minutes after, Bryan fans were yelling foul and Reigns fans were calling them crybabies.
The following night on Raw, WWE did the most remarkable damage control they had ever done in history. Daniel Bryan was a gracious loser. Paul Heyman, the most underutilized talent in WWE, did a remarkable job in his interview with Lesnar and Reigns. Even I, a diehard Bryan fan and a critic of Reigns, was drawn in by Heyman’s interview prowess.
I was surprised shortly afterwards, though, when Triple H announced the “controversy” that shook up the Wrestlemania main event. It seemed that WWE was kowtowing to the vocal Daniel Bryan base and that troubled me. Now, I’ll be the first person to admit I would much rather see Bryan versus Lesnar than Reigns versus Lesnar. In my view, Reigns is too green and Lesnar too stiff to complement each other. However, I think it is not in the WWE’s best interests to tinker with the main event the way they are doing. Despite the obvious giving in to the fan base, the integrity of the Royal Rumble itself may be at stake,
Before 1992, the Rumble match was the equivalent of an all star game. It was an exhibition match that carried with it absolutely no real meaning. The first two rumbles were won by “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and Big John Studd, respectively and neither man benefited subsequently. Hulk Hogan won the next two rumbles, one of them while he was champion, because at the time Hogan had this tendency to win any match in which he participated.
Putting the WWF Championship on the line in the 1992 Rumble accomplished several things. It gave the match meaning for the first time. In subsequent years, in order to not diminish the importance of the match, a world title match at Wrestlemania has been guaranteed. This kept the current champion out of the match, so he did not appear weak if he did not win. A new talent could break through with a victory.
The 1992 rumble match itself ended up being the greatest performance by its eventual winner, Ric Flair, during his 18 month stay in the WWF. Flair had requested to enter the match early because he was used to putting on longer matches and wanted to put on a performance deserving of the championship. Entering at number three, lasting for over an hour and winning the WWF Championship made it appear to fans that anything was possible in the Rumble match. Flair’s performance made it even seem possible that a number one seed could eventually win.
Only twice has a Royal Rumble winner not been in a world title match at Wrestlemania. In 1997, Steve Austin was denied a title shot because he had re entered the ring due to the referees not seeing his elimination. In 1999, Vince McMahon relinquished his title shot which eventually went to Steve Austin. Although John Cena officially used his title shot in 2008 at No Way Out, he did still receive a WWE Championship match at Wrestlemania.
In 2014, to the annoyance of the vocal fans, Batista won the Royal Rumble. After a month of fans absolutely attacking WWE for not allowing Bryan in the Rumble, they finally acquiesced and gave Bryan an opportunity to join the main event. History, of course, has Bryan meeting that challenge successfully.
The 2015 situation is similar but different enough that WWE should not be doing what they currently have decided. Daniel Bryan was in the Royal Rumble and was fairly eliminated. Yes, he was never beaten for the WWE Championship, but that argument should not entitle him an opportunity to steal Reigns’s earned title shot from him. Allowing Bryan a match against either Reigns or Lesnar after Wrestlemania makes more sense.
The worry here is not that the Wrestlemania main event will be bad. There have been plenty of bad main events at the Super Bowl of wrestling. Try watching Hulk Hogan versus King Kong Bundy from Wrestlemania II if you can get through it. Then watch Undertaker versus Psycho Sid from Wrestlemania XIII. These things are bound to happen,
What is at stake, should WWE continue on the path they are on, is the integrity of the Royal Rumble match itself. Not only is it one of the most exciting matches of the year, it allows fans to dream aloud as to who will go to Wrestlemania. It gives fans two months or more to see proper build up to a title match. It allows a sport that is often criticized due to its scripted nature to have something that is consistent and entertaining. In short, the Royal Rumble is one of the things that harkens back to an early time in wrestling where tradition was important. Wrestlemania has changed many times format wise, length wise and such. But for 22 years the winner of the Royal Rumble has been offered a title match at Wrestlemania.
The situation with Reigns this year is different than it was with Austin or McMahon. Austin cheated to win and McMahon voluntarily relinquished his match. Roman Reigns earned his spot fairly and does not deserve to have it taken away.
Furthermore, pacifying Daniel Bryan’s fans two years in a row is not a good idea. In 2014, when Bryan took over Raw and got his opportunity, it was a good moment. He had twice been screwed out of the WWE title by the Authority and kept out of the Rumble. It was a case of him beating the people who have held him down. In 2015, there is no such excuse. If he is inserted into the Wrestlemania main event in any way, it would only be because his fans demanded it. Kowtowing to your fans one time is not a big deal. If it is done twice, it becomes likelier to happen more often.
WWE should do what is best for the Royal Rumble and have Roman Reigns face Lesnar one on one at Wrestlemania. Bryan will have his title shots in the future. He will also look better earning those title shots through being the hardest worker in WWE, not getting them out of pity or anger. Most of all, Reigns needs to main event Wrestlemania in order to insure in the future that fans know that the Royal Rumble winner will headline Wrestlemania.
The future is always more important than a current quick fix.