Royal Rumble's Pittsburgh debut makes memorable weekend
The WWE Royal Rumble event made its debut in Pittsburgh, and it was a memorable weekend, but not for all the right reasons.
For me, the diary of the weekend starts Saturday as I was one the men behind putting on the Kevin Nash Rumble kickoff party with the legendary wrestler and now actor. A crazy day of last-minute logistics and weather left no shortage of stress. In the end, it all worked out and the Latitude Live theater at Latitude 40 was taken over by passionate wrestling fans being entertained by a Q&A session with the witty veteran.
The party also served as the after-party in a cross-promotion with Ring of Honor wrestling. It had an event earlier in the evening, and by midnight nearly the entire roster joined us: Chris Hero, Jimmy Jacobs, Truth Martini — just to name a few.
Rumble Sunday came, and before the matches at the arena, I had a radio pregame show recorded at the Blue Line Grille for TribLIVE radio with former WWE star Matt Hardy.
You couldn't see from wall to wall. The turnout was overwhelming but incredibly exciting. Hardy is in a terrific place in his life personally and professionally. He took every question and picture with every fan. For me, he's one of the best friends I've made from the wrestling business thus far. Thank you, Matt, for another enjoyable experience together.
Then came what brought us all to town. The Royal Rumble was sold out with an energetic crowd. When Bray Wyatt versus Daniel Bryan began the pay-per-view, it was little things that let me know this crowd was in it for the long haul. Things such as the fans clapping to the beat of the music as the creepy heels of the Wyatt Family walked to the ring. Or how about “Yes” chants, “No” chants and “oooooh” chants synced up to every kick, irish-whip or big dive in the match.
These crowd reactions have happened before, but usually the crowd gets tired, and it begins to dim down. Not this Pittsburgh crowd. They hung on every second of the action.
The crowd reacted to everything in the show, which for a while was music to WWE's ears, but would soon turn to a eulogy for the night's event.
Based upon Internet rumors as well as the hype surrounding his return, Batista was known to be a heavy favorite to win the 30-man battle royal match.
A few cheered for the first sighting of Batista on a WWE pay-per-view in years, but that couldn't compare to the anticipation of seeing Bryan get in the match as one of the 30 Superstars.
Wrestler after wrestler, countdown after countdown, the excitement built. We got all of the normal Rumble match shenanigans. Kofi Kingston did his annual spot of getting tossed outside the ring but his feet never hitting the floor before he gets back into the ring. Kevin Nash stayed in town and made an appearance. Finally, there was a new star born in Roman Reigns, who as I expected had a phenomenal showing.
As 28 Superstars entered the ring, anticipation and the Daniel Bryan chants got bigger. Big E. Langston came in at number 29. It was at that point I knew this wasn't going to go over well in another 90 seconds. I knew Rey Mysterio was advertised for the match and hadn't yet appeared.
As the buzzer hit for number 30, history was made. I never thought in my life I'd hear Mysterio get a chorus of a sold-out arena booing him. Typically Mysterio is a fan favorite and merchandise mover, but all of that went out the window when fans realized he had the last spot, which meant no Daniel Bryan.
An explosion of cheers out of spite erupted once Mysterio was eliminated moments later. The arena voiced its displeasure and chanted as one for Bryan.
It was wanting Bryan and not wanting what seemed to be the accurate popular rumor of Batista winning after six days of returning to WWE. It came down to Reigns, the enforcer for the last year of the top heel faction having the fans chant his name in support as he was the only one left with Batista. Four years of ring rust could now be highlighted as all eyes were on Batista, and he was less than crisp in his execution of moves. In the end, Batista got the victory.
I kept waiting for a displeased fan to storm the ring. It had that kind of an emotional backlash feeling as if a riot was about to break out. I watched from my ringside seat the faces of the referees kneeling on the floor outside the ring while Batista celebrated, I looked at one particular referee who mouthed “this is horrible.”
After the event went off the air, as Batista was leaving, he was embraced by a few fans who either knew him or were big fans of his. They were in the minority at this moment. So much so, a guy next to them was apparently screaming his unhappiness and thoughts toward Batista. The Royal Rumble winner responded with the middle finger to the guy's face and walked out.
Some could argue that WWE will look at this as there being no such thing as bad publicity. Social media was buzzing about the unhappiness. So, in the end, WWE has everyone's attention.
The other argument is WWE messed up big time and is in danger of building to its biggest WrestleMania ever around an arena full of unhappiness to its world title match.
Luckily for WWE, it has the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view in February. This is the last pay-per-view event before WrestleMania. This also is the last chance for an audible to be called on which wrestler will be involved in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match at WrestleMania.
Whoever said the customer is always right never met the decision maker in WWE.