WWE fans were not ready for Bryan to be shunted back down to the upper midcard, judging by the ungodly reaction he received weeks earlier when he turned on the Wyatt Family. Many figured that, Batista's big return be damned, WWE needed to have Bryan win the 2014 Royal Rumble match, advance to WrestleMania, and conquer the evil Authority en route to regaining the WWE Championship. Of course, WWE felt much differently, and when "BOOYAKA BOOYAKA" blared after the final buzzer, the scene grew surreal.
The lack of Bryan in the Rumble match wasn't even the only controversy of the weekend, as another underdog-turned-WWE Champion wrestled what is to now his final match ever, before walking out the next day. Anger hung heavy in the air, from fans and performers alike.
10. The Gunn Show
The only title change on the night took place on the Rumble's pre-show, as The New Age Outlaws came together once more, defeating Goldust and Cody Rhodes to capture the WWE Tag Team Championship. It felt as though "The American Nightmare" had wandered into an Attitude Era fantasy camp (perhaps the same feeling Ronda Rousey had in the WrestleMania 34 mixed tag), but the Outlaws would parlay this win into a minor resurgence.
And for Billy Gunn, the moment marked a special occasion, as he became the third man in WWE history to win his 11th different WWE/World Tag Team title. Gunn previously reigned five times with Road Dogg, as well as twice with Chuck Palumbo, and three times with kayfabe brother Bart. He tied Kane's total of 11 reigns, but still sits behind Edge's all-time WWE record of 14.
9. Outlaws Ride Again
The brief nostalgia run for Road Dogg and Billy Gunn came during WrestleMania season, when that sort of nostalgia begins to run rampant in the minds and hearts of longtime fans. And to see the New Age Outlaws holding the belts once more (even if they were the ugly penny-press ones) was a nice little dose of Liquid Retro.
For the Outlaws, it marked the longest time between World/WWE Tag Team title reigns, nearly 14 years, which is a WWE record for two team members. While Gunn would hold the gold twice later with Chuck Palumbo, he and Dogg hadn't reigned together as a duo since losing the belts to The Dudley Boyz at No Way Out 2000. Some may have found the Outlaws' month-and-a-half run in 2014 a bit anachronistic, but they put over the Usos later, so it served a nice purpose.
8. Class Reunion
Before holding World titles hostage and spamming throws from his endless till, Brock Lesnar wasn't as reviled as a part-time novelty act. His utter destruction of Big Show in a matter of minutes, complete with frightening contorting of steel chairs on Show's body, made for a good bit of business, especially since they were building him up to challenge Undertaker's WrestleMania streak.
The night marked the first time that all four of the big OVW call-ups (Lesnar, Randy Orton, John Cena, and Batista) all wrestled on the same show since WrestleMania 20, a decade earlier. Lesnar, of course, would be the best-received member of the group on that night, avoiding the various negative chants levied at Cena and Orton, and the general outrage for big Dave.
7. Seen It Before
Ahh, about that Cena/Orton match. Fans simply had little interest in seeing the two, who had been winning World titles and inhabiting the upper card for close to a decade each, facing off in yet another high-profile match, especially with a World title at stake. The overreliance on the two as main event stars, particularly as foils to one another, was obvious to much of the audience.
This match at the Royal Rumble marked the ninth time the two would face off in a singles match on PPV, out of an eventual 10 (Hell in a Cell 2014). The run dated back to 2007 with back-to-back battles at SummerSlam and Unforgiven, followed by a title match at No Way Out 2008. In 2009, the two faced off on four consecutive PPVs, trading the WWE title. The eighth was their unification match at TLC 2013 one month prior to this match, which was booed lustily by the Steel City crowd. For those wondering, the singles PPV match series is split between them, five to five.
6. Surprise Substitutions
As far as "surprise" entries go, the ones in the 2014 Rumble were mostly fine, although utterly forgettable and moot by the time the "where the hell is Daniel Bryan?!" sentiment reached its fever pitch. Alexander Rusev (sans tank and holiday) from NXT was fine for a developmental one-off, and Kevin Nash wreaking minor havoc was fine as well.
The two other surprises were Matadores mascot El Torito, and JBL (who received a monster pop once the stock exchange bell began clanging), neither of whom lasted long, but did have their charms. According to The Wrestling Observer, both men were actually substitutions, for Bad News Barrett and a pre-New Day Xavier Woods. Woods even poked a little fun at this on Raw the next night, insinuating that JBL stole his number.
5. Compromised Medically Punk
The vociferous sentiment behind Bryan took a backseat the following day when it was revealed that CM Punk walked out of the company prior to the Raw tapings. Speculation ran rampant as to the cause, with many assuming it was due to his unhappiness over creative and the like. That was part of it, but far from the only reason he soured on wrestling.
As Punk would later claim on a much-talked-about episode of Colt Cabana's Art of Wrestling that fall, he had been wrestling with a staph infection, physically evidenced by a painful lump on his lower back. Punk alleged that WWE physician Chris Amann had prescribed him unhelpful antibiotics, but refused to excise the lump. It wasn't until seeing a doctor at the behest of future wife April (weeks after his walkout) that he learned he had a staph infection.
4. When It Rains, It Pours
Not only was Punk apparently working through a draining (and potentially fatal) illness, but he was expected to work the bulk of the match from the number one draw, which in Punk's case meant spending 49 minutes in the match. To make matters worse, Punk would sustain a serious injury earlier on in the bout, resulting in him laying around for extended periods.
According to Punk on that same podcast, a Clothesline from Kofi Kingston resulted in Punk sustaining a concussion. At one juncture in the match, with Amann at ringside, Punk says he informed the doctor of his head injury, to which Amann reportedly replied: "What do you want me to do?" Punk then retorted in his haze: "Doctor, you are one of the most worthless pieces of s**t I have ever met in my entire life."
3. Make Roman Look Strong
Even though it sometimes feels like WWE rewrites their shows on a cocktail napkin an hour before bell time, they obviously do value long-term equity in characters they wish to push. And by the end of 2013, it was obvious that Roman Reigns was the darling of The Shield, the meanest and strongest looking one. Those attributes were played up in this Rumble match.
After entering at number 15, Reigns eliminated 12 other wrestlers, setting the brand new all-time record for most eliminations in a single Rumble. The prior record holder had been Kane, whose 11 eliminations in 2001 looked like quite the insurmountable high bar. Among the casualties of Reigns' run of dominance were both Shield teammates Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, as well as Sheamus, Dolph Ziggler, Kofi Kingston, and Cesaro, among others.
2. Lucky Number
Maybe Pittsburgh just doesn't like Saliva? As soon as the strains of the always-catchy "I Walk Alone" blared across the arena, the torrent of boos followed, as fans rejected the handpicked choice of the company, Batista. This wasn't quite like 2005, where he and John Cena were on the escalator to the top, fans cheering their every exploit. How things change in nine years.
What *was* like 2005 was the fact that Batista won the match from the number 28 position, making him the only man to win multiple Royal Rumbles with the same number. The closest any of the other six multi-Rumble victors came was Hulk Hogan, who took 1990 from number 25, and the following year's match at 24. Batista also made the final four in 2003 at 28, so make of that what you will.
1. Diminished Returns
Although Batista's making quite a bit of headway in Hollywood through his portrayal of Drax the Destroyer, among other roles, he's not exactly in the league of The Rock (but who is?). The phenomenal buyrate of the 2013 Royal Rumble, 579,000 buys, was boosted by Rock challenging for the WWE Championship. You're not exactly slagging Big Dave if you said that his presence at the 2014 Rumble wasn't going to top that.
And it didn't. The 2014 Royal Rumble did 467,000 buys, a 19 per cent drop from one year earlier. In fairness to 2014, that 467,000 would've been the highest Rumble buyrate since 2008, had it not been for 2013's staggering number. This would also be the last Big Four PPV before the launch of WWE Network, which immediately impacted the pay-per-view market. The 2015 show only did 141,000 buys, and it wasn't because people didn't want to see Reigns win.