If Reigns was going to channel the unfettered fury of Stone Cold Steve Austin, to promising returns, then the 2016 Royal Rumble would continue to mine that formula, as the new champion would have the deck stacked against him by an evil corporate empire. And so Reigns, as champ, would have to defend the belt inside the 30-man Royal Rumble, running the gauntlet from beginning to end in order to preserve his place at the top of the mountain.
By the time the Rumble came to be, all of the excited goodwill that Reigns had gathered would dissipate, and it was back to loudly booing the McMahon-approved chosen one. But fickle (FICKLE) crowd sentiment aside, the 2016 Royal Rumble was easily the best event bearing its name in years, with a great opener, three quality mid-show matches, and a tremendous Rumble match at the end.
10. Gridiron Clash
Traditionally, the Royal Rumble takes place during the one-week layoff between the NFL Championship games and the Super Bowl. In years where there was no one-week gap between those weekends, WWE would either hold the Rumble on a Saturday night (1991, 1994) or bite the bullet and face the second of the two Championship games head-to-head (2003).
Although there was a normal "playoff layoff" in the 2015-16 playoffs, WWE decided to schedule the Rumble against the NFL playoffs anyway, holding the show on 24 January (instead of the open 31 January date, which was how they did it in 2010). The most commonly-held theory for why they did this involves WWE Network, as if they had chosen 31 January for the date, the Rumble would've been seen early on 1 February in the UK, and January's Network subscription numbers would've potentially benefited less from that setup. For what it's worth, the Rumble opposed an utter blowout, as the Carolina Panthers mauled the Arizona Cardinals, 49-15.
9. Not So Secondary
Perhaps the best match on the card was the one that opened the pay-per-view broadcast, as Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose outlasted Kevin Owens in a last man standing match to retain the gold. Through a combination of intricate spots, well-structured drama, and the sort of brutality that still fits within WWE's presentation standards, the two veteran brawlers (both of whom passed through CZW) got the show off to a great start.
In a curious note, the match would mark the first time the Intercontinental belt would be defended at the Royal Rumble since 2002, a full 14 years. The two men from that match, Edge and William Regal, had each been retired for several years by the time Ambrose and Owens had their everything-but-blood battle in Orlando. The IC belt had been defended at every Rumble from 1992 through 2002, and then *poof* 14-year gap.
8. A Very Good Lucha Thing
A somewhat-forgotten little gem from the 2016 Rumble saw Kalisto win the United States gold from Alberto Del Rio, a crisply-wrestled 11-and-a-half minutes that reminded you of how good both wrestlers can be. Sometimes we forget that Kalisto seemed to be destined to be the next Rey Mysterio in WWE's eyes, until things fizzled, and WWE eventually brought the real Mysterio back.
Following on the heels of the previous entry, this match marked the first time that the US title had been defended on the main Rumble card in six years. In that one, The Miz edged out MVP to retain the gold. There was one other US title match in between, but it was a dark match at the 2013 event, with Cesaro retaining over Miz.
7. Emphasis On Kiss-Stealin'
How different this match feels today. In 2016, valiant, smiling babyface Becky Lynch challenging for the Divas' Championship held by the gifted, yet scheming, Charlotte. Charlotte had father Ric Flair lurking in her corner, and he would get physically involved at one juncture, forcibly planting a kiss on Lynch's lips, only to earn a fiery smack across the face.
This spot caused a bit of an uproar, as fans felt that having Flair do that was going much too far. Although the act fit in with Flair's MO of being a "dirty old man/unapologetic womanizer", it still didn't say well with many vocal viewers. In response, WWE made a hasty edit to replays of the event, omitting the spot in its entirety.
6. Champion's Disadvantage
Roman Reigns was being given an hour with which to look strong, having been placed in the unprecedented position of having to defend the WWE Championship inside the Royal Rumble match. We'd seen champions be placed in some gruelling situations at Rumbles previously (Mankind in 1999, Triple H in 2000, John Cena in 2007), but this was a combination of Steve Austin's "target on his back" run in 1998 and Austin's "bounty on his head" 1999 trek.
It would be only the third time that the reigning WWE Champion competed in a Rumble match, and the first time since Hulk Hogan did so in 1990 (which was also in Orlando). The other was Macho Man Randy Savage in 1989, though neither he nor Hogan were forced to defend the belt.
5. The Show-Saver?
You may remember that WWE was beset with injuries to a number of major stars and upper-card talent as the calendar flipped over to 2016. John Cena, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, and Cesaro were just some of the established and/or well-regarded WWE stars that were going to miss the Rumble, and later WrestleMania 32 as well. It was a snake-bitten era, for sure.
In order to try and shore up the star power for the Rumble match, WWE reportedly reached out to Shawn Michaels, attempting to coax "The Heartbreak Kid" back into the ring for (Christian voice) "one more match". But Michaels stuck to his retirement guns, and would continue to do so with the exception of one particular match from a show that most would prefer to forget.
4. Welcome To The Dance
The moment the words "I AM PHENOMENAL" appeared on the Titan Tron, the crowd erupted with true elation. Just three weeks after wrestling Shinsuke Nakamura inside the Tokyo Dome at Wrestle Kingdom 10, AJ Styles made his WWE debut (return, if you wanna be technical) as the number three spot in the Royal Rumble match. And he wasn't the only individual making their Rumble match debut.
There were five other first-timers in the match, and it's quite an impressive Who's Who of talent. Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Neville, Tyler Breeze, and a still-working-out-the-kinks Braun Strowman all took part in their first ever Rumble match in 2016, injecting the roster with some desperately needed new blood. With so many stars lost to injury, the transfusion couldn't have been better timed.
3. Towering Incumbent
There was a nice little run of Attitude Era stars in the early going, as Chris Jericho, Kane, and Goldust all stormed the fray at seven, eight, and nine. Kane would post a respectable time of just over 19 minutes in the match, scoring his record-extending 44th elimination when he sent ladder-climbing R-Truth to his doom.
For Kane, the Rumble match was his 19th overall, by and far a WWE record. The next highest amount of official Royal Rumbles competed in is a three-way tie for 12 each between Shawn Michaels, Big Show, and Goldust. Kofi Kingston sits at 10, so one could expect him to set the record a decade from now, when he's creatively avoiding elimination by landing on a pogostick while wearing Nickelodeon Moon Shoes in the 2028 match.
2. Paid Lunch Break
Many of Reigns' critics will be the first to say "it's not him, it's WWE," and they're pretty much on the nose with that thought, as the 2016 Rumble match proved. Officially, Reigns lasted 59:48 as an eligible competitor but was taken out halfway into the match by The League of Nations, who put him through a table at ringside. Reigns was helped away by medics, which was a convenient way to keep him "fresh" for the big ending sequence.
As it turns out, Reigns was technically out of the match longer than he was in it. From the moment he was pulled under the ropes until sliding back into the ring post-attack, he was absent from the match for 30:24. That means he was in the match for 29:24, which is hardly an iron man performance like what Ric Flair did in 1992. WWE wants fans to believe in Reigns, but then they configure things this way...
1. A Timeless Game
The big twist was the emergence of Triple H as the number 30 entry. As many expected, Reigns failed to win the match, Helmsley captured the WWE Championship, and it set up Reigns as the "hope of the people" in bringing The Authority to its knees come WrestleMania 32. The crowd's cheering that idea; it's just that Kevin Dunn forgot to unmute the audience mics, trust me.
As for Helmsley, at 46 years and six months old, he became the second-oldest Rumble match winner in history, trailing only father-in-law Vince McMahon (53 years, five months in 1999). Four other individuals have won the Rumble match, post-40: Big John Studd (40 in 1989), Ric Flair (42 in 1992), The Undertaker (41 in 2007), and Batista (45 in 2014).