So, the first pay-per-view of 2016 is in the books, and WWE has a new champion. Perhaps the biggest surprise on Sunday was that the company kept their surprises limited to two: a debut, and the new champion.

Looking at my predictions, I’d picked the right winner on two of the six matches, bookending the card (well, three if you include New Day retaining the titles!). Some quick thoughts from the show:

  • The swapping of Jerry Lawler for Byron Saxton on commentary cannot be seen as a positive… yet. It’s not like he’s set the world on fire doing three-hour Raws every week, and the less said about that post-Mania Raw last year, the better.
  • Kevin Owens’ selling for the first dive in the Last Man Standing match, on the other hand… well, it did take out Michael Cole for a while, even if Owens oversold to get there!
  • Speaking of Owens, kudos for getting Cole to get a shout out to us during the match. Sorry it took a bump through some chairs to get it!
  • How does Dean Ambrose punching the chair not hurt him? Does a chair not hurt if it’s being worn by someone?
  • The opening Last Man Standing match was an enjoyable throwback to the style of matches that fans seem to hark for from the “Attitude era”, but to me it felt like there was something missing. It was certainly a good match, but perhaps I’m not as sold by weapons matches as much as I used to?
  • If you’d told me a trombone would get the pop it did last night, I’d have had you committed!
  • Big E using the “all gold everything” line sent a shiver down my spine, as I’m sure it did for anyone who’s watched NXT lately
  • Now the Usos have had their “straight tag title match”, can we get a new set of opponents for the New Day? The fact that this feud made the crowd boo the supposed babyface Usos tells you all you need to know about how played out this has gotten
  • It’ll be interesting to see how far WWE goes with Kalisto’s second run with the US title; but it’ll take a hell of a run with the title to erase the memories of his 24 hour first run with the belt. Certainly, Kalisto is showing signs of being a breakout star for 2016, but he’ll need booking to be on his side to properly break out of the pack and start to take on the mantel once held by Rey Mysterio.
  • From the highlights of the pre-show match, the Ascension sure did look like fools, didn’t they?
  • The new Edge & Christian show on the WWE Network looks like it’s going to be fun and wacky, especially now they’ve dug up Puppet H from the WWE Prop Warehouse!
  • It was encouraging to see the Charlotte/Becky match turn the “death spot” into something credible, which was exactly the sort of thing they were threatening to do in NXT
  • Ric Flair’s first round of, erm, interference was a little uncomfortable to watch in 2016.
  • Charlotte performs much better as a heel, but I can’t help but feel that her being associated so closely with Ric so early in her career is acting as a magnet for detractors. That being said, Charlotte’s got two months to improve her selling for the Bank Statement, particularly if it’s going to end a match.
  • After coming close to the title in NXT, I’d hope that Becky Lynch isn’t going to be perpetually stuck in the “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” role; but if WWE’s going for Charlotte vs. Sasha at WrestleMania, I’ll grab it with both hands. Especially if Sasha’s pop is anything like what she got in Orlando!
    • Long-term thought: if WrestleMania 33 is in Orlando, what are the odds on Sasha vs. Bayley?

As for the Royal Rumble itself, well, what can you say? AJ Styles’ debut certainly got the match off to a lightning start, particularly after Roman Reigns was given flashbacks to last year’s Rumble with the lukewarm-at-best crowd reaction.  Even though we had nearly three weeks advance warning, seeing AJ in a WWE ring was surreal, and I’ll just say this now: please don’t screw this up! So much was teased during AJ’s Rumble appearance, and personally, even a match with Tyler Breeze could be interesting, if only for a brief TV feud.

From the “plans change” department, despite doing promos saying that all four of the Social Outcasts were in the Rumble, we just got Curtis Axel to kill off last year’s running joke, which signalled the start of the usual “ring fills up” sequence. We had the typical Rumble comedy spots (R-Truth confusing the Rumble with Money in the Bank), and Kofi Kingston’s latest innovative way to avoid elimination (playing Prince Devitt to Big E’s Bad Luck Fale), followed up by WWE’s way to give Roman a rest (although where was Bad News Barrett in the attack? You’d think they’d keep him consistently in the group, even as a bystander).

Having Braun Strowman eliminate Kane and Big Show quickly is going to do something to get him over as a monster, but unless all of his matches are going to be battle royals, he’s still got a long way to go to be anywhere near ready for the main roster. It’s just a shame he’s already on it! Going back to AJ Styles for a bit – potential matches with Neville, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn should get people’s appetite whetted, no? Which comes first though? Owens vs Zayn, or Owens vs Styles? If the booking here is a sign, I’d wager on seeing the former in Dallas in ten weeks’ time.

Questions ahoy: Swagger and Henry’s brief runs in the Rumble really highlighted how worthless that pre-show match was, right? Equally absurd, is how the Miz has been around for a decade… really? Also, how on earth does the former United States champion get in the match, yet the guy who beat him for the belt an hour or so earlier doesn’t get a look in?  Does Lesnar’s elimination count when he was tossed by three guys who’d already been eliminated? How many questions is too many for one paragraph?!

When Reigns returned (looking none the worse for wear) before the final man came in, you just knew there was one final twist in the story, and we all got it with the return of Triple H, who hadn’t been seen since WWE TLC (and that NXT show in London that we’re all meant to forget!). Ultimately, this was a blowaway Rumble match, even if the result is a perfect combination of logical booking and underwhelming end product. Although Triple H’s return was foreshadowed weeks ago, long term fans will feel a pang of familiarity in seeing Hunter on top of the world yet again.

The entire Royal Rumble was a decent show for WWE to start the year with. They finally created some direction for WrestleMania, with Brock/Bray, Charlotte/Sasha, Owens/Zayn and Hunter/Reigns clearly signposted as the top four matches. Granted, two of those matches are re-runs from NXT, but Brock/Bray aside, that’s about as good a main event quartet as you’re going to get with WWE’s current injury problems.

With 69 days left (at time of writing), lets see how WWE’s creative handles these gifts they’ve been given on a silver platter!