(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins - WWE Royal Rumble 2015, by Alex Podgorski

(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins - WWE Royal Rumble 2015, by Alex Podgorski

This is widely considered to be one of the best WWE matches of the entire 2010s. It took place before NXT really took off and became the phenomenal brand it is now. It was also a time when many people perceived WWE”s management to be at war with some of its fans. Daniel Bryan’s ‘Yes Movement’ had managed to force WWE’s hand, and so many vocal fans thought they had the power to directly influence WWE’s decisions. Naturally, they were proven wrong, but that didn’t stop many of them from being incredibly vocal about their likes and dislikes anyway.

To try and placate that growing discontent, WWE put on this match. It featured three different people that someone watching would’ve cheered for, whether they were young, old, or McMahon.

Today we look back at the famous Triple Threat Match between Brock Lesnar, John Cena and Seth Rollins from the 2015 Royal Rumble PPV. It was originally rated 4.75-stars out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer which, even today, is very high praise for WWE-style matches. TJRWrestling’s John Canton rated it ****1/2 out of five in 2015.

As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.

The story

This match took place at the 2015 Royal Rumble PPV, at a time when WWE had one single unified world championship. It was in Philadelphia, one of the most vocal towns for WWE. As champion, Lesnar rarely made appearances and so world title matches were rare. Rollins held the MITB briefcase holder and frequently alluded to cashing it in. finally, Cena was, well, Cena, and featured in the biggest matches very often because he was still considered the company’s biggest regular performer.

The match

The bell rings and Lesnar rushes Rollins, who escapes, and Cena rushes Lesnar. Cena tries to overpower Lesnar with punches (bad idea) and Lesnar quickly counters into a German suplex as the crowd cheers. He hits another German on Cena and tries to F-5 Lesnar, but J&J Security pull Rollins way to safety. Lesnar doesn’t like that because he grabs both Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury (one in each arm) and double German suplexes them simultaneously. That was awesome.

Cena goes for the AA but gets tossed into the ropes where Rollins kicks him in the face, but lesnar tosses Rollins into the ring over the rope. Heavy knee strikes by Lesnar onto Rollins that knock the wind out of Rollins, followed by another German suplex to both Rollins and Cena. The crowd applauds wildly for Lesnar’s destruction.

The fans chant Lesnar’s name as he vertical suplexes Cena with such force that Cena lands on the other side of the ring. Lesnar lands another brutal German on Rollins, who lands hard on his head and shoulder. Another huge suplex-throw by Lesnar on Cena and one to Rollins. The fans chant ‘ECW’ for Paul Heyman as Lesnar locks the kimura on Cena. But Cena deadlifts Lesnar with the kimura still locked in. Cena gets to his feet but Rollins lands a springboard knee to Lesnar’s head. Cena and Rollins gang up on Lesnar with a double team suplex. Cena lands an AA on Lesnar but Rollins tosses him away. Her pins but Lesnar kicks out at one. Lesnar tosses Rollins out and then suplexes Cena so hard he flies out of the ring. This match has been all Lesnar thus far.

Lesnar leaves the ring and Rollins dropkicks him hard then Cena does the same. Both of them return to the ring and Cena begins his five moves of doom. He smirks as the fans boo him loudly. Rollins tries to block a 5 knuckle shuffle with a kick but Cena grabs his leg. Rollins tries to escape but Cena plants him with a second side suplex. Cena starts the ‘you can’t see me’ but Lesnar appears and drops him with another German suplex. He lands another and keeps his arms wrapped around Cena but Rollins superkicks him in the face. Rollins lands a knee to Lesnar sending him out but walks into a Michinoku driver for a two-count. Rollins avoids a Cena charge and lands a Blockbuster but Lesnar breaks up his pin. He tosses Rollins out of the ring and now it’s Lesnar alone with Cena.

Cena tries to fight back with punches and a clothesline, but Lesnar absorbs all of that without flinching. It takes a total of three running clotheslines for Cena to take Lesnar down. Rollins drags Cena out of the ring and springboards…but lands on Lesnar’s shoulders! F-5 by Lesnar. He pins but Cena breaks it up. Rollins rolls out of the ring as Lesnar plants Cena with another German. He starts destroying the Spanish announce table as the fans start cheering. He goes back to the ring but Cena has him scouted. Cena lands one, two, three consecutive AAs to Lesnar. He pins, but Rollins breaks up this pin. Curb stomp by Rollins. Cena breaks up the pin.

Lesnar leaves the ring and struggles to walk. But here comes Cena, charging from behind and sends Lesnar through the barricade. But brock’s still moving, to Cena smashes him into the steel ringsteps for good measure. The commentators note Cena basically said ‘Lesnar’s done’. Well, if that’s so, why doesn’t he go for the pin? Well, because Lesnar’s still moving. So Cena puts on his GRR face and smashes those steel steps into Lesnar’s face. But he lets his guard down long enough for Rollins to kick him from behind. Then Rollins sees Lesnar and the crowd starts getting restless. Rollins climbs the top rope, his eyes locked on Brock. DIVING ELBOW FROM THE TURNBUCKLE THROUGH THE ANNOUNCE TABLE! Wow, what a move. The fans are on their feet changing ‘this is awesome!’

Cena tosses Rollins into the ring but walks into a small package from Rollins. Rollins follows with a sueperkick for another two-count. Rollins charges Cena but lands on Cena’s shoulders like he did with Lesnar earlier. Cena goes for an aa but Rollins lands on his feet. He charges again but walks into a massive powerbomb for another two-count. As those two recover in the ring, Paul Heyman screams for a doctor.

Back in the ring, Cena teases a superplex but Rollins rakes the eyes. He flips over and lands a huge bucklebomb to Cena for yet another two-count. Rollins charges for the Curb Stomp but Cena blocks and locks in the STF. The crowd’s booing wildly. But in come J&J Security to save Rollins. They double-team Cena as a stretcher is brought in for Lesnar. Shield-style Triple Powerbomb on Cena. The referee counts one…two..thr—no, Cena kicks out. Rollins grabs his MITB briefcase and charges Cena but gets tossed out of the ring instead. Cena manhandles J&J and lands an AA with both of them on his shoulders at once. Rollins charges again but gets caught. AA by Cena. The referee counts one…two..thr—no, Rollins kicks out at 2.8.

Cena and Rollins get up slowly and start the yay/boo punch spot. They escape each other’s finishers and Rollins lands an enzuigiri. Curb stomp by Rollins. He pins, but Cena kicks out again. Rollins drags Cena close to the corner. He climbs the turnbuckle…PHOENIX SPLASH! DAMN! That move is always amazing. But here comes Lesnar. He came from out of nowhere… German suplex on Rollins. German suplex on Cena. Another German on Rolli—no, Rollins lands on his feet. He smashes the MITB briefcase on Lesnar’s skull. And a second time. Rollins teases the stomp on the briefcase. He charges, but runs into an F-5 from Lesnar. The referee counts one…two…three! There’s the match.

Winner and STILL WWE World Heavyweight Champion after 22:42: Brock Lesnar

Review

A lot of people look at a match like this and sing its praises because they’re comparing it to what’s around it. So it stands to reason that, if a match like this is surrounded by garbage and great matches are few and far between, then of course something like this, with its really crazy moves and close near-falls, will be praised as being almost perfect. But in comparison to the legendary 5-star epics that came before and came after it, this match just…doesn’t really hold up.

On one hand, this match was a perfect demonstration of why people still love Brock Lesnar. He was the textbook definition of ‘dominant’ in this match. He ripped both Cena and Rollins to shreds many times. He managed to suplex two men at once, one in each arm. And when he landed a vertical suplex on Cena or Rollins, they didn’t land a few feet from Lesnar; they landed on the opposite end of the ring. It took Cena and Rollins working together to put Lesnar down, but even that wasn’t enough to keep Lesnar down.

At the same time, the biggest flaw in WWE-style matches like this is that they lack believable near-falls. WWE matches are structured in a way that only one or two signature moves could believably end a match. Each wrestler has a handful of match-ending moves that work 99% of the time. And for that 1% of the time that they don’t, the wrestler will just use that move over and over. Because of that approach, any move that isn’t a signature move or a finisher isn’t believable as a potential match-ender.

There was honestly no point in Cena busting out big moves like the Powerbomb or the Michinoku Driver because he has never won with them. Rollins’ Bucklebomb and Phoenix Splash, while cool-looking, were likewise not believable because they had never ended a match before. That left the only real drama for Cena’s AAs, Rollins’s Curb Stomps, and Lesnar’s F-5s. Everything else made this feel like stalling and just landing big moves without those moves really meaning anything.

There were some notable lapses in logic here. Cena and Rollins took turns destroying Lesnar, to the point that he was taken out of the match completely for about ten minutes. Cena himself even said ‘he’s done’ which was noted by the commentators. Yet if he really was ‘done’, why didn’t Cena – with his already-established super strength – carry Lesnar ten feet into the ring to try and pin him for the win?

I also didn’t like how Rollins kept charging into his opponents in the way he did. On at least six occasions, Rollins looked like he was in control, charged at his opponent and walked into a big move. In fact, that’s how the match ended: Rollins charged Lesnar but Lesnar picked him up onto his shoulders for his finisher, which is also what Cena did to him minutes earlier. Clearly Seth learned nothing as this match went on, which made him look less like a smart wrestler and more like a moron that doesn’t learn from his mistakes.

Lastly, the commentary during this match was lifeless. I know that’s no fault of the wrestlers, but those three commentators play such a huge role in describing and selling the emotion of the match. Yet even with Jerry Lawler among them, the three commentators during this match had no emotion in their words. They just called action as it happened and gave random anecdotes on irrelevant topics.

MANY fans have described how much they long for the commentary teams of old like Lawler & JR, who had excellent chemistry with each other. Hell, even the Japanese commentators for All Japan and New Japan are better than what is on WWE, and they aren’t even speaking English.

A wise man once told me, it’s not what you say but how you say it. Watching some old AJPW videos on YouTube, the commentators are going absolutely nuts calling the action. You don’t have to understand a single word, yet their emotional calls amplify the excitement you see before you.

Here, the three-man team calls the action with the collective enthusiasm of watching a game of golf. They just suck the excitement out of the match and keep things too grounded to make it feel like a historically great match.

Final Rating: ****1/4

This is definitely a great match by WWE standards. But like many modern WWE matches, it’s hamstrung by the limitations brought about by WWE’s formulaic match structuring. Because WWE wrestlers have only one or two credible match finishers, any move that isn’t one of those isn’t going to be believable as a match-ender. That leads to an over-reliance on a handful of moves, which in turn leads to everything else feeling like a waste of time.

That being said, this match did have a few great moments. Rollins’ dive and Phoenix Splash were sick, as was Cena’s demonstration of his unnatural strength. But Lesnar was the star here. He brought something that no one else in WWE brings to the table: a genuine aura of badassery. He’s presented in such a way that, even with his MMA career being not as long or stellar as other fighters’, he has genuine believability as a monster that can rip his opponents in half. He manhandled two of WWE’s top stars effortlessly, and even German suplexed J&J Security simultaneously. That was perhaps this match’s best visual: Lesnar destroying people while barely working up a sweat.

If you’re going to re-watch this match, it’s best to focus on Lesnar being Lesnar. And aside from Rollins’ dives, nothing else in this match is truly groundbreaking.

Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.