With the first Royal Rumble to appear of WWE Network just three days away, the opportunity for four Superstars to compete in the Royal Rumble Match was on the line on SmackDown. But in the end, the battle for momentum at Sunday’s pay-per-view free-for-all would ultimately prove show-wide.
Rather than talk about his high-stakes SmackDown main event against Kane, the Royal Rumble Match, The Authority or a slew of other topics, Daniel Bryan kicked off Thursday’s hottest show by introducing the recently rehired Ryback, Erick Rowan and Dolph Ziggler. The three Superstars praised John Cena’s efforts to bring them back and made it clear that they had reemerged with renewed drive.
Seth Rollins, Kane, Big Show and J&J Security cut their celebration short, though. Despite the fact that Mr. Money in the Bank, the giant and their demonic cohort were all taken down by WWE World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar on Monday’s Raw, they didn’t seem the least bit humbled.
Instead, a confident Kane reminded Bryan that he would have to go through him in their imminent No Disqualification Match to get to the Royal Rumble Match. In addition, the Director of Operations created three difficult qualifying matches: Dolph Ziggler vs. Intercontinental Champion Bad News Barrett, Ryback vs. Rusev and Erick Rowan vs. Luke Harper.
Dolph Ziggler def. Bad News Barrett to qualify for the Royal Rumble: In a Royal Rumble Qualifying Match against the very Superstar who stole his Intercontinental Title several weeks ago, the returning Dolph Ziggler countered Bad News Barrett’s Bull Hammer Elbow with a thunderous dropkick. He then followed up with the Zig Zag for the victory, earning The Showoff his chance at main-eventing WrestleMania this Sunday at the Royal Rumble!
Roman Reigns: Ready to Rumble: Three days after knocking Big Show from the ring during “Raw Reunion,” Roman Reigns looked to the Royal Rumble Match. Well aware that it would be every Superstar for himself, the 2014 Slammy Award–winning “Superstar of the Year” made it clear that he was ready to take out the furious giant and anyone else who got in his way.
Ryback def. Rusev by Count-out to qualify for the Royal Rumble Match: Rehired and ready for a fight, Ryback reignited his rivalry against Rusev for a chance to qualify for Sunday’s Royal Rumble Match. When the hard-fought brawl stretched outside the ring, The Big Guy ultimately beat the count and won his chance to be part of Sunday’s free-for-all. After the bell, The Hero of the Russian Federation looked for vengeance with a vicious post-match assault. But The Human Wrecking Ball roared back and nearly left the Russian Superstar Shell Shocked.
Brie Bella def. Naomi: With The Bella Twins’ Royal Rumble opponents Paige & Natalya joining the SmackDown announce team and her sister Divas Champion Nikki looking on, Brie hit the Bella Buster on Naomi to earn an impressive three-count.
Luke Harper def. Erick Rowan to deny Rowan a spot in the Rumble Match: While Dolph Ziggler and Ryback managed to qualify for the Royal Rumble Match earlier in the night, it was not meant to be for Erick Rowan. After the red-bearded Superstar missed his mark off the top rope, his onetime ally Luke Harper delivered an earth-shattering kick for the three-count.
Daniel Bryan def. Kane in a No Disqualification Match to keep his Royal Rumble Match spot: With Daniel Bryan’s spot in the Royal Rumble Match on the line, The Beard and Kane were prepared to pull out all the stops in their no disqualification showdown. In the excruciating showdown that employed not only the interference of J&J Security, but also the ringside barricade, the steel steps, the steel ring post, the announce table, Kendo sticks and an unforgiving steel chair, Bryan would ultimately kick out of a demonic chokeslam to reign supreme with a Running Knee.
As Bryan was celebrating on the ramp, however, Big Show attacked and carried him back into the ring for a 4-on-1 assault. Moments later, Ryback, Erick Rowan and Dolph Ziggler emerged to even the odds. And with the Royal Rumble Match three days away, it wasn’t long before the entire locker room joined the action and ignited a ring-wide brawl.
While many competitors were soon cleared out, in the end, Ziggler, Ryback, Bryan, Dean Ambrose Roman Reigns, Big Show and Kane were left in a face-off — a reminder to one-and-all that Sunday’s Royal Rumble Match will be every man for himself.