Monday 30 January 2012

Royal Stumble

Was WWE’s twenty-fifth annual Royal Rumble event a hit or a miss? Broadly speaking I’d say it was a hit, mainly thanks to the two excellent world championship matches on the undercard. The Rumble match itself certainly wasn’t as memorable as previous instalments have been.

The show kicked off with the triple threat cage match for Daniel Bryan’s World Heavyweight title. All three men received healthy reactions from the St Louis crowd, with the champ originally getting heavily booed before a “Daniel Bryan” chant broke out at the start of the match. Surprisingly even Mark Henry got some cheers as he waddled out to the ring.

The match lasted for around ten minutes and was very smartly booked. Henry (who has a ridiculous number of injuries and deserves praise for being involved in the bout) spent most of his time selling, only getting involved at key moments. The bulk of the match was carried by ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’ and the champion. Bryan took numerous big bumps to make his opponents look like monsters, while Show displayed his strength by manhandling both the champion and his fellow challenger.

The finish saw Bryan desperately trying to scrabble over the top of the cage as Show chased him. The champion was caught by the throat and dangled above the ringside mats. After a few attempts Bryan managed to wriggle himself out of Show’s paw and fall to ringside, retaining his title.

Daniel Bryan: still the World Heavyweight champion.

It was a simple exchange that succeeded in making Show look like a monster and Bryan look like the cowardly heel. Considering the limitations (and injuries) of the challengers and the size difference the talented champion was facing this match couldn’t have turned out much better. It was a solid and enjoyable opener.

That was followed by a lengthy video looking at John Cena’s WWE career and his charity work. There was a similar video later on that focused on The Rock. These were clearly there to hype the Cena v Rock match at WrestleMania XXVIII. They were well made, as all WWE video packages are, but there was no reason they had to be debuted at the Royal Rumble. They could have been saved until RAW. They’re clearly going to be played repeatedly between now and WrestleMania so holding off on them for one night wouldn’t have been an issue, and it would have allowed more time to be distributed to other matches on the show.

Match two was a previously unannounced eight Divas tag match pitting Kelly Kelly, Alicia Fox, Tamina and Eve Torres against the Bellas, Natalya and champion Beth Phoenix. Because there were so few other matches on the card the women actually got a decent amount of time for once. They proved that when they get more than two minutes for their matches they can put on compelling performances. This was the best Divas match I can remember seeing in a while.

The only criticism I have is that no new storylines seemed to begin. The heels won, which meant no new challenger was created. This match would have been the perfect way to set up Tamina or Alicia Fox for a program with ‘The Galamazon’. Babyface wins are also preferable in throwaway, unannounced matches and we didn’t get that here.

Following that we saw Zack Ryder being wheeled about backstage. John Laurinaitis rocked up and showed him a private dressing room he’d had constructed. Eve appeared, knocked Laurinaitis for being bad at his job, and then purposefully wheeled ‘Long Island Iced Z’ into his private quarters. Lucky Zack.

Back in the ring it was time for Kane v John Cena. Had they been granted a gimmick match (no disqualifications or falls count anywhere perhaps) they could have had a far more enjoyable encounter. As it was they had to try and engage fans in a straight wrestling match. That’s neither man’s forte and it showed.

After several minutes of boring action (which the live crowd did get into it has to be said) the two tussled on out to ringside where they were both counted out. Yes, the match that had been granted the most amount of TV time prior to the pay-per-view ended on a double count out.

The post match angle saw Kane and Cena head backstage hitting each other. Kane got the upper hand and then walked into Zack Ryder’s private room (which Eve was mysteriously absent from). The former US champ received a few smacks to the face and was the wheeled to the ring. Eve then reappeared and begged Kane to stop. He didn’t. Instead he laughed and tombstoned Ryder. Before he could turn his attention to Eve, Cena made the save and got a well executed choke slam for his trouble. Satisfied, Kane left.

The match itself wasn’t as awful as it could have been, but the double count out finish was cheap. Cena should have been booked to get the clean victory to keep him looking strong for his match with The Rock. Kane wouldn’t have been harmed by a loss to such a well established main event star and the post match sequence would have set up a rematch if one is desired (presumably the non-finish was done so that WWE can present a rematch at Elimination Chamber).

The second filler bout of the night was Drew McIntyre v ‘The Funkasaurus’ Brodus Clay. Clay’s routine was well received by the crowd and he continued to look like someone who belongs on WWE programming. The same cannot be said for McIntyre. His look has not evolved since he first appeared for the promotion in 2009. He needs to do something to encourage the creative team to give him more than the dreaded losing streak gimmick he’s currently saddled with. Get a haircut or new tights, pitch an outlandish gimmick. Drew needs to do something because at this rate he’s going to get released.

On a side note, while this match was enjoyable both men would have been better served being in the Rumble match. Brodus could have been booked to eliminate several men before getting tossed out by an established wrestler. He would have looked like a dominant rising star had that happened. Meanwhile WWE could have added to Drew’s losing streak gimmick (I don’t agree with it but that doesn’t mean I can’t think of ways to make it work) by having him get eliminated as soon as he stepped foot into the ring.

Following an advert for the following evening’s RAW, centring on an appearance from Triple H regarding the future of John Laurinaitis, it was time for the WWE championship match between CM Punk and Dolph Ziggler. Laurinaitis was smartly booked to stand at ringside during this one, another referee taking care of the actual officiating.

Without the baggage of the special guest referee gimmick to contend with Ziggler and Punk were able to put on an amazing match. They got fifteen minutes, the first ten being packed with tremendous wrestling before the final five minutes went back to storylines: Punk accidentally bashed the ref as he took Ziggler up for a GTS, sending the official sprawling to the outside. Laurinaitis, instead of getting into the ring to officiate the match, checked on the wellbeing of his employee.

Punk shouted at the interim GM to join him in the ring to count the three, at which point ‘The Show Off’ struck with a sneaky rollup. Punk countered that and had the challenger beaten again. There was still no three count though. Following a third instance, Punk scooped Ziggler up for another GTS but it was countered into a Fameasser for a convincing near fall from the freshly-recovered ref moments later.

Punk needn’t have worried: he got the win shortly thereafter with a second GTS, which ‘The Heel’ took as well as anybody (Punk can be sloppy giving the move at times). Laurinaitis counted along with the referee in the ring (presumably to show how unbiased he is) before attempting to roll to ringside. That didn’t work: he found himself in the centre of the ring and had to shuffle awkwardly to the outside from there. It’s ring skills like that that made him an All Japan tag champ.

After the final airing of the “by the numbers” hype video it was time for the Royal Rumble itself. We had been told before the event that every superstar was eligible to enter. That statement was never clarified and only seemed to confuse matters going into the match. As it turned out there were fewer surprises in the match than normal, which makes you wonder what WWE intended the eligibility line to mean.

This man has a match at WrestleMania XXVIII. It won't go on last though.

To be clear, it was the Royal Rumble more than any other match that stopped this show from being all it could be. Part of the problem was the lack of surprises. Fans have become accustomed to seeing surprise entrants enter the Rumble, and this year they were presented only with ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan and Road Dogg. I’m a big fan of the former New Age Outlaw but I appreciate he’s not really the biggest star the company could have brought in.

All three members of the announce team (Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler, Michael Cole, and Booker T) entered the match. While it was funny to see their reactions to one another entering (and to see Booker and Lawler pull Cole down from the apron) I can’t help but feel it would have been better to get some more genuine surprises for those spots.

I was expecting more returns too. The obvious man to mention here is Christian. ‘Captain Charisma’ has been off television for a couple of months now. It was originally rumoured he’d be back in time for the Royal Rumble. Unless something has gone very wrong with his recovery I can’t see any reason why he was omitted from the show. There’s also Skip Sheffield to consider: he’s been off television for close to eighteen months now. He’s been working dark matches lately, under the name of Ryback, and I thought he’d benefit from an appearance in the Rumble match. Apparently WWE disagrees.

On the plus side we did see the return of Kharma. Working as a face she scared Michael Cole into eliminating himself before giving bump king Dolph Ziggler a monstrous Implant Buster (that’s what it was called in TNA anyway, WWE will likely rename it). It was nice to see her back, and the pop she received was very encouraging. You do have to wonder why her return wasn’t linked to the Divas tag bout though, especially when you remember what I was said above about starting new feuds.

Foley and Ziggler were both in the Rumble but they failed to interact. That surprised me. Their segment together on RAW a couple of weeks ago seemed to hint at a WrestleMania feud between the two. There’s still plenty of time for that to happen, but it’s odd that it wasn’t started at the Rumble.

Most worryingly the match highlighted WWE’s current lack of roster depth. That no-hopers Jinder Mahal, Alex Riley, Epico, Primo, and Jey (but not Jimmy) Uso got into the match shows that WWE really needs to start rebuilding its battered mid-card.

The order of entry was another concern: too many big names were held off until the final stages of the match. Chris Jericho, if he wasn’t going to win, should have entered far earlier than number twenty-nine to show him blasting through the competition in order to convince people he was on course to win. Similarly Randy Orton could have entered at number twenty-seven, which is considered lucky because it’s produced four winners, instead of David Otunga. Doing that would have encouraged more people to believe that ‘The Viper’ was going to leave victorious. Both are simple changes that would have played up to Orton and Jericho’s status as the favourites. It would have made the Rumble far more enjoyable.

In the end it was Sheamus who was victorious. I didn’t see that coming at all, but it was a pleasant surprise. ‘Great White’ is a likeable, talented man, who should be one of WWE’s biggest stars for several years to come. He’ll benefit from the Rumble win and two month push into WrestleMania. Presumably he will be tackling Daniel Bryan on the big show, leaving Punk to battle ‘Y2J’.

The main problem I have with this year’s Rumble is that it didn’t feel like the start of WrestleMania season. It felt cobbled together, rushed. It felt as though WWE was more concerned with preparing video packages for Rock and Cena than utilising the Rumble format and high buy rate to make it rising stars look good.

Congratulations to Sheamus, his win is deserved and I’m sure he and Daniel Bryan will put on a great show in Miami. It’s nice that the two will finally get to face each other at WrestleMania after last year’s debacle. Unfortunately, the rest of ‘Mania may not receive as much attention as it needs if the Rumble (and its video packages) was any indication.

No comments:

Post a Comment