WWE are going to find it tough to top the Royal Rumble on
pay-per-view this year. Every match on the show met expectations and two, in my
opinion, surpassed them. The company’s going to need something special up its
sleeve if WrestleMania XXIX is to achieve that.
The evening opened with the World Heavyweight
championship match between Alberto Del Rio and Big Show. ADR had dethroned ‘The
Giant’ in a Last Man standing bout at the January 8th SmackDown
taping, which made them clashing under Last man Standing rules again here a
little puzzling. What was even odder was that WWE had neither emphasised the
gimmick reuse nor tried to hide it. It was as though it was simply an oversight
that the two were facing off in the same sort of match again so soon.
The match was an improvement on their SmackDown battle.
As that was a good match bettering it was quite an achievement. The two started
out with a heated, pacey exchange in the ring, notable for Del Rio doing more
top rope manoeuvres than we’re used to from him (designed to solidify his
babyface position), before Show grabbed a chair.
That started phase two of the match. The champ got the
chair off the challenger following a swift kick and then battered him with
numerous shots. Soon after the two were out at ringside for a spot of brawling.
Show went all CZW and cracked ‘The Latin Hero’ with a light tube in the
entrance area, proving it was a real light by smashing it to pieces after he’d
belted Del Rio. Moments later the two were on top of a piece of entrance scaffolding
for ADR to take a choke slam through a table.
Both were impressive spots which combined to create a
convincing false finish, not something easily done in a Last Man Standing
match. This was even more impressive when you consider how certain everyone was
that Del Rio was going to win.
This match featured a lot of chair shots
Back at ringside Ricardo took an impressive bump into the
barricade before ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’ ploughed through one himself. ‘The Essence of Excellence’ went back to his
trusty chair shots to wear Show out before rolling him back into the ring and
applying the cross armbreaker. With that locked in Ricardo taped Show’s feet to
the bottom rope with duct tape. The champ then released the hold and stood up
to get the victory.
It was a slightly iffy finish that didn’t really do much
to help get ADR over as a valiant babyface but the rest of the bout was great.
Del Rio and Rodriguez have moved into their new roles far better than I thought
they would while Big Show is proving that he’s not only a late bloomer but also
a worthy addition to the main event under the right circumstances.
Backstage Matt Striker was scared off from interviewing
Dolph Ziggler by Big E Langston. ‘The Show Off’ revealed he’d enter the Rumble
at number one. He then announced his plan to win the Rumble, cash-in his Money
in the Bank case, win the World title, and unify the two world titles at
WrestleMania. The segment was also memorable for Big E doing a comedy reporter
voice that showed why he’s so rarely given mic time.
Match two was the WWE tag team title match. Team Hell No
defended their belts against the Rhodes Scholars. I’d said before the event
that the best result for this one would be a title change. That would have
provided a reason for the teams to keep their feud going and given the doubles
scene a boost it’s needed for a month or two.
The match itself was enjoyable. It was slightly better
than what you’d get from these teams on TV. I’m not entirely sure what’s next
for them all now. Team Hell No have between the Scholars so many times that
continuing the programme seems pointless. It’s possible the Scholars will be
split, considering what happened to Cody in the Rumble (which will be discussed
below). WWE seem intent on milking the Kane and Bryan comedy for all its worth even
though their partnership became largely unamusing months ago.
Match three was the Royal Rumble match itself. Pleasingly,
it was a far better effort than last year’s. It had a more predictable winner,
yes, but the pacing was better and there were a larger number of meaningful
‘The Heel’ kicked things off with a brief promo about how
he was going to win and didn’t want to wait a minute and a half for entrant
number two. He demanded the second man be sent out straight away.
‘Y2J’ received one of the biggest pops of the night and
was incredibly over throughout his lengthy stay in the multi-man battle. Ziggler
sold Jericho’s appearance perfectly. They were joined by Cody Rhodes, Kofi
Kingston and Santino. ‘The Milan Miracle’ got the dubious honour of being the
first man eliminated from the bout, with ‘The Dashing One’ picking up the
accolade of first man to make an elimination.
Drew McIntyre and Titus O’Neil bulked up the numbers
before the surprise return of Goldust at number eight. He and Rhodes,
half-brothers, immediately targeted one another (Rhodes would eventually
eliminate ‘The Golden One’). The crowd were far more into this than I would
have thought. Both men lobbied to face off at WrestleMania XXVIII last year.
After the reaction their battle in the Rumble received perhaps they’ll get
their wish this year.
David Otunga and Heath Slater were in next, followed by
Sheamus at number eleven. ‘Great White’ got a loud and positive reaction, which
surely had to be at least in part because he was the first potential winner and
genuine main eventer to appear since Ziggler and Jericho. He made quick work of
O’Neil and Otunga, eliminating them via his ten punch in the ropes spot. That
was as nauseating as it sounds.
Tensai and Brodus Clay followed ‘The Celtic Warrior’ in.
The former IWGP and GHC tag team champion was eliminated fairly quickly by Kofi
Kingston, proving that he will never again be a featured performer in WWE. ‘The
Funkasaurus’ was eliminated via team effort. Why he was given even that much
protection is beyond me. WWE gave up on him months ago.
As “Fat Albert” lollygagged at ringside Kofi was booted
off of the apron by Ziggler. He avoided exiting the match by landing on
Tensai’s back. From there he got onto the Spanish announce table. It looked as
though he was going to try leaping from there to the apron. In the end that
didn’t happen. He shuffled back to the ring on JBL’s chair.
The sequence was decidedly less spectacular than the
handstand one Kofi was a part of last year.
Rey Mysterio and Darren Young were numbers fourteen and
fifteen. The masked man may as well not have bothered. He did nothing memorable
and clearly wasn’t in the shape as he usually is. The spot would have been
better used on someone who could have gotten a return pop (such as Christian,
Mark Henry or Jack Swagger) or benefited from the exposure (such as R-Truth or
Bo Dallas was next. Never heard of him? Most people
haven’t. He’s an NXT guy who won a tournament to earn a spot in the Rumble. He
ended up eliminating Intercontinental champion Wade Barrett, which probably
indicates he’ll be sticking around on the main roster to feud with the man from
Preston. That could be good. It could certainly help establish Dallas as a
meaningful member of the roster.
Speaking of Barrett he entered at eighteen, one after The
Godfather. Yes, The Godfather. Being a surprise entrant he was always going to
get a huge response but I wouldn’t have guessed it’d be this big. He lasted around three seconds once he finally got into
the ring. His music didn’t even cut off, meaning he got to exit to it as well.
Yeah, Godfather went a little New Jack on us.
John Cena went in at nineteen and predictably blasted
through everyone. He quickly
eliminated Cody Rhodes, who had been having a decent night until this point,
and Heath Slater. It could have been worse. While Cena flattened everyone at
least his number of immediate eliminations were kept mercifully low.
‘The Franchise’ was followed by Damien Sandow, Daniel
Bryan, Antonio Cesaro, The Great Khali, Kane, and Zack Ryder. It was a quiet
patch as far as big names were concerned, broken by the entrance of Randy Orton
at twenty six. The match was rounded out by Jinder Mahal, The Miz, Sin Cara and
‘Big Hungry’ aside it was a fairly anti-climactic final
The clean-up process started. Ryback made quick work of
Sin Cara, Damien Sandow and ‘The Awesome One’ and would eventually eliminate
‘The Viper’ during the Final Four Sequence™. Ziggler superkicked ‘The Highlight
of the Night’ out of the bout. ‘The Apex Predator’ went out to a meathook
clothesline after a failed RKO attempt on Ryback. The last four men in were
Ziggler, Cena, Ryback and Sheamus. The ironically nicknamed ‘Sole Survivor’ was
tossed out by Sheamus, who was thrown out a few minutes later by Ryback.
That left ‘The Human Wrecking Ball’ alone with Cena.
It had been fairly obvious going in that Cena would win
the Rumble to begin the setup for his rematch with The Rock. With that in mind
it made sense to have him throw Ryback out last. As one of the most heavily
pushed men of the past several months it just
seemed possible that WWE could swerve its audience and have Ryback win. The
possibility of him challenging for the WHC helped there: it would have allowed
someone other than Cena to win without Rock v Cena II being affected.
As usual ring psychology deserted Mr Cena
That’s not what happened though. WWE went with the
predictable Cena victory. On the surface that’s not something to be thrilled
about. Cena won yet another match
that could have been used to elevate someone else on the roster. Yes, it’s an
annoyance, but it’s not that bad a move. Everyone suspected WWE would start
building towards the Rock and Cena rematch. Doing so has allowed them to keep
the direction of the World title feud a secret for a while longer. Had anybody
but Cena won we would have kknown months ahead of the event who would be in both world title matches, rather than
Considering how little attention was paid to the Rumble
match itself in the build-up to the event I think WWE turned out an
astonishingly good instalment. There weren’t as many surprise entrants as I’d
expected but the ones that did participate all made sense and weren’t just
frivolous inclusions. They all contributed something, whether it was the simple
pop of The Godfather or the lengthy spell of Chris Jericho (done in part to
ensure there was a veteran present to lead proceedings).
The Rock cut a pre-match promo in the style of a
televangelist which saw him declare he’d become the new WWE champion. He also
mentioned his doomed football career and that his mother was present and
suffering from cancer. So that was something.
CM Punk was given another reason to complain about being
disrespected when he was sent out to the ring first. Traditionally the champion
goes out last. I can only assume tradition goes out of the window when a
Hollywood movie star is the challenger.
This guy brings it. Whatever "it" is...
The match was far better than ‘The Great One’s’ outing
against John Cena at ‘Mania last year. It started off with the two dashing into
the centre of the ring and peppering one another with shots. The crowd were
split but it was immediately clear that more spectators favoured The Rock over
A good portion of Attitude Era shortcuts were employed.
There was a healthy amount of ringside brawling, outside interference from Paul
Heyman, and a very relaxed approach to count outs from Mike Chioda. All that
was missing was a ref bump.
The way in which The Rock sold Punk’s kicks was
noteworthy. He made it look like they, y’know, actually hurt. It was a far cry
from John Cena’s reaction to them. For that matter it was a far cry from ‘The
Brahma Bull’s’ lacklustre selling of Miz and R-Truth’s offence at Survivor
Predictably the fast pace couldn’t be held indefinitely.
Rock went down to a rest hold within the first five minutes. ‘The Second City
Saint’ remained in control for the next several minutes by concentrating on
Rock’s mid-section. A storyline tweak of Punk’s “surgically repaired” knee
created an opening for the challenger. Rock went after the knee with stomps.
Punk retaliated with a suicide dive to the outside, handily obliterating the
illusion of the knee being injured.
Punk went for a GTS. Rock countered with a Sharpshooter
attempt. That was rolled into the Anaconda Vice, giving us one of the match’s
slickest wrestling moments. Rock went
for another Rock Bottom, only to have Punk reverse into a crucifix. Rock rolled
through that pin attempt and finally
locked in the Sharpshooter. Punk escaped sold for a bit before escaping.
They made their way outside and onto the Spanish announce
table. Punk signalled for a GTS but ‘The Great One’ snatched him in for a Rock
Bottom. That didn’t end up happening: the table collapsed. Kofi Kingston was
probably to blame. They did the move again on the mats to set up a Rock near
fall back in the ring.
Moments later Rock nailed the spinebuster and went for a
People’s Elbow. The crowd naturally roared their approval. Seconds before he
connected the lights went out. Was it the Undertaker? Sabu? Brad Maddox?
No, it was The Shield. Or so we were told by Michael
Cole. We couldn’t be sure ourselves because the lights didn’t come back on.
Cole, now a babyface (and, apparently, a man with the ability to see in the
dark), had no reason to lie though, and whoever the three men were they power
bombed The Rock through the remaining announce table. Rollins, Reigns and
Ambrose certainly seemed likely suspects.
The lights came back up and we saw Punk lying in the ring
laughing. Cole continued screeching at ringside as Punk retrieved his
challenger and pinned him in the ring to retain the WWE championship.
Punk and Heyman celebrated in the ring until Vinnie Mac
power walked his way out and reminded everyone that he had ruled Punk would be
stripped of the title should The Shield interfere. He begun making the
announcement but was interrupted by The Rock. ‘The Great One’ demanded the
match be restarted so that he, not Vince, could take the belt from Punk. If
there’s one thing Vince loves it’s a celebrity so he restarted the match.
Punk launched himself at the ring, stomping and choking
him before hitting his corner knee and the Macho Elbow. Rock, naturally, kicked
out. Punk signalled for a Go to Sleep but Rock slipped out and hit a
spinebuster followed by a People’s Elbow for the three. Punk’s 434 day title
reign ended in a fittingly big fight atmosphere and a fittingly big event.
As much as I would have liked to see CM Punk retain the
WWE championship I can’t deny this was the right finish. The crowd went wild
for The Rock’s win, and having the number one title in the company on a
legitimate movie star during WWE’s peak period is going to help the
WrestleMania buy rate. Punk had to
drop the belt sooner or later, at least this way it was in a big match to a big
name opponent that should have earned WWE a large amount of money.
Although the post-Rumble RAW hasn’t aired yet it seems
reasonable to assume that the Rock v Cena rematch is going to be setup for
WrestleMania. That leaves Punk free to head into a clash with the Undertaker,
after failing to regain the title at Elimination Chamber of course.
These two matches are predictable, yes, but that doesn’t
make them bad. Cena and Rock could improve on their match from last year by
modelling their rematch on the Rumble main event. Setting a quick pace for the
first several minutes before going to rest holds and ringside brawling is a
model that allows for shortcuts. Rock’s a very charismatic man, but he’s not
the wrestler he once was. Shortcuts are of great benefit to him. Meanwhile Cena
is Cena. He always needs shortcuts.
The rematch isn’t my idea of a great match, but then I’m
not WWE’s only customer. The chances are that if you’re reading this blog you
probably don’t want to see Rock v Cena II either. But we’re in the minority.
Most of WWE’s fanbase are kids and casual viewers, most of whom want to see
Cena get his win back on The Rock, or at least interested in the potential of a
return outing, and will pay to see him do it.
Punk and Undertaker should be a great match if it
happens. The now former champion has been elevated so much over the past year
that I think with the right build a decent number of people could be convinced
that he’ll end ‘The Dead Man’s’ Streak.
As I noted above the rest of the card is a blissful
blank. Yes we have two long rumoured bouts looking more certain than ever, but
that’s not a bad thing when the rest of the card’s a complete mystery. WWE have
all but confirmed the two matches that are most going to sell WrestleMania XXIX
and left themselves free to reveal the rest of the show at their own pace. It’s
a smart move that should make television shows interesting for the next month
Royal Rumble was a success in the ring and out. It was a
good first step on the Road to WrestleMania. That’s everything we could have