Wednesday 23 January 2013

Royal Rumble 2013 preview

Finally... The Rock will wrestle a WWE championship match. See what I did there? I could be wrong but I'm fairly sure the last time 'The Great One' was involved in a match for the WWE title was at SummerSlam 2002 when he lost it to Brock Lesnar. Coincidentally Paul Heyman was at ringside for that bout as he will be when Rock challenges CM Punk at the Royal Rumble on Sunday.
Rock versus Punk is very clearly the biggest match of Sunday's card, overshadowing even the Royal Rumble itself. Personally I think it should go on last because there's no way the Rumble, no matter how many high spots are included, unexpected surprise entrants there are, or who ends up winning, will top this clash.
Punk's title reign has famously lasted well over a year but there have been very few occasions when it's felt like he could lose the belt. Being booked strongly has meant that more often than not he’s been the favourite going into defences. There has been a very real lack of credible opposition. Only two men have come close to looking like they could take the gold from him: John Cena and Ryback.
Cena could have beaten 'The Second City Saint' to setup his rematch with The Rock earlier than expected. Ryback could have beaten Punk to continue his ascension through the ranks. Both men seemed plausible replacements as champion, unlike previous challengers such as Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, and Chris Jericho.
Rock is only the third man in over a year to pose a credible challenge to the WWE championship. On the surface he would appear to be the favourite. Putting the championship on the company's number one draw during the build-up to the biggest wrestling show of the year would be perfectly sensible. It would encourage plenty of mainstream news coverage, something that WWE (and any other wrestling promotion worth its salt) is always keen to have.
On top of that The Rock has guaranteed victory. That's not something to be taken lightly.

WWE has a habit of scripting their top babyfaces to only promise a win when they're actually going to pull it off (a positive for working in a predetermined industry). It's something I first noticed over a decade ago when 'The Brahma Bull' was still a regular on the roster. He would only "guaran-damn-tee" a win if he was going over at the next PPV. If he wasn't set to win he'd run through the regular babyface spiel but omit a guarantee.
Perhaps I'm reading too far into things. But it is a fact that The Rock only ever used that word when he was set to win. It's also a fact that he used it on the January 14th RAW.
That said a win for The Rock is not a foregone conclusion. The WWE writing team have done a very good job of setting up various strands that could become factors in this match.
First of all there's Paul Heyman at ringside. He could be used as a distraction throughout the bout. It's not impossible to imagine him sacrificing himself into a Rock Bottom to allow Punk to sneak in a match winning GTS. There's The Shield. Vince McMahon may have ruled that if they interfere Punk will be stripped of the belt but that doesn’t mean we definitely won’t see them. They could attack Rock before the bell rings, for example. There's Brad Maddox. He could either be used as a rogue referee or just as general bump fodder, running in to save Punk from getting pinned.
There's even Vickie Guerrero. The writing team went out of their way to establish friction between her and The Rock on the January 14th RAW and continue the theme on the January 21st show. That could certainly indicate Vickie will play a factor at the Rumble. She could add a no DQ stipulation, which would favour Punk, or appoint Maddox as the referee.
Plenty of options for wackily booked outside interference doesn't indicate a win for one guy or the other. Punk's shenanigans could gain him a(nother) tainted victory or Rock could be the valiant babyface and overcome everything to capture the gold. Based on the current booking alone it could go either way.

The man who would be champ
Realistically there's only one way to predict a winner here. It's to ask who's more likely to head into WrestleMania as WWE champion. Punk is rumoured to be the Undertaker's opponent this year. If that's the case then he's going to lose the title before WrestleMania. 'The Dead Man', being a part timer, won't win the title again. That means Punk can't enter that match as champion. If that’s the case then he will need to drop the strap before WrestleMania. That could happen at Elimination Chamber, but having him survive The Rock only to lose the belt three weeks later would seem anti-climactic.

‘The Brahma Bull’ is rumoured to be facing John Cena or Brock Lesnar in New Jersey. The likelihood is we’re going to see Rock v Cena II. Making the rematch a bigger deal than the first encounter would obviously be desirable. The best way of doing that is to include the WWE championship.

All of which means The Rock has to be considered the favourite at the Rumble. If he wins he’ll essentially be a transitional champion to get the belt back onto Cena. Not that that matters. It will be good for business. That’s what matters.
This prediction doesn’t reflect my personal wishes. I would love to see Punk's second WWE title run continue. I enjoy lengthy reigns and I think Punk has been consistently good enough in the role to warrant his time at the top continuing. Sadly WWE don’t consult me on booking decisions.
Moving onto the rest of the card there are four other matches announced: a tag match, two other singles matches, and the Royal Rumble match. All bar the Rumble are for titles. The Rumble match is, of course, for a shot at either of WWE's two world belts at WrestleMania XXIX.
The other world championship will be defended by your favourite Latin Hero and mine, Alberto Del Rio. His opponent will be the former World Heavyweight champion, Big Show. Yes, for the second year in a row 'The Giant' will wrestle for the WHC at the Royal Rumble. If that doesn't illustrate the lack of depth of the WWE headline roster I don't know what does.
As was the case with their encounter on the January 11th SmackDown this will be fought under Last Man Standing rules. That SmackDown match was surprisingly enjoyable and I've been amazed at how well Del Rio has transferred to the good guy role so there's every chance this will be a heated encounter.
The smart thing to do would be to open the show with this match and not have them out there for too long. 'The World's Largest Athlete' is not served well by long bouts. Opening with this would kick off the evening with something big and keeping the bout short would not only ensure Show doesn't blow up but would also mean the two don't have to worry about holding any big spots off for the latter portion. It would serve as an action packed opener.
I'll be surprised if Big Show regains the championship here. Why would Del Rio win it only to drop it back to the same guy three weeks later?
The rivalry between Team Hell No and The Rhodes Scholars could have been excellent. All four can produce great matches when given the time and all have firm enough handles on their characters to contribute amusing segments to TV. It's surprising then just how little the two units have interacted since their programme started three months ago. They've spent most of their time teaming up with random singles wrestlers for six mans. Considering how popular Kane and Bryan were when they were first put together this has to be considered a missed opportunity.
The time seems right for the doubles belts to change hands. Not only would it give the teams a reason to continue clashing (does anyone remember what started their dispute?) and possibly liven up their feud but it would also freshen up the tag scene. Both would be nice to see.

The US title match, being on the pre-show, probably won’t feature a title change. It should be an entertaining affair served well by the first match pop. If The Miz is going to beat Cesaro for the belt it’ll probably happen at Elimination Chamber.
Finally there's the Royal Rumble match. As I noted in my preview of last year's event (read it here) i
t's practically impossible to pick a winner for the Rumble. Not only is WWE's long term planning fairly lacklustre but the group has displayed a willingness to alter what plans it does have if too many fans correctly guess an outcome. Yes, that is a stupid reason for changing plans. Welcome to the mind of Vince McMahon.
There are three realistic candidates in my eyes. Top of the list is John Cena. If he doesn't get a rematch with The Rock at this year's WrestleMania what's he going to do instead? There's time for something else to be set up for both him and Rock but everything we've seen and heard over the last several months indicates a Cena v Rock rematch. The only event that befits that bout is WrestleMania. The simplest way of setting it up is to have 'The Franchise' win the annual battle royal and have Rock beat Punk.
The second likeliest guy to win, and he's a distant second, is Randy Orton. A Rumble victory could put 'The Viper' on course to tackle Alberto Del Rio for the World title at WrestleMania. An Orton versus Rock clash is possible too, but not particularly likely. If WWE were planning that they'd have hinted at it by now.
What goes against the idea of 'The Apex Predator' winning is his rumoured heel turn. Having him lose this match would add to the list of reasons the character has for going bad. It adds to his frustrations with the WWE system. The best thing for the Orton character is to come close to winning before getting eliminated by whoever he's facing at 'Mania (probably Sheamus).
The third and final man I think should be considered is Ryback. As the man WWE are most keen to elevate the possibility of 'The Human Wrecking Ball' winning here can't be ignored. Granted it's tough to imagine him facing any of the company's biggest names at 'Mania but that doesn't mean it won't happen. The Royal Rumble is traditionally used as a starting point for title feuds at WrestleMania after all. What seems unlikely now could seem obvious with hindsight next Monday morning.
As we don’t know everyone who’ll be entering the match it would be easier to say who won't win. But that would take too long.
Speaking of who’ll be in the match it’s probably best not to take any lists of entrants you may come across to heart. The likes of Cena, Orton, Sheamus, Ziggler and the rest of the main event crew are going to appear. Beyond that nothing can be certain. Even comedy favourites 3MB, who were among the earliest to declare their entry into the bout, won't necessarily compete. WWE has a nasty track record of breaking their promises with this sort of thing, particularly with regards to the Rumble.
We can be hopeful of some surprises though. I wrote a completely separate entry on that subject last month so for extended thoughts give that a read here
. The short version is that Chris Jericho and-or Batista could both make one off appearances and that this would be an ideal time to reintroduce John Morrison, Shelton Benjamin and MVP, all of whom are rumoured to be on the rehire list, to the roster.
The man I'm going to pick to win is John Cena. We've had a couple of years of relatively surprising winners. WWE can afford to go with something thoroughly predictable this year. We should be more concerned with how well the match is booked than who's going to win anyway. After a humdrum match last year
and only a so-so effort the year before something special needs to be done here in order to maintain the perception that Royal Rumble is a special event.
At the moment this looks like a show with lots of potential for excitement. Obviously the matches everyone cares about are the multi-man tussle and the WWE championship match. The other two bouts could be decent but ultimately their quality is irrelevant. This show's status as a hit or a miss depends on the success, or lack thereof, of the two big matches.
Everyone involved knows what's at stake. With this being the launching pad for WrestleMania XXIX's line-up I'm confident WWE won’t disappoint.
Predictions summary:
The Rock to beat CM Punk
John Cena to win the Royal Rumble
Alberto Del Rio to beat Big Show
The Rhodes Scholars to beat Team Hell No
Antonio Cesaro to beat The Miz

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