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 names involved.
‘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.
It was Chris Jericho.
‘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 Yoshi Tatsu).
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 Ryback.
‘Big Hungry’ aside it was a fairly anti-climactic final few.
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
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 Punk.
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 Series 2011.
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 or so.
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 hoped for.