Wednesday 22 January 2014

Royal Rumble 2014 preview

This year's Royal Rumble is being sponsored by Jackson Hewitt. That’s a tax company. This has nothing to do with the show but I think it's something that should be brought to people's attention. WWE pay-per-views are being sponsored by tax companies now. It's a long way from Castrol GTX.

The show also feels a long way from last year's version. Headlined by CM Punk defending the WWE championship against The Rock it was clear in advance that the 2013 edition of the Rumble would be a financial success. It ended up being watched by 498,000 homes. While lower than the expected 500,000 it was still the most financially successful Rumble since 2002. This year's event will probably exceed the 400,000 mark, because it's WWE's second biggest annual show these days, but it's not likely to crack the half million barrier.

The reason for this is the absence of The Rock. Without him it's just another Rumble with no reasons to tune in beside the obvious. Brock Lesnar has a certain appeal and carries a big fight feel on to any show he appears on but he's not The Rock. He attracts a different sort of crowd, one not as large as the Attitude Era faithful that tune in to see 'The Great One'.

Even if Lesnar was the sort of man who brought a significantly larger audience pitting him against Big Show is not the sort of match that will make the event a must-see. It feels like it's happening to get 'The Pain' on to the show rather than a battle between megastar names. And that's because it is just a way of getting Lesnar onto the show. Their interactions have done nothing for me and I'm not at all interested in the match. Lesnar has shown fear in order to make 'The Giant' look like a legitimate threat to his dominance. It's nice to see but I don't believe for a moment that Lesnar won't overcome Show. He'll win, to remind everyone that's what he does, and then he'll move on to better, but not necessarily bigger (see what I did there?), things.

The WWE title match between challenger John Cena and champion Randy Orton is another match that doesn't feel special. It should, because they're two of the company's top names. The reason it doesn't is over familiarity. They wrestled each other at TLC and they've had various other rivalries over the years. People know how their matches will go and aren't capable of or intereste din being shocked by the pair.

I'll be surprised if the title (it would be more accurate to say titles but whatves) changes hands in this match. Orton became the undisputed champ at the last PPV by beating Cena. If Cena was to have the championship(s) he probably would have just had them at TLC, granting him a longer reign and making his eventual loss of the title more meaningful.

So I'm predicting a successful defence for 'The Alex Predator'. That said you can never be fully certain Cena will fail when it comes to title matches. While I don't expect it I wouldn't be surprised if Cena came out on top. It would cast some doubt on to the WrestleMania card if nothing else. Cena currently looks a bit of a spare part for that show. The title would alter that.

The card proper will feature just two other matches: Bray Wyatt v Daniel Bryan and the Rumble itself. But there's also a pre-show match that will see tag team champions Goldust and Cody Rhodes defend against the New Age Outlaws.

I find the prospect of this match more exciting than anything else that's been announced bar the Rumble itself. Codedust (a name just as good if not better than internet fave The Brotherhood) have had a steady stream of match of the night performances on pay-per-view and RAW over the last few months and the Outlaws are one of the greatest teams ever. They're not fantastic technical wrestlers but they make up for that by being incredibly engaging and working as a team. I think this will be the second best match of the night behind the Rumble. As much as I like them I don't think the Outlaws will win. That doesn't seem to be their role now. But I'd love to be wrong here.

Back on the main card there will be a showdown between Bray Wyatt and Daniel Bryan. 'The Dazzler' has been linked to the Wyatt Family for around three months so it's impressive that we're only now seeing a singles match between him and the faction's leader. As feuds go it's been okay but nothing special. I think they’ll end on a high here. Bryan is a barrel of popularity, Wyatt is a compelling and convincingly insane character, and both are very good wrestlers. They will have the crowd interested and ought to produce something memorable.

I'm expecting a Bryan win. As I've already said I think this will be the final entry in the Bryan-Wyatts saga. Having a mid-card bad guy beat the most popular man on the roster just as the hype begins for WrestleMania would make no sense. Expect a clean victory for Bryan. Probably via the Yes Lock.

Speaking of Bryan he is not one of the twenty confirmed entrants in the Royal Rumble. A surprising number of people seem to have taken this to mean he definitely won’t be in the match and it means nothing of the sort. Bryan could very easily take one of the ten remaining spots and if he does he stands a very good chance of being amongst the final men in the match.

For much of the last month I’ve been split on who to pick as a winner. Daniel Bryan is the hottest man in the company, with the crowd being so into him it would feel like a massive waste if WWE didn’t have him win this year. CM Punk is a top babyface and doesn’t really have much going on storyline-wise, something a Rumble win would obviously change. Ultimately it’s the fact that Punk has nothing clear lined up for WrestleMania whilst Bryan has an obvious match waiting for him with Triple H that has made me pick Punk.

There are other names that deserve a mention here. Batista returned on Monday’s RAW and immediately became a lot of people’s favourite to win (including friend of the blog Dan Pryce). Roman Reigns has been prepped to become the breakout member of The Shield. I think most people are expecting the group to split and have a triple threat match at ‘Mania but maybe WWE will surprise us and award Reigns a huge push before we can see it coming.

The same could go for Big E Langston. He’s got the headliner look and would be just about believable as a surprise winner. I’m still not convinced WWE won’t do a Big E Langston v John Cena face versus face encounter, and having each win their respective matches at the Rumble would set that up nicely. Speaking of surprise winners brings up the thought of Sheamus. His victory from nowhere two years ago was part of WWE’s effort to have fans accept him. It didn’t completely work but it didn’t completely fail either. Shaymo could return at this year’s event and get a second surprise win. Nobody wants to see it but that won’t stop them!

Of course, predicting the Rumble is about more than simply discussing potential winners. There are first entrants, last entrants, longest lasters, most efficient eliminators, cameos, returnees, and final fours to discuss. In one of many example of WWE reusing tried and tested storylines the first entrant has already been announced as CM Punk. I’d like the flexible Rumble format to be used to tell a new story instead of the number one entrant thing we get every year. Clearly I’ll be waiting until 2015 or beyond.

For the record I think Seth Rollins will go in at two. He’s a big enough name to get a reaction without being big enough to be considered a waste going in so early. And he and Punk can have an exchange that engages the crowd. That’s important, obvs.

For the final spot I’m going to select Alberto Del Rio. I’m assuming that Batista will enter fairly late and be amongst the final people in the match. Having ADR enter fresh would allow him to get the better of Batista without making Batista look weak. Not only that but it would ensure someone significant enters last. WWE is very keen on having notable members of the roster in notable spots. Which irritates me, because the entry numbers are supposed to be random. Anyway…

The final four is impossible to predict. Obviously I expect Punk to be there as I think he’ll win. ‘The Animal’ will probably be involved too, simply because he’s a returning name. I could see a scenario in which Batista reveals he’s aligned with The Authority towards the end of the match (done by Triple H and Stephanie wandering to the ring again), making him a final obstacle for Punk to overcome before winning (as opposed to a good sportsman who respects Punk and will fight him fairly for the right to go on to ‘Mania). It would fit with the current pattern of ‘The Game’ using his old cohorts to help him achieve his goals and would be an interesting development for WrestleMania.

I don’t think it’s likely though. I think Batista’s going to be face for a while. If Bryan’s in the match I’d like to see him in the final two with Punk. It would split the crowd and create an unpredictable finishing sequence because either of those two men could win. This doesn’t seem too likely either.

Roman Reigns has a realistic chance of being the final man eliminated. With that in mind I’ll say the final four will be Punk, Reigns, Del Rio and Batista. Now watch as I’m completely wrong!

Speaking of Reigns I was thinking he’d be the man who makes the most eliminations and lasts the longest this year. Because it would help him stand out, convince us he’s going to win, and continue the preparation for his big singles push. But if I’m picking Punk to win, which I am, and he’s going in at number one, which he is, then I have to select him as the man who’ll be in the match the longest. Reigns is still my guy for most eliminations though. And he’ll roar like a hippo as he does it!

Which leaves me only the cameos and returnees to mention. A Chris Jericho appearance wouldn’t be at all shocking but in truth I quite fancy a WrestleMania without his involvement. Rob Van Dam should come back and get the ‘Y2J’ treatment this year. He can comfortably perform the same function. Sheamus is another obvious name to mention when it comes to returns. I’d be happy if he never came back but that’s obviously not on the cards.

I’m expecting a cameo appearance from Jake Roberts. He’s been talking it up all year and the Hall of Fame induction rumours make me think he’ll get his Rumble moment. The same logic applies to Roddy Piper. There’s talk of his WrestleMania I main event match being inducted into the HOF. Reminding people what he looks like wouldn’t be a bad move. Even Goldberg’s worth a mention, just in case WWE have decided to do something with Ryback and those chants (but I bet you they haven’t and never will).

I am, as always, looking forward to the Royal Rumble. Nothing about this one makes me think it will be a classic edition but I’m confident it will avoid being actively bad.

Predictions summary:
CM Punk to win the Royal Rumble
Randy Orton to defeat John Cena
Daniel Bryan to defeat Bray Wyatt
Brock Lesnar to defeat Big Show
Cody Rhodes and Goldust to defeat The New Age Outlaws

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