Royal Rumble Review 2012: Sheamus Wins to Preserve the World as We Know It

Sheamus celebrates his Royal Rumble victory next to the iconic WrestleMania XXVIII sign

I don’t think many people expected to see that sight at the end of last night. Indeed, if you were to look at my previews, you’ll see he was barely on my radar, though I know he was mentioned by a minority as an outsider. But more on that at the end of the review …

Match 1) Daniel Bryan def. The Big Show and Mark Henry in a Steel Cage Match to Retain the World Heavyweight Championship
I liked the set-up to this match, with Bryan being trapped in a cage with two monsters, and Bryan certainly played up to this, first of all trying to escape instantly from from the cage before being dragged back in for punishment. Indeed, Bryan was the star of the show, bumping in an overblown way and really selling the punishment he was party to. Bryan was the star of the show again, but Henry and Show had moments of their own, such as Show repeatedly splashing Henry against the wall. Bryan had a period of legitimate dominance when he had both Henry and Show down, and was going back and forth between them, but most of the match was him trying to slip out of the cage with minimal effort, and after Show had delivered a WMD to Henry, Bryan saw an opportunity, and climbed the cage to the brink of escape. He and Show fought on top as Bryan slinked ever closer to victory. We were left with the remarkable sight of nothing but air seperating Bryan from the floor with Show holding him only by his wrists. At this point, I expected the brilliant sight of Show pulling and placing Bryan back in to the cage, but instead, Bryan just kinda freed himself and fell to the floor for the retention. This was strange as it was a victory that was more well earned than I would have expected; I was expecting something like  him climbing over Show while he was fighting with Henry, or perhaps that he would loosen the attachments between the cage panels to escape in a way that would again show him as a cowardly champion hanging on by the skin of his teeth. Instead, he kinda earned it, and because we weren’t expecting it, and it wasn’t quite as innovative as all that, it was a bit anticlimactic – to the point where I wonder whether it could have been a botch. That doesn’t mean it was a bad match, it was just a bit of a disappointing finish. This wouldn’t be the first time that previous fantasy booking would render a match finish a little disappointing initially.

Match 2) Beth Phoenix, Natalya & The Bella Twins def. Kelly Kelly, Eve Torres, Tamina & Alicia Fox
I was pleased to see the divas get some PPV time, but was kinda disappointed that it featured the Divas Champion, but was a tag match instead of a Divas Championship match. The match was pretty good when compared to the usual quality of divas matches; kinda formulaic, but certainly watchable. It improved from there towards the end, when Kelly dove from the turnbuckle to all the divas congregated on the floor. It’s not that impressive in itself, but it certainly shows the commitment Kelly evidently has to improving her craft. Then, with the match having broken down, Beth – who has been dominant with every appearance for some time – almost got frustrated with the traction of the match, took charge by fiercely tagging herself in from one of the Bellas, grabbed Kelly and Glam Slammed her for the win. I liked this because it was an uncomplicated story of Beth forcibly rising above the rest of the divas with sheer dominance. Hopefully, this trend will continue and again help recharge the divas division. Otherwise, with the re-emergence of Kharma, maybe this was a deliberate positioning of Phoenix as her natural opponent.

Match 3) John Cena vs Kane Ended in a Double-Countout
I feel like i’ll be under-selling this match because it was quite a long match, and certainly a pretty good match. The problem is I can’t really remember that much about the match, simply because it consisted mainly of brawling, for obvious reasons. Apart from the five-knuckle shuffle from the top rope, the match itself was brutal, but ultimately, kinda bland. It was only when the two got counted out that any vaguely memorable stuff happened. After the two were counted out, the brutality began as Cena hit Kane with some sort of industrial box. Kane and Cena brawled backstage until Kane got the upper hand with one of those chair shots which look like a sick shot the head (without having to do it). With Cena out, Kane came across Zack Ryder’s personal dressing room, which he busted in to to find Ryder (who could move an awful lot for a man with a broken back!) but still couldn’t put up much of a fight. After being stopped, Ryder was driven to the ring in his wheelchair where he was dumped in to the ring, and with Eve Torres looking on, was Tombstoned on his already injured neck and left prone on the mat. Cena soon recovered and made his way out, but only received a Chokeslam from Kane, leaving us with the powerful image of Cena left strewn on the mat next to Ryder. It was certainly a shocking sequence, and was very good for Kane who is one of the few to simply beat up Cena clean. Though I understand why neither Kane or Cena lost, hoping that neither would look weak in loss, it did give us another match with an anticlimactic feel; and though the afters were pretty cool, it could easily be mistaken for one of their recent RAW climaxes. Certainly not much more was achieved.

Match 4) “The Funkasaurus” Brodus Clay def. Drew McIntyre
Not too much to say about this match, other than it was another fantastical outing for Clay, this time in green (FOR $$$) against Drew McIntyre. I’m a huge fan of McIntyre, and with him out first, fighting for a Rumble spot, I expected him to snap his streak and start his renewed push in the Rumble match, then I heard the funk and knew it was all over. Seriously though, at least it was Funkasaurus – perhaps the only one i’d accept beating McIntyre. McIntyre got in a lot more offense than anyone to take on Clay yet, and his psychology was great too, shouting how Funkasaurus was an embarrassment to his livelihood. Ultimately of course, it still ended up funky for him as he got beaten with ease. This was good, but it was another match that could have happened on RAW as, well, it has been happening every week on RAW. The other downside was that this apparently robbed the Rumble match itself of Brodus Clay, and his entrance, which would have been a great Rumble moment.

Match 5) CM Punk def. Dolph Ziggler to Retain the WWE Championship w/ John Laurinaitis as Special Guest Enforcer
This was a very good match, but it has to be said that the actual story of Punk vs Ziggler was secondary to Punk vs Laurinaitis and Laurinaitis trying to keep his job while screwing Punk, and while that was eminently watchable, it did hurt the wrestling match some. The two have very good chemistry, and this match was their best outing to date, starting out slower and more methodical, trading blows and some chains, and looking pretty much evenly-matched. Each man, arrogant in different ways went out of their way show their dominance, be it Ziggler with his regular spots of stopping an Irish whip to strutt, or Punk’s slightly more original spoof of Ziggler by scraping his hair back and flicking the grease at Ziggler while he was in an abdominal stretch. Meanwhile, Ziggler was doing a great job of working Punk’s arm, including a brutal move where he bent Punk’s hand back on the mat, with his elbow facing up, before stamping on the elbow to hyper-extend it more and sharply. As with most of the best matches, it burned slow but steady, and all this built to the point where Ziggler went for the Fameasser only to be reversed, cleanly, in to a spinning powerbomb by Punk (I assume, to correct their slightly awkward one in their first meeting). Up to this point, the match was very even, and after a lot of near falls for Punk, the champion (I think, deliberately) looked surprised/impressed with Ziggler’s resiliency – a rub he would need to make up for the credibility lost in the latter section of the match. Indeed, soon after we had the ref bump which was almost inevitable as soon as Johnny Ace provided a referee to oversee the match in the ring. From this point on is where the story becomes less about Ziggler and more about Big Johnny. With the ref down, Punk ended a slick progression with the Anaconda Vice, which saw Ziggler tap out. Unfortunately for the champ, Ace was clearly diverting his attention from the decision by busying himself with the referee. Punk then reverses Ziggler for another pin attempt that would otherwise have been successful had Laurinaitis not been still distracted. Again, Ziggler goes for Punk, but is reversed, and Punk swings Ziggler round to knock Ace off the apron (but not incapacitate him) before delivering the GTS, and again Ace isn’t there to make the count. Distracted, and with the King calling out Laurinaitis for not getting a new ref, Ziggler reversed another GTS attempt brilliantly in to a Fameasser in mid-air for a very close near fall. It seemed at this point that Ace would cost Punk the title through sheer (deliberate) ineptness when Punk had the match won on three separate occasions. Finally, Punk hit a second GTS to Ziggler coming off a reversed dropkick in to a slingshot, and with the ref compus mentus again, Ace realised there was no way he could cost Punk the title in a way that wasn’t explicit, so decided instead decided to brown-nose a little and over-do his ‘fairness’ by sliding in the ring, and counting along with the referee to hand Punk the match. While I like the subtlety of this story as perfect for Laurinaitis, I think the degree of his involvement distracted from Ziggler’s challenge, which was growing until the ref bump. The fact that Punk beat Ziggler so clearly in the end initially upset me a little as I thought it made Ziggler seem weak, but re-thinking it, he did get some good offense and near-falls on Punk, as well as several pins over him in the build up; and meanwhile, it just makes out champion look great. However, given that the PPV was 10 minutes short, I’d have liked to see them both go at it for ten or so minutes more before the ref bump and maybe cut down the dusty near-falls just a little, and we would have seen a truly great match, where Dolph was equally a star, and Punk was even more impressive in his defence. As we had it, it was the second Punk-Ziggler match in which what was becoming a great match was stunted by timing and/or booking.

Match 6) Sheamus Won The Royal Rumble
Ok, so this match is too big, and too much happens in it to call it play by play in chronological order, but I can certainly talk about the memorable moments: the good and the ugly. The good news is that this was a really fun, memorable Rumble, and so there weren’t many ugly moments at all. In fact, it’s difficult to think of one horrible bit of the Rumble match. One criticism is that the roster was lacking in star power, which I understand, but my only problems were the Kane broke his 13 match entering streak, Brodus Clay didn’t appear, and Big Show was our #30. Apart from that, the comparitive lack of star power is no problem for me; if younger talent can’t get a shot at the Rumble, then who can!? Of course, the come back is that all three of the announcers (including Cole) got a shot and took up three precious spots, but even that played out in a really fun, comical way, with none of them seemingly knowing they were in the match, or noticing they were in their gear. The timing was great, and I think it added to the fun of the match.

This year’s workhorses were The Miz and Cody Rhodes, and I think they did a good job and shone quite well. The Miz was out number one, and was to face Alex Riley, and when Miz eliminated him before #3 came out before animatedly counting one on his finger, I was interested in Miz’s booking in the match. He was the longest running participants in the match anyway, and certainly impressed, but I would have liked to have seen more of the determined aggressiveness in his match, eliminating more people and counting every one on his hand; which I don’t think happenned.

Cody Rhodes, I believe, eliminated the most people in the Rumble, meaning he holds another of the most impressive stats for this match-type; not only that, but if you look at most of the people he eliminated, you’ll see how consciously designed his booking was to get a rub and heat: Mick Foley, Jerry Lawler, Booker T, Jim Duggan, all respected legends. He also eliminated Santino which brings with it it’s own heat.

Another honourable mention goes to Kharma, the 3rd woman ever to enter a Royal Rumble. When her music hit, everyone popped, and then everyone did the mental maths to work out that it was possible that she’d had her child and could be back. In the context of Beth Phoenix’s dominance, I was very excited about her return, and I would be surprised now if we see anything other than Kharma vs Beth at WrestleMania. Kharma’s rumble performance was great, and was probably better than the female’s before her, whose very appearance was great and eliminated someone, but never lasted as well or as strongly as Kharma to my mind.

A final specific shout-out has to go to Kofi Kingston, who had had an average showing until The Miz attempted to eliminate him. With his hands already on the floor, Miz pushed him out, but instead of falling to elimination, Kingston showed remarkable coordination, balance, and strength in balancing vertically, and hand-walking backwards to the ring-steps to save himself! It was absolutely remarkable and a great Royal Rumble “moment” which wont be forgotten. It’s being compared to John Morrison’s ‘Spiderman’ escape from last year, and it seems that this sort of remarkable elimination escape will become a Royal Rumble trope going forward for the most gymnastically gifted, and it’s something I welcome as long as it doesn’t get too formulaic.

Another Royal Rumble “moment” came when Mick Foley and Santino Marella found themselves in the ring together squaring off. Then came the most unexpected, but perfectly brilliant stand-off between The Cobra and Mr. Socko! With just those two active in the match, this moment was framed brilliantly, and like Kofi’s handstand, will be remembered forever. Before this was yet another “moment”: At #8, Alberto Del Rio’s music hit, and the crowd came unglued, which is a great sign for Del Rio as it reiterates that people care about him at a time when perhaps his drawing power was being questioned. People expected a Del Rio quickly healed from injury, but they popped even more for what they actually got: Ricardo Rodriguez, trying to emulate his employer, coming to the ring in the same gear as Del Rio and in a horribly beaten-up car. Fired up, Rodriguez pithily attacked a downed Cody Rhodes before running in to Foley, who he seemed to show respect for, which Foley seemingly warmed to. This led to the remarkable situation of Mick Foley taking Rodriguez under his wing and coaching him to eliminate Justin Gabriel before Santino – a rare time when he was the dominant figure in a ring – eliminated him via wedgie; leading to the sock-pupper stand-off.

Now moving on to the result, business picked up in the early twenties with the arrival of eventual winner, Sheamus. From this point on, the memorable comedy portion of the show was swept away by people like Sheamus, Wade Barrett, and Randy Orton. The action didn’t become particularly interesting again until the man who prophesised ‘the end of the world’, Chris Jericho, arrived at #29. The lights went out, as they have been doing for him since he returned, which cleared some of the ring, and for the first time ever, Jericho entered a Royal Rumble as a house of fire, eliminating David Otunga very quickly, and Randy Orton shortly afterwards for the home-town heat. Indeed, I had seen those two as the final two, so already my best laid fantasy booking was not coming to pass. Eventually, it was down to the unusual pairing of Chris Jericho and Sheamus, most people expecting Y2J to go over (Sheamus, not the top rope). Thus began an exhilarating, edge-of-your-seat one-on-one battle royal with all the marbles on the line, with lots of near-eliminations. Jericho came very close to elimination a few times, especially when he was hanging on the ropes, I think consciously emulating Shawn Michaels from 1995, before saving himself. Watching it live, I was thinking that they were getting Jericho as close to elimination as possible so that when he won, it would be all the more dramatic. And then he got Brogue Kicked, his feet touched the floor … the 2012 Royal Rumble winner had come second … or something. What? I won’t lie, I was disappointed. When it was just Jericho and Sheamus, I was convinced Jericho had it won, and I was pleased to see how he’d do it, how he’d end the world, and I just couldn’t comprehend how Sheamus winning was better than all of the finish scenarios I had in mind (see: my Royal Rumble preview).

Poring over reaction to it was like a rollercoaster, but slowly, i’ve come round to the result. Especially following RAW, in which Jericho was firmly positioned to take on CM Punk anyway. Admittedly, there have been no answers or response to the ‘end of the world stuff’, and Jericho’s involvement in itself wasn’t mind-blowing, but other than the fact that he doesn’t have the accolade of the Royal Rumble on his resumé, him not winning really isn’t that big of an issue now. Sheamus, on the other hand, needed something new. He’s super-over since turning face, but hasn’t really done anything of note storyline-wise. Going towards WrestleMania, one of the company’s biggest, though not solidified as such, stars has nothing really on his plate. The Royal Rumble can be used to ‘make’ someone, so why not let Sheamus take it and give him a feud (most likely with Daniel Bryan) to get his teeth in to. Not only that, but looking at the match aside from all other conjecture, Sheamus is a very popular face, and it pleases the normal fans not obsessed by online gossip because he is one of their favourites and clearly loves the business and the opportunity he’s been given. Though i’m still upset Jericho didn’t win, i’m pleased and see the value in Sheamus winning. I just hope he takes the spotlight he’s been given.

The IWC is a passionate community, part of the ‘dysfunctional family’ of wrestling that Mick Foley has spoken of, but it also demands the highest of standards, often contradictory, based on the fumes of conjecture. Before this Rumble, we learned that there were big plans for Punk and Jericho, and so we all started thinking of how Jericho would position himself against Punk, and what cool things he could do at the Rumble. Jericho gave a great performance at the Rumble, one which played off our expectations for him by coming close but not winning and ending the world, but because it didn’t live up to our individual expectations, our wildest fantasy booking, it has been very deflating to some fans and has led to an unfair backlash on the Sheamus win. The IWC and fantasy booking is something I love to feed on as a fan, but this shows the downside of that side of the business.

Overall then, I enjoyed this Royal Rumble PPV. A few of the matches misfired until the WWE Championship match, which was very good, and the Royal Rumble itself was one of the most fun and enjoyable Rumble matches I can remember watching!

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Royal Rumble 2012, Preview & Predictions

The Royal Rumble, January 29th, 2012, from the Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO

The Royal Rumble is on many ways my favourite PPV, and certainly my favourite outside of WrestleMania. There is just an innate magic about the event. It is the flash of excitement that sets us on our way to WrestleMania, and at its best can give us iconic moments, everlasting stories, and maybe even the genesis of a new star. Who’d have thought a battle royal could be so unpredictable and captivating?

Looking at the card, it seems rather light, even for the Rumble. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an extra match; maybe Cody Rhodes vs Goldust, or Epico & Primo over another team, and either would be very welcome. But on to the predictions!

Match 1) World Heavyweight Championship Cage Match: Daniel Bryan (c) vs The Big Show vs Mark Henry (?)
First of all, the question mark is because it look like Henry legitimately blew out his knee on the go-home Smackdown, and so may not be able to compete. This would, of course, fundamentally, change the story of the match. Either it’ll be a one-on-one match, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a ‘suitable replacement’, someone like Randy Orton, or most likely, Sheamus. Either way, the task for a heel Daniel Bryan to overcome someone as powerful as Big Show, has been deliberately set up as almost impossible. Indeed, even on Smackdown where he beat down Show with a chair, he couldn’t overcome The Giant, and ended up being Chokeslammed. Before Smackdown, I thought Bryan would win, but this result only confirmed that, as says the general textbook of professional wrestling; i.e. if the story seems to be that a wrestler can’t win, they will find a way to, and given that this is Bryan’s exact schtik as champion, it seems that’ll be the story here. Bryan running around Show and possibly another in a cage could be pretty fun and memorable, but the better story will be just how Bryan wins the match, because at the minute, I can’t imagine it, especially if he has just one opponent. I’m looking forward to finding out, provided i’m right of course.

Winner: Daniel Bryan

Match 2) John Cena vs Kane
This was the hardest match to predict because it depends upon second-guessing where John Cena’s character is going, and how exactly he might ’embrace the hate’. The match will doubtless be absolutely brutal, but i’m not sure how enjoyable it will be. Regarding who could win, as I say, it depends on where the storyline is going. Most people seem to be backing a Kane win here. For a while, I was going against the grain, believing that Cena might have embraced the ruthlessly aggressive hate and would be all over Kane, much to Kane’s delight in the end. However, I think that would quell the threat that Kane offers too soon and would pull Cena back from the brink of heeldom. So i’m back with the crowd now, thinking Kane will win, either because Cena goes nuts on him and gets himself disqualified, or because Cena hasn’t embraced enough hate yet, despite what will doubtless be a ruthless, emotionless showing from Cena.

Winner: Kane

Match 3) WWE Championship Match: CM Punk (c) vs Dolph Ziggler (Special Guest Referee: John Laurinaitis)
The pairing of Punk and Ziggler is one that is mouth-watering in itself. Given time, this could be an absolute classic from two of the greatest wrestlers of their generation. Going in, Punk is the overwhelming favourite, given his rocketship to the top of late, the relative brevity of his reign so far, and the fact the Ziggler probably isn’t quite ready for the top championship, at least on the WresteMania stage. However, this match has the added element of John Laurinaitis as special guest referee; a man who’s canonical existence is solely down to being criticised in Punk’s original shoot, and therefore a man who’s entire existence is to hamper CM Punk’s career. Indeed, Laurinaitis has openly said that he intends to screw Punk, so how can Punk possibly win? Like Bryan, he has a seemingly unassailable hurdle in front of him, but his story is that of a hero, making it different. Despite this, I still can’t see him not leaving with the title, and I imagine that result will revolve around Punk taking Laurinaitis out, in order to bring down a fresh referee, which counts Ziggler’s shoulders after a great match. Of course, not only will this give Ziggler currency to remain on Punk’s radar, but it will build the tension between Punk and Laurinaitis even further going forward.

Winner: CM Punk

THE ROYAL RUMBLE
I’ve waxed excitable enough about the Royal Rumble match in the introduction. We know that it’s almost a given that it will be enjoyed, and exciting, with that familiar pay-off as the one man left stands alone in the ring, the winner. One of the stories here was added kinda subtly in one of the PPV promos, which said ‘for the first time, all WWE superstars are eligible for the match’ over footage of WWE Champion, CM Punk, instantly leading to questions about whether champions like Punk could enter. The main puzzlement was that, surely the champion can’t enter because surely the whole point is that the winner faces the champion. If he is in, does that mean that he could lose the title because of Laurinaitis, and then go on to win the Rumble? Or could the same happen fro Daniel Bryan? Also, surely it’s always been the case that anyone can enter the Rumble? And surely the one-off entrants (especially the celebrity ones!) aren’t active WWE Superstars? It’s a confusing, intriguing storyline addition. Could Laurinaitis win the Rumble? HHH? If it is someone directly related to this addition, it’ll have to be someone genuinely surprising, shocking even, or I think ther’ll be something of an underwhelmed, disappointed reaction. So with all this, who are the main contenders?

Randy Orton: The home-town hero made his return at Smackdown this week, tearing through Wade Barrett and others on the roster, going in to the Rumble hot. The Rumble being in his home town has for obvious reasons made him a favourite for the match. I don’t buy it too much though. I don’t know exactly what would happen. I would like to see him take on Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania, but that could be said for a lot of people. Also, they’ve spoiled the big return from injury pop already on Smackdown that would often accompany a Rumble win.

Cody Rhodes: Rhodes is one of a few men tipped to climb the mountain even further in 2012, possibly to the World Title. Add to that his recent claim that he will ‘do an Ultimate Warrior’ and hold both the Intercontinental Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship at the same time. What a way to get over as a top star! If he were to win, i’d like to see Orton go over and finally see him and his mentor square up at WrestleMania with the gold on the line.

Dolph Ziggler: Like Rhodes, and shown by title shot at this event, Ziggler is on his way to the top, and perhaps after Punk scuppering his chance at the title, he could again do double duty and this time come out on top and go to WrestleMania to face Punker again.

Chris Jericho: Since Y2J returned at the start of the year, he has become a favourite for the match. His rumoured match with Punk at WrestleMania, and his claim that the Rumble will be the end of the world as we know it seems to position him well to be the main talking point of the show. Also, Chris Jericho is my favourite wrestler, and I always kinda think he could win! This year though, it seems more credible than ever. If he does win though, because of his promise that it’ll be the end of the world as we know it, it’ll have to be done in a unique, eye-catching way. I’ve suggested that Orton ‘wins’ the Rumble, before Steph comes out, and announces that there will be one final contender, #31, Chris Jericho, who emerges from ringside and dumps Orton over while he’s celebrating on the turnbuckle. Maybe he could enter the ring at #30, with a few other superstars in there, who all eliminate each other, signalling the genesis of a new Jericho-led group set on bringing about ‘the end of the world’. It has otherwise been suggested (and it’s a better suggestion than both of mine) that he comes out at #30, just as the only other two left eliminate each other, leaving Jericho only having to step in to the ring to win. Anything original like that would be fantastic and instantly iconic.

Other Dark Horses: Sheamus and Wade Barrett, who have both been having a good run of late, and are credible main eventers. I don’t quite see it for them though; it just doesn’t quite seem to fit at the moment, apros-pos of absolutely nothing on my part I have to admit.

Special Mention: He wont win, but I can’t wait for Brodus Clay to emerge! What a moment it’ll be! Imagine,  he comes out doing his whole routine, with both his dancers, enters the ring, brushing people aside as he dances before taking his trousers off as the ring pyro goes off (yes, I want the ring pyro to go off!). Brilliant.

So, without further ado, and to no surprise of anyone who knows me, here is my Rumble prediction …

Winner: Chris Jericho

Poll: So, Who’s Gonna Win the Royal Rumble Then?

Last year, I predicted CM Punk would win the Rumble, and was very wrong. Friends of mine, however, know that usually, I hold out some hope that Chris Jericho will win and predict he will do just that. Every year I rationalise Jericho winning – even last year when he wasn’t with the company I wrote that he could return. Well, at the risk of sounding hopelessly naive … MAYBE THIS YEAR!

This seems more credible this year than any other. At the moment Jericho is only challenged by Randy Orton for most likely winner in the eyes of everyone i’ve seen or heard waxing prophetic on the issue. There are, however, a few more guys on the rise that could get a shot. So time for a quick overview of the front runners!

Chris Jericho: Jericho recently returned to the WWE in a cloud of deliberately frustrated anticipation. Since then he has been arguably the most prominant figure in the company as everyone is fascinated in just what he will (or won’t) do next!. But he can’t do that forever, and it is believed that he will be challenging CM Punk for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XXVIII, making him a prime candidate for the Rumble victory.

Randy Orton: Randy Orton seems to be the other front runner for the sole reason that it is taking place in his home town of St. Louis and, well, that he’s Randy Orton. It would certainly have a lot of impact if he were to return from injury sooner than expected to win.

Cody Rhodes: Rhodes has been one of the two greatest and fastest up-and-comers in the WWE this year, and recently claimed that he will ‘do an Ultimate Warrior’ and hold both the World and Intercontinental Championships. Whether he achieves this or not, it draws out a definite intended route to the World Title, and a match where either Rhodes could come away with both titles, or that even both were on the line in would be a big draw, and could be part of title unification with the US Championship.

Dolph Ziggler: Ziggler is the second of the two fastest and greatest up-and-comers in the WWE this year. He has now been booked in a World Championship match at two consecutive Royal Rumbles, and so is clearly being tested for the big time. Perhaps his star is a little short of a WrestleMania main event still, but a shock turn of double duty and Royal Rumble win could really get him over.

There are more, but I don’t want to infringe too much on my preview post for the Royal Rumble, so i’ll leave you with those four for now:

2011 Match of the Year: The Results

So finally, after a period of voting, the results are in for the 2011 Match of the Year. There were only really two candidates for the honour: CM Punk vs John Cena for the WWE Championship at Money in the Bank, and Undertaker vs Triple H at WrestleMania XXVII. And out of those two matches, there was a clear winner.

CM Punk def. John Cena to Win the WWE Championship (Money in the Bank): 71.43%
The Undertaker def. Triple H to Maintain ‘The Streak’ (WrestleMania XXVII): 28.57%

I agree with this anyway, so without further ado, the top 3 matches of 2011

1) CM Punk def. John Cena to Win the WWE Championship (Money in the Bank)
Pro-wrestling perfection is what sums this match, and the story behind it. With CM Punk holding the WWE status quo hostage, he stepped in to the All State Arena in his hometown of Chicago and became a hero for millions in one of the most heated, intense atmospheres ever seen in wrestling. Wrestling a 30+ minute classic with WWE posterboy, John Cena, Punk came out victorious, to the delight of everyone watching. After frustrating every effort by Mr. McMahon to scupper him, by blowing a kiss and holding the WWE Championship over his head among the crowd, and out of the WWE.

2) The Undertaker def. Triple H to Maintain ‘The Streak’ (WrestleMania XXVII)
The Streak is arguably the most precious accolade in all of pro wrestling, and legend upon legend has tried and failed to break it. HHH had failed ten years earlier, would try the feat again, and this time, he seemed to be an even bigger threat. This was one of the most emotionally draining matches I have ever seen, as after some great back and forth and great spots in themselves, worthy of any MOTY themselves, HHH got the upper hand, mercilessly beating down Undertaker. The Phenom’s body was broken, but his black spirit remained. HHH couldn’t beat him, even after several Pedigrees, chair shots, and finally a Tombstone Piledriver. Finally, resorting to his trademark sledgehammer, he approached Taker, only to get lost in the Hells Gate with the last of the Phenom’s strength for the win. Genuinely beautiful.

3) Randy Orton def. Christian to Retain the World Heavyweight Championship (Over the Limit)
Seen as there was no third runner in the voting, I decided to nominate my choice for third place in the MOTY competition, and I’ve chosen a great match from one of the best series of matches of the year between Randy Orton and Christian. At this point, both guys were still babyfaces, and this led to a great match, shrouded in honour and respect. After a long back and forth match, the end came after a brilliant, quick progression of move and counter, Orton hit the RKO to cement a great win.

So, any thoughts on this. PLEASE SHARE … obviously, and continue to enjoy the blog! In the mean time, follow me on twitter at @RTVWOW, for thoughts on the world and wrestling, as well live-blogging of live events. Thanks y’all!

The RAW View (16/01/2012): Jericho Bails, Punk Shoots, Ace Snaps

Jack Swagger def. Zack Ryder to Win the United States Championship
Swagger and Ryder’s respective angles from last week converged seamlessly in to a title change on this week’s RAW. With Ryder destroyed by Kane last week, and Swagger compensated for a botched ref call with a championship match, all the stars were aligned for a title change, but of course, John Laurinaitis already knew that (but more on that later). Ryder and Eve as a budding couple worked much better away from the teen flick plot too, and was much more likeable and believable (as opposed to thinking ‘Why are they messing around with a car? Oh yeah, Kane … fine’) I liked the story of the match, with Ryder insisting on competing with his injuries, and Swagger targeting his heavily wrapped ribs right from the off. Ryder looked brave and strong through the match, even kicking out of two Gutwrench Powerbombs before finally succumbing to a third for the loss. Of course, a lot of eyebrows raised when Ryder lost his championship, him being something of an internet darling, but it is wrong to pre-judge. When Christian had his 5 day first World Title reign, the whole of the IWC (including me) sounded off about the lack of respect shown to Captain Charisma, but then he entered one of the best feuds in recent memory with the man that defeated him. I don’t see something quite of that calibre coming from Ryder and Swagger, but if we get an interesting storyline, we can’t complain. Speaking of Swagger, he’s very much the forgotten piece here, and he’s the new US Champion! Winning this championship would always be a testing ground for the Swag-man. If, given the opportunity, he can’t make something great out of being the All American American … Champion of America, he can’t make anything great ever. Even Sheamus had something cool going by wearing red white and blue and embracing being Irish-American in a heel way. Trouble is, I don’t know if he’ll get the opportunity, as John Cena would later embrace the same hate that injured Ryder, and it seems Ryder will get his rematch on Smackdown, where we could therefore have an exact reversal of fortunes for Ryder against Swagger. We can only wait and see.

John Cena Ruthlessly Aggressivizes The New United States Champion, Jack Swagger
Cena’s strange relationship with Zack Ryder continued to get horror movie weird as he took his aggression out on Jack Swagger for essentially doing nothing wrong than take advantage of a great opportunity in a match that was sanctioned and booked last week and that Ryder agreed to.  Instead of a match, he basically DarkSuperCena’d Jack Swagger while making a face that was suspiciously Kane-esque:

This was pretty well done though, because Cena looked changed, like he was letting some pent up ‘hate’ out, and even if he doesn’t turn heel, it points to some sort of change in Cena, and that’s a good thing. As for Swagger, if he stays US Champ, I don’t think this hurts him too much; I mean, he’d already had a match, and this was nuclear Cena. If he does lose the title on Friday though, winning it will be forgotten, and even all the more embarrassing than if he had have failed to win the championship in the first place.

THE FUNKASAURUS ETC JTG
Ok, so the Funkasarus basically did much the same routine as last week, but it doesn’t matter because it’s amazing. Ring dance, pyro, ‘Should I git hiym!?’, suplex, ‘ma bad …’, splashes, pin, MORE DANCING. Saying that, there were some extras thrown in that only made it better: for one thing, being announced as ‘The Only Living, Breathing, Romping, Stomping Funkasaurus In Captivity.’ It’s literally nonsense, but it makes sense in this funky world! He was also doing funkasaurus claws, which is great without needing any explanation at all. At the moment, I would like to see basically the same every week, but with more funk/dinosaur stuff thrown in, even more ridiculously. Call his finisher the Funkasplashasaurus. Give him several nicknames like the ‘Funkmeister’ or ‘The Philosophunkter’ and so on … I would also like to add that I really like JTG and consider him above jobber rank. One day, hopefully.

Chris Jericho Returns to the Ring, and Then Leaves CM Punk and Daniel Bryan After Being Tagged In
It’s really hard to talk about Chris Jericho at the moment, not because he’s dull, or unwatchable, but for the exact opposite reason. Everything he’s doing is absolutely groundbreaking and awe-inspiring, and while I have ideas about some of what he may be doing, trying to second-guess it seems the wrong thing to do. On the other hand, that is, essentially, my job, so here goes. First off, I love how Chris Jericho has found away to actually communicate via the means of LED Jacket! It’s such a bizarre, enigmatic, and kinda douchey passive aggressive thing to do … it fits perfectly! Well, by doing that, he acquiesced to his in-ring return in the main event. Well I didn’t know what to expect. I was kinda disappointed he was going to wrestle before the Rumble, but I figured he wouldn’t just show up and wrestle as normal, and I was – of course – excited to see my favourite wrestler return to action. Before talking about the match, I should say that I thought through all the toing and froing, this was a really fun main event, awesomeness aside; and that the trio of Punk, Bryan, and Jericho may well be my genuine dream team. All through the match, Jericho was characteristically overplaying his role, begging for the hot tag, whipping the crowd in to a frenzy, and finally, after a good ten minutes of standing there in his ring gear (even tying up his boots so he’d be ready to compete), he was tagged. The crowd went wild, and so did Jericho, as he fell in to his familiar routine of playing excitedly to the crowd. We were all waiting for him to enziguiri the face off of David Otunga. We all wanted it. We all expected it. But then he just turned and laxly tagged Bryan in before leaving the ring, smiling. He stopped the pop in it’s tracks (nonsense wrestling talk). That’s what Jericho is doing to a lot of well held wrestling canon – rendering it a kind of nonsense. Until this week, he has simply addressed and undermined the usual expected relationship between wrestler and fans; this week, he extended that to the actual wrestling. There’s a belief (that i’ve heard a few people forward, and that may have some truth behind it) that a modern WWE audience is interested less in seeing wrestling, and more in seeing the wrestlers just being there. It’s a sad state of affairs, and maybe Jericho is satirising/challenging this. Every week he shows up, and does nothing else before getting overwhelmed (possibly because his character is feigning a belief that he doesn’t deserve such adulation). This week, he appeared in the ring, and participated in a staple spot (the hot tag), but then acted like he’d done his job and left. Even if my theory about him questioning the righteousness of exactly what the fans want is off, its at the very least, a great general undermining of another aspect of what helps make wrestling what it is. Whatever’s happening, at least when Jericho’s around, it’s the end of the world (universe) as we know it.

CM God Returned With Genuine Pipebombs and Made John Laurinaitis Snap on Mick Foley
I say ‘CM God’ returned because that is what I referred to him as after his shoot on RAW before Money in the Bank which saw the genesis of the great CM Punk we have today, and hopefully, a new, improved era of top stars and championship prestige. I refer to that moment because I think this was the best Punk has been since then, and that’s saying something. During the last match, with CM Punk left along against Dolph Ziggler and David Otunga, Mick Foley leapt to his side to assist, supposedly with the sanction of John Laurinaitis, and helped win the match with his double arm DDT and Mr. Socko’d Mandible Claw. Having waited for the match to end, consummate bureaucrat, Laurinaitis came down to reverse the decision. A flabbergasted Punk, exhausted by the signs that Laurinaitis (the guest referee for his title match  at the Rumble) would do whatever it takes to screw him, Punk snapped in to Pipebomb mode. When he was shooting on Vince, one of my favourite moment was during his contract negotiation with Mr. McMahon. In the past, we’ve seen Austin stun him countless times, so a punch or a GTS would have no impact. Instead, Punk shoved Vince humiliatingly, and that was amazing because we’ve never seen that kind of contempt and disrespect for McMahon before. Punk behaved similarly with Johnny Ace here, picking and poking his suit, so is the disdain he has for the corporate suit who hates him for even existing, letalone being ‘the man’. Of course, this was the impression got from Laurinaitis in real life, and you can see he was drawing from that during this passionate rant, telling him exactly why he is better than him, and why Ace, with his ‘kissass’ passive aggressive that held him back was worthy of his contempt, before threatening him, in very plain unveiled words, what he would do if he was screwed out of his title. I wont go over everything he said, but we got Punk at his best – the emotion throbbing through the screen and making us interested in him, his plight, and his championship. Then, in a great aesthetic (something Punk has, again, created many of recently), Punk showed exactly what a corporate shill Laurinaitis is by pretending to engage him in violence (rather than passive aggressiveness) by offering a punch, only for Ace to cower away. His point proved, he called the outwardly proud EVP and IGM pathetic before leaving. This sold the genuine tension between the two, and to give Laurinaitis his props, he sold his sheer frustration excellently. Usually infuriatingly even-tempered behind the scenes while finding ways to stack the deck against certain superstars, Laurinaitis was pacing, grimacing and loosening his tie. Foley, in typical goofy but brilliantly pitched mode, gave Ace the thumbs up before questioning him outright whether he intended to screw Punk. In an important milestone, Ace admitted this, moving him from a man who acted reasonably, but who was clearly stacking the deck, to a man who was outwardly trying to screw a top babyface. It’ll be interesting to see if Laurinaitis remains this way, or goes back to the evil bureaucrat (though now occasionally losing his temper and showing his true colours). I like both incarnations; though I like the former better, the tension is certainly more readily apparent in the latter. As of now, it looks like a mix, as he basically let Punk get away with it, before taking his aggression out on the less suspecting victim of Foley, saying he ‘wont take it anymore’ before cheap-shotting him with a mic to close the show. This was certainly shocking to see given the unshakably calm, corporate persona of Laurinaitis to date, showing the effect Punk’s pipebombs can have on his targets. This is the best way to use Foley. Here, in the ring, and with Ziggler in an earlier promo, he embellished the talent without dominating the screen, and he worked best as the innocent victim of Johnny Ace because it showed his true colours without necessitating rushing the physicality between him and Punk.

A stunning ending to the show, and after that, the championship match at the Rumble is even more ‘must-see’ than before.

RTV Pro-Wrestling Hall of Fame, Class of 2012 – Entrant #2: Booker T

Ok, so, at the time of writing, Booker T has only just finished, or may even continue a programme with Cody Rhodes, but when he left TNA as an active wrestler and came to the WWE to announce, I think that signaled the end of his full-time career, making him eligible for the Hall of Fame. Not only is he eligible, but he’s very deserving!

A lot of wrestlers are characterised as coming from ‘tough’ backgrounds to get them over as sympathetic babyfaces, but in the case of Booker T and his brother Stevie Ray, their background in the crime-ridden South Park neighbourhood in Houston, Texas, where he was brought up in part by his brother after both his parents had passed away by the time he was 14. Having had brushes with the law himself, and being a single father, Booker finally made his way to wrestling by being lent the money to go to Ivan Putski’s wrestling school. Booker’s background would continue to be an important part of his character throughout his career. After cutting their teeth with Putski, Booker and his brother went to WCW where they became the legendary tag team, The Harlem Heat. A heel team for the most part, the Heat were incredibly successful over a long period of years, winning no less than 10 WCW Tag Team Chamionships, beating teams as impressive as Lex Luger & Sting, The Steiner Brothers, The Nasty Boys, Public Enemy, Bam Bam Bigelow & Kanyon, and The Outsiders. Booker would later make it out on his own as a singles competitor, making a star of himself when the rest of the company was failing, becoming only the second African-American World Champion in history, going on to win the WCW title a total of five times, and a further World Championship in WWE. He was, indeed, one of the few stars to crossover from the enemy to WWE and make a success of himself, winning several championships aside from the World Championship, as well as the 2006 King of the Ring. Having gone to TNA in 2007, he was one of their most successful and popular stars before finally returning to WWE as an announcer in 2011 where he’d move on to the next stage of his career – though he’s still in great ring shape, having a good set of matches with Cody Rhodes and helping a new generation to get over. As one of the very few African-American world champions, and most successful and popular stars of the Nineties and Noughties, Booker T certainly deserves a slot in any wrestling Hall of Fame.

RTV Pro-Wrestling Hall of Fame, Class of 2012 – Entrant #1: Edge

I posted my ‘Core 50’ RTV Hall of Famers only yesterday, which can be found here, in the Hall of Fame section of the blog: https://rtvwrestling.wordpress.com/the-rtv-pro-wrestling-hall-of-fame/ But I also promised that I would induct a new member whenever WWE did to theirs, and during the process of writing the Core 50, WWE announced two inductees to their Hall of Fame (not including Mil Macsaras), and so I now have to announce two, and my first is also their first.

It’s only been nine months since Edge was forced to retire due to neck injuries, and most sports Halls of Fame have a sense of propriety, inducting members a couple of years after their retirement so as their retirement can sink in and their careers can be evaluated. In wrestling however, propriety is not a priority, at least not more so than nostalgia. Saying that, I do consider the speed of Edge’s entrance troublesome. But then again, look at his career. It all becomes legitimate.

Edge has an impressive list of trainers, including Dory Funk Jr. and Stu Hart, but those skills weren’t necessarily the focus of his early career as part of one of the most successful tag teams ever, Edge & Christian. After debuting as part of The Brood, but quickly outgrowing it, they became the greatest heel tag team of modern times. Completely unique and contemporary, E&C became a teen idol style smart-mouthed team who would use comic skits to mock either their opponents or the town they were in. In doing so, they created many memorable scenes, notably them dressed in huge foam cowboy hats, mocking Elvis in Memphis, and their infamous ‘5 Second Poses’ which came over as incredibly egotistical to the fans in attendance. Their tag team career had a very serious side though, as they would be part of some of the most brutal and innovative matches in wrestling history. Edge and Christian competed at a high-point for tag team wrestling, specifically working with the Hardy Boyz and Dudley Boyz. At WrestleMania 2000, they competed in a highly memorable and innovative triangle ladder match with the Hardyz and Dudleyz which saw them win their first WWF Tag Team Championship; the first of a record seven reigns. Over the next year, at Summerslam and WrestleMania X7, the three teams would be part of some of the most shocking and innovative matches of all time: TLC I and II. This match is now a staple of pro-wrestling, and Edge is known as one of the six innovators of the match, as well as ladder matches generally. E&C would eventually split, and Edge seemed destined for the top, turning face and being beloved by his ‘Edgeheads’ almost instantly. Edge’s career would really take off though in 2005 when his relationship with Lita (at Matt Hardy’s expense) would make him one of the most hated heels of the decade as he and Lita would flaunt their highly sexual activities in the face of Hardy, leading to a lengthy and memorable feud between the two. Edge had such heat that he was sure to move to the top of the card and so was a natural choice as the first ever Money in the Bank winner, which he won at WrestleMania XXI. Almost a year of garnering heat later, with Lita by his side, he cashed in the contract on top face John Cena to arguably become the top heel in wrestling. His feud with Cena was one of the most notable of our current era, pushing the envelope in quality and drama, including his outrageous ‘Live Sex Celebration with Lita’, one of the highest rated segments in WWE history, and many great matches, especially his TLC match with John Cena at Unforgiven in 2006. This was even more important as dearth of fresh new stars in the company in the middle of the decade; Edge stood up to help carry the WWE on his shoulders. Edge would continue to be a fantastic, hated heel, through periods in Rated RKO and La Familia though towards the end of his career the fans respected him so much, he worked best as a babyface, and after winning his final match at WrestleMania XXVII, his retirement came as a mournful shock to fans across the world. There are few wrestlers so important to the fans, so charismatic, and so successful. Indeed, Edge won 31 championships, including a record 7 World Heavyweight Championships, as well as being the only man to win the King of the Ring, the Money in the Bank, and the Royal Rumble. He was forced to retire early, which is a shame, though fans are pleased his life is no longer on the line.