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!