Friday, January 20, 2017

The History of WWE Royal Rumble, part 7 (2006-2008)

Welcome back to Enuffa.com and our Royal Rumble History!  We've entered the John Cena Era!


Royal Rumble 2006 - American Airlines Arena - 1/29/06

Aaaaand we're back to another one-match Rumble PPV.  The 2006 edition featured a flat-out abysmal undercard with not one but two shitty Title matches, BOTH OF WHICH went on after the Rumble itself.  That's correct, the Royal Rumble went on fourth out of six.  Unbelievable.

The show opened with a decent enough Cruiserweight Six-Way match, as Kid Kash defended against Gregory Helms (having shed his Hurricane gimmick), Funaki, Nunzio, Jamie Noble and Paul London.  This went just shy of eight minutes but was a fun opener.  Helms got the pin to capture the Title and was set up for a promising heel run.  Unfortunately, as was common with Cruiserweight Champions, the company more or less forgot about him.

Next was a nigh unwatchable women's match as hot new heel Mickie James (who was amazing in this role) faced glorified model Ashley Massaro, with Women's Champ Trish Stratus as guest referee.  Utterly pointless, and even a talented worker like Mickie couldn't carry Ashley to a passable bout.  But ya know, Ashley was on the cover of Playboy so they had to feature her heavily.

Another throwaway was next as The Boogeyman defeated former WWE Champion JBL in just under two minutes.  The Boogeyman character was cartoonish but well executed, however the performer Marty Wright couldn't wrestle a lick.  Just dreadful.

Fourth out of six was the Rumble match.  This edition centered around the tasteless exploitation of Eddie Guerrero's death two months earlier, as Rey Mysterio had begun dedicating everything he did to Eddie, repeatedly talking to the ceiling on camera.  Mysterio delivered a career performance here though, drawing number 2, going coast-to-coast, and breaking Chris Benoit's longevity record.  The match boiled down to Rey, Triple H (who drew #1), and Randy Orton.  Rey as usual played the underdog to perfection, outmaneuvering both heels to win the match.  This appeared to be setting up Rey vs. Kurt Angle at WrestleMania, which would've been spectacular, but unfortunately the company added Randy Orton to the World Title mix and then only gave the three guys 9 minutes at 'Mania.  Rey would go on to have one of the worst World Title runs ever booked.  Anywho, this Rumble match was well-done and made Rey look great for one night at least.  Other highlights included the returning Rob Van Dam, and both members of MNM having impressive stints.

Rey beat two-thirds of Evolution in one match.



Participants: Triple H, Rey Mysterio, Simon Dean, Psicosis, Ric Flair, Big Show, Jonathan Coachman, Bobby Lashley, Kane, Sylvan Grenier, Carlito, Chris Benoit, Booker T, Joey Mercury, Tatanka, Johnny Nitro, Trevor Murdoch, Eugene, Animal, Rob Van Dam, Orlando Jordan, Chavo Guerrero, Matt Hardy, Super Crazy, Shawn Michaels, Chris Masters, Viscera, Shelton Benjamin, Goldust, Randy Orton
Final Four: Rey Mysterio, Randy Orton, Triple H, Rob Van Dam
Long Man: Rey Mysterio (62:12)

Next was a formality disguised as a WWE Title match.  Edge had unseated John Cena three weeks earlier at New Year's Revolution, by cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase immediately after Cena's victory in the Elimination Chamber.  I loved this booking, as it was new and totally unexpected.  Now of course it's become trite and predictable that the MITB holder cashes in on an already exhausted Champion.  Edge was a fantastic heel douchebag Champ and brought a ratings upswing for the three weeks he held the strap.  Unfortunately Vince was hellbent on his planned WrestleMania main event of John Cena vs. Triple H, and so Edge was forced to drop the Title here, in very decisive fashion.  Cena dominated the match and became a two-time Champion.  Yawn.

That STF is more of a leg hold really.  Edge's neck looks just fine.

Bafflingly the World Title match went on last.  The original plan for this was Batista defending against Mark Henry.  Please don't ask why Vince wanted to push Mark Henry as a World Title challenger out of nowhere (Seriously, who did Henry beat in 2005 to get a main event push?  Was he even featured in any PPV events?).  But when Big Dave was sidelined with an injury and vacated the belt, a Battle Royal was held on Smackdown to determine a new Champion.  That match was won by Kurt Angle (I was delighted with this), and Vince insisted on Mark Henry being Angle's first challenger despite there being no backstory and Angle still more or less being a heel.  This match was terrible.  Henry would improve greatly in 2011, but in 2006 he was still pretty much incapable of wrestling a good match.  This might be the least fitting main event in Royal Rumble history.  Angle won in under ten minutes, only for The Undertaker to return and use his supernatural powers to break the ring.  So the whole reason for Angle-Henry to be last was this silly ring collapse bit.  Beyond stupid.

From a creative standpoint WWE was entering one of its worst years.  2006 was fraught with bad booking, undeserved pushes, undeserved burials, and generally ignoring what the fans wanted.  They were still hanging on to the corpse of the Attitude Era, which by this point was overwhelmingly played out.  Other than the Rumble match this PPV is completely skippable.

Best Match: The Rumble
Worst Match: Mickie James vs. Ashley
What I'd Change: Disregarding how Chris Benoit's life ended, I thought it was a little too soon for his Rumble record to be broken.  Rey didn't strike me as a 60-minute type wrestler, as his matches were usually shorter, fast-paced outings.  At the time I probably would've had Rey enter 5th or something.  Other than that, let Edge keep the WWE Title for a while, give Angle a real challenger, and put the Rumble on last.
Most Disappointing Match: Edge vs. John Cena
Most Pleasant Surprise: That Rey actually got to win.
Overall Rating: 3.5/10
Better than WrestleMania 22, SummerSlam '06, and/or Survivor Series 2006? - No, Slightly, and Definitely.




Royal Rumble 2007 - AT&T Center - 1/28/07

Here's a Rumble PPV in which I had zero emotional stake.  WWE in 2007 was rather half-assedly pushing new talent - mostly guys Vince liked but the fans didn't respond to.  Other than that the show was built around existing headliners Cena, Orton and Batista, and a host of older stars like Shawn Michaels, Triple H and Undertaker.  At this point I was so burned out on the same ol' guys being featured I simply stopped caring.

The opening match was actually pretty good.  The Hardy Boyz took on MNM in a solid 15-minute tag match.  Nothing was at stake here, but the four smallish wrestlers had good chemistry and did an admirable job warming up the crowd.

Next was the ECW Title match.  One of the aforementioned new guys being pushed was a guy Vince happened to love based solely on his look.  The fans didn't respond to him at all due to his complete lack of anything resembling charisma, but goddammit Vince was gonna shove him down our throats anyway.  His name was Bobby Lashley.  Lashley was a former amateur wrestler and to be fair, looked like a million bucks.  So he was pushed hard in late 2006 and given the ECW Title even though he was the fans' third choice for it.  Lashley would eventually feud with Vince and later with John Cena, before being injured and subsequently released by the company.  So this was all for nothing in the end.

Anyway Lashley had a forgettable match with Test, which he won by countout to retain the belt.

The World Title match was third, as Batista defended against another Vince pet project, Mr. Kennedy.  Kennedy had a fair amount of charisma and talking ability but as I've said before I never saw main event potential in him at all.  His in-ring acumen was quite limited and he looked Not Ready for Prime Time.  The audience didn't seem to see it either, and his intended push was derailed anyway due to wellness violations and backstage issues.  This match was also passable at best.

The one strong Title match on this show pitted John Cena against a third pet project, Umaga.  Umaga was the brother of Rikishi, and being a large Samoan wrestler was of course presented as an uncivilized beast with a goofy thumb-to-the-throat finisher called the Samoan Spike (one would think such a maneuver would be illegal but whatever).  He could work a decent match and moved well for his size, but again never got super over.  This Last Man Standing match was pretty good (nowhere near as good as it was received at the time though) and creatively booked - Cena won by choking Umaga out with a detached ring rope.

Wait, are you the guy who does the Stinkface?  Can I request no Stinkface?

The Rumble match was restored to its rightful place in the main event slot, and the 2007 edition was far from great but watchable, particularly in the final minutes.  Amusingly the announcers hyped this as "the most star-studded Rumble in history."  Just hilarious.  Edge had a good run, lasting nearly 45 minutes, and the match's climax was excellent, boiling down to Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker.  The two veterans put together an expertly-worked final ten minutes before Taker won his first Rumble match (This was also the first time #30 won).  While I appreciated the work of Michaels and Taker, I couldn't help feeling like this was a missed opportunity to elevate someone new - CM Punk for example.  Also despite winning the Rumble, Taker was not in the main event of WrestleMania.  His match went fourth that year, while runner-up Michaels got to challenge Cena in the final match.  Having two World Titles really cheapened the accomplishment of winning the Rumble for several years.

....And that's for throwin' me on that casket!

Participants: Ric Flair, Finlay, Kenny Dykstra, Matt Hardy, Edge, Tommy Dreamer, Sabu, Gregory Helms, Shelton Benjamin, Kane, CM Punk, King Booker, Super Crazy, Jeff Hardy, Sandman, Randy Orton, Chris Benoit, Rob Van Dam, Viscera, Johnny Nitro, Kevin Thorn, Hardcore Holly, Shawn Michaels, Chris Masters, Chavo Guerrero, MVP, Carlito, Great Khali, The Miz, Undertaker
Final Four: Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Edge, Randy Orton
Long Man: Edge (44:02)

2007 was another year where it seemed like WWE wasn't really listening to its fans and those in charge were pushing who they wanted.  It was disheartening to see two 42-year-olds challenge for the two World Titles at 'Mania, though as it turned out both matches were excellent.  But overall I just wasn't feeling any urgency with the product and didn't care about match outcomes or angles.  Too much of WWE's programming felt safe and phoned-in, and the Rumble was no exception.

Best Match: John Cena vs. Umaga
Worst Match: Bobby Lashley vs. Test
What I'd Change: The product at this point needed to get behind new stars the fans actually liked.  They needed a bold move heading into 'Mania season, and giving CM Punk the Rumble win (or at least a near-win) would've been a good choice.  Obviously Taker deserved this win and his feud with Batista was shockingly good.  But the fact that no new stars the audience cared about were being spotlighted just made everything feel stale.
Most Disappointing Match: The Rumble
Most Pleasant Surprise: That Cena vs. Umaga was even watchable
Overall Rating: 4/10
Better than WrestleMania 23, Summerslam '07 and/or Survivor Series 2007? - No, God Yes, and No.




Royal Rumble 2008 - Madison Square Garden - 1/27/08

Now that's more like it.  The '08 Rumble card displayed a somewhat rejuvenated product, two strong Title matches, and a Rumble match that actually felt stacked with potential winners.  The WrestleMania Championship picture wasn't quite clear, so for the first time in a while the Rumble seemed like anyone's ballgame.

The opener was a "Career-Threatening" match for Ric Flair.  Vince had decreed that Flair was getting too old to still be wrestling and that the next match he lost would be his final bout.  Kind of a stupid ongoing angle really, but it ended well.  Anyway on this night Flair faced and defeated MVP.  Forgettable stuff but it was inoffensive.  Moving on.

Second was the just-returned Chris Jericho out for revenge against the man who a month earlier had cost him in his WWE Title match with Randy Orton, JBL.  At Armageddon JBL attacked Jericho in retaliation for Jericho accidentally knocking him over in the broadcast booth.  The two began a heated rivalry, and this match was short but fittingly violent.  JBL eventually won the match by DQ, but this was mostly memorable for Jericho's sick-looking blade job after being whipped into the ring post.  Not a bad match.

This is about the only Jericho blade job I can remember seeing.

Next was World Champion Edge defending against Rey Mysterio, in a match that was a little short but very well-worked.  Edge was in the midst of his great heel run as Smackdown GM Vickie Guerrero's husband, and her involvement helped him retain.

Probably the best match of the night was fourth as WWE Champion Randy Orton defended against I-C Champ Jeff Hardy.  This was fast-paced and aided by a hot MSG crowd.  Hardy seemed poised to finally become a main eventer, and there was an IWC backlash when WWE didn't pull the trigger on a Title run for him.  As it turned out Hardy was suspended for another Wellness violation soon after this, so his intended Money in the Bank victory at WrestleMania was instead given to CM Punk.  Anyway, damn good Title match.

The 2008 Rumble had quite a bit of star power and no fewer than five potential winners.  Reprising their 2007 Rumble rivalry, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker started the match and both lasted over thirty minutes, carrying the first half beautifully.  Batista also joined early and had his most impressive Rumble showing yet.  Triple H entered near the end and it seemed the match would come down to Hunter and Dave.  Then John Cena entered at number 30, to the shock of the crowd.  Cena had been out with a pectoral tear and despite a predicted spring return, made his surprise comeback in the Rumble.  The match now came down to three main event babyfaces, which made for a pretty thrilling final act.  Cena outlasted both opponents to win the Rumble and then oddly decided to cash in his Title shot a month early at No Way Out.  Even stranger, he was later added to the WWE Title match at 'Mania anyway.  Pretty nonsensical and it further cheapened the significance of a Rumble win.  Solid Rumble match though.

Dude, how'd you get back from a torn chest so soon??

Participants: Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Santino Marella, The Great Khali, Bob Holly, John Morrison, Tommy Dreamer, Batista, Hornswoggle, Chuck Palumbo, Jamie Noble, CM Punk, Cody Rhodes, Umaga, Snitsky, The Miz, Shelton Benjamin, Jimmy Snuka, Roddy Piper, Kane, Carlito, Mick Foley, Mr. Kennedy, Big Daddy V, Mark henry, Chavo Guerrero, Finlay, Elijah Burke, Triple H, John Cena
Final Four: John Cena, Triple H, Batista, Kane
Long Man: Batista (37:40)

With the advent of HD programming, WWE was adjusting their presentation and moving toward a more family-friendly product.  This transition brought positives and negatives, but most notably a sense of focus that had been missing in 2006 & 2007.  PPVs especially in 2008 were a vast improvement over the offerings of the two previous years, and the Royal Rumble set the tone for a somewhat compelling WWE calendar year.

Best Match: Randy Orton vs. Jeff Hardy
Worst Match: Ric Flair vs. MVP - This was ok though.
What I'd Change: Not a whole lot.  This was a solid show from top to bottom.
Most Disappointing Match: Nothing here really seemed like a letdown.
Most Pleasant Surprise: The whole show.
Overall Rating: 8/10
Better than WrestleMania XXIV, SummerSlam '08 and/or Survivor Series 2008? - No, Yes, and Yes.


Only three installments left - join us on Monday for Part 8, and the PG Era!

Part 6                                                                                                                                               Part 8      

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