Monday, January 21, 2019

The History of WWE Royal Rumble, part 9 (2012-2014)

Welcome to part 9.  Mediocrity ensues.  In terms of the Rumble events, not my writing.  You know it and you love it.  Let's get on with it....

Royal Rumble 2012 - Scottrade Center - 1.29.12

What a phoned-in show this was.  Considering the company had two excellent World Champions in January 2012 they sure put on a shoddy Rumble PPV.  An undercard with only one really good match (which was underwhelming), and a Rumble match featuring one of the worst lineups in history.  Let's examine this turd.  God, even the poster for it sucks.

The show opened, as so many PPVs of the time did, with the World Title match.  New Champion and smarmy dickish heel Daniel Bryan defended in a steel cage against two of the biggest men on the roster, Mark Henry and The Big Show.  The match told a good story and much of it consisted of Bryan using any weasely tactic possible to evade a toe-to-toe fight.  But at under ten minutes and with two massive opponents Bryan was hardly put in a show-stealing position.  This was okay, and the right guy won.

The obligatory Divas match was next as Beth Phoenix and Natalya (dubbed The Divas of Doom) teamed with the Bella twins against Kelly Kelly, Eve Torres, Alicia Fox and Tamina Snuka.  The DoD were the primary focus of the division at this point and seemed poised for a good heel run which would lead to a Beth vs. Natalya match at WrestleMania.  Alas none of that came to fruition and Natalya was saddled with an "uncontrollable gas" gimmick (who wouldn't get over with that?) while Beth got the privilege of being pinned cleanly by talk show host Maria Menounos at 'Mania 28.  Lovely.  This match was what it was, i.e. five minutes of "meh."

The ill-conceived John Cena vs. Kane feud was kicked off third.  Typical WWE nondescript brawl ending in a double countout, necessitating a rematch in February.  Given how thin the Rumble roster was, couldn't these two have just been included there?

Do I have your attention now?

Oh lovely, a squash match is next.  Brodus Clay (Remember him?  He was gonna be a huge deal.) destroyed Drew McIntyre (Remember him?  He was gonna be a huge deal.) in 65 seconds.  Thus began the disturbing 2012 trend of routinely including squash matches on PPV.

The one highlight of the evening was the WWE Title match pitting CM Punk against Dolph Ziggler, with GM John Laurinitis serving as the guest ringside enforcer.  I'm not sure what company officials were smoking when they elected to give Johnny Ace an on-air role, but he was terrible.  Like embarrassingly bad at everything.  And this is a guy who used to be a moderately successful wrestler.  This match was fine but the Johnny L bullcrap got in the way and they weren't given enough time to knock one out of the park.  Punk retained at about 14:30.

Now for that weak-ass Rumble match.  This was clearly coming down to one of two guys - Sheamus and Chris Jericho.  And they both entered in the final third.  That meant there were over 20 midcarders to slog through first.  The Miz carried the early parts of the match, but he'd been so badly damaged over the previous three months he was a non-factor.  There were seven surprise entrants, including three legends, former women's wrestler Kharma, and all three announcers.  Yup. All. Three. Goddamn. Announcers.  This whole match stunk until the last 12 minutes or so.  Much like the 2007 edition, the exchanges involving the final two were spectacular.  Jericho and Sheamus traded near-eliminations for several minutes before the big Irishman took it down (and won me $25 in our Rumble pool).  Sheamus was later rewarded for this Rumble victory with the privilege of curtain-jerking WrestleMania 28 and winning in 18 seconds with what was essentially a sucker punch, thus launching a poorly-received mega-face run.

Ring time at Royal Rumble: 22:21
Ring time at WrestleMania: 00:18

Participants: The Miz, Alex Riley, R-Truth, Cody Rhodes, Justin Gabriel, Primo, Mick Foley, Ricardo Rodriguez, Santino Marella, Epico, Kofi Kingston, Jerry Lawler, Ezekiel Jackson, Jinder Mahal, The Great Khali, Hunico, Booker T, Dolph Ziggler, Jim Duggan, Michael Cole, Kharma, Sheamus, Road Dogg, Jey Uso, Jack Swagger, Wade Barrett, David Otunga, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Big Show
Final Four: Sheamus, Chris Jericho, Randy Orton, Big Show
Long Man: The Miz (45:39)

So yeah, other than the last 12 minutes of the Rumble, a decent Punk-Ziggler match, and seeing a successful World Title defense by Daniel Bryan, this show was pretty much half-assed drivel.  The star power was lacking in the main event, most of the undercard felt like a weak RAW episode, and it didn't seem like a proper start to WrestleMania season.  WWE was just treading water until The Rock showed up I guess.

Best Match: CM Punk vs. Dolph Ziggler
Worst Match: Brodus Clay vs. Drew McIntyre
What I'd Change: Put Cena and Kane in the Rumble to beef up the field of participants a little, find better surprise guests, cut the squash match, and give Punk-Ziggler a full twenty minutes.
Most Disappointing Match: The Rumble
Most Pleasant Surprise: Nothing really.
Overall Rating: 3/10
Better than WrestleMania XXVIII, SummerSlam '12 and/or Survivor Series 2012? - Nope.

Royal Rumble 2013 - US Airways Center - 1.27.13

Speaking of The Rock showing up, the 2013 edition was mostly built around his in-ring return which was announced months earlier when he declared himself the #1 Contender for the WWE Title.  Yeah, he just showed up on RAW the previous summer to announce that he'd be challenging the WWE Champion at the Rumble.  Not sure how that works, where a wrestler can call his shots just cuz he's more famous than the others.  Anyway this Rumble was light years better than the 2012 edition, featuring a solid undercard and a decent Rumble match.

Up first once again was the World Title match (In what universe does a World Championship earn prestige by always going on first?) between Alberto Del Rio - fresh off a horribly ill-conceived babyface turn - and The Big Show.  This Last Man Standing match was decent, but the company's desperation in finding a Hispanic star to take up Rey Mysterio's mantle was showing.  Del Rio was and is completely unsuited to playing a heroic character.  He got over as a heel by acting better than everyone else. 

Next was a strong Tag Title match as Champions Team Hell No faced The Rhodes Scholars.  This was at the height of Daniel Bryan and Kane's chemistry as unlikely partners, and they had a fine match with Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow.

It's like Superman vs. The Thing

For the first time since 2006 the Rumble match was not the main event.  The 2013 Rumble had a pretty good field of stars but one very obvious winner.  Since all signs pointed to a Rock-Cena rematch at 'Mania there wasn't much suspense here.  Still this match was immeasurably more enjoyable than its predecessor.  Much of the match was carried by Dolph Ziggler and Chris Jericho, who drew numbers 1 and 2, and both stayed in for over 45 minutes.  In the end the battle came down to superheroes John Cena and Ryback, who had a somewhat awkward exchange leading to Cena's eventual victory.

Participants: Dolph Ziggler, Chris Jericho, Cody Rhodes, Kofi Kingston, Santino Marella, Drew McIntyre, Titus O'Neil, Goldust, David Otunga, Heath Slater, Sheamus, Tensai, Brodus Clay, Rey Mysterio, Darren Young, Bo Dallas, The Godfather, Wade Barrett, John Cena, Damien Sandow, Daniel Bryan, Antonio Cesaro, The Great Khali, Kane, Zack Ryder, Randy Orton, Jinder Mahal, The Miz, Sin Cara, Ryback
Final Four: John Cena, Ryback, Sheamus, Dolph Ziggler
Long Man: Dolph Ziggler (49:47)

The main event was of course the WWE Title showdown between CM Punk (longest-reigning Champion in 25 years) and The Rock.  The match itself was pretty underwhelming, as Rock's ring rust really showed here and in his two subsequent PPV matches that year.  One of the stipulations was that if The Shield interfered Punk would lose the Title automatically, so of course late in the match the lights went out, a thud was heard, and when the lights came back on it was clear someone had put The Rock through a table.  Vince stopped the match and was about to award the belt to The Rock based on the evidence at hand, but Rocky refused to win that way and demanded a restart.  A few minutes later The Rock beat Punk clean with The People's Elbow (a move that should never, ever, EVER be used as an actual finisher).  At the time I was quite bummed that Punk had to drop the belt to a returning Attitude Era star, despite the obviously predictable outcome.  I've always been a big believer that having current full-timers lose big matches to stars of the past is terrible long-term business, as it conditions the audience to perceive today's stars as inferior.  This was the first in a string of such losses for Punk that year.  As I said, the match was just okay and had a very convoluted ending.

Worst. Sharpshooter. Ever.

The 2013 Rumble was certainly not a great show, but it had four good matches, no bad ones, and The Rock's return was presented as a big deal, even if I disagreed with putting the belt on him, and with the WrestleMania XXIX direction in general.  To his credit though, at least he appeared on every PPV while carrying the strap.

Best Match: CM Punk vs. The Rock
Worst Match: Alberto Del Rio vs. Big Show
What I'd Change: For one thing, Punk should not get pinned after a People's Elbow!  Also I'm not sure why Rock-Cena II needed to be for the Title (or happen at all, but that's another argument).
Most Disappointing Match: Punk vs. Rock
Most Pleasant Surprise: Very little about the product was surprising at this point.
Overall Rating: 7/10
Better than WrestleMania XXIX, SummerSlam '13 and/or Survivor Series 2013? - Yeah sure, Not Even Close, and Most Definitely

Royal Rumble 2014 - Consol Energy Center - 1.26.14

The 2014 Rumble PPV is a show that could've been remembered as one of the great ones had they just changed the final ten minutes.  WWE had a great story to tell but in their infinite wisdom they simply opted not to tell it, that is until their audience demanded it.  That story was of course The Journey of Daniel Bryan, who had been held down for months by The Authority and repeatedly screwed out of the WWE Title.  It seemed inevitable that Bryan was to win the 2014 Rumble and challenge for the belt at WrestleMania 30.  But instead the out-of-touch Vince McMahon insisted on bringing back Dave Batista as a surrogate for the unavailable Rock (In what universe is Batista a suitable early-2014 replacement for The Rock, in terms of broad mainstream appeal?).  Big Dave was instantly pushed to the moon and slated for a 'Mania showdown with Randy Orton, but there was just one problem - no one wanted to see that.  No one.

More on that in a minute, but first let's discuss the excellent show opener.  Daniel Bryan had been feuding with The Wyatt Family for three months, and said feud included a brief and totally illogical heel turn by Bryan, who joined the Wyatts for two weeks.  This was intended to last longer, but the fans rejected it wholeheartedly, not at all wanting to boo Bryan.  Bryan would then reveal the whole thing as a ruse and get a measure of satisfaction by singlehandedly beating the crap out of all three Wyatt members.  This feud was seemingly over at this point, and logically Bryan would've moved on and refocused on the Championship.  Instead though, the company booked him for a singles match against Bray.  To be fair, this was one helluva match.  Intense, hard-hitting, and full of nice spots.  Bryan brought his A-game as usual, and Wyatt proved he could work a strong main event-level match.  Wyatt got the win, which again made little sense - as the blowoff to this kind of feud the rising babyface should generally emerge victorious.

Daniel Bryan delivers Sister Kick-in-face

Next up was the return of Brock Lesnar after a five-month layoff.  I know I'm not alone in this opinion, but WWE's handling of Lesnar over the past three years has been abysmal.  They bring back this massive PPV draw, job him out to Cena in his first match, have him fight Triple H exclusively for his next three matches (none of which were very good), book him in a spectacular one-off match with CM Punk, and then for this Rumble book him opposite The Big Show, with whom his previous matches were middling at best.  So out of six matches Lesnar only had two first-time opponents, and twice fought guys he already feuded with in 2003.  What sense does that make?  Wouldn't you want to book him against as many new opponents as possible to get a dozen or so dream matches out of his limited schedule?

This match consisted of Lesnar attacking Show with a chair for ten minutes and then finishing him off in two minutes of official match time.  Utterly pointless. 

Lesnar would of course go on to defeat The Undertaker at WrestleMania (another guy he already fought in 2003), destroy John Cena for the WWE Title at SummerSlam, lose to Cena by DQ at Night of Champions, and disappear with the Championship for four months.   Meanwhile several very intriguing matchups have been left on the table - Lesnar vs. Batista, Lesnar vs. Sheamus, Lesnar vs. Bryan (granted that one was planned but fell through due to Bryan's injury).  As a huge Brock Lesnar fan I was pretty disgusted with how unimaginatively he was used since 2012.  It almost seems like WWE went out of their way NOT to make money with him.

Okay, tirade over.

The WWE Title match was next, between the two guys no one wanted to see fight each other ever again, John Cena and Randy Orton.  In all fairness to both, this match was pretty good.  Sadly the crowd had no interest in it, and various chants of defiance could be heard throughout - "BORING," "We Want Bryan," etc.  Orton finally won after interference from the Wyatt Family. 

Now about that Rumble match that totally backfired on Vince.  Look, this was a very entertaining Rumble match, with strong performances by CM Punk (who was never seen on WWE TV again after this), The Shield, and Kofi Kingston.  Punk and the three Shield members carried most of the workload, and the teased dissension of Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns made for a compelling story-within-a-match, as did Reigns' record-breaking number of eliminations (14 total; nearly half the field).  But it all came to a crashing halt when Dave Batista entered at #28 and was winded within minutes.  One thing you don't want in a returning mega-babyface is a guy who seemingly can't handle ten minutes of mildly strenuous activity.  As the match hurtled to its conclusion the live crowd chanted louder and louder for Daniel Bryan, anticipating him as the surprise 30th entrant.  When Rey Mysterio's music hit instead, the crowd went ballistic, showering the arena with Go Away heat the likes of which hadn't been seen since Scott Steiner vs. Triple H.  By willfully ignoring its audience, WWE managed the unthinkable - they got an entire building to boo Rey Mysterio half to death.  The match eventually boiled down to Batista vs. Reigns, and the entire crowd got behind the heel Shield member until Batista dumped him over.  Batista went from being Vince's intended Rock substitute to being the most hated man in wrestling.  And that kids, is what happens when you don't listen to your fanbase.  Of course the WrestleMania plan changed over the next two months and Daniel Bryan finally got his big moment in the sun, but the fact that WWE didn't see any of this coming when booking this PPV is a perfect illustration of just how tone deaf they can be.

Little known fact - Reigns got up from this spear first because
Big Dave was gassed like ya read about.  Okay, that might be made-up....

Participants: CM Punk, Seth Rollins, Damien Sandow, Cody Rhodes, Kane, Rusev, Jack Swagger, Kofi Kinston, Jimmy Uso, Goldust, Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, R-Truth, Kevin Nash, Roman Reigns, The Great Khali, Sheamus, The Miz, Fandango, El Torito, Cesaro, Luke Harper, Jey Uso, JBL, Erick Rowan, Ryback, Alberto Del Rio, Batista, Big E Langston, Rey Mysterio
Final Four: Batista, Roman Reigns, Sheamus, CM Punk
Long Man: CM Punk (49:12)

The 2014 Royal Rumble will forever be one of the most memorable installments, for all the wrong reasons.  It should serve as a lesson for every wrestling promotion, present and future, about what not to do.  Do not defy your audience.  Do not let your own ego determine the direction of your product.  Do not book your calendar around short-term solutions while damaging your company's long-term future.  DO listen to your fans, DO build for tomorrow, and when one of your young stars gets the biggest reaction of anyone on your roster, for fuck's sake DO PUSH HIM AS FAR AS HE CAN GO.  Vince McMahon used to understand all these things.  Imagine if, in 1998 during Steve Austin's rise to the top, Vince decided WrestleMania 14 needed a proven draw from the past to sell the show, and instead of Steve Austin winning the Rumble and challenging Shawn Michaels for the belt, he brought back The Ultimate Warrior.  How disastrous would that have been?

Best Match: Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt
Worst Match: Brock Lesnar vs. Big Show
What I'd Change: I think it's obvious.
Most Disappointing Match: The Rumble
Most Pleasant Surprise: That the live crowd felt exactly as I did about the whole proceeding.
Overall Rating: 6/10
Better than WrestleMania XXX, SummerSlam '14 and/or Survivor Series 2014? - No.

Part 8

Part 10

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