Friday, February 3, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: Wings (1927)

Welcome back to the Oscar Film Journal here at Enuffa.com!


We're setting the way-back machine nearly a century for this one.  That's right, all the way back to 1927, and the first-ever Academy Award winner for Best Picture (in addition to being the only silent film to achieve said accolade, until 2011's The Artist).  Today's subject is the World War I flying epic Wings, starring Clara Bow, Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Richard Arlen.

Directed by former military pilot William A. Wellman (whose legitimate combat flight credentials sold Parmount Studios on his being the perfect candidate to helm this picture), Wings focuses on a sort of love triangle between three (or more accurately four) small-town characters, whose lives are impacted significantly by The Great War.  Fresh-faced Jack Powell's lifelong dream is to fly a plane, but being a young fellow of modest means he's settled for fixing up an old jalopy and calling it the Shooting Star.  His neighbor Mary Preston (a wonderfully expressive Clara Bow) is desperately in love with him, but Jack's got designs on the glamorous Sylvia, who in turn is in love with the town's richest bachelor David Armstrong.  Once the characters and their relationships are established, the film wastes no time plunging us headlong into Jack and David's exploits as Army Air cadets-turned-star pilots.  

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: Belfast (2021)

Rolling into the 2023 Oscar season, I'm back with another Oscar Film Journal entry!


I'm still catching up with a few movies from last year's Oscar season, including Kenneth Branagh's intimate, autobiographical piece Belfast, about a young boy navigating family relationships, peer pressure, his first romantic feelings, and the escalating sectarian Protestant-Catholic war which would come to be known as The Troubles.  When we first meet nine-year-old Buddy, he's playing with his friends in the street, wielding a wooden sword and a trash can lid as a shield, when suddenly a Protestant gang loots his neighborhood, smashing windows and setting a car on fire.  

This opening scene establishes both the film's economy of storytelling and its small-scope look at this world-coming-apart from Buddy's point of view.  We see very little of Northern Ireland's civil unrest through a big-picture lens, instead only catching snippets of news reports, overheard parental conversations, and isolated incidents Buddy sees with his own eyes.  But The Troubles are primarily a backdrop, in front of which the film explores Buddy's close relationship with his grandparents and his older cousin Moira, who turns out to be a bad influence.  There's also his parents' central conflict, whether or not to move out of Belfast and out of harm's way.  Buddy's father is a tradesman who works in England, only coming home every couple weeks to spend time with his family.  His mother raises Buddy and his older brother mostly alone and is so entrenched in their neighborhood and its close friendships she can't imagine leaving Belfast.

NJPW The New Beginning 2023 Preview & Predictions

This weekend is the start of the proper NJPW The New Beginning shows (I skipped the Nagoya show in my predictions because there was little of interest), and there are some big bouts on tap, with numerous titles at stake.


It's a busy month for NJPW, between the two Sapporo shows this weekend, the Osaka show next weekend, and the huge Battle in the Valley card the following weekend.  For the first time since before the pandemic it feels like NJPW's schedule is back to normal and they're offering consistent shows that aren't skippable.  Last month's WrestleKingdom was something of a return to form and it looks like the rest of the year will follow suit.  Good to have you back guys.

As I usually do with these multi-night shows that only feature a few matches of consequence, I'll just be picking winners in said matches of consequence.  


Sapporo Night 1

IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championship: Catch 2/2 vs. Douki & Yoshinobu Kanemaru


Not much to this one - Douki and Kanemaru are there to give Catch 2/2 a successful title defense and that's about it.  I don't see this being any kind of epic tag match, but it should be fine.

Pick: Catch 2/2 retains



Will Ospreay vs. Taichi


This is an odd pairing, as far as I know these two aren't really feuding.  Maybe I missed the inciting incident that led to this?  Anyway, Ospreay is coming off one of the best matches of his career, but a tough loss at that.  Time to regroup, rack up some wins, and challenge Kenny Omega at Forbidden Door II for the IWGP US Title he lost.

Pick: Ospreay



Shota Umino vs. Tetsuya Naito


This one will be interesting.  Umino scored the pinfall over Naito's stablemate Bushi at the Dome to help establish him as an up and coming star.  This kid is so very close to finding his groove and a match like this should help him get there.  I think Naito probably ekes out a win but Umino comes off like a budding star in the process.

Pick: Naito

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2022)

Ah WWE circa 2022, a company without highs or lows, where every PPV (ahem, premium live event, a phrase no real human being will ever use in actual conversation) is steeped in mediocrity and there's no reason to get invested in anything because the company will just screw it up anyway.


The 2022 Royal Rumble fits the above description to a tee.  A bunch of just-okay matches, in one ear, out the other, the details of which will all be forgotten by WrestleMania.  No one gets over except the one or two established stars the company wants to push, thus both Rumbles felt like everyone involved was just killing time.  Was it a reasonably entertaining way to spend four hours?  Sure.  Was anything here even close to being a great match or having any historical significance?  Nope.  Even the first-time WWE Title match with a big-fight feel was more of the same ol' shit with repetitious action and a bad finish.  WWE could fuck up a can of Pringles.

Speaking of bad finishes, the show started with Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins, in a very well-worked Universal Title bout where Seth, dressed in his old Shield gear and entering through the crowd to the group's classic theme, resided fully in Roman's head.  No matter how badly Roman beat him down, Seth kept smiling and asking for a fist bump.  Roman couldn't stay on his game and Seth dominated much of the bout.  They did the old spot from 2016 where Roman went for a spear and Seth countered into a Pedigree for a near fall.  This was a very good match.  And then the finish happened.  Roman locked in a guillotine choke, Seth struggled to get to the ropes but fell short and went limp.  The referee lifted Seth's arm for one, two, and on the third drop, Seth's hand fell on the bottom rope.  Yes, the referee inadvertently put Seth's hand on the rope, and then demanded Roman break the hold.  Ummm, what?  How can that be a rope break if the referee is the one who put his hand there?  Roman, the heel, rightly refused to break the choke and was disqualified.  So Seth got legitimately beaten and Roman did something stupid to cost himself a sure victory.  Who was this designed to get over?  This was yet another very good WWE match ruined by stupid WWE booking.  And sadly it was the best thing on the show.  


The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2021)

2021: The Royal Rumble comes to Thunderdome, one Rumble match is used to create a new star, the other is used to.......give an old star a win he didn't need....

Tropicana Field - 1.31.21

The 2021 Rumble took place in front of the virtual Thunderdome crowd and was a very mixed bag of a show, par for the course with WWE circa 2021.  Both Rumbles were entertaining.  One elevated two very deserving young stars and it felt like the company's priorities were in the right place.  The other didn't elevate anyone and boasted the oldest field in Rumble history, with the average age being 39 years old and OVER HALF the field being over 40.  We got a mostly very good Last Man Standing match with a hilariously botched ending, another psychology-free Goldberg match, and a passable women's singles bout.  So not a bad show, but not one that will stand out in the Royal Rumble annals either.

The show opened, mercifully, with the Goldberg match.  I was glad to see them get this one out of the way.  It was of course the usual two-minute finisher fest.  Remember in 2003 when Goldberg actually did five or six different moves?  The two guys started before the bell, with Drew McIntyre shoving Goldberg and hitting him with a spear.  Both guys rolled out of the ring and Goldberg returned the favor, spearing Drew through the ring barricade.  They teased Drew not being able to continue, but he demanded the match be started officially.  Goldberg went for a spear but Drew hit the Claymore and covered him.  Goldberg kicked out, becoming only the second guy to do so, after Brock.  Goldberg hit a spear and jackhammer, Drew kicked out.  Drew hit another Claymore and pinned him.  Goldberg was visibly winded after roughly three minutes of activity.  Goldberg shook Drew's hand and said he passed the test.  Oh, I'm sure Drew was overwhelmingly flattered that the two-move guy now respects him...  This was fine as a dumbass finisher match, but why does the company keep doing these?  Fucking pointless. 

Anyone else tired of seeing this same match over and over?

Next up was Sasha Banks carrying Carmella through a solid women's match for the second time.  Still this wasn't bad.  Carmella's valet Reginald interfered a few times, mostly to catch Carmella as she fell out of the ring.  Late in the match Carmella hit a tope and landed on her face, an absolutely brutal-looking landing that she was lucky didn't leave a mark.  She hit a pair of superkicks but immediately fell victim to the Bank Statement and tapped.  That ending was pretty sudden.  But this match was alright. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2020)

The 2020 Royal Rumble served as the coronation of Drew McIntyre, over a decade after his WWE debut.  In that regard it was a success, if Drew as the top babyface is your cup of tea.  I was underwhelmed.....


The show kicked off with an overlong bells & whistles brawl between Roman Reigns and Baron Corbin. This pairing has never done anything for me and this was no different. They fought in the ring for several minutes and then brawled all around the stadium; since it’s such a big venue this undoubtedly helped bloat the running time. Near the end of the match Roman locked Corbin in a porto-crapper and tipped it over. Uhhh, okay. Then both guys ended up on top of a dugout, where Reigns finished him with the punch/spear combo. At least the finish was fun. This didn’t need more than 15 minutes but it got 21. Shane vs. Miz at Mania 35 was more entertaining. 

The women’s Rumble was shockingly early in the lineup. This was definitely better than 2019’s women’s Rumble but not a great one, and the wrong woman won.  This should've been Shayna Baszler's big moment given her buildup the previous few months.  On the plus side though, Shayna was booked like a monster for her four minutes, and Bianca Belair looked like a huge star in her 33-minute run. Each woman tossed out 8. Other than that we got a helluva run from Beth Phoenix, who withstood a bad cut on the back of her head and made it to the final three after tossing out her bestie Natalya (payback for 2018), and a lot of overly quick eliminations of NXT stars.  It came down to Shayna vs. Charlotte, and rather than go the logical route set up at Survivor Series they had Charlotte head scissor Shayna over the ropes to win. Charlotte would go on to challenge Rhea Ripley for the NXT Title, a match I was really excited about until Charlotte got to beat her, thus derailing Ripley's monster push.  Well done, guys.  This Rumble was fine but I didn’t like the result at all, and history agrees with me.

Participants: Alexa Bliss, Bianca Belair, Mighty Molly, Nikki Cross, Lana, Mercedes Martinez, Liv Morgan, Mandy Rose, Candice LaRae, Sonya Deville, Kairi Sane, Mia Yim, Dana Brooke, Tamina, Dakota Kai, Chelsea Green, Charlotte Flair, Naomi, Beth Phoenix, Toni Storm, Kelly Kelly, Sarah Logan, Natalya, Xia Li, Zelina Vega, Shotzi Blackheart, Carmella, Tegan Nox, Santina Marella, Shayna Baszler
Final Four: Charlotte Flair, Shayna Baszler, Beth Phoenix, Natalya
Long Man: Bianca Belair (35:29)


The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2019)

Well it wasn't the blow-away event it looked to be on paper, but the 2019 Royal Rumble was a fine show with a slew of very good matches and nothing bad.  Hard to complain about that.  Even the pre-show stuff was solid (Check out the blistering Cruiserweight 4-Way especially).


The 2019 Rumble was all about building the two big babyface WrestleMania challengers (who both ended up winning and subsequently started dating, becoming WWE's new power couple).

The show kicked off with a pretty great Asuka-Becky Lynch bout that was rock solid technically and built to a series of traded submission attempts.  After a brutal-looking Asuka cradle neckbreaker off the apron to the floor, Asuka and Becky made their way back into the ring for a climactic stretch where both women attempted to tap the other with her own finisher.  Finally Asuka scored an Asuka lock, and turned it into a Cattle Mutilation-esque variation by bridging on top of Becky for the tapout win.  This match was probably my favorite on the show.  Excellent stuff that made Asuka look really strong but showed Becky could keep up.  I was quite sure we hadn't seen the last of Becky.  Asuka was unfortunately depushed like crazy after this, and took most of the year to recover as they finally built up a rematch.


Next up was the one match I didn't care about, The Bar vs. Shane & Miz.  But this was fun.  Cesaro and Sheamus worked a stiff match as usual, Miz stayed away from most of it, and Shane took some good spots while dishing out a few of his own.  I still have a problem with the near 50-year-old non-wrestler Shane going toe-to-toe with actual wrestlers, but he made it entertaining at least.  The spot of the match was Shane going for a coast-to-coast on both Bar members only for Cesaro to stand up and catch him for a Giant Swing - very cool counter.  Finally Miz hit Cesaro with the Skull Crushing Finale and Shane landed a shooting star press to win the belts.  This title win was designed to build to a Shane-Miz feud, which ended up being horrible and made Miz look like a total geek when he couldn't ever beat his 48-year-old non-wrestler rival.

Monday, January 30, 2023

WWE Royal Rumble 2023 Review: Cody's Rhode to WrestleMania

Welp, this show was certainly better than last year's.  By a wide margin.  WWE Royal Rumble 2023 was no instant classic PPV by any means, and WWE keeps insisting on tacking on thirty-plus minutes of nothing across their PPVs, thus stretching this 210-minute show to well over 240 minutes (Fortunately I didn't watch it live and I was able to fast-forward - I'm particularly glad I wasn't subjected to that Hardy country-rock shit).  But this Royal Rumble boasted one of the better Rumble matches they've ever done, plus a hot angle to close the show, which right away makes it one of the best Rumble PPVs of the last five years.  


For the first time in seemingly forever, the men's Rumble match had actual stories woven throughout and was designed to set up numerous WrestleMania matches, which is really the bare minimum that should be expected for any Rumble match.  If you just spend a little time creating and/or furthering individual conflicts and sprinkle those things across the hour-long Rumble match, that automatically makes it stand out from the others.  It gives everyone a reason to become invested and makes the 60-plus minutes fly by.  WWE did this in the men's Rumble this year.  Not so much with the women's unfortunately, but I'll take what I can get at this point.  The 2023 men's Royal Rumble was for me a top-five Rumble match, boosted by the work of Gunther, who entered at number one and was the last man eliminated, breaking the longevity record for a 30-man Rumble (Bryan Danielson still holds the overall record but that Rumble was a 50-man field).  Brock Lesnar entered surprisingly early and after a dominant few minutes was even more surprisingly ousted by Bobby Lashley, thus setting up their inevitable WrestleMania clash (Let's hope Brock-Bobby II is actually good).  Rey Mysterio no-showed his number 17 entrance and it became apparent when his son Dominik entered at 18 wearing Rey's mask that he was attacked backstage (in reality Rey was injured the night before on Smackdown, but this was a pretty good way to cover it up).  Other standouts included Sheamus and Drew McIntyre, who teamed up for most of their time together and looked dominant, Ricochet and Logan Paul, who provided one of the coolest-looking spots ever in a Rumble match, a simultaneous springboard leap that resulted in a massive midair collision, and of course Cody Rhodes, who made his triumphant return at number 30 and survived a brutal seven-minute finale with Gunther to win the whole thing.  This is how you book a Royal Rumble match.  Sadly it was the opening contest and the show never reached these heights again.  ****

Participants: Gunther, Sheamus, The Miz, Kofi Kingston, Johnny Gargano, Xavier Woods, Karrion Kross, Chad Gable, Drew McIntyre, Santos Escobar, Angelo Dawkins, Brock Lesnar, Bobby Lashley, Baron Corbin, Seth Rollins, Otis, (Rey Mysterio), Dominik Mysterio, Elias, Finn Balor, Booker T, Damian Priest, Montez Ford, Edge, Austin Theory, Omos, Braun Strowman, Ricochet, Logan Paul, Cody Rhodes
Final Four: Cody Rhodes, Gunther, Logan Paul, Seth Rollins
Long Man: Gunther (1:11:40)

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2018)

Time for one of the better recent Royal Rumble shows....

Wells Fargo Center - 1.28.18

2018 kicked off with a helluva good PPV, as WWE continued its rediscovery of how to put on a fun Royal Rumble.  TWO in fact.  For a while there the Rumble had become one of my least favorite events on their calendar, but by 2018 it had fully returned to form, with one of the best examples of the gimmick, plus an historic first women's edition.  There was nary a bad match on the main card, both Rumbles delivered, there were memorable moments abound, lots of fun surprise entrants, a clear direction for WrestleMania, and a monumental debut to end the show.  Hard to ask much more of a Rumble PPV.

First up, oddly, was the WWE Title match.  AJ Styles defended against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, in a crisply worked 16-minute match.  Nothing spectacular here, but the three of them worked well together and AJ even got to bust out his moonsault-reverse DDT combo (the first WWE instance of this move I remember seeing).  Styles retained after countering an Owens pop-up powerbomb into a roll-up, but Owens and Zayn protested since Owens technically hadn't tagged into the match.  Solid opener.


Next was the Smackdown Tag Title match (SD kinda got shafted with this lineup; both of their bouts went on first), as The Usos defended against Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin.  Energetic, fast-paced and well-booked, with a shocking two straight falls for Jimmy and Jey, this was a fine undercard match.  I liked that the first fall was long and the second fall was surprisingly short - it was realistic and defied the typical structure for a 2/3 Falls match.

The men's Royal Rumble was third out of six, which was pretty baffling until the end of the show when it was made clear why.  I daresay this was the best Rumble match since 2004.  The booking of this match was predictable in a good way; everyone who should've gotten to shine did.  The final five ended up being the five most plausible winners.  Finn Balor entered at number 2 and made the final four, having lasted 57+ minutes.  And of course Shinsuke Nakamura got his WWE career-defining moment by outlasting both John Cena and Roman Reigns to win the whole thing (after 44 minutes of in-ring time).   This is how you book a Royal Rumble match in 2018.  Other notes: The returning Rey Mysterio looked better than he had in ten years, Andrade Almas and Adam Cole both had good showings and it was great to see the NXT guests not geeked out on the main roster for a change (Almas's main roster career is another matter unfortunately).  Anyway, this was a fantastic Rumble match that ranks up there with the 1992 and 2004 editions.  WWE's follow-up on Nak's big moment of course sucked, as he failed to dethrone AJ Styles for the title at four consecutive shows, two of those matches going to a draw.  But for one night it looked like Nak was poised to break the glass ceiling.


Participants: Rusev, Finn Balor, Rhyno, Baron Corbin, Heath Slater, Elias, Andrade Almas, Bray Wyatt, Big E, Sami Zayn, Sheamus, Xavier Woods, Apollo Crews, Shinsuke Nakamura, Cesaro, Kofi Kingston, Jinder Mahal, Seth Rollins, Matt Hardy, John Cena, The Hurricane, Aiden English, Adam Cole, Randy Orton, Titus O'Neil, The Miz, Rey Mysterio, Roman Reigns, Goldust, Dolph Ziggler
Final Four: Shinsuke Nakamura, Roman Reigns, John Cena, Finn Balor
Long Man: Finn Balor (57:30)

The match given the unenviable post-Rumble spot was Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan vs. The Bar.  This was easily the weakest match on the show and since Jason Jordan was injured and still hasn't returned, the whole angle was pointless, but this was inoffensive.  And The Bar regained the straps as they should have.  So no complaints there.

Friday, January 27, 2023

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2017)

WWE returns to the Alamodome after 20 years and delivers another strong showing....


The 2017 Rumble (the first to be a four-hour show) and its main event took a lot of flak at the time, mostly due to the booking which was admittedly pretty unexciting.  No one new was positioned to be "made" with this match; it centered around the "safe" choices and we didn't get the expected Samoa Joe debut or a Kurt Angle return.  However we did get a very unpredictable Rumble with a larger field of potential winners than we'd had in a very long time.  There were easily ten or so guys who could reasonably have walked away with the WrestleMania title shot, and that's nothing to sneeze at.  Aside from that, the Rumble match had a couple little surprises, like Tye Dillinger entering at #10 and Jack Gallagher making the most hilarious use of an umbrella I've ever seen.  Other highlights were Jericho as the long man once again (lasting just over an hour), Braun Strowman pulling a 1994 Diesel and killing a buncha guys before being eliminated, Goldberg besting Brock Lesnar for the second time, and Roman Reigns eliminating The Undertaker and setting up their WrestleMania match.  This Rumble match was not unlike the 2001 version in some ways - the surprise entrants were minor but the match had a good amount of star power and primarily served to reinforce the established names.  The real issue with this Rumble match, as is often the case with WWE, was the follow-up.  Randy Orton won the match, turned on his supposed friend (and by this time WWE Champion) Bray Wyatt, and proceeded to have the worst feud of 2017 (if not his whole career).   I had few gripes about this Rumble match itself - it was fine in a vacuum.  It unfortunately led directly to a road of shit.


But what really made this show stand out was the undercard.  I say without hesitation this was the finest Rumble undercard WWE has ever produced.  Two stellar Title matches and two solid title matches, with not one stinker on the entire PPV.  One can't really ask for more than that out of a Royal Rumble undercard, which generally trends toward uneven at best.

The Women's Title match opened the show and this was the absolute right move to get the San Antonio crowd invested.  Charlotte vs. Bayley felt like the first match in a series, and they got a respectable 13 minutes to tell a story.  This match didn't blow the doors off the place but it wasn't designed to - it felt just about right for its place on the card, and the finish was novel if sudden - Charlotte nailed Natural Selection on the ring apron before rolling Bayley away from the ropes and scoring the pin.  Good opener.


Next up was the first of two monster Title bouts, as Kevin Owens defended against Roman Reigns in a No DQ match with Chris Jericho in a shark cage above the ring.  Unlike their lackluster Roadblock match the month before, this was an energetic, wild brawl that made great use of tables and chairs (though Jericho got less on-camera time for comedy than I was hoping for).  After multiple table powerbomb spots, Reigns seemed a lock to win the Universal Title when Braun Strowman appeared and decimated the unpopular Samoan, allowing Owens a cheap win and leading to a months-long feud between them.  This was a fun bells & whistles kinda match.


The weakest match of the night, by default, was the Rich Swann-Neville Cruiserweight Title match.  But there was nothing wrong here, other than the fact that the audience still didn't care at all about these Cruisers.  Neville captured the Title in 14 minutes with The Rings of Saturn and went on to have easily the best title reign to date of this version of the Cruiserweight division before leaving the company several months later.

The show stealer, as expected, was AJ Styles vs. John Cena for the WWE Title.  Goddamn this was great.  AJ and Cena delivered a strong showing at 2016's Money in the Bank and an insane spotfest at Summerslam, and tonally this match fell somewhere in the middle.  There was more storytelling here than at Summerslam but the traded finishers and kickouts were still prevalent.  Cena finally avenged his two losses to tie Ric Flair's 16-time Championship record, but Styles was kept looking really strong in defeat, kicking out of multiple AAs and only falling to a double AA.  This ranks right up there with the best Rumble undercard matches in history.


So I had almost no complaints about this show as a standalone PPV.  Every match was good or great, the crowd was hot, the Rumble was unpredictable.  Aside from the mostly terrible aftermath of this show there was little to find fault with.  A pretty great Rumble PPV.

Best Match: AJ Styles vs. John Cena
Worst Match: Rich Swann vs. Neville
What I'd Change: I'd have debuted Samoa Joe and had him murder a buncha guys in the Rumble
Most Disappointing Match: I wouldn't say anything was really disappointing
Most Pleasant Surprise: That the Rumble winner was under 40
Overall Rating: 9/10


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2016





The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2016)

2016 - Roman Reigns is struggling to get over, so the company crowns a hot young new champion.....who is 46 years old....

Royal Rumble - Amway Center - 1.24.16

In another case of low expectations paying off, I really enjoyed Royal Rumble 2016.  For the first time in close to a decade WWE presented a Rumble card that had nary a bad match, plus a very fun Rumble match that felt like it shook things up a bit.  The main event scene heading into WrestleMania 32 may have been the drizzling shits but starting here the undercard began to take a more interesting shape, thanks in part to a huge new addition to the roster.

The opening match on this card stole the show, as hated rivals Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens squared off in a Last Man Standing match for the I-C Championship.  It's well-documented that I'm usually not too fond of the LSM stipulation, but these guys a) didn't waste much time on near-falls (or near-counts?) and b) worked in some clever spots (like Owens rolling out of the ring at the last second and landing on his feet to keep the match going).  They got a solid 20 minutes to create a really strong fight and told a great story of two guys who really despised each other.  Damn good stuff there.

These two know how to stage a fight

The New Day-Usos Tag Title bout was next, and while I was sick of seeing these two teams fight each other, it was a solid outing - well-worked and energetic, and The New Day retained to keep their historic Title run going.

The Kalisto-Alberto Del Rio US Title match was a fun little underdog story; Kalisto had beaten Del Rio for the belt the previous week only to lose it back a day later (I hate when they do that), but he managed to wrest the championship back on this show in a solid eleven-minute bout.  Del Rio would go back to being booked alongside his League of Nations pals before exiting the company again several months later.

Next up was the Divas Championship, which again was a well-worked little match.  Charlotte defended against Becky Lynch in a match nowhere near as good as these two were capable of, but still light-years better than anything since the Trish Stratus era.  2016 would see a major upturn for the main roster women, and this was a pretty good start.  The finish was silly but I actually kinda liked it.  Becky snared Charlotte in the Dis-Arm-Her, but Ric Flair tossed his jacket over Becky's head, distracting her long enough for Charlotte to hit a match-ending spear.  The post-match angle got my engine all revved up, as Sasha Banks stepped up and challenged Charlotte, rekindling their feud from NXT and beginning a main roster rivalry that would last the whole calendar year.

Now for the Rumble match, where WWE Champion Roman Reigns entered at #1 and needed to outlast all 29 opponents in order to retain.  I can't overstate how refreshing it was for the Rumble to be fun to watch again.  After five straight Rumble matches either devoid of star power or full of confounding booking decisions, it felt so good to see multiple people get time to shine, multiple stories play out, and an ending that (while I had reservations about it) made sense on some level.

This moment is STILL surreal for me

The big story for me was of course the debut of AJ Styles.  Seeing Styles in a WWE ring was absolutely surreal.  When he entered at #3 I feared the worst - a three-minute cameo followed by a dump-out at the hands of Reigns.  But AJ got nearly thirty minutes and got to eliminate some guys before being tossed out by Kevin Owens, and the Orlando crowd LOVED him.  Not a bad debut for one of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in the world.  Thus began one of the best years of AJ's legendary career, and a hugely successful WWE tenure.

The other stories included Brock Lesnar vs. The Wyatts, which was meant to lead to Brock vs. Bray at 'Mania before that plan was scrapped, and the surprise return of Sami Zayn, who eliminated Kevin Owens and kicked off the next chapter of their amazing feud.

Finally we had the match-ending storyline, where Triple H somewhat predictably entered at #30, out for revenge against Roman Reigns.  And the crowd was almost entirely on Hunter's side.  That's not so good for Reigns' prospects as a top babyface.  Also not good for Reigns' fan support was taking Reigns out of the match for half of it - surely he would've looked stronger and more sympathetic if he'd lasted the full hour only for Hunter to swoop in and steal it.  Instead an injured Reigns WALKED to the back, sat out of the match for thirty minutes, and then came back toward the end.  Hunter tossed Reigns out and then turned his attention to the other finalist, Dean Ambrose, for whom the crowd erupted when he nearly won.  Once again a Rumble match clearly demonstrated the disconnect between WWE and its fans when it came to Roman Reigns.

Participants: Roman Reigns, Rusev, AJ Styles, Tyler Breeze, Curtis Axel, Chris Jericho, Kane, Goldust, Ryback, Kofi Kingston, Titus O'Neil, R-Truth, Luke Harper, Stardust, Big Show, Neville, Braun Strowman, Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose, Sami Zayn, Erick Rowan, Mark Henry, Brock Lesnar, Jack Swagger, The Miz, Alberto Del Rio, Bray Wyatt, Dolph Ziggler, Sheamus, Triple H
Final Four: Triple H, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, Sheamus
Long Man: Roman Reigns (59:48)

Sorry, did I wander into the year 2000 by mistake?

The 'Mania main event was of course the lukewarm-at-best Triple H vs. Roman Reigns match, which went on too long and ended with Reigns predictably regaining the WWE Title, to the delight of no one in attendance.  Whatever....

This Royal Rumble made me considerably more optimistic and intrigued for WrestleMania season, in and of itself a major improvement over Royal Rumble 2015.  And it was a damn enjoyable night of wrestling to boot.

Best Match: Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens
Worst Match: Alberto Del Rio vs. Kalisto, by default
What I'd Change: I would've called an audible and had Ambrose win the belt, then had Reigns turn on him and challenge him at WrestleMania
Most Disappointing Match: Nothing really
Most Pleasant Surprise: That I actually enjoyed a Royal Rumble card again
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
Better than WrestleMania 32, Summerslam '16 and Survivor Series 2016? - Probably, about even, and no.


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2015




The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2015)

For the second year in a row the wrong guy wins the Rumble match, and WWE eats a plateful of shit...

Royal Rumble - First Union Center - 1.25.15

For the second straight year Vince McMahon's stubborn tone-deafness backfired on him at the Royal Rumble.  The egregiousness of the booking was even worse than 2014's Rumble, and here's why: at least in 2014 an argument could be made that WWE didn't realize how badly Batista's comeback and Rumble win would be received.  I mean, those of us with the capacity for logical thought knew Batista's return wasn't going to galvanize the fanbase like Vince hoped, and that 2014 was clearly Daniel Bryan's time.  But WWE realized they'd made a mistake and worked diligently to correct it, and eventually we got the WrestleMania we deserved.  But WWE learned nothing from this fiasco apparently, as you'll see.

Before I go on any further about this turd of a Rumble match, let's recap the undercard.

The Ascension experiment fell on its face out of the gate, as the fans didn't buy these two generic-looking Indie-style midcarders as the second coming of the Road Warriors.  But no matter, they still got a decisive win over The New Age Outlaws.  This stunk.  Moving on.

Another tag match followed, this one a WWE Tag Title match between The Usos and Team Mizdow.  Not bad but not much more than a run-of-the-mill RAW match.

Third time's the charm?  Not so much.  The Bella Twins faced Paige & Natalya in the third consecutive tag match on this show, and while probably the best bout so far, this also wasn't much to tell the grandkids about.

Amazingly, a memorable and awesome match broke out in the semi-main slot, as WWE Champ Brock Lesnar defended against John Cena and Seth Rollins.  Man, what a stunningly worked match.  All three guys wrestled like this was the main event of WrestleMania, packing the bout with non-stop action, near-falls, and high spots.  Lesnar dominated early with German suplexes galore (including a double GS on Rollins flunkies Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury) before being put through a table by Rollins mid-match.  Rollins would then turn in a career performance, nearly defeating John Cena for the Title if not for Lesnar's third-act comeback.  Lesnar finally finished off Rollins by countering a Curb Stomp with an F5, retaining the Title and capping off his best match since SummerSlam 2013.  One of the best Triple Threats I've ever seen.


Had the Rumble match been anywhere near as good as the three-way this PPV would've been saved.  Alas it wasn't good.  At all.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2014)

Vince McMahon's tone-deaf booking bites him in the ass, and one of his top stars abruptly ends his WWE career....

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.  

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 first three years of his return was 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.   He was used more effectively in 2015, fortunately.

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2013)

It's a Punk-Rock Rumble!

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2012)

The 2012 Rumble was notable for one solid match and the final ten minutes.....

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 History of WWE Royal Rumble (2011)

The Rumble match expands to 40 participants, while the undercard delivers strongly....

Royal Rumble 2011 - TD Garden - 1/31/11

I'd call this show one of the better Rumble PPVs of the last ten years.  It was a streamlined four matches and helped elevate a handful of new stars.  Though with one change this PPV could've been off-the-charts awesome.

The opener was an epic World Title match between Edge and Dolph Ziggler.  This was Ziggler's first PPV Title match and he and Edge were given plenty of time to breathe and tell a good story.
Smackdown GM Vickie Guerrero added the stipulation that if Edge used the Spear he would lose the Title, which added an intriguing wrinkle.  After 20+ minutes of action Edge retained.

The second Championship match pitted WWE Champ The Miz against former Champion Randy Orton.  This was a fine Title match, but as with 1998 and 2002 it was a wasted opportunity to elevate a rising babyface.  John Morrison had won a Ladder Match in December for a shot at the WWE Title.  Morrison and Miz had a built-in history as former tag partners, and booking them at The Rumble seemed a no-brainer.  Instead though, that match happened for free on RAW, and was easily the best match of early 2011.  They should've included Miz-Morrison on this PPV exactly as it occurred, especially since Randy Orton would be in the Rumble match anyway.  Regardless, Miz-Orton was still good.

Yeah Punk with the assist!

The one throwaway was a four-way Divas Title match - Natalya vs. Layla vs. Michelle McCool vs. Eve Torres.  The feud here was Nattie vs. LayCool, so Eve's inclusion and eventual Title win was pretty nonsensical.  Whatever.

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2010)

A fun show with a strong Rumble match and a surprise return.....

Royal Rumble 2010 - Philips Arena - 1/31/10

This show wasn't a classic either, but I found it a lot more fun than the 2009 edition.  Some new stars were being showcased, the World Title bouts were both first-time matchups, and the Rumble itself had a much greater sense of urgency.

Kicking things off was another ECW Title match (I believe the last one ever held on PPV) between Christian and Ezekiel Jackson.  Nothing special going on here but it was watchable.

A "bonus" match was next as The Miz defended the US Title against MVP.  Again, inoffensive, easily digestible, and you've forgotten it ten minutes later.  Like a Big Mac when you're drunk.

New WWE Champion Sheamus was third as he faced the technically-still-a-heel-but-slowly-turning-babyface Randy Orton.  These two had never wrestled before so this was novel.  They didn't have the best chemistry in the world, but later in 2010 they'd go on to have a splendid Hell in a Cell match.  This was fine except for the DQ ending accidentally caused by Orton's Legacy buddies.

A total throwaway was next as Women's Champion Michelle McCool faced Mickie James.  Their feud centered around McCool and Layla (a fantastic heel duo called LayCool) repeatedly taunting Mickie for supposedly being overweight.  She's not.  Not at all.  But Vince does seem to enjoy petty bullying.  Anyway this could've been a solid match but it was over in 20 seconds.  Vince also enjoys pointless surprise instant Title changes.  Just ask Daniel Bryan.

Oscar Film Journal: Elvis (2022)

It's Oscar season once again, and that means it's time for me to resume my futile quest to see every Best Picture nominee of all time.  That's right, the Oscar Film Journal is back for its third season!  Of the ten brand new nominees I've only seen two thus far, starting with today's topic, Elvis....


Baz Luhrmann's stylish, epic biopic on the life of Elvis Presley (by way of Col. Tom Parker) is another energetic-to-a-fault entry in his Broadway-influenced filmography, full of lively music-driven set pieces and lots of kinetic cinematography, with a pretty stellar lead performance at its center.  Say what you will about the rest of the film (and I will), Austin Butler as the title character is basically note-perfect (no pun intended).  Butler splendidly captures Elvis's mix of good ol' boy southern charm and subversive sexual energy, admirably recreating what it must've been like for repressed 1950s audiences to glimpse this rockabilly powderkeg for the first time.  Elvis had a stage energy and physical presence like no other musical artist of his generation, and Butler gives every moment his all, disappearing into the role and earning every one of the season's accolades.

But as with the last biopic to earn an Academy Best Picture nod, Bohemian Rhapsody, Elvis doesn't have a ton of depth beyond the main performance.  Yes the last hour of the film presents a compelling conflict between the iconic star who wants to do something more serious with his career and his parasitic manager who will do anything not to lose his meal ticket, but the first two acts feel like the usual Oscar-bait biopic tropes.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

WWE Royal Rumble 2023 Preview & Predictions

Oh it's Royal Rumble time again.  Weird...


Yeah, so this Saturday is WWE's second-most popular PPV of the year once again, the 36th edition of the Royal Rumble.  Aaaand, they've announced a combined total of 22 people for TWO Rumble matches (WWE's website didn't even bother to make up a graphic for either match).  Guys, I know everyone goes ga-ga over "surprise entrants" in these stupid matches these days, but you're taking it way too far now.  Back in MY day they'd announce the entire field ahead of time.  Did anyone complain that there were no surprises?  Nope.  Because the Rumble back then wasn't so much about cheap entrance pops as it was about kicking off WrestleMania season with a story.  Either a babyface was overcoming the odds or returning from injury to punch their ticket to the biggest main event of the year, or a dominant heel was making his mark on his way to conquering the babyface champion at the Show of Shows.  Plus numerous other 'Mania matches would be set up.  Ya know, STORYTELLING.  That thing WWE prides itself on, that today's Royal Rumble matches are totally lacking.  Last year's Rumble PPV featured not one but two surprise entrants going on to win their respective Rumbles, with literally nothing of interest happening aside from that.  No stories within each Rumble match, no real feuds set up or explored (aside from Sami Zayn vs. Johnny Knoxville, which sadly stole the show at 'Mania Night 2, very much by default).  Just a bunch of guys and women doing moves until it was time for the important folks to show up.  And from the looks of this year's lineup that's what they plan on doing again.  Yeah, let's just throw a buncha whoevers in there, the crowd will pop for the entrances, and then we don't have to bother telling an actual story.  Crap like this is why so many of us former diehard fans have deserted WWE over the years.  If the pops are so goddamn important, why not just turn the Rumble into an entrance pageant and save everyone an hour?

Anyway, here's the lineup for the 2023 Rumble....



Mountain Dew Pitch Black Match: Bray Wyatt vs. LA Knight


Yes, what screams "terrifying horror character" more than a match sponsored by Mountain fucking Dew?  "Everyone's favorite piss-colored soft drink presents SCARY GIMMICK MATCH!"  I have no idea what the rules of this shitshow are, nor do I much care.  The upshot is likely to be that Bray Wyatt under Triple H's creative direction isn't much more watchable than he was under Vince's creative direction.  Wyatt has crafted a great outside-the-box persona who can't pay off any of his unorthodox ideas in a wrestling match.  And really that's what everything is supposed to lead to.  You build a rivalry or a story, in a way that makes people want to see the two guys beat each other up in the ring.  When the payoff is cartoonish B-movie tropes instead of an engaging athletic contest, there's no payoff.

Pick: Wyatt, obviously

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2009)

The final Royal Rumble of the aughts was......eh......

Royal Rumble 2009 - Joe Louis Arena - 1/25/09

Here's a rather tepid event if I've ever seen one.  The 2009 Rumble was thoroughly mediocre and frankly not all that memorable.  It had a series of middling undercard matches followed by a Rumble match where nearly all the big names entered early and overstayed their welcome.

The opener was a match for the now-defunct ECW Title, as new monster heel Jack Swagger (a guy in whom I saw tremendous potential at the time) vs. Matt Hardy.  This was a solid match that showcased the All-American American pretty well.

The All-American American, JACK THHHHHHWAGGER!!

Next was a Women's Title match featuring Beth Phoenix defending against Melina.  Your basic six-minute Divas match.  Melina captured the belt.

Third was one of the weaker World Title matches in recent memory as John Cena faced JBL.  This was against the backdrop of a godawful JBL-Shawn Michaels feud, in which Michaels supposedly had financial problems and was hired by JBL to help him win the World Title.  First off, Shawn had been a WWE employee on and off for 20 years and was easily one of the higher-paid stars in 2009.  Are we supposed to believe he's in such financial peril he'd accept a manservant position working for another wrestler?  The feud was awful and this match was devoid of suspense since obviously JBL wasn't winning the Championship.

The best undercard match of the night was WWE Champ Jeff Hardy defending against Edge.  This was a well-worked 19-minute match with a lame ending.  It was rumored leading into this that the returning Christian would interfere and cost Jeff the Title, leading to a feud between them.  Instead WWE opted to have Matt Hardy (who had just wrestled earlier as a babyface) turn against Jeff so they could fight at 'Mania, and then make up a month later.  Nevermind that Edge's longtime best friend Christian would have a much more logical reason for helping Edge.  The Hardy vs. Hardy feud yielded a couple decent PPV matches but was a terribly ill-conceived angle.

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2008)

WWE returns to Madison Square Garden to present a surprisingly good Rumble PPV....

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.


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2007




Monday, January 23, 2023

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2007)

The overhyped Royal Rumble of 2007.....

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.  For a decade till Lashley came back anyway....

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 cheapens the accomplishment of winning the Rumble.

....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.


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2006





The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2006)

Time for a one-match show wherein Rey Mysterio breaks the record.....

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.