Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Top Ten Things: Opening PPV Matches

Welcome to yet another Top Ten Things, here at!

With WrestleKingdom 13 in the books and the fantastic match that kicked off that show, I got to thinking about my favorite PPV opening matches over the last 35 years or so.  I eventually narrowed it down to 25, and in a fairly agonizing process, managed to pick my favorites.  Like a killer opening song on an album, a great opening match can instantly grab your attention and set the tone for the rest of the evening.  It gets the live crowd excited, which in turn lends more energy to the rest of the PPV.  The quality of the opening bout can leave almost as big an impression as that of the main event; if a show starts well and ends well you tend to remember it as a damn fine show (I do anyway), even if the stuff in the middle isn't so hot.  At the very least a great opening match makes me want to watch the show a second time.  Most PPVs tend to feature shorter bouts to kick things off, but every so often the first match either steals the show outright or comes pretty damn close.  Here are ten such examples.....

10. AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon - WrestleMania 33

The main card of the 2017 edition of WrestleMania kicked off with a match I wasn't at all happy about.  AJ Styles, by far the most accomplished star in the company over the previous 14 months, was saddled fighting Vince's son instead of tearing it up with someone of his caliber.  But I'll be damned if it wasn't incredibly entertaining.  AJ was amazing as usual, and Shane had his working shoes on just trying to keep up.  Many of the spots were over-the-top, including Shane countering AJ's 450 splash into a triangle choke, Shane missing a Shooting Star Press, AJ trying the Van Terminator but running into a trash can, and Shane doing his own Van Terminator.  AJ finally took the win after hitting the Phenomenal Forearm, capping off what was shockingly the best match of the night.  This match proved that AJ Styles could have a good match with anyone, and also earned AJ the company's permanent stamp of approval.

9. Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler - Bragging Rights 2010

Probably D-Bryan's first true standout match in WWE was this sleeper hit to kick off the second and final Bragging Rights PPV.  By far the best match on the show, this US Champ vs. IC Champ bout allowed Bryan to show off his technical prowess against an opponent who could hang with him move-for-move.  This see-saw match went a thrilling 16 minutes, including a false finish where Ziggler seemed to have won the match but Bryan's foot was on the rope, before Bryan tapped Ziggler out with the LeBell Lock.  The pair followed it up with an equally good rematch the next night on RAW.  At year's end, WWE cited this as one of the best matches of 2010, ranking it second (I believe) only to Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker.  This was the first instance of the company openly showing appreciation for Bryan's abilities.

8. Brian Pillman vs. Jushin Thunder Liger - SuperBrawl II

The second SuperBrawl PPV, the best in the series, had the show stolen by this groundbreaking opening contest for the newly minted WCW Light Heavyweight Title.  This 17-minute bout was full of great false finishes and big high spots, demonstrating this wonderful alternative to the norm known as cruiserweight wrestling and showcasing a style of wrestling North American fans weren't yet accustomed to.  Pillman won with a bridging leg cradle after Liger missed a top-rope splash, regaining the short-lived championship.  While Jr.-style wrestling wouldn't catch on for a few more years, this match served as one of the templates.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

WWE Royal Rumble 2020: I'm Just Not Seeing It With Drew....

Soooo, that was a Royal Rumble. Nothing more, nothing less. It was alright. We got a couple decent Rumble matches, a couple very strong singles bouts, and a couple not-good matches. If part of the Royal Rumble’s purpose was to get people excited for WrestleMania, then this show was a bit of a failure for me. The three big matches set up so far don’t do much for me at all, and one match I do actually want to see doesn’t appear to be happening. Why the hell not I couldn’t say.

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 last year’s women’s Rumble but not a great one, and the wrong woman won. I cannot fathom how they justify Charlotte winning here when the moment was so clearly Shayna’s. 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), a lot of overly quick eliminations of NXT stars, and for some reason no Sasha Banks. Is she hurt? 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. Sooo, Charlotte vs. Becky for the thousandth time? Oh joy. Or worse, Charlotte vs. Bayley? Or does Bayley drop her title to Shayna and we get yet another triple threat? Can’t we just have the Becky-Shayna match we’ve been waiting for? This Rumble was fine but I didn’t like the result at all. ***1/2

Awesomely Shitty Movies: The Matrix

Welcome to another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies here at, where I take a closer look at a film that is either beloved in spite of its faults or reviled in spite of its virtues, or that simply has such a mix of those two things it's stuck somewhere in between.

Today's subject is the 1999 cyberpunk action smash-hit, The Matrix!  The brainchild of the Wachowskis, The Matrix was a hip, new take on the humanity vs. machines theme that's been explored extensively in science fiction, driven by a capable cast and revolutionary special effects.  It became a touchstone at the time of its release, having such a profound and immediate influence on the genre that its visual tropes had actually become hackneyed by the time the sequels came out four years later.  In a way it was too big a hit for its own good, and the second and third films were viewed as a pretty massive disappointment.  But however botched the follow-through on this saga, the first film remains a visually engaging, conceptually neat sci-fi/action vehicle that could've been even more had the producers not dumbed it down for us popcorn-gorging slobs.

So let's take a look at what still works, and what still doesn't, about The Matrix!

The Awesome


The plot of this movie is super cool.  It's a dystopian future and machines have become self-aware and taken over the world, imprisoning the human race as an energy source while plugging them into a virtual reality designed to keep them pacified and complacent.  Nearly every person left after the apocalypse was born into this matrix, occupying a cryo-pod but under the impression they're all living normal human lives in the late 20th century.  A few resistors like Morpheus got wise and dared to pull back the curtain, hoping to free the others and bring down the machines.  Our main protagonist Neo is a highly sought-after computer programmer/hacker, whom Morpheus believes will be "the one" to free humanity.  It's high-concept sci-fi fun, with lofty, existential themes that are eminently relatable; who wouldn't be able to get behind a small band of heroes trying to save the world?  It's the cinematic embodiment of Rage Against the Machine!


The special effects invented for The Matrix were possibly the most influential of that era.  Nearly every action sequence features "bullet time" effects, where a computer-controlled ring of cameras rapidly spins around a subject, firing off a single frame in quick succession.  When blended with a CG-modeled background, the effect creates the illusion of time stopping as our hero manipulates space-time within the Matrix.  The martial arts scenes made liberal use of this effect and it was unlike anything ever put to film at that time.  It was so successful and popular nearly every action movie for the next few years ripped it off in some form, even when it didn't make sense in context (which was usually the case - see Charlie's Angels or Mission Impossible 2).  The visual effects here were hugely groundbreaking.

This move was so popular WWE wrestler Trish Stratus started using it.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Top Ten Things: Beatles Albums

Welcome to another Top Ten Things!  Today I'll be talking about one of the most celebrated, universally beloved bands of all time, The Beatles!

The Beatles were possibly the first music group I was ever introduced to as a kid.  My parents played me some of Sgt. Pepper and I was hooked instantly.  By sixth grade I began making mix tapes of their tunes (Yes, this was when mix tapes were still a thing), and thanks to the Compleat Beatles documentary I became an expert very quickly.  In 1987 my parents bought a CD player (I felt so ahead of the curve), and The Beatles' entire catalog was one of the first available in that format.  I devoured their music like crazy and for a couple years they were one of very few bands I listened to (until I discovered metal that is).

Today, along with Metallica, The Beatles are my favorite band in the universe, and when I fire up one of their albums on the ol' iPod it's a ceremonious moment.  I tend to listen to their whole catalog front to back, over a period of several days.  Yeah I'm a dork.  Shut up.

Anyway, here's a list of what are, in my opinion, The Beatles ten greatest albums.

10. A Hard Day's Night

In 1964 The Beatles had conquered both the UK and the US, becoming such pop culture icons they were tapped to star in a feature film.  Directed by Richard Lester, A Hard Day's Night starred the Fab Four as themselves, in a "day in the life" kind of story.  The band travels by train to an auditorium where they'll perform for a live TV special, and in tow is Paul's troublemaker grandfather who tries to turn everyone against each other.  The soundtrack album featured numerous classic early Beatles songs, like the energetic title track, the bittersweet "If I Fell," the instantly catchy "I Should've Known Better," the bluesy "You Can't Do That," and the morose "Things We Said Today."  A Hard Day's Night followed up The Beatles' first two pop albums with slightly more mature content and showed a band beginning to temper their signature sound.

9. Help!

After the huge success of A Hard Day's Night, a second Beatles film was inevitable.  This time it would be a big-budget James Bond-inspired screwball comedy about a Far-East cult hunting down the band in the hopes of recovering a sacrificial ring mailed to Ringo.  The movie featured numerous action-comedy set pieces, plus seven brand new Beatles tunes.  The music showed a bit more depth and some instrument variation, and the album boasted probably the first major departure - a somber guitar ballad of Paul's called "Yesterday."  Paul was the only Beatle on the recording, and would be accompanied by a string quartet, a first for the band.  Other highlights included the mellow waltz of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," the urgent "The Night Before," and the anxiously bouncy "I've Just Seen a Face."  Help! showed the band continuing to expand their musical range on their way to arguably the most creative period in their career.

8. Let It Be

Originally intended as a live concert film entitled Get Back, Let It Be eventually morphed into an album/documentary that showed The Beatles coming apart at the seams.  Their interpersonal relationships were in shambles and the live recording sessions were filled with palpable tension.  So unpleasant was the experience that the band opted to shelve the album and move on to Abbey Road, as a way to end their career on a high note.  As the band dissolved, producer Phil Spector was hired to sort through the dozens of songs and takes, and whittle everything down to a concise record.  The result was a solid-if-inconsistent album that would serve as the band's denouement.  Side 1 is full of good-to-great songs, like John's strangely lyriced "Dig a Pony" and his existential ballad "Across the Universe," and Paul's iconic piano-driven title track.  Inexplicably Spector also included a one-minute snippet of "Dig It," a ponderous go-nowhere jam, and their brief take on the traditional ditty "Maggie Mae."  Side two's highlights were both contributions from Paul; the optimistic "I've Got a Feeling," and the energetic "Get Back."  Despite Spector's orchestral embellishments on songs like "The Long and Winding Road," Let It Be features a stripped-down, intimately live snapshot of The Beatles at their lowest point.  Yet even as the band crumbled they managed to churn out some undeniably great songs and cement their legacy as a transcendent rock group.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

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.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2018)

And we're almost done with our historical Rumble journey....

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.

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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Friday, January 24, 2020

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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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 23, 2020

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 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.  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 for a few years there.  It almost seems like WWE went out of their way NOT to make money with him.

Okay, tirade over.

Top Ten Things: Non-Rumble Rumble Matches

Welcome to a Royal Rumble-themed edition of Top Ten Things, here at!

Today's TTT is about the long-time WWE event that kicks off the Road to WrestleMania - I'm talking of course about the Royal Rumble!  But this list is gonna be a little different, as I'll be counting down the ten greatest non-Rumble matches in Royal Rumble history!  As you all know, the Rumble itself is only one of the bouts featured on this annual PPV, and the years have brought us some bona fide classics on the show's undercard as well, from WWE Title matches to tag matches to opening contests.  So let's take a closer look....

10. The Rockers vs. Orient Express (1991)

The 1991 Rumble was the first WWF PPV I ever ordered, and while the overall show disappointed me terribly, the night began with an absolutely killer tag match - The Rockers vs. The Orient Express.  I know on paper that doesn't sound mindblowing, but trust me.  This was nineteen minutes of just spectacular action, and I think this was the moment when I really started to appreciate The Rockers, Shawn in particular.  I'd go so far as to call this the 1991 Match of the Year.  I shit you not.

9. Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker (1998)

The '98 event was mostly about building up Steve Austin for his impending WWF Title run, and reshaping the WWF as the company with Attitude.  But the non-Rumble main event actually stole the show as natural adversaries Shawn and Taker delivered yet another classic brawl, this time in a Casket Match.  Full of ingenious, brutal spots (including a career-halting back bump by Shawn onto the casket), this match easily put all other Casket Matches to shame and culminated in the memorable visual of Taker's evil brother Kane locking Taker inside and setting the box on fire.

8. Triple H vs. Cactus Jack (2000)

2000 was the year the WWF began firing on all cylinders, and that year's Royal Rumble really set the tone.  The semi-main of this show was a WWF Title Street Fight between new heel Champion Triple H, whose main event run had thus far been shaky at best, and the deranged, violent Cactus Jack.  Much as he had done to establish The Rock as a main event heel in 1999, Mick Foley went above and beyond to cement Triple H as a new headliner worthy of carrying the company into the next decade.  Triple H himself proved he was more than just a cowardly heel Champion by taking vast sums of punishment over the course of this 27-minute bout.  This match featured one of the more grotesque endings I've seen, as Foley took a Pedigree face-first onto a pile of thumbtacks.  This was the match where I became a full-on Triple H fan (until mid-2002 that is).  Also a Match of the Year candidate (though I think their Hell in a Cell match at No Way Out was even better).

WWE Royal Rumble 2020 Preview & Predictions

It's the first WWE PPV of the new decade!  Let's get ready to Rumb-- wait, only five women have been announced for this thing?  Seriously WWE, let's get ready to Rumble, huh?  What the hell are you sitting on this info for?  Is it just gonna be 25 surprise participants?  When did this company forget how to hype a show?

The inaugural WWE extravaganza of the New Roarin' 20s is upon us, and like last year's Rumble it appears they've booked more matches than can possibly fit on the main show.  So get ready to see two or three of these bouts get bumped.  I for one can't believe how fast the last couple years have gone by.  The 2018 Rumble feels like it was one year ago.  The 2019 one feels like it just happened.  The 2000 Royal Rumble still feels like a state of the art event, as though it kicked off the current era.  And that was twenty goddamn years ago.  I'm gettin' too old for this shit.....

As is always the case nowadays, WWE's build for this event has been all over the place - sloppy, disorganized, and poorly communicated to us viewers.  Seriously, they've only announced five women for that Rumble match and there are basically no stories being told going in.  The men's Rumble at least has the Brock Lesnar "I'm so good I'm gonna enter at #1 and toss everyone out so there's no Title challenger" thing.  The women's Rumble has nothing.  What the fuck guys?  It's only the second-most important match on the show (maybe even first if Becky headlines 'Mania again).

Anyway, let's take a look at this card, which is not without interest but overloaded.

Sheamus vs. Chad Gable

I refuse to call Mr. Gable by the name they've given him.  Vince really is like a 12-year-old ("He's short, it's such good shit!").  I find this a very odd inclusion for the returning Sheamus.  Why not just put both of these guys in the Rumble?  This match hardly seems important enough to get its own slot.  Also why does Sheamus think Gable is the reason WWE sucks now?  Gable is one of several WWE stars who needs to get the fuck outta this place ASAP.

Pick: No way Sheamus is losing in his first big match back

US Championship: Andrade vs. Humberto Carrillo

This is a late addition for a championship that's been bouncing around like crazy lately.  Both these guys are hoping to take up Rey Mysterio's mantle as WWE's biggest Hispanic star.  Andrade has all the tools, to be sure.  Not sure yet about the other guy.  This match should be good but will also likely get moved to the pre-show.  Andrade should retain since he just won the belt, but maybe Humberto will help his stock even in defeat.

Pick: Andrade retains

Smackdown Women's Championship: Bayley vs. Lacey Evans

Well this is weird.  The former snobby heel vs. the former lovable babyface, roles now reversed.  I'll say this persona works much better for Lacey.  Why they didn't play up her military service to begin with I'm sure I don't know.  Let's hope she's improved in the ring over the last 12 months.  I don't think they have a WrestleMania season plan for the SD Women's Title at all, so this could go either way.  I'll pick the champ to retain I guess.

Pick: Bayley retains

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

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

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.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

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.

Movie Review: 1917

What a spectacular technical achievement is Sam Mendes's latest film 1917.  This simple story of a pair of World War I soldiers tasked with crossing No Man's Land to call off an impending British attack that will surely end in disaster is presented in a way that's so visceral and mesmerizing you won't be able to stop thinking about it.

Based loosely on stories told by Mendes's grandfather (a WWI soldier himself), 1917 is staged as one unbroken shot (there are edits here and there but except for one instance they're seamless), creating a sense of claustrophobia, tension and inevitability.  The film opens on our two protagonists dozing in a field, roused and called into the trenches to be briefed on their mission.  From the opening moments the camera drags us into the action, and for the next two hours we're never given a reprieve.  The technique forces the audience to become participants in these harrowing events, as Lance Corporals Blake and Schofield crawl through corpse-laden fields of mud and barbed wire, navigate abandoned German trenches, dodge crashing aircraft, and so on.  I won't say more about the story, as it's best to go in cold.  Were these events presented in a traditional way this film would perhaps not be as engaging, but that's sort of the point.  Like Saving Private Ryan, 1917 is about the "how," moreso than the "what."  It is designed to make the audience experience the film rather than just watch it.

The film's lead actor George MacKay gives an understated but note-perfect performance, reluctant to be a part of the mission at first, then determined to complete it at all costs, no matter the increased weight heaped upon his shoulders.  It's not a flashy performance but it's exactly the right one for this film, and mostly conveyed with facial expressions and physicality.

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2009)

The final Royal Rumble of the aughts

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.

Monday, January 20, 2020

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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Sunday, January 19, 2020

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.

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.

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