Tuesday, January 25, 2022

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.

Monday, January 24, 2022

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.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

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

Saturday, January 22, 2022

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."

Friday, January 21, 2022

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.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

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.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

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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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

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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Monday, January 17, 2022

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.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2005)

The John Cena-Dave Batista Era begins in earnest.....

Royal Rumble 2005 - SaveMart Center - 1/30/05

The '05 edition was one helluva PPV.  Of the five matches only one was bad and two of them (including the Rumble) were quite good.  I may not have been enthusiastic about the direction the company was headed or the future stars with which it was casting its lot, but I understood it.  It made good business sense.  Good business sense and good storytelling are all one can realistically expect from a wrestling promotion.

The show opened with a pretty fantastic grudge match, as Shawn Michaels battled Edge.  A few weeks earlier at New Year's Revolution, guest referee Michaels cost Edge his spot in the Elimination Chamber match by superkicking him in retaliation for an inadvertent Spear.  Edge then attacked Shawn and this feud was set into motion (To be fair Edge was in the right - his Spear on Shawn was an accident while Shawn's superkick was deliberate).  While a little slower than I expected, this was a well-worked 18-plus-minute match and a great way to open the PPV.

I always liked this move.

Next was the singular bad match on the card, as Undertaker once again faced Heidenreich, this time in a Casket Match.  While mercifully shorter than their Survivor Series '04 debacle, this still wasn't good.

The card picked up a bit as WWE Champion JBL defended against Kurt Angle and The Big Show.  This was no five-star classic but it was a fun little affair, with Angle playing the cowardly heel and JBL opportunistically taking advantage of outside interference to retain.

In the semi-main slot was the culmination of one of the most horridly booked (one might suggest deliberately botched) top babyface runs of the modern era, as World Champion Triple H defended one last time against his former protege Randy Orton.  As you'll recall Orton won the Title from Chris Benoit at SummerSlam '04 and was dumped by his Evolution pals the following night, which despite Orton's thoroughly heelish persona was supposed to somehow make us all like him.  Orton then dropped the belt to Triple H only four weeks later and spent the next four months chasing Hunter and largely failing to get any sort of revenge.  How the company expected Orton to get over in this scenario is beyond me.  The added wrinkle in this particular match was that Orton suffered a pretend concussion, which made him slightly more sympathetic but ended up costing him the match.  Said concussion plagued Orton for a few weeks until the angle was dropped altogether and Orton turned heel again shortly thereafter.  An absolutely terrible attempt at creating a top hero, but at least this was a pretty good Title match.

For the third straight year WWE produced a damn fine Royal Rumble match.  This one resembled the 2003 edition in that it was peppered with strong in-ring talent and featured fast-paced action which kept the match from ever dragging.  This was a very smartly booked Rumble as the best workers all had significant showings; Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit started the match and each had impressive runs, with Benoit nearly duplicating his coast-to-coast performance from 2004, while other early entrants Edge and Rey Mysterio both lasted around forty minutes.  The late segments of the match belonged to future headliners John Cena and Batista, who ended up the final two participants.  After an accidental double elimination from which a winner could not be determined, Vince McMahon stormed to the ring, legitimately tore both quads sliding in, and from a sitting position ordered a match restart.  Batista finally prevailed as originally planned, concluding one of the more memorable Rumbles in history.

Cena's elimination, Take 2.

Participants: Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Daniel Puder, Hardcore Holly, The Hurricane, Kenzo Suzuki, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Shelton Benjamin, Booker T, Chris Jericho, Luther Reigns, Muhammad Hassan, Orlando Jordan, Scotty 2 Hotty, Charlie Haas, Rene Dupree, Simon Dean, Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle, Jonathan Coachman, Mark Jindrak, Viscera, Paul London, John Cena, Snitsky, Kane, Batista, Christian, Ric Flair
Final FourBatista, John Cena, Edge, Rey Mysterio
Long Man: Chris Benoit (47:26)

The 2005 Rumble PPV ranks up there with the best overall editions.  The Rumble match was excellent, both Title matches were solid, and the opener was a near show-stealer.  The company was doing a lot wrong around this time but every so often they managed to get just about everything spot-on.

Best Match: The Rumble
Worst Match: Undertaker vs. Heidenreich
What I'd Change: Other than not signing Heidenreich at all?  Not much about this specific show.  There were some big-picture issues to be sure, but this PPV was one of the bright spots of 2005.
Most Disappointing Match: Probably JBL-Angle-Show just because Angle wasn't in it much
Most Pleasant Surprise: I really didn't expect to like this Rumble match as much as I did.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10
Better than WrestleMania 21, SummerSlam '05, and/or Survivor Series 2005? - No, Yes, and Yes.

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Friday, January 14, 2022

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2004)

In 2004 we got one of the greatest Rumble matches ever, which now no longer exists.....

Royal Rumble 2004 - Wachovia Center - 1/25/04

This here's another one-match Rumble card.  Well maybe one-and-a-half.  But that one match was one of the best Rumbles in the entire series and told an amazing story, even if its legacy is forever tarnished.

The show opened with a hastily-thrown-together Tables match for the World Tag belts, as Ric Flair and Batista got a forgettable four-minute win over The Dudleyz.  Not sure why this last-minute inclusion was necessary given how rushed some of the other matches were.

Next was a criminally-abbreviated Cruiserweight Title match, as Rey Mysterio defended against Jamie Noble.  What could've been a strong undercard bout was given three minutes and change.

In the third slot was a match meant to settle a pretty major feud, as the estranged Guerrero cousins locked up for the first time in WWE.  This had been building for about two months, as Los Guerreros fell into a slump and Chavo had teased turning on Eddie several times.  Finally in early January he turned heel and this match was signed.  Unfortunately it was only given eight minutes and was not at all remarkable, and the feud was basically scrapped right after.  So why book the match in the first place?  Why not put Eddie and Chavo in the Rumble instead?

Alright, remember how in 1998 and 2002 the company opted to have the World Champ defend against an established main eventer rather than a slight underdog challenger, and how that pissed me off?  Well in 2004 they took it to the other extreme, as Brock Lesnar defended the WWE Title against, wait for it......Bob Holly.  Yeah that's right, ol' Thurman "Sparky" Plugg himself.  This non-feud stemmed from an incident in Sept. 2002 when Lesnar and Holly faced off on an episode of Smackdown.  Holly, notorious for giving the younger talent a hard time in the ring, sandbagged Lesnar during a powerbomb attempt, and Lesnar dropped him on his head, sidelining Holly with a neck injury.  A year later Holly returned to attack Lesnar, and this half-assed rivalry was born.  Nevermind that Holly was in no way a credible threat to the WWE Champion, nor was he even a popular babyface.  The company was by God gonna treat us all to this horribly unworthy PPV Title match.  Six or so minutes later Lesnar was still the Champ.  What in the name of all things holy, THE FUCK, were they thinking giving Bob Holly a Title match at the Royal Rumble??  Chrissakes.

If ever a match should've just been one-move-and-done, it's this one.

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2003)

I attended this show live, and was treated to a damn good Rumble match, plus maybe the greatest match I've ever seen in person....

Royal Rumble 2003 - FleetCenter - 1.19.03

What a perfect illustration of how much better Paul Heyman's Smackdown was than RAW in 2003.  The '03 Rumble holds a special place for me because I was in attendance.  The WWE product at this point had spectacular highs coupled with absolutely dreadful lows, and this PPV showcased both.

The big story of this Rumble was the mega-face push of Brock Lesnar, who had been betrayed by Paul Heyman two months earlier (in one of the most nonsensical angles of the era), and who was now returning from a brief injury.  The opening match was a Rumble qualifier between Lesnar and The Big Show which, while better than their Survivor Series '02 encounter was still only about six minutes.  But it accomplished what it needed to and provided a decisive win for Lesnar on his way to the Rumble.

Next was a Tag Title throwaway - The Dudley Boyz defeated William Regal and Lance Storm for the straps.  This was inoffensive but pretty dull.

Third was the culmination of probably the worst storyline of 2002 - Torrie Wilson vs. Dawn Marie.  Weeks earlier it was revealed that Dawn had been banging Torrie's father Al, and there was a storyline wedding complete with Al Wilson stripping down to his skivvies (Just what we all wanted to see!).  A week or so later Al "died" while he and Dawn were on their honeymoon, specifically during the physical act of love.  Torrie blamed Dawn for killing her father and thus we were subjected to this matchup.  Three and a half minutes of pointless.

But at least Torrie vs. Dawn was bad and short, unlike our next bout.

The World Championship would be decided between Triple H and the latest WCW import, Scott Steiner.  Steiner had debuted awkwardly at Survivor Series and after a pretend bidding war between the WWE brands, showed up on RAW and announced that he was contracted to get a Title shot.  Now I could be wrong about this but I'm pretty sure he didn't wrestle a single solitary match leading up to this one.  And it's clear no one in WWE bothered to watch any of his late WCW bouts, because I can't imagine he'd have been in line for a main event push based on any of those "classics."  The RAW team must've been desperate for someone to feud with Hunter, since they'd buried all the top babyfaces over the previous four months.  I guess maybe they should've presented Booker, Kane or RVD as worthy challengers at Survivor Series, hmm?  It was also baffling that they took this Big Poppa Pump character, a 'roided-up freak who used uncomfortable sexual humor to get crowd heat, and tried to make him a likable babyface.  There was nothing heroic about Scott Steiner in this incarnation, and therefore no reason to want to see him beat up Triple H.  Plus the horrific buildup to this match consisted of posedowns, arm wrestling challenges and gibberish Steiner promos, resembling a late 80s Ultimate Warrior feud, and not in a good way.

How much did these two spend on PEDs that year?

During the match intros the live crowd gave Steiner a lukewarm reception and popped pretty big for Hunter despite him being the heel.  But their reaction changed within the first few minutes of the match, when it became clear what a shit-show we were all watching.  By the end of this clumsy, repetitive crapfest the entire FleetCenter audience was booing both guys, and after botching some suplexes and being clearly winded for much of the bout, Steiner's days as a main event babyface were numbered. 

Look it's Kurt Angle slapping the Anklelock on some dude.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2002)

This show could've been pretty great with a few major changes....

Royal Rumble 2002 - Philips Arena - 1.20.02

Like a lot of what WWF/E presented in 2002, this show pissed me off on a number of levels.  Certain people were not used correctly at all, despite having been on a major roll only a month or two earlier.  The return of certain talent sorta cast a gloom over the whole product, and this was the beginning of a pretty infuriating era in the company where common sense took a backseat to ego and politics.

Match #1 was an uninspired throwaway, as WWF Tag Champs Spike Dudley and Tazz (I liked this combination) faced The Dudley Boyz.  On paper this looked pretty good, but it was only given about five minutes.

Second was the I-C Title match, as Edge defended against William Regal.  I felt zero chemistry between these two, but they faced each other ad nauseum during this stretch.  Terribly boring stuff that ended with Regal capturing the Title.

Another bit of filler was next as Women's Champion Trish Stratus knocked off Jazz in less than four minutes.

The first marquee match was fourth, as WWF "co-owners" Vince McMahon and Ric Flair squared off in a Street Fight.  This match got pretty decent feedback but I felt no excitement from it at all.  Maybe it was their combined age of 110, maybe it was Flair's ring rust, maybe it was just me being sick of seeing Vince try to wrestle.  I didn't care about the match and found it a drag to sit through.

The WWF Title was next as Undisputed Champion Chris Jericho defended against The Rock.  Echoing the WWF Title situation at Rumble '98, the new heel Champion was feuding with someone else on TV and by all rights should've been booked against that guy at the PPV.  In this case "that guy" was Rob Van Dam.  White-hot off his stint as part of The Alliance, Van Dam had become the most popular star on the roster and seemed primed to break the ol' glass ceiling as a top-tier babyface.  On TV he and Jericho were very clearly on a collision course, and then.......they had a free TV match and the feud was over.  So instead of facing RVD here, Jericho faced The Rock.  For the third time in four months.  Ya know, I can't help but notice the sudden and significant depushing of Rob Van Dam coinciding with with in-ring return of a former heel who was now himself being positioned as a top-tier babyface.  Why d'you suppose that would be?  Anyway, this Jericho-Rock match was nowhere near the level of their two 2001 PPV bouts, and on TV Jericho was portrayed as just about the weakest Champion of all time (Seriously, the guy beat Austin and The Rock on the same night but weeks later had trouble beating Tazz and Maven, and was featured mostly in opening RAW segments.  A more systematic burial of a World Champion I cannot recall.).

Jericho looks more dominant here than he would during his feud with HHH.

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2001)

Stone Cold Steve Austin is back, and he's about to achieve the unthinkable......

Royal Rumble 2001 - New Orleans Arena - 1.21.01

Much of the awesomeness of the WWF circa 2000 continued in the first half of 2001, as exemplified by the 2001 Royal Rumble.  Here was a damn near perfect Rumble card.  A Match of the Year candidate, a solid WWF Title match, and a pretty excellent Rumble.

To kick things off we were treated to a solid Tag Team Title match, as Edge & Christian defended against The Dudley Boyz.  This was pretty basic stuff but it worked well and ended with The Dudleyz winning back the Championships.

The Match of the Night was next, as I-C Champ Chris Benoit defended the strap in a Ladder Match against one of his greatest rivals, Chris Jericho.  These two delivered one of their best-ever bouts, creating inventive spots and establishing a gritty, realistic tone throughout.  Aside from a slightly anticlimactic finish, this was probably the best singles Ladder Match since HBK-Razor, and easily one of the best matches of 2001.

Jericho dropkicking a ladder.  Oh and some other guy.

The only bad match of the night was up third, as Women's Champion Ivory defended against Chyna.  After three minutes of forgettable action, Chyna suffered a kayfabe neck injury and lost via pinfall.  A rather tasteless stretcher angle followed which included Jerry Lawler going into the ring to check on her, echoing the real-life events surrounding the death of Owen Hart.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2000)

The WWF kicks off the new millennium with a BANG BANG!

Royal Rumble 2000 - Madison Square Garden - 1.23.00

Night and day.  That's how I'd compare the WWF product from 1999 to 2000.  After Vince Russo left, overly contrived angles, abbreviated matches, and a lack of focus on in-ring all went out the window.  In their place were excellent matches, a blossoming talent pool, and storylines that made sense.  The 2000 Royal Rumble was the perfect way to kick off what was probably the best single year in the company's history.

The first match saw new WWF star Kurt Angle against a mystery opponent.  The roof came off MSG as the surprise was revealed to be former ECW Champion Tazz.  While I hated, HATED the extra "z" in his name, Tazz made short work of Angle with a dominant three-minute win.  Sadly this was the last time Tazz was used correctly as a WWF wrestler.  He faded into the midcard almost immediately after this and transitioned into an announcer role.

An unlikely Match of the Year candidate was next as The Hardy Boyz faced The Dudley Boyz in the first-ever Tables Match.  These two teams cut the most blistering pace I'd ever seen, assembling a dizzying array of death-defying high spots which climaxed with Jeff Hardy performing a Swanton off the loge entranceway onto Bubba Ray, and through two tables.  This match would be the prototype for the TLC series.

Shit's about to get real.

An ill-conceived bikini contest took up ten minutes of valuable airtime and culminated in Mae Young taking her top off, to the delight of no one.

The I-C Title was next, as co-Champions Chris Jericho and Chyna (such a dumb angle, don't ask) faced Bob Holly in a Triple Threat to determine the Undisputed I-C Champ.  Not sure why Holly was included - surely the co-Champs should've settled their feud one-on-one.  Anyway, Jericho prevailed.

A throwaway Tag Title match was next, as The New Age Outlaws had a quick two-minute win against the Acolytes.

The semi-main went to the WWF Title match.  New heel Champion Triple H, whose main event run had thus far been shaky at best, set out to prove that he did indeed belong at the top of the roster by taking on Cactus Jack in a Street Fight.  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).

Dude.  Thumbtacks in face.

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1999)

The Vince Russo-iest of all Vince Russo Royal Rumbles....

 Royal Rumble 1999 - Arrowhead Pond - 1/24/99

You can take just about any WWF PPV from January through September 1999 and point to it as highly indicative of how awful Vince Russo's booking had become.  After a record-shattering 1998 that featured some of the freshest WWF programming ever, 1999 was the year their product went creatively off the rails and exposed Russo as someone who clearly needed a guiding hand for his ideas to be effective.  This Rumble card (and several other shows that year) felt very disorganized and at times nonsensical.

The show opened with Hardcore Champion The Road Dogg vs. The Big Bossman....in a regular match.  Ummm, why would you book the HC Champ against a hated rival on PPV, without the HC Title on the line?  This was one of the more boring 12-minute matches I can remember.

Next up was I-C Champion Ken Shamrock, in the midst of a monster Title run, against Billy Gunn.  Early '99 was a period where the company really tried to push Billy as a future main eventer, and he repeatedly proved he was better as a tag teamer.  This was mediocre.

The one good midcard match on this show saw European Champ X-Pac defend against Gangrel.  An enjoyable, fast-paced bout that sadly only got six minutes.

A Women's Title Strap Match was next as Sable defended against Luna Vachon.  Luna had attacked Sable on the preshow, so the big story was "can Sable still compete?"  The suspense was short-lived though, as Sable won the bout in under five minutes.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1998)

Stone Cold joins the back-to-back Rumbles club....

Royal Rumble 1998 - San Jose Arena - 1/18/98

1998 was of course the year the WWF, on the back of Steve Austin, reascended to the top of the North American wrestling market, after two years of being dominated by WCW.  Austin's popularity had grown steadily over the previous year, and by January '98 he was the clear choice for the next face of the company.  This Rumble card was built almost exclusively around this premise.

The company's roster was quite thin at this point after losing Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith in the wake of Montreal.  Also Triple H sustained a knee injury which kept him off the card and removed a potential Rumble dark horse from the field.  Still the WWF's momentum was building and everyone seemed eager to make their mark.

The first match was an odd little affair, as new babyface Vader took on The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust.  This was easily Dustin Runnels' most bizarre persona.  Heavily influenced by S&M, Runnels would wear a different and increasingly more ostentatious outfit every night.  I actually found this persona much more entertaining than plain ol' Goldust, but it was pretty short-lived.  This match was fine for its spot on the card.

What a cozy place to take a piledriver.

Next was a throwaway minis match - Max Mini, Mosaic and Nova vs. Battalion, El Torito and Tarantula.  More less presented like a poor man's lucha bout, this was eight minutes of fluff.

Things picked up though with the I-C Title match between The Rock and Ken Shamrock.  These two would face each other numerous times in 1997-98, and they developed pretty excellent chemistry.  Shamrock played the dominant but somewhat easily outmaneuvered hothead, while The Rock was the cowardly but clever heel Champion who expertly exploited every situation.  This match was no masterpiece but it helped solidify both guys as rising stars.

The Tag Championship was next, as hot new heels The New Age Outlaws faced The Legion of Doom.  Another decent undercard match, though two DQ endings in a row was a bit excessive.

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1997)

Welcome back to Enuffa.com's History of the Royal Rumble!  And welcome to the Stone Cold Era!

Royal Rumble 1997 - AlamoDome - 1/19/97

The 1997 Rumble has unfortunately not aged all that well, but at the time I absolutely loved this show.  The card was pretty stacked and sprinkled with several Mexican lucha stars (Nevermind that WCW had already scooped up all the GOOD lucha stars - I didn't yet know any better.), the Rumble match had a strong field of contenders (largely due to most of the undercard participants pulling double duty), and the huge venue added to its splendor, making this show feel more like a WrestleMania card than 'Mania 13 did.

The opener was an I-C Title match - Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Goldust.  At this point the company was struggling to find a sidekick for Hunter after Mr. Perfect left the company, and they saddled him with perennial midcarder Curtis Hughes.  Fortunately a month later Hunter would bring in Chyna, and his career would never be the same.  As for this match, it was passable but nowhere near as good as their 'Mania rematch would be.

Why wasn't WrestleMania 13 held here?

The next match featured the in-ring return of Ahmed Johnson, out for revenge against Faarooq, who had injured him the previous summer.  I was excited to see this, and while it was brief and inconclusive, it was a fun brawl.

Third was a dream match of sorts between The Undertaker and Vader.  There wasn't much going on in this feud but the pair worked pretty well together.  Underwhelming but decent.

Next was a showcase of B-grade Lucha stars, as Hector Garza, Perro Aguayo and Canek took on Jerry Estrada, Heavy Metal and Fuerza Guerrera.  As Lucha six-man tags go I now know this was a pretty shabby representation, but at the time some of this stuff blew my mind (I didn't watch Nitro enough to take in much of the real Lucha action.).  I was particularly impressed with Hector Garza, as was WCW apparently (He debuted there later that year).

The Rumble match was once again in the semi-main slot, and featured a star-making performance by Steve Austin.  Austin entered the match fifth and cleared the ring multiple times, eventually eliminating a record-shattering ten people.  One of the match highlights occurred while Austin was alone in the ring waiting for the next entrant, and Bret Hart's music hit.  The crowd erupted to see Austin and Bret resume their landmark feud, and the two of them engaged in a blistering 90-second slugfest.  This Rumble match has one of the best closing stretches of any Rumble - ten men left in the ring after number 30, five of them potential winners.  It boiled down to Austin, Bret, Vader, Taker, and Fake Diesel.  Suddenly Bret dumped Austin out, but since the officials were distracted by Mankind and Terry Funk brawling at ringside the elimination went unnoticed and Austin slid back in, eliminating Vader, Taker and Bret.  Bret flew into a rage at Austin's tainted victory, furthering his gradual heel turn.  This match is another one of my all-time favorite Rumbles.

Man, evil Austin was great.

Participants: Crush, Ahmed Johnson, Fake Razor Ramon, Phineas Godwinn, Steve Austin, Bart Gunn, Jake Roberts, British Bulldog, Pierroth, The Sultan, Mil Mascaras, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Owen Hart, Goldust, Cibernetico, Marc Mero, Latin Lover, Faarooq, Savio Vega, Jesse James, Bret Hart, Jerry Lawler, Fake Diesel, Terry Funk, Rocky Maivia, Mankind, Flash Funk, Vader, Henry Godwinn, Undertaker
Final Four: Steve Austin, Bret Hart, Undertaker, Vader
Long Man: Steve Austin (45:07)

Monday, January 10, 2022

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1996)

The Heartbreak Kid returns from a concussion and pulls off a stunning repeat from '95....

Royal Rumble 1996 - Selland Arena - 1/21/96

And we're back to the good Rumble/bad undercard format.  The '96 Rumble was basically a one-match show.  There were a couple okay undercard matches but nothing must-see.  This was also the first time the Rumble match didn't close the show, which was a little ridiculous but I understand why they did it.

First up was a throwaway, as Ahmed Johnson faced Jeff Jarrett.  This feud started a few weeks earlier and would not have a resolution due to Jarrett's defection to WCW shortly after this match.  Ahmed won by DQ after a guitar shot.

Second was the Tag Title match as The Smokin' Gunns defended against The Bodydonnas.  Skip and Zip, as they were known, were a fine tandem (Chris Candido and Tom Prichard) saddled with a horrible gimmick and even worse ring names.  The only person in their group who got over was Sunny, who later dumped the Bodydonnas and ended up managing the Gunns.  This match was pretty forgettable.

Next Razor Ramon once again defended the I-C Title, this time against newcomer Goldust.  Their feud centered around Goldust's apparent romantic attraction to Razor, and Razor's homophobic, disgusted reaction.  Clearly the WWF was not yet part of any sort of Be a Star campaign.  This match marked the debut of Goldust's manager Marlena (played by his real-life wife Terri).  It was decent but not great, and it always bothered me a little that the WWF exploited the intolerance of its audience to get Goldust over as a sexually ambigious heel.  Still it could be argued that the inception of the Attitude Era occurred with the introduction of the Goldust character.

The semi-main event of the 1996 Royal Rumble......was the 1996 Royal Rumble.  The big story here was the return of Shawn Michaels, who had suffered a storyline concussion stemming from a real-life assault outside a bar in Syracuse.  A month later Shawn collapsed in the ring on RAW, and the angle was so realistic and so well-executed I actually though his career was in jeopardy.  The '96 field was full of newcomers and future stars - Steve Austin, Triple H, Kane and The Godfather all made their Rumble debuts as pre-Attitude characters.  But the match was carried by Michaels' superhuman performance.  Shawn tied the record for most eliminations with 8, and outlasted all of the company's big men to win his second consecutive Rumble.  Predictable but satisfying, this match ended up being one of the best Rumbles to date and is still one of my favorites.

Dammit Leon, I told ya to throw me out UNDER the top rope!

Participants: Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Henry Godwinn, Bob Backlund, Jerry Lawler, Bob Holly, King Mabel, Jake Roberts, Dory Funk Jr., Yokozuna, 1-2-3 Kid, Takao Omori, Savio Vega, Vader, Doug Gilbert, Squat Team #1, Squat Team #2, Owen Hart, Shawn Michaels, Hakushi, Tatanka, Aldo Montoya, Diesel, Kama, The Ringmaster, Barry Horowitz, Fatu, Isaac Yankem, Marty Jannetty, British Bulldog, Duke Droese
Final FourShawn Michaels, Diesel, Kama, British Bulldog
Long Man: Hunter Hearst Helmsley (48:01)

As I said before, I get why this Rumble match didn't go on last.  The main event of this show was the WWF Title match between Bret Hart and The Undertaker.  This was historic for being the first Bret-Taker clash, and had it gone on before the Rumble, the result of this match would've telegraphed which of the two Rumble favorites - Shawn and Diesel - would win that match.  So for those two reasons I understand putting Bret-Taker on last.  Unfortunately though, this didn't earn its main event spot.  It was slow, plodding, overly long, and ended with a disqualification to set up Taker vs. Diesel at WrestleMania.  I was certainly excited at the prospect of seeing the company's two best big men face off for the first time, but Bret-Taker left me cold.

Bret's making short work of Skeletor.

The '96 Rumble is really only memorable for Shawn Michaels' characteristic show-stealing work.  Had he not been on the card there'd be virtually nothing here to be excited about.  This card did however set the tone for a strong WrestleMania.

Best Match: The Rumble
Worst Match: Ahmed vs. Jarrett
What I'd Change: Shorten the WWF Title match and quicken its pace.
Most Disappointing Match: Bret vs. Undertaker
Most Pleasant Surprise: I don't know that I was surprised by anything.
Overall Rating: 6/10
Better than WrestleMania XII, SummerSlam '96, and/or Survivor Series 1996? - No, Probably not, No.

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The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1995)

Get ready for the year they ran the Rumble match on fast-forward....

Royal Rumble 1995 - USF Sun Dome - 1/22/95

1995 was one of the more unusual installments in the Rumble series, featuring a pretty stacked undercard followed by a very underwhelming Rumble match.  The WWF unfortunately sacrificed the length and scope of the most epic match of the year to make room for multiple strong undercard bouts.

Kicking things off was an I-C Title match between Razor Ramon and Jeff Jarrett.  I was never a huge fan of this feud or Jarrett, but this match was fairly decent.  The booking was kinda clunky though, with Razor getting counted out and Jarrett challenging him to continue the match.  Since when does a wrestler have the ability to restart a match?  Shouldn't an authority figure of some kind have to make that call?  Anyway, this would be a classic case of "more guts than brains," as Razor's gallantry cost him the Title.

The one stinker of the night was next, as The Undertaker faced IRS.  At no time did IRS seem remotely like a threat to the nigh-invincible Dead Man, but this match got eleven-plus minutes anyway.

The WWF Championship was next as new Champ Diesel (I must reluctantly confess I was a big fan of his at the time) faced the former Champ Bret Hart.  This was an epic (if overbooked) face vs. face match where Bret played the de facto heel trying to take advantage of his less experienced opponent.  Much like the opening bout, this featured a restart.  Diesel had Bret pinned after a Jacknife Powerbomb but was attacked by his former friend Shawn Michaels.  The referee ordered the match to continue (Hey at least this time a person with jurisdiction made the decision.), and then several minutes later Owen attacked Bret.  The referee again ordered a restart, and after several more minutes and a ref bump, Shawn, Jeff Jarrett, The Roadie (why were JJ and Roadie there?), Owen and Bob Backlund all interfered, drawing a double DQ.  So yeah it was an overbooked mess, but the match was still pretty damn strong.  Bret and Diesel always worked well together and their 1994-95 trilogy contained some of Nash's best work.

Kev, all you gotta do is roll over.  Didn't anyone teach you that?

Friday, January 7, 2022

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1994)

The 1994 Rumble ends in controversy as we have dual winners for the first time....

Royal Rumble 1994 - Providence Civic Center - 1/22/94

This here is your classic one-match show.  After one of the worst-ever Rumble undercards, we were treated to a damn fine Rumble match which at the time was probably the second-best edition.  The company was rebuilding after the roster losses of '92 and '93, and the New Generation was in full-swing.

The show opened with Tatanka vs. Bam Bam Bigelow (subbing for an injured Ludvig Borga).  Since there was no feud here the match meant nothing, and wasn't very good anyway.  Next?

Match #2 is one of the more overrated I can remember, but it was important in setting up one of the biggest feuds of the year.  World Tag Champs The Quebecers defended against Bret and Owen Hart.  At the time I found this an oddly contrived setup.  Bret was rather above the Tag belts at this point and it seemed clear this would just be leading to the Bret vs. Owen feud.  Sure enough that's exactly what happened.  Bret took several minutes of Quebecer offense but opted not to tag in a fresh Owen.  Finally Bret's knee was so injured the referee stopped the match (also very contrived - why not just have the Quebecers pin Bret with a rollup or something?), and Owen went ballistic, attacking his brother and turning heel.  The match worked alright as an angle but really wasn't much of a wrestling match.

We returned to Throwaway City next, as I-C Champ Razor Ramon defended against IRS (one of the weaker perennial I-C contenders).  I never saw much chemistry between these two, so this was two-star fare at best.

The World Title match was next, as Yokozuna faced The Undertaker in a Casket Match.  Going into this I was very excited to see Taker finally get another Title shot after over two years, and I actually thought he might take it down.  As it turned out I'd be disappointed with the result, and nauseated by the match itself.  This was one of the worst-ever World Title matches, featuring slow-motion brawling, cartoonishly excessive overbooking (Ten, count them, TEN midcard heels would interfere on Yokozuna's behalf), and a laughably bad aftermath.  Taker was shut into the casket and his "ghost" would rise from the arena floor and ascend to the ceiling.  Said "ghost" was of course Marty Janetty (who incidentally is about 9 inches shorter and a hundred pounds lighter than Mark Callaway), and said "ascension" was accomplished through the use of clearly visible harness wires.  Good lord this was campy and idiotic.

Wait, how'd he end up on the TV screens? 
They couldn't possibly have prerecorded this bit, could they?

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1993)

The WWF roster in 1993 may have been razor-thin (Razor, get it?), but I'll be damned if this show wasn't a lot of fun....

Royal Rumble 1993 - Arco Arena - 1/24/93

The 1993 edition had no right to be as good a show as it was.  I watched this show live on PPV, mostly for the Shawn Michaels-Marty Janetty clash, and was pretty captivated start to finish.  Despite a very depleted roster the WWF managed a fun Rumble PPV.

The opener was another fast-paced tag match pitting WWF newcomers The Steiners vs. The Beverly Brothers.  While nothing amazing, this was a highly entertaining way to open the show and showcase what the Steiners could do.  The match-ending Frankensteiner was brutal-looking.

Next up was the aforementioned, eagerly-anticipated I-C Title match between the former Rockers, as Marty Janetty returned to the ring to avenge his betrayal a year earlier at the hands of Shawn Michaels.  Adding to the intrigue was an angle taped a few weeks prior, where Marty attacked Shawn in the ring and swung Shawn's mirror at him.  Shawn threw his manager Sherri Martel in the way and Marty accidentally smashed the mirror over her head.  Sherri was at ringside for this match in a neutral corner, and by the end of the bout would turn on Shawn and attempt to help Marty win.  Her interference backfired however and Shawn retained the belt.  This match featured less high-flying than I expected but it made sense given the nature of the feud.  A very solid I-C Title match.

Third was a big-man match between the Big Bossman and the returning Bam Bam Bigelow.  Both of these behemoths could move fantastically well for their size, and this match is very much worth a watch.  Bam Bam won a hard-fought match on his way to a mini-push.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1992)

1992, the year in which arguably the greatest Rumble match of all time took place....

Royal Rumble 1992 - Knickerbocker Arena - 1/19/92

Now we're talkin'.  The '92 edition of the Rumble was primarily a one-match show, but what a match!  Late '91 saw some major additions to the WWF roster in Ric Flair and Sid Justice, and both guys were immediately thrust into the WWF Title picture, along with The Undertaker and the returning Randy Savage.  Taker had won the belt from Hogan at Survivor Series and lost it right back.  Since both title changes occurred amid controversy the Championship was held up and President Jack Tunney announced that a new Champion would be crowned by winning the '92 Royal Rumble.  The field was easily the most stacked in history at that time (and for many years since).  But before we get to this extraordinary main event...

The show opened similarly to the '91 Rumble, with an undercard tag match.  This time the Orient Express faced The New Foundation of Jim Neidhart and Owen Hart.  The New Foundation won a decently worked match with a Rocket Launcher after 17 minutes.  I had pretty high hopes for this new team but unfortunately they were saddled with terrible ring gear and the company never got behind them.  Then Neidhart disappeared from TV and Owen was left to team with Koko B. Ware while still wearing Neidhart's puffy pants.  Anyway, this was a decent opener but nowhere near the level of the OX-Rockers match from 1991.

Up next was the Intercontinental Championship - new Champion The Mountie had just defeated Bret Hart for the belt two days earlier at a house show.  Roddy Piper was then subbed in for the infirm Hart to challenge for the belt at the Rumble, and he soundly took down The Mountie with a sleeper hold to capture his first WWF belt.  Piper would also appear in the Rumble match itself, making him eligible to win both singles Championships on the same night.  This was a pretty one-sided throwaway match but it was nice to see Piper finally win some WWF gold.

Dead Man vs. Immortal

A bafflingly long stinker was next, as The Beverly Brothers (formerly the Minnesota Wrecking Crew II in the AWA) defeated The Bushwhackers.  Why this got fifteen minutes I don't know.  Just like two years earlier Luke and Butch stunk the place up in an ungodly long match.

The Tag belts were up for grabs in the semi-main slot, as Hawk and Animal defended against The Natural Disasters.  This was standard big-man brawling and led to the Disasters winning by countout.  The LOD would drop the belts at a house show only a few weeks later before disappearing from WWF TV for a little while.