I flew to Phoenix to attend this weekend’s Royal Rumble with a group of friends. The event did not disappoint- it was the best non-Wrestlemania wrestling crowd I have seen in person, and the matches were very well done. My review will not have the detail of my normal recaps, but I hope I can provide some unique perspective on the event.
We arrived at the U.S. Airways Arena approximately 90 minutes before the doors opened for the event. Hundreds of fans already surrounded the main entrance and the lines for the outdoor merchandise stands looked to be an hour long, at least. We headed to a nearby bar that was also full wrestling fans and visitors from the Comic-Con in the next-door convention center. If only the previous night’s monster truck rally had overlapped, we may have seen the strangest group of fans to ever converge on one location. In the bar, the bewildered waitresses tried to figure out why everyone kept chanting “Cena Sucks” toward the guy in the Hustle-Loyalty-Respect t-shirt, but that was a secret they would never fully understand.
We returned to the arena approximately 30 minutes before the doors were scheduled to open, collected our free Fruity Pebbles key chains, and participated in an assortment of chats. The crowd was palpably excited for a great card, but seemingly hesitant about the possibility that the show would close the door on WWE’s experiment with a top of the card that does not revolve around superhero characters and childish storylines. If John Cena plowed through the Rumble and CM Punk lost decisively to The Rock, we were all fully aware that the thing we love could be turned over to the six-year olds whose parents’ wallets pay the bills.
When the doors finally opened, we were surprised to see famed fan Sign Guy standing by himself just inside the gate. He graciously- even enthusiastically- took a picture with us and answered some of our questions. We found out that he is slated to attend 15 shows in February and that he does not get any free tickets or special priority from WWE (shame on you, Vince). Somewhere between our pre-show cocktails and the bar across the street, we lost the most pressing question of all- how does one go about supporting oneself as a professional professional wrestling fan? This is a secret we may never fully understand.
The actual pre-show consisted of a match in which The Miz haphazardly locked Antonio Cesaro into the Figure Four Leglock before he eventually lost. The only interesting part of the match was Cesaro’s entrance, where the casual fans confusedly cheered the champion with the American flag until the widespread booing alerted them to their mistake.
Alberto Del Rio def. Big Show in Last Man Standing Match to retain the World Heavyweight Title
Del Rio’s championship retention was no great surprise, nor were there any in the way the match went down. More importantly, Del Rio elaborated on his developing face character with a pre-match mutual admiration society with Bret Hart. Del Rio and Big Show put on an entertaining match with plenty of high spots near the entrance that utilized the Royal Rumble set. Del Rio won when he put Big Show down with his Cross-Armbrear long enough for Ricardo Rodriguez to duct tape Big Show’s feet to the bottom rope. The clever ending was not the first time duct tape was used in a Last Man Standing Match (see: John Cena def. Batista at Extreme Rules 2010), but it got the point across that Del Rio has guile to match his athletic prowess. After the show, Del Rio conducted an interview backstage with Rodriguez and his father, Dos Caras, in which he showed a humbler, more friendly side of his personality that will continue to serve him well as a face.
Team Hell No def. Rhodes Scholars to retain the Tag Team Titles
Daniel Bryan proved himself to be the dominant team member in his team’s latest win over Rhodes Scholars. He withstood a knee injury in the match to turn the tide with a missile dropkick, then finish the match with a No Lock on Damien Sandow. Bryan and Kane have had so much success against Rhodes Scholars that they will seemingly either move on to another opponent or have a rapid deviation from their current storyline. As for Sandow and Cody Rhodes, their partnership may be nearing termination unless they act quickly to reestablish their heat.
Royal Rumble Match
Dolph Ziggler announced before the match that he would enter first rather than second since there was no functional difference between the two entries. When he got to the ring, we noticed that fireworks equipment was set up near the entrance, leading us to speculate about possible opponents like Kofi Kingston, Ryback, or Rey Mysterio. Instead, the surprise entrance of Chris Jericho (and I do mean “surprise,” as no one had any idea that he would show up at all) led to a gigantic pop and show-stealing performance. Jericho’s 43 minute stint in the Rumble before being eliminated in the final six was the highlight of the match and provided more than enough consolation for most of those disappointed with the eventual result.
There were many other surprise entrants who made an impact. Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara both returned but did not fare particularly well. Sin Cara’s entrance at number 29 was especially disappointing given the limited number of possible entrants at that stage. Goldust made a better showing in the ring and put on a nice fight with his half-brother Cody Rhodes until Rhodes eventually eliminated him. The Godfather took his time coming to the ring only to be knocked back out of it after about three seconds, leaving him to return to the back with his ho train and a very warm reception. Bo Dallas won an NXT battle royal at Saturday’s Fan Fest to qualify for the Rumble, so his entrance was not especially surprising, but his level of success was. He stayed in the match for far longer than anyone expected and capped it off by eliminating Wade Barrett. Barrett then pulled Dallas to the floor from outside, leaving him eliminated but locked into an instant feud with a bright star. Appropriately, Dallas made a debut that will stick in my memory much like the impressive debut of his adversary, Barrett.
The match had its comedic moments, as well. Bryan and Kane found themselves wrestling each other and Bryan eliminated his partner. When Bryan was quickly thrown out after that, Kane caught him. Instead of helping him back into the ring, he simply let him fall to the floor to his partner’s dismay. Kofi Kingston showed off his acrobatic skill again, as he caught himself on Tensai’s giant back outside the ring before he hit the floor. He then climbed over to the Spanish announce table and borrowed JBL’s chair to roll himself back to the ring to stay in the Rumble. The comedic highlight, though, was Santino Marella entering the ring like a fireball and throwing every star in the ring over the rope and onto the apron. Naturally, they all climbed back in and ganged up on him to eliminate him, but the quick start was high comedy.
As the match went on, it became increasingly clear that Ziggler, Jericho, John Cena, Sheamus, Randy Orton, and Ryback (who entered 30th) were earmarked for primetime at the Rumble. Indeed, they comprised the entirety of the final six. Ryback appeared to be gaining momentum as the numbers dwindled closer to the end, and it looked like he had the upper hand when it came down to him against Cena. Cena was able to counter Ryback’s strength and use his aggressiveness against him to lead him out of the ring as he charged at Cena for a clothesline. While Cena won the match, Sheamus and Ryback had the most eliminations and showed the most physical dominance. I would say that Jericho was even more impressive than both of them with his 43-minute run in the Rumble and his impressive athleticism (including an excellent Lionsault and an old school Lion Tamer) after several months out of the ring.
My enjoyment of the Rumble increased due to the pool that I entered with seven friends. We put numbers 1-30 in a hat and each drew four (along with 2 non-entries). We each put $10 in a pot, and whoever drew the winning entry number won the pot. It added anticipation to each entrance and I highly recommend trying it for the next Royal Rumble.
The Rock def. CM Punk to win the WWE Title
Sunday was my first opportunity to see The Rock live and he lived up to his reputation for electrifying the crowd. My rooting interest in CM Punk was compromised by the knowledge to near certainty that he would not win the match. Nonetheless, I believe that the match’s finish left Punk looking like a legitimate threat who deserved every bit of his 434 day WWE Title reign. The match’s first high spot saw The Rock set Punk up for a Rock Bottom on the Spanish announce table. The table broke prematurely, but The Rock had the good sense to grab Punk to properly deliver the move next to the table. He rolled Punk in the ring and attempted a pin, but Punk was able to kick out after a two count. Punk was able to maintain plenty of offense in his own right, locking in the Anaconda Vice at one point, and generally using a variety of strikes to remain the aggressor for most of the match.
The turning point came when The Rock nailed a big spinebuster to set Punk up for the People’s Elbow. Before he could hit the move, the lights went out for approximately 15 seconds. When the arena was illuminated, The Rock was motionless on a collapsed announce table in front of JBL, Michael Cole, and Jerry Lawler. While the ring was too dark to see figures from where I sat, I met someone after the show who sat near the ring and said that The Shield (who presumably hid under the ring when about 20 maintenance staff “checked” the ring before the match) clearly put The Rock through the table, though they ironically had trouble getting the table to break. Punk then rolled his opponent back into the ring for a three count and apparent title retention.
Shortly thereafter, Vince McMahon emerged to announce that he would strip Punk of the title for probable interference by The Shield, but The Rock interrupted him and said that he wanted the match restarted so he could win in the ring. When the match did start again, Punk hit a macho elbow for a two count and went for a GTS, but was countered into a successful People’s Elbow that allowed The Rock to win the match and the title. The match was exciting and well-executed, and even a CM Punk fan like me can admit that The Rock’s win was extremely fun to watch.