Boy, did I back the wrong horse. Is my face red. Didn’t I count my chickens too soon. I can go on like that for a while, but the conclusion is that the guy who I really wanted to win last night’s Royal Rumble failed.
That’s not to say the entire PPV wasn’t brilliant- it was. Myself and the Crimson Mask team hunkered down in our local hostelry to watch the beginning of the Road To Wrestlemania. August to May may be football season, October to June is ice hockey, but January to April belongs to wrestling.
The PPV started out fantastically with a Last Man Standing contest for the World Heavyweight Championship, with current holder Alberto Del Rio (recently turned from Mexican aristocratic heel to man-of-the-people face. I like it) against The Big Show, in a rematch from their title bout on Smackdown 2 weeks ago. The fact that legend (and one of my all-time favourites) Bret Hart was backstage, giving Del Rio encouragement- along with a pair of his iconic sunglasses for ring announcer Ricardo Rodriguez- meant a fantastic start to the entire event.
The match itself certainly played up to expectations- Last Man Standing matches (for me) are second only to Hell In A Cell for potential brutality- although with the current PG rating, we’re not going to see anything as bad as, say, the 1998 King Of The Ring match with is ingrained into the collective conscious of nearly every wrestling fan. Still- chairs, tables, ring steps, fire extinguishers and even the light fittings on the stage came into play, as Big Show took control midway through the match, landing a few big spots from the aforementioned lights. Del Rio’s new(ish) style- far more fluid and closer to the tradional Mexican lucha libre form- is something that was sorely missed during his overlong feud with Sheamus over the summer months. Eventually the action made its way back to the ring, with Big Show sent tumbling into the timekeeper’s box, before being taped to the ropes (yes, taped) by Rodriguez. Because Big Show was unable to get to his feet, he was counted out- a very sly way to win, but a deserving win nonetheless.
Next up was the match for the Tag Team titles, between current holders Team Hell No (Kane and Daniel Bryan- the unsung heroes of WWE programming in 2012) and the challengers, Team Rhodes Scholars- composed of Damien Sandow and Cody
‘s Mustache Rhodes. These four have faced each other several times over the past few months, but the rivalry doesn’t feel stale- it’s inevitable that the brilliant dysfunctional antics of Hell No will cost them their titles, but it’s a case of how long until it happens. The match was relatively straightforward- it’s hard to picture Daniel Bryan having a bad match, while Cody Rhodes looks better every time. In the end, Hell No prevailed- as I said, it’s getting to the point were an implosion is only a matter of time…
Now for the important bit of the night- no, not CM Punk/Rock, the Royal Rumble match. Last week on Monday Night Raw, it was revealed that ‘Mr. Money In The Bank’ Dolph Ziggler would be able to choose the position he would enter the match…between 1 or 2. Choosing to go out first (Not necessarily a disadvantage- Shawn Michaels won in 1995 from there), Ziggler made his way to the ring, ready to face…………
CHRIS JERICHO. The crowd response was, naturally, ecstatic- no-one had suspected Jericho’s return, and it gave the Rumble a sense of continuity- Ziggler beat Jericho in a Contract vs Contract match several months ago.
Jericho was undoubtedly the biggest surprise entrant of the night, although the others- Goldust and The Godfather, also got huge pops from the crowd, while the former lasted several minutes facing his half-brother Cody Rhodes (who after just facing Hell No, entered as number 3- impressive), the latter was in and out in seconds, but the cheers from the stands were more than enough. Last year, Ghanaian high-flyer Kofi Kingston managed to avoid elimination by handstanding across the floor and back into the ring- this time when facing elimination, he clambered onto the recently thrown-out Tensai and jumped onto the Spanish announce table, before using a chair to pogo his way back into the match, without his feet touching the floor. Sadly, he was eliminated soon after.
Obviously, some superstars got bigger crowd responses than others- last year’s winner Sheamus, Rey Mysterio and favourite Wade Barrett all entered relatively early, while Bo Dallas, the NXT winner, lasted a very impressive amount of time. Other were less fortunate- Santino Marella, The Great Khali and 3MB all had relatively bad showings, but didn’t detract from the match- I mean, Heath Slater isn’t going to win the Rumble, is he?
When the clock counted down for the superstar drawn 19th, everything changed. The most polarising figure in wrestling today- arguably ever- John Cena ran out…and every other participant in the ring (barring Sheamus and Mysterio) went for him. Of course, it was just a matter of time until SuperCena kicked in, and kick in he did.
My favourite to win the match, Antonio Cesaro, entered as number 23…and managed to be relatively nondescript, throwing out Daniel Bryan (who nearly surivived by jumping into the arms of the also-eliminated Kane, standing at ringside. Despite begging and pleading, he was unceremoniously dumped by The Big Red Machine.) and scrapping with The Miz- who had he had beaten during the pre-show- on the stage.
When the final entrant’s music hit- FEED ME MORE- the crowd erupted again as Ryback went on a rampage, eliminating 3 men in a flurry of brute force. The two marathon men- Ziggler and Jericho- were both eliminated by Sheamus and Ziggler respectively, and when the dust settled, the final four were in place- Cena, Ryback, Sheamus and Randy Orton. At this point, it could have gone either way. Ryback took care of Sheamus and Orton, leaving the two biggest faces of the company (at the moment) alone in the ring. After a few minutes of back and forth action and several near-misses, it looked like Ryback was going to prevail, but Cena was able to use his momentum against him, and send Ryback outside of the ring. Hmmm. So John Cena gets a title shot at Wrestlemania…we’ll assume for the WWE Championship…
…which was on the line in the main event of the night (traditionally the Rumble match is the final event, but in retrospect, this was a good decision.) CM Punk, current champion and longest-reigning of modern history, is up against the self-proclaimed ‘Great One’, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. After being forced to pick a side- CM Punk, as I dislike him less- the match was actually very, very good- both men using their signature moves- an Anaconda Vice here, a Sharpshooter there, all the while Punk wearing his trademark sadistic grin. The Shield- scourge of the WWE over the past months- were banned from interfering with the match, and should they show up, the Championship belt would be forcibly vacated. Fair enough. Punk looked like he hurt his knee- which had had surgery not long ago- early into the match, and Rock seemed hurting too after several collisions outside the ring.
However, when an attempt at a Rock Bottom onto the Spanish announce table let to the furniture giving way, both men looked in pain. Rock managed to pull Punk back into the ring, and was about to do his signature People’s Elbow, when BLACKOUT. Lights flashed up briefly giving glimpses of the chaos, and before anyone knew what was going on, Rock was lying amongst the remains of the now-collapsed English announce table, and Punk was alone in the ring. Was it The Shield? No-one knows, but everyone assumed.
At this point, the chairman of the board himself, Vince McMahon, strode down onto the stage with the intention of forfeiting the WWE title. However, at Rock’s advice, the match was simply re-started. At this point, Punk seemed hellbent on destroying The Rock, giving him everything he could, but in the end, a People’s Elbow meant that the title belt was back in the hands of ‘The People’s Champion’.
In short- brilliant PPV- Last Man Standing match were near-perfect and Jericho’s return was unbelievable- it’s definitely got me excited for Wrestlemania…except…I, for one, don’t want Cena vs Rock again, like last year. It was a bit of a dud match then (although after Undertaker vs HHH, nothing could have looked good) and it wouldn’t be as welcome a second time around. But still, there’s a couple of months to go, and anything could happen, couldn’t it?