Wednesday, 22 January 2014
Rumble Memories and Predictions By Dave Green (@dagreeno)
It's that time of year when the WWE pulls it finger out of its arse and starts putting on some decent programming as they begin the "Road to Wrestlemania". Or at least that’s the idea. Anyway, the Rumble match itself is one I always look forward to. The unpredictable nature of the action as well as many other intangibles makes even the worse years something to anticipate. In this column, I shall take a look at the elements that make the Rumble so watchable and look towards this weekend’s event with those elements in mind. Don’t forget that everything you read here is my opinion and nothing more.
Despite the grandeur of its history, the Rumble match was never really seen as a major angle for a push. Hacksaw Jim Duggan won the first Rumble, but he lost in the first round of the WWF title tournament at ‘Mania IV. The next year, the first one on PPV, Big John Studd's win was followed by a guest referee role at Mania V. Hogan's wins meant nothing as he was already the top dog. It wasn't until 1992 for the Rumble to actually mean something. With the WWF Title on the line, the match had nearly every major name in the company vying for the win. As most of you know, Ric Flair fought for just under an hour to win in glorious fashion. From that Rumble on, the winner was rewarded a title match at Wrestlemania.
But Flair's performance showed that a major push could come from having a stellar performance. Whether it's lasting a long while or dominating the action, the Rumble can put focus on emerging talent. Diesel's 1994 performance eliminating seven men in a row was a show stopper at the time, as no one had dominated in that way before. Chris Benoit and Rey Mysterio both entered at the start and went the distance in their Rumble wins (I know Shawn Michaels did it first, but that Rumble doesn't count in my mind, as it wasn't nearly as long as the others). Kane put both together in 2001 eliminating 11 men and lasting nearly an hour.
This year, the dominating Rumble performance seems to going one of two ways. Roman Reigns is coming off an impressive display at Survivor Series, so a similar performance here seems inevitable. What happens if and when he runs into another potential dominator in Big E Langston? I expect both these men to eliminate the most competitors and have good showings.
As for the ironman of the match, that seems to be going the way of CM Punk. As he has specifically been given the #1 entry, he is sure to have a long duration. In recent years, previous #1 entrants revealed before the PPV date have had that fact drawn into their performance, with Benoit, Miz and Ziggler coming to mind most vividly. Punk will probably go the distance only to be screwed out of the win by Kane.
In quite a number of Rumbles, the match was used to ignite feuds. Simple things such as a heel eliminating someone when they were already gone could set up a Mania match. A great example of this would be when Kurt Angle decimated Shawn Michaels in a Rumble, which was the catalyst for their classic at ‘Mania 21. Back when the superstar names weren't fighting on TV every single week, the Rumble could also be used as a new chapter in an ongoing feud. Who could forget Jake Roberts constantly being on the lookout for the entrance of Randy Savage in '92, before finally being eliminated by him? And of course, Macho eliminating himself by accident right afterwards only to be allowed back in. The feud starter tricks don't always work (that Wade Barrett / Bo Dallas feud didn't exactly go according to plan last year) but I expect some continuation of feuds being a major trend this year. In particular, the Punk / Authority storyline will have a lot of attention, as will the Daniel Bryan / Wyatt's feud, both in the Bray vs Bryan bout and the rumble itself. I'm just glad there isn't one overwhelming storyline being the main focus in the Rumble. 1999 was all about Austin v McMahon, meaning it was inevitably going to come down to them in the end.
Returns, Debuts & Surprises
With the start of the new year, it seems the Rumble is used to freshen things up. The return of a major name from injury has been used as a selling point in the past, such as Shawn Michaels in 1996, Triple H in 2002 and Undertaker in 2003. More often than not, a name from the past can make an appearance and be a huge deal. The 1996 rumble will forever be entrenched in my mind for the return of Jake Roberts. Even though he was advertised, I wasn't even sure it would happen. When his awesome music hit and the crowd erupted into a huge ovation, it gave me shivers down my spine - still does when I watch it back. 2002 saw the return of several attitude era stars as well as Mr Perfect. The big return this year of course is Batista, and how excited am I for that?...meh. I'm not a fan of a mid-forties muscle head being given a huge push to a position that other full timers deserve more. Don't get me wrong, as I was a fan of Batista's last run as a heel. His mic work was fantastic and it was a much needed freshening up of his character. But after four years away, is he really going to be able to deliver the performances needed? Time will tell, but I have my doubts.
Debuts in the Rumble match, on the other hand, have been a mixed bag. 1996 saw a huge debut - Vader. Those that knew of him anticipated a mauling when he entered the ring. Those that didn't know him were left awed. In the same Rumble, we saw the debut of the Squat Team, better known from ECW as the Headhunters. The 400-pound twins hadn't been seen on WWF TV so very few knew what to expect. One went in and got eliminated by Vader after a minute. The other went in next, joined by his twin to team up against Vader and Yokozuna. Both were eliminated 20 seconds later. To this day, I have no idea why they bothered building up the debut of a mystery new team and job them out so miserably. Other Rumble match debuts included Jacob & Eli Blu, Thurman "Sparky" Plugg (yep, Bob Holly) and last year, Bo Dallas from NXT. Not exactly memorable, although the idea of an NXT graduate winning a tournament for a Rumble spot is a good one, as long as there is follow up. As mentioned before, Dallas had a readymade feud with Wade Barrett through his performance, but it was given up on after a couple of weeks. No news on if they plan another NXT tournament this year, but if so then maybe we could see the debut of Adrian Neville or Sami Zayn?
The surprise return has become a staple of the Rumble. A lot of people order the rumble simply for the surprise factor. Look at last year - Goldust returned for one night and looked fantastic, which must have been picked up on by management due to how successful his year turned out to be. The Godfather made a two minute comeback to a big reaction. And of course, Jericho's unexpected return was another spine tingler that only the Rumble provides. Other memorable surprises include Booker T and Diesel in 2011, RVD in 2009, Kharma in 2012 and Cena in 2008 (come on, you know it was huge!) This year, the rumours are off the charts. The more realistic possibilities are Sheamus returning from injury, Rob Van Dam to start his road to Wrestlemania and, after he fooled us all last year, Chris Jericho will be expected. I'm going to throw in a name that hasn't been mentioned much at all - Evan Bourne. He's healed from his injury and he'd get a reasonable reaction, though nothing groundbreaking. Jake Roberts is someone that's been mentioned as the rumble has been a goal of his to be entered into for his comeback. After he returned at old School Raw, the likelihood is he won't be entered, much as I would still like to see it. As much as many are stating it to happen, none of the recent released TNA stars will appear - not Jeff Hardy, not AJ Styles, not Sting.
Big Spots & Moments
The biggest criticism any battle royal will get is that it’s just a bunch of guys punching and kicking and getting in each other’s way. While that can be true in early rumbles when the ring really filled, the more creative and action packed rumbles have given us extremely memorable moments. Some for the high drama – Michaels & Bulldog being the first two in and the last two out; Rock & Austin collide in 2001; Michaels & Undertaker final five minutes in 2007; Hogan v Warrior for the first time. Some have been there for shock value – Maven eliminating Undertaker in 2002 remains the only thing people really remember Maven for. Another big spot that’s not done as often as you might think it the one where two men are fighting near the ropes and someone pushes them both out. Depending on the competitors, that moment can be huge for the parties involved. In 1996, Vader and Yokozuna, the biggest men in the ring at the time, were pushed out simultaneously by Shawn Michaels. A big moment for someone receiving a massive push - Michaels went on to win the match and then the WWF Title. In 2010, the same spot took place. Big Show and Mark Henry were in the same compromising position and they eliminated simultaneously by.....R-Truth? A big moment for someone who received very little push – he went on to job to Big Show & Miz in the 5 minute opener of ‘Mania 26. Weird.
In the last few rumbles, the crazy elimination avoidance spot has come to fruition. John Morrison stunned everyone in 2011 with his leap from the apron to the barrier and back again to avoid hitting the floor. This was followed the next two years by Kofi Kingston hand standing and jumping on a chair to get back to the ring. I’m not how he can top those near misses, or even if he wants to, with rumours of a heel turn in the works. Humour spots are quite regular as well. You do need an element of comedy in these long form matches with so many different personalities, though anything in the past involving Hornswoggle was very much not welcome. Every year he’s in it, Santino Marella manages to pull off a memorable moment, whether it was being eliminated in 1 second, the cobra/socko duel or the time when it looked like he would the whole thing by nearly chucking out Alberto Del Rio.
So looking at the current roster and some of the storylines that seem to be being woven before our eyes, here are some spots I expect to see this year: Antonio Cesaro hits multiple Swings on the competitors in the ring, starting from the smallest to the largest, before getting eliminated due to his dizziness; Roman Reigns spears everyone in sight upon entering the ring, including Dean Ambrose (accidentally?); either Cody or Goldust mistakenly contribute to the other’s elimination; some kind of dance-off involving Fandango will take place.
With every intangible that makes the Royal Rumble match watchable, the most important remains who the hell wins. Some years the winners have been more than obvious. Last year, Cena had to win in order to have that “Once in a Lifetime” match again. 2002 was built around the return of Triple H, so clearly he would come out on top. Personally I think the less obvious the winner, the better. Many bemoaned Chris Jericho not winning in 2012, but Sheamus winning was a breath of fresh air and a new program created. This year seems to centre around three potential winners – CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Batista. Punk has been placed into a feud with the Authority, with the focus at the moment being Kane. As mentioned earlier, I firmly expect Kane to be involved in Punk’s elimination, leading to the heavily rumoured Punk/Triple H at ‘Mania. Daniel Bryan hasn’t officially been entered as of this writing. He has a match with Bray Wyatt and I assume he will go on to face the rest of the family in the Rumble. This is the win that makes the most in my mind and clearly of those watching around the world. But there’s one minor problem – Batista. Despite my previously made feelings on his return, he has to be placed as the favourite. He wouldn’t be brought back unless it was for a major position. I just have no interest in seeing him take on Orton or Cena – been there, done that. Particularly as it’s Wrestlemania 30 that they’re building to, a more established name amongst older fans will probably be seen a bigger draw. So simply because it’s the worst option, Batista probably will win the 2014 Royal Rumble.
Then again, it was new main eventers that were on top at the previous decade-anniversary shows. Bret Hart stood tall at the first Hogan-less ‘Mania 10; Benoit & Guerrero had success at 20. Maybe 30 is Daniel Bryan’s time to shine? Sod it, I’m being positive – Predicted winner, Daniel Bryan.
Tweet me @dagreeno with your Rumble thoughts and memories. And, of course, your opinions.