2014 Royal Rumble Preview

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The best wrestling promo, in the go home week before the Royal Rumble, was cut at the NFC Championship game by Richard Sherman.
There is, perhaps you've noticed, a conversation about the feminization of the culture that has been occurring “why can’t men just be men anymore, daggumit” which, if you’re Brit Hume talking about Chris Christie closing a bridge as political retribution (like men do), you say as if it were a new talking point and not a slur your grandfather in 1979 would have made about Alan Alda or Phil Donahue.
Where that longing for real men swagger doesn't seem to extend to is to black men. It’s rare that the same people who think George Bush was a straight shooting, tough talking Texan also applauded Mike Tyson’s “I’m going to take his heart” – or this week’s version thereof, Richard Sherman after the NFC Championship game. It’s rare that the same people who see two armed “New Black Panthers” in a public space and want Congressional hearings are also looking to stop a group of armed tea partiers from attending an Obamacare town hall meeting.
So, when Richard Sherman’s called a thug and Johnny Manziel is called a fun loving Heisman trophy winning gunslinger, there’s racial animus at play.
On the other hand, Sherman could have waited until NaVorro Bowman’s leg had been scraped off the field before making the choke sign at the 49ers. That would have been cool with me. The problem with the “Richard Sherman as misunderstood hero” narrative is this wasn’t specific to Michael Crabtree (or else Tom Brady, Trent Williams, and Darrelle Revis presumably also challenged Sherman to fight at various charity functions to draw him into those feuds). Sherman’s an antagonist, his rushing up to Crabtree (or, in a prior game, Jim Harbaugh) in the throes of victory isn't “hey, we’re cool” it’s “hey, I kicked your ass again, shake my hand.” And everyone knows that. The chattering classes may have just dropped in on Richard Sherman this week, but football fans know he’s today’s Terrell Owens.
Which I’m cool with. I like antagonism. I like taunting and cocky and showboat. Attempts (really successful ones at the college level) to legislate against personality lessen my enjoyment. But it’s enjoyable because it can also be booed - It’s enjoyable because it’s polarizing – Richard Sherman takes delight in rubbing salt into the wounds of the opposition, and as a Niners fan, my Sunday wounds looked like the aftermath of a grease fire.  I hate that guy. I’m supposed to – and that’s the element of sports (and wrestling for that matter) that the commentaries which supported Sherman (I heard so many former players support Sherman this week I thought he had tortured some dogs) missed; when you beat an opponent, then make the choke sign and call him “sorry” – that’s a heel promo. I’m supposed to boo him. He shouldn’t be fined or worse, shouldn’t be racialized as a thug or worse, but he beat me and gloated about it – I’m supposed to boo as loudly as Seahawk fans are supposed to cheer. It’s my hatred of that guy which will sell his headphones or jerseys or whatever else he’s going to Fred Williamson his way into after Super Bowl 48.
Since last we spoke (in the preview for the Survivor Series) WWE decided to blow up its business model.
There’s a danger in overly believing your own narrative, particularly when, as WWE has, you live in a reality almost entirely of your own creation. The Vince McMahon hagiography presents the first Wrestlemania as a bold gamble of his entire company on a venture that no one else would have dared to attempt. The creation of pay per view and the turning of wrestling from a roller derby like niche pastime ignored by the broader culture into an entertainment forever interwoven through American society.
Vince keeps chasing that rush. World Bodybuilding Federation. XFL. A restaurant. A production company. A lot of money dumped in service of a story.
And now – a new network; one that will substitute monthly subscriptions for much of their PPV revenue.
It’s ballsy, I’ll give them that. It’s forward thinking, I’ll give them that. Were I a voice in the room, I would have been unwilling to give up so many of my PPV dollars, certainly for Wrestlemania, as part of the deal.
Let’s talk about the Rumble.
1. WWE Title: Randy Orton v. Yawn Cena
-There’s one world champion in the WWF now; they unified the belts in December – the build for which included a RAW where, with the ring filled with past champions like Bret, Shawn, and Hunter, all of the cheers were for Daniel Bryan, who had been moved out of the main event angle in favor of Orton and Cena.
Orton won that match; their program’s continued, with Cena’s dad getting the bad end of a physical encounter with Orton in a callback to a prior Orton/Cena feud. This rivalry isn’t exactly setting the world aflame. I’d suggest it never has, that the decision to make Hunter/Batista/Cena/Orton the centerpiece of the early 21st century limited the horizon of the promotion. This is a matchup that has never had much in-ring appeal, and Cena’s character, as I’ve mentioned, is really limited to children (also, as I’ve mentioned, it could be that’s just what this business is and that I’ve aged out of the demographic. I stopped buying comic books in 1980, that's not a flaw with Richie Rich).
I think they keep the belt on Orton (and I also think, the prior paragraph notwithstanding, it winds up the best match of the night) but that’s largely because I don’t have a good read on what they’d do with Orton outside of this terrible title reign, and if Hulk Hogan is going to work a match at Mania, as has been suggested, one assumes John Cena would be involved somehow, and that would mean he wouldn’t need to be carrying around the title to be part of that program.

(3 1/4 stars, not the match of the night, I liked it more than the crowd but they felt about these two the same way I do; there hasn't been a PPV where it was more evident that WWE is fighting its core fanbase.  Orton kept after a Wyatt run in.)
2. Daniel Bryan v. Bray Wyatt
-There’s a bizarre view expressed in some quarters that Daniel Bryan’s WWE career, from getting fired in the Nexus angle to getting squashed at Wrestlemania to being moved out of the main event angle in 2013 to turning heel, joining the Wyatt family, and being called Daniel Wyatt at house shows since last we spoke is part of the master booking that is WWE. Precedent for this farsightedness is not offered.
What we do have are Chris Hero, Davey Richards, and Eddie Edwards – independent wrestlers in the Daniel Bryan mold, the first fired since last we spoke, the latter two passed over for a developmental deal. We have Dolph Ziggler’s inexplicable burial, Antonio Cesaro’s difficulty finding a place on a 3 hour RAW. We have Tyson Kidd. Who? Exactly. In ring ability is rarely important to WWE, in fact, it can often be a hindrance. WWE is a self created reality where the Kenta Kobashi never existed and the Ultimate Warrior is about to join Koko B Ware in the Hall of Fame. Low Ki won NXT and got fired because of it. WWE isn’t a meritocracy.
Daniel Bryan has gotten over in spite of WWE; he lost in 18 seconds at Wrestlemania and the Miami RAW crowd wouldn’t let him become SD Jones; he turned heel and was given a jumpsuit and the fans (particularly the basketball fans at Michigan State) wouldn’t let him become Duke the Dumpster Droese. Vince McMahon, despite what you’d hear on the Grantland podcast, doesn’t have a record of going before his investors’ conference and calling the main event of Summer Slam a failed special attraction, as a way to work the hardcores.
This program is probably over. Bryan was concussed in a face turn on RAW; so if he really isn’t yet ready to wrestle it could be this is a non-match and they do the blowoff on television in a couple of weeks – or it could be Danielson squashes him – or, it could be, Danielson gets beaten up by the entire Wyatt Family, then comes back later to win the Rumble, and then beats Orton for the title at Mania and it's 2004 in my house all over again.
Regardless, right now, he’s a top of the card guy – and there’s a Yes Chant coming, and if it’s not coming Sunday it’s coming at Wrestlemania 30.

(4 stars, match of the night, WWE's first four star match of 2014, Danielson did the clean job and wasn't seen the rest of the night.  This displeased the crowd.)
3. Brock Lesnar v. Big Show
-Apparently building to Brock v. Undertaker, so this is just a feeding. Brock with Paul Heyman is a tremendous act.
There’s a pre-show tag title match, with, of all things, the New Age Outlaws challenging the Rhodes Brothers for the straps. Yes, in 2014, yes, that is a thing that is happening. I Phone 6 gets released and Billy Gunn may exit the Rumble with WWE gold.  There's probably something else too.
That’s it other than the actual Rumble Match, in which you’d say the returning Batista enters as the favorite, behind him being Bryan…and I’m not sure who else, maybe a returning Sheamus if they wanted to push him hard. Roman Reigns gets the Diesel spot, probably including tossing both of his Shield mates on the way to their breakup. Punk gets the Backlund spot, he starts at number one and probably goes at least 45 minutes, perhaps eliminated by some type of “authority” related screwiness involving Kane that can get us on the road to a Punk v. Hunter Mania match. Lets say they do the thing that makes the most sense - Daniel Bryan wins the Rumble, wins the title at Mania, and then feuds with a heel turned (by then) Batista. Let’s go ahead and land there.
Well, that would make it a helluva night. I’ve talked myself into the building.

(Brock squashed him, as expected, the Outlaws won the tag straps, also not surprising, Batista won a Bryan-free Rumble, 3 stars, and  the crowd may have turned him heel.)
I've done it for Mania, SummerSlam, and Survivor Series. Here is my ranking of every match in the history of the Royal Rumble. Times are approximate, star ratings are for the 3 and up matches. Apologies if I missed anything.

1. ’03 WWF Title: Kurt Angle d. Chris Benoit 20 min 5
2. ’00 WWF Title HHH d. Cactus Jack 27 min 4 ¼
3. ’01 IC Ladder: Chris Jericho d. Chris Benoit 19 min 4 ¼
4. ’04 Rumble Match: (Chris Benoit) 61:30 4
5. ’92 WWF Title: Rumble Match (Ric Flair) 62 min 4
6. ’91 Rockers d. Orient Express 19 min 4
7. ’95 WWF Title: Diesel draw Bret Hart 27 min 4
8. ’10 Rumble Match (Edge) 49:30 3 ¾
9. ’00 Tables Hardys d. Dudleys 10:30 3 ¾
10. ’94 Tags: Quebecers d. Bret/Owen 16:30 3 ¾
11. ’04 WWF Title: HHH draw HBK 22:30 3 ¾
12. ’11 World: Edge d. Dolph Ziggler 20:30 3 ½
13. ’02 WWF Title: Chris Jericho d. Rock 19 min 3 ½
14. ’98 WWF Title: Casket Match: Shawn Michaels d. Undertaker 22 min 3 ½
15. ’07 WWF Title: Last Man Standing: John Cena d. Umaga 22:30 3 ½
16. ’99 WWF Title: I Quit Match: Rock d. Mankind 22 min 3 ½
17. ’93 WWF Title: Bret Hart d. Razor Ramon 18 min 3 ½
18. ’11 Rumble Match (Alberto del Rio) 69 min 3 ½
19. ’90 Rumble Match (Hulk Hogan) 59 min 3 ½
20. ’97 Rumble Match(Steve Austin) 50:30 3 ½
21. ’01 WWF Title: Kurt Angle d. HHH 24:30 3 ¼
22. ’13 WWF Title: Rock d. CM Punk 23:30 3 ¼
23. ’93 IC Shawn Michaels d. Marty Jannetty 14:30 3 ¼
24. ’05 Edge d. Shawn Michaels 18:30 3 ¼
25. ’09 WWF Title: Edge d. Jeff Hardy 19:30 3 ¼
26. ’12 Rumble Match (Sheamus) 55 min 3 ¼
27. ’05 Rumble Match (Batista) 51:30 3 ¼
28. ’03 Rumble Match(Brock Lesnar) 53:30 3 ¼
29. ’00 Rumble Match(Rock) 52 min 3 ¼
30. ’01 Rumble Match(Steve Austin) 62 min 3 ¼
31. ’06 Rumble Match (Rey Mysterio) 62 min 3 ¼
32. ’07 Rumble Match (Undertaker) 56:30 3 ¼
33. ’89 Rumble Match(John Studd) 64 min 3 ¼
34. ’98 Rumble Match (Steve Austin) 55:30 3 ¼
35. ’08 Rumble Match (John Cena) 51:30 3 ¼
36. ’10 World: Undertaker d. Rey Mysterio 11 min 3 ¼
37. ’11 WWF: Miz d. Randy Orton 20 min 3 ¼
38. ’05 World: HHH d. Randy Orton 21:30 3 ¼
39. ’07 Hardys d. MNM 15:30 3 ¼
40. ’12 WWF Title: CM Punk d. Dolph Ziggler 14 min 3
41. ’01 Tags: Dudleys d. Edge/Christian 10 min 3
42. ’08 WWF Title: Randy Orton d. Jeff Hardy 14 min 3
43. ’92 Owen/Anvil d. Orient Express 17 min 3
44. ’95 Tags: Bob Holly/123 Kid d. Tatanka/Bam Bam Bigelow 15:30 3
45. ’02 Rumble Match(HHH) 69:30 3
46. ’94 Rumble Match: (Bret/Lex) 55 min 3
47. ’93 Rumble Match: (Yokozuna) 66:30 3
48. ’91 Rumble Match (Hulk Hogan) 65 min 3
49. ’96 Rumble Match(Shawn Michaels) 59 min 3
50. ’99 Rumble Match (Vince McMahon) 56:30 3
51. ’09 Rumble Match (Randy Orton) 58:30 3
52. ’95 Rumble Match (Shawn Michaels) 39 min 3
53. ’13 Rumble Match (John Cena) 55 min 3
54. ’88 Rumble Match(Jim Duggan) 33:30 3
55. ’02 IC: William Regal d. Edge 10 min 3
56. ’04 Eddy Guerrero d. Chavo Guerrero 8 min 3
57. ’13 World: Last Man Standing: Alberto del Rio d. Big Show 17 min 3
58. ’09 ECW: Jack Swagger d. Matt Hardy 10:30 3
59. ’96 Tags: Smoking Gunns d. Bodydonnas 11 min 3
60. ’03 Tags: Dudleys d. Regal/Storm 7:30 3
61. ’97 WWF Title: Shawn Michaels d. Sid 14 min 3
62. ’89 Haku d. Harley Race 9 min 3
63. ’97 IC: HHH d. Goldust 17 min 3
64. ’06 Jr.: Gregory Helms d. Kash, Funaki, Noble, Nunzio, London 7:30
65. ’88 Jumping Bomb Angels d. Glamour Girls 14 min
66. ’89 Hart Foundation/Duggan d. Dino Bravo/Rougeaus 16 min
67. ’96 WWF Title: Undertaker d. Bret Hart 29 min
68. ’08 World: Edge d. Rey Mysterio 12:30
69. ’88 Ricky Steamboat d. Rick Rude 17 min
70. ’00 Taz d. Kurt Angle 3 min
71. ’02 Ric Flair d. Vince McMahon 15 min
72. ’98 IC Rock d. Shamrock 11 min
73. ’05 WWF Title: JBL d. Big Show/Kurt Angle 12 min
74. ’06 WWF Title: John Cena d. Edge 14
75. ’97 Vader d. Undertaker 13 min
76. ’13 Tags: Hell No d. Rhodes Scholars 9:30
77. ’93 Steiners d. Beverlys 10:30
78. ’07 World: Batista d. Ken Kennedy 10:30
79. ’90 Ronny Garvin d. Greg Valentine 17 min
80. ’10 ECW: Christian d. Ezekial Jackson 12 min
81. ’88 Islanders d. Young Stallions 14 min
82. ’02 Tags: Taz/Spike Dudley d. Dudleys 5 min
83. ’12 World: Cage: Daniel Bryan d. Big Show/Mark Henry
84. ’00 IC: Chris Jericho d. Chyna d. Bob Holly 7:30
85. ’08 JBL d. Chris Jericho 9:30
86. ’10 US: Miz d. MVP 7:30
87. ’97 Garza/Aguayo/Canek d. Estrada/Metal/.Guerrera 11 min
88. ’04 WWF Title: Brock Lesnar d. Bob Holly 6:30
89. ’03 Brock Lesnar d. Big Show 6 min
90. ’99 Euro: Sean Waltman d. Gangrel 6 min
91. ’98 Vader d. Goldust 8 min
92. ’95 IC Jeff Jarrett d. Razor Ramon 18 min
93. ’99 IC: Ken Shamrock d. Billy Gunn 14:30
94. ’04 Jr. Rey Mysterio d. Jamie Noble 3:30
95. ’91 Boss Man d. Barbarian 14 min
96. ’92 IC: Roddy Piper d. Mountie 5:30
97. ’08 Ric Flair d. MVP 8 min
98. ’98 Mini/Mosaic/Nova d. Battalion/Torito/Tarantula 8 min
99. ’97 Ahmed Johnson d. Farooq 9 min
100. ’96 Ahmed Johnson d. Jeff Jarrett 6:30
101. ’10 WWF: Sheamus d. Randy Orton 12:30
102. ’07 ECW: Bobby Lashley d. Test 7:30
103. ’04 Tags: Evolution d. Dudleys 4:30
104. ’03 World Title: Scott Steiner d. HHH 18:30
105. ’09 World John Cena d. JBL 15:30
106. ’99 Boss Man d. Road Dogg 12 min
107. ’90 Hacksaw Duggan d. Big Boss Man 10:30
108. ’91 Ted DiBiase/Virgil d. Dusty/Dustin 10 min
109. ’00 Tags: New Age Outlaws d. Acolytes 2:30
110. ’94 Tatanka d. Bam Bam Bigelow 8
111. ’94 IC: Razor Ramon d. IRS 11:30
112. ’96 IC: Goldust d. Razor 14:30
113. ’89 Rockin Robin d. Judy Martin 6:30
114. ’11 Women: Eve d. Natalya/Layla/Michelle McCool 5 min
115. ’12 Bellas/Beth/Natalya d. Kelly/Eve/Alicia/Tamina 5:30
116. ’02 Women: Trish d. Jazz 4 min
117. ’09 Women: Melina d. Beth Phoenix 6:30
118. ’92 Tags: Natural Disasters d. LOD 9:30
119. ’98 Tags: LOD d. New Age Outlaws 8 min
120. ’91 Mountie d. Koko 9
121. ’05 Casket: Undertaker d. Heidenreich 13:30
122. ’91 WWF Title: Sgt. Slaughter d. Ultimate Warrior 12:30
123. ’06 World: Kurt Angle d. Mark Henry 9:30
124. ’93 Bam Bam Bigelow d. Big Boss Man 10 min
125. ’95 Undertaker d. IRS 12:30
126. ’01 Women: Ivory d. Chyna 3:30
127. ’99 Women: Sable d. Luna 4:30
128. ’12 Brodus Clay d. Drew McIntyre 1 min
129. ’06 Boogeyman d. JBL 2 min
130. ’90 Bushwackers d. Rougeaus 13:30
131. ’12 John Cena draw Kane 11
132. ’90 Brutus Beefcake draw Lanny Poffo 11 min
133. ’92 Beverlys d. Bushwackers 15 min
134. ’10 Women: Mickie James d. Michelle McCool :30
135. ’03 Torrie Wilson d. Dawn Marie 3:30
136. ’06 Women: Mickey James d. Ashley 7:30
137. ’94 WWF Title: Yokozuna d. Undertaker 14:30

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