QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do you think you can get excited for a Rock vs. Cena rematch in the coming weeks?
Doctor's Orders: The Royal Rumble Report (The Rock vs. John Cena for the WWE Championship Becomes a Reality)
By The Doc
Jan 28, 2013 - 4:39:16 PM
Preview The Road to Wrestlemania Starts Sunday
Review The Royal Rumble Report
Pre-Show Thought – I had not yet watched one of the WWE’s YouTube PPV pre-shows, opting instead to watch the preview on DirecTV that shows the hype videos for the forthcoming headliners, but The Miz vs. Antonio Cesaro was a PPV-worthy feud to which much television time had been paid. I was intrigued to see the time given to such a match when the WWE knows ahead of time that they’ve got to give some attention to prospective pay-per-viewers who are still on the fence about ordering by way of a promotional clip similar to if not exactly the same as the ones shown on the other preview. Alas, I was a bit disappointed when Miz and Cesaro were given less than 8-minutes. They might’ve been forced to cut it short due to Miz taking an awkward landing off the top rope. Later, they mentioned that Miz hurt his ankle. I’m surprised he didn’t tear a muscle somewhere in the pelvic region, be it a hamstring or a groin. Kudos to him for working his way through it. My lasting impression of the US title match will likely be Cesaro continuing to impress as an in-ring performer.
Match 1: Alberto Del Rio retained the World title in a Last Man Standing match (17-minutes) (***) (It makes a lot more sense for someone of Del Rio’s size to keep Big Show down with the use of duct tape than it does for someone like Cena to have used it on Batista. I thought everything leading up to the finish was pretty good. Last Man Standing matches can be great, but I’m of the opinion that they need to be logically long; you have to really beat the hell out of your opponent to keep him down for a ten count. At the time they were given, I think they were basically stuck in having to skip second and third gear to go from first to fourth to fifth. Overall, I enjoyed the match and thought they did an admirable job trying to get Del Rio over as a babyface. Having him interact with a surprise returning icon like Bret Hart, followed by the continued use of Ricardo as the sympathetic bridge between Del Rio’s arrogant heel character and his confident hero persona, was all solid booking. It turned out to be a theme for the night, solid booking did. I think the World title situation, given how the Rumble was booked, just became very interestingly wide open. Much like last year, the World Championship seems destined to take a noticeable backseat to the top three matches involving stars from the past. Hopefully, unlike last year, the end result is a match worthy of a Mania World title bout)
Match 2: Team Hell No defeated Team Rhodes Scholars in 9:30 (**) (The tag titles have come a little ways in the last several months, with several duos that get on television with a little bit of microphone time to get themselves over. I think you can look to how extremely basic was this match to give you an idea of how far the tag title division still has to go. Rewind the clock to a match from over a decade ago of similar length, featuring the Dudley Boyz vs. Edge and Christian, and you saw those two teams open up their playbooks and make a run at match of the night. Tonight, the four combatants basically went through the motions and had the very definition of formulaic WWE tag team match. It was neither here nor there; it was neither good nor bad. Thus, there’s not much to talk about, in terms of what actually happened. What has become apparent is that, despite working all week on the road together, teams like Sandow and Rhodes and Kane and Bryan have not developed any tag moves that would help differentiate this from four singles wrestlers thrown together into partnerships)
Match 3: John Cena won the Royal Rumble match in 55-minutes (****) (I looked at the landscape and what I had thought to be the unpredictability of this match, prior to it starting, and saw the potential for the best Rumble since 2008. I think that’s exactly what we got. From a match quality standpoint, I thought that there was more than enough substance leading up to those thrilling final minutes to rank this amongst the best Royal Rumble matches. Time will tell if it can join 1992, 2008, 2007, 2005, and 2004 amongst the definitive best of the best, but right now I’d rank it in a class by itself ahead of 1990, 2002, and 2006.
I know that there will be a lot of haters about Cena winning and some of you might expect me to be one of them due to my predictions made in recent months. I’m not disappointed. Cena deserves to win. He’s the face of the company and has been for years, so it’s actually surprising that he hasn’t won more than one already. Cena was always an obvious choice if they intended to go the Rock-Cena 2 route, which now clearly seems to be the case. I thought the odds were about 50-50 on the rematch. Maybe they were a lot stronger. I suppose a swerve could be thrown in at the last minute, but the direction for the main-event at Mania seems pretty apparent. I said it from last November until my Rumble preview last weekend that if the intention was for Rock and Cena to go at it again, then having them both win last night was the way to do it. It will feel good to see the Rumble winner be put in the proper spotlight again and I’m hopeful that this was year one of a renewed trend that pits the 30-man Battle Royal victor in the final match on the grand stage every year. Since Rey Mysterio won in 2006, I feel as though the Rumble match has been devalued – and that said devaluing has accelerated since 2008 when Cena started a four-straight Mania streak of Rumble winners losing their guaranteed title match. Cena vs. Rock for the WWE Championship will help erase that unfortunate memory.
Ryback, Sheamus, and Cena were a good call for the final three. If there’s one thing that the internet ought to be good for in the WWE offices, it should be the gauging of Rumble favorites from all the prognosticators. They seem to do a good job at identifying them and putting them all as the last remaining participants. I was really rooting for Sheamus to repeat and keep his career upwardly projecting, but I continue to have my doubts about the WWE’s long-term plans for him. Bear in mind that with the exception of 2011, the final two in the Rumble match have each gone on to be in at least one of the respective world title matches at that year’s Wrestlemania; such has been the case since 2005 – Cena and Bats, Mysterio/Orton/Trips, HBK and Taker, Cena and Trips, Orton and Trips, Edge and Cena, Sheamus and Jericho. Ryback finished second, making the statement that he could well leap Sheamus like I’ve been claiming was quite possible for months due to his being infinitely more over with live crowds. He looked the part of a star in the making last night, did Ryback. This is the time of year for him to win me over. Sheamus won me over a long time ago, but the affection that the crowd shows Ryback came about organically, whereas the Celtic Warrior was more or less forced upon the fanbase as a hero that we were all supposed to love. The finish reminded me of 2008’s. Batista was in there with Cena and Trips, but it was clear after a moment that he was the third wheel and wouldn’t be doing anything exceptional at that year’s Mania…and he didn’t. For Sheamus’ sake, I hope history doesn’t repeat itself.
Who will Ryback face for the World title?
What really separated this Rumble from the last few was the effectiveness of the surprise entrants. Chris Jericho and Goldust, in particular, seemed to have a purpose for being there. Jericho coming back was a big surprise. His time spent suggests that he’s not just back for one night. I think it clearly looks like he’ll be back in the fold for something at Wrestlemania, perhaps with Ziggler. Diesel, Booker T, Mick Foley and the like, in recent years, really just seemed to be there for the nostalgia pop. Y2J seemed focused on making his return memorable to set up something equally as memorable. Goldust has been pushing for a match with Cody Rhodes for a couple of years and was clearly trying to ensure that someone took notice of the reactions that they got when they were either banding together or fighting each other. I’d be alright with a match between those two. Anything that keeps the spotlight on Rhodes is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned. Cody is too good to keep down for long. I thought Cody, Jericho, Sheamus, and Dolph Ziggler were the workhorses that made the beginning to last half of the middle effectively engaging. The Show Off came across as a star last night – Thank God. Maybe he’ll end up in an important match at Mania after all.
Kofi Kingston again did his best to steal the show, making you wonder when or if they’ll ever give him a chance to do more. I’ve repeatedly suggested that he could be this era’s Rob Van Dam, bucking the usual comparison to the equally as athletic Shelton Benjamin since Kofi is about 5 times as over as Shelton ever was)
Match 4: The Rock defeated CM Punk to become WWE Champion in 23-minutes (****) (I actually waited to watch this match again before fully reviewing the entire event. Upon initial viewing, I had a hard time coming up with a rating. It is not often that such booking comes across as compelling as it was last night. I’m not usually a fan of the restart finish. Yet, last night it worked for me. CM Punk beat The Rock after a very good match. They let it linger just long enough for the feeling that Punk had retained to sink in before bringing out McMahon to go with the predictable route of stripping the championship away due to the Shield’s interference. Perhaps the WWE was able to gauge the Phoenix crowd well in advance of booking the finish because, somehow, they either knew or got lucky in correctly guessing that the audience would be more upset about the title being stripped then they would be a restart of the match.
Make no mistake about it – that was a split crowd that perfectly illustrated the influence that the vocal minority, made up of a bunch of people that would fall into the “internet” category, can have on an important event. However, when Vince was about to lay down the law and Rock stopped him from dropping the gavel, the crowd erupted quite pleasantly. The manner in which the Rock, beaten and nearly broken, heroically urged Vince to let him be the one that took the title from Punk was spot on. “You don’t get to take the title from him; I AM!” I got a little markish in that moment, despite wanting Punk to win.
After watching it back again, I have to admit that I dug the finish. Punk came across as being full of hubris, thinking he could get away with something again despite the pre-match stipulation. He also looked strong in not only visually defeating the Rock for the 1-2-3 – no matter how – but dominating that match; Rock was in control for a grand total of about 5-minutes. Rock came across as beatable, but more than capable. This was a win-win finish, though I would’ve liked to have seen an epic battle that ended with a clean victor.
The pace and the finish were what prompted the need for a second viewing. To properly rate this match, I needed to pay more attention to what I thought was a psychologically sound match that never reached the gear that I thought it might. Sometimes, rating a match is about taking away the expectations and just seeing what you get. Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H at Summerslam was a good example of that. The Rock vs. CM Punk featured a great story, there were some quality counters, the focus on the mid-section and knee was well done, and the finish was surprisingly effective given the ineffectiveness throughout history of similar endings. The addition of the crowd into the intangible list cannot be understated, either. I’ve always liked Phoenix crowds. They brought something unique last night, as there were a lot of Rock fans and a lot of Punk fans, making for an interesting dynamic. I loved the “Boo-Yes” chant last night, during which a sizeable portion was chanting BOTH instead of there being a clear-cut dichotomy as to who was getting “Booed” and who was getting “Yessed”)
All in all…I suppose it is time for me to gear myself up for a rematch of one of my favorites in Wrestlemania history, so that I may help you get as hyped as possible for it. I wrote a ton of columns in 2011 and 2012 about Rock vs. Cena, trying to get myself and all of you as ready for that dream scenario to play out. I basically set it up in my own mind as “Once in a Lifetime” more than the WWE. Nevertheless, the television product should do its job in effectively hyping the rematch and, assuming that it does so adequately, at least, then I’m sure I can find plenty of excitement in seeing Rock vs. Cena LIVE in NY/NJ 69 days from now. I’ve never seen Rock perform at Wrestlemania. Maybe Limp Bizkit is still around to supply a rock music-centered theme ala “My Way” for Rock vs. Cena 2. From what I’ve read, the internet didn’t care too much for Rock vs. Austin 2, either, but the appreciation of it lives today for a lot of reasons, that song included. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Rumble. It rates very highly on my all-time list, with one notable intangible being the old school video where several of the key combatants gave their pre-Rumble thoughts. I loved that dynamic of the early Rumble events.
If asked to choose one word to describe the 2013 Royal Rumble, on paper, it would be: compelling.
It has been a long time since the Royal Rumble was interesting because of something other than the 30-man Battle Royal. 2008, by my estimation, was the edition that last had a championship match (Jeff Hardy vs. Randy Orton) with the potential to steal the show. Since Hardy had one of the best 6 week runs of hype in recent memory, it has seemed as if the WWE was content to let the Rumble sell itself. If those Rumbles averaged around 450,000 buyers, I’ll be quite curious to see what figure comes from Sunday’s show featuring CM Punk vs. The Rock for the WWE Championship. Coupled with the increased emphasis on winning the Rumble match by everyone from the face of the franchise to the recent 6-month reigning World Champion to a nine-time champion to the US and IC champions to the current Money in the Bank contract holder, Punk vs. Rock could help make this the strongest first financial quarter for the WWE in quite awhile.
I suppose if you believe that Rock is winning the title and that it has been a foregone conclusion from the moment that they announced his championship opportunity last July, then maybe the Rumble won’t be quite so interesting for you. However, if you see things similarly to me, then Rock vs. Punk is not predictable in the least. Ask yourself this question: do you have any other reason to think Rock vs. Cena II besides Dave Meltzer’s newsletter, or perhaps our resident Phat Man, Mr. Tito? That’s not to say that one could not logically draw the conclusion that a rematch from last year’s Wrestlemania is imminent, but we don’t have a lot of material to base it on. I’ve been called everything from dreaming to delusional in my Austin vs. Punk suggestion and I think I’ve got more on which to base my argument than Cena vs. Rock prognosticators do. I said it four months ago – that teaser video was not just for a video game; that sit-down interview had a purpose greater than selling a few thousand more units of WWE ’13. All we have to go on for Rock-Cena II is that Cena, who we’ve become so accustomed to winning in the end, lost in a battle of generations.
The winner of the WWE title match, in my opinion, is 50-50. Going into last Monday’s Raw, I was hoping that the Shield would attack Rock, as they did, so that we could get them out of the logical picture and open the door for the absent Brock Lesnar to get involved. I still maintain, as I did in my Wrestlemania preview posted after Thanksgiving, that Brock vs. Rock II outsells Rock vs. Cena II for the WWE title. While there are so many options with all the stars potentially involved in this year’s Mania, I feel like the WWE has been salivating over the prospect of Rock vs. Brock. I try my best to set my expectations based on trying to think like a WWE higher up. If I’m in that creative board room and I’m bouncing ideas off the chairman, don’t you think he’d smile from ear-to-ear at me if I mentioned, “Let’s put our Hollywood star up against our mixed martial arts champion”? What are the two things that have been common denominators at each of the most successful Wrestlemanias of all-time (with the exception of Mania X-Seven)? #1 is entertainment figures; #2 is the titans of sport. Right now, the WWE has one of each under contract and both got their starts in professional wrestling. It writes itself, ladies and gentlemen.
The Royal Rumble PPV is compelling because the WWE has two huge drawing options on the table and I’m anxious to see which one that they pick. I’ve said it for months and I’m sticking with my prediction: CM Punk retains the WWE title thanks to interference from Brock Lesnar.
No matter the victor, the actual match should be outstanding. This is the biggest title match in Royal Rumble history, eclipsing the likes of Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels, Sgt. Slaughter vs. Ultimate Warrior, Triple H vs. Cactus Jack, Undertaker vs. Bret Hart, and even the 1992 Royal Rumble match (which had the title up for grabs). I think it could have easily main-evented Wrestlemania this year. So, we’re getting an early treat. I’ll be curious to see how the crowd reacts. Phoenix has had some good audiences. I’m not 100% confident that Punk doesn’t go in getting booed but leave getting cheered. Given how much I loved the Cena vs. Rock match last year, I’m fairly confident that it will be an early MOTY contender, upping the performance factor at Wrestlemania because the pace will have already been set.
I’m not sure who is going to win the Royal Rumble. I’ve predicted it wrong the last two years after nailing it the two prior years with Orton and Edge. I think that there are three obvious favorites, with a fourth that is certainly viable. John Cena better damn well win the Rumble if he’s going to wrestle Rock again. He’s got to be the odds on favorite amongst the fanbase, as a whole. I literally despise the Elimination Chamber being in February. It has taken some of the shine away from the Rumble match winner to have another title shot on the line three weeks later. Cena becoming a two-time winner to face the victorious Rock is the way to go if they choose that route. I think if the Rumble match does not close the show – and this is probably the first time in history that I would be fine if it didn’t – then a Cena victory makes the Punk-Rock result obvious.
Personally, I don’t want Cena to win. It doesn’t do anything for him unless he’s wrestling a WWE Champion named Dwayne. The second favorite would be Sheamus, for whom a repeat Rumble victory could do quite a bit. The Celtic Warrior is in an odd position right now, as he’s simultaneously knocking on the door of getting to the next level (WWE Championship contention) and teetering on the edge of going back a few steps. The answer to the question of whether or not the WWE is fully on-board with making Sheamus a cornerstone star of this generation will likely be answered in the next few weeks. If he were to win the Rumble again, then he could once again go after the World Championship or surprise people and go after Punk, if he remains WWE Champion. I don’t think that option is out of the question if the decision is made to roll with a Mania card of Rock-Cena and Brock-Taker. Being a fan of Sheamus since the beginning, I’m hoping that he repeats.
Randy Orton clocks in as the third favorite, although I see a heel turn and an Elimination Chamber title win better setting the stage for a potential match with Sheamus over the World Championship. I’m very ready to see Orton turn. He’s not doing the company many favors as a babyface, but he could instantly become a major player again if he were a heel. I’m quite fond of the Sheamus vs. Orton talk. I think that would do some good for both of them. The nail in the tire of that scenario is Ryback. I’m fairly certain that rumors of Ryback vs. Show are probably accurate for Mania. Not having bought any stock, yet, in the Corn-fed Meathead, I’m not exactly keen on that match being for the World title. Based on his relatively non-existent presence in that Raw-closing segment that seemed to indicate the favorites and others to watch for, I’m not inclined to put a lot of thought into Ryback winning the Rumble. Yet, if you take into account the last several weeks of television and the WWE’s penchant for crowning a new winner for the last eleven years, then he seems like the obvious pick. Dolph Ziggler, based on that logic, also has an outside shot. What better way for him to look like a star than to go from first or second to the finish?
My prediction is Sheamus. I think that Orton vs. Sheamus is on the horizon and that the title would well serve that match.
I’ve been impressed with the hype for the Alberto Del Rio vs. Big Show match. So many dislike Del Rio, but I’ve always thought that what he brought to table as a performer outweighed what he lacked in charisma. There have been too many Great Khalis and 2006 versions of Mark Henry in my 25 year fandom to complain about a helluva wrestler being a consistent main-event threat. Anyhow, I had wondered how the WWE would creatively get to a Del Rio-Show title match. A few weeks ago, it dawned on me that they could do a quick title change, but it didn’t make enough sense to give further thought. Apparently, the WWE thought it made a lot sense. Though I have some fear that Del Rio as a face might suffer from the “too much, too fast” problem that did his heel character, I’m enjoying what I have seen so far. Ricardo Rodriguez is the key to making it work. He’s naturally likeable. Del Rio seems naturally brash, but it probably doesn’t matter if his role is to cater to the Latino audience.
Despite my thoughts from above about an Orton-Sheamus title match, I think there’s a good chance that Del Rio remains champion through Mania. If the WWE wasn’t serious about pushing him as the next Mexican star, then I don’t think that they would’ve had him win the title. Beating Big Show clean in a Last Man Standing match when the supposed next face of Smackdown couldn’t beat him in three tries is evidence to suggest that Del Rio isn’t going anywhere. They’ve pushed Del Rio hard for the better part of two and a half years. His track record makes him look like just the guy they’d want in a Wrestlemania title match. Since the 2011 Royal Rumble PPV, Del Rio has headlined 13 PPV cards. In a time when Rey Mysterio seems to be almost done and Sin Cara can’t stay healthy, a three-time World Champion of Mexican origin makes a lot of sense.
I think Del Rio retains the World Heavyweight Championship…but I’m very iffy on that pick. Two wins over Big Show in Last Man Standing matches? That’s a helluva push.
Team Rhodes Scholars vs. Team Hell No should be fun. I think the last tag title match on a major PPV that had this much hype was……(drawing a blank, here)….I think the last tag title match on a PPV that had this much hype was TLC 2009’s DX vs. Jeri-Show. Cody and Damien have been chasing the belts for months. I think this will be the night where they finally achieve their goal. It makes me wonder what Kane and Daniel Bryan will be doing two months from now. Rhodes and Sandow win the tag titles