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Just Business: The Three Key Ingredients for a Right Royal Rumble
By Samuel 'Plan
Jan 24, 2017 - 10:22:05 PM
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Just Business: The Three Key Ingredients for a Right Royal Rumble
When last year’s Royal Rumble Match was roundly considered successful, it felt like a corner was turned and we could begin moving away from the tough years that had preceded it. As is often the case, though, it’s not so much the turn that matters as it is how straight the line is that follows. 2017 has, if anything, a taller task than last year’s Royal Rumble, in ensuring that 2016’s version of the fan favourite bout was not just a fluke; that it has, instead, begun a steady climb back to the beloved stature it so deservedly once enjoyed.
With this in mind, then, and with cynicism rife considering the lukewarm build to this year’s edition, I thought I’d take a moment to look at what I believe are the three key ingredients to ensuring that the Royal Rumble Match succeeds and which, when absent, so often lead to what many consider disaster.
1. Iron Men
Part of what makes the Rumble so special is its duration. Once described by JBL as the closest thing WWE has to an endurance contest, the best Rumbles can be exhausting watches in the most amazing way.
The most effective, most common way to portray this sense of endurance is via a strong iron man performance, and there have been many through the years. From DiBiase in 1990 through to Kane in 2001 right through to Bray Wyatt two years ago, to see a man enter in the first third of the field and go on to last until the climax is to see a perennial reminder of the journey being travelled. Watching as an early entrant fights tooth and nail through sheer exhaustion may often be taken for granted, especially in the current day and age where it becomes so common a sight, but, without it, not only can the Rumble find itself robbed of one of its most singular traits, so too can it seem anti-climactic in its disjointedness.
2010 is a top offender in this light. By the time the match is narrowed down to its final participants, you may as well be watching a completely different match to the one that started a mere thirty minutes beforehand. There’s little reason to sit through half an hour of action when it proves entirely unrelated to the climax; when there is no narrative chain linking one half to the other; linking cause to effect; providing visual chronology to events. The effect becomes unsatisfying.
1993 pulls a similar trick, resetting at the halfway mark as Giant Gonzalez assaults The Undertaker. What prevents 1993 from feeling as monochromatically functional as 2010, though? The iron man performance of Bob Backlund, that, courtesy of its inherent effort, frames an irrelevant star as an emotive veteran in the midst of an unlikely come back, linking both halves of that single match with one another to create a more cohesive, colourful hole.
It needn’t be either of the first two entrants, but I find Rumble bouts far more satisfying an experience when a man from the first third is still present at the climax of events – or at least very late on - to remind me of the journey I’ve travelled as a viewer.
Who are the likely candidates for such a role this year? From Monday Night Raw it’s hard to look past Sami Zayn, and from Smackdown Live Dean Ambrose or The Miz would fit the bill nicely.
2. Set Pieces
It’s easy for a Rumble match to devolve into one giant, fairly witless protracted brawl that sees a bunch of random wrestlers hitting, kicking and nailing random moves on one another until the time comes to wrap up and head home with an exciting climactic showdown. It doesn’t lead to the most exhilarating watch, and many of the older Rumbles that head naturally down this almost intuitive route struggle to match up to the greater energy of more modern efforts as a result. But the rule is not universal, and both in the early years of the Rumble’s growth and in more recent years too there have been instances of both creative Rumble matches, and grossly unimaginative ones.
Consider 1990, a match so unlike those Rumbles around it, including the beloved 1992, which do venture down the road of the mundane mob fight. Whether it be the four-way showdown between the Ted DiBiase / Macho King unholy alliance and the Roberts / Piper coalition in the first third; Demolition’s double-team assaults on André the Giant; the infamous Hogan / Warrior stand off; or the mini handicap bout that wraps the action up, 1990 never rests on its laurels, and while there are passages of less imaginative action, there’s also plenty of imaginatively realised set pieces to break up what can so easily become the monotony of a Rumble Match void of ideas.
On the opposite end of the spectrum sits an effort like 1998. Along with having only a meagre two storylines heading in – Austin’s status as a marked man and questions over the Nation of Domination’s potential superiority in numbers – what further handicaps 1998’s attempt at the Rumble is its utter lack of imagination in the ring. Watching it back now, you’d be hard pressed, outside of a passing brawl between Rock and Austin on the outside, to find anything in the way of memorable action, despite eliminations being few and far between. Instead, you get treated to fifty plus minutes of big men clubbing one another and attempting to lift others over the top. It’s quite a lethargic experience.
With a number of big men in this year’s match, many of whom are no spring chickens, we can only hope that the more creatively minded, often younger stars will be able to lead the way and unsettle any creeping rigidity with a few explosive passages of action. Last year managed it fairly well by drawing inspiration from its characterful cast; this year’s cast, if anything, is broader in scope, and so I expect the action to follow suit. Anything less could prove disappointing.
3. Roster Positioning
WWE has a fictional universe filled with fictional characters. Inside of that fiction, varying characters are portrayed to have varying degrees of capability. Seeing these characters clash from every level of WWE’s fictional ladder is part of what makes the Rumble Match so entertaining. Thus, when WWE has positioned its roster effectively, with clearly defined main event players, upper mid card, mid card and lower card talent, any given Rumble Match is automatically imbued with subtext. Underdogs; clashes of titans; the breaking up of teams; unholy alliances; when you have clearly defined characters filling an explicitly positioned roster, you unlock real creative potential without anyone even trying – essentially, Rumble stories write themselves.
On the other hand, when character lacks and your roster feels muddied, the Rumble struggles to hook you. Undoubtedly 2012 is the very pinnacle of this plague, trading in its roster for nostalgia pops and comic cameos. The effect is stunning vapidity, and a borderline irrelevant victory for Sheamus. 1995, 2003 and 2006 aren’t friendly to isolated re-watches either for the very same reason.
However, 2016 utilised such a trait to fullest advantage during its intoxicating climactic passage; Wyatt’s showdown with Triple H gets me every time, as do the entirely logical final alliances between Ambrose and Reigns on one side and Triple H and Sheamus on the other. 2013 fares well on this front when re-watching too, with fun moments like the army of mid card heels aligning in perfectly natural fashion to take out a fresh John Cena. 2009 and 1992 both actively grade talent as they march toward conclusion as well, whittling numbers down according to star power until only the top talent are left.
This year, clear roster positioning gets a tick in the box from me, even if priorities feel out of whack. Monday Night Raw this week made clear who the three big hitters were. Zayn is already the dark horse underdog. Miz and Ambrose feel like outside bets; Ziggler is the one with a point to prove; and Strowman and Corbin could be on a collision course, taking on mirrored roles on their respective brands. I’m not a fan of the apparent part-timer focus this year, but at least I know how each entrant relates in comparison to the others.
Any Royal Rumble is capable of ticking at least two out of these three boxes, and often, when the matches manage such a feat, they come to be considered a success. Anything less, though, and they struggle.
This year, I remain steadfast that there is plenty of potential for us to get a classic. The roster positioning is there already, thanks in part to the Brand Extension still being relatively newly established. There’s talent enough among the foremost entrants to compile creative set pieces, and if the headliners call upon their clearly established characters and combine those with existing feuds, this year’s Rumble has the true ability to transcend into a tapestry of art, like the very best in history. Throw in an iron man or two, and WWE can’t go far wrong. So while I understand if you feel a little cynical about this year’s Rumble, just remember that we’re comfortably on course to see a match that could make wise use of what I believe are the three key ingredients for a right royal Rumble.
But what do you think makes for a great Royal Rumble Match? And how are you feeling about this year’s edition? Let me know in the comments below or on social media!
Until next time, thanks for reading.
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