The WWE and The Royal Rumble 2014

by Jon on January 27, 2014

Taking a slight break from films and football, a guilty pleasure of mine is WWE (formerly known as WWF before a lawsuit by the charity).  Yes, I know it’s fake (well, it’s scripted) but I admire the athleticism and creativity that goes into it.  Plus, for a lot of boys, it’s part of your childhood and conjures up some happy memories.

My parents used to be quite strict about what I watched as a kid, but thankfully they were pretty lenient about wrestling.  I remember once being wide awake at nine years old, hiding on the stairs to sneak a peek at the TV when I discovered that my parents were (voluntarily!) watching The Royal Rumble, in 1992.  Naturally I managed to wangle my way into watching this too, and to this date it is one of my favourite memories.  Seeing Ric Flair win it, before I knew it was scripted, and before he became a melted, bloated version of himself, was a seemingly heroic feat that inspired me for years.

RIc Flair

Ric Flair - Royal Rumble 1992

I loved Hulk Hogan, like most kids did, and The Undertaker who is still going strong today – credit to Mark Calaway for playing this game well.  His entrances were brilliant and what could have been a cheesy gimmick became quite scary, for a kid anyway, until they arguably went a bit OTT with the whole satanic angle.  Of course since then he’s been a biker, a ‘normal’ Undertaker and a ‘supernatural’ Undertaker again, and started banging Michelle McCool (real name amazingly), but I digress.  I also loved him because my dad did – my dad liked the silliness and was especially fond of Paul Bearer.  His favourites were The Bushwhackers, who I randomly got to see in Southampton Guildhall one day with my mate Ryan.  They were still licking people’s heads.

My love of wrestling carried on until the mid 90s, when the WWF began to fail and rival company WCW snapped up their talent.  I remember the Montreal screwjob vaguely, and the terrible fake Razor Ramon and Diesel, but by then I wasn’t that interested.  I had watched WCW occasionally too, but didn’t really know what was going on.  One day at school a rather weird and vaguely psychotic kid asked me who my favourite wrestler was, I said Hulk Hogan, he laughed for a disturbingly long time and Hulked up every time he saw me.  Apparently it was no longer cool to be a Hulkamaniac.  Unfortunately years later reality would strip away his legend, when I saw what a grumpy old man he was on his reality show (I think I blogged about it a few years back), how he carried on wrestling many years after he should have quit (that Rock match was poor), and of course that rather hideous sex tape.  But, for a decade or two, this man WAS wrestling.

My love of WWF/WWE resurged in college randomly enough, when I met a few friends who were into it and we had something in common.  The Playstation was the console of choice at the time and Smackdown 2 was the game, and I had a tutor and Sociology teacher who was kind enough to let us play in the classroom at lunch-time and eat pizza.  Granted, we probably should be chasing girls, but instead we were creating avatars of ourselves in tight underwear.

This was a great time for wrestling.  On the one hand, their competition was all but killed off – WCW ended after a series of catastrophic creative decisions (ahem, David Arquette).  Meanwhile, the WWE was on the march with the Attitude era.  Midcarders like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock has suddenly become international superstars, and there was an impressive roster of talent.  Not only that, WWE had a smaller but decent rival in ECW who were championing more brutal, hardcore wrestling seen in places like Japan, which WWE copied/stole/acquired.  You had the advent of great, innovative matches like  the TLC battles, with great tag teams The Hardy Boyz (yes, with a z), The Dudley Boyz (yes, with a z) and Edge and Christian (no z).  They were often accompanied by hotties such as Lita, psychos such as Rhyno and a whole bunch of random talent that were often reduced to cameos or scrapping for a (sadly dilluted) Hardcore belt half of the time.  Iconic moments happened then, I’d strongly recommend Youtubing the TLC matches with the tag teams just mentioned, Lita (just because she’s insanely hot) and, for a laugh, Taka Michinoku/Kaientai in a Royal Rumble.

Of course wrestling had a darkness too – with the advent of the internet several stories of alcoholism, in-fighting, drug-taking and wife-beating became more and more known, legends simply became troubled middle-aged men, several guys died way before their time due to taking copious steroids and other drugs in the 80s/90s (which McMahon got away with, adding to the persona he loved to play so well), and of course there was the Chris Benoit tragedy.  You can’t ignore what happened there, he was prominent in the business for a long time, so there’s no point blocking out the guy’s face on DVDs etc, but you can’t really call him a hero or decent guy anymore either, even though he was a good wrestler (removing any ethics from the situation).

After college, and a few years of being in the real world (I went to uni much later), I got bored of wrestling again and never really watched it regularly anymore.  But there was, and still is, one event I always get excited about – the Royal Rumble.  For me, Wrestlemania will never really live up to IX or X (9 or 10), and the Survivor Series has become a joke these days (but it did rely heavily on gimmicks), and there are arguably way too many PPVs these days.  But one always remains – the Rumble.

Royal Rumble winners

Royal Rumble winners

Essentially it is a battle royale; two guys start in the ring, and every two minutes a new guy comes in, there are 30 in total.  The fun is guessing who will be next, who will stay the longest, who will win it etc.  It’s a great crowd-pleaser and gives opportunities few other PPVs can (getting nearly the entire roster involved, for example).  Some wrestlers who barely get a match are rolled out for their yearly Rumble antics.  Occasionally the format is changed – sometimes it’s 90 seconds instead of 120, sometimes there are 40 guys (and girls) instead of 30, and sometimes a singles match finishes the PPV, which just never feels right in my opinion.

My favourite part of the Rumble is the cameos – a former legendary wrestler (for the right or wrong reasons) returns,  often to huge cheers (pops) or laughter, and it’s a good way of having a wrestler ‘return’ from injury or years out of the business.

Every now and again I’ll go to wwe.com and see that an old guy is back, a new guy has gone, and that’s the way it’s always been.  The last big news I read was Goldust and Brock Lesnar returning, and my friends tend to fill me in on other new factions such as The Nexus or The Shield.  It’s quite amusing to see the palest Irishman (Sheamus) on the planet in the ring, although fans now seem more fickle than before.  I remember him being the big thing for a while, as well as Wade Barrett, Rey Mysterio and a bunch of others, and most recently CM Punk.  Every year when I check in there’s someone new, and last year’s hero is usually back down towards mid-card, although legends like Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker seem to remain (and deservedly so).

So, a few months ago I caught up on some shows and saw that this guy Daniel Bryan was gaining popularity, albeit as something of a joke.  I was introduced to Team Hell No and a bunch of other things that I forget a while ago, but didn’t pay much attention.  A few weeks ago I decided to check back in and lo and behold, a slimmer, happier, sober Jake the Snake Roberts has rocked up.  His music stayed with me all week.  Then I read about The Wyatt Family, a kind of cult New Orleans/voodoo/redneck mix of craziness that sounds awesome, complete with Undertaker’s ‘lights out’ gimmick.  I monitor this for a bit, and decide this has peaked my interest enough to get back into it, and just in time for the, you guessed it, Royal Rumble.

And then I watched a video of Daniel Bryan, now part of the Wyatt family (that escalated quickly), in a cage with Bray Wyatt, who doesn’t really look like a wrestler but is very good at it (as well as working the fans), as the likes of Mick Foley and others did before in the same, unorthodox mould.  Then again, Bryan is a ‘small guy’, but that never stopped Rey Mysterio.  All of a sudden, I hear the biggest pop I’ve heard since Stone Cold returned (pick any time, really), or The Rock delivered a people’s elbow to some jabrone.   The character has gone beyond a joke and into fan-favourdom.  CM Punk is no longer No.1, and apart from a guy called Roman Reigns I knew nothing about, everyone is saying how this is Bryan’s Rumble.   I watch the video over and over again, of thousands of people chanting “YES, YES, YES, YES” as a hyped-up Bryan kicks the living shit out of Wyatt, who sells it all perfectly, as his horror-movie esque followers/brothers helplessly try to break into the cage.  This is going to be Bryan’s Rumble. So, I decide, I’m gonna watch it.

Normally I would be at my mate Ryan’s in Southampton (if invited), but now I live and work in London.  Also I’m 30.  And I’ve just started a new job.  I can’t really stay up until 4am anymore and operate on a human level the next day.  Thanks to the time difference in America, the Rumble begins at 1am here.  Well, the PPV does anyway.  So I make a decision of compromise – I’ll set my alarm, but only for the main event.  I really want to watch Bryan vs Wyatt but I take the sensible ‘I’m in my 30s and in a career now’ decision and catch two hours’ sleep, planning on getting three and half more afterwards.  Thankfully, in hindsight, this worked, and only two strong mugs of coffee and three attempts of getting out of bed were needed.

So, I wake up around 2.30am and catch the end of Orton vs Cena, two wrestlers I’m afraid to say have never interested me.  I get that Cena is like the new Rock now (so much so that they had a once in a lifetime fight, twice) but he’s never been of interest to me, ever since his stupid rapping gimmick.  Orton, who had a good legend killer run, also bores me.  It’s nothing personal, they’re great athletes, but you need to have a little bit of an emotional investment I guess.  As usual, the rumours are abound.  Wrestling is so popular these days that many respectable sports websites give up columns for it, and even a British tabloid regularly commentates on it (The Mirror), realising its popularity. Everyone has Bryan as favourite, with Reigns a close second.  Apparently Batista is back.  Batista, who used to be a beast, looks quite old to me these days.  I didn’t really know he’d left, or returned, all I know is he’s been in/going to be in a couple of big movies later, much like Hogan, Dwayne Johnson (no longer calling himself The Rock in Hollywood, of course) and Austin – albeit a slightly less successful version than them in and and out of the ring.  A lot of people reckon he’ll be in the final few.

The best thing to speculate on is the cameos.  Jake the Snake was rumoured, but denied it, and to be honest it’s probably for the best as despite looking the best he has in years, he had his moment on Raw and probably wouldn’t be able to do much.  Papa Shangoo was an amusing shout, particularly as Charles Wright always seems to rock up in one of his guises.  Sting was a very interesting one a few weeks ago, but many have correctly speculated that it would be a waste to bring him in just to be ring fodder, and he’s be better saved for a singles PPV match, vs Undertaker perhaps, although he is fairly old now and many fans would think he deserves a belt rather than ending a streak.  Jericho is getting a lot of love, another wrestler I never really cared much about but who has a cult following, and several others are mentioned.  I also realise that the New Age Outlaws are back.  They got a massive pop on Raw but I didn’t realise they had re-signed, or even won the belts.  I thought they were past it too, but they are HHH’s mates I suppose, and we all know what that means..

*SPOILER TERRITORY*

The start of the Rumble was strong.  I was disappointed there were 90 second intervals and not 120, but I figured it worked out better for my sleep situation.  As expected Punk goes the distance, and everyone else comes in to try and have a crack.  I quickly learn about the new wrestlers and am impressed with the current roster – a lot of (relatively) young talent is getting involved and there are few jobbers just making up numbers.  But a good Rumble needs a good mix – the right amount of veterans/legends, the right amount of young talent, and a few good cameos from former stars.  I think the younger talent was the most promising aspect of the Rumble, the obvious shine coming from Roman Reigns.  Corporate Kane comes in (wtf?!), something about The Authority is mentioned which I vaguely remember hearing about once, and surprisingly he’s gone.  That’s what you get for wearing trousers.  We get our first proper cameo – Kevin Nash?!  What a waste.  I love Nash, but they used up his pop with his Diesel persona last year and he did nothing.  Plus, randomly, he’s dyed his hair and got a haircut again.   The second cameo is also a bit of a waste – JBL.  JBL, commentating, who almost came off likeable if it wasn’t for the fact he’s a reknowned dick in the industry (just ask The Blue Meanie).  But, every year, someone from the announcer’s table steps in and at least it wasn’t Michael Cole or the god-awful Jerry The King Lawler (although I’ll always have respect for him after watching Man on the Moon).  Plus, every year, someone gets ‘humorously’ knocked out within seconds, so they killed two birds with one stone.

Soon, a few things became apparent.  The Shield were all in there, and two of the Wyatts.  But there was no Bray, or Bryan.  There was also no Y2J or there were no more comedy cameos or massive pops.  The closest surprise was the return of Sheamus, but he seemed to have used up the crowd’s Rumble momentum the last time he won it.  This was Bryan’s night.  For one guy to overshadow Sheamus and Punk in the space of a year is quite incredible.  Beards and monosyllabic chants have never been so popular.   Then of course came Batista – no surprise.  In fact, one of the things I dislike about the Rumbles now is how they announce half of the roster before it even starts.  Someone said it’s to peak interest, but that’s the whole intrigue of the Rumble to begin with – the not knowing.

Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt

Daniel Bryan (left) and Bray Wyatt (right)

By the time we’re at 29, the internet is exploding.  There’s obviously no Bray Wyatt now, or Jericho, but there could still be Bryan.  But Rey Mysterio is no. 30, surely not?!  Surely.  Poor Rey.  I remember this guy being the most popular dude in wrestling, the original ‘small guy’ champion (of the current era anyway).  But haters gonna hate – the fans booed and booed.  The word on the chat rooms was that Rey is now rubbish (is he?).  Whatever he is, he’s definitely not Daniel Bryan.  But do you know who’s worse than Rey Mysterio?  Batista of course!   Of course now people want  Punk or Reigns to win.  They don’t.  Batista wins.  Boos ring out as they have been for minutes.  The world realises this has actually happened.  We later learn that Bryan was never meant to be in it, Batista flips off the crowd, and Mick Foley goes mental on Twitter.  It all becomes a worldwide Twitter trend, drowned out only by the Grammys, where a similar reaction might have occurred if Daft Punk weren’t even nominated, and instead Miley Cyrus wins, before twerking in the face of a poor, starving orphan.

My instant reaction is that this Rumble is a boring crock of shit.  And it stays with me today, and after looking at the reaction of 95% of the technology wielding, English speaking public, it’s justified.  Daniel Bryan thanks fans for the support and says the ‘machine’ never had him booked to begin with.  Vince McMahon, HHH and whatever other boneheads who made this decision missed a serious trick here.  Granted, you don’t always have to give the fans what you want, but at least pretend you might.  Put Bryan in the Rumble and have him lose.  Make an announcement before the event that he’s injured, kayfabe or otherwise.  Lower expectations if you have to.  Don’t expect a past-it star who peaked years ago, and who isn’t as popular as an Austin, Rock or Hogan, to be a popular winner, as a heel or face.  Maybe it’s a lack of competition that are making the WWE mess up.  All that’s left is TNA, which relied on the same ‘past-it-legends’ mixed with a few ‘not quite headline rookies’ that the WWE did/do, but to a lesser effect.   And TNA are as good as bust now, anyway, and nowhere near a WCW or even ECW level of threat.

Is HHH really just booking all his mates in, yet again?  Has Vince McMahon got too old?  Granted, he made a lot of stupid and downright disturbing decisions in his career (incest, satanic rituals, guns, nearly necrophilia at one point), but one thing worse than a crazy decision is a boring, predictable, play-it-safe decision that enrages the millions who paid good dollar to see some good entertainment.   Maybe they just don’t like Bryan,  Maybe they really don’t give a shit about the fans.  I agree that if you always give the fans what they want things can become boring, but the fans are buying the tickets and the merchandise so there has to be a compromise – that’s how Michaels, Undertaker, Stone Cold, Rock, Punk etc. became what they are today.  But, for a company, the bottom line is money, right?  Think of all the fans and the merchandise sales they’ve lost on one bad decision, and how it will carry over to Wrestlemania (unless they slot  Bryan it somehow beforehand).

So how would I have done it?  Well, firstly, I’d have used the Nash cameo on someone else, JBL too.  But I agree with most of the line-up, as they deserved to be in it, including Kofi Kingston, who is one of those guys who gets to roll out his A-game at Rumbles.  Antonia Cesaro arguably created the highlight of the Rumble, which isn’t saying much, but it sure as hell made me dizzy.  El Torito deserved the ‘comedy cameo’ (and actually pulled off some great moves), but I would’ve used Nash and JBL on someone more shocking, if only for one night.

As for the ‘big finish’, well, I had an idea.  Bray Wyatt beat Bryan right (and interrupted Cena vs Orton), so why not have him join his brothers-in-arms – all three of them in the Rumble, to match The Shield.  And of course Bryan.  Yes, even Batista too, and even Punk for good measure.  We have a slobberknocker with Luke and Erick getting in the mix with Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins.  Meanwhile, Batista and CM Punk could go at it, taking a break to eliminate the four I just mentioned.  Reigns, in the meantime, could continue his momentum by eliminating Batista and Punk, in a double clothesline sort of scenario, sending the crowd wild.  Of course we still have Bray and Bryan in the ring, and the crowd wondering who the hell’s going to win it, as we now have three popular and realistic contenders.  And here’s the twist – Bryan hates Wyatt so much that he sacrifices himself to eliminate Bray, leaving Reigns as the winner without having to do anything (apart from beating Kane’s record of course).  It’s better than Batista.

 

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