Wrestling expert Jim Jividen breaks down the most exciting event of the WWE pay-per-view calendar.
Everyone fought hysterically. It was complete anarchy. Everybody fought everybody else. No group fought together for long. Two, three, four, fought one, then turned to fight each other, were themselves attacked. Blows landed below the belt and in the kidney, with the gloves open as well as closed, and with my eye partly opened now there was not so much terror. I moved carefully, avoiding blows, although not too many to attract attention, fighting group to group. The boys groped about like blind, cautious crabs crouching to protect their midsections, their heads pulled in short against their shoulders, their arms stretched nervously before them, with their fists testing the smoke-filled air like the knobbed feelers of hypersensitive snails. In one comer I glimpsed a boy violently punching the air and heard him scream in pain as he smashed his hand against a ring post. For a second I saw him bent over holding his hand, then going down as a blow caught his unprotected head. I played one group against the other, slip- ping in and throwing a punch then stepping out of range while pushing the others into the melee to take the blows blindly aimed at me. The smoke was agonizing and there were no rounds, no bells at three minute intervals to relieve our exhaustion. The room spun round me, a swirl of lights, smoke, sweating bodies surrounded by tense white faces. I bled from both nose and mouth, the blood spattering upon my chest.
-Ralph Ellison “Battle Royal”
It’s rarely discussed, but great African-American literature motivates much of the WWE calendar; Survivor Series is based on a passage from Baldwin’s Go Tell it On the Mountain, First Corinthians Dead, the unifying character from Morrison’s Song of Solomon, was the creative genesis for the new heel stable, The Shield, and if you can read this stanza from Langston Hughes’s “The Weary Blues”:
“I got the Weary Blues
And I can’t be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can’t be satisfied–
I ain’t happy no mo’
And I wish that I had died.”
…and not see Vincent Kennedy McMahon weeping his way through a reading after Native American Tatanka turned on Lex Luger – then Mister, you’re a better man than I.
The Rumble’s Sunday from…Phoenix, that’s right. Here’s what we got.
WWE Championship: CM Punk(c) vs The Rock
CM Punk has been the WWE Champion for 430 days; the longest reign since Hogan’s first – here’s what I wrote when previewing Summer Slam back in August:
Punk’s on a historically significant title run; he took the strap last summer during the brief stretch when he caught fire with the sports culture at large and then regained it from Alberto del Rio in a Survivor Series 3 way. This is still that run – the longest since Cena’s from ’06-07 – and if he can make it to the end of the year, it’s the longest WWE Title reign since Hogan’s first, almost 30 years ago. Were he to survive at SummerSlam, that’s all he should be talking about, every match should be his doing whatever he could possibly do to make it to the Rumble as Champ (where, incidentally, the Rock will be taking on whomever holds the belt).
It’s a winner, right? It wins for me, at least; you can see the clip package where Punk discusses his superiority to every champ for the past three decades – and given that Punk is now a bad guy or at least evolving toward bad guy status, that gives him an easy weasel character and puts over the value of the title belt, which, since the Rock will now be in play for it, is probably an emphasis they want to make. Of course, given that I think the best booked show on television is Jerseylicious (particularly a season ago when Olivia kicked Tracy in the head and shouted throughout the club “This is a shoot! It’s a damn shoot!”)
And that’s what they’ve done; they’d added the always good – literally in every frame of television he’s in — Paul Heyman, to serve as Punk’s second. They’ve created a heel act, The Shield, utilizing two very promising developmental wrestlers who were noted in the independents (Rollins/Ambrose) spawned from protecting this belt for Punk, and created a program that, like Honky Tonk’s run as IC Champ, will grow in importance over time.
If wrestlers ever got obituaries whose first sentence didn’t include the phrase “drug cocktail” this title run would be in the first line of Punk’s.
The booking of this match is super interesting; my working premise remains that Rock goes over and faces a Rumble winning Cena at Wrestlemania. Cena is WWE’s top star; Rock is, obviously, the biggest mainstream celebrity ever produced by the promotion, last year’s Mania did good business, and this would be the rematch where Cena goes over and all is right with the WWEUniverse.
The business question that has to be batted around in whatever Titan Tower is called now must be: does Rock/Cena need the title belt? Because if he doesn’t – if just the idea of Rock at Wrestlemania draws about the same number of eyes regardless of program, maybe he doesn’t win (through Shield screwjob, presumably) as that allows for the possibility that a suggested Punk/Undertaker Wrestlemania match would have a Title Run v. Unbeaten Streak storyline that would really add some value to that matchup. I’d be inclined, were my opinion asked, to go in that direction.
From a wrestling perspective, the Rock hasn’t shown he can do much anymore – but this will be the first time he’s in the ring with a worker of Punk’s quality during this run, so it should be a good enough match. I assume Rock takes Punk’s belt, but it’s up in the air enough that if match results interest you, there’s value in the Rumble.
World Heavyweight Championship: Alberto Del Rio (c) vs The Big Show
When last we left our continuing story, at Survivor Series 2012, Show kept the WWE secondary title in a DQ finish with Sheamus. He dropped that earlier this month to Del Rio, who has made a clunky face turn, which apparently was largely motivated by an understandable desire to provide an Hispanic babyface given Mysterio’s age related decline and Mistico’s looking like a bust. It’s a fresh turn, but Del Rio’s act doesn’t look like a good babyface fit. I assume he keeps the belt, as Show’s been a placeholder for years, and it makes more sense to turn Orton (speaking of bad babyface fits) and have him feud with a titleholding Del Rio. This will not be a good match.
WWE Tag Team Championship: Team Hell No (Daniel Bryan & Kane)(C) vs Team Rhodes Scholars (Cody Rhodes & Damien Sandow)
Wrestling’s a rare sport where you sometimes actively root for your favorite guy to lose. I’m a 49er fan; I won’t struggle with for whom I’m pulling at the Super Bowl; but as a Bryan Danielson fan, I’m really hoping this ends his tag title run. Kane/Bryan have been a comedy tag act since September; it’s been top end WWE comedy, which doesn’t make it funny, but it means you’d largely not be embarrassed having to watch it. What it hasn’t provided are many good wrestling matches. WWE has a lot of weekly programming to make, so when they have a performer as talented as Danielson, the inclination to dump him into the sketchy vignette portion of the show is too tempting to pass up (and to be fair, the Smackdown where they did the Gone with the Wind parody and Kane came down the stairs wearing the curtains is destined to be an all time classic – I always love it when Justin Roberts can’t keep a straight face and breaks during a sketch, shit cracks me up). It’s probably beneath pointing out that the original (totally uninformed) knock on Danielson was that he had no personality, and in this program his wrestling ability has been almost entirely unimportant. The match will probably be too short to amount to anything. I think it’s a switch, probably Danielson’s stuck losing to Kane at Mania.
30 Man Royal Rumble Match
There will also be a women’s match added, but other than that – this might be the whole card.
I’m all the way on one side of the workrate end of the “things I like about pro wrestling” continuum; my 25 Best Matches of 2012 are listed below, and I know the storylines for very few of them – but even I love me some Royal Rumble. Like pizza, even when it’s bad it’s still fun to consume.
Here are the currently named entrants:
That’s half the field – the Rumble’s a tough predict given the Elimination Chamber stips that award title shots in February. I’d guess, as mentioned, that it’s Cena, winning here to set up the Mania match with the Rock. In my world, Danielson goes over, takes from Punk at the main event of Mania, and then begins the greatest workrate title run in promotion history. My second choice would be Lesnar, winning here, and turning babyface in the build to face Punk at Mania; assuming Brock re-signs, I’d put him over there and keep the belt on him for a year, having him work the big 3 PPVs against Punk/Danielson/Swagger until he dropped at next year’s Mania (probably to the Undertaker, although for workrate reasons, my choice is always Danielson). Neither of those things happens, instead it’s Cena.
The other element in considering the booking is Ziggler’s still got the briefcase. If Del Rio keeps but gets laid out by the Show, he could cash in. Rock could go over, win the belt, then get laid out by the Shield allowing Ziggler to cash in, if they wanted to move away from a Rock/Cena rematch and instead let the Rock give the rub to someone who needs it. A Rock/Ziggler Mania is much more appealing to me than Rock/Cena. They could do all sorts of booking – Rock takes from Punk, Shield takes Rock out, Ziggler takes from Rock – Rock enters Rumble, wins – Cena takes from Ziggler next month and they still get Rock/Cena. Lots of things they could do. I’m going to assume it’s shortest distance between two points – Rock beats Punk, Cena wins Rumble – and there that is.
Pre-show: US Championship: Antonio Cesaro (c) vs. The Miz
In the race for World’s Worst Babyface, Del Rio and even Orton are laps behind Miz, whose dominant character trait has always been smarm. It looks like they’ll try to stick a returning Ric Flair with Miz, and when that happens, Miz will get whatever tertiary belt (quick – who is IC Champ? Wade Barrett) it is he’s chasing. Seems like error to do that on a pre-show.
That’s the show – the Rumble’s always worth watching; Rock/Punk will be as well. However, there’s unlikely to be a great match coming from this show, and there certainly won’t be one which will make the 2013 Best Wrestling Matches of the Year list. These were 2012’s Matches of the Year:
1. Match of the Year: Kota Ibushi (The Wrestler of the Year) v. Kenny Omega (DDT August)
2. Richards v. Elgin (ROH March)
3. Richards v. Elgin (PWG September)
4. Omega v. Kai (AJPW May)
5. Low Ki/BxB Hulk/Tozawa v. Pac/Mochizuki/Ricochet (DGUSA March)
6. Kotaro/Aoki v. Marvin/Crazy (NOAH, March)
7. Richards/O’Reilly v. Edwards/Cole (March, ROH)
8. Richards v. Edwards (December, 2011 ROH)
9. Morishima v. Go (NOAH July)
10. Ibushi v. Generico (DDT September)
11. Ibushi v. Generico (DDT October)
12. Tanahashi v. Suzuki (NJPW October)
13. Yoshino/Gargano v. Fox/DKid (Oct DG)
14. CIMA/Fox v. Ricochet/Swann (July DGUSA)
15. Devitt v. Pac (NJPW, June)
16. Ibushi v. Generico (The Feud of the Year) (DDT May)
17. Bryan v. Punk (May, WWE)
18. Okada v. Naito (March, New Japan)
19. Tanahashi v. Okada (June New Japan)
20. Nakajima/Kensuke v. Otani/Hashimoto (Zero One, March)
21. Hulk/Tozawa v. Shingo/Yamato (December, 2011 Dragon Gate)
22. Steen v. Elgin (October ROH)
23. Nakajima v Tanaka (Diamond Ring, September)
24. Generico/Yoshino/Pac v. Tozawa/Steen/Super Dragon (Jan PWG)
25. Steen v. Generico (ROH March)