#52: Time To Make The Rumble Royal Again
The arena is packed to the rafters with raving fans in full mark out mode. A countdown appears on the Titantron. Anticipation mounts; who’s next? Will this next entrant be the man to win the Royal Rumble? The audience roars the count. TEN! NINE! EIGHT! SEVEN! SIX! FIVE! FOUR! THREE! TWO! ONE! A klaxon blares, entrance music kicks in, the crowd goes wild, regardless of who it is. Jeers, cheers, it makes no matter. Those unengaged by foemen in the ring will look down the aisle to see who their next foe is, perhaps feeling dismay if the fresh man is a heavy hitter. Some entrants will walk casually to the ring, others will sprint with purpose, some may even fail to make it to the ring at all due to a cowardly attack by a jealous rival when their back is turned. One thing is for certain; there is nothing in the world of wrestling to compare to the unadulterated excitement of the Royal Rumble. More than any other event in the calendar- and I include Wrestlemania in this- the Rumble has the power to turn us all into children again, to make us sit back, forget the cynicism and just mark out. The reverse battle royal is, in a sense, what professional wrestling is all about. The stakes are high, the in-ring action is unpredictable and the match is action packed from beginning to end. At the time of writing, this magical event is a mere six weeks away.
With TLC a successfully in the books, I find myself more excited about my perennial favourite event of the year than I have in a long time. I also find myself coming full circle in my column writing career and in my fandom. Almost a year ago, having been writing in the Columns Forum for around nine months, a competition to find the next main page columnist was announced, the second incarnation of the CF version of NXT, a tournament in which I reached the semi-finals. I threw my hat into the ring with a column about my passion for the Rumble and my sadness at its decreasing importance. For those of you who haven’t heard the tale before, I discovered professional wrestling at the age of ten when a friend showed me a tape of Royal Rumble 1990; enthralled by the likes of ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude and Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, I fell in love with wrestling…and never forgot why. It was all down to the Royal Rumble. I’ve always been a Rumble guy. The column I published on the fourth of January has stayed with me ever since, mainly due to the fact that it was, I suppose, the last truly “innocent” column I wrote. NXT was such a seasoning process that I came out of it a very different wrestling journalist than I went into it. And yet, here I am, in another wrestling writing competition, talking about the Royal Rumble. How time distorts!
So, back in the early part of January 2013, I pointed out some of the ways in which WWE had devalued the Royal Rumble, and to be honest, I didn’t realistically think that most of the problems I pinpointed would ever be fixed. I foresaw the winter classic fading away, and yet knew at the same time that I’d always love it, however far it was degraded. I’m pleased to say, sitting here in December 2013, that many of the issues I had with the recent booking of the event seem to be well on the way to being solved. I suppose it just goes to show that one should never lose one’s sense of hope, particularly with wrestling shows one has a particular affinity for.
Back then, I said that special attraction and nostalgia entrants were ruining the kayfabe credibility of the Rumble match itself. 2011 and 2012 represented the nadir of this loathsome trend, with the forty entrant stipulation of 2011 overusing the “legends” to a ludicrous degree, and with 2012’s edition featuring all three announcers climbing into the ring only to be thrown straight out to resume their commentary. I was therefore pleased to see 2013’s edition feature only Goldust- who would return later in the year to magnificent effect- and The Godfather, whose entrance alone makes him worth the place. This year, with increased importance attached to the match, I am hoping for the grand total of zero surprise entrants. WWE have a massive roster, can fill the places with no problem, and have nothing to gain from putting in superfluous names from the past. It’s time the Rumble regained its urgency by losing the “family fun” feel it has worn in recent years.
I also noted that Elimination Chamber and Money in the Bank had rained on the Rumble’s parade by essentially duplicating its storyline role. Part of the problem there, in hindsight, was to do with the brand split, and then latterly, the fact that the brand split had been eroded to the extent that one of the two championships felt less important than the other. With last Sunday’s unification, that problem has essentially been solved. Now, the Rumble winner will presumably face the WWE World Heavyweight Champion at Wrestlemania, and that title holder will be the man who comes out of the Elimination Chamber unscathed. Therefore, the chamber and the reverse battle royal are suddenly fulfilling two distinct roles. Similarly, Money in the Bank this July will be a briefcase that guarantees a shot at one belt. That makes a massive difference. Suddenly, the Wrestlemania title shot becomes a genuinely special prize again, and the speculation about who may win it becomes genuinely exciting again.
A final danger I highlighted almost a year ago is the fact that Rumble winners have curtain jerked or gone on at the midway point in recent years. Whatever you may think about Cena’s win this year, at least it meant that the top guy in the company won the Rumble and challenged for the title in the main event. You know what that is? It’s precedent. You may not have realised at the time, but by booking John Cena to win the 2013 event, WWE have restored the shine to the event. So long as the match was being won by Vince creatures that no-one cared much about- Del Rio, Sheamus- it was destined to be something less than it used to be. But now? It’s a match that propels you into the main event. Pittsburgh is a brilliant wrestling city, an underrated wrestling city, the home of Kurt Angle for crying out loud. If Daniel Bryan clotheslines his last remaining opponent and throws his arms in the air, chanting “YES! YES! YES!” then the roof is going to come off the place.
I have spent the past six months, in concert with my Right Side of the Pond cohorts, talking about the way WWE have suddenly got everything right- booking, long term storytelling, match quality- and the result has been every single event acquiring a sense of importance. If you miss the pay-per-view, if you miss Raw, you might miss something significant. Now, apply that maxim to the Royal Rumble. Exciting, no? Summerslam 2013 was an all-time top 5 iteration of that pay-per-view. Something tells me that we may well be in for an all-time great Royal Rumble match and overall show for the first time since 2009, when, coincidentally, Randy Orton was on a fantastic villainous run at the top.
In six weeks, WWE will get the Road to Wrestlemania well and truly underway. And this time, I truly believe that they are not going to botch it. TLC was terrific in execution and build, but Royal Rumble 2014 is going to be truly epic, a big four event restored to greatness in the way Summerslam was a few months back. Dare you miss it? Dare you play the cynic any longer?
This is Maverick, requesting flyby.