I normally use my birthday (1/23) to grant myself a rare indulgence and post something introspective. The truth is, I wrote something lengthy—twice—about certain themes and lessons taught to me in my youth that seem to have been abandoned by young and old alike (but mostly by the young) in more recent years. There was going to be a lot of stuff in there about how winners don’t use drugs, and about how Phil Mickelson’s a hero who doesn’t need to apologize to anyone, and about how entitled young people have become over the last fifteen years, blah, blah, blah.
Rather than irradiate my readers with my old-fashioned but salient worldview, however, I’ve decided to write about a professional wrestling show.
The 2013 Royal Rumble takes place this Sunday in Phoenix, Arizona. Crowds in the western U. S. are somewhere near the bottom of the wrestling fan pecking order, but the entrance-heavy Royal Rumble usually gets the best pops possible from even a mediocre crowd. Let’s hope that happens. At least it’s not at a huge venue. Nothing is more of a buzzkill for we poor slobs watching from our living rooms than
seeing hearing a live audience that’s largely indifferent to the proceedings. Fingers crossed. Here’s a preview of the PPV:
Antonio Cesaro (champion) vs. The Miz – United States Championship: This will be part of the free pre-show. Cesaro is a great athlete and wrestler, and his character work has made major strides in recent months. Meanwhile, Miz got turned face either because he has a starring role in a WWE “Films” movie that comes out in March, because management felt like his character needed a shake-up, or possibly both. Either way, this is a no-brainer. Cesaro wins.
I’m a Miz fan, but the best we can hope for is that he treads water long enough to be turned heel again in a few months. He’s now in that increasingly large category of guys for whom the WWE seems to have no specific direction in mind (see also Kofi Kingston, Randy Orton, the Divas Division, etc). By contrast, they have a plan for Cesaro. And it’s working. He retains.
Team Hell No (champions) vs. The Rhodes Scholars – WWE Tag Team Championships: It sure feels like the lengthy “graduation ceremony” on last week’s RAW was the “period” at the end of the Team Hell No “sentence.” This was a rare example of an angle that covered some silly ground without losing its entertainment value. Normally, which is to say “almost always,” the WWE becomes downright grating to watch when it gets too cute. Thanks to some legitimately funny writing and the skill of the two guys in play here (along with the actor who portrayed Dr. Shelby), that didn’t happen with the Team Hell No anger management angle.
Having said that, I think we’re at the end of the run with this duo. Both teams, in a way, are in “fish or cut bait” territory. They each have guys who either need to be on top of the tag division, or wrestling singles. Specifically—if the fantastic Damien Sandow is going to be a tag team wrestler, he should have a title around his waist.
The difference between the two teams is the difference in “life cycle” I highlighted a moment ago: One is at the end of its run, the other is in the middle. It makes the most sense for the Rhodes Scholars to win the belts, then retain in a rematch that might have Bryan and Kane at odds, possibly leading up to a Wrestlemania match between the two, after which Bryan can go back to being a main event singles guy. Of course, the WWE doesn’t always do what makes the most sense. Could go either way, but the Rhodes Scholars winning the belts at a big PPV seems like the right choice.
Alberto Del Rio (champion) vs. The Big Show – Last Man Standing Match for the World Heavyweight Championship: The Big Show’s current heel run, dating back to last year, has been possibly the best work of his entire career. Del Rio turning face hasn’t been as bad as I had feared, although I’m not a fan of faces harping on ethnicity. That should be something heels do. Del Rio won the title in a LMS match on Smackdown a few weeks back, which means we’ll either see Del Rio drop the belt after a very short title reign (especially in the context of the longer title runs we’ve seen over the last few years), or the Big Show will lose twice in a row.
Both outcomes carry some negatives. Del Rio with the belt solidifies his face turn. The Big Show loses some of his monster heel appeal if he loses a brutal gimmick match twice in a row. Normally, some kind of DQ finish that sets up a third match would be in order, but the match type dictates that that can’t happen.
There’s also the looming specter of the still-to-be-cashed-in MITB briefcase, something I thought would have happened long before now. I think if this match takes place before the Rumble (which is likely), I believe that cash-in will definitely happen. But I’ve been wrong about that on approximately three occasions already. Ziggler lifting the belt off of a face is more logical, but I think Big Show winning this match is the most probable outcome. So, the Giant prevails, with Ziggler possibly ready to cash in, and Big E and A. J. ready to keep interlopers at bay.
The 2013 Royal Rumble Match: Ziggler has to take #1 or #2, which, as I’ve argued forever, are the same thing, since the Rumble starts with #1 and #2 in the ring. So, Ziggler will take #1. If he already has the World Title, that will add some drama to the proceedings as he tries to make good on his vow to win the Rumble and then win the WWE Title as well at WrestleMania. I think he’ll last the longest of anyone in the match. In fact, I think he’ll be the last eliminated or second-to-last eliminated. But he won’t win.
Then there’s Ryback. Having been deprived of a fair shot against Punk in two WWE Title matches, and getting a monster push, Ryback winning the Rumble could be the stepping stone toward true upper-tier status in the company. He could win on Sunday, then, just as Cena did against JBL, win his first WWE Title by ending a long-reigning champion’s run. But he won’t win.
Then there’s the gaggle of other guys in the mix who could be elevated to the main event at any moment. Wade Barrett comes to mind, although I know some people still aren’t sold on his new finisher. Ditto for up-and-comer Cesaro. It’s a stretch, but Daniel Bryan or Kane could fit that bill if they no longer have tag team responsibilities in two months. Randy Orton and last year’s winner Sheamus could certainly present a credible main event threat for either champion come WrestleMania. Some returning surprise entrant, like Mark Henry, Christian, or even the Undertaker or HHH, could provide a nice “wild card” element. But they won’t win.
John Cena will.
And we all know it.
With the main event at WrestleMania all but settled (more on that in a minute), there is no superstar entering the Rumble this year who would be entrusted with that spot short of John Cena. You can never say anything is set in stone in the WWE—after all, Chris Jericho was reportedly slated to win the Rumble last year, only to have a frustrating, day-of change that had Sheamus win instead. But I think this is as close to set-in-stone as the WWE can get.
I’ve documented my pro-Cena stance before. He is not my favorite wrestler, but I certainly have no hatred—or even mild ill-will—for him. That’s why my only (small) objection to him winning the Royal Rumble is that it has been telegraphed so obviously.
But him winning is the right move. As I documented previously, and despite popular belief to the contrary, he has lost a lot of high-profile matches over the past three years. So much so, in fact, that the most common criticism among the anti-Cena contingent has shifted from “he never loses!” to “he loses too much to get so many title shots!”
And that’s exactly why he needs to win.
Like him or not, he’s going to be in a main-event match at WrestleMania. Him being in that match after having such a terrible (by his standards) run over the last couple of years is as kayfabe-ridiculous as him winning “Superstar of the Year” for a 2012 in which he did next-to-nothing besides lose to the two guys fighting for the title this Sunday. On the other hand, him entering somewhere around #20 and getting a few high-profile eliminations (Ryback, Ziggler) to close out a Rumble win would position Cena to seem like a deserving threat, which is important. Cena wins.
C. M. Punk (champion) vs. The Rock – WWE Championship: Certain theories of quantum physics hold that every outcome that can happen does happen, albeit in one of an infinite number of alternate quantum realities. With that in mind, I present the two most likely universes in which we will be living come Sunday night.
Universe One: The Rock, a man who has wrestled one singles match in the last eight years or so, defeats the longest-reigning WWE champion of the modern era by running through the usual array of “Rock stuff.” Rock Punches. Rock Bottom. Eyebrow and Elbow, both of the People variety. With the Shield barred from interfering (lest C. M. Punk forfeit his title), the Rock manages to out-wrestle a guy who has successfully defended his championship against every top performer currently on the WWE roster.
The Rock’s celebration is interrupted by a victorious John Cena, who comes out to a mixed reaction to help Rock fight off The Shield post-match, then shakes hands with the Rock as they first stare at one another. The duo then moves their attention to the WrestleMania banner hanging in the rafters as the PPV fades to black. Punk’s “rematch” comes in the form of an Elimination Chamber bout next month, in which he fails to regain the title after being eliminated by someone other than The Rock. Cena wins the rematch against The Rock at WrestleMania, capturing his first WWE Title in several years.
This is the most obvious outcome to my mind, and the one that has been telegraphed, as I mentioned before. What I don’t like about it is that it takes a guy who has been built up as a champion of historic proportions (Punk) and discards him in favor of a performer who works about ten shows per year, and will be gone 48 hours after WrestleMania.
If Punk is to lose, it should be at the hands of someone who can be elevated into that elite tier by virtue of the win—or at least someone who will be in the company full-time. I referenced this before, but, when JBL was a heel WWE champion for nine months, he finally lost to John Cena at WrestleMania. Whatever you think about Cena, that was a good business decision. JBL’s title reign had been built up such that Cena’s win was all the more meaningful. Why have a guy who has had the most notable single title reign in modern history finally lose the belt for the sake of The Rock’s eighth WWE Title run, rather than to enhance someone like Dolph Ziggler? Not only that, but why have that match take place somewhere other than WrestleMania?
The answer is obvious, of course. If that comes to pass, it will be a signal that the WWE still doesn’t believe that Punk can truly headline a WrestleMania. They know Rock and Cena will equal a strong buyrate, just as their match last year did. Especially in this economic climate, the WWE betting on what it perceives to be a sure thing is more likely than the company finally giving that final vote of confidence to a performer who hasn’t even been in the last match of most of the PPVs during his title reign. Maybe Punk then goes on to battle the Undertaker (or, in a pipe dream, Steve Austin) at WrestleMania.
Universe Two: If there is one reasonably plausible way that that first, very likely scenario won’t come to pass, it goes something like this . . .
The Shield’s motives have been somewhat unclear (other than “heels good! faces bad!”). Here, if they interfere, C. M. Punk loses his
belt championship. The Rock losing cleanly to anyone other than John Cena is an incredibly remote possibility. So, how does Punk keep his title without the help of The Shield?
When Lesnar (a Paul Heyman guy, after all) departed the WWE some months back, promising he would “never” return, he did so via an oddly-amateurish backstage Tout video. The Shield’s vignettes have been delivered via a similar means, albeit in longer, non-Tout form. Brock Lesnar has also been quietly promoted in the “Best of 2012″ DVD commercials recently. Brock, who boasts a famous sword tattoo that runs from his neck to his waist, could return to align himself with Heyman, The Shield, and Punk.
Doing so accomplishes quite a bit without creating the same problems that Punk losing to Rock does. To wit:
1. Punk keeps his title, rather than having a part-timer interrupt his record-setting reign.
2. Rock vs. Brock is a WrestleMania “casual fan” draw that’s comparable to Cena vs. Rock.
3. That match also frees up Cena vs. Punk as one of the main events at WrestleMania.
4. Cena and Rock can still have their rematch . . . at WrestleMania XXX.
Everybody wins. The Rock can battle Lesnar in a buyrate-building match at WrestleMania. Punk drops his title down the road, maybe to Cena, maybe to an up-and-comer, but, either way, to someone committed to the WWE for the next couple of years at least, not to mention the fact that Punk vs. Cena is an attractive match at WrestleMania. There’s also a ready-made main event for next year’s WrestleMania, which is bigger than usual by virtue of boasting a number that ends in a zero (or, for you Romans, an “X”). Finally, The Shield storyline begins to make a lot of sense, with Heyman confirmed as the one pulling the strings. If the members of The Shield want to position themselves to be a renegade group that rights injustice in WWE, what better (heel) way to do that than to make it clear they’re an anti-establishment force aligned with Paul Heyman misfits like Lesnar and Punk.
The truth is, the world we see around us is probably Universe One, even though many of us would like to live in Universe Two. The Rock probably wins the title, he probably fights off a post-match attack from The Shield with help from John Cena, and Cena wins the belt at WrestleMania.
I’m not getting my hopes up too high for the Rumble this time after last year’s very pedestrian effort. But Rocky’s involvement (as well as Heyman’s and Punk’s) makes for some unpredictable storytelling that should be a major upgrade over the 2012 version of this event, lowered expectations notwithstanding.