Lack of ability to book heels properly is a huge problem for the WWE

Craig Wilson

He may be Intercontinental Champion but way he is booked leaves a lot to be desired.

Barrett: He may be Intercontinental Champion but way he is booked leaves a lot to be desired.

Sunday night’s Royal Rumble event really got me thinking more about the strength of the WWE roster. Few will doubt the number of very over good guys the organisation has but the same cannot be said for heels on the roster, strong and over heels are few and far between. Take the results from the show, bar the pre-show victory for Cesaro, every match so the faces triumph from Kane and Daniel Bryan beating Rhodes and Sandow, Alberto Del Rio besting The Big Show, The Rock triumphing over Punk and of course Cena reigning supreme in the Rumble match.

Another example is the Rumble match itself. That match ended with the following five competitors in the ring: Dolph Ziggler, John Cena, Ryback, Randy Orton and Sheamus. Four of the final five Rumble competitors were faces with only one heel in that mix. Does that not say it all? As far as I am concerned this is a microcosm of everything that I feel is wrong with the current WWE product. Not only are there very few top heels, those that are heels struggle to look impressive and regularly find themselves on the receiving end of defeats at the hands of the promotion’s good guys.

So, who are the WWE’s top heels, in terms of full-time talent? Unquestionably CM Punk is the number one bad guy in the promotion and is joined on the list by The Big Show, Wade Barrett and Dolph Ziggler. Brock Lesnar is undoubtedly a huge draw as a heel but works only a limited schedule and, although returning as a face, a Jericho heel turn cannot be far off but he’s only contracted until around Wrestlemania 29 time.

Many, myself included, had anticipated that Ziggler would be the stand-out performer of the Rumble match. How wrong we were. His elimination count amounted to two: Chris Jericho and The Godfather. Generally viewers were treated to Ziggler doing what he does best, i.e. selling but in a Rumble environment that generally looked more like hanging on desperately to avoid elimination rather than looking strong in the ‘iron man’ role.

Current Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett is another one of the WWE’s big heels but the fact that the plans for his next feud appear to revolve round ‘The Intercontinental Cup’, a tournament hosted on WWE Main Event, doesn’t bode well for him. His battle with Bo Dallas, stemming from the NXT star eliminating him from the Rumble, is interesting in the classic ‘rookie v established star’ mould but is not going to take Barrett to the next level.

What is more surprising still is that in the past few months the WWE have turned both The Miz and Alberto Del Rio face, albeit to quite contrasting levels of success. Since his turn The Miz has found himself in obscurity amongst the land of faces that is the WWE locker room and leaves this writer wondering exactly what the point of that turn was.

It increasingly seems less and less that heels in the WWE are allowed the opportunity to win and look strong in the process. The company needs to do a much better job of building up heels and allowing them to establish some measure of credibility.

Attention Cena Haters – I have An Idea…

Jamie Lithgow

The IWC has been less than pleased with Cena's Rumble win.

The End is Nigh: The internet wrestling community has been less than pleased with Cena’s  Royal Rumble win.

So John Cena has won the Royal Rumble and now has the opportunity to face either The Rock or CM Punk at Wrestlemania 29, but let’s face it, he’s going to face Rocky. Things can always change and there’s always the chance that the internet wrestling community has got things totally wrong, but odds are Cena will battle The Great One for the WWE title a year on from their ‘once in a life time’ collision. I’m not here to complain about the outcome of the matches from Sunday’s Royal Rumble PPV. Much as I disagree with the idea of Rock/Cena II I was fully prepared to see it fall into place, watching it fall into place with one single elbow drop to the champion of 434 days was a little hard to take though.

This match has been on the cards for months and looks to be all but official now, but rather than complain about it let’s consider how this might actually be a good thing. This idea was brought to me by my friend Dave, but on hearing it I am really sold on the idea of John Cena finally turning heel in the not too distant future.

I could waste thousands of words explaining the positives of a John Cena heel turn, but I think most wrestling fans over the age of 10 are sold on the prospect of Cena as a bad guy so there’s no need to dwell on this point. It’s equally not worth going into the detail of why he hasn’t turned heel yet, it’s as simple as merchandise sales. Instead let’s look at how this could work.

Firstly there was a moment in this year’s Rumble match that reminded me of the Hogan/Warrior face-off from the 1990 match. When Cena went toe-to-toe with Ryback I got the impression that WWE were testing the waters for the proverbial torch being passed, much like with Hogan and Warrior. It is clear that Ryback is being groomed to join Cena as an untouchable babyface, but instead of a partner are WWE grooming a replacement?

A Cena heel turn would mean no more cash cow for WWE, in the direct sense of the word that is. His merch sales could take a hit, but think about what a heel Cena could do for a babyface Ryback? Fans of all ages would hate Cena, meaning any opponent of his would benefit from huge positive reactions. 2013 could be the year that an already well liked Ryback could chase a despised Cena to win his first WWE Championship. WWE clearly doesn’t care how much Ryback resembles Goldberg so why not follow the blueprint to the letter and replicate Goldberg’s first WCW Title victory over mega babyface turned despised heel Hollywood Hogan? This turned Goldberg from a hot prospect into a mega star; John Cena could do the same for Ryback. Obviously WWE would need to show more sense than WCW and book the match on PPV, and also not have Ryback’s title reign end courtesy of an alcoholic brandishing a Taser.

The internet wrestling community often fantasises about a Cena heel turn but I believe it is now or never. WWE needs new stars and John Cena is literally standing in the way. Instead of standing in the way, Cena could stand opposite them. Instead of John Cena brining in all the cash Ryback and other wrestlers would have the chance to grow and generate revenue, aided by the superstar rub that John Cena would provide.

Not only is it imperative that WWE creates new stars but the time is right to do it; Ryback has emerged now, not two years in the future. Also, Brock Lesnar has signed a new two year deal, The Rock is no longer a stranger to the WWE, more frequent Undertaker appearances are being predicted and Triple H can always step in. There are plenty superstar names to cover the loss of John Cena from the babyface team in the short term. Long term Cena would put rising babyfaces like Ryback over, increasing their star power and credibility, which would in turn reduce the reliance on the Attitude Era old guard.

Coming back to those precious merchandise sales, WWE has a couple of in built insurance policies. Firstly The Rock must sell a ton of merch so there’s always that option whenever he shows up. Also, if John Cena were the top bad guy that would eventually lead to CM Punk becoming a good guy, being that he is as close to a nemesis as John Cena has. I’m mentioning this because for a period towards the end of 2011 CM Punk actually out sold John Cena at the merchandise stands. With that said, when Hulk Hogan turned heel his merchandise sales didn’t exactly suffer did they?!

One final reason that I think a Cena heel turn is immanent is the prospect of another match with The Rock. If you take Rock/Cena II at face value it is just too predictable, even for WWE. How can they hope to get away with presenting the same match twice? Fair enough the outcome will be different, but if both men finish as babyfaces then it will leave zero interest in a potential third meeting, which I’m sure WWE are dying to promote already. Cena will obviously win at Wrestlemania because Rocky has movies to make and owes SuperCena a win. This is even more predictable than The Rumble, so surely there must be a twist somewhere? Cena will beat Rock, that’s for sure, but who says he will win clean? If Cena were to ever turn heel then it has to happen on the biggest stage possible. Look at how Steve Austin turned heel; in his second Wrestlemania main event with The Rock. The screwy finish ensured a motivation to book this match a third time at Wrestlemania.

Oh, and as an added bonus reason for a Cena heel turn, can you imagine the interest in Raw if Cena were to cheat in order to beat The Rock? Moreover, can you imagine how hysterical Michael Cole would get when looking at the Twitter stats for such a scenario?!

So there you go, my theory for a John Cena heel turn. I do have a plan B though. If John Cena hasn’t turned heel by April 8th 2013 we should all just ignore the tit! No more “Cena sucks” chants, just ignore him. In wrestling any reaction is a good reaction, so don’t give him a reaction. That’s my call to arms to all Cena haters; if he doesn’t turn heel we should just ignore him until he goes away!

Raw Rewind: 27 January 1997

Craig Wilson

The fourth part of the #Rawrewind see’s us in Beaumont Texas for a Raw filmed after last week’s show. We’re now 3 weeks away from ‘In Your House: The Final Four’ and this show is all about hyping that event.

Champion Roll Call:

WWF Champion: Sycho Sid
WWF Intercontinental Champion: HHH
WWF Tag Team Champions: Owen Hart and the British Bulldog

Your hosts are Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler and Vince McMahon.

Match 1 Ahmed Johnson v Crush: Ahmed is out first as we see footage of Savio Vega turning on Ahmed from that weekend’s show at Madison Square Garden. Crush comes out surrounded by Nation of Domination people. Crush attacks Ahmed on the outside. Ahmed Johnson then makes a comeback with a scissor kick to the neck before he continues to beat on Crush. Ahmed hits a big punch to the corner and a reverse kick that takes Crush down. He takes too long, though, and misses with a big elbow. Crush counters with an atomic drop and a belly-to-belly suplex.

Crush has Ahmed in a body scissors as Farooq looks on from the isle. Ahmed fights back and drops Crush down to the mat. Crush gets a near fall but Ahmed catches him coming off the top rope with a dropkick before clotheslining him to the outside. Crush distracts the referee as Farooq attacks Ahmed on the outside before Crush hits the heart punch for the victory.

Your winner: Via pinfall, Crush with a heart punch. This is, of course, about furthering Ahmed v NOD feud and did exactly what it needed to do.

We get an in-ring interview next with the WWF Champion Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon. Vince hypes Michaels’ rematch at Thursday Raw on February 13 1997 against Psycho Sid. We also get a bit of promotion ahead of the Final Four match at the next In Your House featuring The Undertaker, Bret Hart, Vader and Stone Cold Steve Austin. HBK informs us that being WWF Champion is where he wants to be. On cue, Vince then brings out Bret ‘the Hitman’ Hart. Vince then tries to interview Hart but has the microphone grabbed from his hand as Hart unleashes on HBK. Vince then introduces another Final Four entrant, The Undertaker.

The Undertaker begins to talk about respect with Hart before speaking about how tired he is to hear about Hart moaning about being screwed. We then get introduced to ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, who JR catches in the aisle to interview. Vader looks on as Austin walks backstage.

Match 2: The British Bulldog (w/ Owen Hart and Clarence Mason ) v Doug Furnas (w/ Phil LaFon): The two lock up early doors before a dropkick sends the Bulldog to the outside. A splash in the corner then gets a two count for Furnas. A Bulldog-esque suplex then gets Furnas a two count.

The Bulldog takes the fight to Furnas on the outside and attacks him with the ring steps. We cut to the backstage where Ahmed Johnson is on the hunt for the NOD. We return as The Bulldog continues to beat down Furnas.

Furnas fights back as he and The Bulldog trade chops before a piledriver attempt is reversed into a backbody drop. Furnas then fights back with a drop kick and a big powerslam for a two count. A head scissor attempt is then countered into a powerbomb from The Bulldog for a two.

Hart tries to attack Furnas with the Slammy but The Bulldog is thrown into Hart but the Bullodg is able to recover with a pinfall with the win.

Your winner: The British Bulldog via pinfall. A good match as we continue to see dissention in the ranks between Owen and The Bulldog. Dissention that would continue until Bret Hart intervenes in a few months time.

We then go to MSG to see more action from Savio Vega turning on Ahmed Johnson in their tag match v Farooq and Crush. We then get an interview with Todd Pettengill and Savio Vega and action from Shotgun as Savio attacks Rocky Maivia.

Match 3: Vader & Mankind (w/ Paul Bearer) v The Godwinns (w/ Hillbilly Jim): Ahead of the Godwinns coming to the ring the WWF airs an advertisement for ‘The Superstar Line’. I’d partially forgotten about all that phone premium number lines to get “insider” news on the WWF.

Anyway, Mankind Phineas start things off and the Godwinn takes the lead with a series of punches. Mankind fights back but is caught with a boot to the face after whipping Phineas into the ropes. The Godwinns really were absolutely hopeless. A perfect example of how far behind the WWF were at the time. Vader is desperate for a tag in but Mankind ignores him as Phineas tags in Henry. Makind takes the advantage here with punches before running into one from Henry and is slammed right infront of Vader. Again Mankind ignores his partner’s attempts to tag in as Phineas is back in.

Mankind throws Phineas to the outside and at ringside Vader and Mankind go face to face. Vader the tags himself in and hits a series of huge punches to Phineas in the corner before taking the big hog farmer down with a clothesline. Vader then tags Mankind in and Foley works on Phineas in the corner. Slight comeback is foiled when Mankind rakes Phineas in the eyes. Mandible claw is locked in and a clothesline from Henry sends both to the outside.

Phineas attempts to clothesline Mankind back in but Vader holds on to his partner’s legs and the duo toss the Godwinn to the outside as Henry launches himself round and attacks Vader and throws Mankind into the steps. After the commercial break Mankind is back in control but Phineas dodges a charge into the corner and both men are down.

Vader and Henry are tagged in as Henry takes both Mankind and Vader down with clotheslines and slams Vader to the mat. Henry is distracted and caught with some big jabs but again takes Vader down, this time with a back suplex. Vader then hits a very low elbow to a prone Henry Godwinn and sends him to the outside with a clothesline. Vader then holds Henry but Godwinn ducks and Mankind nails his partner with a chair shot to the head, despite having more than enough time to stop. Mankind smiles as he makes his way to the back. We get a replay and see Mankind’s demented smile as he cracks a chair over his partner’s head.

Your winners: The Godwinns via DQ. OK enough match but this is all about the relationship between Mankind and Vader. The Godwinns were a pretty hopeless part of a woeful tag division at the time.

The shows goes off the air with an advert for next week’s Royal Rumble Raw and footage of Ahmed finally getting his hands on the Nation of Domination as he hits their car with a 2×4 as they drive off.

Overall: A storyline heavy edition of Raw. More hype ahead of the big ‘In Your House: The Final Four’ main event and further seeds of mistrust are sewn between the tag team champions of Owen Hart and The British Bulldog. The promos from Bret Hart were solid but much of the in-ring action was a bit of a letdown here.

The morning after the Royal Rumble and what it means going forward

Craig Wilson

Now that the dust has settled after a good, albeit predictable, Royal Rumble card, I’ll take a quick – I am utterly shattered – look at the evening itself and what it means going forward. Our prediction thread from yesterday will also be revisited to see how poorly, certainly for me, the predictions we made were.

Predictions

Myself and Jamie called the pre show correct, we all got tag titles match wrong, James was only one to call the Alberto Del Rio v Big Show match, James and I both incorrectly thought CM Punk would retain whilst Jamie and James both mentioned Cena as Rumble winner.

Scores:

Jamie: 3
Craig: 1
James: 2* (didn’t give a prediction for pre-show match)

What the evening’s results mean

I think the Internet Wrestling Community is somewhat united in its disappointment in both the outcome of the Royal Rumble match itself as well as The Rock ending CM Punk’s title reign. That said, few could argue that The Rock v Cena is big business and after recent years, that’s what is most important to Vince McMahon and the WWE as a whole.

Sure, the “once in a lifetime” words from last year sound so hollow now but whatever you think of their merits as performers, The Rock v Cena is a billion dollar feud. But who wins and who loses from the other matches?

Pre-show Cesaro v The Miz: As above, I predicted Cesaro to win and he duly did in what was a fairly one sided affair that Cesaro can be very happy with. Not much solace that The Miz can take from it, however. How his fortunes have changed. Headlining Wrestlemania 27 and lasting 45+ minutes in last year’s Rumble to being on the losing end in the pre-show match up at this year’s Rumble and having a fairly unsuccessful cameo in the Rumble match. Cesaro, on the other hand, needed last night’s win. He’s struggled of late with the fans not caring too much about him, something not helped by being stuck in his previous feud with R-Truth. If last night is a launching pad for bigger and better things then Cesaro could be a breakout star of 2013 in the WWE.

Alberto Del Rio v The Big Show: Now, it was only James that called this one correctly although I did um and aw before eventually plumping for The Big Show to win this. As opening PPV encounters go this was a good one and whilst ‘Last Man Standing’, or Texas Death Mathces as they were once known, traditionally end in bloodshed and carnage, it was a victory for brains over brawn with Rodriguez tying Show’s feet to the ropes preventing him from getting up from the 10 count and allowing Del Rio to retain his belt. Show, erm, showed he can still put on a good match despite age and wear and tear so I expect this one to go on a little longer. I very much doubt that ADR will go into Wrestlemania with the belt but as the results above show, I am pretty hopeless when it comes to predictions.

Team Hell No v The Rhodes Scholars: Another surprise result here, I think everyone, certainly myself, James and Jamie, predicted that Cody and Sandow would win the belts. However, it wasn’t to be. Kane and Bryan teased dissention in the Rumble match with Bryan eliminating Kane and when Kane had chance to save Bryan from elimination he didn’t. Is this one for Dr Shelby or will Team Hell No drop the belts tonight on Raw? Interesting to see what this means, also, for Rhodes Scholars. After losing individually to Kane and Bryan on television ahead of the Rumble, it was expected they’d overcome the champs to win the belts at last night’s show. Unless Rhodes and Sandow win the belts either tonight or very soon, they will be left looking weak and not as serious contenders.

Royal Rumble match: Disappointed that this one didn’t headline the show, which it always should. Couple of good spots contained within it, good to see Chris Jericho return and last an impressive 50 minutes, Goldust’s return and mini feud with Cody Rhodes was entertaining, Kofi had a nice moment in Rumble where he prevented himself from being eliminated by jumping on Tensai’s back and then onto announce table. Perhaps one of the best moments was NXT tournament winner, and third generation star, Bo Dallas getting a good run in the Rumble match and even eliminating the Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett.

However, Cena’s victory didn’t come as much of a surprise nor was the final five of Cena, Ziggler, Orton, Sheamus and Ryback. More pressing, what does last night’s Rumble mean for Ziggler? Many predicted he would last a long time, I even thought he could pick up the victory. While he did last over 50 minutes I can think of very little in the way of stand-out moments from his time in the ring. He’s still to cash the Money in the Bank in and does last night further demonstrate that Ziggler has still really to prove himself in the eyes of many in the back? I can’t help but think that it does.

Punk v The Rock: The outcome of this one has been written in stone since it was announced and I think my prediction of a Punk victory was more in hope than anything else here. Whatever your thoughts on the outcome of the match, I’m as disappointed as any, it was a very very good main event match. The lights going out and The Rock being put through a table is a bullshit thing to do on PPV – with so many people to pay to see the action – and that resulted in the ‘Dusty finish’ and then the Rock ending Punk’s 434 day title reign with an elbow drop.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, Punk is very entertaining when he is doing the chasing and that added with him now being a heel bodes very well. I think he’ll focus his ire on The Shield at tonight’s Raw and his anger at last night’s injustice will make for very interesting viewing in the coming weeks and months. I have a sneaky feeling that Punk v Rock II will take place before Rock v Cena II.

Royal Rumble 2013 Predictions

Craig Wilson, Jamie Lithgow & James Giles

This Sunday, the WWE will host their annual Royal Rumble event which is seen as the first step on the countdown to Wrestlemania. At the event itself, 30 superstars will battle for the chance to face either the WWE Champion or World Heavyweight Champion at Wrestlemania 29.

Elsewhere, CM Punk’s 434 day reign as WWE Champion faces its stiffest challenge to date in The Rock. Very few in the internet wrestling community give Punk much chance here, but can he hold on, by hook or crook, and continue his reign as WWE Champion.

Also on the card, after his surprising Last Man Standing victory over The Big Show earlier this month, Alberto Del Rio will have to do it all again if he hopes to retain his belt on Sunday Night and Team Hell No face The Rhodes Scholars for the WWE Tag Team Champions and US Champion Antonio Cesaro locks horns with The Miz in the YouTube pre-show match. Here’s Craig Wilson and Jamie Lithgow’s thoughts and predictions for Sunday’s show.

wwe-royal-rumble-2012-640x360

CesaroMiz

Antonio Cesaro © v The Miz
United States Championship
YouTube Pre-Show Match

Craig: The Miz has made heroic efforts at getting himself back involved in the WWE product and his on-going feud with Cesaro is potentially great for both. Cesaro is struggling a bit to get the crowd interested in him, that hasn’t been helped by the pointless feud with R-Truth, whilst The Miz has gone from headlining Wrestlemania 27 to not even appearing at Wrestlemania 28. This feud, over the US strap, has potential for both. I don’t see The Miz winning at the pre-show match at Sunday’s Rumble but can see this feud going on a bit longer.

Winner and still United States Champion: Antonio Cesaro.

Jamie: I’m slowly but surely warming towards Cesaro purely due to the sheer amount of talent the man has, because let’s face it he’s been given a bit of a dud character to play with. On the other hand I’m having a bit of trouble buying Miz as a babyface, he’s so clichéd. I feel like the momentum is with Cesaro in this one, he is very much on the rise while Miz is still occupying the same spot on the card he occupied before his face turn.

Winner and still US Champion: Antonio Cesaro

HellNoScholars

Team Hell No © v Team Rhodes Scholars
WWE Tag Team Championship

Craig: I’ve enjoyed this feud so far and Team Hell No have been a breath of fresh air for the tag team championship. They’ve made t he belts a more prominent part of the WWE plans. This should be a good match-up that I see Cody and Damian winning. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. Do Kane and Bryan split up or do they benefit from chasing instead of being chased and continue the feud with Rhodes Scholars?

Winners, and new tag team champions: Team Rhodes Scholars.

Jamie: It seems like these guys have been feuding on and off for ages, which is no bad thing. When the tag team division reached its peak in 2000 it consisted of the same three or four teams trading the titles with each other. For the first time in a long time WWE has a clear and recognisable tag team division and these are the top two teams. All four men or over individually but are also recognised by fans as being part of a genuine tag team too. This should be a good match at the very worst and I see Rhodes Scholars winning the belts. Bryan and Kane could use a little refresh and chasing the titles rather than being chased may do the trick.

Winners and new Tag Team Champions: Team Rhodes Scholars

James: Given that are only 4 matches on the main show, I’m guessing this will open and be given a good 10-15 minutes. I find both teams pretty entertaining and either will represent well as Tag Champions, but after 4 months it feels time for Kane and Bryan to drop the gold. Rhodes Scholars can’t chase for much longer and not win without losing some credibility, and with ADR likely to win his bout and a face likely to win the Rumble, the heels need some victories on the show too.

Winners and new tag team champions: Team Rhodes Scholars

DelRioShow

Alberto Del Rio © v The Big Show
World Heavyweight Championship
Last Man Standing Match

Craig: I was very surprised that Alberto Del Rio won the belt the last time around and I can’t see him beating The Big Show in another last man standing match. Unlike Jamie, however, I don’t see Ziggler cashing in Money in the Bank. Instead, I see Show regaining it but I can’t see him being the champion heading into Wrestlemania. I suspect Sheamus will have it back by then.

Winner, and new World Heavyweight Champion: The Big Show

Jamie: These guys have a bit of a job on to top their original match from Smackdown the other week. I’m intrigued by this match, not by the match itself but by the World Title situation in general. It’s been a long time since I’ve been interested in this title picture, I wonder if Sheamus leaving the scene had anything to do with it?! Anyway, these two know how to work a good last man standing match and I see them trying to equal or surpass their last effort. As for a winner, well I have a theory; firstly I can see The Big Show recapturing the gold, so that is my prediction for the match outcome. However, I also see Ziggler cashing in his briefcase on the big man. I have this idea purely because Show has form with this scenario. Daniel Bryan cashed in after the big man’s match with Mark Henry leaving him with a 45 second reign. Lightning could strike twice and really push Big Show to the edge, which could help ignite a new feud for the Giant.

Winner and new World Heavyweight Champion: The Big Show.

James: Despite his advancing age and weight, Big Show has pulled off some really decent performances in the last few months, and there is no reason to think this bout won’t be very watchable. Their Smackdown clash in which ADR won the gold was fun and exciting and they will probably have to pull a few bigger spots out the bag to top it. ADR is the sensible choice to win and hopefully go to Wrestlemania as the face champion. Big Show regaining the belt would achieve naff all.

Winner: Alberto Del Rio

PunkRock

CM Punk © v The Rock
WWE Championship

Craig: Everything seems to point towards The Rock winning this one. Like Jamie says, it seems to be written in stone. I, however, see Punk retaining. I don’t see it being a clean victory but I do see Punk leaving with the belt. Ideally, I see Punk’s reign running a whole lot longer. It makes whatever he does at ‘mania far more interesting. If he isn’t champ and takes on The Undertaker I just don’t deem him to be a serious threat to ‘taker’s streak. Title run v streak is very interesting. The Rock winning this match and Cena winning Rumble fills me with dread for another Rock v Cena ‘mania main event. Twice in a lifetime you say?

Winner, and still WWE Champion: CM Punk.

Jamie: It seems to be written in stone that The Rock will be winning the WWE title. You can read my thoughts on this elsewhere on this blog but it seems certain that it will happen, but will it happen at The Rumble? As a CM Punk fan I hope and pray that The Rock doesn’t defeat WWE’s top heel and most interesting performer in what would be his third match in seven years. WWE would be shooting themselves squarely in the foot by booking a movie star to defeat its top performer at the first time of asking. They should let Punk outsmart The Rock on Sunday and hold off until Elimination Chamber before making the title switch. That would leave Rock and Punk tied at 1-1 and let The Great One head to Wrestlemania where he could repay John Cena’s favour from last year to square that feud at 1-1 too. This way Rock still wins the title and he still headlines Wrestlemania against Cena, but importantly he also puts WWE’s top two performers over. That makes sense to me, but I see Rocky winning the title clean at the Rumble. It completely sucks but that’s what I think will happen.

Winner and new WWE Champion: The Rock.

James: I think their styles will gel well and the actual match will be very good, but it is hard to predict the outcome; there is no way of knowing what WWE is booking for Mania for certain, so it is based on what seems likely to happen. Many people believe WWE wants to have The Rock and Cena battle for the title at Mania, but given the way they hyped it last year it would seem a bit of a piss take. Another theory is that Punk and Undertaker will meet in a streak vs streak battle, but that would create a booking dead end; I don’t see how Punk could convincingly beat Undertaker and end the streak without it being screwy, and Undertaker can’t win the title as a part timer. Punk should retain either way and in the best situation would drop the belt to an up and coming face at Mania, helping to propel someone new into the upper card.

Winner: CM Punk

photo_1_afe97e11c80f81289b03afce4d29b27b (1)

The Royal Rumble Match
Winner Receives A WWE or World Heavyweight Title Match At WrestleMania XXIX

Craig: There are a number of serious contenders for this year’s Rumble. If The Rock wins does Cena win the Rumble and earn a Wrestlemania rematch? Does Ziggler, from number 1, take the ironman route to winning the Rumble? Does Punk retain the title and The Undertaker win the Rumble match creating a Wrestlemania streak v 434 title reign streak match at ‘mania? Or does Ryback win pushing himself firmly back into the title picture? Out of those four possibilities, the ones that appeal to me are a Ziggler win or a victory for The Undertaker. I worry slightly that Ziggler’s inability to date to cash in Money in the Bank may mean that those in the back do not have faith in him. An ironman run on Sunday could be exactly what he needs to prove any doubters wrong. A victory for The Undertaker would create an amazing Wrestlemania main event with two hugely impressive streaks on the line there. Punk would be seen, as WWE Champion, as a serious contender to end the streak. Punk without the belt wouldn’t be as much of a threat.

Your winner: The Undertaker. Ziggler will last an hour though. He’ll be in final four.

Jamie: There’s a good few contenders to pick from this year with no one superstar being obviously pushed as the focus. I could realistically see Orton, Sheamus, Ryback, Ziggler, Cena and even a surprise entry Brock Lesnar winning the match. However, looking towards the future it looks certain that Cena will face The Rock for the title at Wrestlemania and the only way for this to happen organically is by Cena winning the Rumble. Incidentally I see Ziggler having a big night. I see him cashing in his briefcase and cutting a promo about wanting to unify the titles. He won’t get to but he’ll be there at the start of The Rumble I think he’ll be there at the end too. John Cena will win but Ziggler will end the night looking like a star, until he gets jobbed out to Cena again of course.

Winner: John Cena

James: Out of the 18 participants officially announced, John Cena, Dolph Ziggler and Ryback seem to have the best chance of winning. Cena has ready made programs with either winner of the WWE championship match, Ryback has history with Punk and Ziggler could work with Punk or ADR brilliantly too. Sheamus or Orton could be dark horses and there are still 12 entrants we don’t know, so who knows who else has a chance. WWE could be planning the return of someone and go with a very left-field winner, but history shows they tend to be pretty predictable at the Rumble. All the other entrants are athletic and decent workers, so the actual action should be fairly good too.

Winner: Cena or Ziggler (too close for me to pick)

Overall thoughts

Craig: I am really looking forward to the Royal Rumble, more so than in previous years. We have a very solid undercard and a Rumble that has a number of serious contenders to win.

Buy/not buy: Buy, it’s not even in doubt.

Jamie: I have high hopes for this event but I think they will be dashed with the predictable happening. Having said that, it’s the Royal Rumble and it should be a good show either way.

Buy/not buy: Buy of course, it’s The Rumble!

James: Every match should be very watchable and entertaining. Punk Vs The Rock is the main draw, this should be bout of the night really. The direction everyone is moving in seems positive too, WWE should keep the momentum going with ADR if they want him to get over huge. The only negative for me is the likelihood of Cena winning the Rumble, but even that isn’t certain. Should be a heck of a show.

Buy/not buy: Definitely buy.

Matches from History: The 1998 Royal Rumble match

Craig Wilson

As we hit Royal Rumble weekend, it felt only right to do another Royal Rumble match as a ‘Match from History’ and today’s choice is from fifteen years ago, the 1998 Royal Rumble held on 18 January 1988 at the San Jose Arena in San Jose, California. That year’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view was headlined by the WWF title match between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, a match that saw Michaels hit his back on the casket at ringside and cause the injury that would, after Wrestlemania 14, see him take a four year break from wrestling.

Your hosts for this one are Jim Ross and Jerry ‘the King’ Lawler.

Royal_Rumble_1998Ahead of the match itself, Jim Ross leads us through a video promo highlighting why the Rattlesnake is a marked man ahead of this one and why he has a “bullseye on his chest”.

Entrant number is Cactus Jack, unfortunately this is the newer version of this match and we get overdubbed music instead of Jack’s usual entrance music. Number 2 is of course Chainsaw Charlie better known to the wrestling world as Terry Funk. Only in the attitude era can g guy get away with taking a chainsaw into the ring as Cactus Jack, armed with a steel chair, attempts to take him out. A duelling chair shots takes place, there won’t be many drop toe holds between these two… Funk takes a chair shot without putting his hands up something that now makes me wince, knowing as we do about the impact these chair shots have. Funk and Jack now trade unprotected shots to the head. Number 3 is on his way to the ring now and it is Tom Brandi, I fear this won’t work out too well for the big Italian and I’m right, he’s immediately eliminated from proceedings. A good line from Lawler that Funk’s family’s gene pool could have done with some chlorine. Funk is suplexed on to two chairs as the countdown to number four starts. Number 4 is the Intercontinental Champion, the Nation of Domination’s, The Rock. Rock looks to have the early advantage before Jack hits him with a steel can and puts it over The Rock’s head as he and Funk punch away at the can before Jack hits it with a steel chair. This sends The Rock to the outside, but through the ropes and not over. Number 5 is next and it is Headbanger Mosh as Funk throws a chair down the aisle to try and hit him with it. Christ that could have gone badly wrong if it had went into the crowd. The Rock and Jack lock up as Mosh works away on Funk and takes him down with a DDT. Funk fights back as Jack hits a running knee on The Rock in the corner. Mosh manages to roll out of the way of a Funk moonsault – the oldest moonsault in the world. The countdown is on to number 6 and Phineas Godwinn, “living proof of what happens when first cousins marry” according to JR. The unlikely duo of The Rock and Godwinn team up to beat down Mosh before Jack attacks Godwinn and Funk goes for The Rock. 8-Ball, from DOA, is next and he goes straight for The Rock. At that point DOA and NOD were in the midst of a feud that lasted all the way from Crush leaving NOD in mid 97 until a few months after this event. Cacus Jack is eliminated by Chainsaw Charlie and doesn’t quite last ten minutes here. Number 8 is Blackjack Bradshaw, the future JBL, who at this time was one of The New Blackjacks with Barry Windham. Unsurprisingly he, Mosh and Phineas trade shots in a sign of just how shit the tag team division was at that point. 8-Ball and Bradshaw trade huge blows as Charlie tries to throw out The Rock. Bradshaw and Mosh team up to attempt to eliminate 8-Ball as Phineas and The Rock nearly throw over Funk but he holds on. Number 9 is Owen Hart but he is jumped by Jeff Jarrett before he can get to the ring and Cornette hits Owen with his loaded tennis racket. At this point Jarrett was the NWA North American Champion as the NWA had a bit of an invasion angle on the go in a desperate attempt, and ultimately unsuccessful one, to get WCW viewers dissatisfied by the WCW product featuring the NWO to switch over to the WWF. It didn’t really work as the NWA by this point meant virtually nothing. Owen never made it to the ring and is helped backstage as number 10, Steve Blackman, hits the ring and he goes straight for Chainsaw Charlie and nearly eliminates him but Charlie holds on. 8-Ball then works away on Charlie and drops him with a piledriver as Bradshaw takes down Mosh with a short arm lariat. Blackman nearly eliminates Godwinn.

We’re at number 11 already and it is D’Lo Brown that makes his way to the ring and goes straight away for 8-Ball. Bradshaw and Mosh attempt to eliminate Funk as The Rock puts the boots firmly into Blackman in the corner. The NOD members of The Rock and D’Lo work on Bradshaw before The Rock and D’Lo trade punches. The huge Kurrgan is out next and he goes straight for Mosh as Bradshaw and 8-Ball level shots at Kurrgan that make no impact. Mosh goes to the top turnbuckle to attack Kurrgan but is pushed over the top and thrown out. Marc Mero, with Sable, is number 13 and gets a huge pop. Think most of it was for Sable mind… The educated fists of Mero work away on Blackman as Kurrgan and Bradshaw trade blows. Kurrgan then throws Blackman out. Funk and Mero trade punches as The Rock works away on D’Lo in the corner. Kurrgan turns his focus on Godwinn and overpowers Bradshaw as the countdown to number 14 starts. Ken Shamrock makes his way to the ring and a series of kicks takes down Kurrgan. Shamrock, Bradshaw, Phineas and 8-Ball manage to throw out Kurrgan and he’s gone. Shamrock hammers away on Godwinn in the corner as 8-Ball takes down D’Lo. The Rock and Funk trade blows as we approach the half way mark with number 15. It’s the other Headbanger Thrasher that makes his way to the ring clad in a Marilyn Manson t-shirt. Bradshaw takes Thrasher straight out. Elsewhere, Shamrock works on 8-Ball as The Rock and Funk continue to battle away. The second appearance from Mick Foley as Mankind makes his way to the ring and eliminates Chainsaw Charlie straight away. Turnabout is indeed fair play, JR. A full year ahead of their feud that would electrify the early proceedings of 1999, The Rock and Mankin go toe-to-toe. Shamrock, who earlier was very unlucky to not win the Intercontinental title, then works away on The Rock before a Rock gauge to the eyes breaks things up. 17 is next and it is The Artist formerly known as Goldust accompanied by Luna Vachon. Mankind and TAFKA Goldust battle away as Shamrock and The Rock continue to trade blows. Bradshaw and Godwinn double team Thrasher as TAFKA Goldust throws Mankind over the top rope and out. TAFKA has Mero teetering on the brink but 8-Ball interrupts that. Jeff Jarrett is next as he makes his way to the ring accompanied by Jim Cornette. Second time we’ve seen Jarrett in this Rumble after his previous attack on Owen Hart which prevented Hart making his way to the ring. Jarrett goes for his future NWA colleague Bradshaw as Hart runs to the ring and goes for Jarrett. Owen is a face at this point and gets a great reaction from the crowd. He then tosses his future tag team partner into the corner and knocks him down with a spinning heel kick and skins the cat after a failed Jarrett elimination attempt and throws Jarrett out. Mero then attacks Hart as The Honky Tonk Man makes his way to the ring to a reasonable pop. Behind Honky Tonk is HHH, on crutches, accompanied by Chyna. The Rock eliminates Shamrock as HHH distracts Owen who is in the process of throwing out Goldust. Chyna attempts to hit Owen with the crutch which Owen catches but HHH cracks him with the other crutch and eliminates him. Ahmed Johnson is number 20 and don’t be surprised if he goes for one of the Nation members. Honky Tonk works on Goldust as a prone D’Lo is kicked by Mero. Ahmed and Phineas go nose to nose. Ahmed and D’Lo trade blows as 8-Ball saves Honky Tonk from elimination at the hands of Goldust.

Mark Henry is number 21, he’s the newest member of NOD and by far the biggest. The WWF loved stables at this stage and particularly loved the gang feud they had going with NOD, DOA and Los Boricuas. Henry and D’Lo then double team Ahmed but 8-Ball comes to Johnson’s rescue. Henry then throws powder in Ahmed’s eyes as the buzzer goes for number 22 who doesn’t come out. JR and Lawler speculate if that was meant to be Austin as both Ahmed and Phineas are thrown out, by Henry and D’Lo and Henry respectively. Incidentally, 22 was meant to be Skull, from DOA, who was unable to compete due to injury. Ahmed attacks Godwinn on the outside as the two big men trade blows all the way to the back. D’Lo then works over the prone Henry as Kama Mustafa, also from the NOD, hits the ring. He pushes Ahmed away at the entrance way. Kama goes straight for 8-Ball as The Rock, the then Intercontinental champion, works away on the former Intercontinental champion The Honky Tonk Man. D’Lo comes to The Rock’s aid as Kama works away on 8-Ball before turning his attention to Honky Tonk. 23 is next and Steve Austin’s music hits. The crowd go absolutely nuts as his music hits. All guys turn their attention to the aisle as Austin comes through the crowd and eliminates Mero and 8-Ball in quick succession. Austin is on fire here and the crowd are going crazy for him. Austin chokes D’Lo with his vest. The other Godwinn is next as Henry rushes to the ring and hunts Austin out and works him down in the corner. Thrasher takes The Rock down before both D’Lo and Kama put the boots into the The Rock in the corner. Kama then punches D’Lo down. Honky Tonk tries to eliminate Bradshaw but the Blackjack fights back with a series of big punches. Henry is nearly eliminated by Austin but holds on. Savio Vega is next and hits the ring with Los Boricuas and they attack Austin. Only Vega is the legal man and Austin quickly rids the ring of the other Los Boricuas. Henry then gains the upper hand over Austin as Kama and D’Lo attack Vega. Austin lands a low blow on Goldust, despite the protests of Vachon. The Rock hits away on D’Lo as Honky attempts to throw out Henry. The final Nation of Domination member, and leader, Farooq is out now. He goes straight for The Rock then hits all the other members of the NOD. Anything can happen in the Rumble. Austin and The Rock work away on each other at ringside and Austin is thrown into the steel steps. Neither man is eliminated, however. It’s a packed ring at the moment as number 28, Dude Love, is next – the third, and final, appearance from Mick Foley in the 1998 Royal Rumble. Love eliminates Bradshaw straight away as Austin throws Goldust into the steps at ringside. Inside the ring, The Rock hits the people’s elbow on D’Lo. Austin continues to attack The Rock before Vega jumps Austin from behind. Number 29 is Chainz from the DOA. He focuses his attention on the NOD and Mark Henry and tries to eliminate him straight away as Farooq eliminates D’Lo. Chainz works away on Honky Tonk as Henry attacks Austin. Elsewhere Farooq works away on his NOD colleague The Rock. The buzzer goes for number 30 and it’s Vader.

At this stage I’ll let you know who is still in there, Goldust, Vader, Henry, Kama, Savio Vega, Henry Godwinn, Honky Tonk, Dude Love, Chainz, Steve Austin, The Rock, Farooq. Vader throws out Honky Tonk straight away and turns his attention to Goldust who catches Vader with a low blow. Vader knocks down The Rock as Farooq works on D’Lo. Stone Cold throws out Thrasher and Kama is quick succession. Austin blocks a piledriver attempt and backbody drops Vega before launching him over the top rope and out of there as Goldust clotheslines Vader out. Continuing with the quick eliminations, both Goldust and Godwinn are out of there as well. We’ve Henry, Dude Love, Farooqq, The Rock, Chainz and Austin left in there. Just as I write that Chainz is eliminated by Austin and Farooq eliminates Henry. We’re down to the final four: The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Farooq and Dude Love. Dude Love and Farooq lock horns as Austin kicks away on The Rock in the corner. A big clothesline from Austin takes down Farooq as a double-arm DDT puts The Rock on the mat. Austin then counters Dude Love’s mandible claw with a low blog and Love is clotheslined out of there by Farooq. Farooq works on Austin the corner as The Rock takes a breather. The Rock then eliminates Farooq as we’re left with Austin v The Rock. Austin hits a stunner on The Rock and eliminates him. The winner, Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Overall: 8/10. A Rumble match that was the embodiment of the Attitude era that would follow it and the WWF at that time. We saw various stables trade blows, we had over the top gimmicks like Goldust and we saw some early indications of just how big a deal Sable would become. The whole match was about Austin after the way he took out everyone in the weeks and months preceding the match. As a result, the crowd were so hot for Austin’s arrival and he was on fire in the ring. The seeds were sewn for the split up of the Nation of Domination and we got early sight of some of the guys that would go on to become huge stars in the years ahead.

What wrestling has taught us this week

Jamie Lithgow & Craig Wilson

It’s fair to say that the wacky world of rasslin’ hasn’t taught us all that much this week but here goes anyway…

Jamie:

• A ticket to Raw also allows you full access to to the ringside area and even the opportunity to cut a promo on the WWE Champion. WWE really is the best value in entertainment.
• A leather jacket, tracksuit bottoms and a sleeveless t-shirt at least two sizes too small is a look strong enough for The Rock to sport on worldwide television.
• After drawing either number one or number two Dolph Ziggler could be a dark horse in the Royal Rumble match. John Cena will be there at the end and given that Ziggler has been his primary foe of late I expect Ziggler to approach if not surpass Rey Mysterio’s record for time spent in the Rumble.
• John Cena is literally allowed to say whatever he wants in his promos, even if it includes statements that paint him as the world’s oldest 10 year old. Although most of us already viewed him as such anyway.

Craig:

• It would seem that during his spells in the UK Hulk Hogan watches football over here, what else would have led him to comment on the Eden Hazard v Ballboy incident that overshadowed Swansea’s victory over Chelsea.
• The Miz has made heroic efforts at getting himself back involved in the WWE product and his on-going feud with Cesaro is potentially great for both. Cesaro is struggling a bit to get the crowd interested in him, that hasn’t been helped by the pointless feud with R-Truth, whilst The Miz has gone from headlining Wrestlemania 28 to not even appearing at Wrestlemania 29. This feud, over the US strap, has potential for both. I don’t see The Miz winning at the pre-show match at Sunday’s Rumble but can see this feud going on a bit longer.