With the Road to Wrestlemania kicking off in just a few short days, we’re gearing up for the WWE’s twenty-sixth annual Royal Rumble.
Held this year in Phoenix, Arizona, the Rumble looks to be setting up to be a big one.
So Lets take a look at whats on the card;
United States Championship Match (Pre-show)
The Miz Vs. Antonio Cesaro
This match was announced this past week on Raw. WWE are continuing to persevere with Miz, following the lukewarm reaction to his babyface turn. The main problem is that there has been no change to his character, he still comes across as a cocky jerk, but not in the cool way like Rock, Punk or Jericho when he first caught on fire back in 1999.
The company’s determination to get Miz over was evident on the 20th Anniversary Raw, when Ric Flair seemingly ‘passed on‘ the Figure Four to Miz, and it seems to be his new finisher (though if this week’s Raw is anything to go by, he needs to learn how to apply it). Meanwhile, Cesaro has been heavily featured recently, mingling with the top stars on both Raw and Smackdown and is being booked to look like their equal. On Main Event last night, he lost via countout to Ryback. Bearing in mind that the only other person not to lose to Ryback since his top-level emergence is WWE champion CM Punk, and that should tell you how highly WWE officials rate Cesaro.
Given Miz’s highlighted role recently, I would be surprised to see him capture gold on the pre-show, but stranger things have happened. At the very least, this should be a good little match.
Tag Team Championship Match
Team Rhodes Scholars (Damien Sandow & Cody Rhodes) Vs. Team Hell No (Daniel Bryan & Kane)
After the mini-revival of the tag-team division last year, things have largely gone back to normal in the early days of 2013.
Though there is at least a Tag-Team Championship match announced for the second-biggest PPV of the year, the promotion for it has been sub-par. The standard singles matches between the participants, backstage and in-ring angles, this mini-feud has followed the usual formula. And it is the poor promotion for this match that is really disappointing, because this could be a really good match.
Kane has upped his game recently, and Bryan has never really lowered his. Rhodes has looked good since his return from injury, and Sandow – if I can let my bias sneak in – is just awesome. I, along with many others, hold out hope that 2013 will see Daniel Bryan return to the WWE/World Championship picture, and maybe Rumble will be a good place to start that. Rhodes and Sandow are ready for the belts, and it is usually always better for the babyface team to be chasing the gold. Whatever the outcome, I am expecting this to be good, and remain hopeful that it can be the start of a true comeback for tag-team wrestling in WWE.
World Heavyweight Championship Match
Big Show Vs Alberto Del Rio
Not much is surprising in WWE these days, but the 8th January was one of those surprising moments. Not just because WWE spoiled a major event on their website, but that the major event was Alberto Del Rio becoming World Heavyweight champion.
Only several weeks before Del Rio had turned babyface (and very briefly went back heel to run over Santa Claus), but since then, something strange has happened. Del Rio as a hero is working. The fans are buying into it. Granted, WWE are being more than transparent in their attempts to make Del Rio the next great Latin superstar, but the crowds are responding, and Del Rio’s work has been infinitely better now he is working as a babyface. He knows what it takes to make it work. But like all great babyfaces, they need a good heel to work against and Big Show is delivering in that department.
Many fans groaned when Show won the World Title from Sheamus at Hell in a Cell, but Big Show as a dominant monster works. And since getting the belt, his workrate – which has always been hit-and-miss and seems to depend on whether or not he is interested – has been stellar. Smackdown’s Last Man Standing match in which saw Del Rio win the belt was very good, and there is no reason why they cannot do the same again in the same type of match at the Royal Rumble. With Del Rio’s title win coming out of nowhere, you get the feeling that there isn’t a detailed, long-term plan in place for the Big Gold belt, which makes predicting this match quite difficult indeed.
It does seem unlikely that the belt will go back to Big Show, especially considering WWE’s all-out push of Del Rio as the Latin legend recently. And don’t forget, Dolph Ziggler has a certain blue briefcase waiting to be opened….
WWE Championship Match
The Rock Vs. CM Punk
The biggest match of CM Punk’s career? Despite the caliber of superstar he has faced in the past, as well as his historic 431-day (and counting) reign as WWE champion, headlining a major PPV with one of the biggest names in wrestling history undoubtedly tops anything Punk has done yet.
A feud started back in July 2012 at Raw 1000, which has dramatically picked up over the last three weeks, this match alone should see WWE pull their biggest Royal Rumble buy-rate in years and if/when that does happen, it won’t all be because of the returning movie star. Although Rock is expected to win the belt here, the chance of Punk retaining is not being dismissed out of hand. This is not a lame duck champion, inevitably preparing to give up what has been is for over a year. For the last 431 days, the ‘Best in the World‘ CM Punk has established himself as a bona fide main eventer, someone that fans can legitimately accept as a top guy.
Since turning heel on Raw 1000, Punk has maintained the character he was previously playing, just with the volume turned up (which Steve Austin famously said is how all the best characters are). His work as a heel over the last few months, and in particular the last 3 weeks in verbal confrontations with Rock, has been nothing short of spectacular. This is not a man who will pander to a section of the fan base and encourage cheers, this is not a ‘cool heel’. He is a bad guy, plain and simply. And he is damn good at it. So much so that if he were to retain the WWE title here, it would not be a surprise. Equally, if he were to drop it to Rock, there would not be many faces set to stunned.
What of The Peoples Champion? The man named number one contender 6 months ago and only back on January 7 returned to TV? After last year’s ‘pop-in-when-he-is-available’ feel to his feud with John Cena, it seems like Rock is genuinely interested in this. The promos he is cutting are a million miles away from the work he was doing a year ago against Cena. Punk’s work is equal, he is setting the bar and to his credit, The Rock is matching it. His schedule cannot be brought into question this time round; since returning on January 7, Rock is virtually full-time with the company.
If Rock was to be given the WWE Title, few could honestly begrudge him it. He is bringing viewers back, TV ratings since his return prove that, him walking into WrestleMania as the WWE champion will bring the company the kind of publicity that can only dream of. Everyone has their favourite, and everyone has their opinion, but in the end, when it comes to The Rock vs CM Punk – and any interference at the Rumble from Paul Heyman or the Shield or anyone else – there is only one true winner; every single person who has been fortunate enough over the last few weeks to watch the magnificent promo work employed by two of the very best, and two men guaranteed to put on a show when the whole world is watching this Sunday.
The Royal Rumble
30-Man Over the top Battle Royal
No introduction is needed for this match, we all know what it is and what happens. 30 men, 1 ring, 1 winner,1 man going to WrestleMania.
WWE.com currently has the following superstars listed as official entrants;
- John Cena
- Randy Orton
- Dolph Ziggler (has to choose between No. 1 or No. 2)
- Heath Slater
- Jinder Mahal
- Drew McIntyre
- Antonio Cesaro
- Wade Barrett
- The Miz
At the conclusion of this week’s Raw, the locker room emptied for a pre-Rumble brawl. On commentary, Michael Cole stated the men in the ring were Rumble match participants, so not including the men confirmed on WWE’s website, the rest of the Royal Rumble entrants will be;
- Great Khali
- Daniel Bryan
- Darren Young
- Titus O’Neil
- Cody Rhodes
- Damien Sandow
- Justin Gabriel
- Brodus Clay
- Alex Riley
- Michael McGillicutty
- Curt Hawkins
- Kofi Kingston
That totals 27, leaving three spots open. There are always surprises in Royal Rumble matches, we speculated on who we may see this Sunday. WWE’s official list likely contains the man who will walk out the winner, with many expecting John Cena to be that man. Much was made of Dolph Ziggler winning the Beat the Clock Challenge and then being given the choice of first or second entrant, and he is expected to have a long showing.
Last year the man we expected to win didn’t, will it be the same again this year?