WWE put on an entertaining, if predictable, Royal Rumble pay-per-view last night in which the crowd was hot for most of the night and the match quality was very good. The Rock won the WWE Championship and John Cena won the Royal Rumble, likely setting up the “Twice in a Lifetime” rematch at WrestleMania XXIX.
– The pre-show United States Championship match between Antonio Cesaro and The Miz was your typical Miz match until he landed awkwardly from a top-rove move, apparently twisting his ankle. Miz tried to work through it but was clearly hobbled. The finish was awkward as well as Cesaro threw Miz into the ring from the outside and then hit the Neutralizer with no real progression and got the win. Obviously that had to do with Miz being legitimately hurt so we can’t fault them too much for how this all went down.
– The Last Man Standing match between Alberto Del Rio and Big Show was better than expected. Usually I don’t have high hopes for LMS matches because it’s basically, “hit a move… stand there” forever, but this one had some good spots. Big Show’s chokeslam of Del Rio off the staging onto a table with no padding underneath was probably the highlight of those. I don’t like the Cena-Batista finish off taping Big Show’s legs to the ropes so he couldn’t stand, but it was clever and Del Rio is over huge right now, so it made sense to keep the belt on him somehow. I like that WWE is going for a sort of Eddie Guerrero-esque “lie, cheat, steal” face gimmick with Del Rio and Ricardo.
– Team Hell No defeated Rhodes Scholars to retain in the Tag Team Championship match. Nothing stellar, but not boring either. Keeping the belts on Team Hell No allows them to keep their comedy act going, although I don’t think they need the straps to continue that. While Damien Sandow and Cody Rhodes would have benefited from winning the titles, they should be okay as well. That is, as long as WWE re-invests itself in the tag team division once again.
– Other than the somewhat predictable conclusion, the Royal Rumble match featured some nice surprises. The biggest surprise was Chris Jericho entering at number two and then remaining in the Rumble almost to the end. It’s a testament to the athletic conditioning of Jericho that he hasn’t wrestled since August and was able to come back and go as long as he did. We also got the returns of Rey Mysterio, Sin Cara and Santino Marella, and likely one-off surprise appearances from Goldust and The Godfather.
When Dolph Ziggler, who entered at number one, was finally eliminated by Sheamus, it seemed to take the air out of the crowd, as did John Cena’s anti-climactic victory. Once Cena ended the Rumble match, it was safe to assume The Rock would be beating CM Punk, which also took a little steam out of the crowd for that match as well.
– The WWE Championship match was much better than Rock’s bout with John Cena at WrestleMania, as one would expect. I wouldn’t call it a wrestling classic, but Rock was always known to be able to go in the ring and CM Punk is one of the best at putting on an exciting match. This one felt a little like a late-1990s match with a lot of outside the ring action and we got a scary moment when the Spanish announce table gave out on the competitors as The Rock was trying to give CM Punk a Rock Bottom. The lights went out as The Rock was about to hit the People’s Elbow and Michael Cole told us that The Shield was powerbombing Rock through the announce table. When the lights came back on, The Rock was out cold and The Shield were nowhere to be found. Punk pinned the Rock to retain the title.
After some celebration by Punk and Paul Heyman, Vince McMahon appeared and told Punk he had no choice but to strip him of the title, but The Rock spoke up and said, instead, to restart the match. After a few minutes, The Rock completed the People’s Elbow and won the belt.
While many thought The Rock would win, I absolutely hated that it was off the People’s Elbow. He couldn’t have at least finished Punk with the Rock Bottom? It seems like we’re headed for Rock-Cena II at WrestleMania but I’m curious to see the twists in the road as we get there. I’m also wondering if we get a swerve and it turns out Brock Lesnar was the man who attacked The Rock when the lights went out.