Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Old Gray Rumble Just Ain't What She Used to Be

"It is my destiny to jerk the curtain!"
With WWE's annual January pay-per-view spectacular just around the corner, the big question on my mind is "Who's going to win the Royal Rumble?"

Nah, just kidding. The big question on my mind is "Why in the blue hell should I care?"

In recent years, the Royal Rumble has become more and more like Survivor Series: a unique pay-per-view concept that WWE doesn't have the slightest clue what to do with but doesn't have the guts to kill off. Well, at least WWE doesn't have Michael Cole refer to the big battle royal as "the traditional Royal Rumble match." Yet.

The Royal Rumble used to be the way to main event Wrestlemania short of being the champion already. Now, it's a way to throw a bone to an upper mid-carder, an excuse to dump them into the opening match and scratch that pesky World title match off the list of the bookers' concerns for the company's biggest PPV of the year. What once was a must-win match is now a stepping stone to being an afterthought. So what went wrong with the fan favorite Rumble match? Let me count the ways....

1. There are two world titles. It's been a decade since the WWE Undisputed Championship became disputed again, and with every year that peculiar quirk of the "brand extension" gets more and more tiresome. Even if you disregard the fact that the brand split is almost entirely non-existent thanks to the "Raw supershow" every Monday night, where one giant roster fills three hours of TV a week, the idea of two "world" champions in the same promotion kills a lot of drama that should be happening in WWE.


Remember that old Ric Flair saying, "To be one of the two men, you gotta beat one of the two men"? No? That's because Slick Ric would never say anything so laughable and far-removed from reality (and this is a man who nicknamed his penis after a Disney ride). Shawn Michaels's boyhood dream was not to become one of the two WWF champions. To my knowledge, there has never been any legend or satisfying work of fiction in which a hero is on a quest to be one of the top two. Yet any up-and-coming superstar in WWE has to swallow his pride and claim that his goal is to be a champion, even though he most certainly wants to be the champion.

The idea of two number ones is antithetical to basic storytelling, especially when those "number ones" rule over the same domain and are nominally rivals, but never challenge one another for supremacy. You would think that people with such drive and determination would not get to the top of the mountain, so to speak, only to never try to knock the other guy off and be the sole king.

I think Oscar from The Office said it best: "Look, it doesn't take a genius to know that every organization thrives when it has two leaders. Go ahead, name a country that doesn't have two presidents. A boat that sets sail without two captains. Where would Catholicism be, without the popes?"


"There can only be two number
ones in WWE, Cena.
Me and Christian."
Not only is the idea of two world champions completely baffling and contrary to human instinct (just look at the summer of 2011, when CM Punk and Cena each had their own version of the title; there was an immediate unification match. The two of them did not content themselves with each being "number one" on Raw), it invariably leads to situations where one title is the main championship, and the other is an afterthought. Usually, it's the Raw belt that gets the prestige, while Smackdown's strap is the "world title" in name only.


McKayla Maroney is not
impressed with the #2 title.
Why should the Royal Rumble
Now imagine the winner of the Royal Rumble, having just outlasted 29 other wrestlers (39 in 2011), faced with a choice between challenging for the real world title or the Tuesday Night title. Any true competitor would go for the genuine article, right? Yet three years in a row, the Rumble winner has decided to strive for mediocrity and challenge for the B-title.
Ooh, shiny! I want that one!

It's not just me who considers the Smackdown title inferior, it's the people who book Wrestlemania, which brings me to my second point.

Lex Luger lived out his dream of opening a Wrestlemania.
On January 27th, 30 men will battle
for the chance to do the very same.
2. There is no "main event" match up for grabs anymore. In 2010, Rumble winner Edge's match for Chris Jericho's World title went on 4th-to-last, before the WWE title match or the Undertaker-Michaels main event. In 2011 and 2012, Alberto Del Río and Sheamus, winners of the Royal Rumble in their respective years, wrestled in the very first match of Wrestlemania. If WWE were honest in marketing the Royal Rumble, they would advertise it as the match to determine who jerks the curtain at Wrestlemania while the WWE championship match, Undertaker's match, and John Cena's match occupy the top of the card.

You don't get to call yourself best in the world by
finishing second. Unless it's the Royal Rumble.
3. Almost winning the Rumble is usually just as good as winning it (or better). There have been ten Royal Rumbles since WWE has had two world titles (and therefore, two world title matches at Wrestlemania). Of those ten Rumbles, the runners-up of seven of them have gone on to a Wrestlemania title match. Since 2005, when John Cena was eliminated last but still ended up getting the WWE title shot, seven of eight Rumbles have seen their runners-up get title matches at the biggest pay-per-view of the year. Santino Marella in 2011 was the sole exception, while 2009 runner-up Triple H ended up winning the title the next month and defending it against Rumble winner Randy Orton.

Not pictured: Royal Rumble winner
Alberto Del Río.
If there is to be any urgency associated with winning the Royal Rumble, WWE must stop making its runners-up the de facto number-one contenders for world titles, especially when the runners-up end up getting higher profile matches than the winners. In 2012, Chris Jericho vs. CM Punk was a bigger match than Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan. In 2010, John Cena vs. Batista was bigger than Edge vs. Chris Jericho. The main event in 2007 was John Cena vs. runner-up Shawn Michaels, while Batista vs. Rumble winner Undertaker was relegated to secondary status. In 2006, second runner-up Triple H got the marquee match against Cena, while the Rumble winner Rey Misterio and runner-up Randy Orton got lumped into a triple-threat match in the middle of the card.

Michaels on the brink of having
to main event Wrestlemania 23.
Increasingly, the Rumble runners-up act as "back-ups" just in case something goes wrong and the planned winner accidentally gets eliminated. Storylines for Wrestlemania would have been practically identical had Jericho accidentally eliminated Sheamus, or if HBK had eliminated Taker. The fact that the second-place wrestler is all but guaranteed a title shot anyway takes away the drama of the Rumble finale. If both of the last two men are going to Wrestlemania to compete for a world title, why should it matter who ends up getting eliminated at the end?

Santino must face the incredible
1 in 6 odds of winning the title and
automatically going to Wrestlemania.

4. Title shots are a dime a dozen, especially between Rumble and Wrestlemania. Thanks to the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, winning the Royal Rumble match itself is of less importance than ever. Yes, the winner of the Rumble gets a guaranteed title shot at Wrestlemania, but the very next month, ten other contenders (including schlubs like Ted Dibiase, Jr.) get shots directly at the two champions and their titles. In other words, outlasting 29 men gets you a chance to win the title, but outlasting five other men in a Chamber match lands you the title itself.

Forget everything you know
about the WWE world titles!
No, seriously, it would help us out a lot.
Besides making the previous month's Royal Rumble trivial, the Elimination Chamber all too often is just a convenient plot device used for bad storytelling in order to shuffle around the titles before the big event. Rather than building up a wrestler as champion for months so that a championship match at Wrestlemania feels monumental, too often the belt just gets thrown on somebody so that they can be in a main event-ish match and drop the title to someone else.

It happened with Edge losing the WWE title to Triple H, then somehow winning the World title the same night in 2009. It happened when Chris Jericho won the title in 2010 so he could face Edge (and drop the belt to Jack Swagger). Heck, Batista didn't even need an excuse to take the title; after John Cena won it in the Chamber in 2010, The Animal Deus-ex-Machina'ed the PPV and beat the champ just so they could have a rematch the next month. The Chamber is too frequently used as a magic wand to arbitrarily switch the title picture around before Wrestlemania.

All of these flaws contribute to the fifth big reason why the Royal Rumble is increasingly irrelevant....

"Now I go to Wrestlemania to face one of 12 men!"
5. There's no anticipation following a Rumble win. Back in the good old days, before the brand split, before multiple world champions, before the Elimination Chamber matches shoved six guys apiece into a match to spit out a new champion for no rhyme or reason, the Wrestlemania main event was all but set in stone following the last elimination in the Royal Rumble. Barring any unforeseen circumstances or shenanigans, the winner of the Royal Rumble would face the champion coming out of the Rumble, and most importantly, the wrestlers, fans, and announcers all knew it, so they could build the hype for the main event for a solid two and a half months. The dust would settle at the end of the January PPV and the excitement for the main event match of Wrestlemania could begin.

"But for the next month, I'll just twiddle
my thumbs until the whole title
picture sorts itself out."
Now, when someone wins the Royal Rumble, he doesn't have a single opponent to look forward to, a single obstacle to overcome or champion to topple. Instead, he still has up to twelve possible opponents, which will be whittled down to two at Elimination Chamber, and finally narrowed down to one the night after the February pay-per-view when the Rumble winner officially announces which champion he will face. The Rumble winner gets stalled for a month, spinning his wheels while outside factors determine his destiny. So while the "Road to Wrestlemania" may begin at the Royal Rumble, it's pretty much a pit of mud where the Rumble winner's car gets stuck until the end of February when a tow truck comes along, gets it unstuck, and lets him drive to Wrestlemania for the next six weeks.


  1. That was an impressive and in depth look at the issue. I fully agree with it and hope more people feel the same. It's hard to imagine all we've lost with so many PPV's leaving no time for a story to develop.

  2. While I still enjoy the Rumble, you perfectly summed up why it's not a bigger deal.