Sunday, January 28, 2007

Royal Rumble 2007

I figure one post a day is enough, so it's just going to be the PPV rundown today...

The Royal Rumble is one of the WWE's long-established shows, and it sells principally on the strength of the annual 30-man battle royal. Traditionally, battle royals tend to be godawful things in which 30 guys start off and do very, very little of interest until the ring has been cleared. The innovation of the Royal Rumble is to have the wrestlers draw numbers, and enter in two-minute intervals. This provides lots more opportunities for the wrestlers to do things in the ring, as well as making it easier to tell stories about guys overcoming the odds or, conversely, winning primarily through luck of the draw. When these things are booked well, they can be excellent fun. It would be a ridiculous way to determine a number one contender in the real world, of course, but hey, it's wrestling.

Originally, the winner used to get a world title shot at Wrestlemania. Now that we have three different brands and three different world titles, it's become a little more complicated, and the winner gets to pick whichever title he'd like to challenge for in the main event. It's undermined the simplicity, if you ask me, but if they're determined to have three world champions (an absurd idea, considering that each guy only defends against the people on his own roster) then it's inevitable.

Anyway, this is where the WWE begins the serious build to Wrestlemania, which is the biggest show of the year. At the moment, they've got very little set up, so they desperately need to hit the ground running tonight. Because the main event is guaranteed to run an hour, and all three brands have a full-length world title match, the undercard is pretty sparse.

1. The Royal Rumble. The one show of the year when the world title match is indisputably never the main event. Since the winner has to go on and headline Wrestlemania, there really aren't many options. As usual, most of the field are completely out of contention since they'd never be remotely credible in that role. Then there's a bunch of characters like Chris Benoit and King Booker who would be workable in theory, but in practice wouldn't make much sense from a storyline perspective. (Booker's spent months feuding over the Smackdown title already, and he's had several recent matches with Batista for the belt, so they need a fresh pairing.)

The obvious four candidates are the Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Edge and Randy Orton. They've already begun a storyline with Undertaker trying to get a title shot at Batista's Smackdown title, and being screwed out of it at every turn through the interference of Mr Kennedy (who's challenging for the title himself on this show). Undertaker and Batista would be the best marquee match on Smackdown, although it runs the risk of the crowd turning on Batista. It seems highly likely that they're going there for Wrestlemania, but they don't necessarily have to do it tonight. (If a Raw guy wins, then Smackdown will have to choose Batista's challenger another way, and so Undertaker gets a second chance. See what I mean about complicating the issue?)

Shawn Michaels is now back on his own after his DX partner, Triple H, suffered a legit leg injury. This is fine by me, since Michaels is much better playing his normal character than he is as an overgrown frat boy. Storyline logic says there's plenty of appeal to seeing Michaels win this match and go on to face John Cena at Wrestlemania for the Raw title. But there are two good reasons not to go there. Number one, Michaels was supposed to be in line for time off, as I recall, so do you really want to do a story that leads to him getting the belt and starting a new title reign in March? I'd be wary. Number two, it would mean both Raw and Smackdown having face/face matches, which may be excessive. It could happen, though.

Orton and Edge are the other credible contenders, in that they've just taken credit for getting rid of DX, they're both former world champions, and they're both plausible as Wrestlemania main eventers. Then again, Edge already feuded with Cena for several months last year, and Orton simply isn't as interesting. The problem is that Cena really doesn't have any obvious contenders lined up, so they need to make one for him.

My instinct is that it's either Undertaker or Edge, but it could be any of these four and I wouldn't be shocked. Look out, also, to see what they do with the notoriously awful Great Khali, who is only rarely allowed to appear on live television due to his spectacular badness. He's been presented as an unstoppable monster, and they'll want to preserve that here - so somehow, he's got to be eliminated, and eliminated quickly, without damaging that aura. Undertaker and Kane in tandem, perhaps?

2. Raw World Title, Last Man Standing: John Cena v Umaga. A storyline marred by inconsistent booking. At the last show, you'll recall, John Cena fought the undefeated ethnic stereotype, Umaga. Well, Cena won, but the story was that Umaga pummelled him for the whole match, and Cena just managed to catch him with a roll-up to retain his title. So Cena won clean, but not decisively, leaving room for a rematch. Fine.

This time, at the insistence of Umaga's manager, it's a Last Man Standing match (in other words, you can only win by knockout). Usually these gimmicks are wheeled out just to make a match seem slightly more special, but this actually makes perfect sense. Umaga thinks Cena only won by a fluke, so this is a gimmick designed to stop that happening. A reasonable, logical move by the confident villain.

And then, almost immediately after, they had Cena lay out Umaga in a matter of seconds. Idiots. The story here should have been "Can Cena possibly get Umaga down for ten seconds?" Now it's just "Who wins?", and that's much less interesting. Cena will retain (unless, conceivably, they've decided to go with Michaels/Umaga at Wrestlemania, but I doubt that very much). The match will be fine.

3. Smackdown World Title: Batista v Mr Kennedy. This is Ken Kennedy's first shot at the Smackdown World Title, and he won't be winning. I don't expect this to be terribly good, and hopefully they'll keep it short enough to disguise Batista's limitations and Kennedy's relative inexperience. (He's getting better, but he's not really main event material yet.) The storyline, loosely, involves Kennedy screwing Undertaker out of the title shot he should have had, and then blithering on endlessly about the fact that he's beaten six former world champions in the last year. This is technically true, but as any halfway attentive viewer knows, Kennedy beat most of them by DQ and count-out - and the title only changes hands on a pinfall or a submission, so the ability to get a DQ or a count-out is no good. If they have a good match, then the opportunity is there to make Kennedy a star, but I'm not holding my breath.

It occurs to me that a remote outside possibility is for Kennedy to win and then defend against Undertaker at Wrestlemania, but I just can't believe they'd have that much faith in him at this stage in his career.

4. ECW World Title: Bobby Lashley v Test. ECW has pretty much dropped off a cliff, and the ECW World Title is a bit of a joke. There are ECW guys in the Royal Rumble, but the chances of any of them headlining the biggest show of the year are zero. ECW is somewhat bereft of big names these days - Big Show has retired, Kurt Angle has left the promotion, and Rob Van Dam still seems to be in the doghouse after he got pulled over for driving while stoned during his last run as champion.

So Bobby Lashley is doing the rookie champion gimmick, and it's really not working. Nobody seems to care. Tonight, he'll be fighting Test. We saw this match on the regular ECW show earlier in the week and Lashley pinned Test clean. Yes, that's right, their build-up for the title match tonight was to do the same match, with the challenger losing clean. The mind boggles.

I can't believe a lifetime midcarder like Test would be in any danger of winning the title - even the ECW title - so Lashley will retain, and the match will probably be mediocre.

5. The Hardy Boys (Matt & Jeff Hardy) v MNM (Joey Mercury & Johnny Nitro, w/Melina). Finally, rounding off the card, a match which is implausibly being billed as the final confrontation between these two teams. The Hardy Boys and MNM were added to the Armageddon card in December at the last minute, and fought in a rather good four-way tag-team ladder match for the Smackdown tag belts. (Paul London and Brian Kendrick retained, so both these teams lost.)

During that match, the Hardys did the old stand-by ladder match spot where you use the ladder as a see-saw and whack the other guy in the face, silent movie style. Johnny Nitro, who isn't stupid, rolled with the blow and blocked it with his hands. Joey Mercury, who may have wanted to put in an impressive performance to shore up his career prospects, thought it might be a good idea just to stand there and get whacked square in the face with a metal object. Some thirty stitches later, he found out why it's not a good idea.

This really ought to be a slow build to a ladder match at Wrestlemania, but instead we've had a series of singles matches on Raw and Smackdown (all of which the Hardys have won), and Joey Mercury returning to the ring long before common sense should have allowed. This is just a straight tag team match, so either they've lost their minds and decidedly to end the storyline tonight - in which case the Hardys win - or they're going to build to a ladder match at Wrestlemania. In that case, MNM win, and they're just lying about it being the final confrontation between these two teams. (Although to be fair, they haven't pushed that line terribly hard.)

The match should be great - all four are good wrestlers, and they have decent chemistry. Incidentally, because the reunion of these teams was a last minute thing, Jeff Hardy is still carting the WWE Intercontinental Title around, because he's too busy in this feud to actually defend it against anyone other than Johnny Nitro.

Worth buying? Sure. It's the Royal Rumble. Cena/Umaga sounds fine, and the tag match should be good. The rest is a bit hit and miss, but overall this seems promising.