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Friday, 25 January 2008

Royal Rumble preview

Ah, the Royal Rumble. Is, was and ever shall be my favourite ‘concept’ Pay Per View, and just chock full of great moments, some of which we have been living in the blog. It is obvious that I’m not going to be able to get through all the past Rumbles before this Sunday’s show piece, but I shall continue to do the retro reviews, and once I’m done with that, we may as well get started on Wrestlemania, I think!

Anyway, looking at this year’s event, and frankly, though I don’t say this very often, it looks a mouth-watering card. It’s very easy for people to sniff at WWE booking, and lord knows I do it enough, but as fans we should appreciate a positive when it comes along, and this has the potential to be just that.

Of course, we have had our expectations shattered before. But with a strong undercard and a loaded Rumble match we could be in for a hell of a night.

Worth paying attention to the match order here, potentially. The Jeff Hardy v Randy Orton match has been built up magnificently, and looks like the main event. Sometimes the Rumble match is on last, sometimes it isn’t, depending on the outcome. Look at 1997 which is the latest Retro Review – HBK in his hometown winning the title was the big babyface moment to round the show off. Put that in the middle of the show and end with Austin winning the Rumble and you change the complexion of the show.

I’d suggest that we see the Royal Rumble before Hardy/Orton then there is a stronger likelihood of Hardy going over, since you would think that to end with a huge babyface upset would be a better way of ending show than whoever wins the Rumble celebrating.

Will Hardy go over, that’s the tough one to call? Was he considered a real contender by us about 6 weeks ago? What about by the WWE hierarchy? I think that people misjudge the writing and booking sometimes, because I have seen loads of opinion pieces saying that the WWE are now looking at Hardy more seriously than before because of how the crowd have reacted in the last few weeks. What that argument conveniently forgets is that in the storyline Hardy earned his title shot by virtue of beating Triple H. Triple freaking H! Not a Beat the Clock, not a crooked GM making a match, but a clean pinfall victory over The Game.

I would suggest to you that if Triple H thinks enough of Hardy to job to him clean on PPV then Hardy may have been pencilled in for this monster push for longer than people think.

Jeff probably didn’t decide to Whisper in the Wind off the cage onto Umaga, or Swanton off the structure by himself, you know. That would have been written in as a device to raise his popularity, and it is working. The reactive forces within the WWE must now decide whether the reaction has exceeded expectations, met them, or fallen short. I think it is probably between the first two.

So does he get a run with the title? My gut reaction is that he won’t, but I certainly feel he should. One good Pay Per View will not arrest the slide that WWE has been experiencing, but this is an opportunity to open the year strongly, and we only have one more PPV between the Rumble and Wrestlemania, which has been the strongest show of the year in recent times. It certainly was in 2007.

There are three weeks after the Rumble until No Way Out which is scheduled to feature an elimination chamber match. Book a Smackdown superstar to win the Rumble go after the SD title. Have an elimination chamber match and book Trips to win. Stack the card with some other top matches and lets roll on to the six week build up to Mania.

I cannot see Jeff Hardy headlining Wrestlemania. I think they will go with Orton v Triple H, so let’s have Jeff beat Randy at the Rumble, and book a No Holds Barred contest at No Way Out and have Orton go over clean in a brutal one. That gives Jeff his big moment and spikes the crowd at the Rumble, and still gets you towards the proposed main event at Mania.

If you look at the PPV you have Edge v Rey which should be good. The emotion around JBL v Y2J has been well built, and I suspect this will not stop at the Rumble. Ric v MVP also has emotion and I’d expect both men to step up here and produce a good one. Then of course you have Jeff and Randy.

A big problem could come with clean finishes. Perhaps Ric will beat MVP on a DQ or count out so that he doesn’t retire and Porter keeps his belt. Edge could well have Chavo and Vickie help him screw Rey out of the belt. And Y2J and JBL might well go to a no contest to prolong the feud. Having 3 non-clean finishes may hurt the PPV, but having Jeff win a belt would probably temper this.

I’ll give my individual thoughts on each match, and tell you who I think will win and how I would book it. They will likely not correlate.

Ric Flair v MVP
I’ll be honest, I’m not really that drawn in to the whole Flair is Retiring angle, though I appreciate its value. The problem this I think most people seem aware that it will likely go to Wrestlemania, pending a huge swerve which would be completely self defeating. Therefore the heat isn’t so big. However much MVP has improved, Ric isn’t going to have his last match against him. However, the angle thus far has allowed Ric a little more mic time, which is of course where he shines.

Ric is not going to retire at the Royal Rumble next week. He may not even retire at Mania, but it ain’t gonna be end of his journey just yet. Mania might be Space Mountain, this isn’t even the Ghost Train at the local Carnival.

I predict: Ric to win by DQ
I would Book: a real shocker. I’d maybe channel the spirit of Dusty to put in a dodgy finish. I’d book MVP to win this 1-2-3 and retire Ric Flair..........until Raw. I’d have Ric have a leg under the ropes which the official wouldn’t see, and so on Raw the decision could be somehow reversed, perhaps by a one night only return of Linda McMahon. Make Raw a tribute show to Flair, look back at his career and say how fitting that he lost at MSG, home of champions. This would put the younger viewers firmly aware of the storied career of Ric Flair. I’d have HBK and Triple H speak with Ric and plead with Vince to overturn the decision. Ric, however, would show dignity and not beg, but accept it with pride. I’d then end the show with Linda McMahon giving the announcement that he is exonerated.

I think that this match has been very sketchily built up. JBL coming back was portrayed as a bigger deal than it ought to have been, I think, and his demolition of Jericho went way over the top, making Bradshaw look too dominant over a guy that only a month or so ago was battling for the WWE title.

However, their promos have been superb, particularly Jericho’s last week on Raw, when he pitched it perfectly. It seemed heartfelt and intense, but without resorting to shouting and hollering and generally making it look false. It was a major league promo, a money promo, and I don’t think this feud will end at the Rumble.

I’m a little surprised that they booked a match, and didn’t put both guys in the Rumble, costing one another the win.

I predict: Y2J will win by DQ. JBL to get frustrated that he can’t put Jericho away, so ends up just smashing him with a chair or something. This then leads to a NO DQ match at Mania.

I would book: something largely similar, but I’d have a double count out or simply a no contest. Just have the pair of them fight up the aisle and in the crowd and so forth. I wouldn’t be too concerned about the in ring action, but I’d have Jericho hit JBL with some serious punishment as a receipt for what JBL did to Jericho on Raw the other week. This gives Jericho the upper hand in terms of dominating on the night, but not giving either man the clean win just yet.

Rey Mysterio v Edge
Likely to be a **** match or thereabouts. Edge rarely has a bad match, and if Rey Mysterio is on and they add a touch of decent psychology then we could have a belter. I’m far from a huge Rey mark, as I felt his initial title run was to begin with implausible and then distinctly mismanaged. I also think he is a bit of a spot monkey. Don’t get me wrong, he is entertaining an hugely talented, but not always my cup of tea.

However, Edge is fantastic in the ring and I think the strongest hand that the WWE has right now. He deserves to be in the main event at Wrestlemania, and barring injury he likely will be.

I predict: Edge to win, probably with a little assistance from Vickie and/or Chavo and/or the Edgeheads . Hopefully not much more than a distraction.

I would book: Edge to win cleanly. I don’t see a problem with booking heels to be quality wrestlers who are hard to beat. I’d make it close so that Rey doesn’t lose face (mask?) and perhaps makes a bad decision, rather than getting outclassed, but since I would be trying to book this Rumble very strongly because of reasons explained above, I’d try to have the main title encounters go over clean, especially since I don’t see this feud going any further.

Jeff Hardy v Randy Orton
Very little to add after the thoughts added above really.

I predict: Orton will win. And I think they’ll do it cleanly as well. I’m almost predicting so that I don’t mind being wrong, but I just don’t see them putting the belt on Jeff yet. I also think that if Triple H is to regain the title at Wrestlemania, he won’t want Orton dropping it in order to regain it, just to lose it to The Game.

I would book: Hardy to win. I’d switch it back at No Way Out, but I’d give Jeff his moment (three weeks) in the sun. He’s worked for it, he is best superstar to watch at the moment, and he is so over it is incredible. Let him have a run.

The Royal Rumble Match
It’s a strange sort of Rumble line up, this. There are lots of people who could win, but not many who you’d say would win.

Time to breakout the patented McNichol Eliminator v2.0 - I’ve gone through the confirmed entries and listed 8 candidates below, including people that might take it as a surprise.

A Mystery Entrant – The official website at lists 24 entrants thus far, and as I recall from reading Smackdown spoilers there is no other entry, unless Jimmy Yang being Domino was a qualifier. Even then, I don’t think he would be on the shortlist.

One of the extra entrants might well be CM Punk, who I’ve listed below separately. Filling up the list are likely to be the odd mid-carder from somewhere in the company, returns of former stars for the nostalgia pop (see Honky Tonk Man in the past) or maybe those that have signed new contracts.

The last example includes, of course, such names as Ron Killings, Chris Harris and Big Show. The latter is the most likely to show up. This is mainly because he doesn’t need any build up, and will be recognisable from his music. Harris and Killings, firstly are not guaranteed to have signed, and even if they had I think WWE would try to build their characters using vignettes rather than ploughing them into the Rumble straightaway.

I can’t see the Big Show or any other surprise winning the day, even if that is a wildcard like Hogan or someone. Or maybe it’s a conspiracy to bring back Lashley!

CM Punk – Now this would be a shock, especially since he hasn’t really been pushed to the moon since his arrival, even though he was given the ECW strap. At this stage he is surely not ready to go to a Main Event at Mania, although it is good to see him being pushed to matches with the likes of Edge. I’m interested in him losing the belt, wondering whether this means he will switch brands.

Umaga – I wouldn’t think the Samoan Bulldozer is the most likely candidate to win, especially since main eventing Mania would probably involve, you know, talking and stuff.

However, look for him to have a good run, probably into the last 4 or 5, with it taking one of the big guns to get rid of him.

Mr Kennedy – its been a hell of a year for Young Kenneth. Winner of the Money in the Bank Ladder match at Wrestlemania 23, he looked destined for a big year, but injury and stupidity have held him back. He couldn’t help the first one, but he could have kept his big mouth shut about not taking steroid before being suspended for exactly that.

However, that big mouth is probably the best asset of Ken Kennedy-Kennedy (KKK? Ouch) because he is perhaps the best talker around at the minute. He is in the frame, I would expect a decent run for him, and you should remember that when he won the Money in the Bank he promised to hold it back until Wrestlemania to cash it in. They obviously had it in mind that he could be at the level they wanted by this March. If you are thinking they’d hold him back because of his misdemeanours, remember who is in the main event at the Rumble.

Not this time, Kenny boy, but soon.

Batista – Hmm. The Animal is one of 4 previous winners in the contest, and it is these four who are likely to be the four most likely to take this contest. I have it in my mind that the winner will be from Smackdown, not only because the Elimination Chamber match is supposed to be a Raw main event (Trips, Hardy, Jericho, JBL, Kennedy, HBK?) but also because it seems likely that Triple H will be the contender at Wrestlemania for the WWE title, and you could see Vince and co. spending longer trying to halt his progress.

Batista is on the shortlist, without a shadow of a doubt.

Undertaker – And so is the Deadman. The biggest albatross round his neck is that he won last year, and it isn’t very creative having him win twice. The other people who have won twice were the hottest properties in the business – Hogan being everything about the WWE in 90/91, HBK being the biggest rising star in 95/96, and Stone Cold rising through the Stratusphere (not Trish) in 97/98 – Undertaker is not exactly a new, up and coming star. Rather, he is the most established star in the company. He is one of the most over and he has existing issues with Edge.

I would like to think that as this business is all about entertainment and not really about achievements, that Undertaker would relinquish the Wrestlemania streak. And who better than Edge, with his own Mania streak, to be put over the Deadman on the biggest stage of all? Taker is at the stage where one defeat doesn’t really hurt him, but beating him means a lot to his opponent. The above scenario is not beyond possibility.

Shawn Michaels – Aiming to be the second man to win this three times in his career, HBK was second to Taker last year, and has had a decent year, bringing John Cena through some belting matches in their programme, and is part of a entertaining series Kennedy. They have had some interesting battles, but too many matches for this programme to go to Mania. JR even called their Raw match this week a ‘rubber match’. I think their programme could be over, so perhaps HBK could be back in the title picture.

The thing is, there is no reason for him to go after Edge, and I can’t see the babyface combo again this year if it were to Jeff Hardy, and he has had extensive exposure to Orton. Add all this into the equation with my theory about Raw guys, and I’d say HBK will not win

Triple H – Very dependant on the involvement of Mr McMahon and co and of course the path of Randy Orton, but Trips would be the most likely to scupper my “Smackdown will win” theory. Not much can be said about Triple H that hasn’t already been said, but I really think his issue with Vince will drag on and he’ll win in the chamber.

The Verdict:
I desperate want to say anyone but the man I will predict, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to go with what everyone seems to be saying. Simply looking at the most likely scenario, The Undertaker has to be the selection here. Taker v Edge makes sense, Batista v Edge doesn’t. The Raw spot looks like being Triple H, and of course into the equation has to come the Elimination Chamber.

I’d love to see a Kennedy or a Punk come out of nowhere to win (although I think Punk could be in line for the Money in the Bank briefcase this year) but I really can’t see it.

I think it should be a great event. If I wasn’t excited before writing this, I certainly am now. I’m be watching the event live and will provide my usual as-live commentary, typically posted within minutes of the event finishing.

Enjoy the Rumble

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