The Royal Rumble took placed this past Sunday night, and is known as the big kick off to the WWE's signature event, Wrestlemania. Even though I am now more of a casual viewer of wrestling, I still appreciate the fact that this is the most exciting time period in the WWE. This is the 2 month stretch that WWE typically unloads their top storylines and best build-up in order to be paid off at the showcase event. This year at the Royal Rumble, I learned that a rather fresh name, Alberto Del Rio, won the Royal Rumble match (which is a match involving 40 wrestlers with the winner earning the shot at a world title in the Wrestlemania main event). I was intrigued that the WWE actually went with somebody different rather than the stale main eventers that have been on top for the last 6 or so years. I was also excited to find out that two former favourites returned at the Royal Rumble, Booker T and Diesel. I decided to check out Monday Night Raw this week, and see how they would use the returning stars. The answer ended up being that they didn't use them at all, but the program was still an entertaining kick off on the 'Road to Wrestlemania'. Here is my recap of the show.
Alberto Del Rio Celebration: I actually tuned in a little late, and missed most of Del Rio's celebration. It appears there was a mariachi band and balloons and Mexican cuisine -- so it sounds like a pretty good celebration. By the time I was watching, the company's two world champions (yeah, don't ask) Miz and Edge were not-so-politely trying to find out which title Del Rio was going to challenge for in the Wrestlemania main event. Del Rio decided to give his answer by smashing a guitar on the shoulder of Edge. Which is a perfectly acceptable way to answer when your trying to be the company's top heel. I don't think Del Rio actually is the company's top heel, but the man has amazing facials, excellent charisma and a fantastic gimmick (basically, a wealthy and cocky Mexican who rubs his success in the faces of the American fans -- plus he has his very own ring announcer to introduce him for his matches, which is a genius idea for a bad guy character). WWE now has two months to try to build Del Rio up and really prove he does deserve to be in the main event of the biggest show of the year. It definitely renews some of my faith in WWE that they actually care about creating new stars, and I really hope that the Del Rio experiment pays off. Anyway, as for this segment it ends up with Edge laid out in the ring while a smirking Del Rio taunts Edge as he himself returns to the backstage.
World Tag Team Champions Santino Marella and Vladimir Kozlov beat Husky Harris and Michael McGillicutty to retain titles: This was a decent match for what it was. I had predicted that Harris and McGillicutty would win the titles because they are part of the top heel group (the Nexus) in the WWE while Marella and Kozlov are more of a comedy team. Maybe I am just behind on the times, but I prefer my champions to have more credibility and come off as actual threats. At the same time, there was quite a pop (cheers) from the crowd when Marella pinned Harris after his Cobra finishing move (a finishing move that is also a bit of a joke but the fans love it). If the fans are into the act, then obviously it makes sense to stick with the champs for a bit even if they are a joke team. The more disheartening part of this match was the post pinfall shenanigans. Randy Orton entered the ring for revenge (the Nexus cost him his title match the night before) and laid out both guys with his move, the RKO. That part I was fine with as any good babyface (good guy) needs his revenge to keep the story going, but my problem was when he punted Husky Harris in the head. You see, the Randy Orton punt to the head is a move that has been built up in WWE canon as something that knocks a wrestler out for months and months. Usually it is used as either a way to give a wrestler some vacation time or to completely write somebody out of storylines. I have a sneaky suspicion that the WWE wants to write Harris out because he doesn't have the preferred WWE look (the man probably likes his pop tarts). I like Harris because he has a unique charisma, can really move in the ring, and he has a look that is actually different from all the other generic body builder types in the promotion. I really hope this doesn't spell the end of Harris. I also can appreciate that the angle does help build towards an eventual WrestleMania match with Orton against CM Punk (the leader of the Nexus).
Jerry Lawler Punches Out Ted Dibiase: Basically, it is announced that Jerry 'The King" Lawler is one of the participants in tonight's main event, which is a mini 7 man Royal Rumble. The winner will get a shot at Miz and the WWE title at the next PPV event, Elimination Chamber. I do like the storyline of a 60 plus year old veteran getting his final shot at the world title and one last chance in the spotlight. The fans have really been getting behind Lawler's recent attempts to finally get the WWE title. The bigger part of the story is that if Lawler does win the WWE title then he will be guaranteed a spot in Wrestlemania, which is a show he has never wrestled on despite being in the company for 18 years (he usually was the commentator on the show). This caused Ted Dibiase (son of the Million Dollar Man) to come out and tell Lawler that he should give up his spot in the main event to him, because he is younger and more deserving. He thought it was best to prove his point by slapping Lawler, which then caused Lawler to want to give his own feedback in the form of a punch. But Dibiase does the perfectly acceptable heel move of pulling his girlfriend, Maryse, in front of himself as a shield. She doesn't seem to appreciate this as much as I do, and slaps Dibiase instead and stomps away like a spoiled sport. This also allows Lawler to actually deliver his punch to the chin of Dibiase. I do have to say that it was one heck of a punch, and it was either the best fake punch ever or he actually did punch him. Like I said, I like the story of an old timer trying for his last shot at glory, but this whole angle sort of made Dibiase come off as a schmuck. Maybe this will eventually lead to Dibiase trying to get revenge in the future and thus allow him to maintain some credibility.
United States Champion Daniel Bryan beat Tyson Kidd: Bryan is an example of a guy who doesn't quite have the WWE look, but the fans absolutely loved him anyway. Unfortunately, he has never quite had WWE's support thus hasn't been booked in the most favourable way. Bryan is constantly been portrayed as a geek, which sort of makes it hard for fans to want to get behind him (considering enough fans are probably embarrassed by liking a non trendy form of entertainment anyway -- so why cheer for something that is being portrayed even geekier). The guy has slowly been losing momentum and fan support. Despite that, he still had a nice yet quick little match with Tyson Kidd (another talented guy who doesn't get his due because he is small). The after match shenanigans saw two female twins named the Bellas attack Bryan's girlfriend, Gail Kim. Though the Bellas aren't portrayed as actual wrestlers, so Kim made short work of both of them. Apparently, there is rumours that this is supposed to lead to the debut of a women wrestler called Awesome Kong. Hopefully, that is true because Kim and Kong had amazing matches in TNA, and plus if that isn't the case, then I endured watching this horrendous storyline without any satisfying payoff (though, as a wrestling fan, I am sort of used to enduring that over the years).
Vicki Guerrero announces Edge must wrestle Dolph Ziggler in a rematch on Friday Smackdown: Guerrero has such amazing heat with the fans and is definitely one of the top heels. Too bad she isn't a wrestler or that her heat really transfers to her storyline boyfriend, Dolph Ziggler. Anyway, this was to set up a rematch from the Royal Rumble, where Edge defended his title against Ziggler. Though this time the match would be Edge & Kelly v. Dolph and LayCool, but with the stipulation that if Dolph's team wins then he becomes World champion. I really hate when they come up with stupid stipulations like this, because it makes the championships seem so worthless. Though I do appreciate the fact they are using this show to actually try to hype and give fans a reason to tune into the next show. I still won't, but I can appreciate it.
LayCool beat Eve and Natalya: I don't mind women wrestling, but this match was pretty poor. LayCool is a tag team with great personalities and chemistry, but they don't always produce the best matches. This match also didn't really make a lot of sense because Natalya was the women's champion before losing the title to Eve in a four way match (which involved all the participants from this match) at the Royal Rumble. Yet, tonight Natalya seemed to be happy to be Eve's partner and excited that Eve was the new champion. If a fan is to believe that a wrestler's top goal is to be champion and that the titles matter, then shouldn't Natalya shown some frustration or resentment that she is no longer the top women wrestler? I think, they should have found Eve a different partner tonight, because it made titles seem worthless that Natalya didn't even care she was no longer the champ. Anyway, the best part of the match was when Layla cowered away from Natalya and keep trying to hide behind her partner Michelle McCool. Layla plays a great chicken heel, even if the wrestling isn't fantastic.
World Champion Edge defeated WWE Champion Miz: In the old days, if a wrestler was attacked (especially with a guitar) then they would probably be out for at least a few weeks. They definitely would not have wrestled on the show an hour later, and most definitely would not have been able to pin a world champion. It obviously isn't those days anymore. The problem is, this conditions the fan to not care about attack angles because they know it won't really injure their favourite wrestler. The Del Rio angle was a great way to give the guy heat, but if his attack can't even hurt Edge for more than an hour then how are fans supposed to care? It is things like this that cause the audience to not care about angles, and thus hurts the drawing power of future matches. In this match, Edge ended up winning after John Cena distracted the Miz by getting the fans to chant, 'Miz is awful.' It was sort of stupid and not really a face thing to do, but it was 'justified' because Miz caused Cena to be eliminated from the Royal Rumble match the night before. This would be Cena's revenge and continue that storyline, which likely will be paid off at Wrestlemania (which I predict Cena will earn by winning the Elimination Chamber match at the same named event). I can't fault WWE for trying to build up the Wrestlemania matches early, and try to get the fans to anticipate them. Though it would be nice if Miz, as the champion, started to gain some credibility rather than lose matches against supposedly injured wrestlers.
Usos were supposed to wrestle Mark Henry and Great Khali: Instead of a match, they ended up having a dance contest. Yeah, sometimes I wonder why I am a wrestling fan, why do you ask? This was beyond stupid, and I'll say no more about this. I will say that shortly after this they showed a trailer for a WWE produced film starring HHH, which also didn't help my case for being a wrestling fan.
Jerry Lawler wins a Raw Rumble against Sheamus, John Morrison, John Cena, Randy Orton, CM Punk and R Truth: It was pretty predictable that Lawler would win this match, but in this case, that was a good thing. WWE had tried for too long to be unpredictable and it has led them to completely rewriting stories or doing finishes that make no sense in order to shock people. In this case, the logical choice was Lawler because then you can further his storyline and hopefully, it makes Miz a bigger heel when he ruins Lawler's dream at the Elimination Chamber PPV. The match also had a few interesting intertwined storylines. There was the story of Morrison who used his cat like reflexes to avoid being eliminated several times(the rules state wrestler must be thrown over the top rope and have both feet touch the floor to be eliminated from the match). The night before at the Royal Rumble, Morrison pulled off one of the most visually spectacular moves that I've ever seen (which they replayed several times during this telecast). Morrison was knocked out of the ring, but instead of touching the floor, he pulled off a Spiderman like move where he landed and hung on to the ringside barrier, then he jumped up on the barrier where he tight rope walked then leaped on to the ringside steps then entered back into the ring. My writing of this sequence doesn't do this justice and the move was stunning and took amazing ability and timing (probably can be found YouTube). It would have really been easy to mess up and make Morrison look like a geek. Instead, I think it has given him a chance to really become a huge star and maybe finally crack into the main event. They continued Morrison's ability to stave off elimination tonight, where he continually avoided many almost guaranteed eliminations (and the fans really got behind him). The other big storyline of the match was that Punk was afraid of Orton who was seeking revenge, and so Punk hid under the ring before Orton entered the match (wrestlers draw numbers and every 90 seconds another wrestler enters the match based off what they drew). Orton then dragged out Punk, and brought him into the ring to eliminate him, but after the elimination, Orton was distracted thus got eliminated. Punk then escaped, which will cause the fans to beg for the evil doer to get his comeuppance in the future. All these different elements made for a fun match to watch, and yes the finish was predictable but it was also the right one. Predictable isn't always bad, and the fans seemed genuinely happy and shocked that Lawler pulled off the 'upset' win.
Final Thoughts: It was a thoroughly entertaining show, and proof that even during WWE's low times that they pick things up during the 'Road to Wrestlemania.' It looks like they already have plans in place for Wrestlemania, and beginning to build up those storylines. They also seem to be attempting to make new stars with Morrison and Del Rio. The key for WWE's future is getting those wrestlers over, and allowing the main event scene to appear fresh after it has been so stale for so long. Hopefully, they can start making the titles mean something again, and created some stories and angles that allow the fans to get excited for the product. It was definitely a good first start, and it at least got me interested enough to give them a few more looks in the coming weeks.