The Royal Rumble doesn’t need to be crap.
It’s frustrating, because I know they can do it. I know they can do it because they’ve done it before. The Rumble has been great in its past life and I know – we all know – it can be great again, but there seems to be little will to make it great.
Perhaps it’s just that the 2015 Rumble was less than stellar. It was boring. The best reflection of that was in the three measly surprise entrants we got.
Right now, we’re right in the middle of that pick your surprise entrant season. It’s like a ringmaster’s whip crack, the new year turns and the circus of rumours starts up. Everyone gets excited, expecting lions and tigers and other exotic animals that aren’t on the bill to come out from behind that curtain and entertain them.
The thing is, the surprise entrants are more often than not nothing more than a brief nostalgia moment. Instead of lions and tigers we end up with sheep and cows. Perfectly capable of performing their function well, we all need wool and milk, but it’s not quite as exciting having a cow in the room with you as it is a tiger. Last year’s circus saw Bubba Ray Dudley foreshadow his full time return, Diamond Dallas Page and the Boogeyman. None made a significant impact. Sheep and cows.
I should add, there’s one exception to everything I’ve written above – and that’s when the surprise entrant is a surprise return from injury. John Cena and Edge have both returned as a surprise entrant to win the Rumble in two of perhaps the Rumble’s most exciting moments.
If the surprise entrants don’t make the Rumble great, despite the amount of attention they get, then what does?
Well, I think the Royal Rumble circus was at its greatest in 2001. The Hardcore Rumble, as I remember it being called. That was a great match. Not just a great Rumble – a great match. And it wasn’t a great match because of the surprises. If you look at the surprise entrants in that match, only one of them looked set to have an impact on the match. The Big Show returned from a layoff more like a bear than a lion, to lay waste to the participants of the Rumble, throwing out chokeslams like confetti. He looked like a dominant beast…for all of a minute, before The Rock threw him out. Big Show’s resulting chokeslam to The Rock through the announce table gave The Rock a nice few minutes to get his breath back while the Brothers of Destruction dominated.
While Big Show’s return might not have been as dramatic as Cena or Edge’s wins, it was impactful. It changed the tone of the match.
The other returns in that match weren’t even close to impactful. I think Drew Carey and Honky Tonk Man’s participation were supposed to be funny. Was it the worst thing in the world to have them there? No. Was it impactful? No. Not at all. It was far more effective to the story of that match to have the Brothers of Destruction toss out poor Scotty 2 Hotty, a sheep definitely entering a lion’s den, than it was to have Drew Carey eliminate himself like a scared mouse or for Honky Tonk Man’s guitar to get broken over his head and tossed out after just over a minute like a clown rather than one of the most successful Intercontinental Champions of all time. I’d argue Haku’s return was fair to middling, being as he was being inserted straight into a nice upper midcard scenario and his Rumble participation achieved the task of getting him there.
So the returns didn’t really make the match. They took up 4 of the 30 places, 5 if you count Tazz’s pointlessly fast burial of an elimination.
What makes the Rumble interesting is the same as what makes any wrestling matchup interesting. It’s all in how the match is worked.
The 2001 Rumble is my favourite because the story it tells develops based on who you have in the ring at the time. It’s crafted really, really well and moves along at a great pace. There were at least a dozen talking points, pins thrown in the air that the crowd ate up. Brother vs. brother with the Hardys. The Brothers of Destruction reigning supreme. Stone Cold being attacked on the way to the ring by an irate Triple H only to come back to win. The hardcore specialists like Raven, Steve Blackman and Al Snow turning the ring into a crash site. Kane eliminating the most people in a Rumble. Big Show’s return and taking out of The Rock. All juggled together inside the story of Steve Austin winning and going to ‘Mania.
The talking point of the 2015 Royal Rumble was the crowd. When that happens, you haven’t booked a good match.
And it’s so easy. I’ve gone on record here to say that I write these articles with no insider knowledge. I don’t know anyone in the industry, I have never been inside a wrestling ring and I don’t know how to book a match and wouldn’t try to. That is, for anything except the Royal Rumble. The Rumble is so unique, literally a once in a year event, that it should set anyone’s pulse racing trying to fantasy book it, let alone actually book it.
I’m not going to fantasy book the 2016 Rumble for you here. I’m not going to predict it either, I’ll leave that to the guv’nor and the rest at the weekend. I am going to crack my own whip however and say how I think the match should go because this article space is my circus.
It’s a long match, the Royal Rumble. As such, it should go through various phases, just like an Iron Man Match would. We know Roman Reigns is starting off as the number one entrant. So his task of survival should get harder and harder as the match progresses. It should mount, as should the tension, with every passing minute until he starts to falter. Each elimination should bring but a moment of relief as the decks stack up higher with the next entrant.
That’s the main story. That’s the arc the Rumble match follows and it’s as good as any. It’s also a hook for the whole match, just as Kane (more or less, he wasn’t number 1 entrant) was in 2001. That doesn’t mean it’s the only story, though.
Then you have the factional element. There’s the League of Nations. There’s the Wyatts. There’s the Family. There’s (probably) The Social Outcasts. There’s New Day. That could be 19 of the 30 entrants supporting their own respective factions.
If wrestling and the circus have similarities in that there’s a ring, there’s also clowns. There will be a comedy element, probably provided by the Social Outcasts.
Then finally, there’s Brock Lesnar. A faction all on his own. If someone eliminates Brock Lesnar then that will be a story that will run for months. However long Brock Lesnar’s time in the ring (and having said I won’t do a prediction, here’s one for you – I don’t think it will be that long), it will be brutal. And brilliant.
So you have a big old hook with the trials of Roman Reigns. You have the brutal, vicious impact of Brock Lesnar. You have comedy from the clowns and you have factions fighting each other distracting them from the prize.
You’ve got a match there because you’ve got a formula. Only they follow that formula every year – so why does it work some years and not others?
Well, why did it work in 2001? I think it worked because it moulded all the elements together into a seamless story. Sure, there were different impactful moments, but they were weaved into one match, not bolted on. The high flyers, the clowns, the strong men and the daredevils all worked together – the show was the success story.
It felt like one person was in control of the booking of that match. It felt like one ringmaster’s vision was followed. It felt like all the producers of that match were on the same page. It felt like there was an intelligent flow, from one part of the story to the next. All the talking points I mentioned above flowed into one another smoothly and felt like an organic progression in the match. The Big Show’s entrance and demolition of the other participants felt like a natural game changer – the match got serious at that point.
Underneath it all though, underpinning everything that made the 2001 Rumble a good match, was that it mattered. It mattered to every participant in it – they were devastated to get eliminated, they would do everything they could to win the match including using weapons and they all played to their strengths to do it. Those that lasted longer than Tazz anyway.
I think I’m bitter about Tazz being eliminated so quickly.
Tazz aside, everyone was in that Rumble to win. They’ve done a decent job of putting that across with the segments on Raw this week, but not a great job. The League of Nations didn’t come off as credible threats, they came off as people I should be laughing at – but at least they showed a desire to win. Chris Jericho…well, I’m not sure where he went on Monday night, he just seemed to vanish into thin air, but he cares about winning. Brock Lesnar cares about winning. Roman Reigns is desperate to win, the McMahons are desperate for him not to.
There’s enough there. If they can weave the story of one match – chapters within one tale – then we’ll have a great Rumble on our hands on Sunday night.
Just please…please Vince, there’s no need for the ringmaster to be in the match.