WWE Royal Rumble 2012: The Epic Opening Leg to the Showcase of the Immortals
"At the Gateway to Everywhere,
The call becomes a primal desire.
The annual decision of the powers
that be start the road to the Showcase.
One winner amongst a field of fallen.
One chance to become of the Immortals.
One moment crucified at the crossroads."
January begins the subtle anticipation amongst WWE fans. It starts as a quiet realization of the coming of something important. Like remembering your wife's birthday.
Your heart and mind become one with that understanding. The times and places have already been chosen and the groundwork begins to unfold. The road to WrestleMania starts now.
In two weeks time, one person will secure a shot at destiny on April 1 in Miami. To do so, that person must run a gauntlet by defeating 30 other men through luck, skill and sheer force of will.
On Jan. 29 in St. Louis, the road to WrestleMania officially opens with the Royal Rumble.
Amongst other matches will be the title defense of WWE Champion CM Punk vs. Dolph Ziggler (with the screwy John Laurinaitis calling the match). Other expected matches include John Cena vs. Kane and a World Heavyweight Championship match featuring Daniel Bryan.
There are some critical things going into the pay-per-view that need to be considered which will shape the outcome of the pay-per-view, if not the entire year.
Names such as Punk, Cena, Bryan, Ziggler and Orton will help determine the lay of the road and the shape of things to come.
The Match Itself
"The hallmark of the opening road
is the simple, beautiful spectacle
bred from the mass orgy of chaos.
The rules are known and honored,
but in those rules is born the love
of battle as war becomes their lives.
Such is the nature of the calling."
Members of the Internet wrestling community tend to harp on the WWE's love of gimmick pay-per-views such as TLC and Hell In A Cell. However, the Royal Rumble gets a flyer from us for a few reasons.
One is the match itself is older than some fans have been alive. Such things that survive the degradation of the years don't get questioned. Traditions come from somewhere, right?
The original Royal Rumble match aired a special on the USA network in 1988 and was won by "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan. The next year, it made its pay-per-view debut.
The other reason is the prize of winning that match. Since 1993, the winner of the match was guaranteed a title shot at that year's WrestleMania. A lot of gimmick matches have some prize, but a chance to be in the main event on the biggest stage of them all carries a special meaning to it.
Usually, the match has been won by someone already considered "main event" status. However, some wrestlers, like Alberto Del Rio in 2011, have used a win in the match to catapult themselves into the spotlight.
Due to its age, main-event stipulation and placement on the calendar, the Royal Rumble is considered one of the "Big Four" pay-per-views for the WWE and tends to be given a high importantance on the WWE's booking schedules as a result.
More or less, it helps to set to the tone for the year. Case in point is last year, when Del Rio eliminated Santino to win the match, Del Rio went on to the WWE Title twice, the Raw Money In The Bank match and became a top heel for the WWE's flagship show, Raw.
The Viper's Home Turf
"The backyard of the predator
is a dangerous place to play.
Every inch, every single place
with a shadow is a killing zone.
Striking fast and without pity,
the Viper's dark eyes glow
with malevolence only he can hear."
A favorite to win this year is Randy Orton. Given his status as a top babyface and the fact that it is in his home town, the WWE took some pains to se tup his return as a "surprise entrant."
In the build up towards TLC, Orton was put through a table courtesy of a Wasteland from Wade Barrett. The Viper suffered a herniated disk and needed to be written off TV for a while. A few weeks ago, Barrett and Orton had a street fight that was beautifully orchestrated. It ended with Orton taking an off-camera fall down a flight of stairs.
SmackDown's announcing team sold the injury as it were the end of Orton's career. Barrett helped with a decent promo as well. However, Randy is expected to be off TV only a short time and is advertised for local shows after the pay-per-view.
Given the WWE's heavy reliance on him to help carry the SmackDown brand and the natural feel-good moment that results from a massively popular wrestler winning in their home town, this could begin another big year for the Viper.
"Every rose has thorns, all barrages
have some victims in it's wake.
The steel-eyed maestro of rebellion
always takes what he can without
giving ground or even justification.
Amidst the tumult of war, the rose
would find fate his own to make."
Wade Barrett has had a strong few months. So much so that he needs special mention going into the next pay-per-view.
Over the last five months, he has actually defeated the likes of Orton and Sheamus and looked good doing it. Storyline wise, he put Orton out of action for an indeterminate amount of time and seems to be line for a shot a the World Heavyweight Championship.
Barrett originally took the WWE by storm as the leader of Nexus. Before the storyline lost steam, he stood toe to toe with Orton, Cena and Punk. After the Nexus and Corre angles lost momentum, he struck out on his own while SmackDown's creative team sought an opening for him.
He was ever kept on the periphery but never fully out of mind, like a dark storm portending the end of days. Cue the "Barrett Barrage," and the rest is history.
Barrett is a unique talent due to his size, promo ability and strong ring acumen. The WWE might be looking for a title run from him after WrestleMania based on his strong booking and momentum that has placed him at the top of the heap on the Blue brand.
A win at Royal Rumble would be the catalyst to do just do that.
The Showcase of the Show-off
"The audacious one, the self-proclaimed
Personification of Perfection perceives
the city of the crossroads for what it is.
That being a chance to shine more than
once; the first challenge against the throne,
the second in the morass of humanity.
He's played it before. he'll do it again."
Dolph Ziggler has been impressive as of late. The latter part of 2011 saw him pull double duty at two pay-per-views and get some great matches against the likes of Zack Ryder and CM Punk.
Dolph's ring work has been matched by his recent promo work. During his recent outtings on the mic, he's exuded confidence that's bordered on unadulterated arrogance. He's proving he has all the tools as a viable main event heel.
It's not a stretch for him, as he's tasted that status during his feud with Edge last year. Such first-time feuds tend to be trial runs before the talent returns to the limelight of the main event.
The prospect of Dolph doing double duty at Royal Rumble is strong. He's got a WWE Championship match vs. CM Punk. Should he lose (a strong possibility), he'll likely end up in the Royal Rumble match itself as a late entry.
Dolph's recent gimmick change from "Perfection" to "Show Off" is designed to make him a hybrid of sorts. His use of Michael's Superkick as a signature move, and his recent capitalizing of the opportunities and openings gives him the feeling of a cross between legends Edge and Shawn Michaels.
To state it simply, this is perfect for him. His style, natural confidence and charisma should carry him far in his gimmick.
Ziggler is in the right place at the right time to begin his return to grace. Garnering praise from everywhere and everyone, his series of matches with Punk have been very good despite some minor botches that have left Punk nursing some wounds.
In the end, a victory over Punk or a strong showing in that match and in the Royal Rumble match (if not outright victory) would make Ziggler a made man.
The Trial of the Second City Saint
"The Savior of the Second City
broiled under the intensity of the light.
Some doubted, others heralded,
but all understood one simple thing.
The road to the Showcase of Immortals
wound through him and his throne.
Praise or damnation was irrelevant."
Punk is in a curious position. A few weeks ago, the word around the campfire was that the "powers that be" for Raw considered taking the WWE Championship off of Punk due to ratings.
It seems that saner minds prevailed (or they drug tested the folks in question), and Punk is now slated to hold the strap through to WrestleMania.
That begs the question of what exactly Punk's status is in the WWE. Rumors have put him all over the map from whipping boy to politicking master backstage. Simply put, the match with Ziggler should prove interesting to see exactly what his status is and the amount of faith the WWE has in him.
Personally, the ratings have been a none factor with me. The WWE is in the midst of creating new stars, so simple name recognition isn't there. This will improve as time passes and young guns like Ryder, Ziggler, Rhodes and Barrett find their stroke.
In any case, Punk's unique style and talents on the microphone have helped separate him from the pack and placed him at the top of the heap. The WWE is heavily featuring a feud between him and "Mr. Excitement" John Laurinaitis while they manufacture top level talent and put them into a position to succeed.
The Laurinaitis vs. Punk feud is a redress of a the famous Austin vs. McMahon feud of the late 90's. The WWE used that storyline to carry it until the recognition caught up to the talent at the time. Once names like The Rock and Triple H took hold, the WWE was set for a good long time.
While the actual angle isn't as bleeding edge as the famous McMahon/Austin angle was back then and the WWE's situation isn't actually dire, it is trying to find its own identity. Punk exploded in late 2011 in a number of ways because he found a way when others had failed.
When the others catch up, it will be a good time again for the WWE.
Until that time, Punk is going to be left holding the throne until sufficient swagger is behind guys like The Miz and Ziggler to justify dethroning the "Voice of the Voiceless."
The Daniel Bryan Conundrum
"The Dragon of the New World
Wasn't often mentioned, often remembered.
However, the current holder of the crown
sought to demand the accolades befit
a ruler of the world, a tyrant none equaled.
Breaking the wills of his opponents
was the trademark of his secret satisfaction."
Daniel Bryan's made a surprisingly effective heel in his short time as World Heavyweight Champion. Manipulative and intelligent, he's bent the rules to his favor time and again to keep his title.
Going into the Royal Rumble with two very large prospective opponents on the horizon, it remains to be seen how effective a champion he is.
Most title reigns that are a result of the "Money In The Bank" cash-in tend to be trial runs and used as a kayfabe excuse to test talent against the current main-event crop of stars.
Edge and CM Punk proved they had the mettle to be effective champions when the time came for legitimate runs. Others, such as Jack Swagger, didn't seem to have that "it" factor that the made for an effective and believable title holder.
Bryan is widely regarded as one of the most technically proficient wrestlers of his generation. It remains to be seen if he can wiggle his way out of his prospective title match intact, but one thing is certain. It should be entertaining.
The Legacy of the Legends
"The Return of the Old Masters
hung heavily on the battlefield.
Like a looming dragon, they
would bide their time as patience
was ever an ally to the wise.
The time would come, it always does,
to show the upstarts how its really done."
The headline match itself was always one for surprises. One of the cooler things about the match is seeing the return of the previous generation's stars to the ring.
Last year, Booker T and Kevin "Diesel" Nash returned in mark out moments that were highly memorable. Both performed well in limited time and wound up in programs with various talents from the current generation.
Previous returns included Jimmy Snuka and Roddy Piper in a surreal moment that made the entire match stop while they two resumed their age old shenanigans. Others such as Honky Tonk Man and Ernest Miller were more for comedic effect, but the result was the same.
Regardless, whomever the WWE pulls out of the closet this year for one last go helps to accentuate a great match that much more.
The Feats of Legerdomain
"The tactics were simple enough
and there are no points for subtlety.
Brute strength an advantage while
capitalizing on opportunities is expected.
The unexpected, however, beguiles
and fascinated the watchers and warriors
alike. Audacity is worthy of remembrance."
There is something to be said for using the rules to your advantage. Memorable moments such as Morrison's "ninja spot" and Shawn Michaels "skinning the cat" all capitalized on the rules as they were.
Simply put, you are out of if you go over the top rope and both your feet touch the outside. Beyond that, all is fair in love and wrestling.
This rule has been used in every way imaginable, including a great tease last year where Santino Marella looked like he might win the event.
Santino was put out of the ring, but he didn't go over the top rope. As such, he wasn't eliminated from the match but was forgotten until the very end.
Fast forward, and Alberto Del Rio was standing alone in the ring when Marella snaked back into the ring, gave Del Rio a hellacious Cobra and nearly won the match. Some folks didn't like the spot, but I personally thought it was clever.
Beyond that, it's nice to see a guy like Marella get a chance to shine once in a while.
Makes me wonder what will happen this year. Strange things always happen in the Royal Rumble match, which has always been part of its charm.
What About Sheamus?
"The Celtic Warrior, the one
whose light could not be dimmed,
was left without course and cause.
What about him? His last great challenge
fell through the simple machinations
of exorbitant brutality. The downfall of many
would be felt in his passing."
In a lot of ways, I feel really bad for Sheamus.
The Celtic Warrior has been without a solid feud since the late last year, when Christian went down due to his ankle sprain. Though not an "A" feud, it had its entertaining moments thanks to the work of Sheamus and Christian in the ring and some creative storytelling.
However, since Christian was shelved, Sheamus has been left treading water with little prospect for a return to greatness. Since making a face turn against the monster Mark Henry, Sheamus had been pushed to the point where he's mentioned as part of the WWE's current "Big Four" faces.
Belonging in the same sentence with names like Punk, Orton and Cena, there was little doubt that he'd see time with the World Heavyweight Title at some point.
However, through simple accidents and sadistic circumstance, Sheamus is floating and nothing more. Until very recently, Barrett was busy with Orton while Bryan is embroiling both Henry and Big Show.
The match between Barrett and Sheamus on this Friiday's "Sin City SmackDown" should help to remind folks of who he is and give him a program with Barrett that should benefit both men.
One thing is certain, a good showing at the Royal Rumble or an outright victory would place the Great White back at the top of the world.
Otherwise, it might just be a shameful thing for the Lobster Head.
Forgive me; I couldn't resist.
The Enigma of the Millenium
"The promised return of silent
warrior, the Prophetless One
spoke nary a word as motivations
were left as open as a blank journal.
The story has yet to be told, the
wanting of fanfare or cries of children?
His reasons were only his alone."
The return of Chris Jericho has been nothing if not unique. Without saying a single word, Y2J has managed to split the WWE in ways that few superstars can.
The current word around the campfire, as linked in the Punk slide, is for a program between Jericho and Punk at WrestleMania. Prior to his return, Jericho had shot after shot at Punk for "ripping him off" by using the "Best in the World" slogan for his current.
The issue, however, is Jericho did not originate the phrase in any capacity, but it's a good launching poing for a feud.
Suffice to say, Punk draws a lot of comparisons to Jericho in terms of his style in the ring and on the mic. An angle between these two is liable to draw upon a "In A Dark Mirror" inspiration. Both men are reflections of each other in some capacity.
A match at WrestleMania needs to begin somewhere, and a victory for Jericho in the Royal Rumble match (the one thing he's never done in the WWE) is appropriate in multiple ways. Any resulting match between the two could be a "passing the torch" moment and would be incredibly symbolic.
Jericho has "trolled" his way back into fans' collective conscience, but what are his motivations? I guess we shall see.
The Collision Course of Cena and Kane
"The Big Red Son of Shaitan
would go about his business
in ways few could ever dream.
The message simple and target
as obvious and large as Luna herself.
The world quakes at his name,
the carnage a work of broken art."
I need to make a confession. I haven't really cared overly much about the angle between Kane and Cena. For some reason, it's really failed to connect with me on any level that I would consider "entertaining."
That said, the WWE is relying on it giving both men something to do until WrestleMania's hype cycle begins in March.
For months, the WWE had been heavily teasing a heel turn for the Commander of CeNation before apparently scrapping the idea on Monday. Kane subtlety switched his tactics on Monday's opening segment. Instead of getting Cena to "embrace the hate," he encouraged the audience to embrace that emotion.
In the course of three minutes, the feud went from heavy shades of gray to clear black and white as Cena came out and brawled with Kane.
Between that and the ending segments which resembled at a bad 1980's horror film, the angle has been looking to build some vulnerability into Cena and some domination factor into Kane.
Whether the feud goes beyond the Royal Rumble remains to be seen. Certainly they could extend it into Elimination Chamber if they choose.
Whatever happens and how they proceed with the angle, I'm sure it'll remain a highlight until the summer when the WWE unleashes their annual "hot angle" that's become a tradition.
The Long and Winding Road
"The accomplishment of the impossible
defines the legacy of the mighty ones.
The sadistic nature of war burns bright.
Melting the weak but tempering the strong,
the coming war of the thirty means all.
One brilliant to chance to shine, to define
the legacy of those who would be legends."
The Royal Rumble pay-per-view is the opening salvo for the best time of year for WWE fans. A series of three pay-per-views helps to shape the landscape for the entire year.
The "Road to WrestleMania" is like a sandwich on artisan bread. The Royal Rumble and WrestleMania pay-per-views are tasty and designed to tickle the fancies of wrestling fans, while the shows in between and Elimination Chamber help to give the entire road it's meat and filling.
The forthcoming event begins the opening leg to WrestleMania, but is a defining moment in the careers of a lot of wrestlers for various reasons. In and of itself, the Royal Rumble pay-per-view itself a monster deal.
Going in, a ton of questions beg for answers. Some, however, won't get an answer until after WrestleMania, if not later. One thing is certain though.
The first leg to the "Showcase of the Immortals" promises to be a damn good one.
Thanks for reading! Have a prediction on who will win the match or what we may see in a few weeks in St. Louis? Leave your comments below.