The Royal Rumble is nearly upon us, and the WWE brass has been working overtime in order to prepare for it. The storylines always seem to ramp up around Rumble time and things are no different this year—as there is a ton of focus on both CM Punk vs. The Rock, as well as the Royal Rumble match itself.
Things got interesting with regards to Punk and The Rock on Monday, as The Shield attacked The Great One. Not only did The Rock reportedly suffer some injuries—although they're likely storyline driven—but it was announced by Vince McMahon that Punk will be stripped of his WWE Championship if The Shield interferes at the Royal Rumble.
Also, the long and winding Brad Maddox angle took another turn with reports of him getting "attacked" prior to SmackDown. In addition to that, another inductee was announced for the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame, and the Rumble card appears to be near completion as well with the announcement of a pre-show match. On top of that, it wouldn't be Rumble season if there wasn't some speculation regarding potential surprise entrants.
Here are the biggest news stories and rumors regarding the WWE right now, complete with analysis and how they will affect the product moving forward.
The Rock and CM Punk had one last Raw encounter prior to the Royal Rumble, but this time it was the reigning, defending WWE Champion who gained the upper hand. The Rock cut a promo on Punk, who was sitting in his own luxury box. At the conclusion of it, the lights went out and when they came back on, The Shield was beating down The Great One.
Following the attack, The Rock could be seen spitting up blood, and according to WWE.com, The Rock suffered from internal bleeding in his lungs. A lot of people tend to think that the injury is legitimate, but it would have been very easy for The Rock to cut his lip or use a blood capsule in order to make it seem like he was bleeding internally. Whatever the case, it allowed Punk to one-up The Rock.
I enjoyed this segment and feel like it was a good way to set the stage for their Royal Rumble encounter. The Rock had really gotten the better of Punk at every turn prior to Monday—with the exception of the 1,000th episode of Raw—so it was important to get Punk on the score sheet. Also, I'm very intrigued by Vince's decree that Punk will be stripped of the title if The Shield interferes at Royal Rumble. That adds a whole new wrinkle to the match, and it certainly makes things unpredictable with regards to who will come out on top.
The attack also made The Shield look even stronger, as the group took out a guy who most view as untouchable. Beating down the likes of Ryback, Randy Orton, Sheamus and John Cena is one thing, but doing the same to a legend like The Rock puts Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns at another level. We may also learn more about The Shield's true motivations on Sunday. If they interfere, then they very well may be working alone, but if they stay away from the match, it is likely under orders from Punk or Paul Heyman.
Brad Maddox has been appearing on WWE programming fairly regularly for the past several weeks, but it is still unclear what role he will ultimately play. He has lost a number of squash matches in an effort to get a WWE contract, and he has taken to invading the announce table as of late too. Maddox has also attempted to forge an alliance of some kind with Paul Heyman, and while CM Punk's manager declined on several occasions, he finally agreed to take Maddox under his wing on Monday.
A strange article was posted on WWE.com the next day, however, stating that Maddox and his personal cameraman were attacked during the SmackDown taping in Sacramento, Calif. It wasn't among the WWE's featured stories on its website and little has been made of it aside from Internet speculation, but it certainly adds even more intrigue to a character that was interesting to begin with.
The first thing I need to do is squash any notion that this was a legitimate attack. It seemed like some fans were worried that Maddox and his cameraman were actually beaten up at SmackDown, but there is no doubt that this is a work. Had it been a real attack, then it would have been covered in the actual media, and we would know a lot more about it. This is unquestionably an angle, but it's extremely difficult to say where this is heading.
If I had to guess, I would say that it's a hoax in order to get Maddox involved at the Royal Rumble. Since Vince McMahon announced that Punk would vacate his title if The Shield interferes on Sunday, he'll have to find a more creative way to win. Maddox already helped him once before by going rogue as a referee during Punk's match against Ryback at Hell in a Cell. Also, his new agreement with Heyman has to be leading to something big. I'm inclined to believe that Punk will retain at the Royal Rumble in order to swerve the fans, and having Maddox get involved when it is thought that he's incapacitated would be a good way to do it.
There is no question that one of the most exciting things during Royal Rumble season is the potential for returning stars entering the Rumble match. That has become a staple of the event in recent years and it often involves legends from years past, but the current rumors would seem to indicate that the WWE is looking to go in a different direction this year. Rather than bringing in older guys who are out of the business like "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan or Roddy Piper, the company may look to bring in active competitors from other companies.
According to WrestlingInc.com, many of the rumored surprise entrants will already be in the state of Arizona for an independent show on Friday. With the Rumble taking place in Phoenix on Sunday, all of them could be potential candidates. Among the past WWE superstars mentioned in the report are Shelton Benjamin, Carlito, Chris Masters, Domino, The Honky Tonk Man and Shane Helms.
I'm a sucker for nostalgia, so I always like to see some of the older legends mix it up in the Rumble, but I'm definitely intrigued by the WWE's possible change in philosophy. Bringing in guys who are still in great shape and essentially in their prime is a good idea in terms of match quality. Benjamin and Carlito—in particular—can still go in the ring, and they have enough name recognition that the people who have been fans for a while will react if they make an appearance.
Also, there has been talk about John Morrison and MVP potentially returning, although there is no indication that they'll be in the Phoenix area this weekend. I was never a big fan of either of those guys and I'm fairly lukewarm on Benjamin and Carlito as well, but I don't doubt their in-ring acumen and I wouldn't mind a Rumble return from any of them if it means that they'll be returning on a full-time basis to bolster the mid-card scene. I also would love to see The Honky Tonk Man, as he has become pretty well known for his Rumble participation. Perhaps a live performance with 3MB is in his future.
After last week's announcement that Mick Foley would be the first inductee into the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame class, the WWE named another inductee on Monday's episode of Raw. Bob Backlund will now take his place alongside Foley and the rest of professional wrestling's immortals as a Hall of Famer. Backlund was never the flashiest competitor, but he was one of the company's biggest stars in the 1970s and 1980s.
He is the second-longest reigning WWE Champion of all time behind Bruno Sammartino, and his longevity as a competitor was extremely impressive. After leaving the WWE in 1984, he returned in 1992 and lasted over an hour in the 1993 Royal Rumble. He then turned heel for the first time during his WWE career in 1994 and defeated Bret Hart for the WWE Championship. Although he lost it to Diesel three days later, it validated what was an incredible comeback.
There is absolutely no question that Backlund deserves this honor. In fact, it is long overdue and should have been done a long time ago, considering some of the lesser names that are already in the Hall of Fame. It's better late than never, though, and I'm glad to see Backlund getting his due. He is actually an ideal inductee for this particular class since the ceremony is taking place at Madison Square Garden. Backlund sold out the Garden on many occasions, and he wrestled there more than anywhere else during his WWE career.
Fans often call for more contemporary superstars such as Foley to be inducted, but it's important not to forget the roots of professional wrestling. Backlund's initial run was just prior to the Rock 'n' Wrestling boom of the 1980s, but he definitely helped usher in the era. The action of dropping the WWE Championship to The Iron Sheik was the first sign that the times were changing, and that much became official when Hulk Hogan beat The Sheik a few weeks later. Backlund's place in history is clear and it will be cemented the night before WrestleMania.
With CM Punk vs. The Rock, Team Hell No vs. Team Rhodes Scholars, Alberto Del Rio vs. Big Show and the Royal Rumble match already in place, Sunday's pay-per-view is shaping up to be a great one. In addition to those fan matches, the WWE has decided to offer a top-notch pre-show match, as Antonio Cesaro will defend his United States Championship against The Miz.
Cesaro and Miz have been at odds for the past few weeks, so it was obvious that a match between them was going to happen at some point. I'm a bit surprised that we're getting it at the Rumble since both men have already been announced for the Rumble match itself, but there is no question that it is likely to draw in some fans who normally don't watch the pre-show. The WWE is going all-out for this pay-per-view, and I'm certainly glad to see the effort.
One thing that's very important to remember is that Cesaro initially won the United States Championship in a pre-show match, as he defeated Santino Marella prior to SummerSlam. That means that the WWE has a track record of having titles change hands in this type of non-televised match, but I don't anticipate that happening this time. Since The Miz stars in the new Marine movie that is coming out, it obviously makes sense to put the United States Championship on him. Doing it on the pre-show wouldn't be overly impactful, however.
In order to prolong the feud a bit, I would imagine that we'll either see Cesaro get the win through unfair means or he'll get himself intentionally disqualified or counted out. This will keep Miz in the title hunt so he can win it at Elimination Chamber or perhaps even WrestleMania. Cesaro has done a fantastic job with the U.S. title and I'm not ready for him to lose it yet, so hopefully the WWE goes the route I'm anticipating. Also, I'm intrigued by this Cesaro vs. Miz feud and feel like it can be great for both superstars in the long run.