This was a topic discussed by myself on a VoicesofWrestling.com 1,003 Holds podcast and one that has me nervous about Sunday’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view. Can and will the Phoenix crowd make the CM Punk-The Rock WWE Championship Match a classic?
We’re all anticipating a classic match and by all means, it should be.
From an in-ring standpoint, CM Punk always rises to the occasion. While he’s a little far removed from a truly top-tier match, he’s been solidly consistent. When the light shines bright, CM Punk rises to the occasion. I’m not worried about him.
The Rock—I’d be lying if I claimed I’m not a little nervous about. Of course, The Rock was a beast in his hey-day, delivering a ton of stellar matches. But that’s the old Rock—that’s not actor Rock—that wasn’t once-a-year wrestling Rock.
WrestleMania 28′s main event between The Rock and John Cena was great. It was awesome, but The Rock blew up in the match quickly. You can’t deny that. Within 5-10 minutes, you could tell The Rock was on tired, nearly dead legs. There were long bouts of holding the ropes and gasping for air. I was worried we were about to see a huge letdown.
Alas, he was able to recover, and due in large part to Cena controlling the remainder of the contest, the two still put together a very solid match.
I wouldn’t be doing the match or my role as a critical wrestling fan justice if I left it at that. Even after the match, I wondered if it would have been as highly regarded on a Capitol Punishment pay-per-view. Would Cena-Rock in a vacuum or an Extreme Rules pay-per-view be nearly as well-regarded? I think the obvious answer here is, no.
It simply would not have been that big of a deal or that great of a match if not surrounded by 78,000-plus fans. The atmosphere, hype and anticipation of the match played as big of a part in making that match a top-tier affair as anything in-ring did.
In-ring wise, Punk-Rock might be good, but it might be average. As The Classical‘s Nick Bond discussed in his recent piece “Somebody’s Going to Emergency, Somebody’s Going to Jail“, this match is going to have difficulty even being the best Royal Rumble match of all time. It’s nothing personal against Punk or The Rock; it’s just one of WWE’s biggest events and has produced stellar, epic and legendary matches.
Bond mentions Cactus Jack vs. Triple H from Royal Rumble 2000, the infamous “I Quit” match from the 1999 Royal Rumble between The Rock and Mankind and even Kurt Angle vs. He Who Shall Not Be Named (…Chris Benoit) from 2003 as matches already on the top of the mountain. It’s hard to argue with any of those being top-tier title matches.
If you want to talk about classic Royal Rumble affairs, you can also add in the numerous stellar Royal Rumble matches (let’s all give a slow clap for Pat Patterson’s genius). I’m talking the well-booked 1990 affair, the legitimately five-star 1992 Royal Rumble and great 2007 Rumble won by No. 30 entrant The Undertaker.
Can The Rock vs. CM Punk top any of those matches? On a purely in-ring standpoint? I doubt it—I really do. Both guys are good performers, but I’m just not confident they can put together an organic, in-ring four- or five-star match.
What’s going to make the match a classic is the crowd and the atmosphere surrounding it. There was much debate when Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer gave CM Punk vs. John Cena at Money in the Bank 2011 a five-star rating. Some would argue—in-ring—that was not a great match. There were many blown spots and it wasn’t particularly fluid. Nobody is arguing though, that the atmosphere surrounding the match made it spectacular.
The WrestleMania 28 rematch of Undertaker vs. Triple H was nothing special in-ring, but the crowd was hot the entire way through. Again, a match that I wouldn’t say was an organic/in-ring five star contest turned into the stuff of legends thanks to a hot crowd.
Sunday in Phoenix, it’s up to those in the crowd to make this match a big deal and make this epic. Punk and Rock are going to lay the groundwork for you and it’s your turn to let your voices be heard and make this special.
Not to offend any fans we have in Phoenix or the Arizona-area, but I’m just not confident in it. They shouldn’t feel ashamed though, I’ve begun to notice that silent WWE crowds have become the norm outside of New York, Chicago, Toronto and a few other select cities.
I can’t really explain why. It’s very much a chicken and egg riddle.
Does a hot WWE product make a good crowd? Crowds were rabid in the late '80s, early '90s and again in the late '90s-early 2000s, and that does coincide with great points in WWE creative history. The issue though, lies with these bit-shows with hot crowds where you watch and say, “WOW, THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST SHOWS EVER! WWE IS GOOD AGAIN.”
Money in the Bank 2011—not to bring it up again—was regarded as the Best Major Show in the 2011 Wrestling Observer Awards. That’s high praise. Now it was a great event from top to bottom, but I’ve often wondered, does the event have the same impact if it was done in Oklahoma City?
More recently, “Tables, Ladders and Chairs” was a highly-regarded event capped off by an extremely hot Dolph Ziggler vs. John Cena match and a great Six-Man Tag featuring The Shield vs. Team Hell No and Ryback. Another top to bottom great show, hot crowd and well, it was done at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. Largely the same audience as your typical Madison Square Garden/New York show.
Looking at Cagematch.net’s pay-per-view database, WWE pay-per-view events since 2003 that received 8+ overall ratings were from the following cities: Chicago (Rosemont), Seattle, Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Orlando, Chicago, San Antonio, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Buffalo, New York, San Diego, Toronto, Las Vegas, Brooklyn, Kansas City, Denver, Providence, Chicago (Rosemont) and New York.
There are some outliers for sure, but I can’t help but notice three Chicago shows and three New York proper (one Brooklyn) shows. The only other city to show up multiple times was Las Vegas (twice).
It’s not an exact science at all, but it’s very telling that New York and Chicago somehow, someway, continue to have highly-regarded pay-per-views even in a less than stellar time creatively for the WWE.
Back to Phoenix, let’s look at how well their events have been received. Again, thanks to Cagematch.net for their awesome database tool, we can look at all Phoenix-area pay-per-views since 2003. (Not fair to leave Glendale out of the running).
What we can tell off the bat, is they are not nearly as well-received. SummerSlam 2003 tops the list at 7.74, followed by Glendale’s WrestleMania XXVI, highlighted by an all-time great bout between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, at 7.28. The last three, Money in the Bank 2012, Cyber Sunday 2008 and Judgment Day 2006 all found themselves under 7 (6.67, 6.35, 5.79). Again, not an exact science but somewhat telling that they had a less-than-stellar WrestleMania, a close, but not quite great SummerSlam and a letdown Money in the Bank (a traditionally well-rated show).
Really, I don’t know. I’m nervous the fans will let us down and this match won’t have the same "oh and ah" feel it deserves, but we’ll see. I hate to badmouth an entire fanbase, but take this as a beg and a plea to clear your throats. Don’t talk the entire day and let it all out during the pay-per-view. It’s up to you to make The Rock vs. CM Punk an epic, all-time great match.
Rich Kraetsch is the owner and regular contributor to VoicesofWrestling.com