It can easily be argued that no non-WrestleMania event has ever been more highly anticipated than the 2013 Royal Rumble. Not only did the show feature the Rumble match, but CM Punk and The Rock also main-evented the show with the WWE Championship on the line. It would have been very easy for the show to disappoint, but it certainly didn't.
Some will argue that the results were too predictable throughout the card, and while that may be true, sometimes predictability is the way to go in wrestling. I would have liked to have seen a surprise Rumble winner, but it's clear that the WWE has a plan in place, so it opted to follow through with it. I'm often critical of WWE's booking; however, I can't get on the writers too much about the Royal Rumble.
On top of that, there were three undercard matches. None of them received much attention from fans heading into the pay-per-view due to the focus on the Rumble match and Rock vs. Punk, but the filler matches definitely added to the event. The World Heavyweight Championship match between Alberto Del Rio and Big Show was especially good, and it could have even headlined a lesser show.
Here are my grades for each and every match on the Royal Rumble card, complete with analysis regarding the in-ring work and results.
The Royal Rumble pay-per-view got off to a strong start as Antonio Cesaro defended the United States Championship against The Miz. This match certainly wouldn't have felt out of place on the main card, but the WWE obviously wanted to drum up interest in the pre-show, and it likely succeeded.
Despite The Miz's face turn and recent momentum since buddying up with Ric Flair, it seemed likely that he would fall short against Cesaro. It was a back-and-forth affair until The Miz missed on a double axe handle attempt and fell awkwardly on his knee. He bounced back and attempted a figure-four leglock, but Cesaro was able to escape.
The Swiss superstar then made the most of Miz's condition as he tripped him up outside the ring and Miz was sent into the side of the apron. Cesaro brought Miz back into the ring and hit him with a neutralizer that placed the impact on Miz's injured knee. By virtue of that, Cesaro once again defended the U.S. title that he won on the SummerSlam pre-show five months ago.
While the match was fairly quick, it was pretty solid for a bout that the WWE gave away for free. Miz was protected to some degree, as his knee injury can be used as an excuse, and Cesaro resorted to a somewhat dirty trick to gain the victory. It might have been better to give Miz the win via countout or disqualification to prolong the feud, but I expect that to happen anyway.
Cesaro is much better off with the title than Miz is anyway because he is on the ascent whereas Miz has already been at the top. The Miz will probably win the United States Championship eventually in conjunction with The Marine being released, but I've enjoyed Cesaro's reign thus far. The WWE did a nice job building anticipation for the event.
Not surprisingly, the Royal Rumble's main card kicked off with the World Heavyweight Championship match between Alberto Del Rio and Big Show. Their Last Man Standing match on SmackDown in which Del Rio became the new champion was highly entertaining, so both men had a high standard to reach, but they surpassed it on Sunday.
Big Show was dominant throughout the early part of the match, and the action spilled to the top of the ramp. Big Show used the Rumble set to his advantage as he tossed Del Rio into it. Big Show then scaled it and pulled Del Rio up as well. Big Show proceeded to chokeslam Del Rio off the structure and through a table. Del Rio was laid out, but he somehow managed to get up just before the official reached the 10 count.
They then made their way back to the ring and Big Show continued to beat down Del Rio. Ricardo Rodriguez attempted to get involved, but Big Show dispatched of him. He then attempted to spear Del Rio through the barricade; however, Del Rio managed to get out of the way and Big Show took the brunt of the bump. This allowed Del Rio to gain the upper hand as he slapped the cross armbreaker on Big Show in the ring.
Ricardo reemerged and was wielding duct tape from the bucket that he brought to the ring with him. Ricardo taped Big Show's legs to the ropes and Del Rio released the hold. Big Show struggled to get to his feet, but he was unable to break through the tape and Del Rio picked up the win. I wasn't a huge fan of the rehashed finish as John Cena did something similar to Batista a few years ago, but it worked because Del Rio has had to find alternative ways to beat Big Show.
With a few big spots and great work from both men, this was unquestionably better than their SmackDown bout. It made Del Rio look strong as he's trying to become the next top face, and Big Show was protected as well. This was definitely a fantastic way to get things started.
After months of feuding on and off, Team Hell No and Team Rhodes Scholars did battle yet again for the Tag Team Championships. Kane and Daniel Bryan have been in possession of the titles since Night of Champions, while Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow have chased them for nearly as long. Sunday represented their best chance to capture the straps, but they were foiled yet again.
The match itself was decent, but it wasn't much different from what we've seen them do on Raw, SmackDown and even Main Event. Rhodes and Sandow were in control for the early part of the match, but Kane and Bryan were eventually able to bounce back. I expected some dissension within Team Hell No since they graduated from anger management, but they worked quite well together.
Kane eventually hit Rhodes with a chokeslam and Bryan followed that up with the No Lock on Sandow for the win. I was just starting to get into the match by the time it was over, so I was fairly disappointed. I was also pretty surprised that Team Hell No managed to win because they seemed to be in danger of splitting, especially with the road to WrestleMania kicking off. That didn't come to fruition, though, and Team Hell No continues to reign supreme in the tag division.
As much as I would have liked to see Rhodes and Sandow win the titles because they would likely benefit from them more than Kane and Bryan, it does make some sense. The tag division doesn't have a ton of star power outside of Team Hell No, so keeping the titles on them through 'Mania may be the best decision. Both Kane and Bryan are singles guys at their very core, but they still have some work to do in terms of establishing the tag division before they can embark on their own.
With that said, the match just seemed a bit rushed and it didn't live up to my expectations. It was only a supporting bout when you consider the Rumble match and The Rock vs. CM Punk being on the card, but it could have been given a bit more time rather than the video packages we saw afterward.
After a couple of lackluster Royal Rumble matches in a row, there was a lot of pressure on the WWE to put on a strong one in 2013. Although the ending was ultimately predictable with John Cena prevailing for the second time in his illustrious career, the match itself was laid out very well and was perhaps the best Rumble since 2007.
The tone was set from the very start as Dolph Ziggler entered the match first as expected, while Chris Jericho shockingly came out at No. 2. There had been some talk about Jericho as a surprise entrant, but it was far from guaranteed. Rather than saving it for later, the creative team opted for a surprise right out of the gate, and it definitely got the crowd whipped into a frenzy.
Things were handled very well after that as plenty of star power entered the match and the ring filled up. Even Santino Marella was utilized effectively in the match as he threw all four men in the ring to the apron only for all of them to get back in the ring and eliminate him. Also, Kofi Kingston stole the show with an incredible spot for the second year in a row.
Kofi was knocked off the apron and landed on Tensai's back outside the ring. Tensai dumped Kofi onto the Spanish announce table and Kingston tried to figure out how to get back to the ring. While the easiest route would have been hopping on one foot, Kofi decided to use JBL's chair. Kingston made his way back in, but he was quickly eliminated by Cody Rhodes.
Surprise entrants like Carlito, Shelton Benjamin and John Morrison didn't come to fruition, but Goldust and The Godfather received some nice nostalgia pops. Another entertaining situation arose fairly late in the match as Daniel Bryan eliminated Kane after the pair retained the Tag Team Championships earlier in the night. Kane then pulled Bryan out, and despite Bryan pleading with Kane to put him back in the ring, Kane dropped him on the floor.
Bo Dallas was used effectively in his WWE debut as he lasted for a significant amount of time and eliminated Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett. Wade returned the favor, so we could very well see them feud in the coming weeks. After that, all the focus was on the company's top stars as the final four remaining were John Cena, Ryback, Sheamus and Dolph Ziggler.
Cena and Ryback were the final two, so the fans were treated to an epic showdown I liken to Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior. Cena overcame the odds and tossed out Ryback to win the Rumble for the first time since 2008. I wasn't a big fan of the WWE using the Rumble win on an established guy like Cena, but I was thoroughly entertained.
After weeks and months of hype, The Rock and CM Punk finally did battle for the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble. There were plenty of differing opinions with regards to who might come out on top and how, but The Rock ultimately prevailed and became the new WWE Champion. Punk's 434-day reign was broken in the process, and now it will be interesting to see how the road to WrestleMania ultimately plays out.
The build to the match was certainly entertaining, but it was unclear whether or not the match itself would live up to the fans' expectations. The answer was a resounding "yes" as both Rock and Punk performed on the big stage. The Rock had some stamina issues when he faced John Cena at WrestleMania, so one of the main concerns was about his ability to go toe-to-toe with Punk.
Although Punk took much of the punishment and was the ring general in the match, The Rock was better than I could have even imagined. Punk is arguably the best in-ring worker in the company, so it isn't easy for regular roster members to keep up with him. This was just The Rock's third match since his return to the WWE, but it almost seemed as though he never left.
It looked like we were going to get the cheap ending that I dreaded seeing as the lights went out and The Shield triple powerbombed The Rock through the announce table. Punk rolled him back into the ring and scored the pinfall, but Vince McMahon interrupted his celebration. Even though we couldn't actually see that The Shield wreaked havoc, it was obvious, and Vince was about to strip Punk of his title.
The Rock cut McMahon off, however, and demanded that the match continue. Vince agreed and The Rock went on to win thanks to a People's Elbow. Cynical fans are inevitably going to complain because the WWE is putting the company's top title on a part-timer, but it's a shrewd business maneuver and it's also clear that The Rock will be ever-present during the road to WrestleMania.
As a fan of both The Rock and Punk, I would have been fine with either man winning. I simply didn't want to see the title vacated. I got my wish, and because the in-ring work was so much better than I expected, I can't help but give the main event a top-notch grade. I'm not usually in favor of a match other than the Rumble going on last; however, it was unquestionably apropos in this instance.