It had been 10 years since The Rock last strapped on WWE gold. Ten years since one of wrestling's all-time greats shoved Stone Cold Steve Austin aside to become champion of the world. Did he still have it after years spent on a Hollywood movie set rather than inside the WWE ring?
That was the question that lurked beneath the surface, the subtext of his match with CM Punk Sunday in the main event of the WWE's second-biggest pay-per-view of the year.
Surpassing all reasonable expectations, Rock showed he did indeed still have it, was still the man he was a decade prior. By earning the WWE title in the middle of the ring with the People's Elbow, Rock was clearly the big winner of the evening, winning the battle as both a character and a performer.
Who else left the US Airways Center in Phoenix a winner? In my last slide you can see the actual results. But in wrestling, winners and losers aren't always so clear-cut. A wrestler can move on to bigger and better things with an entertaining loss. A winner who can't entertain the crowd, likewise, is a loser despite what the record book says.
So who were the real winners and losers at the Royal Rumble? Click on to find out.
I'll confess—I didn't think the actual match between The Rock and CM Punk could possibly live up to the great work on the microphone they did building it up. After all, The Rock is 40 years old, out of practice and apparently spends every waking moment in the weight room building a physique he would have been proud of 15 years ago when he was in the prime of his life.
Muscle-bound and old are not attributes that usually add up to great in-ring work. But he and Punk delivered—and then the WWE delivered a swerve that saved the show. When Punk pinned The Rock after interference from The Shield, I was prepared to be disappointed. What a lame way to go off the air.
I should have known better.
When Vince McMahon came strutting down that aisle, things picked up nicely. We didn't have to wait until Monday night to see Punk get his comeuppance. The Rock delivered it right then and there in the form of the People's Elbow.
The stage is set, seemingly, for the Rock and John Cena to square off at WrestleMania for the second year in a row. A lot can happen between now and then, especially if we are blessed with a Brock Lesnar sighting. Who can say for sure what will happen? And that's what makes wrestling so consistently entertaining.
John Cena gets the most interesting reaction in arenas all over the country. Most guys are either loved or hated. Wrestling is not a place where things are ever grey.
Not so with Cena. Some fans can't get enough, cheering him no matter who is in the other corner. Older fans, often male, just can't get on board Team Cena.
You may not always see them, but you certainly hear them. They're the ones chanting "Cena Sucks" again and again throughout the star's matches.
Say this for Cena—he knows how to have fun with his critics. After his Royal Rumble win, he could have posed for a picture with almost anyone on the front row and the fan would have been too thrilled for words.
Cena, however, with a twinkle in his eye, looked for the hater. That, friends, is the ultimate last word. Hang your head, hater. Hang your head.
For Bo Dallas, wrestling is in the blood. His father is Mike Rotundo, better known to most as I.R.S., a standout in both WWE and WCW. His grandfather is legendary tough guy Blackjack Mulligan who, at 70, could probably still run through most of the WWE roster.
So it shouldn't be a surprise that he was ready to make his mark on the WWE Royal Rumble. He entered the event as an unknown. After eliminating Wade Barrett, everybody knows his name—and he has a hot angle to make his Raw debut with.
He may have lasted more than 40 minutes, but Dolph Ziggler created a grand total of zero lasting memories. He didn't win the Rumble. He wasn't even close. And he didn't cash in Money in the Bank either. All in all, he was just another wrestler out there.
Ziggler is a guy with so much potential—it's a shame to see him languish on the midcard. And this Rumble could have been his true breakout moment.
Entering first and leaving with his hand raised? Cashing in for a title win? That's how legends are made. Nobody remembers the guy who just hangs around in the corner for 45 minutes. Unfortunately, that's what Ziggler did. Sometimes lasting a long time in the Rumble is special. This wasn't, in part because Chris Jericho stole his thunder, coming out as the second man and lasting almost as long. The heat ended up being on the returning Jericho, not Ziggler.
You can tell how the WWE perceives the pecking order by how on fire a guy is when he hits the ring. Randy Orton ran wild, dropping every man in the ring at one point. Cena came in like a man on fire. So did Ryback. Ziggler, it seems, doesn't warrant that level of respect. And that's too bad. He deserves so much more.
Remember that game you used to play as a kid? When the floor was made of lava and you couldn't touch down on your feet without being eliminated? Kofi Kingston would have been the Michael Jordan of that game. Simply put, the man missed his true calling.
Last year Kofi Kingston walked on his hands back to the ring to avoid elimination. This year he one-upped himself, bouncing on a chair like a pogo stick in order to survive.
Sure, he was almost immediately knocked out by Cody Rhodes. But it's the effort that counts, right? Right?
No one will remember, two days from now, who was eliminated 17th or 23rd. We'll all recall Kingston's creative use of the ringside furniture. And it's memories that matter.
"Even Steven" wrestling booking, the kind that has ruled the WWE for several decades, is pretty clear-cut. Since Team Rhodes Scholars lost face again and again in their interactions with Daniel Bryan and Kane, they were destined to win the tag team belts at Royal Rumble.
That's just the way it works, right? They show their butts and do jobs in the build-up and are rewarded with a title run.
Not so fast.
Instead, Daniel Bryan made Damien Sandow tap with the "YES! Lock." Not sure what that means for Team Rhodes Scholars, but it can't be anything good, unless they win the straps on Raw.
The Big Show is seven feet tall.
He weighs more than 400 pounds.
Knocking him down and keeping him down for 10 seconds? Not an easy task.
That's what made Rodriguez's brain storm so brilliant. Alberto Del Rio's man servant tied Big Show's legs together, and to the ropes, with layer after layer of duct tape. Even the great Big Show couldn't break free.
I've seen a lot of wrestling matches. The Last Man Standing match, AKA the Texas Death Match, is usually finished with pure violence and brawn. Rodriguez and Del Rio finished it with brains instead.
Alberto Del Rio continues to develop as a performer. The babyface role comes naturally to him and he's showing the kind of potential that made Eddy Guerrero and Rey Mysterio such important players on WWE television. Del Rio is a born star.
Despite losing the match, the Big Show has to be considered a winner as well. He overcame his age, injury history and pure bulk; he was getting it done in the ring. He can still deliver a big match on PPV, and that's a good card to have up his sleeve as his career winds down.
Last year The Miz entered the ring first, lasting more than 45 minutes before finally being eliminated by The Big Show. It was a bravura performance, the kind of feat usually reserved for the Shawn Michaels and Ric Flairs of the world.
This year Miz's match with Antonio Cesaro didn't even make the main show, opening the event on YouTube. It's a clear sign of how far Miz, once a world champion, has fallen in the eyes of the WWE brass. He was dominated by Cesaro throughout the match, tossed around like he was nothing more than a modern Randy Mulkey.
Worse still? He didn't even win the match. Not a good night for the former reality star.
Yes, the narrator sounded a bit like the audio guide who would help you walk through one of the world's great museums. She should have. This video wasn't mere entertainment—it was straight-up educational.
Want four-plus minutes of Rumble trivia, including the fact that more than 201,000 combined pounds have entered the ring during a Rumble match? Tune in here.
The Rock beat CM Punk to become WWE Champion.
John Cena won the Royal Rumble (Order of Elimination: Santino, Drew McIntyre, Titus O'Neill, David Otunga, Goldust, Brodus Clay, Tensai, Darren Young, Kofi Kingston, Godfather, Heath Slater, Cody Rhodes, Rey Mysterio, Great Khali, Kane, Daniel Bryan, Zack Ryder, Antonio Cesaro, Jinder Mahal, Wade Barrett, Bo Dallas, Damien Sandow, Sin Cara, Miz, Chris Jericho, Randy Orton, Dolph Ziggler, Sheamus, Ryback).
Team Hell No beat Team Rhodes Scholars (Tag Team Title Match).
Alberto Del Rio beat Big Show by a 10 count when Rodriguez taped his feet to the ropes (World Championship Match).
Antonio Cesaro beat The Miz (U.S Title Match).