Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ranking the Royal Rumble Matches

The Royal Rumble is 1 week away, and I thought this would be a nice look back being that there have been 25 Rumble matches. I want to emphasize a couple things. First, these are just the Rumble matches themselves. I’m not ranking the entire shows as a whole. Some things do happen in the undercard which play a part in the rumble itself which increases or decreases my enjoyment of the match, but I want to be clear that I am strictly looking at the matches themselves. In other words, the Rockin’ Robin-Judy Martin Women’s title match at the 1989 Rumble match has nothing to do with where the 1989 Rumble match is ranked. The other thing I want to emphasize is that these are my favorite Rumble matches. It is my opinion as a fan. Nothing more, nothing less. We all love lists right? So away we go!

25. 1999: This is such a bad Royal Rumble. It is really the only Rumble out of 25 that I struggle to find redeeming qualities. Rumbles are near impossible to mess up… unless your name is Vince Russo.  First of all, Vince McMahon wins. I can almost suspend my disbelief for that if it wasn’t such a god awful match. The Final Four was Stone Cold, Vince, Boss Man, and D’lo Brown. That should tell you all you need to know about what a train wreck this was.

24. 1988: I contemplated whether or not to even put this in the rankings. I’ve only seen the match once, and it was on a show that wasn’t on PPV and also overshadowed by the Hogan-Andre contract signing. Jim Duggan won it, there was only 20 guys, and really is not at all how we know it today. Still, being the first automatically makes it better than the abortion that was the 1999 Rumble.

23. 1995: Shawn Michaels wins it becoming the first guy to go from #1 to the end. The roster is so thin at this point. The band of misfits in this thing is pretty sad, which is probably why they went to mere 1 minute intervals making Shawn’s performance of going from #1 to the end considerably less special. Still pretty impressive which is why it is considerably better than 1999. It is also notable for an equally impressive performance from “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith. It had one of the best finishes in Rumble history. Davey Boy thought he had won it when he clotheslined HBK over the top rope. He even started celebrating and his music played. But only 1 of Shawn’s feet touched the floor. He came back in and knocked Bulldog over the top.

22. 2009: Quite simply… a boring Rumble. Randy Orton wins by sneaking up behind Triple H and dumping him over for the win. 2009 in this time period just had hideous booking going on as World Championships began to lose even more value than they already did. Edge won the WWE title from Jeff Hardy earlier in the show. John Cena was World Champion. Somehow the titles got swapped and Triple H ended up as WWE Champion going into the show, and Edge as World Champion. Prime example of why the necessity of two world champions is non-existent. The sad thing is that this was the only time during this whole “age of Orton” heel era that I was remotely interested in Randy Orton. The feud with Triple H was actually pretty good, but the match at WrestleMania was terrible. Two words sum up this Rumble, boring and heatless. Hard to book heels winning the Rumble, and this was a failure.

21. 2012: Once again, lack of depth hurt this Rumble. They relied on unfunny comedy, and little tricks like the 3 announcers, Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and Booker T to compete.  I would rank this lower but I didn’t mind Sheamus winning, and really loved the finishing sequence with Chris Jericho. That finish had me actually clamoring for Sheamus vs. Jericho actually. Maybe they maximized the potential of this, I don’t know but overall, disappointing Rumble.

20. 2011: Full disclosure, I just viewed this Rumble today for the first time. It had been the only one I haven’t seen. There were parts of this Rumble that I liked a lot. I loved all the stuff with Punk and Nexus and the match was going great, and then took a big [sorry] shit with Cena and [again sorry] fucking Hornswoggle burying talent. But the kids love Hornswoggle, I know. If you’re going to just pitch those guys out like that, just have Cena do it himself. It is so funny watching Punk in this match thinking that in 7 months he is going to be pretty much on the same level as Cena in terms of the booking. It featured 40 guys instead of the normal 30, and it doesn’t really take much away. The biggest pops were for Booker T and Diesel making surprise entries. So sad that they get by far the biggest pops of the night. To me it is an indictment on how pitifully the writing has been for the past several years. Crowd boos like crazy when Diesel gets eliminated, and is basically dead to the end and underwhelmed when Alberto Del Rio ultimately wins it. Hot start and uniqueness puts it ahead of 2012.

19. 1996: The 2nd of Shawn Michaels’ two wins. Overall it was sort of a boring rumble but there are a few highlights that made it worth watching. The first highlight is Triple H going #1 and getting the longevity record. It is one of the more underrated Rumble performances. The 2nd happening was the debut of Vader. I was a huge Vader mark during his time in WCW so him coming in and dominating like he did was fun to see. Finally, Diesel teasing the heel turn after Shawn eliminated him was pretty cool too. Shawn gets his win. Very predictable in 1996, but predictable is not a bad thing. I like this Rumble; I just don’t like it as much as the others. You can tell that it’s tough to have a bad rumble when the 19th best rumble still has a lot of value to it.

18. 2000: Again, not a bad Rumble, just not as good as others. Loved Rock winning, loved him winning over Big Show, the thing is well –booked, but for some reason something about the match is missing. I think it might be that the Triple H-Cactus Jack street fight earlier in the night completely overshadowed anything that was going to be done in this. Nothing really wrong with the Rumble, but not one of the better ones.

17. 2006: Here’s a Rumble that on initial viewing I loved but with the benefit of knowing what happens has lost some of its initial luster. I loved Rey winning and the mini-story told here with him, HHH, and Orton. It loses luster because Rey couldn’t just go to WrestleMania and win the title, he had to have some stupid angle with Orton at No Way Out where he lost his title shot. Then when he did win at Mania, his title reign was pretty much a failure. 2006 also marks the year where I felt like having two world champions was not necessary anymore, so when he ultimately did win at Mania, he looked smalltime to me, especially when Cena-HHH was the clear-cut Main Event. Still, Rey does have a really good performance here, setting the longevity record, and is worth watching.

16. 2008: Even the Cena haters in MSG were marking out when Cena made the surprise entry. Very cool moment and that moment alone, along with the finishing sequence with HHH vaults this up to the 16th spot for me. It’s also notable for more teasing of the HBK-Taker stuff as a continuation of the finish in 2007 and their future match up at WrestleMania XXV over a year after this. Overall the Rumble wasn’t the strongest, but again, the surprise and the finish at the end entertained me enough.

15. 1993: This was the first show I ever saw live on PPV so I do have a sentimental spot for this one. Yokozuna wins last eliminating Randy Savage. Match has a few key moments; the first one is the escalation of the Flair-Perfect feud setting up their loser leaves town match the next night on Monday Night RAW. I always loved how Flair made Perfect look like a million bucks on his way out, both here in this match, and then in a great match on RAW. Another shocking moment came when Giant Gonzalez came into the ring and attacked and beat up Undertaker. Taker had never been beaten down like this ever so as a young kid, I was really impressed. Obviously we all know that it would lead to not one but two horrific PPV matches in 1993 between the two, but they had a plan and they executed it, and no one can deny that Gonzalez looked like a badass beating down Undertaker like that. The last impressive thing here was Bob Backlund lasting over an hour. I also loved how they booked Yokozuna here. At one point in the match, everyone in the ring gang up and try and lift him over, but he fought them off. Good rumble.

14. 2010: They tried to re-create the magical surprise of 2008 with Edge. It was a pretty good surprise in an overall better Rumble. Loved the spot of CM Punk getting on the mic and just being his normal awesome self. Then the angle with Shawn Michaels desperately trying to win this so he can get a shot at Undertaker after being beaten the year before at WrestleMania. This is topped by him getting eliminated so nonchalantly and matter of fact-like, that it was just a perfectly booked angle. Then we get a great finish with Edge, Cena, and Batista. The problem that they have, and have had is that they don’t seem to know how to transition from the Rumble to WrestleMania anymore. They wanted to do Edge-Jericho at WrestleMania, but now with Edge winning the Rumble, they had to hotshot the title onto Jericho. Being unpredictable is all well and good, but not at the expense of a long term story that you’re trying to tell. It’s one of the biggest problems the WWE has had over the past several years.

13. 2002: We go from unpredictable finish to very predictable here. Everyone pretty much knew that Triple H was going to win it in 2002. He was coming off his first quad injury and was pretty much as over as he ever had been as a baby face without being a comedy act in DX. His interaction with Steve Austin is fun, but the highlight of the match is when Maven eliminates Undertaker. Taker then proceeds to the beat the crap out of Maven all the way into the food corridor. Maven blades and Undertaker eats popcorn. Just great stuff. The finish comes when Triple H eliminates Kurt Angle after a pretty solid Rumble. It is also notable for Mr. Perfect getting one final PPV run before his untimely death later in the year. Triple H wins, and then basically gets his balls cut off with the insanely stupid booking between him and Jericho en route to WrestleMania XVIII. The whole Stephanie-Jericho-HHH triangle was terrible. I enjoyed the Rumble though.

12. 2003: A year later we get a slightly better Rumble. I rate it higher for a couple reasons. #1 I like Brock Lesnar more than Triple H. #2 I like the finish with Undertaker. Predictable winner to be sure, but it MAKES SENSE. Nowadays they would have had Batista win it or something and scramble with some chicken with their heads cut off booking. Brock wins and goes onto face Kurt Angle in a match that had been hyped for months. What is difficult about that?

11. 2007: Once again we have a rumble that is carried by the finish and ranked accordingly. Taker and Shawn are the final 2 and then have a mini-match with Taker ultimately winning. The mini-match had pretty much everyone hoping to see them renew their awesome rivalry after their 3 classics in 1997-1998. We would have to wait for that for 2 years. The rest of the rumble isn’t that good, and would get rated lower, but Taker and Shawn carry it all the way close to my top 10 just based on the awesome finish. The nice thing here is they could have had Shawn win it and accomplish the same logical booking goal, but they were really pushing #30 finally winning a rumble so Undertaker gets the big win. Both guys would go on and get World title shots at WrestleMania, and both deliver in those matches.

10. 1998: Speaking of predictable; this might be the most predictable Royal Rumble ever. Unless you were living under a rock in 1998, you knew that there was only one choice to win this thing, and that was Stone Cold Steve Austin. Even with it being that predictable this is still a fun, properly booked Rumble. It maximized all of the rosters strengths at that time, and delivered a good showing despite limitations, and lack of roster depth at the time. A lot of people didn’t like Mick Foley doing triple duty with Cactus Jack, Mankind, and Dude Love but I thought it fit the narrative for the time and it certainly beats finding some guy like Dick Murdoch or a bunch of Luchadores that no one knows about to fill the rumble out. It is also notable for one of the most underrated performances in Rumble history which is the Rocks. Austin of course would go onto WrestleMania XIV and upend Shawn Michaels and begin the Austin Era. Predictable is a good thing sometimes people. Just because a 9 year old can figure out what is going to happen doesn’t mean it is bad.

9. 1997: This was the 1st of Austin’s wins and he is the MVP of this Rumble and the reason why, despite having the aforementioned luchadore wresters fill out the entry list, I rank it higher than 1998. That is offset by this being a pretty stacked Rumble in terms of the participants. The star is, like I said, Steve Austin as he tosses out everyone and continues his epic feud with Bret Hart. The finish is screwy as Bret eliminates Austin, but because the refs were trying to break up a brawl between Mankind and Terry Funk, they don’t see it. So Austin illegally comes back into the ring and dumps out Vader and Undertaker. Then he dumps out Bret Hart for the win. Funky booking aside, it fit with the times and ultimately led to the historic submission match at WrestleMania XIII against Bret Hart.

8. 1991: The 1991 Rumble was the first one that I remember as a kid in terms of the buildup and aftermath of the show. Earlier in the show Sgt. Slaughter, playing an Iraqi sympathizer character, won the WWE title from the Ultimate Warrior. This was right in the middle of the Persian Gulf War so he had major major heel heat on him. That pretty much made it inevitable that Hulk Hogan was going to win this match for the second straight year. Loved the booking of the Rumble here as with most of these early rumbles. In particular for this Rumble was pushing the midcard feud of Jake the Snake and Rick Martel. I also liked the logical subtle way of getting out the young Undertaker in a way that makes sense and keeps him strong. They simply have LOD double clothesline over the top rope and he lands on his feet, and looks menacing. He stays strong and you solved the problem of how to eliminate such a character. Then it gives you an opportunity to blow off the Hogan-Earthquake feud once and for all as he eliminates him for the win. Match is also notable for Martel going over 50 minutes and becoming one of the early “iron men” of the Rumble.

7. 1989: Might have this higher than it should be but for nostalgia this is a great Rumble. It also once again serves the purpose of escalating feuds towards WrestleMania which to me is a big piece of what the Royal Rumble’s purpose is. The match is split up into thirds. The first third is the Andre the Giant third. It starts off with Ax and Smash of Demolition getting numbers 1 and 2. This really sets the theme of every man for himself when the tag team champions at the time go at it. The other storyline early on is the Andre-Jake Roberts feud. Andre eliminates him, but Jake comes back out with Damien the snake and Andre gets scared and eliminates himself. The second third of the match is the Mega Powers angle. Hogan accidentally eliminates Savage and their eventual explosion gets ratcheted up a little more. Finally you have the Ted Dibiase portion of the Rumble where he had bought himself the best number: 30. The money would not be well-spent as Big John Studd would eliminate him and win the Rumble. The match loses its heat towards the end which hurts it, but the stuff until the Hulk Hogan elimination by the Twin Towers is white hot.

6. 1994: Here is another one that I probably will get some disagreements from many, but this is one of my favorite Rumbles ever. Earlier in the night Owen Hart turned on his big brother Bret and infamously “kicked his leg out of his leg”. During the Rumble Owen gets massive heel heat and Bret still sells the leg injury masterfully. Owen unfortunately wouldn’t last long, but that is because a new star is born as Diesel eliminates 7 guys in an incredible performance at the time. You could easily tell that a star was born as the Providence crowd chanted his name. I liked the fact that the ring got filled up with a lot of guys as there were a lot of guys that stayed in for a long time. Randy Savage escalated his WrestleMania feud with Crush, and gives Crush the rub here as Savage gets eliminated by him. Bam Bam Bigelow, Shawn Michales, and Crush all last for a long time in this match. The Rumble is ultimately remembered for the double finish, as both Bret Hart (selling the leg injury through everything) and Lex Luger each eliminated each other setting up a popularity contest of sorts for the Providence crowd.  Luger had no chance against Bret Hart in a popularity contest so that was rather unfair if indeed that was Vince’s final reasoning for putting the title back on Bret instead of Luger at WrestleMania . Ultimately both guys were declared winners and would both get title shots at WrestleMania. I personally loved the finish, and it set up WrestleMania X to be a very good show.

5. 2005: We are now at the point of my favorite Rumbles ever and there isn’t a lot of difference between #1 and #5. 2005 is memorable because I was really into the product at this point. After the whole Randy Orton debacle at the end of 2004 where he got his balls cut off by Triple H and bad booking, I was really digging the whole rise of Batista on RAW and John Cena on Smackdown! They were coming off the best Elimination Chamber match ever that Triple H regained the vacant title so a Batista win here was imminent. There was enough suspense with John Cena possibly winning to keep the fans attentions. Like 1994, 2005 seemingly ended in a double finish, which would have been fine with me. But an angry Vince McMahon comes running out and tries to dive into the ring but blows out both of his knees or quads or whatever. It’s one of the funniest moments ever as he is sitting in the corner, clearly in pain, screaming at officials to restart the match. Ultimately it does get re-started and Batista quickly disposes Cena and he would go onto to turn on Triple H, go to WrestleMania, and win the World title. Cena would win a tournament on Smackdown and beat JBL at WrestleMania to win the WWE title and change the WWE forever. The birth of the WWE as we know it today starts here, and while I’m not a huge fan of the product in recent years, I was really liking the stuff they were doing in 2005. This is a really unheralded rumble with great performances by Rey Mysterio, and Chris Benoit. Also the Angle-HBK feud begins here too.

4. 2004: This one is a little bit stained now because we all know what happened in 2007, but on this night in Philadelphia, Chris Benoit put on one of the best performances in Rumble history becoming only the 2nd wrestler ever to go from #1 and win it. Only his was way more impressive than HBK’s in 1995 as the intervals are 90 seconds instead of 1 minute and he lasts over an hour. Besides that though, we have the escalation of every major WrestleMania match. Foley-Orton, Kane-Undertaker, Brock-Goldberg; all get escalated here and set up for WrestleMania XX. It’s brilliantly booked as Benoit takes out all of the big guys culminating with his great struggle to eliminate Big Show to win it. He would go onto have the classic Triple threat match with Triple H and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XX. As a big Benoit fan at the time, this was a great time to be a wrestling fan.

3. 1990: This is one I recently watched around Christmas time, and it never fails to entertain me. Most people probably hated the finish with Hulk Hogan winning instead of Mr. Perfect. It doesn’t bother me as much because that’s just not how they did things back then. Baby faces win these types of matches, because the fans always get sent home happy around this time. Whether you like who won or not doesn’t change the brilliant booking of this match from beginning to end. I think like a third of the participants are in the hall of fame right now, and there are several others that aren’t in that will for sure be in, or should be in, notably Randy Savage. All of the major WrestleMania matches that they were heading for are showcased here. Demolition-Andre and Haku, Dibiase-Snake, Dusty Rhodes-Savage, Piper-Bad News Brown, and of course, Hogan-Warrior.  The Hulk Hogan-Ultimate Warrior was the ultimate “holy shit” moment at that time because they truly were the two biggest baby faces in the world and on a collision course to face each other at WrestleMania. This was the first interaction between the two and the crowd  was creaming themselves watching it. Flawless Rumble.

2. 1992: Let the debate begin I guess. Yes, the 1992 is merely my 2nd favorite Rumble ever. Here we have another flawless Rumble and probably the best individual performance ever by the legend himself, Ric Flair. Let me be clear, it’s not that I don’t like this Rumble; I just like another one a little bit more. This one is star studded, with so many former world champions and many future Hall of Famers. Making it even a bigger deal was the fact that the WWE title was on the line and for the first time ever, there was a carrot dangled at the end for the winner. At the time I thought for sure it was going to be Hulk Hogan three-peating, but by god did they shock me when I found out on Prime Time Wrestling that the man himself won the title. The brilliance of Bobby Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon commentating makes the match and really assists in telling the story of the great performance from Ric Flair entering at #3 and winning it in the end. It ends too in one of the best post-win promos ever as Flair, Mr. Perfect, and Heenan are in the back with Mean Gene gloating. Just brilliant. We all thought this was going to set up the dream match of the 1980s between Flair and Hogan at WrestleMania VIII, but it wasn’t in the cards. We got a great consolation with Flair vs. Savage, while Hogan faced off against Sid.

1. 2001: Yes, that’s right; I’m the only fan that likes the 2001 Rumble more than the 1992 Rumble. First of all let me say this, one Rumble had to be #1 for me and 1 had to be #2. For my money, this is the best three PPV stretch in WWE history starting here with the Royal Rumble, the following month at No Way Out, and then the greatest WrestleMania of all time, WrestleMania XVII. The cards were all stacked, and filled with drama. 2001 had it all though. It had the suspense because most people at the time probably felt that the smart money was going to be Rock winning the Rumble here and then challenging Austin at WrestleMania. Then you had the wild card of the Undertaker being in it as well, and any time the Undertaker is the Royal Rumble, he has a shot. Kane sets the tone and eliminates a record 11 guys and has probably the best performance by a non-winner ever going to the end and getting eliminated last. One of my favorite moments in Rumble history was when Kane and Undertaker had cleared the ring; Scotty 2 Hotty comes out and has a look on his face like he just shit his pants looking at the brothers of destruction in the ring. You had some comedy with Drew Carey and Kane, Honky Tonk Man and Kane. You had a pretty cool little hardcore portion early on featuring, you guessed it, Kane. Lost in all of this is Rock who also had an impressive run as well. But the man of the night is Stone Cold Steve Austin. He comes in and immediately gets attacked by Triple H and Austin gets busted open before he even enters the ring. You have a surprise appearance by the Big Show who we hadn’t seen basically since Judgment Day 2000 in May. Then of course you have your Hogan-Warrior-like moment when Austin and Rock end up in the ring against each other and the crowd gives the same type of reaction here as they did 11 years before. It comes down to a bloody Austin against an exhausted, but dominant Kane and Austin needs a steel chair, but finally eliminates Kane to win it. The brilliance of the story is told by Jim Ross, who had one of his best commentating performances in his career here, talking about how Austin is 1 year removed from spinal surgery. The brilliance and significance of that story alone vaults this up to #1. Then knowing where this would all lead to, my favorite PPV of all time, with Austin and Rock, two of the three biggest stars of all time would headline. That is why this is my favorite Royal Rumble ever!

Monday, December 24, 2012

WWE WrestleMania XI

WWE WrestleMania XI
April 2, 1995
Hartford Civic Center
Hartford, Connecticut

Right away you can see just by the venue how underwhelming this WrestleMania was going to be. Apparently Linda McMahon always wanted one WrestleMania show in WWE’s home base of Connecticut. I have no idea whether or not that is just a cover for something else. I will take Linda at her word despite the product itself being at one of its lowest points in history. The Royal Rumble overall was a really good show but the Rumble itself was very underwhelming and it really set the tone for what 1995 would be. That brings us to WrestleMania. Vince knew the rosters shortcomings better than anyone which is why this WrestleMania is loaded with celebrities to try and prop the show up as being a big deal.

Commentators: Vince McMahon and Jerry “The King” Lawler

Jacob and Eli Blu w/ Uncle Zebekiah vs. Allied Powers (Lex Luger and Davey Boy Smith)
Lex Luger goes from main eventing WrestleMania X to curtain jerker at WrestleMania XI. Easily one of the biggest falls from grace in WrestleMania history. The Blu Brothers are Ron and Don Harris in the first of a few different gimmicks over the next couple years. Luger and Bulldog were getting a little bit of a tag team push so this match is just a formality to put them over as a team. I feel that this was sort of a waste. You could’ve blown off Luger and Tatanka here, and taken advantage of Bulldogs sympathy from the Rumble and done something better with him. Match isn’t very good. ¾*

IC Championship
Jeff Jarrett (champion) w/ Roadie vs. Razor Ramon w/ 123 Kid
Coming off the Rumble, Razor began chasing Jarrett for his IC title. The feud was decent albeit rather heatless. Not sure the fans really ever bought Jeff Jarrett as being big time. I’ve always liked him, and thought he was a pretty good IC Champion, but I was really hoping Razor was going to win his title back here so the fact that it ended in a DQ win for Razor really left me disappointed. The match is ok but not nearly as good as their Rumble encounter. I would have preferred either Razor winning his title back, or Jarrett successfully defending it against someone else. I just don’t understand the logic of the booking here. I understand the theory of Razor chasing the title is more intriguing, but this is WrestleMania where baby faces are expected to go over, particularly considering the way he lost the title at the Royal Rumble. It’s a cheap DQ finish. Kid being with Razor served no purpose other than giving the cliques little buddy a WrestleMania payday I guess. He was injured at the time I believe so he couldn’t work a match. ** ¼

Undertaker w/ Paul Bearer vs. King Kong Bundy w/ “Million $ Man” Ted Dibiase
So when we left the Rumble, the Corporation had stolen the Undertakers urn, and King Kong Bundy was directly responsible for allowing that to take place. Undertaker is forced to continue to feud with slugs. The match is literally as good as Undertaker could have possibly made it. At one point the Undertaker and Paul Bearer get the urn back and the crowd goes crazy. The joy is short lived as Dibiase’s new henchman, Kama, comes out and steals the urn back for the Corporation and Undertaker fans everywhere puke as Takers’ next feud is set up. Undertaker comes back and wins the match but doesn’t get his urn back. Match is really only notable for the first mention that the Undertaker is undefeated at WrestleMania. Lawler points it out during the match. Undertaker continues to get misused and mistreated in 1995. ½*

WWE Tag Team Championship
Smoking Gunns (champions) (Billy and Bart Gunn) vs. Owen Hart and ????
As mentioned at the Royal Rumble, the winners of the tag team title tournament were set to job the titles to the Smoking Gunns the next night on RAW. The story in this match was that Owen Hart had a special mystery partner to help him win his first title. The story is well built as Owen cuts yet another brilliant promo before the match where he let the audience know exactly why he chose the guy he chose. He said that he chose his partner because he was the only man to beat Bret Hart for the WWE title (not true but the promo works) and that man was Yokozuna. Yoko hadn’t been seen since he was buried in the casket match by the Undertaker at the Survivor Series and he was still a really big name within the company so this really works. The match itself tells a good story as the Gunns clearly aren’t prepared for Yokozuna and that plays out in the match. I always thought this was a really good way to use Yokozuna. He was clearly getting bigger and his weight was clearly causing cardio problems, so putting him in a tag team with a guy like Owen was a good idea. The match itself is pretty good too, and Owen gets his first title. Match isn’t an all-time classic or anything, but anytime you got Owen Hart you’re going to get a solid effort. ** ½

I Quit Match w/ Rowdy Roddy Piper as Special Guest Referee
Bob Backlund vs. Bret “The Hitman” Hart
So even though the WrestleMania was pretty pedestrian up until this point, you’re probably thinking that this match could redeem it. After all they had a classic match at Survivor Series, and Bret Hart pretty much at his peak as a worker. Easy ***+ match right? Not so much. In classic 1995-fashion, the WWE managed to take a perfectly acceptable storyline, and a perfectly fine wrestling encounter on PPV and turn it to crap. I love Rowdy Roddy Piper, and Bret loves Roddy, but even he admits that the involvement of him in this match was pointless, and actually hurt the match a lot. Really though, how hard is it to book this match. The story speaks for itself, and then you say, go out there and put on a good match. Instead we got Piper sticking the microphone in the guy’s faces during simple moves like headlocks. What we’re left was an average match that could have been better served to be on RAW. The ending comes when Backlund gets the cross face chicken wing on Bret but Bret reverses it and Backlund screams some nonsense which Piper interpreted as giving up giving Bret the match. Just a bunch of nonsense and definitely one of the most disappointing WrestleMania matches ever. * ¼

WWE Championship
Diesel (champion) w/ Pamela Anderson vs. Shawn Michaels w/ Sid and Jenny McCarthy
This is where they decided to load up with celebrities. At the Royal Rumble Pamela Anderson was told to be the escort of the Rumble winner to WrestleMania. Instead she came out with Diesel, while McCarthy came out with Shawn. Home Improvement star Jonathan Taylor Thomas served as the special guest timekeeper while NYPD Blue star Nicholas Turturro served as the special guest ring announcer. Everyone but Ms. Anderson seemed to be excited to be there. The inclusion of the celebrities did help this WrestleMania and it was a good thing because if there was ever a WrestleMania that needed the supplement of celebs it was this one. It was also in need of a match that could save it from being the worst of all time, and fortunately it was this one. This is easily one of if not the most underrated match in WrestleMania history as far as I’m concerned. Jerry Lawler says that Shawn told him to expect “The performance of a lifetime.” Shawn definitely delivered on the biggest stage of his career, and against a tough opponent to carry in Diesel. After Michaels won the Royal Rumble, in storyline, he felt he needed a bodyguard because he was a marked man and had pissed everyone off. His bodyguard was the returning Sid. So with the addition of Sid, Diesel was really viewed as a major underdog going into this match. The match is outstanding with Shawn pulling out all stops to make this an epic encounter. Diesel did a really nice job selling his ribs. I also like that Sid didn’t really come into play too much, though if the idea was to keep Shawn heel, then he probably should have been involved a little more. I don’t know when WWE decided they were just going to turn Shawn face. He was already starting to get face pops, but clearly Vince wasn’t ready to pull the trigger on a Shawn Michaels title run. Because Shawn was wrestling this match as if he was turning it sort of undercut Diesels baby face heat, and the sympathy heat at the end. Shawn hit Diesel with sweet chin music and had him dead to rights, but Sid had previously injured the official. The time lapse allowed Diesel to kick out at 2, and ultimately make the comeback and jackknife Shawn for the win. Diesel does the baby face celebration with all of the celebrities in a really nice moment in his career. The next night Sid would turn on Shawn completing the face turn and Shawn would be saved by Diesel. It almost seems as if Vince really didn’t know what he wanted to do with the main event scene. He had Diesel as champion, but the fans were firmly behind Shawn and that would be more evident as his face turn evolved. He also had Bret and Undertaker in the midcard. When you factor in Bulldog, Razor, and even to a lesser extent, Lex Luger, all of his biggest baby faces were also his biggest stars. That left him with no viable heel which means that Diesel’s title reign was doomed to fail. This match however is wonderful and like I said probably the most underrated WrestleMania match ever. **** ½

Main Event
Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Lawrence Taylor
Yes that’s right. The WWE Championship is not being defended in the last match. This of course was set up at the Royal Rumble when Taylor was teasing Bam Bam Bigelow for getting beat by the Kid and Bob Holly. I really don’t have a problem with this at all. WWE needed something big for this event. Lawrence Taylor generated some mainstream media attention and he proved to be a very good wrestler considering the circumstances. I mean this is a pretty good match, and probably the best “celebrity” match you’ll ever see. It’s once again supplemented by celebrities, or in this case other football players, backing up Taylor. This was Lawrence Taylor’s “All pro team”. It consisted of Ken Norton Jr., Chris Spielman, Rickey Jackson, Carl Banks, Reggie White, and future WCW Monday Nitro commentator and Pro Wrestler, Steve McMichael. Bam Bam was backed up by Dibiase’s corporation of Dibiase himself, Nikolai Volkoff, King Kong Bundy, Tatanka, IRS, and Kama. Also singing for Taylor is Salt n Pepa. Neither the Corporation nor the All Pro team get involved other than a couple skirmishes before the match starts. The match like I said is pretty good and considering its 1995 and the roster was this thin, I feel it is a suitable main event. Bigelow does not get enough credit for his performance in carrying Lawrence here. Bigelow does the job, as Taylor hits a flying forearm and gets the pinfall. Dibiase and the Corporation leave Bigelow, setting up his face turn as well. Grading this on a celebrity scale, this is Flair-Steamboat. ** ½

Final Analysis: Things just get worse after this. Add Bam Bam Bigelow as another potential heel that could’ve served as a good foil for Diesel. The big heels after this are Sid, Jeff Jarrett, Yokozuna, and Owen Hart. Yoko and Owen were set anchor the tag team ranks, and Jarrett was the IC Champion. That leaves Sid, who isn’t a bad heel, but after Diesel vanquishes him, who else are you left with? The roster is just a big f’ng mess at this point with seemingly zero direction or logic to anything that Vince is doing at this point. As a stand-alone WrestleMania, comparing it against other WrestleMania’s it is certainly on the bottom third. Shawn-Diesel is an unheralded classic and LT-Bigelow has its worth. I like the Owen-Yokozuna stuff, but it’s hardly historic. The WrestleMania isn’t completely unwatchable but I wouldn’t shed any tears if you haven’t seen it.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

WWE Royal Rumble '95

WWE Royal Rumble ‘95
January 22, 1995
USF Sun Dome
Tampa, Florida

It really must have been difficult to be a wrestling fan in the beginning of 1995. I guess ECW had its cult following, but most of the country didn’t even know what ECW was. WCW was almost unwatchable coming off of the worst Starrcade ever to date at the end of 1994. The WWE’s roster was totally depleted and the mid-card was pretty much non-existent. I was still at the age where all things wresting were still great to me. I feel for those who were 5-7 years older than me at the time, which may have grown up watching the rock and wrestling era. The 1995 Rumble wasn’t terrible, but it did mark the beginning of one of the worst years ever for the WWE, from a financial standpoint and certainly a creative standpoint. The champion was Diesel, fresh off his squash of Bob Backlund in Madison Square Garden 3 days after the Survivor Series. Diesel was set to be a dominant world champion in 1995 as the main baby face as Vince really felt he had his new Hogan. The only problem is that Diesel got over by being a bad ass heel that just destroyed his opponents. This would be a huge problem as we go through the year.

Commentators: Vince McMahon and Jerry “The King” Lawler

IC Championship
Razor Ramon (champion) vs. Jeff Jarrett w/ Roadie
Roadie is better known as Road Dogg. It is Bullet Bob Armstrong’s baby boy as Jim Ross calls him. Here he plays Double J’s roadie and is pretty good at it. Jarrett spent all of 1994 floundering on the midcard, but the booking in 1994 suggests that Vince did have some pretty big plans for him; it was just a matter of Razor Ramon’s feud with Shawn Michaels/Diesel playing itself out. The match is pretty solid. These two had been wrestling on the house show circuit quite a bit before this show, and certainly most of the early part of 1995, so they had really good chemistry together. Razor is so over with the crowd. Easily one of the most popular baby faces in the company at this point, and Jarrett was one of the top 3 or 4 heels in the company at this time, so it makes for a good match in terms of heat. The match takes a turn when Razor is on the outside and Roadie clips his knee from behind. Razor gets counted out and Jarrett wins. Double J can’t win the title that way so he does the classic heel thing and gets on the mic and insults Razor, calling him a coward, etc. He challenges him to restart the match. Razor of course is the heroic baby face so he obliges and the match gets re-started. Really good psychology here of Ramon selling the knee. He goes for the Razor’s edge and his knee buckles. Jarrett then rolls him up with the inside cradle for the win, and the title. Really good match that I didn’t really like the first time I saw it. Definitely good solid wrestling here with some excellent psychology. ** ¾

IRS w/ “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase vs. Undertaker w/Paul Bearer
And so begins Undertaker’s 1995. Easily one of his worst years ever, through no fault of his own. Here is what I don’t get; he’s probably the most over worker in the company, business is floundering, and they have him tucked away on the midcard all year long feuding with Million Dollar misfits. Now I love Dibiase, and I like Rotunda in his role as IRS, but by 1995 they were long passed the point of anyone caring. They were still the big heel stable here, but by WrestleMania it was over Johnny. I just feel like of all the mistakes Vince made in 1995, burying the Undertaker was the biggest one. This match is an obvious formality but we can’t just have Undertaker squash IRS and be done with the feud. Nope, we have to extend this feud, so with the Undertaker there is only one way to extend a feud. Why, it’s the new and hip “let’s steal Undertaker’s urn” storyline. That always works for the heels. King Kong Bundy interferes in the match and allows IRS to run off with the urn, and we’re left clamoring for Undertaker vs. King Kong Bundy. * ¼

WWE Championship
Diesel (champion) vs. Bret “The Hitman” Hart
So we last left the Survivor Series with the Hitman at one of his lowest points character-wise in his career. His dirty rotten brother (as he always called him) Owen had just suckered his parents into basically costing him the WWE title against Bob Backlund in the submission match. Bret got some much needed time off to film the short-lived TV series Lonesome Dove between Survivor Series and this show. These two met before at the 1994 King of the Ring in an excellent match, and this one is even better. The match is sort of a microcosm though of what would be wrong with Diesel’s title run. As I said before he was built as this monster heel. From his dominating performance at the 1994 Royal Rumble, to his dominance for his team at the Survivor Series; he was built as a no pun intended, unstoppable diesel powered 18 wheeler. Here he is expected to be a baby face. This sort of goes against what Bret Hart usually does, as he is the one that is the master of getting the sympathy baby face heat. So the challenge in this match was for Bret to wrestle in a way that got Diesel the sympathy heat. So what you see in this match is Bret Hart as the aggressor. They both do a great job working the match brilliantly as this is easily Nash’s best match of his career up until this point. WWE did a really nice job hyping this match up as sort of a big match, or a big fight. It really helps to put over the WWE title itself. Bret being the aggressor fits the story as he feels he was cheated out of the title at Survivor Series and now wants it more than anything. This is evident right away as Bret immediately starts going after Diesel’s leg. He puts Diesel in the figure four and at one point Diesel gets to the ropes and Bret doesn’t break the hold and makes referee Earl Hebner count and break the hold himself. Little things like that are what make Bret so great, and I wish we would see things like that nowadays. The aggression from Bret Hart early makes it so when Diesel makes his inevitable comeback, him beating up Bret isn’t viewed as bullying by the crowd; it is viewed as a guy getting back at the aggressor. The crowd likes Diesel, but they cheer Bret and clearly want him to win. The aggressiveness continues when Bret takes the tape off of his wrist and ties Diesels legs together when they are around the ring post. It’s here that the crowd starts to boo Bret a little bit. Really have to hand it to Diesel here as he takes some really nice bumps for a big man and sells Bret’s offense making it totally believable that this guy he’s twice as big as could do this to. Diesel gets the advantage and jackknifes Bret. But before the ref can count 3, Shawn Michaels comes in and breaks the count. Normally this is a disqualification, but the ref says the match must continue. Bret regains his composure and begins to work on Diesel’s knee again; even taking a chair to the knee while around the ring post which draws a lot of boos. Eventually he gets him into the sharpshooter, and this time it is Owen Hart who saves Diesel from inevitably losing his title. At this point it is clear that there will be no decisive winner despite the referee re-starting the match again. Both guys brawl until the a ref bump. At that point Shawn Michaels, Owen Hart, Bob Backlund, Jeff Jarrett, and Roadie come out and attack the faces until finally they decide to end the match as a draw. Diesel cleans house and he and Bret do the baby face hug. Unheralded match because of the disappointing ending and the fact that these two would top themselves later in the year. **** ½

WWE Tag Team Championship Tournament Finals
Bob Holly and 123 Kid vs. Bam Bam Bigelow and Tatanka w/ Ted Dibiase
This is the result of the ego of the clique. As we’ve documented before, for some reason, they HAD to have the tag titles. Of course they wouldn’t put anyone over, and thus we had a tournament to decide the vacant tag titles and the culmination was here. I wouldn’t normally have had a problem with any of the four involved here, but this match only served to crown champions to job them to the Smoking Gunns the next night on RAW. The match itself is great, as all four guys are solid workers. The story they tell is that Holly and Kid are the plucky underdogs and they play it really well, especially when Bam Bam is in the ring. Bigelow really carries the match his combination of size, strength, agility, and the ability to sell offense from smaller guys in a way that most big men simply cannot do. It’s really too bad that they didn’t do more with Bam Bam during this run, especially with the lack of depth on the roster at this time. He could have been a much better opponent for Undertaker or Diesel as a heel. So much mis-management went on in 1995. Vince did a poor job of maximizing his resources. Ending comes when Bam Bam goes for the moonsault but Tatanka came into the ring and knocked him off the rope and Bigelow got knocked out. Kid crawled over and got the pin. The historic part comes after the match as great New York Giants Linebacker Lawrence Taylor is sitting at ringside and making fun of Bam Bam Bigelow. They get into an argument that ends in Bigelow shoving Lawrence down. This of course sets up the big match at WrestleMania. This was great heat. ***

Main Event
30 Man Royal Rumble
Due to time constraints, and more likely due to the lack of talent on the roster at this time, this Rumble has the annoying 60 second intervals as opposed to the 90 seconds or 2 minutes. They make a nice excuse saying the “action is hotter and faster than ever”. Winner gets a title shot at WrestleMania. Shawn Michaels comes out #1 and Davey Boy Smith comes out #2. It doesn’t take long where it becomes apparent that these two would finish the match against each other as well. Shawn attacks Davey to start, but Bulldog quickly comes back and Shawn oversells everything. Ring fills up in a hurry due to the time intervals. Doink comes in to a big pop. You know you’re in trouble if Doink has gotten the biggest baby face pop of the Rumble so far. Rick Martel comes in at #10. At this point there had only been one elimination, and that was Jimmy Del Ray who was #4. Rumble is just flying by which again is probably a good thing. Owen Hart comes out at #11 but gets attacked by Bret Hart in the aisle. I like that they progress the storyline, but with the lack of talent you would think Owen could’ve added a little star power. He comes into the ring and gets tossed by Bulldog almost immediately. Timothy Well comes out next and gets a big pop but the crowd I don’t think realized who it was. At this point guys start getting tossed out left and right. Bushwhacker Luke comes out next and you can just see the star power. Almost half way through the Rumble and we’ve had next to no star power. Everyone gets tossed and it leaves Shawn and Bulldog again, and it’s almost deja vu as Jacob Blu comes out next just like Eli had done earlier. He doesn’t last long as Shawn tosses him and it’s down to Shawn and Bulldog again. That brings out King Kong Bundy who gets the biggest heel pop of the Rumble thanks to the Undertaker attack. Mo comes in next and Bundy tosses him immediately. Then Mabel comes out and that at least gives the crowd a showdown that they can get into between him and Bundy. Mabel eliminates Bundy. Again, not that I’m a big Bundy fan, but wouldn’t it create a little bit more suspense and drama if he stayed in a little longer? Luger comes in and eliminates Mabel immediately decreasing more suspense (again not that I’m clamoring for Mabel to win or anything, but he’s a big guy that the crowd was at least into). The crowd is just dead for this. It’s almost as if they cannot believe how little they don’t care about the participants involved. Bob Backlund comes out and like Owen gets attacked by Bret Hart. Once again, good storyline progression but Bob could’ve added something to this train wreck of a match. Like Owen he gets into the ring but gets eliminated right away, this time by Luger. Bret then attacks Bob again after he had been eliminated setting up their WrestleMania match.  Match dwindles down to the final four consisting of Shawn, Bulldog, Lex Luger, and Crush. Luger and Crush get eliminated right away. So that leaves Shawn and Davey Boy. Thank god for that, because the finish is really good, in fact one of the best finishes in Rumble history. Davey clotheslines Shawn over the top rope but only one foot touches. The brilliance though is that Davey Boy Smith’s music is playing and he’s celebrating. I remember watching this on scramble vision and marking out because I thought for sure Shawn was going to win, so I was happy that a baby face won. But then Shawn knocked Bulldog over the rope from behind and won the match. Great finish to a putrid Rumble. *** 1/4

Final Analysis: Rumble still gets a good rating strictly due to the finish and it’s really hard to book a bad match, unless you’re Vince Russo. The lack of star power sticks out like a sore thumb, but I guess that is why I can now forgive the 60 second time intervals. I’ve always wondered why Jarrett and Razor didn’t do double duty to add to the match. Razor selling the leg injury like Bret did in 1994 would have really added to this. When you look at Scott Hall’s WWE career, it is odd that he never participated in a Royal Rumble, even though it would have been perfectly logical for him do have done so, particularly after the 1994 event when guys doing double duty was the norm rather than the exception. Looking back the event really does foreshadow just how bad 1995 would be with the lack of depth on the roster and the inability to properly build up a mid-card. It wouldn’t be until 1996 where they started getting all of the old WCW guys that Eric Bischoff canned or didn’t want that you would see a resurgence in the product creatively.