The road to Wrestlemania has begun in earnest as World Wrestling Entertainment present their first of the “big four” pay-per-views of 2007, the Royal Rumble, broadcast live in Great Britain on Sky Box Office. Our hosts for the evening - representing Raw, Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler. Representing Smackdown, Michael Cole and John Bradshaw “Layfield”, and representing Extreme Championship Wrestling, Joey Styles and Tazz.
The opener sees an inter-promotional tag-team encounter, as the MNM team of Joey Mercury and Johnny Nitro, as always, accompanied by the vixen that is Melina, take on Matt and Jeff Hardy. With MNM looking to gain a measure of revenge after Mercury’s injuries during last month’s ladder match at Armageddon, this one looked great on paper. Picking up things from where they stared at ECW’s December to Dismember, both teams put on a great opener, which makes it a shame that we probably won’t get to see these two teams again much in the future. The end was quite a novel and inventive one. After Matt had taken Nitro out with a twist of fate, Mercury came in and charged Matt out of the ring. However, Jeff got the blind tag as Matt went through the ropes, and scaled the ropes and came down on Nitro with a swanton to get the three count and the victory for his team. Imagine what these two teams could add to the tag divisions of either Raw or Smackdown.
Backstage, Teddy Long and Jonathan Coachman, along with Kelly Kelly, are hosting the drawing for the Rumble. There’s a bit of confrontation between Edge and Randy Orton, and, wanting to see each other’s numbers, Edge says “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours!” It’s then that King Booker and Sharmell storm into the room. “Tell me you just didn’t say that!”
Time for the crowd to go quiet as we get the first title match of the evening, as Bobby Lashley defends the ECW title against Test. Once again Lashley showed just why he is one of the best young athletes on the roster at the moment, but also that he’s wasted on the ECW brand. It’s a passable encounter that doesn’t exactly set the pulses racing in which Lashley executes some awesome suplexes, and Test takes what can only be described as a head scratching count out. This sort of victory wasn’t enough for Lashley, as he dragged Test back into the ring and took him down with a power slam.
Backstage, a doctor tries to examine John Cena, worried about the injuries he sustained the previous Monday against Umaga. Vince McMahon then stormed in, as Cena says there’s no chance of him pulling out of the match and forfeiting the title, McMahon predicts that Cena will lost the match and title to Umaga.
Next up, Batista defends the World Heavyweight Championship against Mr. Kennedy. With the crowd regaining their voices after the last match, Kennedy dominated proceedings by constantly working over Batista’s left leg, applying a couple of submission holds, and getting out of Batista’s attempted power moves. The champion only had a few fleeting moments of offence, which included taking Kennedy out with the Batista Bomb, despite Kennedy’s shots to the skull, to get the pin and title retaining win to end what was a very enjoyable encounter - despite what some people would have you believe.
Backstage, more drawings for the Rumble, including from the vampire guy from ECW, and Finlay’s little bastard. Coachman makes a joke about small numbers, before the bastard bites Coachman’s ear and kicks him in the shin, before he is abruptly stopped by the sight of the Great Khali. Khali takes three balls from the tumbler, and drops two of them on the floor after Coachman tells him he can only select one ball. Kelly then picks up the balls and declares that they are the biggest balls she has ever seen. Cue Ron Simmons. Do I need to say more?
The last title match of the evening sees WWE Champion John Cena go up against the Samoan Bulldozer, Umaga, who has Armando Estrada along for company, in a Last Man Standing Rules. It’s a hell of a fight here, and I think that’s the best way I can describe this. These two throw everything they can at each other, which keeps neither man down. Umaga even runs along all three announce tables to try and splash a prone table, but ends up going through the ECW table - and he still gets up. Estrada then takes down the top rope, and after Cena counters what looks like a super Samoan spike attempt with an FU, he takes Umaga out with an STFU, using the top rope to choke Umaga until he was unconscious and unable to beat the ten count. This is probably the best match I’ve seen from both men, and they both deserve high praise for the effort they put in here.
Backstage, Coachman complains to Teddy and Kelly about their rejects. The Sandman then comes into the room, cracks open a beer, and picks his number. Then the last man to draw, Ric Flair, appears, draws his number, and is then subjected to a dance from Kelly and her friends. I bet the old sod enjoyed that one.
Main event time - the Royal Rumble match itself, with Smackdown’s Bradshaw and Cole, and Raw’s Lawler handling commentary duties. Starting off with Finlay against Ric Flair, and going down to Shawn Michaels versus the Undertaker, this version of Pat Patterson’s creation certainly lived up to the billing as the most star-studded Royal Rumble ever. There was too much great action to call, and when it came down to the final two, the legends that are Michaels and the Undertaker showed that despite the fact they haven’t faced each other since the first Hell in a Cell almost ten years ago, they could still put on a great showing against each other, showing, with a great deal of intensity, what wrestling should be all about, with the dead man eliminating the hometown hero to win the Rumble for the first time, and to book his place in the main event at Wrestlemania.
In conclusion - some would have you believe that the first “big” show of the year didn’t really get going until the fourth match in. I beg to differ. From the beginning, the Royal Rumble proved to be a great show, and although Lashley v Test may have left a little to be desired, it was more than made up for by the action in the matches that followed, especially the brawl between Cena and Umaga.
Many have also questioned the wisdom of the Undertaker winning the Rumble. The Royal Rumble is one of the few honours the big man has never won during his almost twenty years of service to the company, and given that he’s now on a part-time schedule and that his career is starting to wind down, I think he deserves this win, and one final shot at the Wrestlemania main event, whatever title he goes for.
So in all, a show that I enjoyed immensely.
Now it’s time to plug a few of items;
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The final voting for the 2006 Two Sheds Review Awards is now open, with Edge, John Cena, Shawn Michaels, C.M. Punk and Samoa Joe up for the Wrestler of the Year award, and Mirko Cro Cop, Chuck Lidell, Tito Ortiz and Georges St. Pierre up for MMA Fighter of the Year. There’s also ten other categories to vote in. The polls close on February 10th. Log onto www.twoshedsreview.com to find out more!And finally, some of my work has made it into book form, with the first two stories of my 1990 Anglo-Force series, co-written with my brother Paul, available to buy online at www.lulu.com/twosheds316