Saturday, January 24, 2004

The World's Greatest WWE Royal Rumble 2004 Preview

Another month has come and gone, and all we've got to show for it is a whole new round of bills, a rent-hungry landlord and another WWE pay per view. It's Royal Rumble time in the annual McMahon calendar, and this year's offering looks to be a step or two above average. You've got a couple brand title matches, neither of which really look all that bad at all, an in-the-family grudge match between two of the fed's greatest heels, a super hot cruiserweight title match and the actual Rumble itself, which is shaping up to be very strong on its own. Along with all that, you've got the internet audience frothing at the mouth over the rumor mill that's been churning in regards to Chris Benoit. OK, Vince... you've got our attention. Now's your chance to actually do something with it. This looks like it's got a very good chance at succeeding, and given a few lucky breaks and a handful of good choices, it's in good position to kick of 2004 on the right note.

Rey Mysterio (c) vs. Jamie Noble
WWE Cruiserweight Title Match

Should be a lot of fun. I was never really all that into Jamie Noble when he was in WCW as one of the Jung Dragons, but really warmed up to him when he came to WWE after the merger. He works a solid cruiserweight style, and has really been one of the most consistent, surprising shining stars of the entire division. I'd love to see him get the belt back here, but I'd also love to see Mysterio, possibly the most deserving champion in the history of the belt, retain. These guys match up well opposite one another, and the match will not disappoint. I can't say I like the storyline here.. Mysterio is way too vanilla as the virtuous face who only wants to help out Nidia, and the whole "blind girlfriend" thing is stupid. I'm not offended by it or anything, it's just one of those storylines you roll your eyes at the mention of... a distinct miss.

This is about the perfect show-opener, with two explosive cruisers who've proven they work great with one another giving it their all. My money's on the champ, but I'll be happy with either guy as champ.
Winner: Rey Mysterio

Ric Flair & Batista (c) vs. The Dudley Boyz
World Tag Team Titles - Tables Match

Ahhhg. Let's see if I can summarize this match in just two words; "Will. Suck." There. I've just saved you the hassle of tuning into the pay per view. There are so many confused question marks floating around this feud, I have to fight off my gut instinct to physically attempt to swat them all away. Why are the Dudleys the number one contenders? Why is Ric Flair still working as an active physical participant in weekly, televised, inconsiquential matches? Why is Batista mired in the ranks of the tag team division, when they'd hit a home run with him only a few months ago, successfully establishing him as a threat to GOLDBERG, of all people?

This won't be pretty. I love the guy to death, but Flair has really been lagging over the last few months, and working opposite the Dudley Boyz isn't going to aid his cause any. Batista is a solid, impact-oriented, physical wrestler who's best opposed by slightly smaller opponents that he can manhandle. Neither Dudley meets that description. With any luck, this will be kept short and precise, and the bomb-droppin' bastards will not be leaving the building as champions for the umpteenth time. Flair and the Deacon win, and I'm crossing my fingers the Dudleys are dropped from the top of the tag ranks as a result.
Winners: Flair and Batista

Eddy Guerrero vs. Chavo Guerrero

I've been waiting years to see this feud again, and now that it's finally arrived... it just doesn't feel right. Maybe it's got more to do with Michael Cole's indescribably bad calling of the action, or Chavo Sr's involvement, but I'm not exactly chomping at the bit to see Lil' Chavito get his this Sunday night. Something's missing, and I can't put my finger on what, exactly, that is.

The fight itself should be simply outstanding, though. Chavo's learned a lot about playing a confident, assertive heel since these two last met in a steady string of singles matches (remember the "Eddy Guerrero is my Favorite Wrestler" shirt?), and Eddy's done no slowing down of his own, either. At their best, these two are among my favorite talents in the world. At their worst, they're still head and shoulders above the majority of the pack. Though I can't say I'm looking forward to the storyline ramifications, I'm most certainly anticipating the match itself. Should be a load of fun if they're given time, and the ringside area is kept clear of Chavo, Sr. and Kurt Angle. I seriously doubt the chances of that, though, so my pick's with the youngster.
Winner: Chavo Guerrero, Jr.

Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Hardcore Holly
WWE Title Match

The match everybody seems to be dreading, for whatever reason. If anything, Holly and Lesnar have proven over the last month that they have absolutely zero chemistry together, so this won't be an intense, dramatic, edge-of-your-seat excitefest, but it won't be "run to your bedroom and cry" awful, either. A lot of folks are overlooking this fact, but Hardcore still knows how to work a match. Only a handful of years ago, he was among my favorites in the WWF midcard, with his super-heavyweight gimmick and his exceptional tag team with his late "cousin," Crash. Holly's injury-prone, but he works a solid, enjoyable style and I'm interested in seeing how he pairs off with Lesnar in the ring, at the very least.

Of course, the writers are insane for assuming he's high profile enough to be headlining one of the big four events for the World Title, but let's not fool ourselves... Holly's just filler. Brock has a small army of potential challengers to his throne in the near future, with Goldberg looking more and more like his perfect WrestleMania opponent as the smoke begins to clear. Hardcore may get a rematch next month, but there's no way in hell he's carrying the title into WrestleMania. He's not ready for the role he's being expected to fill, but neither was Triple H when he defeated Mick Foley four years ago to finally arrive in the main event. You don't find any unexpected surprises if you don't try a longshot once in a while.
Winner: Brock Lesnar

Triple H (c) vs. Shawn Michaels
World Heavyweight Title - Last Man Standing Match

I'm honestly not all that thrilled by this "dream match" any more. I know that's one hell of an ignorant thing to say, but it's the truth. We've seen Shawn and Hunter brawl with one another, we've seen them wrestle with one another... we've seen them blast through four other men inside a steel cage, only to face off with each other once again. It's time to move on, and from any indication I'm getting from the buildup to this one, that's exactly the plan Sunday night. The blowoff between Michaels and Helmsley has finally come to pass, unnecessary, gimmicked stipulation and all.

The storytelling's been, honestly, pretty spot-on with this one. Michaels is still a conceded, arrogant bastard, even if he's being cheered for it at the moment, and Triple H was a student of that aspect of HBK. This is two bulls butting heads, it's the irresistible force vs. the immovable object, it's arguing with Xavier Von Erck. Limitless, endless frustration with only one outcome; one of the two involved parties breaks apart. So, I guess, in that aspect the gimmick makes sense. They've gone to battle with each other so many times in the past, it would only be an exercise in futility to continue the "wash, rinse, repeat" method of booking. One guy needs to come out undeniably ahead of the other, or else this will go on forever. On one hand, you've got a guy whose best days are more than likely behind him. A multiple-time champion who's become broken down over the years and, despite the fire that still burns in his eyes, can't physically compete at the same level he used to. And on the other hand, you've got Shawn Michaels... har har. No, actually, I've given a pretty accurate description of both guys in this case. Neither one of these guys are quite at the same level they were at in their prime, and it's only a matter of watching as the bookers decide whether their short term goals should involve HBK or HHH, because they're both on a steady downward slope. RAW's gonna need a new face in the World Title slot before long, because I can't see these two carrying that torch a couple years from now. I'm gonna go against the grain and pick Michaels in the upset, because nobody would see it coming, HBK's in arguably better shape at the moment, and a match between he and Benoit at WrestleMania looks that much nicer than a match between the Wolverine and the Game.
Winner: Shawn Michaels

30 Man Royal Rumble

This battle royal has always been one of my favorite WWE-exclusive gimmicks. I'm a big fan of over-the-top-rope elimination style matches as it is, for reasons I've never been able to understand, and adding the extra stipulation that the winner gets a shot in the main event of the year's most important card makes it that much more special and intriguing to watch. Though this match always seems to reach a point where it's just a handful of guys trying to push another handful of guys over the top rope as slowly as possible, it never seems to get boring or repetitive. Maybe it's the magic of the moment, maybe it's the tension of trying to figure out who's going to emerge victorious... and, upon closer examination, the balls out nature of the fight itself probably doesn't hurt either. Whatever the reason, this is a fun match to watch as it happens, and loses quite a bit when you try to go back and watch the tape a year or two later. I guess knowing the name of the man destined to win really kills off a lot of the suspense, and you can sit back and watch the match for what it really is.

The ongoing ramifications of the rumble match are undeniable. With no exceptions, every man who has won this match since the "winner gets a Mania title shot" stipulation was added has been a previous, present or future World Champion. Well, except for Lex Luger... but he doesn't count, because he was only co-winner of the Rumble, and because... well... because he's Lex Luger. More to the point, the vast majority of the men to make it to the famed "final four" of the match have almost always been either future main eventers or stars with big things in their future that, for one reason or another, never panned out.

This year's rumble looks to have a pretty healthy pack. While it's missing a few of the workhorses of last year's match (Lesnar and Michaels, notably, chose not to return in this year's rumble), it still boasts more than a few names and faces worthy of carrying the match on their shoulders. Chris Benoit is the current favorite, and judging from the build and storylines just waiting to spiral out of such a Rumble victory, I can't say I disagree. It's every internet fanboy's wet dream, watching their workrate hero win the second biggest prize in the company and qualifying for a moment in the spotlight at the year's biggest event. Seeing the Wolverine win this year's battle royal and then cap off WrestleMania XX with the World Title on his shoulder would be an awesome sight, no doubt about it, but something about it seems just a bit too perfect. Regardless, because my picks are notoriously bad when it comes to matches involving the Crippler, I'm gonna go with the obvious choice. Benoit becomes the second man to go the distance and I'm excited about the possibilities.
Winner: Chris Benoit

In Closing...

Like I said in the intro, this is looking good. There's only one match that I can honestly say I have no interest whatsoever in (the RAW tag title match), and the Rumble is still one of my all-time favorite gimmicks, so you can't really go wrong there. I'm eager to see who goes over in the year's biggest battle royal, and I'm ecstatic that neither World Title match has a slow, plodding, uninteresting hoss involved. In case you weren't paying attention, that's a thumbs up from yours truly. They're doing a lot right here, which gives me hope for the fate of WrestleMania XX a couple months from now. For another thirty, I'm outta here. See you at No Way Out, where I understand there will be absolutely no way out from the vengeance.
until next time, i remain

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