It’s 2013 and another Royal Rumble has come and gone. The New Year’s message is clear: if you were tired of John Cena in 2012, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The Rumble is considered by many fans the second most-anticipated of the year behind Wrestlemania. Once it was my favorite match. A solid hour of brawling and surprises. Lately it has morphed into a tired routine; as monotonous and predictable as any three hour RAW. It’s a connect-the-dots puzzle on the back of a kiddie menu at Denny’s: you know exactly what you’re going to get and the payoff at the end is undercooked eggs.
John Cena won the Rumble. The Rock won the title belt. John Cena will fight the Rock at Wrestlemania. Again. Just like last year. Everyone watching predicted this would happen. Everyone was right.
At this very moment, Amazon is selling a DVD called Cena-Rock: Once in a Lifetime. That DVD is not even nine months old.
If I asked you a week ago who would win the Rumble, what would you say? Cena was the obvious answer. Besides him there were a few other slim possibilities: Ryback, Sheamus, Orton, Ziggler. Who were the Final Five in this year’s Rumble? Cena, Ryback, Sheamus, Orton, Ziggler.
Some years a fluke gets into the last 4 [like Mr. Perfect in 2002] and you get your hopes up even though you know rationally he couldn’t possibly win. This year don’t even bother getting your hopes up. The five guys left in the ring are by coincidence the same five guys that monopolize 90% of your TV time every week. When WWE says “Anything can happen in the Royal Rumble!” they mean “The status quo will be strictly maintained.”
But of more concern than the obvious outcome, the entire Royal Rumble match has become a parody of itself. WWE has been doing them so long now that they have it down to a formula.
- Act 1 – Numbers 1-2: The first guy out is chosen ahead of time. #2 is his tag team partner or his worst enemy.
- Act 2 – Numbers 3-10: Fill up the ring, throw in a light comedy spot or two.
- Act 3 – Numbers 11-20: The jobbers get tossed. One or two early entrants get labeled as ‘tenacious survivors’. Somebody does a crazy stunt to save himself. There are exactly three surprise entrants.
- Act 4 – Numbers 21-30: For some reason all the big names get late numbers now. The Final Four by law must go to opposite corners and face off in a dramatic showdown. The last two must do the Official Obligatory Stare At The Wrestlemania Sign.
This year you have Ziggler and Jericho for Act 1. Santino does the comedy for the third year in a row. Kofi has to repeat being the stunt man assumedly since Justin Gabriel is unavailable. Ziggler survives. Cena, Orton and Sheamus get late numbers. Ryback is 30. Your biggest face-off is Golddust vs Cody Rhodes. No memorable moments. It just was. What was once my favorite match is now a slog. A song and dance routine to endure before the inevitable conclusion of John Cena overcoming all the odds. Who enjoys that?
There’s a tag team match. Daniel Bryan, the most skilled technical wrestler in the company, is called “goat” 14 times amongst the three announcers. Their PPV Championship match is practically a squash. WWE has two promising young stars in Cesaro and Miz. They’re moved to the pre-show just in case they might accidentally put on a quality match. There’s no room for that: we have too many recaps to show.
CM Punk pins the Rock and retains. Since he retains at 9:39 pm, anyone who’s over the age of 12 knows that Vince is going to come out and restart the match. Which he does. The Rock wins. I suppose he deserves it. He’s been quote “working hard for ten years for this opportunity.” Apparently by living in Hollywood and filming Tooth Fairy.
Between the Rock, the Undertaker, Triple H, and Brock Lesnar, the WWE main event scene is dominated by retirees. Ric Flair still wants to get in the ring today. We’re going to be stuck with this crew until 2040. This does not make for a bright future.
The worst part of it all is I can’t really blame them. Out of all the wrestlers in the company, Cena / Rock II is probably going to draw the most. If you’re a public company and need to answer to shareholders right damn now, this is the match you have to book in three months. Other than getting 5 minutes on Entertainment Tonight, I don’t know why they needed to give The Rock a title first. For the last 10 years, the Undertaker & Shawn Michaels have stolen the show with no belts on the line.
At any wrestling forum this morning, you’re sure to see a dozen troll posts like the one above. They’re both right and wrong, but they don’t seem to understand why.
CM Punk is not ratings. He’s small and skinny and kind of dirty. He isn’t beefy and chiseled like John Cena so most women don’t care for him. He’s not a cartoon superhero like Rey Mysterio so the kids aren’t really paying attention. Casual fans have no idea what he’s talking during his trademark worked-shoot promos.
That’s half the audience right there. He won’t be bringing in new fans because new fans can’t appreciate what he has to offer. He isn’t for them. He is a gift to the fans who are already here. The longtime fan with high expectations. Smarks who aren’t fooled by fake Twitter polls. The casual audience don’t know anything about indy wrestlers working their way up or backstage politics or a writing team filled with uninspired hacks. We know all too much about that. CM Punk says what we wish we could say to Vince McMahon. He is the antithesis of a Did You Know? infographic. He is real in a way John Cena never is, and his promos are celebrated because of it.
CM Punk is not pandering to the IWC. He’s playing a sophisticated character (see this excellent piece for more on that). All WWE characters could be this consistently entertaining and challenging, but instead you get poo jokes because that’s the lowest common denominator. The company knows exactly what you like, and occasionally they give it to you. See Money in the Bank 2011. They’re also clever enough not to give it to you all the time.
Two and a Half Men is the #1 comedy in America. Arrested Development is much better. John Cena is a bulging frat boy that drops shit on his enemies. CM Punk is the opposite. I don’t care that CM Punk isn’t singlehandedly raising buyrates. He’s the solace of the other half. He’s done an outstanding job this last 400 days and I hope he doesn’t fall through the cracks now that his reign is over.
This year WWE can hit the panic button and pay their retired star a few million dollars to come back for a few appearances. That’s not going to work in a decade. It’s hard to imagine another company that champions social media so much yet is this out of touch with their own fans and the future.