Pruett's Blog: I'm going to WrestleMania - The Royal Rumble Winners Series Part 4 - 2006-2009, Rey Mysterio, The Undertaker, John Cena, and Randy Orton
By Will Pruett
This is part four of five in The Royal Rumble Winners Series.
Click here to read Part One.
Click here to read Part Two.
Click here to read Part Three.
As WWE got used to having two World Championships, the Royal Rumble has begun to mean less. Instead of being forced to structure the WrestleMania main event around it, they now have to structure one of the key matches around it. It isn't the theme of WrestleMania, it is a major moment. The match containing the Rumble winner can still be the most important moment, but it can also easily be passed over.
2006 - Rey Mysterio
This story begins with the tragic death of Eddie Guerrero on November 13, 2005. I truly wish it didn't.
When Rey Mysterio entered the Royal Rumble (at number two), he did so in tribute to Eddie Guerrero. It was a part of a long line of on-air tributes to the fallen hero of many. Rey came to the ring in a low-rider and would leave he ring 62 minutes later as the winner. He out-lasted every other wrestler in the match and managed to eliminate Randy Orton to finally win the comtest.
Orton was not happy about this and evoked the name of Eddie Guerrero, telling Rey that Eddie was actually in hell. Eventually, Rey put his title shot, won in the Rumble, on the line against Orton at No Way Out. Rey was defeated in a shady manner by Orton and lost his title shot. Teddy Long was not about to allow this injustice to continue and he added Rey to the WrestleMania World Championship match.
Kurt Angle, who was currently playing a wrestling machine, was the current World Heavyweight Champion. He felt completely tacked on to the Mysterio vs. Orton feud. It seemed like WWE suddenly remembered the feud was for a title shot amidst all of the personal grudges they were trying to forward. Angle was a fine champion, but he was wasted in this feud.
The triple threat at WrestleMania was less than ten minutes long and went along at a frantic pace. It wasn't the most important match on the show. It featured a couple of key botches. Mysterio, Orton, and Angle tried hard to make it feel important and fun, but it was a tall order. In the end, Mysterio won the World Championship and created a nice little moment in his emotional celebration. This was the only pleasant moment in his title reign.
This year's Royal Rumble was an odd attempt at a tribute. If the idea was to honor Eddie, why was his name associated with being sent to hell? Why was he evoked so often in this story? Rey Mysterio, even in winning the championship looked extremely weak. He needed luck, rather than skill to win it. When one looks at the other main event triple threat match that preceded this one, one sees a vastly superior effort.
This Rumble was a great moment for Mysterio, but it wasn't a great story. Mysterio was a weak champion and a weak choice. The tribute aspect of his win was great, but the distasteful angle built around it took away any honorability the tribute provided.
2007 - The Undertaker
In his long career, The Undertaker had never won the Royal Rumble. It was one of the few achievements in WWE that eluded him. The Undertaker entered the Rumble at number 30 and proceeded to win it (after an absolutely brilliant 10 minute sequence with Shawn Michaels at the end). He was now faced with a choice.
Bobby Lashley (ECW Champion), John Cena (WWE Champion), and Batista (World Heavyweight Champion) eagerly awaited Undertaker's choice. For the first time in the history of his WrestleMania streak, he had the opportunity to pick his opponent. Given the three choices, Undertaker Chokeslammed Batista, picking him for a 'Mania opponent.
Batista and Undertaker suffered from very low expectations. We had not yet arrived at the point where The Streak assured brilliance. Batista had been having a rough time since his return from injury at SummerSlam 2006. His in-ring work had suffered and he was having a lackluster run as World Champion. Who would have guessed this would be a great match?
In Detroit at WrestleMania, in the middle of the show, this match came and went quickly, but was amazing. The Undertaker put forth a superior effort and Batista rose to the occasion. Both of them pulled out all the stops in a power vs. power match for the ages. Of course, the ending was written before the match was signed. The Undertaker won the World Heavyweight Championship and went 16-0.
This year the Rumble was a chance to tell a different story concerning Undertaker's Streak and award a veteran performer with a victory in WWE's most prominent matches. Putting Undertaker in the driver's seat of The Streak was a new story. This also allowed WWE to begin one of the most surprisingly great feuds in their history with Undertaker and Batista. The Rumble benefitted greatly from adding Undertaker to its legacy.
2008 - John Cena
The biggest star in WWE returned from injury months ahead of time as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble and won the match. The current WWE Champion was the man that injured him. This is a pretty easy one, right? Not so much. See, John Cena decided he wanted his WWE Championship shot early, because he couldn't wait two months.
Randy Orton was the current champion and was in the midst of his "Age of Orton" run, having turned back the challenges of Jeff Hardy, Chris Jericho, and Shawn Michaels. He was putting together a nice title reign racing into WrestleMania and before the return of John Cena, seemed destined to meet Triple H at that show.
Cena's return was a major surprise at number 30 in the Royal Rumble. He had been side-lined by Orton (well, the actual injury may have occurred in the ring with Ken Kennedy, but it was attributed to Orton) in October and was projected to be out beyond WrestleMania. Cena summoned super-human healing ability and was good to go by the Rumble. His win was a great moment in his career, as he rose above a major injury.
Cena asked to take his title shot early because he anger towards Orton could not be contained. He challenged Randy Orton at No Way Out and failed to capture the WWE Championship because Orton was intentionally disqualified. This should have been the end of Cena's story. He failed. On the same night, Triple H won a number one contendership match in the Elimination Chamber and was promised a title shot.
Much like Shawn Michaels in 2004, John Cena inserted himself into the title match and it became a three-way affair. Cena, Triple H, and Orton would try to capture the lightening of 2004 in a bottle once again.
Sadly, they could not do so. The match they had at WrestleMania was disappointing and disjointed. It relied on the all too familiar tropes of three-way matches and told a fairly weak story. Perhaps the most surprising moment of this match was the end, with Triple H about to pin Cena when Orton would punk-kick him and pin Cena himself. The Age of Orton would roll on.
Anything can happen in WWE and John Cena's return proved this. The Royal Rumble was merely a way for Cena and WWE to prove anything can happen. The build to WrestleMania could have been completed without the Rumble win playing a role. John Cena even failed to capture the WWE Championship in his actual title shot provided by the Rumble. This was a chance to make a moment in January and it was a success. Sadly, it didn't make a moment at WrestleMania when it was needed.
2009 - Randy Orton
A new evil had arrived. Well, Orton had been in WWE for seven years, but a new evil arrived inside his head as 2008 drew to a close. Orton had lived through the "Age of Orton" and Team Rated RKO and was finally coming into his own. He had even established a stable to run with consisting of Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase. Orton's "Legacy" was forming.
What then was Orton to do when he was about to be fired by Vince McMahon on the Raw before the Royal Rumble? He did what any logical villain would do and punt-kicked McMahon in the head. This was a shocking Raw moment and one of the best endings to an episode of Raw I can remember. Everything for Orton seemed to be on course.
At the Royal Rumble, (in one of the more unspectacular Rumble matches of all time) it came down to Orton, DiBiase, Rhodes, and Triple H in the final four. It looked like Triple H was about to overcome the entire Legacy stable, but Orton managed to throw him over the top rope and win the Rumble. The evil Orton was headed to WrestleMania.
Orton continued his battle against the McMahon family, even threatening to force the cancelation of WrestleMania when he was almost fired again. Eventually, Shane McMahon would emerge as the defender of his family's honor. Shane fought valiantly against Orton at No Way Out and the next night on Raw. In fact, Shane actually somehow summoned super human strength and fought off the entire Legacy faction, before being defeated by them.
At the same show, Triple H won the Elimination Chamber match for the WWE Championship. The pieces were now in place for the WrestleMania main event. The story was built around Triple H (a member of the McMahon family) trying to stop Orton's quest to take out the McMahon family. The story was not built around the WWE Championship or Orton's quest to win it.
The Road to WrestleMania this year was one of the more uneven ones. There were excellent moments with the frightening Orton getting the better of Stephanie McMahon. There were also odd moments with Triple H invading Orton's house and threatening one of his wives. The story was not well structured and seemed bipolar.
The week before WrestleMania, Shane and Vince McMahon returned from their punt-kick vacations to save Triple H from a three-on-one beating from Legacy. The WrestleMania main event seemed destined to be a run-in fueled encounter reminiscent of WrestleMania 15. Even as it seemed we would be seeing these run-ins, a stipulation was added saying Triple H would lose the title if disqualified.
Orton went on to be defeated by Triple H in one of the flattest main events in WrestleMania history. A new evil had arrived, but he was banished just as quickly.
The Royal Rumble was an obstacle worked into a story for Orton. In winning the match, he guaranteed himself a shot at the title at WrestleMania, yet the feud was never about the title. Orton was never destined to win it. It's evident, especially with the title change to Triple H at No Way Out, the match was conceived of before the title was included. With the Rumble as a hindrance, and the story stalling, Orton was ultimately hurt by this victory. His next year would show the damage done here.
The Rumble's importance seemed to decrease in this set of matches. Three out of the four matches didn't close WrestleMania and only half of the Rumble winners actually won their targeted championships. This was a weak set of matches and stories. Even the story that did become the main feature of the show was uneven and weak. The Rumble got by on name alone during these years, even though the results seemed unimportant when WrestleMania had come and gone.
This blog has been edited by the Ryan "The Ryan" Kester.
Let's do some good old fashioned talking about this blog, the Royal Rumble, and WrestleMania! Feel free to email me at email@example.com or to follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/itswilltime.
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