Pruett's Blog: I'm going to WrestleMania - The Royal Rumble Winners Series Part 5 - 2010-2012, Edge, Alberto Del Rio, and Sheamus
By Will Pruett
This is part five 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.
Click here to read Part Four.
As the decade came to a close, the Royal Rumble match became a major event, but it wasn't quite the star making device. In the years 2000-2009, seven out of the ten Rumble winners were former World Champions and could have easily headlined any show with or without the Rumble behind them. It wasn't exactly that times had changed. The Rumble was used to set up WrestleMania matches and those matches had to be big and contain big stars.
Perhaps one of the flaws of the Rumble format is that it culminates at WrestleMania. The grandest stage of them all deserves the biggest matches possible. This forces the Rumble to be won by one of the top stars. The World Heavyweight Championship's decline in prominence has actually helped the Rumble become more unpredictable. In these three years, all of the Rumble winners pick the lesser championship, allowing for a different story to be told with the WWE Championship.
The Rumble is still important. It is still one of the highlights of the wrestling year. It is probably one of the greatest gimmick matches ever conceived. It's something I look forward to every January. There is no other event that provides the excitement, the surprises, and the fun of the Rumble.
2010 - Edge
Surprises fuel the Royal Rumble. The match seems custom made for some big surprising moments and WWE has never hesitated to deliver them. Edge's return from injury was one such surprise. It's probably best compared to John Cena's return two years earlier. A wrestler was injured, he recovered in time to make it into the Rumble, entered the Rumble as a late-in-the-match surprise, and won. It's an easy story to write and one of the stories the Rumble lends itself to perfectly.
Edge was injured in a house show match defending his newly won WWE Unified Tag Team Championships (which he held with Chris Jericho). It was an Achilles tear that took him out for months prior to the Rumble match. In the Royal Rumble, he returned at number 29 (because he couldn't be just like John Cena and return at 30) and won the match, last eliminating John Cena (a brief flashback to their career-long feud) and elimination Chris Jericho along the way.
This brought forth an interesting question: Can a main event wrestler return in the Royal Rumble match and not win it? If he does, is the return an automatic failure? As Edge and John Cena showed, a main event return is very exciting a great direction for the match. It can also seem a bit predictable. When Edge entered the Rumble in 2010, it was hard to imagine a scenario where he would not win.
Now, the problem was the world champions at the time. When the Rumble event ended, the world champions were The Undertaker and Sheamus. Edge's name had already been added to The Streak and Shawn Michaels had verbally reserved his second spot on that list. Sheamus and Edge didn't seem to be natural enemies. Edge decided to wait until after the Elimination Chamber, seemingly hoping fate would fall in his favor.
As the magical world of wrestling works, fate did work in Edge's favor. Shawn Michaels, in his quest for another opportunity to end The Streak, cost The Undertaker the World Heavyweight Championship, to the benefit of Chris Jericho. Jericho, Edge's former tag team partner and the man insulting him on a consistent basis, was now a champion. Edge didn't waste his time. One night later, he attacked Jericho and announced his intention to pursue the World Heavyweight Championship.
Edge claimed that his ultimate weapon on this match would be the Spear. In fact, there was an attempt made to make fans chant and cheer for the Spear. This attempt ultimately failed. The fans at WrestleMania 26 were into Edge and wanted to cheer for him, but the chants of "Spear" never quite picked up steam.
This actually describes Edge's entire return. He never picked up steam. His connection with the crowd was fine and people cheered him, but it wasn't passion. He didn't evoke passion from the crowd. This lack of passion really hurt Edge's babyface return.
At WrestleMania, Edge was defeated after a belt shot and a Code Breaker from Jericho. He then Speared Jericho off of an announce table and through the time-keeper's barricade. It seemed that Edge's World Heavyweight Championship ambitions were bound to be fulfilled in time, but just five nights later on Smackdown, Jericho lost the title to Jack Swagger.
Edge struggled until the end of the year and his character wavered and evolved. The ultimate end to this evolution was a positive one. Edge became an established top babyface after a tumultuous year. The Rumble win was a surprising beginning to it.
2011 - Alberto Del Rio
Since Yokozuna in 1993, the Royal Rumble has been an effective way to establish a new act. Even if a wrestler didn't win the Rumble, a good showing would put him in line to enter the upper echelon. Diesel's emergence in 1994 is a great example. This match is another example of a newer act finding himself on the winning end of the Rumble.
This match was also the largest Royal Rumble in history (a fact we were reminded of constantly before, during, and after the event). Instead of the standard 30 men, it featured 40. This lead to a lot more filler in the match, which meant the percentage of meaningful and compelling time decreased from previous years. Even the end of the match was oriented around filler.
Alberto Del Rio appeared to have eliminated all the other competitors when Santino Marella snuck up from behind and almost eliminated Del Rio. Lucky for all of us, Del Rio eliminated Santino and fulfilled his destiny of winning the 2011 Royal Rumble.
Destiny was a major theme in the early run of Alberto Del Rio. Every win seemed to be his destiny. Greatness was his destiny. Del Rio had even claimed that winning the World Heavyweight Championship in a four-way TLC match at TLC 2010 was his destiny. Through all of this, Del Rio seemed destined to become the new World Champion at WrestleMania.
Standing in the way of this destiny was Edge, who struggled to find himself for a year, then emerged as the top babyface of the Smackdown brand. Edge had an up and down 2010, but he really settled into a groove as an established top star. He was coming off of one of the best matches of his career (and the best Elimination Chamber match of all time) in February. Alberto Del Rio attacked him right as the match ended and jump-started their feud.
Del Rio's destiny seemed to be set in stone. WrestleMania was approaching quickly and he was racking up win after win against the likes of Kofi Kingston and others. He even added a personal bodyguard to his entourage with Brodus Clay joining him right after being the runner up on NXT. Del Rio seemed unstoppable and it looked like a new era was going to overtake the blue brand.
Well, it did until a couple weeks before WrestleMania. Del Rio suddenly started losing matches and underperforming in major segments. As much momentum as Del Rio had gained making his enemies tap out to the Cross-Armbreaker, more seemed to be fading away. Del Rio's destiny was fading away before his eyes.
Destiny would turn out to be a fickle mistress for Del Rio, as his best laid plans went awry. He failed to capture the World Heavyweight Championship in the opening match of WrestleMania 27 despite interference from Brodus Clay. Even his car, which was left on the entrance ramp after his entrance, was destroyed by Edge and Christian.
Another force of destiny was also at work. Edge, it turned out, would wrestle his last match at WrestleMania 27. A neck injury sidelined him and forced him into early retirement. As sad as this ending was, it was also inspiring. Edge's last match was a World Heavyweight Championship match at WrestleMania and he won. Destiny was Alberto Del Rio's mantra, but it turned out to favor Edge.
It would take Del Rio another four months until he captured a major championship and it would be the WWE Championship via a Money in the Bank cash-in. Maybe Del Rio's premonition was a little off, but at least he had the year right. The Rumble, for Del Rio, was a stepping stone, but it didn't benefit him as much as it could have. So often the Rumble win is just the beginning. The follow-up is imperative for the superstar involved. Del Rio got the win, but didn't quite make it in the follow-up.
2012 - Sheamus
18 seconds. The ultimate legacy of this Royal Rumble match has been decided by the 18 second World Championship match that opened WrestleMania 29. It angered fans and I'm sure it was a disappointing moment for the two wrestlers involved.
According to most, Sheamus wasn't even supposed to win the Rumble, Chris Jericho was. Jericho had just returned to WWE and was having a fascinating run of silent promos and matches. It was one of the more creative stories in recent history. Jericho had gone from returning hero to hated villain without saying a word. Just before the Royal Rumble, he promised the world would end.
Sheamus was simply racking up wins over lesser opponents. He wasn't in a major feud. He wasn't struggling. He was just winning. Sheamus didn't seem to be anything special going into the show. He was a directionless wrestler winning squash matches on television. He had vowed to win, but so had many others. He was just a guy.
This is why it was so surprising when the Rumble came down to Jericho and Sheamus and Sheamus actually won. They had an awesome final two segment as they fought to get each other over the top rope. Jericho's feet hit the ground and Sheamus was crowned Rumble winner. It didn't seem like this was how the story would go.
While Sheamus continued down his pervious path of winning matches and being cheered, the World Heavyweight Champion, Daniel Bryan, was undergoing a slow and very interesting character change. The title had gone to his head and his celebrations had become arrogant instead of jovial. Daniel Bryan was quickly becoming a pesky little villain with a title bigger than he could support.
WrestleMania, for Sheamus and Bryan, was on the horizon. No one expected a Sheamus loss going into the match. Bryan was keeping the title warm for Sheamus and the Celtic Warrior was on a warpath through the Smackdown roster. No one expected it to play out exactly as it did. Sheamus hit the Brogue Kick just a few seconds into the match, won the World Heavyweight Championship, and launched the career of Daniel Bryan into its best year yet.
This was a year when the Rumble didn't seem to be a story WWE wanted to tell. They had Sheamus win and win the title, but he was not the focus of any show. Sheamus was not made with the Rumble win, but he was made with the title. The World Heavyweight Championship reign Sheamus had was fantastic. From April to October, he carried the title proudly and had great matches.
It's possible that a lesser star would have faded under the pressure of an 18 second win and a crowd rebellion, but Sheamus stayed the course. Much like when Sheamus won the Rumble and no one expected it (and some rebelled against it), Sheamus stayed the course. His win was the beginning of a great year, even if it did have some odd moments.
When I started this blog series, I was hoping to find what it meant to win the Royal Rumble. I did find that for each wrestler and each time they won the match, but I can't generalize what it actually means. The Rumble means whatever it needs to based on the year and the wrestler. It can be the central focus of WrestleMania or it can make a mid-card match a main event. It can also be used to establish a young wrestler or provide a surprising return.
The Royal Rumble is an achievement few wrestlers have on their resumes. This list is a who's who of wrestling and it also lacks some very notable names (including many of today's top stars). At its best, the match is an entertaining spectacle and a great start to a wrestler's WrestleMania quest. Perhaps that's all it needs to be. After all, the Rumble is the only time of the year that the often pointed at WrestleMania sign explodes with glee. Maybe that's enough.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or to follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/itswilltime.
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