While it's not official, when the smoke cleared Sunday night at the Royal Rumble all signs pointed to The Rock defending the WWE Championship against John Cena in a rematch from last year's WrestleMania main event.
Fans have speculated Rock-Cena II for quite some time, and with the Rock ending CM Punk's amazing 434-day reign as WWE Champion and Cena winning the Royal Rumble match to earn a title shot in one of the WrestleMania main events at Sunday night's PPV, it's all but a foregone conclusion that the two icons of professional wrestling will be clashing again at WrestleMania 29 in New York/New Jersey in April.
It's a somewhat predictable but exciting outcome to the Royal Rumble pay-per-view. While I had no issues with the booked winners, I did find the match finishes themselves somewhat underwhelming, especially the mess that was the last five minutes of the Rock-Punk main event that had delivered solid in-ring action up until the point the lights went off.
About 20 minutes in, as the Rock set up for his signature People's Elbow, the lights went off. Obviously, this was the Sheild interferring in the match, despite Vince McMahon -- and CM Punk's warning not to do so -- lest Punk's lengthy reign be ended by McMahon stripping him of the title. However, we never saw the Shield, and when the lights came back on, Ryback was laid out on the announce table. Punk rolled him into the ring and pinned him, 1-2-3 to retain.
Following a fairly long celebration by the champ, McMahon's music finally hit and he was beginning to inform Punk of his intentions to strip him of the title when the Rock interrupted, saying McMahon doesn't end his title reign, the Rock does. McMahon restarted the match at Rock's request and after kicking out of a flying elbow and countering a GTS into a People's Elbow, it was over. The Rock was the new WWE Champion.
On paper, this looks fine. Perhaps I had my expectations set too high, but I wanted more. Where were the false finishes? At no point in the match did I think "well, that's it" only for Rock or Punk to kick out. Who it really hurts is Punk. I'm not the biggest CM Punk fan in the world, but he certainly deserved better booking than he got here. The People's Elbow is an awful finish. Always has been. It'd be like if John Cena started pinning guys after the Five-Knuckle Shuffle fistdrop. At least hit the Rock Bottom before using the elbow as the exclamation point. I don't know.
The Shield's run-in was contrived. Let's pretend for a minute this is a real sport. Knowing there was a strong chance he'd be stripped of the title even if no one could see the Shield, why would Punk have them interfer? I don't like it. On the other hand, hopefully we can now drop the angle that the Shield is acting independently and re-establish Punk as a "cult leader," in which he has thrived during the Straight Edge Society and New Nexus angles.
At least Punk will be able to argue that he pinned the Rock 1-2-3 in the middle of the ring and that because the lights were out, we have no idea what actually happened and that it was unfair for the match to be restarted. It's a fair enough gripe, I guess. Although he would've been awarded a rematch anyway. The question now is will it be another 1-on-1 rematch at the Elimination Chamber PPV, or will the Rock be forced to defend against four others inside the cage, too?
Meanwhile, in the Rumble match itself, John Cena last eliminated Ryback to claim victory in what was a good, but not especially memorable Rumble match. Too often the ring just filled up with 10-plus Superstars and didn't allow a lot of "matches within the match" so to speak, and just a bunch of punching and kicking. I also didn't feel like there were many stories being told with the main eventers. That's a shame, because the Royal Rumble match itself was really brimming with talent this year.
The final five were Cena, Ryback, Sheamus, Dolph Ziggler and Randy Orton. I was surprised when Orton was the first of them to go. Having the company's four biggest full-time babyfaces would've made a really unique final four, as I can't remember that ever happening before in the history of the Rumble. Considering Ziggler didn't really do anything after Orton was eliminated, it was pointless not to have him get chucked sooner. And Cena wasn't even the one to eliminate him (Sheamus did) so it's not like it advanced that story (if that is still a storyline? I'm not even sure at this point).
No seeds were planted for an Orton heel turn after Ryback eliminated him. Surprisingly, of Ryback's five eliminations, only one of them was a heel (Damien Sandow). That tied Sheamus for the most eliminations in the match.
Of the 10 unannounced entrants, three were huge surprises -- The Godfather, Goldust and Chris Jericho. Jericho in particular was huge. He was the No. 2 entrant after Ziggler proclaimed he was going to win the whole thing from the No. 1 spot. Jericho made it to the final six before being eliminated by Ziggler. It sounds like Jericho may have reached a short-term deal to stick around until WrestleMania, and if so, that's awesome news. We'll see where things go with him.
Goldust returned to a big pop as well, and immediately went after his brother Cody. It'd be nice to see Goldust stick around at least long enough to have a one-on-one match with his brother. While it seems unlikely for WrestleMania, just a one-off on Smackdown would be fine by me. The Godfather also got a nice pop, but nearly broke Santino Marella's record of 1 second in the match before being eliminated. He took his time getting to the ring, getting his gear off, got in, got knocked out, put his gear back on and walked out with his ladies. Nice.
There were no other major returns, as Mark Henry, Christian and Jack Swagger were nowhere to be seen. Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara, who had both been off TV for a few weeks with injuries (both real and kayfabe) made their returns, but had little impact on the Rumble match itself. At least some of the dirt sheets are reporting Mysterio still isn't back full-time, but they wanted him in the Rumble and he'll likely be at the Smackdown taping in San Diego on Tuesday. David Otunga and Santino Marella, neither of which have been seen on TV recently, were also in the Rumble, and also had little to no impact.
Bo Dallas, the NXT rookie who won a tournament at the Rumble Axxess event to earn a spot in the match, did make an impact, eliminating Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett in a bit of an upset. Dallas, who is the son of Mike Rotundo (IRS) and brother of former Nexus member Husky Harris (now Bray Wyatt), is expected to stick on the main roster. Barrett returned by the favor by helping to illegally eliminate Dallas and brawled with him outside the ring a bit.
Kofi Kingston and Daniel Bryan will tie for the best "skin the cat" type moment. Kingston was knocked off the apron onto the back of a recently eliminated Tensai, who dropped him on the Spanish announce table. Kingston considered long-jumping from the table to the ring apron, but changed his mind and instead used JBL's chair like a pogo stick to hop back toward the ring. That's two years in a row for Kingston, who did a handstand last year to avoid elimination.
Bryan, who was one of my dark horse picks to win, eliminated Kane, with whom he'd retained the tag team titles earlier in the night. Then Antonio Cesaro threw Bryan out, who landed in Kane's arms with his legs wrapped around him, not unlike how AJ had done with Kane a few times last year. Bryan told Kane to put him back in the ring, and a No! Yes! battle began. Kane decided simply to drop his partner, and it looks like, suddenly, all is not well with Team Hell No.
Hell No retaining against the Rhodes Scholars earlier in the show was a bit of a shocker to me, as I thought for sure the time was ripe for a title change. Perhaps the bookers decided only for the WWE Championship to change hands on this night. With the friction between Bryan and Kane as a result of the Rumble now, I expect them to be forced to defend the titles again tonight during Raw Roulette and drop them, again mostly likely to the Rhodes Scholars.
Alberto Del Rio retained the World Heavyweight Championship with an assist from Ricardo Rodrigeuz, who took his cues from John Cena at Extreme Rules a few years ago, using duct tape to keep the big man down. As seems to be a theme in the show, I didn't like the finish. One, we've already seen it before. Two, it made Del Rio look weak, in my opinion. Up to that point, the match was really good, but it didn't reach the level of their Smackdown match when Del Rio won the title. I would have preferred Big Show tear through the tape -- it would've made him look more like a beast -- to keep the match going a bit longer, only for Del Rio to hit one last high-impact offensive maneuver to keep the giant down. ...
I loved the pre-show match, which saw Antonio Cesaro defeat the Miz clean. They did a really good job in this one, with Cesaro on offense most of the match and several times snuffing out the Miz's comeback. After twice countering the Miz running off the ropes into a tilt-a-whilrl backbreaker and powerslam, late in the match Miz countered his counter into his backbreaker/neckbreaker combo in a really cool spot. Cesaro used the metal ring frame to injure the Miz late in the match, though and won clean with a Neutralizer. They had a brief run-in during the Rumble match, with Miz enterting just as Cesaro was eliminated and the two of them fighting in the aisle, so I don't think this feud is over just yet.
Overall, this was a very good if not predictable pay-per-view. That's OK. Sometimes it's good to follow the narrative. WWE actually did accomplish pointing doubt in my mind about the finish to both major matches. Ryback was the only other logical choice other than Cena to win the Rumble, and Punk seemingly retaining (and obviously, there was a reason they waited so long for Vince's music to hit) threw me off a bit. My complaints about the match finishes are nit-picky, but it's just my opinion. Overall, strong show, and I'm looking forward to seeing what's next on the Road to WrestleMania.