January 27, 2008

The WWE kicks off the year 2008 with one of the more fun PPV shows that they’ve had in quite some time, along with the shocking return of John Cena.

Chris Jericho . . . gets the sweet taste of revenge on JBL for costing him the WWE Title and subsequently attacking him.

Jeff Hardy . . . attempts to not only kill Randy Orton, but also himself, in what could be the biggest match of his career.

Hornswaggle . . . has a claim to a WWE Title shot since he wasn’t officially eliminated, and even eliminated someone else.


There is some good stuff here, and both Flair and MVP are good about making things seem like it’s the end for Flair, but this is just too much of a clash of styles to work properly. Other than the Figure Four the only things Flair had at his disposal to try to beat MVP were his chops and several flash pin attempts from roll-ups and a backslide. The Figure Four counter to the Playmaker (which MVP beat Flair with in June) was nice, but other than a chop block from the very early moments of the match, there was no build to the hold at all. The false finish with Flair’s foot on the rope was a nice touch, and Flair’s sell job of MVP’s running kicks was great, but that’s about all they really had. Other stuff MVP tried, the butterfly suplex, superplex, and facebuster, just wound up looking ugly because Flair couldn’t bump properly. They were great with making it seem like MVP would eventually put Flair away, before Flair pulled out the ace. It wasn’t a great match by any means, but they got their point across.


The disqualification wasn’t really needed, since PPV is supposed to be used as a blowoff to feuds (although one could argue that Jericho pinning JBL in the Elimination Chamber at No Way Out was the actual blowoff), but the match itself is just fine. There’s not a whole lot to the match, Jericho is a house of fire as expected, taking the fight to JBL with lots of brawling and use of the guardrail, apron, and steps. There’s a nice touch from JBL when he gets control of the match via hotshot and works over Jericho’s neck and throat area (the angle before this saw JBL hang Jericho with a cable), and when Jericho gets flung into the post and busted open, JBL concentrates on punching and kicking at his head to make the cut bleed. It’s logical enough, but it’s hard to praise JBL too much for following instructions when he sees a proverbial ‘Kick Me’ sign. Jericho’s comeback is nice, but the crowd suddenly starts booing the hell out of them, which tells me they screwed something up and it was edited out. Jericho gets disqualified for a big chair shot to JBL, but gets some revenge by using a cord to hang JBL over the ropes. The match itself was fine for the most part, but the DQ finish was better left for TV.

EDGE © vs. REY MYSTERIO (World Heavyweight Title)

If nothing else, they deserve credit for getting the NYC crowd to switch gears. The match started and they were almost totally pro Edge, but by the time it ended, they were drooling for a Mysterio title win. Like the last match, this is pretty basic, but they manage to pull things off rather well. There really isn’t all that much that a guy the size of Rey can do to convincingly control the match, but he’s good with using his speed and agility to keep Edge on his toes. It was especially nice when Edge tried for the usual Rey spot, where Rey gets flung under the rope and crashing to the floor, only this time Rey is able to plant his arms and roll through it when he hits the floor, and he’s just fine. Also, the spot when Rey rolled through the sunset flip and kicked Edge in the head made for a great near fall. Edge is generally good about bumping and selling to make Rey look credible.

Edge is at his best when he’s working over Rey’s knee, it takes him a while to get warmed up though, it starts out good when Edge kicks his leg from underneath him and knocks him off the turnbuckle, but then it slows down for a bit while Rey tries to stall for a bit, and Edge works a half crab. But it picks up again when Edge gets a bit more creative with the leg work, and Rey’s selling is great. The attempted charge into the 619 (with Rey limping huge) into the powerslam made for a nice near fall for Edge. Rey using kicks with his other leg to keep Edge at bay was another smart touch, and the sliding DDT on the floor was some nice innovation. Rey’s near fall with the headbutt had the crowd coming apart at the thought of a title change. The Vicky Guerrero interference leaves a bad taste, but doesn’t detract from the match nor the finish at all Rey’s reaction when he sees that he caught her with the 619 was priceless, and it was just what Edge needed in order to get his bearings together. Edge’s spear while Rey was in midair looked as good as could be, when it could have really looked ugly. There are places where there’s room for improvement, but it’s not a bad match on it’s own. ***

RANDY ORTON © vs. JEFF HARDY (WWE Heavyweight Title)

After seeing this, I’m convinced that Jeff knew that this was probably going to be the biggest night of his career and possibly the pinnacle, so he made sure to do everything he could to make people remember it. Jeff takes just about every risk he can think of, and pulls out all sorts of flashy spots. That’s fine for Jeff, but it leaves Orton more or less sitting there with his thumb up his ass. The only things Orton has to do here are the sweet dropkick that sends Hardy to the floor to start Orton’s control segment, his attempted walkout, two extended rest holds, a suplex, the Garvin (Orton?) Stomp, and the RKO to get the win, and that just shouldn’t be the case with the WWE Champion. Granted, the idea is to make the fans think that Jeff is going to pull off the impossible, which is something they do in spades, but it wasn’t necessary to do it completely at Orton’s expense, especially considering his PPV record with the WWE Title at this point consists of two losses by dq (Cyber Sunday and Armageddon) and one clean win (Survivor series, only due to the stipulation being in his favor).

When you compare the stuff Orton does, to Hardy it’s not even close. Jeff basically circles Orton and then swoops down on him like a Vulture. He gets in all of his trademark stuff like the Whisper in the Wind, and an attempted Twist of Fate, and the blind moonsault to the floor. At one point Jeff climbs up for the swanton and sees Orton roll to the apron, so Jeff just dropkicks him to the floor. Also, Hardy hits several dives over the ropes and off the apron. In a nutshell, he treats Orton like he owns him, and the RKO counter to the Twist of Fate that ends things is totally out of nowhere. It’s not a bad finish, in fact it’s a really good and smart finish. The idea here was clearly to make Hardy look good in defeat, which was accomplished. But they should have also had the goal of making the WWE Champion come out looking good, which he didn’t. If Hardy and HHH had this same match, it’d come off ten times better because HHH has enough credibility to spare so that he could pull it off, Orton didn’t at this point. I applaud the WWE for making an honest effort at making Jeff Hardy into a top guy, I just question the wisdom of trying to do it almost completely at Orton’s expense.


While this is fun at times, it’s got the usual pitfalls that this type of match has, that being way too much downtime, and extended periods of guys paired off and doing pretty much nothing other than trading shots and working segments where one will try to throw another over the top but will be unable to. This particular match especially has the downtime problem, at least one-third of the eliminations happen within the last ten or so minutes. One thing that the WWE especially loves to do is to praise how long certain wrestlers last in Royal Rumbles, I remember it being a big deal when Greg Valentine lasted more than forty minutes in the ‘91 Rumble, but it’s hard to do that here, when hardly anyone is eliminated early on. Bob Holly, Cody Rhodes, Gene Snitsky, and John Morrison all last at least thirty minutes. And the only one of them who might be worth praising for that is Morrison, because of the obscene amount of times he’s nearly eliminated but saves himself.

However, there are also quite a few things about this to like. The main one being the usage of Undertaker and Michaels, after they closed out the match last year, they start as numbers one and two, and pick up right where they left off. Indeed, it starts to look bleak for Shawn when number three hits the ring, Santino Marella, and he’s quickly disposed of. Shawn and UT resume their fighting, and it once again looks bleak for Shawn when number four, Great Khali hits the ring, and UT (who’d just choke slammed Shawn) stops to get rid of Khali. But then, for some reason, Bob Holly comes in at number five and is able to stick around for a bit. Even though the ring doesn’t empty again leaving Shawn and UT, they do find themselves to be the only two left standing on several occasions and start to go at it again. Shawn gets some nice revenge from last year by being the one to eliminate UT, with a surprise superkick (the very move that backfired on him last year costing him the match). Shawn’s superkick also seems to be quite the kiss of death, directly eliminating or being a contributing factor to Santino and Shelton’s eliminations (Shelton’s coming almost right after he came in and popped the crowd with some amazing athletic moves).

In addition to the Shawn/UT story, there are several instances where wrestlers are eliminated by their opposites in storylines to help continue them. Chuck Palumbo (who is seriously jacked since I last saw him in All Japan in 2005) eliminates Jamie Noble, Chavo Guerrero eliminates CM Punk, and directly after Shawn’s surprise elimination of UT, Mr. Kennedy sneaks up and throws out Shawn, which was an especially nice touch, but would have been more effective had their feud been still going on. The appearances of Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka were a nice surprise for the MSG fans, I’m all for respecting legends, but I don’t think that anyone needs to be bumping and selling strikes from Jimmy Snuka in the year 2008, nor should the only one allowed to actually get offense on him be Roddy Piper (although it was funny to watch Punk and Morrison watch and mark out only to start fighting when they saw they were on camera). One can’t help but love Hornswaggle’s escapades. He draws a relatively early number and hides under the ring, occasionally seeing who’s left, and at one point comes out to pull out The Miz. He tries again a bit later, but gets pulled into the ring for some bullying until Finlay makes the save with the shaleleigh (which causes him to be disqualified for some reason, even though plenty of guys have brought plunder into the ring and used it without being disqualified).

And finally, one can’t help but praise the WWE for the total shocker of John Cena’s return, months upon months earlier than expected. The Royal Rumble has always had a problem of predictability to the outcome, and when Shawn and UT were gone, it seemed like it was HHH’s for the taking, and in fact when he came in at twenty-nine and started hurling people out in short order all signs pointed to HHH. But when Cena’s music hit and he showed up, everyone’s jaw dropped and he started his own house cleaning, including single handedly eliminating Mark Henry to show how healed from his injury he was. So when they cleared everyone else out, including an especially nice part when they teamed up, albeit unintentionally, to eliminated Batista (Cena back dropped him to escape his powerbomb leading HHH to lariat him to the floor), it was like WrestleMania 22 all over again, and once again nobody had a clue who was winning. They worked in a few nice spots where they countered each other’s moves to try to win, but in the end, it was Cena modifying the FU to send HHH to the floor. Compared to other Rumbles, this isn’t bad all. The only real thing that holds it back is the boring middle section with so few eliminations and lots of downtime. But it’s got plenty of good to make up for it.

Conclusion: This is definitely a step in the right direction for the WWE. We’ve got a very fun main event, two good title matches, and a fun at-times brawl with JBL (which is how he works best). It’s missing a real standout match, but there is plenty of consistency here, which I appreciate far more than one-match shows with the rest being forgettable.