The boisterous and energetic crowd at the U.S Airways Centre, in Phoenix, Arizona, welcomed viewers to the 26th annual WWE Royal Rumble. At this event, there were two main matches – the first being the thirty man Royal Rumble Match, where the winner chooses to receive either a WWE or World Heavyweight Championship match at Wrestlemania 29, and the other headliner was for the WWE Championship.

The night began, with a surprise choice for an opening match, when The Big Show challenged Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship. It was a “Last Man Standing” match. To win the match, a wrestler must incapacitate his opponent, so he would not be able to get to his feet before the referee counts to ten. So, as you can imagine, this was a brutal affair.

Most of the match was dominated by Big Show. But, with the crowd firmly behind Del Rio, he made a comeback. Del Rio applied his finisher – the cross armbreaker, which usually ended a match for him. However, this was different, since there were no pinfalls, submissions, disqualifications or count-outs. This allowed the champion to keep the hold on for as long as he wanted. Since the move was applied close to the ropes, Ricardo Rodriguez, (Del Rio’s “personal ring announcer” and friend), grabbed a roll of duct tape, and taped both of Show’s legs together. With the challenger down, and unable to move, the referee counted to ten, and declared Del Rio as the winner.  The result caused the fans to erupt in loud and hearty cheers.

Rodriguez was extremely creative in his tactic, and it worked effectively. It was all legal since no rules held back any action. Precision, creativity, and of course, some outside interference, helped Del Rio keep the championship.  I fully agree with the decision to have Del Rio retain the title, since he won the belt only a few weeks ago on Smackdown when he defeated Big Show in the same type of match. So why take the title off of him now? I hope the WWE has enough confidence in Del Rio to allow him to walk into Wrestlemania as the World Heavyweight Championship – he deserves that chance. I believe it would create a lot of excitement, and prove to be extremely entertaining.

The WWE Tag Team titles were at stake in the next match. Daniel Bryan and Kane – Team Hell No defended their belts against Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow – Team Rhodes Scholars.

It was a fantastic back-and- forth match, which the crowd thoroughly enjoyed. The match ended with a melee. With all four wrestlers in the ring, Kane chokeslammed Cody Rhodes while Daniel Bryan locked in his “NO Lock” submission hold. Since Rhodes and Bryan were the legal men, once Cody tapped out, the match was over. As a result, Kane and Daniel Bryan retained the tag team titles.

I was hoping for Rhodes and Sandow to win the belts. They had a couple of opportunities on Smackdown to capture the gold, but were unsuccessful. I figured the WWE was waiting for a bigger stage to allow them to achieve their goal, but once again, it did not happen. Now I wonder what will happen to this team. I hope the company does not split up the two, as they do a great job getting the crowd to despise them.

The Royal Rumble Match is easily the most anticipated match of the year, because of its intrigue, unpredictability, and suspense. The first entrant was Dolph Ziggler. So, who entered at number two? When the familiar music of this individual blared over the speakers, the crowd went wild – it was none other than Chris Jericho. His appearance was the first surprise of the match. After some tremendous action between the two, Cody Rhodes was the next to enter the fray.

After some more entrants and eliminations, the eighth entrant was another surprise, especially to Cody. It was his brother, Goldust. They battled each other and also worked together at times. Unfortunately, his time in Rumble was short-lived, as Cody eliminated his own brother. Fans were disappointed to see someone who makes a rare appearance, gone from the battle royal.

During last year’s match Kofi Kingston (who entered fourth in this year’s installment) avoided elimination by walking on his hands on the arena floor to avoid elimination until later, since both feet must hit the floor to be gone from the match. So, fans wondered what Kofi would do to avoid elimination this time around.

Once again, he performed an acrobatic move. After Kofi eliminated Tensai, Ziggler attempted to throw out Kingston. He was successful, but Kofi landed on Tensai’s back, and was tossed onto the announcer’s table. Kofi then stood on the table, wondering how to re-enter the ring. Sure enough, the inspiration came! He turned to JBL (one of the commentators) and asked to borrow his chair. Kingston then stood on the chair, and used it like a pogo stick to return to action, to the fans astonishment. Sadly, his re-entry did not last long, as Cody Rhodes delivered a solid kick to eliminate Kofi Kingston.

The final two were John Cena and Ryback. After a hard-fought battle, Ryback attempted to pick John up, and throw him out. Cena however, escaped, and pushed Ryback over the top rope to win his second ever Royal Rumble match, and earn the right to choose to face either the WWE or World Heavyweight champion at Wrestlemania 29.

I was really impressed with Dolph Ziggler and Chris Jericho. They were the first two entrants into the match, and were among the final six left. Also, the Cody/Goldust interaction was exciting – hopefully it can lead to a match at Wrestlemania. One other surprise was an NXT rookie named Bo Dallas. When he entered at number 16, I thought he was going to be thrown out almost immediately, but he lasted quite a long time, and even eliminated the Intercontinental Champion, Wade Barrett.  I would have liked to see Orton win, but with Cena victorious, fans probably had an idea who would win the WWE title, but the ending of the title match was very controversial.

The main event was for the WWE Championship, as C.M. Punk defended the title against the Rock. It was the Rock’s first title match in ten years. Also, on the previous edition of Raw, Vince McMahon told Punk that if the Shield interfered, Punk would be stripped of the championship.

When the challenger entered the arena, the crowd became “electrified.” They were engrossed in the match throughout – it was the battle everyone wanted to see, and both wrestlers did not disappoint. Moves were exchanged, and finishing holds were countered. The intensity was felt during the match, and there were many occasions when the fight could have concluded.

The first ending saw the Rock attempt to win with the “People’s Elbow.” The lights in the arena then went out. Something was going down, as fans heard a lot of noise – it sounded as if someone was attacking the Rock, and was putting him through the announcer’s table. Michael Cole (the play-by-play commentator) kept screaming that it was the Shield. When the lights went back on, the challenger was on the arena floor, writhing in pain. In the ring, Punk looked on, grinning wickedly at what had transpired. He went to the Rock, rolled him inside the ring, and pinned him to retain the WWE Championship. As Punk was celebrating his victory, Vince McMahon’s music blared in the arena, and fans knew there was more drama ahead.

The owner of the WWE stood on the entrance ramp and reiterated what he said on Raw about the Shield interfering. And, even though the lights were out, he suspected the members interjected themselves into the fray. He was about to strip Punk of the belt, but the Rock grabbed another microphone, and stopped Vince in mid-verdict. He stated that he wanted to be the one to take the belt off Punk, not Vince. So, after a short deliberation, the WWE boss decided to restart the match. And, that annoyed Punk immensely.

However, the champion started out well, and almost won after a flying elbowdrop. As Punk was going to apply his Go to Sleep finisher, the Rock escaped. With lightning speed, he performed his Spinebuster, then dropped the “People’s Elbow” for the final pin. So, in front of screaming, excited and joyous fans, the Rock became the WWE Champion, after ten years. As a result, the likely main event for Wrestlemania is a re-match of last year’s event – The Rock against John Cena.

Overall, I think the Royal Rumble was an exciting event, filled with tremendous, heart-pounding action, compounded with some major drama in the main event WWE title match. The company should be proud of its first major event of the year. The next couple of months should be a thrilling ride for fans of the WWE and I am sure the company will provide some twists and turns on Raw and Smackdown. Let us all travel the Road to Wrestlemania, and absorb whatever surprises the WWE delivers along the way!

Azeem Kayum

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