Has it been 25 years already? 2012 marks the 25th anniversary of the WWE Royal Rumble. Wow, I'm getting old. As a kid, the Royal Rumble was always my favorite pay-per-view event. Wrestlemania had all the pageantry and grandeur, Survivor Series was cool and inconsequential. Royal Rumble was somewhere in between the two. It was almost as gimmicky as the Survivor Series, but it upped the ante with the off-chance of "random" match-ups that often resulted in dream fights--like Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior. I loved the anticipation that came every two minutes. Almost anyone could appear from the back and the Royal Rumble was notorious for its surprise appearances.
Unlike the Survivor Series, the Royal Rumble not only held onto its namesake match, it doubled-down on the stakes and guaranteed the winner a title shot at Wrestlemania. Royal Rumble's promise of Wrestlemania glory has kickstarted the reign of legends such as HBK and Stone Cold Steve Austin. It's a fast-track to superstardom and notching a Royal Rumble certainly helps a wrestler's Hall of Fame aspirations. This year young guns such as Miz, Cody Rhodes, Sheamus, and Jack Swagger all sought to join the fraternity of winners while established stars such as Chris Jericho, Big Show, and Randy Orton hoped to cement their Hall of Fame careers with a Royal Rumble win. The event is also notable for bringing in old favorites and 2012 definitely does not disappoint.
The 2012 Royal Rumble features a mostly lackluster undercard. As if the World Heavyweight Championship's prestige wasn't diluted enough, the pay-per-view kicks off with the title match. Yes, the once heralded realm of Ric Flair, Sting, and Harley Race is now just the warm-up act. Ouch. The event picks up after a few matches with Brodus Clay finally breathing a little life into the show with his Funkasaurus jig. The WWE title match is the crown jewel of this event and is one of the best matches that I have seen all year. I loved the special attention given to Royal Rumble statistics and its illustrious history. Vignettes such as this one help develop an element of importance to events that's often lacking in modern professional wrestling. As for the Rumble itself, it's exciting, has great action, and you get to watch a very promising, young superstar cement his main event status.
If you do not already know the match results, then skip past the match-by-match rundown below to the DVD discussion.
Triple-Threat, Steel Cage: Daniel Bryan (World Heavyweight Champion) vs. Mark Henry vs. Big Show. So, they thought they could lock little Danny in a cage and finally let the big men have their way with him. Not quite. Mark Henry and Big Nasty land nice shots, but Daniel Bryan ultimately backs into another title victory. I never understood Daniel Bryan's appeal; his string of victories simply makes a mockery of Mark Henry's monster push, which should've gone on much longer. Overall, it's a decent cage match with some nice spots, but a predictable ending. 2/5
8-Diva Tag Team Match: Beth Phoenix, Natalya, Bella Twins vs. Kelly Kelly, Eve Torres, Alicia Fox, and Tamina. I like the idea of women's wrestling more than actually watching it. I appreciate that the WWE gives the ladies time in the spotlight every show, but these matches almost never entertain me. The ending, with Beth Phoenix obliterating Kelly Kelly, was nice. Too bad the rest of the match consisted of the usual hair pulling and airplane spinning nonsense that is typical of a Diva match. 2/5
John Cena v. Kane: This whole match was yet another attempt to build Kane up as some sort of monster--for probably the 20th time in his career. It was old in 1998 and it's still old today. John Cena lands a few good shots, but Kane stomps Cena down anytime he gains some momentum. This match is ultimately a boring, slow-paced, story-builder that probably belongs on RAW, not a top tier pay-per-view. 1/5
Drew McIntyre v. Brodus Clay: The match is mercifully short, but Brodus Clay livens up an event that up to this point was completely forgettable. You know the jolt you feel after slamming a giant can of Monster drink on a slow, Tuesday afternoon? This is like that. 3/5
CM Punk (WWE Champion) vs. Dolph Ziggler: The fight of the night. This match is a highlight reel of wrestling moves, with the two wrestlers displaying some excellent in-ring chemistry. CM Punk even pays a little homage to the Macho One with a textbook Elbow Smash. This is one of those rare matches that camel-clutches your attention. The storyline sets up for the played-out, guest referee interference angle, but the result is satisfyingly unique. The special guest referee, John Laurinaitus, brilliantly plays his role, exhibiting his primary motivation of self-preservation. Laurinaitus spends most of the match silently staying out of CM Punk's way and then, in an exaggerated gesture of good-will, he even helps the "inside-the-ring ref" make the final count for CM Punk's ultimate victory. What might have been a cheap, throwaway title bout turned into the early contender for match of the year. 5/5
30-Man Royal Rumble: I have to admit that I was pulling for The Miz to run the table. The Rumble starts with The Miz at #1 facing his former lackey, Alex Riley at #2. Cody Rhodes comes in at #4--him and Miz nearly last for the whole event. The match has its mix of comedy contestants such as Ricardo Rodriguez and Michael Cole who show up for a couple of laughs and then get the quick boot. Always a highlight for me is seeing the old-timer cameo appearances. This year featured Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Road Dogg Jesse James, and a very slow, but still highly entertaining, Mick Foley. Sheamus and Chris Jericho make up the last men standing with Sheamus kicking Jericho out after a few nice, near falls. Royal Rumble matches are always fun to watch and 2012's event was no exception. 4/5
Video: The video is presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen. Some instances of pixelization are visible, especially during entrances with pyrotechnics and smoke. During the actual matches, any artifacting is barely visible and never distracting. It's not the best, but the quality is certainly better than the recent Best of Raw/Smackdown 2011 DVD release.
Audio: The audio is represented in 5.1 Dolby Digital. The sound adequately emphasizes the in-ring brutality and the commentary is crystal clear. The crowd ambiance is noticeable and I was pleased that I could make out most of the crowd chants. I've long thought that the WWE needed to increase the crowd's presence on broadcasts--or the crowd just needs to get louder.
Extras: The DVD includes brief, after-match interviews with the Royal Rumble winner and the World Heavyweight Champion. Do not watch them unless you already know the results.
Bottom Line: The Royal Rumble is consistently one of the WWE's best pay-per-views every year. The 2012 Royal Rumble starts off rough, even with a Steel Cage/World Heavyweight Championship match to kick things off. Once the event gains momentum around the midway point, it doesn't let up. If you haven't seen it, this event is definitely worth at least one watch. Recommended.