January 30, 2006
Xtreme Makeover: Royal Rumble Edition
By NICK TYLWALK -- SLAM! Wrestling Columnist
Another Royal Rumble is in the books, and the build-up toward WrestleMania -- which is the wrestling hype equivalent of the Super Bowl media week we're just starting -- has begun in earnest. I was an interested observer once again this year, covering the Rumble for this site, and had to say that it wasn't half bad. Trouble is, the second biggest pay-per-view of the year should be a lot better than that.
The time tested gimmick that is the Rumble match itself wasn't the problem. It's always fun to watch, especially in person, as I got the chance to do a few years ago when it came to Philadelphia. Fans always get anxious waiting to see who's coming out next, and except for occasionally revealing the first and last entrants, the WWE does a great job keeping us in suspense. This year was no exception.
Within the battle royal, we always get to see various subplots intertwine and play themselves out. Sunday saw Vince McMahon continue his conflict with Shawn Michaels (with help from son Shane) and Carlito betray Chris Masters once again. The Rumble is always a good tool for throwing logs on the fire of existing feuds or sparking new ones, and that's a good thing.
But (and you knew there was a but coming soon) the Royal Rumble is supposed to be one of the WWE's biggest events of the year. Along with SummerSlam, Survivor Series, and, of course, WrestleMania, the Rumble is supposed to be one of the industry's majors, to steal a golf or tennis analogy. The last Sunday in January should have a big event feel, and while the 2006 edition had its moments, that feel was missing for me.
Yes, I was excited to see Rey Mysterio win the Rumble, dedicating his effort to Eddie Guerrero, and there was legitimate suspense once it got down to the last three men. We got a few surprise entrants like we always do, and a few title changes, and yet another dramatic return by The Undertaker. Still, I ended last night's broadcast without a feeling of complete satisfaction. Like the feeling you get when you dine at a fancy restaurant, enjoying a delicious entree that comes in a tiny portion, I was left wanting more.
I could definitely just use my weekly space to complain, but I figured I'd go one better and give the whole Rumble a makeover. I always try to stay away from playing fantasy booker, so I'm steering clear of saying who should win the Rumble match and things of that nature. These are more general improvements I think might restore some of the aura to my favorite non-Mania pay-per-view. Like the crew does for people's houses over on ABC, these fixes are provided free of charge.
And hopefully, spelling 'Xtreme' like I did up top accomplishes the dual goals of avoiding a lawsuit and satisfying the WWE's ongoing 'X' fetish! Here's what we could do to makeover the Rumble before January of 2007:
Move the Rumble match to the back
The back of the card, that is, a.k.a. the main event. I was in disbelief when I realized that the battle royal was taking place in the middle of the card, and that Mark Henry's title shot was closing out the night. If you're going to build a PPV around a big gimmick match, you darn well better make sure that's the most important thing going on. Yes, the world title matches are important too, but a WrestleMania title shot is (hypothetically anyway) even more important, so the Rumble should never be upstaged at its own event. Even when the World's Strongest Man is on the card.
Speaking of title shots...
Raise the stakes
One of the best ideas that the WWE has ever had was to award a main event shot at Mania to the Rumble winner, thus ensuring regular fans would tune in because something serious was on the line. Sadly, the creation of two heavyweight titles and the brand split has weakened the foundations of this concept quite a bit. Triple H looked like he had a real shot at winning the Rumble last Sunday, and it would have made sense if he did. But since Mysterio won, and could choose to challenge for the Smackdown belt, Triple H could still end up facing the Raw champion in April. Where's the suspense there?
Of course, you still want to leave yourself some wiggle room, especially if the split is going to continue. So my idea is simple: have the Rumble serve as the only way to get the Mania shot for the 30 men who participate. If you're not in the battle royal, you could still get a title shot some other way. Using this year as an example, that means that you could have the Edge-Cena title feud continue if you'd like, or have a returning wrestler like Undertaker get a shot. But for people like Triple H, Randy Orton and the rest, you didn't get it done, so better luck next year. Unless you win the title before Mania of course, so the weekly TV shows and final brand-only PPV leading up to the big one could still have some drama.
And yes, you could still leave yourself one last out by allowing the Rumble winner's title shot to be put up for grabs as a stipulation before Mania. The cynics are already predicting this fate for poor Rey. With more on the line in January though, there would be more on the line to qualify for the Rumble. I think that's a segue.
Play up the qualifying process
The WWE makes a half-hearted attempt at this already, holding qualifying matches on Raw and Smackdown for some of the entry spots. There's a lot more mileage to be had out of this idea though, especially with the federation increasingly incorporating its website and other forms of media into the whole package.
Start by making almost everybody qualify for the Rumble. If you don't win a qualifier you don't get in, with the exception, perhaps, of past Rumble winners, similar to the champions' provisionals in golf or NASCAR. It's not hard to see how the WWE could benefit from the extra buzz around qualifying, playing up who's already in and who's yet to make it, increasing the value of the final few spots when there's only a week or two to go. There's plenty of time between Survivor Series and the Rumble to spread out the qualifiers, and it adds a little value to the 20 or so wrestlers that we all know have no chance to win the actual event. The guys on WWE.com or Byte This could talk about who's on the bubble, cashing in on the same analysis that makes the build-up to college basketball's March Madness compelling.
If you haven't figured it out by now, I think there are always ways that wrestling can borrow things that work from the "real sports" to add to the mix with the soap opera and in-ring action. And I believe that's another segue.
Don't forget the stats
Wrestling doesn't lend itself to statistics, but the Rumble is one place where they do fit. Here at SLAM! Wrestling, we've done a pretty entertaining job of showing the numbers side of the Rumble over the years, and I'm sure we'd be happy to keep doing it. Of course, the WWE could do more of that itself, and I think fans would dig it.
We're talking simple things here, like who's eliminated the most guys in Rumble history, who's lasted the longest in the ring, who's had the most ring time without throwing anyone out, who's had to sell the most moves and lay still so other guys can get the spotlight... okay, I made that last one up. The stats are a great way to add some atmosphere without taking wrestling too seriously. I don't even need to mention that the website, magazine, etc., could play bigger roles here than they already do, but I think I just did. Hang tight -- we're almost done with the renovations.
Trim with bigger surprises
This is the simplest fix of all. There are 30 starting spots, so the winner doesn't always have to come from the first two or last two entrants. Surprise slots could be filled with athletes from the local city or someone else besides older superstars, though maybe not Drew Carey again. A little imagination goes a long way.
Not too shabby if I do say so myself. The old reliable gimmick pay-per-view can be looking like it's in top-top shape with a little work by willing volunteers like myself. Can we fix it? Yes we can.
I think that's Bob The Builder and not Extreme Makeover. But eat your heart out anyway, Ty.
Nick Tylwalk has been a SLAM! Wrestling contributor since 1998, and his column, Walkin' That Aisle with Nick Tylwalk, appears most Mondays. Comments, compliments and complaints can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.