"Tonight, the Road to WrestleMania begins..."
On January 30, 2011, in the TD Garden in Boston, the WWE held one of their biggest pay per view events of the year, as the Royal Rumble, the official start to the build up to the biggest stage of them all, with over fifteen thousand fans in attendance, as well as countless others around the world watching from their homes. Perhaps the most unconventional event of the year, this annual show features the most competitors, and often times is the final stand for numerous story lines to end, so that new feuds have time to build up tension for WrestleMania. Join Jerry "The King" Lawler, Michael Cole, and Matt Striker at ringside, for the following four matches.
This year's event isn't the best on record, but there is still plenty to see in this almost three hour show. Story arcs come to a head, the next big stories are unveiled or teased, and three championship belts are on the line, while a title match at WrestleMania is at stake for one man brave enough to enter the massive field of competitors in the Rumble match and come out victorious, by luck of the draw or sheer determination. The singles matches have good performances, but somewhat boring, cliche stories and choreography.
World Heavyweight Championship match: Edge (champion) vs Dolph Ziggler - Exactly how many pay-per-view events open with one of the two big belts on the line? Not many, but with the limited number of standard matches on the card, the Ziggler vs Edge bout opens the Royal Rumble with a fury. This lengthy match is your classic back and forth good guy vs bad guy story, with the stacked deck in favor of the platinum blonde haired villain. To be honest, it's a good thing this match was at the beginning of the event, as it's fairly weak. Sure, there are some nice moments, and some great athleticism on display, but there's the constant distractions, the "hey, you can't do that!" reminders, and the interference and random interventions that limit this matches potential. The ending of this story is a great nod to fans if they're old enough to remember the Edge and Christian tag team days. Classic WWE storytelling on display, with two great physical competitors pulling it off, even if this is pretty standard, completely forgettable stuff.
WWE Championship match: Randy Orton vs The Miz (champion) - Former MTV personality and one of the most unlikely champions to hold the belt (especially with his non-monolithic build) against a multi-multi-time champion and fan favorite from whom the belt was almost literally stolen? This match has quite the story behind it, including multiple consecutive wins for The Miz, including in a table match at the previous PPV event. This match ups the ante and delivers consistently. Interference and influence from the outside is handled properly, where the audience actually cares. This underdog story could have had a bit more story in the bout itself, a bit more emotion, but instead it's played like a purely physical back and forth slobberknocker. Orton seems a step off for almost the entire match, just not full speed and intimidating like we often see from the former champ. The annual Alex Riley toss is quite impressive, as we see a very large man tossed amazingly high, but the match ends on a low note soon after. It's hard to fall in love with two big championship matches in a row that have such blatant interferences. There's nothing special or memorable about that kind of ending, even if it feeds a new rivalry for future events.
WWE Diva's Championship Fatal Fourway match: Laycool (Layla, Michelle McCool) vs Natalya (champion) vs Eve - There's no mistaking the sheer beauty on display in this bout. There's also no mistaking the limitations of the talent involved. Second generation champion Natalya (the daughter of Jim Neidhardt) doesn't impress, and is rather rigid, while, in a first, the combined gals of Laycool are the most impressive aspect of the bout. There's no story here, no emotion, no drama. There's no anything, other than one unique move, a double sharpshooter, even though it is performed way too sloppily due to the obvious physical restrictions. Heck, the interview after this match, featuring the Bella Twins going all apeshit against Gail Kim and Daniel Bryan has more going for it, in terms of story and entertainment value. The seemingly obligated Divas match this event is a dud, and, in a live event, is the best time to make a break for the restroom. Heck, even though home video owners can pause and escape, they may want to go foraging for snacks for the upcoming event.
Royal Rumble match - And here we go. This year, the Royal Rumble was the "biggest" in the history of the event, as the pool of talent involved in the match featured an unprecedented 40 wrestlers, instead of the trademark 30. For those unaware of this match, it's not a traditional brawl. It's like a battle royale, where competitors are eliminated if they go over the top rope, and both of their feet touch the floor, only the wrestlers come out one at a time, over timed intervals, to create drama and some intense story plots, rather than starting a giant brouhaha where it's impossible to keep track of what's going on until the field is narrowed dramatically.
This year's match is the highlight of the show. Of course, since it's named after it, it better be. Starting out with the goofy underdog Daniel Bryan and the villainous CM Punk, the match evolved over the 70 minute run time, with numerous twists and turns, some great performances, humorous interactions, and perhaps the single greatest Royal Rumble move in the history of the event. The Royal Rumble is an interesting event, in that we see strange allegiances and the occasional betrayal, and the time in ring for competitors varies dramatically, with one man lasting half of the length of the match (an impressive feat!), while ten didn't even last long enough for the next man to appear to make his way down the ramp.
This Rumble isn't the best, by any means, as there have been a number whose stories are that of legend for the event, and there is no amazing record broken here. That said, there were two surprise returns for fan favorite grapplers, one of which features a wrestler turned actor who was the best part of 'The Punisher' and 'Dead or Alive.' Hint, hint. The two dueling factions, The Corre and the New Nexus, have slots in this event so curiously placed that it's hard to believe in the idea that names were "randomly" drawn for order. It's a plot contrivance, to be sure, to show the strength of each group, to show how their allegiances can overwhelm nearly any superstar. It's also necessary to end one of the longest running plots in WWE programming heading in to WrestleMania, as John Cena had to become a main event contender facing a champion, not another twist in the Nexus arc, so we see the finale of this story that has lasted nearly a year, which is welcome relief.
Without spoiling anything about the event, I will say that it was superb the way that Hornswoggle (you know, the Irish midget) was utilized for comedic relief after the seriousness and one sidedness of the event up to his entrance. The show takes on a new light, and is amazingly entertaining while he's still involved. It's a shame we have to hear the same cliche lines from the announcers (if you've seen more than one Rumble, you've heard 'em all), who are always in awe and wonder how the company big men are going to possibly be eliminated, despite having never won the match (which should have been the first clue to those dopey writers), but that just comes with the territory. What doesn't, though, is the insane antics of Morrison, the amazingly agile performer that the WWE is trying to push as a "Parkour" guy, despite the fact that he doesn't do in-ring Parkour. No doubt if you're reading this, you've already heard of or seen the Spider-Man like agility on display, in what may be the greatest spot in the history of the event. If you're a lifelong WWE/WWF fan like I am, you'll no doubt get a nostalgic kick out of this event. It's hard to not remember the great moments in Royal Rumble history, as you watch the books get rewritten, with one man heading to a championship match at the biggest event of the year.
In the early portions of the viewing for the 2011 Royal Rumble disc, I was almost sure I was going to have to write some harsh words, as I found myself noticing a lot of the issues that have plagued past releases. As the release went on, though, I found myself spotting them less and less, to the point where the picture became pretty damn good. WWE's 1080i AVC MPEG-4 encode on this PPV home video release isn't a blockbuster or redefining moment in their Blu-ray catalog, but it is a good step forward.
In the opening bouts, particularly the Edge vs Ziggler match, the issues add up at an insanely brisk pace. Light banding, edge artifacting on wrestlers and ring ropes alike, along with a slight shimmer on the rope, some skin smearing, a tiny bit of aliasing, and a patch of hard blocking. But blocking only happened real fast, and for a real short period of time. The same can be said about the edge problems, and artifacts in bodies that created an odd appearance. Instead, textures started getting better, and better, and better. Only a technical issue with one of the cameras prevented me from wanting to jump up and down and proclaim this the best Blu-ray from the company yet.
Detail levels are strong, and there's not a single problem with the various tattoos, even the tight, fine lines of Orton's sleeves. Skin tones are accurate, and quickly show bruising and welts, particularly on The Miz and Ziggler, who literally has finger shaped bruises on his side. Black levels are accurate the entire release, which is awesome considering the harsh lighting in some areas, and the ring skirt is absolutely gorgeous, in both its black depth and its finer texture. Picture depth is average in the main camera, but some of the outside cameras come through with astounding picture depth and some beautiful angles.
As the Royal Rumble match itself goes on, the main camera, which is a near-static straight on shot that places the ring entrance on the far left, starts to lose its intensity. Colors stop being bold, and the picture depth disappears almost. It's blatantly obvious, especially in the random cams that get cut to that show the gorgeous reds in Kofi Kingston's ring attire, that flatten out and become mundane in the main cam. It's an annoying issue, to be sure, but it is obviously a technical issue inherent in the source. Give the Royal Rumble a go. You'll be surprised that a WWE release looks this good.
Keeping up with the "tradition" that WWE pay-per-view event Blu-ray releases do not contain high end audio, WWE Home Video busts out their standard Dolby Digital 5.1 magic. In the past, we've had some releases that had some horrible audio issues, but this time around, we're given a track that's, for the most part, free from technical difficulties, instead falling short due to the lack of power associated with the last gen track, even if it's at a souped up bitrate.
There isn't a single moment where prioritization is an issue. The three man color commentary team are the obvious dominant factor, while music, in ring action, and crowd reaction then take turns in secondary roles (save for the few occasions where fans literally pop louder than the color crew, like the second surprise appearance), and this is a major note, since some past releases have had overpowering issues. It just gels this time around. Rears get some random localization throughout, and get so much activity from the fans (keep an ear out for the random "suck" chants) that it's hard to not feel somewhat there. High ends are lacking, even in the shrill cries of Vickie Guerrero or the yelps from the Divas in their lone appearance, and lows, well, they suffer even more. Constantly I found myself wondering when the bass would kick in, as more than a few intro songs and pyrotechnics went off without a bump to be heard. It took until the final match, with a number of the intro songs, for there to be any form of deep, rumbling presence, and even they were pretty darned light. The pyro to close the event had a very nice high pop that startled me, so mission accomplished there.
The lone technical snafu I heard was a hiccup during the pre-Rumble records promo, and I doubt that it was inherent in the recording of said piece. Other than that, this track is consistent, surprisingly so, compared to past releases, staying in its comfort zone, presenting the material without much flare. Or Flair.
The 2011 'Royal Rumble' isn't the best on record, even if it is bigger than ever. The story plots in the big bout itself are too forced, even if the returns are applause-worthy, and there are a few memorable moments. With only three other matches on the card, this is a regular length event that feels amazingly short. This home video release has very good video that cleans up in a hurry, average audio, and a good pile of extras, including an entire Raw episode. Fans, this one is definitely worth a look, but non-wrestling fanatics will need a less hokey event.