Doctor’s Orders presents: Half Luck, Half Skul – January Madness – The Greatest Royal Rumble Match (Round of 32, Part 1)

Doctor’s Orders presents: Half Luck, Half Skul – January Madness – The Greatest Royal Rumble Match (Round of 32, Part 1)

Doc’s Note – Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome back to a presentation that I have absolutely loved participating in but did not conceptualize. This is the brainchild of Skulduggery of the LOP Columns Forum and it is awesome, so I’d like to continue sharing it with you. Enjoy!

Bracket A

(1) Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit (’03) vs. (9) Bret Hart vs. Razor Ramon (’93)

Mazza: Today I am in the mood to eradicate the whole of the New Generation for this tournament. You can place the blame squarely on Plan’s shoulders for getting rid of the Harts vs the Quebecers. In all honesty though, Bret and Scott can’t mess with the classic between Kurt and Chris. In fact, not many matches will be able to at all. There’s a reason it’s a #1 seed.

The Doc: Truly, I do love the Bret vs. Razor match. If you have not done so recently, I would highly recommend a rewatch because it is so much more nuanced than today’s top-tier work. In the event that you dislike the “big move-big move-big move, lay around, repeat sort of style” (and I suspect there are more than a few lurking around who do but are hesitant to express that for fear of being overwhelmed with that style’s many supporters), then Bret and Razor’s counter-fest and psychology-driven affair is going to watch so much more engagingly than it did a decade ago, I promise. That said, Angle vs. Benoit is the ultimate match between one of the ultimate pairings in WWE history, a greatest ever candidate that doubles as one of the two best matches in Rumble lore. It too is very nuanced, but it also features the best kind of the move-trading style – that which focuses on submission holds and near tap outs. The drama that can be derived from submission wrestling is underrated in an era that features too few submission-based grapplers, but when we get a fresh crop of tap-out-seeking stars at the forefront of the WWE machine, Benoit and Angle’s body of work will be there as a reminder of how to do it in the most dramatic way possible.

Prime Time: At some level the Kurt and Benoit match might suffer from the sheer number of times that they ran it, and that happening later so many of these matches blur into one. Go back into the 1990s and things tended to stand out and be more immediately memorable, and I’ve got a lot more of the 1993 bout seared into my memory. So yeah, Bret and Scott Hall.

Samuel ‘Plan: As fond as I am of the Hitman’s title defence against the Bad Guy, the 2003 encounter between Benoit and Angle really is just on a whole other level. I’ll be holding back a lot of my thoughts this round for later in the tournament – just to say that it wasn’t easy for me to vote against a fine forgotten New Gen vintage still worth checking out!

mizfan: I still think Angle/Benoit might be slightly overrated as a #1 seed but it should skate by easily here, Bret/Razor is very good but I don’t think it stands much of a chance on this one.

Oliver: You remember last time, I voted for Benoit vs Angle because they basically performed CPR on a crowd that was roadkill after Triple H and Scott Steiner put together one of the worst WWE title matches of all time. I’ve actually put a bit more time into this match since, and I think it might be only nearly perfect. I know, I know, sacrilege and all that. It gets a little bit leaden in the middle stages which, I think, hurts it overall. I imagine we’ll have time to discuss that further on in this tournament, as otherwise it pretty much rocks and dominates against Hart and Ramon – who’s name I will one day stop misspelling as ‘Roman’. Maybe Roman Reigns is just the spirit of Scott Hall, reenergised as a beautiful Samoan man? More on this breaking story as we have it.

Skulduggery: The championship match in ’03 was, on paper, clearly a pit stop for Kurt Angle along his way to a high-caliber showdown with Lesnar at WrestleMania. Despite that, Kurt and Benoit shredded that paper, putting on a spectacular wrestling match that stood up and shouted that it was not merely a piece of highway pre-Mania. Benoit looked like he could legitimately win multiple times. Bret and Razor are massively outweighed here.

(1) Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit (’03) wins 6-1

(4) Shawn Michaels vs. Marty Jannetty (’93) vs. (5) The Rock vs. Mankind (’99)

Oliver: It really is incredibly hard work to watch the end of that Rock vs Mankind match now, especially knowing the Beyond The Mat stuff from behind the scenes and what an awful condition this put Foley in straight afterwards. It’s…almost a shame, I suppose, that those events colour my watching of the match so much. But it’s enough to make me give the edge to Michaels vs Janetty here, despite the Sherri antics at the end which I found a little unbearable and overwrought. Shawn Michaels, overwrought. Who’d have thought it?!?

Samuel ‘Plan: Michaels and Jannetty’s Intercontinental Championship Match is their highest profile bout against one another and is a perfectly solid slice of IC legacy. It’s not one of the greats, but consider how high that bar is for that title. Any other belt, it may very well have become just that: a classic. It isn’t as brutal, compelling, important or iconic as its opponent though. So Rock and Mankind it is.

mizfan: I’ll say it again, as good as the majority of Rock/Mankind is, I don’t know how to watch the finishing stretch in 2018 without feeling very uncomfortable, not to mention the finish itself is rather lousy to boot. Shawn and Jannetty is a great match all by itself and doesn’t feature a beloved performer nearly killing himself.

The Doc: This match-up provides what I would consider to be a fascinating debate, which I just wrote an entire book defining: what does it mean to be better vs. what does it mean to be greater? Greatness is a combination of a variety of factors that includes the basics of performance on which we are typically focused when we talk about the best match. Being better is only one aspect of greatness. Is the Rockers clash better? I think you could make the argument that it is, but it is not greater; greatness was achieved by Rock and Mankind, despite the fact that it largely has been regarded in hindsight that they pushed the envelope a little too far. The violence was unprecedented, the entertainment value with Rock’s histrionics on the mic throughout the performance was unparalleled, and through this match Foley and Rock capped off the first truly great main-event rivalry of WWE lore’s most celebrated era. HBK vs. Marty cannot compare to the “I Quit” in my opinion because this, to me, is ultimately a conversation not of what might have been better, but of what was greater; and, frankly, if it makes it through, the match-up with Angle and Benoit, as it was in my research for the book, will once again be fascinating too because then you’re talking about greatness vs. greatness among a panel of smart people.

Prime Time: It’s a tough one, this. I think a lot of people have raised the issue of the chairs and I wouldn’t be surprised if that hurt 1999 here, or if it survives, in the next round. It’s an interesting pair of matches in a way, because Shawn and Marty are better than Rocky and Mick at their best, but neither is the star, or has the sympathy, of the two in the later match. I’m going to opt for Shawn and Marty but wouldn’t completely object to it going the other way.

Skulduggery: I get the uneasiness at watching old matches that took place in a time where the culture differs from today – in the case of Rock/Mankind, seeing a sequence of uncontaminated chairshots to Foley’s head, when the knowledge in 1999 is not the same as it is today. I totally get that. In my case, I guess it doesn’t faze me as much – I’m sure glad something of that ilk isn’t happening today, but whether it’s compartmentalization or simply coldness or whatever else a psychologist may find in my gem of a head, I guess I’m just able to view this match as a product of its time.

That said, even by 1999 standards, Rock/Mankind dances dangerously on the line of thrill and stomach-churning horror. But from a strictly entertainment standpoint, I have to give something of a tip of the cap to that. It’s heinous actions from a villainous character that makes the viewer ask how Foley could ever avoid defeat given his locked hands, but also how he could ever say “I Quit” given his unshakeable determination. That The Rock goes remorselessly on the journey to find out is equally as chilling. I’ll take this over the Rockers’ implosion, albeit great in its own right, with hardly a second thought.

Mazza: Laters, New Gen. Seriously this is a tough choice. I mentioned in round one the awkwardness of watching the I Quit match these days. It is still a great match however and a huge part of the Attitude Era. For that reason I have it edge out the battle of the former Rockers here even if I do get the impression I won’t be forcing this one through.

(5) The Rock vs. Mankind (’99) wins 4-3

(3) Royal Rumble Match (’01) vs. (6) Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker (’98)

The Doc: I just do not care for the Casket Match honestly, so this is an easy choice for me. The ’01 Rumble is by no means one of my favorite iterations of WWE’s all-time best gimmick creation, but I cannot think of any logical reason to move the weakest HBK-Taker effort onto the next round ahead of it.

mizfan: This was actually very tough for me, I discovered I had a much bigger love for the casket match that I thought, both for Shawn’s gutsy performance and the way they wove a lot of great and even somewhat cinematic moments into the match. But the ’01 Rumble is one of the best and I don’t think I can vote against it here, give me the Rumble!

Skulduggery: Michaels/Taker is hurt by the interference in that match, while Austin’s win only benefits from the Triple H interference. Though the Rattlesnake and the Game had different agendas on Rumble day, their corrosive magnetism drew them together, beautifully weaving one of the greatest comeback stories – from Austin’s return in late ’00 all the way to the main event of WrestleMania X-Seven. Throw in Kane’s career performance, and it’s an easy W for 2001.

Mazza: HBK and The Deadman have a whole host of classic and memorable bouts. This one will forever be remembered for the “career-ending” injury to Michaels. Even without that you aren’t looking at a vintage bout between the two however. They’re best chance to take home the victory together will be coming up momentarily. 2001 Rumble is a comfy winner here.

Oliver: Michaels vs Taker is, obviously, historically important as a match, but not really that great – certainly not for these two. Meanwhile, the titular 2001 match is absolutely excellent from start to finish, blending everything that made wrestling during that period so vital – from the fast high flying Hardyz, to the hardcore action, to Stone Cold cleaning house, to Billy Gunn being an overpushed piece of shit and failing to make an impact – into a single hour. It’s great. I vote for that. And every vote for it is a vote for Meng! #Justice4Meng

Prime Time: Royal Rumble matches in the Attitude Era were chaotic affairs and were largely silly, but 2001 still does work for some reason. I think Kane probably has a lot to do with that and it’ll go down as one of the great markers on his CV. Anyway, whichever way you look at it I think it’s good enough to get past what is probably the weakest of the Michaels and Undertaker matches.

Samuel ‘Plan: I just don’t find much to enjoy about that Casket Match, as vitally historically important as it is. Even the ending is a head-scratcher. That’s offset a little, because I have a lot of nostalgic affection for the 1998 pay-per-view in general, but that’s not enough for me to vote against one of the greatest Rumbles ever. I pick the 2001 Rumble – to the Attitude Era what 1990 was to the Golden Age.

(3) Royal Rumble Match (’01) wins 7-0

(2) Royal Rumble Match (’07) vs. (7) Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens (’16)

Oliver: In the last entry for the Rumble in 2007, the vote got split between it and 1994, to the point where I ended up going back to see if I’d missed anything in the 1994 version that I hadn’t seen before. I hadn’t, it still wasn’t as good as some seem to think – or maybe they were just voting against 2007 which, closing sequence besides, isn’t the excellent match I said it was, in truth. And Ambrose vs Owens is a surprisingly killer opening match, even with the awful last man standing rules (which might just be the worst stipulation match WWE has). So my nod here goes to the IC title renaissance, and Owens vs Ambrose.

The Doc: Call it the jaded modern WWE effect, but I see the names Ambrose and Owens and I’m reminded of how much greater their careers should be by now. Well, that’s not fair. Their Last Man Standing Match was tremendous and, perhaps matched up with a different opponent, I would feel a bit differently about my choice and have different reasons for making said choice. That said, I look back at the ’07 Rumble very fondly. HBK had rounded into form as Mr. WrestleMania and it was very clear that he was heading to The Show of Shows to face John Cena for the WWE Title; Taker vs. Batista, despite beginning its hype before The Streak Within The Streak began, was very intriguing on paper as battles between all-star hosses will always be; which one of them would win the Rumble?

When Rated RKO was eliminated after a very entertaining, short-lived attempt to deny us of the Taker vs. HBK finale, and the match within the match began between the legends, it was enthralling. Given the history between them and the history they would go on to forge in the annals of WrestleMania lore, that mini-match during the ’07 Rumble’s climax is just incredible. The rest of that Rumble might be fairly bland, but the exploits of Orton and Edge leading into the Rumble Match’s all-time best closing sequence? To me, that is enough to go over Ambrose and Owens, which I suspect will pull the upset rather easily here.

Samuel ‘Plan: I have already gone on record with my cynicism towards the popular consideration of the 2007 edition of the Rumble, which remains a whole heap of nothing until the closing five minutes. In a sixty-minute match filled with thirty participants, frankly, that just doesn’t measure up to standard for my liking. The Last Man Standing Match is an early milestone in the IC title’s renaissance though, and great character work – it gets my vote.

Skulduggery: Ambrose and KO wage war brilliantly against each other, with each man’s strengths highlighted. The Last Man Standing setting is favorable for both Owens’ violent creativity and Dean’s brawling. But the 2007 Rumble is delicious. Edge enters at #5 like a house on fire, throwing multiple Spears before being foiled by the cleverly selected Matt Hardy. Kenny Dykstra’s fanboying of Rated RKO bites him in the ass as he turns his back to the Ultimate Opportunist. Khali’s involvement is smartly limited, time-wise, but it allows for the Undertaker to look that much more of a badass when he stares evil in the face and eliminates him cleanly. And, of course, the Final 4 and eventual Final 2 are absolute studs.

Prime Time: Not sure this is even a question. 2007 Rumble for me.

Mazza: Ambrose vs Owens was an excellent match. However so was Taker vs Shawn, and that actually had a whole rumble leading up to it. I think that’s the key here and may see 2007 warrant its #2 seed in the long run. It may not be the greatest rumble start to final 4 but it really delivered at the sharp end and I will be interested to see how that stacks up against a potential battle with 2001 in the next round.

mizfan: Similar to the last one, you have a very good match against a very good Rumble, and as a big Rumble lover, I’m likely to go with the Rumble every time. ’07 it is!

(2) Royal Rumble Match (’07) wins 5-2


Bracket B

(1) Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins (’15) vs. (9) Royal Rumble Match (’90)

Skulduggery: Given some of the comments on the triple threat in Round 1, I’m a little nervous for it here. Brock/Cena/Rollins should absolutely go through, though. It’s a virtual how-to for displaying a competitor like Lesnar as close to as invulnerable as WWE has seen, and yet having it entirely plausible that he could lose his championship. Reminds me a bit of the Punk/Lesnar match that came within one vote of winning the SummerSlam Madness tournament!

I mean, in the span of a year (SummerSlam ’14 to SummerSlam ’15), you had three one-on-one PPV matches between the three combatants in this one. Cena/Rollins at ‘Slam was almost universally considered the best, thus the two mixing it up while Lesnar is floored at ringside continues the electric pulse of the temporarily vacated triple threat formula. The fact that their Rumble encounter is widely considered superior to either Lesnar/Cena at SummerSlam or Lesnar/Rollins at Battleground makes a pretty strong case for both Cena and Rollins’ necessity to push the triple threat through the stratosphere, rather than the presence of just one. I still maintain that Brock and the Architect overtly appear as the stars of this match, but it doesn’t get nearly as thrilling as it does without Cena playing the straight man.

The ’90 Rumble is a fun one to watch, especially as the crowd is biting on nearly every entrance. But that 2015 triple threat is on another level.

mizfan: I voted for it last time in protest of Jim Duggan, but here’s where I start throwing down against the #1 seed from 2015. It’s a very good match, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve never seen it as the classic that others do. Brock’s modern strengths are emphasized and his weaknesses hidden pretty well, as he takes a lengthy nap at ringside, but I still say some of his issues shine through, and the Cena/Rollins part of the match just doesn’t inspire me. The ’90 Rumble, on the other hand, is one of the best incarnations of the match, chock to the brim full of star power and crowd pleasing in the extreme, and I always love watching through it. Give me the Rumble for the upset here!

The Doc: The 1990 Royal Rumble Match is incredibly rewatchable; the triple threat from 2015 lost its luster the very moment it ended. Even in 2015, doing my annual Match of the Year analysis, the triple threat scored well by my metrics, but I was yawning through most of the first 15 minutes. The fact of the matter is this: the Beast Mode formula developed by Lesnar is, at its best, utterly enthralling on initial viewing, but very rarely does that routine maintain a rewatchable quality after the fact. It might be another five years before I can stand to watch that triple threat again; it will take that kind of distance to reinvigorate the appeal for me. Rumble ’90, meanwhile, is the blueprint for how the Rumble Match functions, so I watch it annually. Do not get me wrong; Rollins knocked it out of the park at Rumble ’15 with what was at the time a career-best performance without which he may not have gotten the nod for “The Heist of the Century,” but Lesnar was sloppy as hell. Is there some bias against it right now because Lesnar is involved and I literally hate what he stands for in modern WWE? Sure…but this is more of a philosophical choice to go with the match I know holds up on replay versus the match that absolutely doesn’t hold up replay. I’d watch half the original field of 64 before I’d watch the triple threat again.

Mazza: Ooh here we go. This is a tougher choice than the seeds show. You have one of the elite title matches in rumble history going up against one of the better rumble matches. There is a lot to love about the 1990 version but 25 years is a very long time. The business evolved a lot so a top level match in 2015 puts a strong and star studded but relatively basic rumble on the back foot. I’ve got to follow through with the #1 seed here. The triple threat to advance.

Prime Time: I still don’t like triple threat matches. They’re more than an insult to wrestling, they are poison to the concept. Happy to cast another vote for a Rumble match here.

Oliver: The 2015 Rumble Pay Per View has probably my favourite Brie Bella botch of all time, where she tries to reverse DDT (I think) Natalya and ends up just falling on her backside. But that’s not this match. This is the match where all three guys just go ape shit for 20 minutes to try and win the match – there’s no lengthy feeling out process, it’s just quick, hard hitting action. I think the formula for that has diminishing returns, for sure, but here it worked because a) Brock Lesnar is superhuman anyway, b) John Cena is literally just a computer character with infinite specials, and c) Seth Rollins is a wrestling magician.

Samuel ‘Plan: For me, this was by some distance the most difficult pick to make in this entire round. I have a whole lot of love for both of these magnificent matches, both of which are important in the history of their respective genre’s growth and change over the years. Ultimately, what clinched it for me was the simple fact one has my favourite ever wrestler in and the other doesn’t. That’s literally all I could separate them with. So I go for the Triple Threat.

(1) Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins (’15) wins 4-3

(4) The Rockers vs. The Orient Express (’91) vs. (5) Royal Rumble Match (’03)

Oliver: I’m going to throw this one at The Rockers vs The Orient Express without extra comment, mainly because I’m bitter it took out The Quebecers vs The Harts last time out. Being petty is fun.

Prime Time: It might be time I went back and gave the 2003 Rumble another viewing, which I haven’t done for a few years now. But you know, I’d go back and watch the other match right now if I had the time and the choice? And doesn’t that just say it all. Rockers vs Orient Express.

Skulduggery: Close one here. I really dig the 1991 tag team bout for how ahead of its time it was. It plays out as a lot of fun and would not look out of place ten or twenty years in its future. But the 2003 Rumble is likewise a blast. Everything Jericho touches is gold, and the match accelerates the fire between he and HBK for a great WrestleMania journey. Guys like Edge and Mysterio rev the pace in the first third, while you have your monsters like Kane, Batista, Lesnar and Taker to close things out. I think I’ll ultimately plump for the Rockers’ win, mainly because I’m a sucker for tag team wrestling. That finish is excellent, while Lesnar’s somewhat cheap elimination of Taker is a little odd given how dominant he was being billed as.

Samuel ‘Plan: That Rockers tag match really is going to persist, isn’t it? So I revisited it for this round. It’s got a little more psychological meat to it than I at first recalled, but it’s still horribly spotty stuff for my tastes. It’s probably the stronger match from a dispassionate viewpoint, in consideration of context anyway, but it’s my least favourite. I’m sticking with the Rumble Match here.

mizfan: This is a close one for me, both matches appeal to me quite a bit in different ways. I see that whenever I have a chance to vote for a Rumble so far I’ve taken it, and I don’t think I’m going to stop now. Both matches are great and I won’t be upset if I lose this one, but once again give me the underrated ’03 Rumble for the win.

Mazza: Another tough one here as the seeds suggest. A better rumble and I think it would see off an excellent but ultimately filler tag bout. I am not the biggest fan on 2003 however. Not a terrible rumble by any stretch of the imagination but not the best. You know what, I went against Shawn and Marty in a 4 vs 5 encounter in Bracket A, I will even it up by giving them the nod this time.

The Doc: Fourth seed vs. fifth seed should inherently be good match-ups; I do not feel that this one, however, is even close. The tag match is aesthetic magic, one of the most underappreciated examples in pro wrestling’s entire history of a match that exemplifies the idea of the in-ring performance being comparable to a dance. That said, I’d like to take the analogy in a different direction and instead compare pro wrestling to a floor routine in gymnastics and cite Rockers vs. Orient Express as a hallmark achievement. It may not have been flawlessly executed, but the degree of difficulty in the spot sequencing was so high that a few negative marks for poor execution could not possibly weigh down its score that much. When I think of tag team wrestling, I think of matches like this one. Rumble ’03 is quite good, but it’s not that level of good; it’s not a legitimate contender for one of the best in the history of its genre.

(4) The Rockers vs. The Orient Express (’91) wins 5-2

(3) John Cena vs. Umaga (’07) vs. (6) Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns (’17)

Mazza: If the Kevin Owens vs Dean Ambrose match was in this place, I would have a real dilemma. However, I think Cena and Umaga’s Last Man Standing comfortably defeat’s KO’s match against the other Shield member. It is actually one of my very favourite John Cena performances.

Skulduggery: Absolute slam dunk for the Last Man Standing match. Owens/Reigns is a decently fun watch, but it reeks of creativity for the sake of creativity. Cena and Umaga’s dangerous and innovative spots tell a harrowing story. Massive difference.

The Doc: This is a tougher choice than I expected it to be. I have a lot of appreciation for Reigns vs. Owens; I thought it was the most underrated awesome match of 2017 in fact. KO was unleashed in that No-DQ environment and we got to see him take the creativity that he brought to the table against Ambrose a year earlier to the next highest hardcore level (that bump on the chairs is nuts). The further removed we are from it, I tend to think of it more and more like KO’s equivalent of Jericho’s Rumble ’02 match with Rock – basically the pinnacle achievement of his rather disappointing title reign. I always forget, by the way, that Jericho was in a shark cage above the ring until I rewatch it.

All of that said, Cena vs. Umaga is one of the most underrated awesome matches of all-time, not just of a particular year. It is exceptionally violent and nothing is held back, the crimson suit worn by Cena adding a dynamic that no modern match will unfortunately ever be able to duplicate until WWE drops the PG element or at least opens up the playbook to allow blood when appropriate. It also gets a historical boost by it being Cena’s first great performance without the assistance of a first ballot Hall of Famer; they lined up Angle, Jericho, Triple H, and Edge for him in his initial years as the top guy, but he had to step up against a first-time headliner and deliver the goods at the ’07 Rumble…and he damn sure delivered the goods. Last Man Standing has arguably never been done any better either, so there’s a lot going for the Cena-Umaga match that honestly should make it a tough out in this tournament.

Prime Time: Off the top of my head I honestly don’t care, and I don’t have time to rewatch them both. Wait a minute… OK, Cena and Umaga is heads, Owens and Reigns is tails.

It’s heads, we’ll cast our vote for Big Match John and the reactionary stereotype.

mizfan: If this isn’t a 7-0 stomping, I don’t know what I’ll do. One of the best Cena matches ever against a mediocre, muddled 2017 affair. Enough said!!

Samuel ‘Plan: This one is incredibly easy for me. I already mentioned what I think of the Shark Cage Match from a couple of years ago, so certainly compared to one of Cena’s finest outings, one of Umaga’s most flattering productions and one of the Last Man Standing’s most colourful outings the Universal Championship Match doesn’t stand a chance. It’s got to be Cena / Umaga.

Oliver: You know when you play a video game – I don’t know if any of you have heard of ‘video games’, they’re like Monopoly but on tape – and you get to the big bad boss at the end and have to throw everything at them just to, like, dent their armour so you can poke them in the eye and win or something? That’s how I feel about Cena vs Umaga, which is the start of John Cena being the most John Cena he ever did in a calendar year, I think. Sweet Jesus, that guy was on something else that year. He doesn’t even have Edge around to beat him every other month. The only thing that stops him beating people is his own body falling apart, otherwise he’d probably have just kept winning until…I dunno, WrestleMania 24 and beyond, probably. Anyway, it’s good, is that match. It’s up against a match I really like but has the daftest stipulations around it – it’s a No DQ match, so does it even matter if Jericho is in a shark cage? Plus, it’s Roman Reigns being the most Roman Reigns ever, just taking the most offense anybody has and powering up to hit his shit and nearly win, only to end up being ‘protected’ in defeat or whatever. And Owens absolutely killed himself in that match to get Reigns over as the big powerful. But none of it mattered.

Ultimately, I think Cena vs Umaga is the least stressful conversation, so I’m awarding it victory on those grounds. Both are about equal for me in terms of in match quality.

(3) John Cena vs. Umaga (’07) wins 7-0

(2) Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit (’01) vs. (7) Royal Rumble Match (’05)

The Doc: It has just dawned on me the number of higher seeds that I seem to be picking, with a couple of noteworthy exceptions of course. In exploring that dynamic in my head, I’m struck by the idea that higher seeds are higher seeds for a reason and unless there’s a very compelling reason not to, picking the higher seed makes sense more often than not. Here we are with another example. I love the ’05 Rumble, not just the match itself but the show top to bottom. I think that it’s easily one of the ten best in gimmick lore and, thus, deserves to be around past the 32 mark in its own way. That said, it’s all about seeding sometimes, and in this case it runs up against one of the best mid-card matches in Rumble lore. Can I make a compelling case that Jericho-Benoit should be upended before testing itself against the higher overall seeds? I don’t think that I can, honestly. I want, as a fan of anything for a tournament setting, to see the best against the best so that the conversations we get to have expand and get more detailed. I want Jericho/Benoit vs. Cena/Umaga and match-ups of that kind in the Sweet 16.

Oliver: Shall we just say Jericho vs Benoit and be done with it? Yeah? Good.

Mazza: As good as the ladder match between the Canadians is, when I think of it I always remember Benoit just leaning on the apron and watching Jericho climb to victory. That never really sat well with me. I mean it doesn’t make it a bad match, or even just a good one. It remains a great match but it’s things like that which can make a difference in this kind of setting. I love a lot about 2005. It’s a guilt pleasure of mine and I give it my vote here.

mizfan: I’m actually going to continue my Rumble lovefest here, both of these matches rock but I am such a sucker for good Rumbles, and I think ’05 is low key one of the best. The photo finish actually makes the whole thing even more fun, botch or no.

Skulduggery: Eddie and Benoit commencing 2005 was a tremendous start, but things heated up further as the first third of the match roared on. Entrants 7 through 11 are as strong a streak as you’ll ever see that early into the Rumble, and that the entire field, heroes and villains alike, comes to a standstill upon the match’s welcome of Muhammad Hassan is one of those “match within the match” moments that make this Rumble bursting with fun. That even Edge and Luther Reigns immediately join in on the group mauling of Hassan is an excellent advancement from mere face/heel alignment to character interaction.

Throw in the RAW vs. SmackDown showdown, Shawn Michaels’ Simon Dean-esque celebration after the elimination of the fitness guru himself, Haas and Benjamin’s brief reunion, and every second of Kurt Angle’s time, and the middle stretch of the match is a blast. What follows is the dynamite conclusion, and as good as Jericho/Benoit is, I’ll say again that the 2005 Rumble better advance so that I can talk about it even more!

Prime Time: I can keep this one short and sweet, and with a double helping of Canadian Chris’s.

Samuel ‘Plan: Much like the immediately preceding pairing, this is another default win for me. I know the 2005 Rumble has a lot of fans, and I know my fellow participant Mazza is one of them, but I really do find it bland at best, uncomfortable at worst. That ’01 Ladder Match mind – even for a critic of the genre like myself – really is fantastic, and of the story-focused variety I most enjoy. I’ll plump for the IC bout.

(2) Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit (’01) wins 4-3

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