Tag Archives: Vince McMahon

Wrestling should submit to regulation 

It is not very often Christmas Day trends on Twitter on the fourth of September but it happened this week. The reason was that WWE announced it would be running its flagship show Monday Night RAW live on Christmas Day this year (this year Christmas Day falls on a Monday). This will be the first time in the history of RAW – which started in 1993 – that a live episode of RAW will be broadcast on Christmas Day (on previous years when Christmas Day fell on a Monday RAW broadcast taped episodes).

Needless to say the news provoked strong responses. Most people thought that as the wrestlers work every week of the year they should at least have Christmas Day off. Others did say that the NBA in the States and the Premier League here play in the festive season so why shouldn’t WWE be live on Christmas Day? But a big difference of course is that both the NBA and the Premier League have off seasons. Of course some people will say that WWE is not a sport but scripted entertainment but that argument is not relevant because although scripted programmes like the popular UK soap operas Coronation Street and EastEnders are broadcast on Christmas Day they are not live – they are recorded so the actors get the festive season off and can watch themselves on TV! 

At first – given his company’s reputation for running its wrestlers into the ground – WWE chairman Vince McMahon was blamed for the decision to have RAW live on Christmas Day. But it later emerged that it was the USA Network – the TV channel that broadcasts RAW – wanted the live festive RAW. Quite why is a mystery since the ratings for RAW go down during American holidays like the 4th of July and Labor Day and the ratings for the festive RAW are expected to be low (this is a difference between the US and the UK. Historically some of the highest UK TV ratings have been recorded over the Christmas period – for example 30 million watched the Morecambe and Wise Christmas shows in 1976 and 1977 and in 1986 the same number watched a famous Christmas Day episode of EastEnders where Den gave wife Angie divorce papers. Ouch. Even today the BBC and ITV load the festive schedule with their most popular programmes).

But whatever one thinks of a live Christmas Day RAW the story exposes a major problem with the wrestling industry. It is neither regulated or unionised. That means Vince McMahon and the USA Network can do whatever they want as there is no regulation and no protection for wrestlers whatsoever. That is why McMahon can get away with forcing his wrestlers to work 300 days a year and be classified as “independent contractors” not “employees” which means that they are denied countless benefits to which they would otherwise be entitled.

But regulation would also benefit wrestling in other ways. A governing body would surely get rid of the abomination that is intergender wrestling. Mixed professional football for example is banned by the sports governing body FIFA. A governing body for wrestling would surely do the same. 

Plus regulation would allow wrestling to get rid of rotten eggs. An example of a rotten egg in wrestling is former Lucha Underground Champion Sexy Star -who ironically made her name in intergender wrestling (see above). A couple of weeks ago she legitimately injured fellow wrestler Rosemary dislocating her arm by doing an arm bar for real. This is a complete no no. Wrestlers work together to prevent injury so when a wrestler “goes into business for themselves” and turns it into a “shoot” (ie fights for real) it is serious. Sexy Star has quite rightly been heavily criticised in the wrestling industry but I suspect some immoral promotion – probably in her native Mexico – will employ her when the fuss dies down. In a regulated sport like boxing a governing body would revoke her licence for a certain amount of time – maybe forever.

In fact each wrestler having to get a licence to compete would really benefit the industry. If a wrestler had to get medically examined say every five years and had to pass a medical to retain his or her licence it could spot say concussions. If Chris Benoit had an examination every five years the state of his brain could have been spotted before the tragedy of 2007 when he killed his wife and child then killed himself. Plus it could stop wrestlers going on too long.  Also to get a licence wrestlers should have to pass minimum standards so that dangerously under qualified wrestlers like Eva Marie would not be allowed in the ring where they were a danger to others.

Vince McMahon won’t like it but wrestling would benefit from being regulated by a governing body. Wrestlers would get the same benefits as other employees, they would not be forced to do a live RAW on Christmas Day, they would not have to work 300 days a year, the abomination that is intergender wrestling would be banned, trash like Sexy Star would be banned and wrestlers would not be able to compete without a licence which could protect them from long term health damage. It is time. It is time for professional wrestling to submit to regulation. 

When WWE were nearly thrown off UK TV

Oh the summer of 2005 how I love you! Most remembered at the time for England beating Australia in arguably the greatest Ashes series in history the summer also had another famous UK victory against the odds when underdogs London won the right to host the 2012 Olympics over hot favourites Paris (and only delivered the best Olympics ever). Chelsea fans and Labour supporters will have bittersweet memories of that summer. Tony Blair’s Labour easily won its third General Election in a row – in stark contrast to the mess that party is now in outside London. While Chelsea won their first English League title in 50 years back in the days when the Premier League Champions played at Stamford Bridge instead of visiting on the last day of the season as Leicester will on Sunday!

Of course there was tragedy too. The day after London won the Olympic bid there were the terrorist attacks on the city (known as the 7/7 bombings). The British General Election of 2010 (page 19) claims that the bombings “marked, symbolically at leat, an abrupt end to the optimism of much of the Blair era”. While I don’t agree with that – Blair had shot his bolt with the UK electorate two years earlier – there is no doubt that the first terrorist attack on the UK by Al Qaeda had a serious effect on the country. On a less serious note it got World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) into such trouble they nearly got kicked off of UK TV and are still on probation till this day. How on earth could a UK national tragedy get WWE into trouble not just in the UK but in the US – so much so one of their wrestlers had to be booted out of the company for good at the age of just 23? Answer – a cocktail of arrogance, bad luck and like most sports organisations being out of touch with the real world.

The background is this. On 13 December 2004 WWE debuted a  new wrestler. He was an “Arab American”* Muhammad Hassan. The gimmick of Hassan and his manager Kosrow Daivari was that they were Arab Americans who had got on well with their fellow Americans until 9/11 but that after 9/11 their fellow Americans turned on them, discriminated against them and blamed them for the 9/11 attacks just because they were Arab Americans. They made some logical points that however were too intelligent for most American wrestling fans and therefore Hassan and Daivari became hated heels (wrestling jargon for bad guys). Hassan was placed into feuds with Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin (who said to Hassan and Daivari “I see sand people”- not WWE Creative’s finest hour) while suffering no pin fall defeats.

Then for some reason he was traded from RAW to Smackdown – a mistake in my opinion as Smackdown was on a broadcast (the US equivalent of terrestrial) channel United Paramount Network (UPN) which meant the audience for Hassan and Daivari  was potentially bigger than on RAW (a cable show) and the bigger audience something controversial gets the more people there are who could get offended. WWE had to be careful. They weren’t.

As soon as he got to Smackdown Hassan got into a feud with the Undertaker and a match between the two was arranged for the July Great American Bash pay per view. That same night (July 4 2005) Smackdown General Manager Theodore R Long made a match between the Undertaker and Daivari for that night’s show. Undertaker won easily – and then it all went pear shaped. Outside the ring Hassan kneeled down as if he was praying to Allah – and five men in masks, black tops and combat trousers ran to the ring and beat up the Undertaker. After that Hassan came into the ring and performed his finishing move on the Undertaker while the five masked men knelt down. The masked men then lifted Daivari up and carried him out of the ring a la a martyr’s funeral. What makes this more sinister is what  Hassan had said to Daivari pre match “You will be a sacrifice. But a sacrifice for a greater good”. It at least could be implied that this was acting out a terrorist attack and was rather sinister.

Note the date. July 4th. But Smackdown was not (and still is not) shown live. In those days Smackdown was shown on Thursdays in the US and that week’s Smackdown was broadcast on July 7th. Yes the day of the London bombings. Ah you say the Hassan “terrorist” angle would be edited out. Er no. It was shown in North America in full – with a “crawler” warning at the bottom of the screen. WWE claimed that it could not be edited out in time. They really should have asked UPN to delay the programme for a day in order to give them time to edit the angle out. Predictably – to everyone except WWE that is – there was an outcry and even the New York Post, TV Guide and Variety got involved. UPN panicked and told the WWE that Hassan would not be allowed to appear on their network again. So he was banned from Smackdown and Spike TV – the network that broadcast RAW – did not want him back on their show either. So he had to be beaten by the Undertaker at the pay per view and “killed off” with a last ride onto concrete. He was never seen again on WWE TV**.

Where WWE was incredibly lucky was that in the UK Smackdown was not on TV until Friday which gave Sky time to edit the angle out. But WWE made another blunder. They posted the footage on their website – including the UK. Even although the internet was not as prominent in 2005 as it is now enough UK fans saw it for it to be known what had happened and in the words of Ian Hamilton (in “Wrestling’s Sinking Ship : What Happens to an Industry Without Competition” page 172) “were up in arms”. Why on earth they put it on the internet is a mystery. They must have known UK fans used the internet in 2005 – unless they were so ignorant they thought we didn’t!

Still at least the UK press hadn’t got hold of the incident so all WWE had to do was not make any more mistakes and let the affair die down. But they could not even do that right. Once UPN had banned Hassan they really should have pulled him out of the pay per view match with the Undertaker and found a substitute (Randy Orton would have been the obvious replacement or bring in a wrestler from RAW like Kurt Angle). But instead they kept Hassan in the match. Incredibly they showed the beat down on the Undertaker in the promo for the match. Even more incredibly Hassan was carried to the ring by the same five masked guys who had beaten the Undertaker up. And even more incredibly it was shown live on Sky Sports in the UK!***

Now the shit did hit the fan. Sky got reprimanded by Ofcom (for the benefit of anyone reading this who is not from the UK Ofcom is our TV regulator – our Federal Communications Commission (FCC) equivalent). Sky understandably were furious. Especially as the WWE had been running some awful angles at the time – Hot Lesbian Action, Katie Vick, WWE owner Vince McMahon fighting his own daughter on pay per view and a one legged wrestler – Zach Gowen – being pushed down a flight of stairs in a wheelchair (Sky cut that out too). Sky in effect put the WWE on a “suspended sentence” saying if the WWE did anything else offensive their UK TV contract would be terminated. Frankly the WWE had done so many offensive angles in the previous three years they were lucky to keep their contract.

This whole mess was an example of sporting arrogance at its worst. As Dave Meltzer put it on his website “they (the WWE) live in a bubble in Connecticut where there is nothing but wrestling and the real world doesn’t exist”. Substitute Zurich for Connecticut and soccer for wrestling and Meltzer could have been writing about FIFA. How they did not know after the London bombings that that angle would offend is a mystery.

I think the Hassan affair (along with the Chris Benoit murder/suicide and Linda McMahon’s (Vince’s wife) US senate bids) led to the current PG WWE era that wrestling fans consider safe. But you can’t blame the WWE for playing safe. Remember if they do anything offensive they could blow a lucrative UK TV contract.  They think ” better safe than sorry “. And that is the price the WWE are paying for taking a totally unnecessary risk back in July 2005….

*Ironically the man who played Hassan – Mark Copani – is not Arab American at all. With that name it is no surprise that he is Italian American.

**Copani was sent down to the WWE development league to alter his gimmick but he was released on September 21 2005 probably because he would always be associated with the Hassan character. He then retired from wrestling aged 23 an innocent victim of the whole sordid mess. Ironically he was heading for a major push and was going to win the World Heavyweight Championship at August’s SummerSlam pay per view had the affair not happened.

***That was when I first saw the incident (I did not have the internet at the time). I was horrified. If I had known WWE would show that I would not have taped the event. I suspected – and still do – that if a US city had been bombed on July 7th that angle would have never seen the light of day. To my mind it showed arrogant contempt for the UK. I know people who have never watched WWE again and one friend of mine wanted whoever wrote the angle sacked and McMahon hung. Whether anyone other than poor Copani was sacked I don’t know.

Why TV 14 should not come back in the WWE (and why it won’t)

Since 2008 World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) television has been rated Parental Guidance (PG). Before 2008 – during the “Attitude Era” and the subsequent “Ruthless Aggression Era” the WWE was rated TV 14. Now a lot of wrestling fans don’t like the current PG rating and want to go back to the Attitude or Ruthless Aggression Era but (a) they are wrong and (b) there is no chance of it happening anyway.

First of all people who regard the Attitude Era as better are guilty of the same mistake as the people who think British football was better in the 1970s. Both suffer from selective memory and only remember the good points rather than the rubbish. Yes there were good points about the Attitude Era – Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock, Triple H, the Undertaker, Kane, Kurt Angle and Mankind – but with probably the exception of Mankind they would have been stars in any era.  But there was a lot of rubbish in the Attitude Era too and here is some of it.

Val Venis. Vince Russo. The Godfather. Vince Russo. A woman giving birth to a hand. Vince Russo. A wrestler – Perry Saturn – becoming friendly with a mop. Vince Russo. A wrestler – Al Snow –  coming to the ring with a mannequin head. Vince Russo. Katie Vick. And did I mention Vince Russo?

But by far the worst aspect of the Attitude Era was its treatment of women. The reduction of female talent to being judged on “T & A” rather than wrestling ability started here. Evening gown, bra and panties matches, women wrestlers posing in Playboy and being forced to have breast enhancement surgery before they got into the WWE all first occurred in the Attitude Era. As did Jerry “the King” Lawler and his appalling “puppies” catchphrase.

And when women were not treated as sex symbols they were being beaten up by men. In one horrific incident Lita was beaten up by two men. Not just any two men but Austin and Triple H. That would be ridiculous for a male wrestler to go through never mind a woman. True Chyna did win the Intercontinental title during this period but it just showed that the attitude of WWE to women in this period was bewilderingly contradictory. By having women in inter gender matches, taking chair shots from Stone Cold and Triple H and being put through tables I presume they were trying to show they were as tough as men. And yet they also showed them parading around in their underwear at the same time. In effect they were being both feminist and sexist at the same time! Thankfully both T & A and inter gender matches have been consigned to the bin of history and the WWE is finally giving women’s wrestling a fair go as Sunday’s Wrestlemania showed.

People say the current PG era is rubbish and yet most fans (this one included) are impressed by the WWE’s developmental show NXT. And guess what? NXT is PG. While it is clear that WWE has problems if its development show is better than the main roster – imagine if Minor League Baseball was better than Major League Baseball! – being PG is not the problem. What they need to do is for owner Vince McMahon to retire – he is 70 after all – and hand over control of WWE to son in law Triple H (who runs NXT) and make the main roster like NXT. If NXT is PG and good the main roster could be like that too.

Now why WWE won’t get rid of PG. To my mind Vince McMahon never wanted to have the Attitude Era in the first place. At the time the Attitude Era started (which most people would say was sometime in 1997) WWE was getting stuffed in the ratings by WCW and was in danger of bankruptcy. I suspect McMahon’s view was “If I’m going down I’ll go down fighting”. Had there not been head to head competition with WCW McMahon would have just kept doing the same thing he’d been doing since the mid 1980s. Although ratings are low now there is not the head to head competition there was in the 1990s. Further more sex, nudity and men beating up women would be totally unacceptable now and would make the WWE toxic and be hated in the press (especially the UK press and if the UK press turn against you you are in trouble).

Some people think that the USA Network – which shows RAW in the States – might force WWE to make changes if ratings keep falling. Unlikely. McMahon could just move RAW to another network. After all RAW started on USA, moved to TNN (later Spike TV) and then moved to USA again. And there is another option. The WWE has its own network – called the WWE Network. It would not surprise me if in the future RAW became Network exclusive in the States (like the Pay Per Views already are). Then McMahon would not need to listen to what the TV networks think.

So basically stop pining for the Attitude Era. Like 1970s UK football a lot of it was rubbish, too violent and totally sexist. And also like the 1970s it ain’t coming back…

Fifteen years ago today a war ended

Today is a big day in the history of American wrestling. Fifteen years ago the last ever episode of the World Championship Wrestling (WCW) show Monday Nitro took place. Since September 1995 that show had competed head to head with World Wrestling Federation’s (WWF) Monday Night Raw in what became known as the “Monday Night Wars”. The war ended when the WWF purchased their rival.

The story of the Monday Night Wars is actually the story of one of the most spectacular rises and falls in a short period of time ever. They have been other spectacular rises and falls in a short space of time. For example in 1960 Northampton Town were in Division Four, in 1965 they made it to Division One and by 1969 they were in Division Four again! In politics in the 1970 UK General Election the Scottish National Party (SNP) elected 1 MP and won 11.4% of the Scottish vote. By the October 1974 election they were up to 11 MPs and 30.4% of the Scottish vote…and in 1979 they were down to 2 MPs and 17.3%  of the Scottish vote. But at least Northampton Town and the SNP still exist. WCW do not which makes this rise and fall quite the most  spectacular.

In 1993 WCW lost $10 million. They were very much the number two promotion to the WWF and had never turned a profit since billionaire Ted Turner bought it (when it was called Jim Crockett Promotions. It was renamed WCW in 1991). In fact in early 1995 WCW President Eric Bischoff had a dollar bet with Harvey Anderson that he could get WCW into profit. He did. Then in 1995 Turner and Bischoff created Nitro to go head to head with Raw. A year later Nitro began a run of 84 consecutive victories over Raw in the ratings, and for the first time since Vince McMahon took over WWF in 1982 and took it global his promotion was the number two in America. In 1998 WCW made a profit of $50 million (remember in 1995 people thought WCW could not make any profit). And as quickly as WCW rose..it fell. By 1999 Raw was beating Nitro in the ratings again and WCW lost $15 million. By 2000 they were losing $62 million. By 2001 they were such a toxic brand that the CEO of the TV Network they were on wanted them off the channel meaning no one but WWF would buy a wrestling company with no TV contracts. How on earth did WCW rise and fall so quickly?

The rise was due to Turner having the courage to go head to head with McMahon on Monday nights and also giving Bischoff the money to get Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash from the WWF. Bischoff deserves credit for portraying Hall and Nash as invaders from WWF and with Hogan forming the New World Order (NWO). He also deserves credit for promoting the Cruiserweight Division with exciting high flying wrestlers. But WCW were lucky too. The WWF was stale and stuck in a rut (some would say WWE* is in the same position today) and like the Australian cricket authorities when facing Kerry Packer in 1977 were totally unprepared for head to head competition which they didn’t expect anyway. In 1996 and 1997 it looked like WWF might even go under.

So how did it turn round? In any competition there is what the winners did right and what the losers did wrong.  There was an example here of a “butterfly effect” where small events lead to big consequences. The small event here was Bischoff asking Madusa to throw her WWF Women’s Championship into the trash can on live TV. Seemed a harmless little publicity stunt at the time. But two years later when another WWF Champion Bret Hart left for WCW (with McMahon’s blessing) McMahon could hardly risk Bischoff trashing another of his belts. So when Hart refused to lose to Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series 1997 McMahon screwed him out of the title (the infamous Montreal Screwjob). This in turn made McMahon hated and he was clever enough to turn it to his advantage making himself the main heel in the WWF and to him having an infamous rivalry with his most popular star Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Austin- McMahon rivalry helped along by Mike Tyson appearing at WrestleMania XIV, was the main (but not the only) thing the WWF did right.

As for WCW incredibly they made the same mistake WWF had made in the early 1990s. They went stale. They relied on the same stars. They never produced a home grown star in that era except for Bill Goldberg. They had other fresh talent – Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio – who became stars but with WWF since WCW wouldn’t push them. The first three left in frustration while Mysterio went to WWE in 2002 after WCW collapsed. Another mistake WCW made was to give wrestlers like Hulk Hogan creative control which meant Hogan could refuse to do anything he did not want to do. The equivalent of a footballer insisting they are picked for every game and just as ridiculous.

And once WWF went ahead in the war, WCW panicked spending prodigious amounts of money on people that were not needed. For example $1 million on a non wrestling rapper Master P,  $1 million on a basketball player Dennis Rodman and $150,000 a year paid to Randy Savage’s brother Lanny Poffo – who never wrestled a match for WCW.

And as often happens when a company is losing they think  “if you can’t beat them recruit them”. So WCW signed WWF’s head writer Vince Russo** thinking he would turn them around. The problem was Russo’s ideas were mainly ridiculous. In WWF that made no difference because Vince McMahon had final say so he could veto Russo’s bad ideas (like making Chyna a woman the WWF Champion). In WCW his warped mind ran amuck. He made actor David Arquette WCW Champion in 2000 probably finishing the company off for good. And he loved pole matches – Viagra on a pole, pinata on a pole, Judy Bagwell on a pole (yes a human being!) and most ridiculous of the lot a “San Francisco 49ers” match (don’t ask!)

But it wasn’t just Russo. Whoever run WCW from 1999-2000 especially seemed to be effected. A book could be written on WCW’s incompetence and has been (“The Death of WCW” by RD Reynolds and Bryan Alvarez).  It is as much a comedy book as a wrestling book but I should just mention three examples of non Russo WCW incompetence in 1999 and 2000 (there are many more).

1. Having a storyline where one of your most popular stars Ric Flair is sent to a mental hospital where he dances in his underwear meets fellow wrestler Scott Hall who is there for reasons unknown and is eventually bailed out by Arn Anderson (never knew you could get bailed out of a mental hospital).

2. Booker T and Big T have a feud over the right to use the letter T (I am NOT making this up!)

3. WCW’s resident boy band 3 Count claiming that their first (non existent!) album had gone platinum and their second would be even bigger and go gold (in the music industry a platinum album is more successful than a gold one!)

No wonder WCW ratings went down the toilet and Nitro did not best Raw in the ratings after October 26 1998. But even then they could have survived. One reason they could waste money on rappers and basketball players was they had a blank cheque due to being owned by Ted Turner. And he would never have got rid of wrestling as it was the first ratings winner for his cable TV stations TBS and TNT. But when Time Warner merged with America Online (AOL) in 2000 the party was over. Turner lost control AOL were not going to fund a company losing $62 million and WCW was put up for sale in October 2000. Even then they might have survived. Eric Bischoff wanted to buy them but new Turner Broadcasting CEO Jamie Kellner announced there would be no more wrestling on TBS or TNT (similar to what Greg Dyke of ITV had done with UK wrestling in 1988). Without TV, Bischoff’s bid collapsed and McMahon bought WCW for less than $3 million. (to think the owners had turned down $ 500 million a year earlier!). The Monday Night Wars were over. McMahon had won.

But I would say it was not a good result for wrestling. WWE’s ratings have gone down the toilet in some weeks below those of the awful 1999-2000 Nitros. The WWE has gone complacent and stale. Like most monopolies it needs competition. Raw would not have reached the highs of 1998-2001 without the competition of Nitro. Do I think competition in wrestling will happen again? No. There is Total Non Stop Action (TNA) but it is as incompetently run as WCW was and when it tried to recreate the Monday Night Wars in 2010 it got annihilated. Remember WCW was subsidised by a billionaire and apart from 1995-98 lost money. I suspect the WWE will never face competition again. A cheery thought….

*WWF changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in 2002. When writing about the Monday Night Wars I’ve called it WWF. When writing about the period after 2002 I’ve called it WWE.

**I’ll declare an interest here. I hate Vince Russo. He is xenophobic (he said Americans don’t want to watch Mexican and Japanese wrestlers and thought even Vince McMahon could not make WCW wrestler Loch Ness a star. If he knew anything about wrestling outside the US he would know that Loch Ness – as Giant Haystacks – was a superstar in the UK) and sexist ( his idea of women wrestling was to either have them get beaten up by men or fight in evening gown matches, bra and panties matches or other sexist crap. He has to in my opinion take a large part of the blame for the contempt women’s wrestling has been held in until last year’s Divas Revolution). This guy is wrestling’s equivalent of Donald Trump and how he got a job as head booker in any wrestling organisation is a complete mystery.

Let’s get ready to rumble

As I mentioned in an earlier post (“Why Rousey v Mayweather must never happen”) I am a fan of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and this Sunday sees my favourite WWE event the Royal Rumble. Now the favourite event of most WWE fans is Wrestlemania but mine is the Royal Rumble which is not only unique in the WWE but is rare in sport.

For in the Royal Rumble you do not know who you will see. At all other WWE events you know who are wrestling each other. At the Royal Rumble you do not. This is because of the unique format of the Main Event the Royal Rumble match itself. The match is a 30 man* Battle Royal. The catch is you do not know who is going to appear. This is because the 30 are not all in the ring at the same time. The first two wrestlers (usually decided by a random draw but not this year as I will explain later) start the match. After a fixed time (usually 90 seconds) the next wrestler enters the ring and thus carries on until all 30 have appeared in the match. Elimination occurs when a wrestler is thrown over the top rope with both feet touching the floor (a key caveat this. In 1995 Shawn Michaels was thrown over the top rope but only one foot touched the ground and went on to win the match).

What makes this match unique is that the fans do not know who is going to enter the ring until their entrance music appears. That is why I compare the Rumble to football’s FA Cup in that in the Cup a football fan does not know who their team is going to play until the result of a random draw. And it could be anybody. In the third round say Manchester United could draw Liverpool… or Leyton Orient. The Rumble is the same. I remember for example the 2002 Royal Rumble when Stone Cold Steve Austin had cleared the ring and was waiting for the next entrant. The response of the crowd when the theme music of Triple H another elite WWE superstar was played was amazing. It was like Liverpool bring drawn against Manchester United in the FA Cup!

Another resemblance between the Rumble and the FA Cup is that while usually ( but not always) a rich team/big name superstar wins you get giant killings along the way. By far the Royal Rumble’s biggest giant killing came in 2002. The Undertaker had cleared the ring and was waiting for the next entrant. It was the male winner of the “Tough Enough” reality show Maven who had barely had a WWE match. But with the help of the Hardy Boyz and Lita who distracted the Undertaker Maven eliminated the Dead Man. It would be like Arsenal being knocked out of the FA Cup by a non league team!

The one difference between the Rumble and the FA Cup is it can be a surprise when a big name wins the Rumble. Normally it would not be a surprise that John Cena or Edge won the Rumble. But in 2008 (Cena) and 2010 (Edge) they were injured and not expected to come back thus their appearance and victory was a surprise. The WWE often use the Rumble for surprise debuts/returns. For example the popular AJ Styles has signed for WWE and it would not surprise me if he made his debut during Sunday’s Rumble Match.

Talking of Sunday’s match this year’s Rumble resembles those of 1992 and 1999. Like 1992 the WWE title will be won by the winner of the Rumble match. The difference between now and 1992 is that in 1992 the WWE title was declared vacant due to shenanigans between Hulk Hogan and the Undertaker whereas now the WWE title is definitely not vacant. Reigning champion Roman Reigns is being forced to defend the title in the Rumble Match because he has gotten on the wrong side of WWE owner Vince McMahon who is determined that Reigns will lose the Rumble and the title (to no one’s surprise Reigns has been lumbered with the number one entry in a rigged lottery which means he has to go from gun to tape to win). And that is where the resemblance to 1999 comes in. In 1999 McMahon was determined Steve Austin would not win the Rumble lumbering Stone Cold with the number one entry and even entering the match himself. In fact the 1999 Rumble’s tagline and theme music were both called “No Chance in Hell” – referring to Austin’s chances of winning and still McMahon’s entrance music to this day. McMahon is determined that there will be no chance in hell for Reigns seventeen years on.

McMahon himself – with help from the Rock – won the 1999 Rumble. What I fear is that McMahon’s son in law and WWE chief operations officer Triple H will do the same in 2016. What I’d like to see is either Reigns winning against the odds or Brock Lesnar winning (preferably with Reigns the last man eliminated) thus setting up a Reigns v Lesnar main event match for the title at Wrestlemania 32 in April. Remember there was never a winner between Reigns and Lesnar at last year’s Wrestlemania because Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank so you could have them meet again to see who is the better man.

One thing is certain. The Royal Rumble will again be the most exciting hour in the WWE. All together now. 10-9-8-7….

*Usually 30 man but in four Royal Rumbles women competed. Chyna (1999,2000), Beth Phoenix (2010) and Kharma (2012). Since the WWE is now PG hopefully the abomination of male v female wrestling will not happen again.