WWE Royal Rumble 2012 Review feat. CM Punk vs. Dolph Ziggler

Logo for WWE Royal Rumble 2012
Image Source: WWE
CompanyWWE
EventRoyal Rumble 2012
SeriesRoyal Rumble
Edition25
FormatPay-Per-View
DateSunday January 29 2012
VenueScottrade Center
LocationSt. Louis, Missouri, USA
Attendance18,121

WWE Royal Rumble 2012

WWE Royal Rumble 2012 would mark the 25th edition of the Rumble event, but it wasn’t necessarily a grand celebration. If anything, the 2012 Rumble event was one of the weaker instalments in history, despite triggering the road to a timeless WrestleMania. Why? I shall explain.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PREVIOUS TV SHOWS? READ OUR PRE-PPV REVIEWS OF RAW & SMACKDOWN!

WWE World Heavyweight Championship Triple Threat Steel Cage Match
Daniel Bryan (C) vs. Big Show vs. Mark Henry

Opening the show, we have a match which sounds like something from a videogame. Bryan had successfully cashed in Money In The Bank at Show’s expense at TLC 2011. And that came moments after Show had just captured the World Heavyweight Title from Mark Henry. Since then, Bryan had slowly turned heel, which included him antagonising both of the behemoths to a great degree. Along the way, Show inadvertently knocked over Bryan’s girlfriend AJ Lee, which drew the ire of the World Champion. Since Bryan kept dodging his opponents, a Cage match made sense. However, Henry faded into the background, making his inclusion questionable, despite his Hall Of Pain still having legs.

This three-way contest was fine, though totally unmemorable. When WWE books a heel champion to face such odds, chances are that he’ll find a way to succeed. Therefore, while he was pounded throughout by both challengers, one never felt that he was going to lose. This is partly because the odds of either Show or Henry taking the World Title to WrestleMania XXVII seemed awfully slim. And therefore the outcome was never in doubt, though the finish itself was something different. Daniel had climbed over the top and Show had hold of the comparatively-miniscule champion. But Bryan broke free and crashed to the floor, allowing him to “shockingly” retain the World Heavyweight Title. Bryan celebrated by shouting “Yes!”, which would soon become an iconic wrestling catch phrase. In any event, Bryan had survived.

Eight-Woman Tag Team Match
Kelly Kelly, Eve Torres, Alicia Fox & Tamina Snuka vs. Beth Phoenix, Natalya & The Bella Twins

This was pure filler. WWE’s attitude towards its female division was slightly improving, since the females were continuously finding their way onto PPV. But all too often, WWE would choose to book most of the women in a pointless tag match, rather than a potentially big showdown. Plus, it meant the fifth time in six PPVs that Kelly and Beth were on opposite sides of the ring. The only saving grace would have been an awesome in-ring performance by either team (or any of the eight participants), but we didn’t get that either. Therefore, WWE may as well have not booked it at all, aside from giving a pay-day to the combatants. Phoenix would pin Kelly with a Glam Slam, which would end their feud once and for all, right? Right? No? Damn.

John Cena vs. Kane

Now, I noted earlier that Royal Rumble 2012 wasn’t up to much, and I’m about to explain a key reason. John Cena was heading towards a major showdown with The Rock at WrestleMania XXVIII, which was a year in the making. Despite a tease in the warmer months of 2011, though, it wouldn’t involve the WWE Championship. No big deal, then, except it meant that Cena had no reason whatsoever to enter the Rumble match itself. That downgraded the value of the 30-man bout, though it raised the possibility of Cena battling somebody else in a big-time clash.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PREVIOUS EDITION? READ OUR WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 2011 REVIEW!

His opponent would be Kane, who made a return to WWE at the 2011 Slammys episode of Raw. In doing so, he not only brought back the mask, but he also targeted Cena. Kane’s crusade was for Cena to “embrace the hate”, essentially wanting him to turn heel. Along the way, Kane pounded Cena’s buddy Zack Ryder, who had gotten over huge in the second half of 2011. Kane destroyed him on several occasions, which included a Chokeslam off the stage and off a parking lot ledge. Cena was partly battling on Zack’s behalf, then, with Ryder (and his on-screen girlfriend Eve Torres) watching from a private office.

The match itself is decent enough, but with nothing at stake, it felt like a Raw main event at best. Fans were all over Cena more than usual, with this period being a time when smarks wouldn’t even give Cena a chance. It didn’t help, though, that the match had a poor finish: the two headliners fought to a double countout. Seriously? I don’t mind this ending, but on a card like Royal Rumble which was already struggling, this really didn’t help. To say that fans disapproved would be an understatement.

Thankfully, the segment would not end there. Kane knocked Cena down for long enough that he was able to walk backstage and locate the wheelchair-bound, neck brace-wearing Zack Ryder. Dragging him to the ring against his will, Kane drilled him with a Tombstone before Chokeslamming Cena. Kane definitely looked strong, but Cena looked surprisingly vulnerable ahead of his Mania clash with The Rock. And Ryder looked really weak. Normally, a story like this sets up Zack getting his revenge at a later date, even with some help from, say, Cena. But Ryder never did, with his push grounding to a halt, something that still bothers Ryder. And understandably so. Cena, though, would exact retribution on Kane one month later by defeating him in an Ambulance match at Elimination Chamber.

Brodus Clay vs. Drew McIntyre

Before our final non-Rumble match, we had a squash win for Brodus Clay. He returned on January 9 with a surprising makeover; the nasty monster was now the loveable Funkasaurus! And he, along with Naomi as the Cameron as the Funkadactyls, was over. The dancing big man was pretty popular with fans, partly because it came out of the blue. Mind you, his push didn’t last long, though fans still remember the character. Along the way, though, he picked up decisive wins over established talent, one of which occurred here at Royal Rumble 2012. Indeed, Clay made quick work of Drew McIntyre, pinning him with a big splash. Let me repeat that: Brodus Clay pinned Drew McIntyre convincingly in a brief amount of time. That 2012 result looks like madness in 2021. But that’s wrestling for you; anything can happen, and things can change drastically.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PREVIOUS PPV? READ OUR WWE TLC 2011 REVIEW!

WWE Championship Match
CM Punk (C) vs. Dolph Ziggler

Punk was two months into his historic 434-day WWE Title reign. Ziggler had gotten over big as a heel during the previous four or five months. So, on paper, this was a pretty big match. But it felt second-rate, partly because Punk’s real issue was with John Laurinaitis, the interim General Manager of Raw. Laurinaitis and Punk had been feuding for some time, with Big Johnny making himself a referee for this very match. And John even admitted that he planned to screw Punk out of the title. That was, until an order came through which said Laurinaitis would have a job evaluation on Raw the night after Royal Rumble courtesy of Triple H.

Therefore, Laurinaitis had to suddenly be on his best behaviour, or else risk his job. And if there’s one thing that a man like John Laurinaitis thrived on, it was a position of power. As a result, he made himself a referee outside the ring, which Michael Cole praised on commentary. Booker T and Jerry Lawler saw through the subterfuge and realised Johnny was simply trying to keep his job. Punk knew Laurinaitis was being a sneak too, but at least it increased his chances of successfully retaining the gold.

He and Ziggler clicked to have a very entertaining match, the best of the show by a mile. But it still felt like a B-show main event, as opposed to a WWE Title scrap worthy of Royal Rumble. Maybe it’s because few expected Punk to lose the gold so soon to WrestleMania. Or maybe Ziggler’s lack of size was noticeable here, minimising his threat level as the #1 contender. In any event, while credibility was an issue, the action itself definitely wasn’t. Punk would retain the WWE strap after a GTS which seemed to knock Ziggler out cold. Laurinaitis joined the referee in counting the three, imitating that he was doing the right thing. In reality, he was trying to save his job.

Funnily enough, the Punk vs. Laurinaitis rivalry would largely fizzle out after this. Instead of Big Johnny backing whomever Punk was going to face at WrestleMania, the story more or less disappeared. Not that Punk cared, because he would rule the WWE Championship for another full year. As for Laurinaitis, his job evaluation didn’t have a conclusion, as The Undertaker interrupted Triple H before he could presumably fire Johnny. Through a loophole, Laurinaitis would keep his job through to June. I kinda miss Laurinaitis because he was an easily detestable authority figure; hopefully we see him again on television in the future.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE FIRST EDITION? READ OUR WWF ROYAL RUMBLE 1988 REVIEW!

Royal Rumble Match

It was now time for the Royal Rumble 2012 match. Note that the previous Rumble bout had featured 40 participants, yet we were back to 30 for this one. But we would soon find out why. Also bear in mind WWE stating that, for the first time, “anyone in WWE” could enter. More on this later.

The Miz drew #1, and he cut a promo criticising those who felt he couldn’t go the distance. His old sidekick Alex Riley was #2, and the two had some decent exchanged before Miz sent Riley flying. Miz’s recent rival R-Truth came in at #3, and Miz was already realising the size of the task in front of him. It probably didn’t help Miz that he’d enraged enough people to probably make up a full Royal Rumble. Cody Rhodes arrived at #4, with Booker T tutting due to their recent on-screen rivalry. Justin Gabriel was the fifth participant while Primo was #6, and fans weren’t exactly ecstatic at this stage. To create some minor intrigue, Miz eliminated Truth, only to take a Lie Detector at ringside.

Mick Foley was out at #7, and fans did erupt for the Hardcore Legend. Foley had announced his participation in advance, but his cameo still elicited a huge reaction. As Jerry Lawler said, “this isn’t a cheap pop, it’s a pop!” Foley looked good too, striking those in the ring with speed. This was his first match in WWE since returning to the company following his TNA stint. We weren’t to know that this would also be his final in-ring performance due to injuries catching up with him.

After Foley eliminated Primo, we heard Alberto Del Rio’s music as #8 came out. But it wasn’t ADR returning from a recent groin injury; instead, it was his personal ring announcer Ricardo Rodriguez! Ricardo drove out in a banged-up motor, wearing attire that made him look like an Alberto knock-off. If anything, fans were happier to see Ricardo competing than they would have been for Del Rio. Rodriguez even helped Foley to eliminate Gabriel. Santino Marella as #9 then helped Foley to beat up Ricardo, which included a wedgie for poor Ricardo. After Marella tossed out Rodriguez to some light boos, we had the big showdown.

You see, the Royal Rumble has brought together perfect match-ups at times. Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior in 1990. Steve Austin vs. The Rock in 2001. The Undertaker vs. Goldberg at 2017. And here, it was Mick Foley vs. Santino Marella. Or, more accurately, Mr. Socko vs. The Cobra! After an interruption by Epico which led to Foley eliminating him, the two puppets collided, with fans fully invested. Oh, yes. But fun time was about to end, with Cody eliminating Santino and then Foley, unknowingly ending the latter’s in-ring career. Cole was deeply annoying here saying that Foley should return to the retirement home. Yes, Cole was a heel, but he would often border into nastiness rather than typical heel insults, which was frustrating to hear.

Kofi Kingston as #11 had an outside chance of clinching the Rumble, partly due to his past partnership with Punk. Then, we got a surprise, as Jerry Lawler was #12! To Cole’s disgust, The King vacated the announcer’s table to enter the ring, and he looked fairly impressive. But Cody would eliminate him, allowing Cole to breathe a sigh of relief. Lawler himself wouldn’t wrestle on a PPV again; it was September of that year when he suffered a heart attack during an episode of Raw after a match.

Ezekiel Jackson as #13 barely attracted any interest, while Jinder Mahal as #14 literally came out to silence. You could hear a pin drop when the future WWE Champion arrived, and not because the audience was captivated. The Great Khali returned as #15, and as Mahal’s on-screen cousin, the intrigue level slightly increased. Khali naturally eliminated Jinder, because why wouldn’t he? Hunico was another competitor who may as well have competed in an empty arena for the lack of reaction to his cool bicycle appearance.

Booker T was the second commentator to get involved at #17, and fans were more than happy to see T get involved. Then came the best part of the match; Miz tried to shove Kofi off the apron, to the point that he shoved Kingston into an upside-down position. But Kofi would have a surprise for us. He managed to handstand across the floor towards the steel stairs in a hugely impressive moment. Fans reacted accordingly; this was the first, and arguably the best, of Kofi’s amazing Rumble close calls.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE LATEST EDITION? READ OUR WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 2020 REVIEW!

Dolph Ziggler as #18 was slightly surprising given his earlier WWE Title shot, but it also meant he was unlikely to win. If he couldn’t beat Punk here, what were his chances of achieving that at WrestleMania? Very slim. Hacksaw Jim Duggan was another surprise as #19, with fans giving him a huge reaction. Even Cole sounded eager to see Hacksaw as the “Hoooooooo!” chants became deafening. Still, Cody also threw him out, with Rhodes taking care of almost every legend/returning performer. To that end, he and Dolph eliminated Booker. Khali went out simultaneously, with The Punjabi Nightmare almost crushing T’s legs as they fell out.

Michael Cole would have bragged, but he was busy. That’s because he was actually entrant number two, with fans booing as he entered his first Rumble match. Hence WWE saying that “anyone” could participate. Cole didn’t touch anyone, deliberately refraining from any physicality. To his horror, though, #21 was Kharma, competing in her only ever WWE match. She had debuted at Extreme Rules 2011, but she became pregnant before she could compete. Eight months on, here she was, though she would leave WWE a few months later for unknown reasons.

Anyway, Kharma threatened Cole enough that he climbed to the apron of his own accord, with Lawler and Booker teaming up to pull him out. Kharma also eliminated Hunico, only for Ziggler to hurl her out after taking an implant slam. We’d had plenty of surprises, but not many actual contenders. So, it was a relief when Sheamus arrived as #22, coming off months of momentum as a babyface on SmackDown. He also got a huge reaction, which proves that Sheamus really was over as a babyface back then. Mind you, his first elimination would be Kofi, which didn’t help his cause amongst those in St. Louis.

Our final big surprise for Royal Rumble 2012 would come with Road Dogg as #23. Few expected this, least of all The King who squeaked “WHAT?” as only he could. Dogg looked good too, with fans chanting “You’ve still got it!” Jey Uso arrived at #24 to actual silence. Jack Swagger was the 25th entrant, and as United States Champion, he at least had some credibility. Wade Barrett surprisingly received no response as #26, since he was one of SmackDown’s top heels back then. At least he got some boos when he dispatched of Road Dogg. Lawler: “Oh you didn’t know, it’s time to go”. Cole and T reacted like Lawler had told a joke worthy of a standing ovation.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE FOLLOWING PPV? READ OUR WWE ELIMINATION CHAMBER 2012 REVIEW!

David Otunga as the lucky #27 didn’t exactly set the house on fire. Randy Orton as #28 did; in his hometown, Orton earned arguably the biggest reaction of his entire career. He took control quickly by eliminating Jey and then Wade, with whom he was feuding at the time. Chris Jericho was #29, with Y2J having barely spoken since his return on January 2. Here, he promised “the end of the world”. While that didn’t happen, he did have a quick impact by dumping out Otunga.

Big Show was #30, which clearly disappointed fans expecting one final surprise to end the match with (Undertaker, perhaps?). At least they remained polite ahead of the ending, though. He did manage to eliminate Swagger without even entering the ring by dragging him off the apron. And when Jack argued the toss, Show cracked him with a WMD punch, which made me laugh. In the ring, Show double-clotheslined Cody and Miz to the floor, ending both men’s lengthy Rumble stints. Show also hurled out Dolph, so within seconds, we were down to four remaining combatants.

Orton would eliminate Show, only for Jericho to sneak up and eliminate The Viper in a big shock. I was convinced at the time that Orton would win the Rumble again in his hometown and face Bryan for the WHC at WrestleMania. Clearly, that now wouldn’t happen. Only Jericho and Sheamus remained, and we essentially got a mini singles match from there. They battled amongst themselves for over five minutes, with both surviving big moves as well as narrowly avoiding elimination.

Sheamus caught his arm in the top rope to hang on, while Jericho skinned the cat not once, but twice. On the second occasion, though, Sheamus responded with a Brogue Kick to knock him off the apron to the floor! Sheamus had won the Royal Rumble 2012 match, and he was on his way to WrestleMania XXVIII. There, he would infamously defeat Daniel Bryan in just 18 seconds to become the World Heavyweight Champion.

I like Sheamus, and as a fellow Liverpool fan, I was delighted that he won at the time. Plus, I wasn’t expecting him to triumph, making it a somewhat shocking ending. Nevertheless, in hindsight, I feel that Jericho probably should have won the Rumble. He was getting a title match at Mania anyway to face CM Punk. It could have added to Chris’ huge list of accolades. Sheamus could have still made it to Mania by winning an Elimination Chamber match. And had he taken a slightly more reserved route, his mega-push might not have deterred fans so much. Instead, his push was so strong that, by Mania, the audience were beginning to turn on him and favour Bryan. But maybe that might have happened anyway.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE FOLLOWING EDITION? READ OUR WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 2013 REVIEW!

The other issue with the Royal Rumble 2012 match is that, while entertaining, it exposed how starved WWE was for genuine superstars. Only Sheamus, Jericho and Orton had a realistic chance of winning. Show and Ziggler had already lost title shots earlier in the night, so they weren’t going to win the Rumble. Miz, Cody and Barrett were dark horses, but they still seemed like long shots beforehand. Kofi, Swagger, Truth and Riley were the only remaining mid-carders that were over. None of the surprise entrants (Khali, Kharma, the announcers, Duggan, Dogg, Ricardo and even Foley) were likely to triumph. And the rest of the field had no chance, with several performers literally receiving no crowd reaction whatsoever.

Normally, I’m up for Rumble surprises, and the more the merrier. But at Royal Rumble 2012 it would enter overkill, as almost a third of the entrants would be surprises. And while Duggan, Dogg and maybe Kharma were welcome, we didn’t need the three commentators or Ricardo. Sadly, it reflected how poor WWE’s roster was in 2011/2012. Who else could have participated that was available? We’ve covered Cena and Kane, while Ryder was selling storyline injuries. Brodus and McIntyre had their own matches, while Mark Henry was working through injuries.

Meanwhile, Alberto, Rey Mysterio, Evan Bourne and Sin Cara were legitimately injured. (So were Mason Ryan and Ted DiBiase, though neither would have won anyway). Tyson Kidd, William Regal, Jimmy Uso and other low-carders were on NXT: Redemption, which was a distant third brand at that point. Yoshi Tatsu and Heath Slater handled the dark match. And, erm, that was it. Nobody else working full-time for WWE at that stage is worth mentioning.

In other words, while it might have seemed like a weak Rumble field (and it was), without all the surprise entrants, it actually could have been even weaker. And if they couldn’t supply 30 particpants, then 40 was clearly out of the question. Had Cena participated (with a view to earning a title shot at Elimination Chamber so that he could defend the gold against Rock at Mania 28), it would have definitely helped, and Kane could have then participated too.

HHH and Undertaker could have potentially had a square-off during the match, but it might have only diluted their issue. So, I guess the prevailing message is this: yes, it was a poor Rumble, but it could have been far worse. And that speaks volumes, especially when you consider what a smash-hit WrestleMania would be. So, the top end of WWE was strong, but the rest of the roster was lacking in-depth to a concerning degree. Fortunately, things would improve before the end of the year thanks to The Shield debuting.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE FOLLOWING TV SHOWS? READ OUR POST-PPV REVIEWS OF RAW & SMACKDOWN!

So, it’s safe to say that WWE Royal Rumble 2012 was an underwhelming card due to a disappointing under-card and a Rumble match that satisfied few. It certainly had its moments, with Punk vs. Ziggler being good and the Rumble itself offering up some moments that you had to smile at. And who could forget Kofi Kingston’s handstand? But all things considered, Royal Rumble 2012 is definitely in the bottom third of Rumble events, and also Rumble matches, in the event’s illustrious history.

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