Dan Wahlers talks Rumble, making new stars and booking

My Thoughts on The Number 40, New Stars, and the Poor Booking of Sheamus
Plus:  A Preview of Next Week's "Royal Rumble Week"
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Happy 2011 everyone!  It's been a little while since my last column, so I hope everyone had a nice Christmas, a Happy New Year, and so on and so forth.  2011 marks the 9th year that I've been writing for the Wrestling Observer family of sites.  Time flies when you're having a good time, as they say.  And I'm just getting warmed up.
I want to thank all of the loyal readers that have been following my work over the years, especially those of you that have been with me since the beginning.  I'm extremely appreciative and grateful for your continued support over all these years.  Although, I didn't write nearly as much in 2010 as I did in the previous years, I still plan on contributing to the site from time to time.  Basically, whenever a show or a topic comes up that motivates me to put the time and effort into doing one of these things.
January is certainly one of those times, because everyone knows what January in wrestling means.  It's Royal Rumble time once again, and the beginning of the road to Atlanta, and Wrestlemania 27 on April 3, 2011.  It's the most exciting time in wrestling every year.  It also means the return of what has become a yearly tradition for me, and that's my history of the Royal Rumble series.  That's right, hide the women and children, it's back!
If you're not familiar with it, it's something I started in 2004, where I walked through the highlights, lowlights, statistics, and memorable moments of every Royal Rumble show.  It was very well received, and it's something that I bring back every year around this time, with an updated write up on the previous year's PPV to make the series current.  Of all the columns I've done over the years, this is by far the one I get asked the most about, and that's why I keep bringing it back year after year.  
It's for the people that enjoy taking the journey through the Royal Rumble's illustrious history every year, or perhaps maybe you'll be reading it for the first time.  If you're one of those people that get tired of me posting the same thing every year, I certainly understand where you're coming from, and as with anything else on this site, you are free to make the choice whether you want to click on that link or not.
This Sunday, look for Part 1 of the History of Royal Rumble series, which covers 1988-1993.  And then Parts 2-4 will appear on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday respectively.  Finally, on Thursday will be my preview and predictions column for this year's Royal Rumble PPV.  So check back for all that stuff over the next week, as we kickoff Royal Rumble week in style here on Wrestling Observer/Figure 4 Online.
One of the biggest stories this week was the news on Monday that the Royal Rumble Match would be expanding to 40 guys this year, as opposed to the usual 30.  There seems to be a lot of negativity out there to this change.  My reaction is does it really matter?  If ten more guys can get a PPV pay day that wouldn't normally otherwise get one, I say good for them.  The more, the merrier, as far as I'm concerned.  I don't believe it will change the match to any noticeable degree.  
Things will be pretty much the same as they are every year.  There will be 90 seconds in between entrants at the beginning of the match, and as the match goes on, and they start having timing issues as they inevitably do every year, they will start shaving the time off in between entrants to a minute and 20 seconds, a minute and 10 seconds, or even 60 seconds in some cases.  This will be nothing new.  It happens every year.  Go back and pick any Royal Rumble match from any year, and you'll find this to be the case.
I don't really get all the hand wringing that a lot of people are doing over ten more guys being added to the Royal Rumble.  Now, if WWE had decided to have a 50 man or 60 man Royal Rumble, then I could understand it.  But we're talking ten guys here, and the majority of the extra guys will be people like Zack Ryder, Primo Colon, Tyler Reks, and lower card guys of that ilk, who everyone knows will be there to be cannon fodder for the big stars when it's abandon ship time.  These are guys that don't get booked on many PPV's, and they don't make a ton of money in their position, so I'm not going to be begrudge them the extra PPV pay off that they'll be getting in their paycheck.
And who knows, with ten extra spots this year, maybe we'll have a couple unannounced surprise entrants like we've had numerous times over the years.  Those are always fun.  I'd be shocked if Triple H weren't one of the surprises, so he can come out, get the big pop, Pedigree everyone in the ring, and toss out about 12 guys.  You also might get a couple guys in for one night returns, like Rob Van Dam did in 2009, Dick Murdoch in 1995, Jimmy Snuka and Roddy Piper in 2008, and right on down the list.  
I definitely understand the “if it's not broke, don't fix it” mindset about changing this match, but in this case, I really don't think it's a big deal.  And hey, 40 guys gives me one more chance to win money at The 2011 Goodz Royal Rumble Extravaganza that my good friend Josh is hosting this year, and I will be attending for the first time.  So I have a financial stake in this, as well!
WWE has been doing a very good job lately of incorporating some new talent into the mix of top stars, and I think you'll all join me in saying, it's about time!  The Miz is WWE Champion, and while booking-wise, his title reign has been a mixed bag thus far, he's doing a great job and really starting to grow into the role.  A clean, convincing win over Randy Orton at the Royal Rumble would go a long way towards giving him the credibility that he's working hard to achieve right now.
He's doing all he can do, but he can only get so far if the booking behind him isn't strong.  They can't afford for Miz to become the Jack Swagger of 2011.  Swagger's title reign last year was booked so atrociously that he's back in the midcard on Smackdown, feuding with Kofi Kingston for the I-C Title.  Kofi being another guy, by the way, who at one time appeared ticketed for main event superstardom.  That's why it's encouraging to see these new guys getting pushed, but as anyone that has watched wrestling for any length of time knows, it's all in the follow up.  
And that's the area where WWE has consistently dropped the ball when attempting to get new stars over.  They can't afford to play games anymore.  You have a guy like Dolph Ziggler, who will be getting his first ever World Heavyweight Championship match against Edge on the undercard of next week's Royal Rumble.  The company has shown a lot of faith in him lately, after he proved he could hang with the big boys, in two matches with John Cena on Raw and Smackdown several weeks ago.  
Ziggler has been one of the most consistently good workers in WWE over the last year, and he's someone that worked his way up the ladder in the company the hard way.  Everyone remember The Spirit Squad?  So it's nice to see him being given a chance to show what he can do in a bigger role, and the fact that he has that nuclear heat magnet Vickie Guerrero with him certainly doesn't hurt.  The title match with Edge will be a huge opportunity for Dolph to show the decision makers in the company that he's worthy of being in this spot.  Needless to say, all eyes will be on him, watching him like a hawk, waiting for him to screw up and give them a reason to bust him back down to the midcard.
You also have guys like Alberto Del Rio and Wade Barrett being positioned as wrestlers to watch in 2011.  Del Rio has all the tools to be a huge star, and he's just coming off a great feud with Rey Mysterio.  The company sent a strong message when he was the one they picked to go out and interrupt Shawn Michaels and his return to Raw last week.  I knew someone was going to come out and interrupt HBK, it was only a matter of who it would be.  
And by the way, all the people that are saying it's too soon for Michaels to go into the Hall of Fame need to stop.  When would be the right time for you, when he's 55 years old, and he's even balder than he is now?  It's a Hall of Fame not chosen by merit, but based on who is on good terms with Vince McMahon that particular year.  So let's not get all sanctimonious, and pretend like it really matters when someone is or isn't inducted into a fictional Hall of Fame.  
It's a nice honor for the wrestlers, I'm sure, and it makes for a touching moment on Wrestlemania weekend.  But let's not make it out to be something it's not.  It makes sense to strike while the iron is hot, and while the retirement of HBK is still fresh in people's minds.
Now, even though Alberto Del Rio ended up on his back after a stiff Superkick to the jaw, the fact that he was chosen to get the exposure and the rub of doing a segment with Shawn Michaels, in his big return to Raw after 9 months away, tells you that the company has major plans for him.  He just needs to prove that he can have good matches with guys other than Rey Mysterio, and he will undoubtedly get the chance in 2011.
Wade Barrett was kicked out of Nexus in storyline, and made the move to Smackdown, which is obviously a step down from where Barrett had been on Raw.  But in his first two weeks on the show, it's clear that the company still has big plans for Barrett.  Justin Gabriel and Heath Slater joined him from Nexus, along with new member Ezekiel Jackson to form a new group called “The Core”, and they got off to a roaring start by taking out Big Show on last week's Smackdown, and World Champion Edge on this week's show.  Barrett will certainly be in the title mix on Smackdown for as long as he's on the show.  
He showed week in and week out on Raw last year that he's a superstar.  He's great on the mic, he looks and acts like a star, and he's got a cocky charisma about him.  The only weakness I see, is he's still lacking somewhat in the ring.  But he will get better with time, and the chance to work with different opponents, which he will certainly get to do among names like The Undertaker, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Big Show, Kofi Kingston, Christian, and so forth, on Smackdown.
While WWE has been doing a great job with the guys I just mentioned, there is one guy that they have been, pardon the pun, royally fucking up over the last month, and that's Sheamus.  He was one of the hottest heels in wrestling last year.  He feuded with John Cena, he was the guy responsible for taking out Triple H in storyline, he main evented several PPV's, and won the WWE Title twice.  But since winning the King of the Ring on Raw at the end of November, every week I've been asking the same question, what the hell are they doing with Sheamus?
He went from being a guy that talked tough and then backed it up in the ring, to looking like a cartoon character from Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, with that robe he wears that looks like a blanket off someone's bed, to the Burger King crown on his head, and that stick he carries around with him that looks like a shower curtain rod.  Yeah, yeah, I know it's a shillelagh, I'm Irish too, but you don't see me walking into the grocery store carrying one.  
Sheamus got over last year because they pushed him hard, and he lived up to that push by delivering in the ring, on the mic, and in the way he acted and carried himself.  A new main event star was created.  Their first one in a number of years.  That's why it's so perplexing to see the way they've been booking him over the last month, especially when he's supposedly getting ready to feud with Triple H upon his return.  This is not the way you get a heel ready to feud with one of your top stars, making his long awaited return after 9 months away.
I totally understand they wanted to use him to help get John Morrison over, and give him some credibility.  That's textbook wrestling booking, you use an established star to get a lesser guy over, and naturally because of that Sheamus would do some jobs for Morrison, which he did.  And in Morrison's case, it's been working out pretty well.  He had an awesome title match with Miz on Raw a couple weeks back, which opened a lot of people's eyes.  He lost that match, and then the following week, they wanted to give him a maintenance win so that he wouldn't lose any momentum, which makes sense.  
But why did Sheamus have to be the one to be fed to Morrison again?  Sheamus had already done several jobs for Morrison in a couple week period.  They could have fed any number of other guys to Morrison in that scenario, and would have accomplished the exact same thing, without taking more of the steam out of Sheamus.  When they wanted to give Randy Orton a maintenance win on Raw, who did they feed to him?  Sheamus.  
This past Monday on Raw, when they wanted Mark Henry, of all people, to be left standing tall at the end of that little mini Battle Royal/Rumble Rumble preview segment they did, who did they have Henry throw out of the ring?  Sheamus.  They're booking Sheamus like a midcard job guy, and they have him wearing a ridiculous costume, looking like some buffoon you might see handing out pamphlets at a Renaissance Fair somewhere.  It makes me wonder if Sheamus did something to piss the wrong people off, or do they actually think that he's a bulletproof character, and they can do whatever they want to him, and he'll be fine.
If that's what they think, they're wrong.  It takes years and years to build up the kind of credit with the fans that will allow a guy to be booked like a goof, and still stay over no matter what.  Shawn Michaels has been a perfect example of that over the years, Chris Jericho is another one, Ric Flair, you get the point.  They spent so much time and effort building Sheamus up last year, and working to get him established, and get him credibility with the fans, and it worked.  
That's why I don't understand in the slightest what they're doing with him right now.  I think it was Jim Cornette that said if you book anybody like a job guy long enough, sooner or later, the fans will see that person as a job guy.  And then it can impossible to get that “job guy stench” off a guy.  Ask Carlito, ask Shelton Benjamin, ask MVP, ask Kaval, sorry I can call him Low Ki again, ask any number of guys.  
They can't afford for Sheamus to end up in that category.  They have too much time and money invested in him.  Obviously, nobody is going to win every match.  But when you have the likes of Mark Henry, someone that Sheamus squashed several times on Raw in 2010, by the way, throwing him out of the ring like a nobody, in a segment designed to get people over as threats to win the Royal Rumble, there is something seriously wrong with that booking.
That's going to do it for me today.  Thanks for taking the time.  A reminder to check back on Sunday for Part 1 of my four part series on the history of the Royal Rumble.  We're going all the way back to 1988 and the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario, so dress warmly!
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