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Royal Rumble 2011/State of the WWE... plus: Rules Refresher for the Rumble Game!
January 29, 2011

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OOWrestling.com


I know it's been a while (unless you've been reading all the crap I post on the Forums, on the grounds that I still have plenty of sizzling wrestling insight, but there's just hardly ever any real important news/developments outside of PPVs that make it seem worth firing up a full column, so I just post it all, piece-meal, on the Forums). For that, I apologize.

But here we are, well into the New Year, and that can mean only one thing: the Royal Rumble. Which, in turn, means we're on the Road to WrestleMania. I might as well step it up and put as many of my scintilating nuggets of wisdom in one place as I can. Especially since I won't be doing that tomorrow night (Pyro has generously offered to handle the PPV Recap), so I better do this ahead of time.
Plus, you fine folks need to be reminded how to play The OO Royal Rumble Game (now over 10 years old, and a full blown international sensation played by OO Readers as far away as Australia). I've had to make a few VERY minor changes in order to maintain competitive balance now that WWE went and screwed with tradition by expanding the field. But I assure you I resisted the urge, and kept the game incredibly simple. Those rules will be the last thing I throw in at the bottom of the page.
But this? This is not the bottom of the page. But you already knew that. So let's delve into The Rick's Royal Rumble Preview (likely to include a few digressions about The State of the WWE), right here at the top...



With the elimination of the "New Year's Revolution" PPV, WWE is now back to doing business the way it was meant to be done: kicking off the new year with the Royal Rumble.
As WWE's single biggest match of the year (in terms of duration and manpower), it kicks off the year with a bang, and also signals the beginning of the Road to WrestleMania. This year's Rumble may be bucking tradition by expanding the field to 40 men, but the traditional prize of the Rumble remains the same: the winner gets to wrestle for the championship of his choice in a main event match at WrestleMania.
WM is two and a half months away, meaning that this is an all too rare case where WWE plants seeds for a match WELL ahead of time, instead of just coming out on RAW the night after a PPV and plucking some new WWE Title feud out of their ass. The fact that we, the fans, know one of WM's headline matches will begin to take shape at the Rumble also means we've already spent a few weeks predicting, wishing, fantasy booking, and prognosticating about how the Big Picture will shape up... in essence, we've extended "WrestleMania Season" by 2-3 weeks for WWE by getting pre-excited about things before they actually happen.
And this year, WWE has paid us back for our loyalty and attentiveness.... even a cynic as mighty as me has to admit that there's been a different vibe to WWE TV so far in 2011. It kicked off with "Free Per View Week," which was the height of stunt booking; it was also a pretty entertaining week.
But then, just as I tried to get all pissy that it was back to "business as usual" after that one week burst of excitement, WWE surprised me... with little more than sporadic-but-well-used crossovers between shows, WWE heads into the Royal Rumble PPV on a strong 2 week (4 episode) streak of TV.
By having the right guys appearing on both shows, they've not only been able to bolster specific (major) storylines, but the shows -- especially RAW -- have taken on an entirely different feel from WWE's same-old/same-old due to the need to find room for extra guys visiting from the other brand. I usually use the word "density" in regards to Randy Orton's phenomenal stupidity, but in this case, "density" has a POSITIVE connotation when I use it to describe the past few week's worth of pacing/format on WWE shows.
There has been a decided reduction in fluff ("moments ago" segments are reduced, and there are fewer instances of 2 minutes worth of content being milked into 5 minutes of FF'able crap), and an attention to detail where every segment that takes place actually feels like it's furthering an issue. Whether it's something the creative team is doing on purpose, or just an accidental by-product of the cross-overs, the result is the same: a greater and greater percentage of the shows seem like they MATTER.
That's something WWE has had major problems with for over half a decade... periods where nothing that happens this week makes you particular care about what happens next week, because the show can't even make you care about what's coming up after this week's next commercial break. But when you make it worth our while as fans to pay attention to Segment A, we'll be naturally more amenable to giving you the benefit of the doubt about the upcoming Segment B (even if Segment B isn't exactly our personal bread and butter). Contrast that with Standard WWE Practices of the recent past where Segment A features something that has absolutely nothing to do with anything wrestling fans care about -- say, for instance, Toby Keith drunkenly promoting his shitty new record -- and which pre-taints Segment B before it happens (even if it's a segment wrestling fans might actually care about).
In short, it's seemed like WWE's 2011 New Year's Resolution was to Make Every Segment Count. And I've appreciated it so far; it's been a pace/format that is very much in keeping with my  notion of what makes for "Sustainable Episodic TV," as well as illustrating my principle of "stickiness." Good deal.
The one area where a quick-thinking reader might take issue with me is the fact that the past few weeks have featured a lot of crossovers, and that is "against the rules" normally, so it's not SUSTAINABLE Episodic TV if you have to rely on such stunts.... and if you were thinking that, kudos to you, since you have a point.
I'd simply counter by saying The Road To WrestleMania means a few rule changes. For this stretch of the year, WWE shouldn't care as much about enforcing Brand Separation as they should care about entertaining the hell out of the fans leading up to the biggest show of the year. Ergo: crossovers are legal, and can be a part of "Sustainable Episodic TV."
This also ties into something I wrote about years ago, and which WWE STILL hasn't fully capitalized on, if you ask me: the notion that if WrestleMania is the "Super Bowl" of wrestling, then the Road to WrestleMania should be treated as the Playoffs. If WWE could embrace that mindset and execute it properly, I think the fans would lap it up.
The key, of course, is to do it in a way that doesn't diminish the Regular Season, otherwise, you end up like the NBA, where they play 82 games of unwatchable, defense-free, lazy garbage, and then 80% of the teams make the playoffs, and finally start playing hard.
A better example would be baseball, where the regular season ABSOUTELY matters, as 162 games decide division champions, and there's only 1 extra team per league who gets to sneak in as a wild card. Then, because the regular season matters, the game is still the same in the playoffs, it's just that the sucky teams are gone, and only the good ones are left playing (and even the good teams will cut loose some chaff, by doing things like eliminating their worst starting pitcher to go with a 4-man rotation). And in the end, the final match-up is between two teams who cannot play each other in the regular season, because they are in different leagues. OK, USUALLY can't plant each other; fie on you, Interleague Play.
Put that in wrestling teams: the April-December "regular season" matters because it features 60-ish wrestlers (both brands, combined) trying to establish or maintain their "playoff worthiness" by wrestling upwards of 50 matches.... but once the Rumble is over, the focus needs to shift on the handful of guys (and girls) who will fill up no more than 20 or so spots on a typical WM card. The matches on the Road to WM are the same types of things seen in the regular season, it's just now, the sucky wrestlers are gone, and there is a 0% chance of accidentally seeing Chris F. Masters on SmackDown. And of course, you can end up with rivalries heading into WM that feature match-ups not usually possible, because the two guys are on different brands... and yes, WWE has regular season "interleague play" from time to time, but it's usuall more of an exhibition of brand vs. brand (like the MLB All Star Game), whereas at WM, it more personal, and it's man vs. man in a unique match-up.
Add it all up, and the Road To WrestleMania could significantly ramp-up weekly intensity if you pair up the "Every segment matters" philosophy with a Playoff Atmosphere... it'd be do or die as you winnow the field down from 60 to 20, and even among the lucky 20, the jockeying for position would take on added significance as you lead up to the World Series/Super Bowl/March Madness/Whatever that is WrestleMania.
But I digress. That's starting to address what I'd like to see develop after the Rumble, seeing as how there seems to be a nice foundation built by WWE leading into the Rumble. Perhaps it is time to quit rambling on about the lead-up and the afterwards, and just focus on the Rumble itself.
As it stands, it's a four-match card. Due to the 40-man field, it very well might need to stay that way, unless you want to introduce the concept of some wrestlers from the undercard pulling double-duty in the Rumble (there is past precedent for this). Assuming WWE doesn't do anything retarded, like cut the Rumble interval down to less than 90 seconds, the Rumble match itself is also good for a guaranteed 60+ minutes, too.
Anyways, here's the card, and a few of my thoughts on each match....
40-Man Royal Rumble Match
Yep, 30 wasn't NEARLY enough, so WWE had to expand it to 40. Supposedly, this was a "Vince Idea" because of uncertainty over how much drawing power the two title matches would have, so they tossed around a few ideas for sprucing up the Rumble, and this is the result. FWIW: I'm not a huge fan of the expansion, but nor do I hate it THAT much. It's kinda crappy that the one spectacle in wrestling where we could embrace our Inner Stat Dork is going to be tainted -- we all know Kane has the most eliminations in a single Rumble, and HBK the most in a Rumble career, but now guys will have 10 more possible eliminees in each year, and maybe 100 more chances in a career; boo -- but I can cope.
As mentioned above, it's the interval between entries that I care about the most; screw with that, and you screw with the very thing that makes the Rumble work... shorten it to 1 minute or less, and you lose the ability to create the cool discrete "phases" or "set pieces" that are integral to the Royal Rumble booker's tool box. Instead, you get a glorified battle royale, which isn't nearly as fun. So far, WWE's said nothing about the interval, which probably means they want to maintain flexibility depending on the precise timing of the show on Sunday; unless they're running REALLY late, I would really hope they go with announced 90 second intervals, and just quietly shave off a few seconds here and there. We'll see.
Before discussing the 40-man Rumble in any more detail, it is necessary to name the 40 men who'll be involved.
Except: we don't know how they are. WWE has only announced 34 names as of Saturday afternoon. Here they are, broken down by "Credibility Tier."
Tier 1: John Cena
Tier 2: Alberto del Rio, Big Show, CM Punk, Kane, Rey Mysterio, Sheamus
Tier 3: Daniel Bryan, Drew McIntyre, Jack Swagger, John Morrison, Kofi Kingston, Santino Marella, Vlad Kozlov, Wade Barrett
Tier 4: Chris Masters, Darren Young, David Hart Smith, David Otunga, Ezekiel Jackson, Heath Slater, Husky Harris, JTG, Justin Gabriel, Mark Henry, Mason Ryan, Michael McGillicutty, Primo, R Truth, Ted DiBiase, Tyson Kidd, William Regal, Yoshi Tatsu
In creating the "credibility tiers," my thinking was that John Cena is the franchise of WWE, and is going to be headlining WrestleMania (probably against Miz). He doesn't need to win the Rumble for that to happen, but with the SD Title picture less defined in terms of a major WM match we can already see brewing, Cena's just a hands-down favorite.
Tier 2 includes everybody else who has bona fide PPV main event experience. It also has del Rio because, as mentioned above, he'll be headlining PPVs in 2011, and will be on a Sheamus-like career trajectory by summer. Bottom line: if Cena doesn't win, these are the only other men with even the slimmest chance of winning the Rumble. 
Tier 3 are the guys who have credibility with the fans, and who will generate solid reactions both for their entries and their exits. And in between, their actions in the Rumble will have gravitas, as fans will humor them by pretending like they can win.
Tier 4 are nothing but cannon fodder. Fans may or may not care when the buzzer hits and they enter, but they certainly won't care when they exit, because their exits are foregone conclusions. Of that group, the only thing that might pop the crowd would be a Nexus/Corre showdown of some kind. Zeke Jackson might spark a bit of interest if they decide to give him "The Diesel" this year, but that's about all I got.
My guess: of the announced list of entrants, the winner will be Cena, del Rio, or Punk. If WWE wants Cena/Miz for the RAW Title, Cena could win; if WWE wants Cena/Punk for the RAW Title at WM (which *I* would love to see, but I understand it has far less mainstream appeal than a match involving Mr. TMZ, Miz), Punk could win; and if the Rumble winner is going to challenge for the SD Title, then I really see del Rio as the only option, as he scores the upset, and continues to garnet mega-heat as he seeks to fulfill his destiny.
Which leads us to UNannounced entrants... the only potential unannounced entrant who I'd put on the "possible winner" list would be Triple H, and even then, it'd be logical if his first storyline back was with Sheamus (and not involving the WWE Title). I'd say it's probable HHH makes his surprise return tomorrow night, but merely possible that he wins the thing.
The other entrants to fill up the field should be less notable. For instance: Cody Rhodes' promo on SD indicates he's too hideous to let his face be seen, so he's out of the Rumble... but what if a masked/disguised Rhodes entered, keeping his face hidden? Personally, I'd get a smile if Cody used this as an excuse to eschew metrosexuality and embrace freakishness by "borrowing" his brother's Goldust character. Or maybe: Jerry Lawler, who has only main evented RAW about 7 times already this year. Another fer instance: Trent Baretta did some very nice work the past few weeks with McIntyre, and he's not listed. Surely, if Primo has a spot, room can be made for Trent. A fourth fer instance: Alex Riley might have some fight left in him after being Miz's valet. A fifth: Micheal Tarver's been hanging out an awful lot for a guy who got fired. A sixth: Hornswoggle (just to piss us all off). More: Chavo, Tyler Reks, and the Usos.
So you could fill up the 6 spots just with jobbers not listed. Or you could also toss in a random "crowd pleaser" surprise, like RVD or Roddy Piper in recent years (if you really like ruining things, I know there are two "surprise" names in this vein that are being widely talked about; I think doing so would be SPOILERS, but if you look, I'm sure you can find a site that'll tell you the two names)... like HHH, Evan Bourne is pretty much ready to return from injury, so he might be a mini-surprise if they want to waste it by having him job in the Rumble instead of making a bigger impact by returning on RAW (where he can do something substantial in his surprise return, instead of just getting chucked over the top rope)... I don't think there are any other injured guys ready to return (Taker's supposed trying hard just to make it back for WM, and Christian is now looking to miss Mania with his injury)... only other twist I can think of is if the loser in one of the title matches is so upset by the loss that he demands to enter the Rumble to earn another shot (this would work best for Orton, I think)... a final Rick-tastic Left Field Guess: Beth Phoenix, because she eliminated Khali last year, so that alone should make her eligible for a return trip, and she's not doing anything else on the card...
[TANGENT: not appearing as a suprise entrant: the [redacted] Khali. He was expected back soon, since his TV show in India ended... but then he and his bodyguard went and got in a legal mess, what with Khali's bodyguard beating up kids and shooting people during a public appearance by Khali. Whoops.]
So: boil it all down, take the listed 34 entrants, and my batch of a dozen or so potential unlisted entrants, and it still comes down to Cena, Punk, or del Rio, if you ask me. I'd rather it not be Cena, simply because he can punch his own ticket to WM in other ways, but would be fine with either of the other two. And I think both would go over well with the audience (del Rio has his ring announcer who could help him win dirty, and Punk with Nexus is full of potential for fun stuff, like Punk getting eliminated and stealing spots from his underlings to re-enter).
The Miz vs. Randy Orton (RAW/WWE Title)
Miz beat Orton for the title last November. Then Orton got his contractually obligated rematch in December in a Tables Match; Miz beat him that night. In fact, Miz beat him twice that night, because the ref decided to implement instant replay and caught Miz's hijinx, and forced him to win clean a second time.
So why are they fighting again? Because WWE hates me, and wants to make me suffer through as many Orton title matches as possible. Dammit: why couldn't we have had another Miz/Morrison go here, and hide Orton in the Rumble (where he'd have lent more star power to a field that gets mighty thin mighty fast after Cena)?
Actually, Orton's here because he won a randomly generated #1 Contender Match over Barrett and Sheamus. Since then, he's been brutalized by Miz in a few attacks (but made up for it by beating up Dolph Ziggler), as Miz tries to convince a dubious fan base that he can and will beat Orton to retain his title. He's got me convinced: he's a heat magnet who's getting better each week. Giving the title back to Orton really *is* what most fans expect (remember: we live in a world where Angry Demon Girl represents most fans, and she no believey that Miz is a legit champ!), so he gains nothing by doing what everybody assumes he can do.... and Miz loses everything he's worked so hard to acheive.
I say Miz has got to win (by nefarious enough means that Orton saves some face), and then it's on to John Cena.... meantime, buzz is WWE likes Orton/Punk as a WM feud, and I damn sure want it to NOT be a title feud, even if it WOULD open up the chance for Punk to win the Rumble match.
Edge vs. Dolph Ziggler (SD/World Title)
WWE didn't trust Morrison for a PPV title match against Miz, but they did trust in Dolph Ziggler? Baffling. Nothing against the dude, but by and large he's still the huge wad of Upside he was 2 years ago, just with Vickie Guerrero added to the mix so that people absolutely boo like crazy in his general direction.
Like Orton, Ziggler won a randomly generated 3-way #1 Contender match to earn this shot, and since, has mostly been Randy Orton's bitch in the cross-brandy goodness. But even if he's seeming like a less-than-credible contender, he's got Vickie, who is also now the Acting General Manager of SmackDown (after a conveniently mysterious sneak attack left Teddy Long hospitalized). Which means Vickie can tip things in Dolph's favor.
In fact, she already has: Edge's Spear is now banned. If he uses it, he won't just be disqualified, but the title will belong to Dolph Ziggler. Can Edge score a successful title defense without his trademark finisher? My guess is yes. Ziggler really just is not ready yet, and I've already picked one underdog heel to come out of the Rumble with a world title via nefarious means... so having Ziggler replicate Miz's antics would be a misstep in that case. So I vote Edge wins, and I'm fine with del Rio as his WM challenger.
Natalya Neidhart vs. Michelle McCool/Layla (Handicap Match for the Women's Title)
This sorta came out of left field back on Monday, which makes my Spidey Sense tingle... LayCool seemed to be plenty busy with Beth Phoenix over on SD, while Melina turned heel for the express purpose of feuding with Nattie on RAW.
Then, all of a sudden, Nattie squashes Melina in the "blow off" to their "feud" and LayCool shows up, uninvited, to demand a rematch for "their" title. Also: they called Nattie fat. Boo.
Such a sudden shift makes me think WWE had planned one thing, but now has a different idea. Given recent contractual dealings, my only guess is that the different idea must involve the recently-signed Awesome Kong (late of TNA fame, where she lost her job for beating up Hulk Hogan's buddy, Bubba the Sperm Receptacle, and for generally not getting along with Hogan/Bischoff management).
Kong as a heel, aiding LayCool, would work, as it would only underscore LayCool hypocrisy and shallowness; Kong as a face coming to aid Nattie from a 2-on-1 attack would work too, for obvious reasons related to LayCool's shallowness. Being fat is OK is you help LayCool, but maybe Fattie McFatfat doesn't want to be hired muscle for shallow bitches? We shall see if any of that pans out...
And with that, we've reached the end of my Rumble preview... four matches, not really enough warm bodies to contemplate adding more matches (without having guys pull double duty), but still plenty of potential for fun times. There might be a few surprises here and there, you can kill time with promos/skits even if you can't book any other matches (or use the Virtual GM to alter/re-do/screw with existing matches; CompuGM already tried to give away the #40 spot in the Rumble once, maybe it could try again?), and most of all: it's the Royal freakin' Rumble, the mostest funnest hour of the wrestling year.
Pyro will have the full recap of the show on Sunday night (look for it before midnight), so come on back, cuz OO's got the Rumble covered for you.... and now, we finish with the game that makes the mostest funnest hour of the wrestling year EVEN MORE FUN:

It all started with our crew somewhere towards the beginning of the Attitude Era. And after a few years of keeping it a private matter among friends, I shared the rules with the world, and our Rumble Game has become a mild international phenomenon.

C'mon, admit it: NOTHING is more fun that playing The Game so that you actually have a reason to cheer/boo/care-about EVERY SINGLE ENTRY into the Rumble. You can mock your friends when they draw Husky Harris! And you'll have no choice but to grab the nearest damn bottle and give yourself Instant Liver Damage when you draw Chris F. Masters! 

No more sitting around, only perking up when somebody like Big Show or John Cena enters the match. Those jokers get enough of the attention as it is. Playing the Rumble Game spreads the excitement out over the entire hour. Nothing says "Sunday Night Funhouse" like caring So Damned Much that you actually jump around like a monkey, cheering on some worthless choade like Zack Ryder, in the hopes that he goes nuts and pulls a Diesel '94 out of his ass, somehow! Trust me, just play it: you'll have fun.

Long time readers should be relatively well-aware of the Royal Rumble Game and its rules. They should pay attention, however, as there have been mild changes this year to account for the expansion to a 40-man field. For the edification of the initiated and the uninitiated alike, here's how it goes: 

(1) Count how many people are in your group
(2) Rummage around and come up with pieces/scraps of paper equal in number to the number of folks in your group
(3) Put a number on each piece of paper (starting with 1, and proceeding up until you hit the number of people in your group). EXAMPLE: if you have 5 people, you should have 5 pieces of paper, number 1 through 5.
(4) Put the pieces of paper in a hat (or baggie or box or whatever; though a University of Dayton baseball-style cap IS the traditionally appropriate vessel), and shake/jiggle/mix adequately
(5) Each person draws his/her number out of the hat-like object; your will be assigned wrestlers, in a rotating fashion, based on this number. For instance, if you draw #3 in a five-person game, you will get entries 3, 8, 13, 18, 23, 28, 33, and 38. If you are #1 in a three person game, you get 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28, 31, 34, 37, and 40. You get the idea, right? 
(6) Sit on the edge of your seat and start murmuring every time one of your wrestlers is about to enter; hope for the best, but prepare for Hornswoggle! React accordingly, and preferably profanely
(7) You accumulate points thusly: 

- one point (1) for every solo elimination made by your wrestlers... 
- one-half point (0.5) for every tandem/group elimination aided by your wrestlers (yes, if eight men team up to get Kane, they each get 0.5 points, even though that adds up to 4.0 points instead of 1.0; this is a game, people, not quantum mechanics!).... 
- FOUR points (4) for each wrestler you have that makes it to the Final Five of the Rumble (yes, final FIVE; the final FOUR are usually all bigger stars, but this opens things up for one last surprise guy to net you a bonus, plus it helps level the point distribution between "elim points" and "survival points")...
- an additional EIGHT points (8) if your wrestler is the runner-up.... 
- TWELVE big points (12) if your wrestler is the winner of the Rumble. 

NOTE: the bolded parts represent rule changes for 2011. With the available elimination points increasing by 33%, it is only fair to increase the number of endurance/survival points accordingly. With these new figures, there will be 40 points awarded for eliminations, and 40 points awarded for lasting long enough to play a vital role in the dramatic Rumble End Game. If WWE returns to a 30 man field, we will return to our old points system, but till then, this strikes me as a very fair way to deal with WWE's move.
If the scoring seems overly-simple, take my word for it: it's time tested. For one, true fans will be drinking their faces off for the annual spectacle that is the Rumble, so simple math is the best math. For two, it's actually quite an elegant set-up, with around 40 points determined by eliminations and spread out evenly, but 40 bonus points "back-loaded" and concentrated into the Final Five. This invariably means that several people will be vying for the point lead during End Game, which makes it all the more exciting.

Oh, and for the sake of full disclosure: the game is fair and "even" with 4, 5, 8, or 10 players (or with 2 or with 20, but I don't see many folks throwing a 2-person party or squeezing 20 people onto a couch)... meaning that everybody gets the same number of wrestlers with those numbers of players. In cases of uneven games where some players will get one less wrestler than others, it is permissible to give the handicapped players a "head start." We've settled on giving the handicapped player(s) 2 points to make up for being one wrestler short. Feel free to do the same, should the situation arise in your unique gaming situation.

Also, the most recent rule amendment we've made was this: it is now legal for a player with an "extra" wrestler in an Unfair Game to TRADE his last wrestler (ONLY his last wrestler, since then he's taking a huge risk of it being a Final Five Wrestler, and really has to ponder whether it's worth it or not) to one of the handicapped players in exchange for the guaranteed 2 points, if he can find a willing partner.
According to our rules, this transaction must be agreed upon before the Rumble Match starts, though you're certainly free to tweak that particular regulation if you think it'd be fun to have heated in-match negotiations as two guys are keeping track of what wrestlers are still "on the board" (basically, the Rumble Game equivalent of Card Counting in blackjack).

It is completely appropriate to append a Cash Prize to the game, as well. You can have each player post an entry fee deemed appropriate (with "winner-take-all" being the payout format), but we've also done it where the winner simply has his share of the PPV price tag (and perhaps the accompanying food delivery from a local sub shop) waived, and it's absorbed by the others for a less-intense and more-friendly game. Your choice.
So there you have it, your rules for the Royal Rumble Game, and another year of my hearty encouragement that you play along at home with your friends. You'll have nothing short of a blast, you have my word on it!

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RAW RECAP: Maybe Cena DOES Suck?
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SMACKDOWN RECAP: Back with a Bang
RAW RECAP: Yes! Yes! Yes!
PPV RECAP: WWE WrestleMania 28



Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.



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