365 match reviews, one for each date on the yearly calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.
The Royal Rumble match is a spectacle that wrestling fans anticipate every January. The event itself has produced some gems on the undercard in recent years. This entry spotlights one of those standouts, from the 2007 Rumble: John Cena vs. Umaga in a Last Man Standing Match.
You can watch this match on Peacock. Just go to the 1:04 mark of the video.
This is Cena’s third, and longest, reign with the WWE Title. Umaga has been built as a juggernaut since returning to WWE in April of 2006. He went undefeated for about nine months, a streak that ended earlier in January when he challenged Cena for the title and lost on a roll-up after dominating the match. After that outcome, heel authority figure Jonathan Coachman (and hasn’t that become an overdone storyline trope in wrestling?) made this rematch.
Cena might be the box-office draw but the star of the match is Umaga. The anything-goes format provides a fine showcase for his athleticism, size and overall fearsome presence. He’s also a credible threat here after several months of steady build as a force. Would this match have so much sizzle if Umaga had been trading wins and losses, instead? Definitely not.
Umaga is such a force here. The tale here is less a battle of two competitors, but one between man and monster. Cena takes a beating throughout and when he does rally, it usually ends with him getting clobbered by the Samoan Bulldozer. Overwhelmed by his foe, Cena has to escalate the violence beyond the normal standards of a wrestling match to even faze the challenger. As a result, Umaga takes some insane bumps down the stretch: getting the ringside steps thrown into his face, and having one of the commentary monitors smashed into his head while Umaga’s head hangs, seemingly lifeless against the ringpost. And yet, like the killer in a slasher movie, Umaga rises again and again.
As the violence builds, Cena pays the consequence and bleeds profusely. In fact this stands out as the last memorable use of blood in WWE until the promotion makes its PG pivot. To this day, WWE continues to avoid blood as a storytelling device, while chastising would-be competitors for it.
One moment in this match sticks with me, which I can describe best as a stunt. With this being the era of three brands of main WWE TV (ECW being the third), there are three commentary tables at ringside. Umaga stacks Cena on the ECW table, climbs on the far edge of the far table (where Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler are calling the match) and gets a running start. He leaps off the middle table for a splash that Cena avoids, and the table does not so much break but explode under Umaga’s mass. The challenger barely beats the 10 count in a delightfully close and completely believable false finish.
We reach the climax when Umaga’s manager, Armando Alejandro Estrada, literally dismantles the ring and removes the top rope and one of the turnbuckles. Umaga wields the turnbuckle for a version of his Samoan Spike, but Cena turns the weapon on the wielder and uses the top rope to throttle the challenger into unconsciousness. The fact it takes two separate stranglings to finish the job only underscores the unstoppable atmosphere of Umaga.
Speaking of the commentators, Ross is in his prime here and I can’t think of anyone better to provide the soundtrack for this match, in this era. His “Oh Jiminy God!” when Cena smashes a monitor into Umaga’s head, is a genuine reaction and his line that “even monsters have to breathe” at the finish provides logic and justification for Cena’s brutal tactics.
Final Rating: 9.2
This is one of the best WWE matches of the decade, and maybe the best modern example of the last man standing stipulation. It’s also a perfect example of Cena as the never-surrender fan favorite, and who was, at his peak, the closest approximation to Hulkamania that WWE has produced. It’s also the peak moment in WWE for Umaga, whose fantastic second run with the company as a singles competitor is somewhat overshadowed by its brevity. Consider that, 2 1/2 years after this match, Umaga was released by WWE after two violations of the company wellness policy. He sadly died a few months later, at just 36 years old, of a heart attack brought on by acute toxicity from taking several painkillers.
Other pro wrestlers usually point to the Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit match from the 2003 Rumble as the best non-Rumble match ever. If Angle-Benoit is the wrestling equivalent of a symphony, this is the equivalent of a blockbuster action movie. Is one better than the other? That’s really in the eye of the beholder, as the two products are so different that it’s difficult to compare them outside of the shared setting of a WWE ring.
We head to 1999 and a packed high-school gym in the Carolinas to see one of the most beloved tag teams in wrestling… as heels?
What’s your favorite non-Rumble match from Royal Rumble pay-per-views? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.