"Red Herring (noun):
Something intended to divert attention from the real problem or matter at hand; a misleading clue." —Dictionary.com
"Winning the Royal Rumble is my destiny." —Alberto Del Rio
With the 2011 Royal Rumble firmly on the horizon and a much-anticipated 40-man battle royal afoot, fans and reporters alike continue to speculate on just who will win the match and earn themselves an automatic bid to the main event of WrestleMania XVII. Likewise, fans are just as pensive and quick to lambaste WWE Creative for their unimaginative and plodding booking of one of the biggest matches of the year.
Amidst the chaos that is sure to ensue from a 40-man free-for-all, few contenders have emerged as potential champions of the future. While one would be drawn to the logical conclusion that John Cena is at the top of the list, there is actually one man who has been booked for the past 30 days as the most rational pick to win the big one.
From January 3rd, when he made a surprise appearance on RAW, to each and every big show thereafter, Alberto Del Rio has been creatively booked as the man most likely to dominate the Royal Rumble match. Seriously. Can you name even one other superstar who has talked in such detail about the Rumble this year as Del Rio? No, and therein lies the plague that will soon take this promising star.
If you're hopeful that Del Rio's prophecy is a self-fulfilling one, then you should recognize the history of Rumble booking and see that despite all his bravado and style, he's little more than smoke and mirrors. Del Rio has been set up for the majority of the month as the WWE's biggest diversion headed into the Royal Rumble match.
While we should believe and may choose to embrace the idea that this guy could actually lunge into the stratosphere with a win, he's realistically further off than nearly a dozen of his fellow combatants. In definition alone and by visions of the past, Del Rio is an out and out red herring for WWE Creative to fillet while we remain surprised by the true Rumble contenders.
Throughout time (and particularly the last decade), the WWE has become notorious for giving us a red herring to believe in headed into the Royal Rumble match. Somebody who seems like the unquestionable winner regardless of any other rumblings or rumors. A quick history lesson on this subject is needed for further review.
The first known example of the Royal Rumble red herring was in 1992, as the match took some shape and meaning for the long haul. With the WWF Championship on the line, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Hulk Hogan would capture his third Royal Rumble and become the top guy once again. Nobody suspected that newcomer and NWA/WCW defector Ric Flair, entering third in the match, would ever be that close.
But sure enough, Hogan was ousted from the contest by the treacherous Sid Justice, a move that was not only surprising because it meant Hogan wasn't winning, but also because Hogan didn't even make it to the final two. Flair's win sent shock waves through the wrestling world because of the setup and execution, factors aided almost entirely by Hogan as the distraction.
In 1995, Lex Luger was once again thrust into the spotlight with his "this is my last chance ever at the title" routine. It was basically the same song and dance Luger had sported in the two years previous, but this time you'd believe it since his contract was coming up and the WWF wanted to give him a major extension. In a time where transparency was becoming chic for professional wrestling, Luger winning the Rumble seemed to be the right choice.
So never mind the fact that perennial mid-carder Shawn Michaels entered No. 1 and went coast to coast in just over half an hour, dethroning Luger and others en route to stardom. Nearly all the gas and burned out of the Lex Express when he was double-teamed and eliminated by Michaels and Crush. Final Four rather than victory? Sounds like the perfect setup.
The 1997 Royal Rumble was to be Bret Hart's shot at redemption for months of frustration with rival Stone Cold Steve Austin and a brewing battle with the fans. Instead, as most fans will remember, Austin stole the show with a pillar-to-post performance that ended in his theft of the Rumble from the overwhelming favorite Hart.
By 1999, it would be Vince McMahon stealing the Rumble for himself in the most unlikely (and, in hindsight, worst) finish of the battle royal. Despite the fact that the entire match had been booked around Austin and McMahon, there was little doubt that Austin would again triumph. There was even less hope that McMahon would conceivably award himself such an accomplishment.
In the weeks and minutes leading up to the 2006 Royal Rumble match, one would believe that only Triple H or Randy Orton stood a chance at taking glory in this rigorous affair. Perhaps that is why the two biggest pops of the night came when Rey Mysterio used his speed and coordination to eliminate both men and steal his only Rumble victory. Mysterio was a feel-good candidate for victory made better by the realization fans had when Triple H was seen eliminated and, therefore, not winning.
Triple H became so good at playing the red herring that he did it twice more, in 2008 and 2009. Both runs came complete with the booking end of things dictating he would have to earn the win and that he was more than capable of doing so. Despite this, Trips fell victim to the surprise return of John Cena and the venomous trio of Legacy, led by Randy Orton, in consecutive outings.
If anything, Triple H may well have his name thrown into the red herring hat as a surprise entry this year.
The last diversion tactic of WWE Creative came in 2010, when we were all led to, in some way, believe that Shawn Michaels was destined for his third Rumble crown and another shot at the Undertaker. But had we taken that logical step backwards and viewed the bigger picture, we would have seen that Michaels couldn't just fight Taker for the belt and that more pieces of the puzzle had to fall in place.
And so, in the most predictable "surprise" of any Royal Rumble in recent memory, Edge made his return and won the contest instead. Still, the odds on favorite was HBK, and he couldn't live up to the hype.
To think that Alberto Del Rio is on par with these guys may seem a stretch, but it really isn't. In a Rumble match guarded closely by green talents and quantity over quality, Del Rio has been the complete standout from the booking end of things. It isn't too hard to fathom him winning the match, especially with the recent rumors that he may well be on a collision course for Edge and the World Heavyweight Title.
But the reality is that Del Rio simply isn't going to be put over in that fashion. Not with Rey Mysterio still in the mix and guys like Nexus, Corre and the aforementioned John Cena wrecking up the place. And certainly not with some of the ridiculous things he's had to do on WWE NXT.
We've been misled before, and we'll likely be misled again. But at least we can be ready for it by removing the rose-tinted glasses and having the opacity for such ventures.