We open with Queen of Heat, Vickie Guerrero out who is so sincere in wishing us a Happy New Year to absolutely deafening boos. As expected, we don't have long until HHH wanders out, in what can only be described as an outfit to ask if he can be in the Royal Rumble. So, I guess this was the start of guys just declaring themselves, rather than having to work their way into it. Vickie declines so HHH makes a bunch of fat-shaming jokes, implies that he got turned on by Vickie's action figure and that he discovered nude photos of Vickie on "eBay". Yeah, I don't know either. Anyway, Vickie lets him in the Rumble and runs off to outbid "ChavoG2009" for the photos. Man, WHAT a fucking start. This sort of putrid, shitty HHH comedy was godawful at the time and a decade has not been kind to it. Lest we forget that corporate HHH, king of NXT, still finds punch-down humour to be the funniest thing in the world.
Great Khali and Finlay vs. Hawkins and Ryder
I guess Hawkins and Ryder are now without Edge's backing but man, here's a babyface team I didn't know existed but the tallest guy on the roster next to the smallest is WWE undercard to a T. This is right into Hornswoggle's period as an impossibly over act so the match is largely based around Finlay working spots to get him into the match and, as you'd expect, Finlay is absolutely fantastic at it. Khali knocks Hawkins and Ryder's heads together so Finlay distracts the ref to allow Swoggle to do it for a big pop. Just because it's a comedy match doesn't mean Finlay is going to stop being Finlay as he's still full of nasty touches like stomping on Hawkins' hands, lacing into uppercuts and just never giving guys any time to settle. Khali remains a training dummy on wheels as he exists for the heels to bump around big for him. For a match based around heels bumping for both a giant and a mini, the bumps were good and this was perfectly fine.
We cut to Edge and his outrageously bad acting as he literally rocks back in forth at anger and balls his fists up to convey rage at HHH. Just a stellar night for promo segments right now.
Jesse and Festus vs. Brian Kendrick and Ezekiel Jackson
Ah yeah, my man, Kendrick. He was just an absolutely fantastic asshole at this point and I was, for sure, certain that they were running the HBK/Diesel playbook with he and Zeke. Festus was a fun gimmick that I felt they did about all they could with. Once you've had the heels ring the bell to sedate him and kick the crap out of him or had him stay snapped for a heel turn, there's really nothing else to do. It's telling how much faster Gallows/Festus was here, even though Jesse is about as bland and uninteresting as you can get in-ring. What Festus needed was a better tag partner so they could come up with some more interesting offense. This match is, strangely, based around Festus being the FIP as he tweaks his knee which Kendrick goes after with nice kicks but it isn't given a chance to go anywhere before the hot tag. Zeke tags himself in and hits a Uranage for the finish but this was really far too short to matter much. It was obvious that Zeke was going to get the rocket strapped to him at some point but the act really needed Kendrick.
Vladimir Kozlov vs. Hurricane Helms
I guess this is post-main event Kozlov but they're still talking of him being undefeated and feuding with HHH so I dunno. Helms is "Hurricane Helms" which I have no memory of since I assumed that he returned as The Hurricane post-neck injury. Anyway, this is a minute of Kozlov grabbing a key lock, Helms rallying a comeback with a decent uppercut before Kozlov uses his head, literally, for another minute before locking in another key lock. Helms sells the headbutts to the chest in a great way, as it looks like they're sending shockwaves through his body but Kozlov was pretty terrible, especially as he struggled to fill a 3 minute squash match. As far as European terminators go, Tony Halme was a much better worker and they didn't persist with him half as long.
JR runs down the Smackdown Rumble participants which feels like a really low-effort version of the old Rumble promo montages. US Champion Shelton Benjamin interrupts with an...ok promo. The disembodied voice of The Undertaker interrupts him, lights go off and Taker appears to chokeslam him, putting himself in the Rumble. If there's a "lights off and then on" angle in the history of wrestling that hasn't gotten over, I haven't seen it.
Michelle McCool comes out to apologise to Maria or something? And holy shit, McCool is an awful promo. Eve comes out and the poor lamb, new to the world of professional wrestling, doesn't realise what's coming and who'd have thought it? McCool's apology to Maria and Eve was insincere and she's now a heel. To be fair to McCool, she does an awesome sneak attack, barrelling Eve into the barricade before fish hooking her mouth in a super nasty way. Mark your WWE bingo card down for "pulls at hair to signify anger" also.
The Vickie Guerrero nude picture saga has now stretched to three segments, involving HHH, Vickie, Edge, Big Show and now Chavo Guerrero. This is like the nWo angle of offensive WWE humour. Vickie finally gets some measure of revenge by announcing Triple Jeopardy for next week. Wow thanks, I get to watch HHH wrestle three times.
MVP vs. Kizarny
Ah yes, the losing streak that absolutely killed off MVPs chances at being a top guy. I'm not sure but that's probably the first instance of the modern era of them truly fucking up a guy who could have made them money. Great worker, great promo, great character and they truly ruined it. And now, the dude has to wrestle Kizarny who, I think, was a buddy of Edge? If so, here's another reason to hate what he has wrought upon wrestling. OK, maybe that's harsh since he has a distinctive look but his dives and splashes look super weak, his bumping is pretty anaemic and his selling during MVPs control segment is underwhelming to say the least. I feel that the best MVP matches always had him working over a body part but this has him utilising a lot of body scissors and bear hugs which really lead nowhere as Kizarny is up and hitting running dropkicks in no time before winning with a Double arm DDT. Not a great match and an even worse way to debut someone as a would-be face, considering there were pockets of chants for MVP and absolutely nothing for anything Kizarny did. The lowlight being him trying to start a clap during a bear hug and receiving nothing for his attempts. I guess they wanted to keep MVP looking halfway competitive but nothing Kizarny did looked impressive and he spent a large time of this selling. They should have gave him the Helms match and gave Kozlov to MVP. Not that it matters since even here, you can tell that Kizarny was DOA. They should have him had do carnival stunts in front of live crowds for weeks before getting him in the ring, really.
Mr Kennedy comes out with his terrible promos and his terrible facial hair and his terrible fashion sense and holy shit, they put him in a WWE film! Can we fast forward to the part where he fails to catch Randy Orton and they fire him?
The Hardys vs Edge and Big Show
Is Edge the worst top WWE guy ever? He's certainly in the mix as far as promos and character work go with his dumbass hair clutching and overacting and his weak, shitty offense in this match definitely adds to the cause. Matt Hardy's punches remain incredible, Jeff Hardy continues to throw himself into complete danger and this is Big Show at his slimmest, quickest and he was probably in his peak so Edge's shittiness stands out like a sore thumb. This is a WWE TV main event tag all ends up and everyone works it well, to be fair. We have a double FIP segment, Big Show hits great power spots and The Hardys get to show all of their great southern wrestling knowledge as Matt sells and cuts himself off like a pro. Show is fantastic; they're really selling his right hand as death and Matt is just collapsing after every chop. Show is just in fantastic shape, hitting suplexes and elbow drops and cutting an awesome pace for a guy his size and Big Show/Jeff Hardy feels like a real missed opportunity as a PPV main event. Jeff is an awesome apron worker, running up and down to get people into it and, while no part of this match raises above "good", all four guys know how to work this to perfection and the crowd ends up super into it for the ending stretch. Show ends up deserting Edge, which leaves him at the mercy of the Hardys and they get to run through their spots for the win.
This was a decent enough show but WWE shows around the Royal Rumble tend to focus entirely on the Rumble match with feuds specifically designed to build to spots in the Rumble itself. Jeff Hardy was almost next-level over at this point so the tag is worth a watch for his popularity alone but this was pure Rumble build with a feel-good finish.