In 2010, my tag team partner Jimmy Korderas and I made the (questionable) decision to watch every single WrestleMania event leading up to WrestleMania 27. We made a podcast for every edition of the “Grand Daddy of them all” and posted them on our #AftermathRadio page, and called them our WrestleMania LookBacks.
Fast forward a few months and we decided to do it again (much to the chagrin of Jimmy’s wife and my dating life), this time with all of the Royal Rumble events. This time we called them our Aftermath #RumbleLookBacks.
While watching them I started to realize a few things, so I decided to write them down in a list. Here are ten things I learned from watching every Royal Rumble event in the span of less than a month:
1.) SHAWN MICHAELS IS ALSO “MR. ROYAL RUMBLE”
There is no denying that Shawn Michaels is “Mr. WrestleMania”, but there is a strong case to be made that he is also “Mr. Royal Rumble” based on his year-to-year performances, particularly in the second half of his career. Let’s have a look:
1991 – The Rockers vs. the Orient Express (see item No. 6 in this article)
1993 – Retained Intercontinental championship against Marty Jannetty in a fast-paced match
1994 – Was last one eliminated from Rumble match after lasting just under 30 mins before Lex Luger/Bret Hart simultaneous elimination
1995 – Put on (in my opinion) the best single performance in any Royal Rumble match, winning the Rumble match from the No. 1 position.
1996 – Repeated as Royal Rumble winner
1997 – In his hometown, HBK regained the WWE championship, pinning Sycho Sid (note – despite a good match, Shawn, who had the flu, did not smile once in this entire matchup, except when he wagged his butt in Vince McMahon’s face after winning)
1998 – Injured his back in a WWE title casket match with the Undertaker and toughed it out in a good match
2003 – Chris Jericho tried to mimic HBK’s Rumble success (particularly his “rope dangle” in 1995), eliminating HBK early.
2004 – Triple H and HBK fought to a draw in their classic Last Man Standing match for the World Heavyweight Championship
2005 – Another HBK opening-match gem, Edge defeats Michaels in a superb affair
2007 – The Undertaker and HBK save a lackluster Rumble, putting on a “mini-match” that lasts over 10 minutes, with 'Taker throwing Michaels over the top rope
2008 – HBK and Taker start this Rumble after ending the last Rumble and bear most of the action throughout, with Michaels lasting more than 30 minutes
2009 – HBK, broke, accompanied JBL to the ring for his match against John Cena. All eyes were on what Michaels would do – throughout the match we see the rare appearance of Michaels' “stone” face, similar to when he super-kicked Hulk Hogan to jump start their rivalry in advance of Summerslam 2005
2010 – Incredible emotion as HBK gets eliminated after 20 minutes ... needing this Rumble win to face the Undertaker at WrestleMania
Sure, HBK has had some lackluster moments at the Rumble as well (for example, lasting only 12 seconds in the 1990 Royal Rumble and wearing perhaps the worst button shirt ever seen at a Rumble event in 2002), but the memories he has left behind at this event will certainly last. HBK holds numerous Rumble records, including being a two-time winner (also back to back), and might unofficially hold the record for the fastest elimination of another superstar upon entering a Rumble match (eliminating Carlito in 2010). If you look back at only certain Rumble memories, I would suggest those of HBK from this list.
2.) THE 2011 EVENT MAY BE THE MOST COMPLETE AND ENTERTAINING RUMBLE IN HISTORY
This might be an unpopular decision simply because of history buffs that hold fond memories of past Rumbles (1992 in particular, and yes, I loved that Rumble also). But when you watch them back to back in a short period of time, you realize that many Rumble matches seemed to blend together. Ric Flair’s victory in 1992 was significant because it was the first time the Royal Rumble match had a significant consequence and also because it was the first time that all eyes were on one superstar to win (also Bobby Heenan’s best call ever on color commentary). In terms of a complete Rumble match, where there were very few lulls in action, a strong start (CM Punk vs Daniel Bryan), middle (The New Nexus dominates and Hornswoggle’s antics) and ending (Santino’s surprise), some creative eliminations (Rey Mysterio with a 619 onto Swagger, who’s on the apron), elimination dodges (Morrison’s parkour), as well as surprise returns (Diesel, Booker T), this Rumble truly had it all. In fact, it might have been doomed to fail because of the 10 additional participants, but by the end you barely notice because it was so entertaining. Another big reason was because of the amount of potential winners – like several past Rumble matches, all eyes were not on one superstar to win it all (Flair in 1992, Rock in 2000, Austin in 1998/1999).
3.) THE ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH DIDN’T MATTER MUCH FROM 1988-1991 (ESPECIALLY 1988)
Honestly. The Rumble match itself was an afterthought in these years. In fact, in 1988 the Rumble match was the second-last match on the card, and the main event was ... wait for it ... The Islanders vs. The Young Stallions in a 2-out-of-3 falls match. This match was so important, that after the first fall, the match was paused so that Mean Gene could interview Ted DiBiase in front of the live crowd (you can even see Haku and Tama pacing back and forth in the ring as this is happening). In the event recap done by Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura, the Rumble match winner (Jim Duggan) isn’t mentioned once, focusing rather on Dino Bravo unofficially breaking the world bench press record and the “Main Event” contract signing between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant.
Looking at the next three years, Big John Studd’s career didn’t benefit greatly from his 1989 Royal Rumble victory, and Hulk Hogan was already champion when he won the 1990 and 1991 Rumbles, so it was more of an afterthought in his illustrious career. As mentioned before, it wasn’t until 1992 that the Rumble match began to have a meaning, and that’s when it became prestigious.
4.) 2003: THE WORST TITLE MATCH IN HISTORY? (TRIPLE H VS. SCOTT STEINER)
When I sat to watch the 2003 Royal Rumble I had completely forgotten the championship match between Triple H and Scott Steiner for the World Heavyweight championship. After enduring the 20-minute affair, I remembered why. Even Triple H, one of the best performers of all time, couldn't salvage this match. The crowd, so bored midway through the match (particularly as Steiner repeatedly suplexed Triple H), started to boo the supposed hero in this match loudly. As much as you’d want to watch Triple H’s other great performances at the Rumble against the likes of Cactus Jack in 2000 and HBK in 2004, skip this one ... unless you enjoy something so bad you can’t turn away from it, like car wrecks and The Jersey Shore.
5.) THE MAN WHO BENEFITTED FROM A ROYAL RUMBLE VICTORY THE MOST
Yokozuna emerged in the WWF in late 1992, and prior to the Rumble he was steamrolling through the likes of Virgil (at the 1992 Survivor Series). Impressive in stature and in agility for such a large man, he dominated the 1993 Royal Rumble and won convincingly. It might have been his performance combined with the fact that this was the first Rumble where the winner would receive a WWE title shot at WrestleMania, but Yokozuna was instantly elevated to a main-event-caliber superstar without too much thought of him in that conversation prior to this (perhaps because there wasn’t much time to even begin the conversation based on the timing of his debut).
6.) THE ORIENT EXPRESS ARE ONE HALF OF MY FAVORITE NON-RUMBLE MATCH OF ALL TIME
There are many other matches that could be considered in the conversation for your favorite non-Rumble match in Royal Rumble event history – HBK vs. Edge (2006), HBK vs. Triple H (2004), Dudleys vs. Edge and Christian (2001), Triple vs. Cactus Jack (2000), Ric Flair vs. Vince McMahon (2002), John Cena vs. Umaga (2007), Bret Hart vs. Razor Ramon (1993), Mankind vs. The Rock (1999) – but for me, my absolute favorite non-Rumble match is the Rockers vs. the Orient Express opening the Royal Rumble in 1991. This was a master class of tag team competition, with both teams moving so gracefully in the ring. Talk about chemistry in the ring, these two had “it.” It’s an often underappreciated position to be in the opening match of an event – in this position you set the tone for the remainder of the event. But The Rockers and Orient Express certainly did that.
7.) I MISS THE PRE-RUMBLE 30-SECOND VIGNETTES FROM MOST OF THE PARTICIPANTS
I hope WWE.com does a “Bring It Back” article with this as the topic: 30-second hits back to back with many participants in the Rumble, some screaming, others whispering, some bouncing side to side, others standing like statues, some raising good points, others making no sense at all. All of them saying they will “throw 29 other superstars over the top rope” (note – one superstar eliminating every competitor).
8.) YOU DON’T HAVE TO WIN THE RUMBLE TO HAVE YOUR STOCK ELEVATED FROM THE RUMBLE MATCH
Perhaps one off the best aspects of the Royal Rumble match itself is that it’s so unique and garners so much attention that sub-stories in the traditionally long matchup also gets special attention. This lends itself to subplots being almost equally as important as a victory itself.
In 1994, Diesel emerged as an absolute killer, eliminating seven from the match. He was the first to be in the ring alone in dominant fashion, waiting for another competitor to enter the Rumble. You can directly trace the genesis of his ascension in singles competition to this moment.
A year earlier in 1993, 43-year-old former WWE champion Bob Backlund lasted over an hour, eventually being eliminated by the winner, Yokozuna. Backlund would compete at WrestleMania that year and more than a year later win the WWE championship at the 1994 Survivor Series.
Unexpected eliminations are also memorable moments that can elevate a superstar’s (or diva’s) stock. Perhaps the most shocking and lopsided elimination of all time happened in 2002, when Maven drop-kicked the Undertaker out of the Royal Rumble. The reaction was priceless, and it gave instant credibility to the Tough Enough winner (the elimination was so famous that a year later, Maven would drop-kick 'Taker again in the Rumble, this time unsuccessfully). Other shocking eliminations included Beth Phoenix “kissing” the Great Khali over the ropes in 2010, HBK eliminating 1,000 pounds at once by disposing of Yokozuna and Vader in 1996, R Truth matching that effort in 2010 eliminating Big Show and Mark Henry at the same time, and Yokozuna pressing Randy Savage over the top rope from a pinfall position to win the 1993 Royal Rumble.
9.) THE ROYAL RUMBLE HAS HAD PHASES OF “INTERNATIONAL FLAVOR”
They may not have been the best Rumble years, but 1996 and 1997 saw some “international flavor” to the Royal Rumble match. This was the era of “athletes from around the world want to enter the Rumble and win the event”. In 1996, the likes of Takao Omori, The Samoan Swat Team, Doug Gilbert and Dory Funk Jr. (the latter two not WWE Superstars at the time) entered the Rumble, while 1997 saw a core group of Luchadors, including every match on the “Free for All” prior to the event and a six-man tag team matchup before the Rumble match itself, which saw Mil Mascaras (who eliminated himself), Pierroth, Cibernetico and Latin Lover enter the match.
10.) THE ROYAL RUMBLE HAD ONE OF THE MOST AWKWARD EXCHANGES IN HISTORY
Royal Rumble 2005:
Gene Snitsky: “I like you, John.....”
John Heidenreich: “I like you, too, Gene....”
This ranked up there with Mae Young giving birth to a hand.