I have a confession to make. I love the Royal Rumble match. I have loved it since the first time I saw Hacksaw Jim Duggan win a 20 man Royal Rumble match in 1988. Since then the match became a 30 man (sometimes women too) match with a 40 man edition in 2011 as well.
I think the concept of the Rumble match is brilliant. Two people start the match, then every 90 seconds (sometimes less than that and sometimes more than that) somebody else runs into the ring until all thirty guys have entered. To eliminate somebody from the match they have to go over the top rope to the floor with BOTH feet touching the floor. As WWE likes to inform us all the time, there are no friends in the Royal Rumble. Only foes.
In addition to the match itself, what has made the Rumble special is that for every Rumble match since 1993 the winner of the match has gone on to receive a WWE or World Title match at WrestleMania with a few exceptions we won't get into here. That raises the stakes of the Rumble match so that it's more than just a regular match and adds to its appeal.
The unquestioned number one WWE pay-per-view is WrestleMania and over the years the Royal Rumble has proven to be the second biggest event. While there are many great individual matches at the Rumble that stand out as special to me, what I'm here to do today is provide you with my ten favorite memories from Royal Rumble matches.
It was hard to narrow it down to just ten memories, but I'm happy with what I ended up with and I hope you enjoy reading this list as we reminisce about some classic moments that have happened during Royal Rumble matches over the years.
Note: I tried to find videos of everything on the list. Some are the actual moment. Some are just highlights.
10. Kofi Kingston does a handstand on the floor during the 2012 Rumble
This moment won a "coveted" Slammy Award recently because of how special it was. The Miz tried to eliminating Kingston, so he knocked him out to the floor and Kingston landed on his hands. Miz shoved Kingston's feet to get his entire body out of the ring, but instead of his feet touching the floor Kingston ended up using his hands to "walk" over to the steel steps. He was allowed to stay in the match because his feet didn't touch the floor.
That's one of those special instances where a guy is simply an athletic freak that did something you wouldn't expect. The crowd reacted to it in a major way because in the 25 year history of the Royal Rumble it's not something we would expect to see.
In addition to the Kingston spot, a special shoutout to John Morrison from the 2011 Rumble when he avoided elimination by placing his feet against the security wall, walking across it and then jumping onto the steps to get himself back into the match.
9. Shawn Michaels wins the 1995 Rumble as the #1 entrant
It wasn't a great Rumble match because the WWE roster at the time wasn't the WWE at its best, but Michaels going from the first entrant to the winner of the match was a big deal. Michaels was a cocky heel who wasn't a full time main eventer at this point in his career although after he won this match that's what he became.
I'll never forget the finish where he dangled his feet outside the ring, teasing the elimination by having only one foot touch the floor and then going back into the ring to eliminate an unsuspecting British Bulldog. It was a classic finish to a Rumble match that could never have the same impact if it happened again.
8. Rey Mysterio wins the 2006 Rumble by lasting 62 minutes
This match happened a few months after the death of Eddie Guerrero, who was a popular WWE performer and a close friend of Rey Mysterio. Right or wrong, WWE pushed the idea that Mysterio was competing in the match for his deceased friend. The 5'6" 175 pounder entered the match as the #2 entrant and was able to outlast everybody including favorites like Triple H and Randy Orton in the final three.
They really told a good story by setting it up with Rey as the underdog against two dominant heels, yet he overcame the odds to get the win. It's hard to get people to believe in the underdog that well, but they did a pretty good job of it partly because Mysterio is such an awesome performer. I think it would have been silly for him to eliminate ten guys or some outrageously high number. Eliminating six men was fine because it was spread out over the course of the match. He didn't dominate. He just did enough to win.
7. Kane dominates the 2001 Rumble with 11 eliminations
The way that Kane dominated the match as a monster was phenomenal. Even though he finished as the runner up in the match to Steve Austin, he was the biggest star in this Rumble. During this Rumble he eliminated 11 guys in 53 minutes of action. Plus there was even a comedy spot in there with Drew Carey as a celebrity entrant who was scared of facing off with the Big Red Monster.
This was one of the better Rumble matches because not only was there a lot of star power, but they spiced things up a bit by bringing in weapons as well. When Steve Austin entered he was already bloody because of an attack in the aisle by Triple H to keep their feud going. Then you had the story of Austin scoring the victory by eliminating Kane at the end, which meant that much more because of how dominant Kane was for nearly an hour. Add in the fact that it took three chair shots to eliminate Kane and I'd say there's no question that this was one of the best performances in Kane's career.
6. The finishing sequence in 2007 as Undertaker battles against Shawn Michaels
Due to the brand extension, Undertaker and Michaels didn't cross paths very often in the 2000s. Undertaker was a Smackdown guy while Michaels was a Raw guy. Michaels entered the match, in his hometown of San Antonio, as the 23rd entrant while Undertaker was the 30th man in the match. The two legends worked together to dispatch the Rated RKO duo of Edge & Randy Orton. Both guys were out on the mat. Then Undertaker sat up and Michaels did a kip up. Signature moves of both guys. The crowd ate it up. Magic.
Their one on one showdown lasted about eight minutes, which is the longest of any final showdown in Rumble history. Either guy could have taken it. Even though the fans wanted Michaels to win it in his hometown it's not like they made a bad choice in giving it to Undertaker as he became the first man to win the Rumble in the #30 spot. It was an awesome story told by two of the greatest WWE superstars of all time. I'll never forget how excited I was to see it live and how well it holds up six years later.
What would happen two years after this? They would have a match at WrestleMania 25 that is considered by many to be the best match in WWE history, myself included.
5. John Cena returns from injury unannounced to win the 2008 Rumble
John Cena tore his pectoral muscle during a match against Ken Kennedy on October 1, 2007. It's an injury that keeps most people out of action for about seven months. Not Cena. He returned in just under four months on January 27, 2008 at Madison Square Garden as the 30th man in the Royal Rumble. I can still remember the face that Triple H made as Cena's music hit. He sold it perfectly. It represented the same shocked expression that everybody watching the show also felt.
The return was shocking because most people expected it to be closer to WrestleMania than the actual Rumble match. I think the moment was made even more special because it was in MSG. It's funny because the MSG crowd has been one of the most vocal in terms of booing Cena, yet during that night they cheered Cena as if he was the biggest star in the world. I think it was a respect thing. We knew how serious the injury was, yet here was this guy coming back three months early and looking like he hadn't been out at all. Cena eliminated Triple H to win the match and I think he earned the respect of everybody watching, even his most vocal haters.
4. Kurt Angle goes after Shawn Michaels to set up a dream match during the 2005 Rumble
I'm a big fan of using the Rumble match as a way to set up a match at WrestleMania. They've done it a lot of times in the past, but this was one of the better instances of it. Angle was a Smackdown guy after the 2002 brand extension while Michaels was a Raw guy, so there wasn't much interaction between them. To most fans they were arguably the best in-ring performers in the company and they were my favorite performers in WWE at the time.
During the Rumble match, Michaels eliminated Angle with a superkick. Angle, a heel, wasn't too happy about that so he went back in the ring to eliminate Michaels from the match. It didn't stop there. Angle attacked Michaels outside the ring and applied his Ankle Lock submission move in the aisle. It was a really hot angle that had a lot of people talking when that Rumble match was over. (They were also talking about Vince McMahon's torn quad too!)
The result of this Royal Rumble moment was one of the best matches in WWE history as Kurt Angle faced Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 21 in one of the true "dream" matches that were possible at that time. Without the Rumble match the build to that matchup wouldn't have been as good.
3. The Steve Austin/Bret Hart story that carried the 1997 Rumble
This is my favorite feud in WWE history. Whether it's the best in the opinions of others is up for them to decide, but for me it's at the top. I think if you truly studied it from how it began to the high points of the rivalry it's as good of a story that WWE has ever told. The only problem is we never got a real ending since Bret Hart left the company before we could see Austin get his big win over his rival.
The story of the 1997 Rumble was simple early on. Austin was cleaning house by eliminating everybody from the match. Remember when he was sitting on the top rope looking at his wrist as if it was a watch? Classic. Then the buzzer for the #21 entrant sounded and it was Bret Hart. I'll never forget Austin's "oh crap" face as he reacted to it in an over the top manner. The brawl was on. The crowd was hyped for it. When they started brawling that was the kind of moment we watch wrestling for.
Austin ended up winning the match with a tainted finish because when Hart eliminated him the refs were on the other side of the ring dealing with a Mankind/Terry Funk brawl. That storyline was a key factor in turning Austin into one of the biggest heroes in history while Hart turned into a villain. It was another example of using the Rumble match to advance a storyline in a major way. Austin would be the focus of other Rumble matches, but this one was a star making performance from him.
2. The rookie Maven eliminates The Undertaker during the 2002 Rumble
When WWE got into the reality television game in 2001, their show Tough Enough drew a lot of attention. There was a female winner named Nidia and a male winner named Maven. After winning the show, Maven went on to train in WWE's developmental system at the time and he was slowly brought up to the main roster. During the 2002 Royal Rumble he made the biggest splash of his career.
The Undertaker was in the "Big Evil" phase of his career as a biker who was not a happy man. He was dominating the Rumble match when Maven's music hit. Undertaker laughed at the rookie and quickly booted him to the mat. Moments earlier Undertaker had eliminated Matt & Jeff Hardy, but they weren't done with him. Undertaker had to get rid of them for a second time and he told them to leave. As he was doing that, Maven recovered, hit a dropkick to the back of Undertaker and the "Dead Man" went over the top to the floor. The crowd cheered wildly. Maven celebrated as if he won the Super Bowl. It was a huge deal.
Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross captured the moment perfectly on the broadcast: "MY GOD MY GOD I DON'T BELIEVE IT!" He called it the biggest shocker in the history of the Rumble. It was. How did Undertaker react? With a shocked look on his face. Undertaker assaulted Maven after the elimination by using his fists, chairs and they ended up in the concession stands while "Big Evil" lived up to his name by bringing the pain to the rookie.
Even though Triple H went on to win an exciting Rumble match, trust me when I tell you that when it was over most people were still talking about the "dropkick heard round the world" when Maven eliminated Undertaker.
1. Ric Flair wins the 1992 Rumble to become the WWE Champion
The 1992 Rumble match was unique because it was the first (and only) time that the WWE Championship would be awarded to the winner. Due to a number of controversial finishes to end 1991 the title was held up and all 30 men in the match were essentially number one contenders. I was 11 years old when I first watched this match and I had no idea who was going to win. I figured it was probably going to be Hogan because quite frankly Hogan won everything in those years, so what else is new? I was never a huge Hogan fan, though. I liked the villains way more. Cue Ric Flair.
Flair was "new" in WWE at the end of 1991 and they used this Rumble match to show the WWE audience that he was the best in the business. He was the focus of the match as the #3 entrant. It seemed like everybody in the match went after him while announcer and Flair ally Bobby Heenan kept talking about how it wasn't fair. "It's not fair to Flair" is the phrase Heenan kept saying. It was one of Heenan's greatest performances calling a match too.
The Flair story was great because he didn't dominate the match from the standpoint of eliminating a lot of people. He only eliminated four men during the 59:26 minutes he was in the match. It was a testament to Flair's ability to tell a story, to outlast everybody else and to capitalize on opportunities. After Hulk Hogan got eliminated by Sid Justice, he held onto Sid's arm while he was on the floor and that led to Flair sneaking up behind Sid to win the match. It was crafty move by the man known as the "dirtiest player in the game."
In my opinion this is still the best Royal Rumble match ever. There was a lot of star power in the match with Hall of Famers like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Ted Dibiase, Sgt. Slaughter and Roddy Piper to name a few. I think if you look at it from a star power point of view, it was definitely the most loaded Rumble match of the 1990s and I would say a few Rumble matches in the 2000s (particularly 2001) could match it in terms of big names involved. That made Flair's win mean that much more.
The night ended with another great Flair moment as he talked about how, with a tear in his eye, it was the greatest moment of his life. For me, a diehard fan of World Wrestling Entertainment, it's still one of the best moments in the history of the company over twenty years later.
There were a lot of other things I could have included in this list of favorite memories because I love the Rumble match so much. I can think of all the quick eliminations (Warlord, Lawler, Santino), the painful falls (Taka landing on his face) or when Vince McMahon gave an order while sitting down because he tore his quad entering the ring. There are so many memories that make the Royal Rumble special and that's why it's arguably the second biggest event that the WWE puts on every year.
If you're into Royal Rumble stats then you should pay a visit to MondayNightWarriors.com because they do a great job of showing them in an easy to read format.
What are some of your favorite Royal Rumble memories? Please let me know what moments stood out to you, what you thought of my selections and what you think I may have missed.
Until next time, thanks for reading.
John Canton - [email protected]