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The Royal Rumble is traditionally the starting point on the road to WrestleMania. The brainchild of Pat Patterson, the Royal Rumble made its debut in 1988 as a free TV special with Hacksaw Jim Duggan coming out victorious in the then 20 man Rumble match. Since then, the Royal Rumble has grown in stature and is one of the most anticipated events in the WWE calendar. With this being the 27th year of the Rumble, it’s only right to reflect back and remind ourselves just why the Royal Rumble was so special. Remember guys these moments are MY top eight moments, you may or may not agree with the choices and you’re entitled to your opinion as I’m entitled to mine, and also, the moments have to be related to the Royal Rumble match not the pay per view. Now we’ve cleared that up, let’s find out what came in at number eight:
Talk about a shocker! At this stage in his career, Undertaker was in his 12th year as a WWE superstar with three world championship runs under his belt and had already main evented WrestleMania. Maven Huffman had only recently won Tough Enough (the WWE’s version of X-Factor) and was just four months into his career. By the time Maven entered the match (#11) Undertaker (entered as #8) had already eliminated six people. When he saw Maven, he had nothing to fear. Maven was a rookie without a proven track record. Undertaker puts Maven on his shoulder, but he sees Lita standing on the apron and shoves her off. Matt and Jeff re-entered the ring and attacked Undertaker. Undertaker throws them out again. He stands by the ropes, tells them to get their asses out of his ring and then Maven dropkicks Undertaker in the back to eliminate him! “MY GOD MY GOD I DON’T BELIEVE IT!” says JR. He calls it the biggest shocker in the history of the Rumble. I agree. The crowd is going absolutely crazy as Maven has this “oh shit what did I do?” kind of look on his face while Undertaker is pissed off. He re-entered the ring, attacked Maven and eliminated him from the match. The fight continued to the concession stands where Taker threw Maven’s head into the glass of a popcorn machine. The elimination was a complete surprise. They could have elevated Maven if they wanted but they had no intention to do so.
The first thing I remember most about the 2001 Royal Rumble is Kane’s dominance. He entered the match as the 6th entrant, sharing the ring with Hall of Famer Drew Carrey (my god) and went on to eliminate 11 other superstars, breaking the previous record of ten shared by Hulk Hogan (1989) and Stone Cold Steve Austin (1997). The way they booked Kane as a monster was phenomenal. He was the most dominant person in the history of the Rumble as he eliminated 11 guys in 53 minutes of action. That record has since been broken by Roman Reigns at last year’s Royal Rumble. He didn’t take too many bumps, but I was cool with that because it really made him look strong. It’s not like they booked him so strong that it hurt the match. I liked how the battle between Austin, Rock and Kane at the end lasted five minutes or so. Let them tell a story because they were the ones that carried the match. You had Kane’s dominant story, Austin overcoming the odds as the babyface and Rock was trying to recover from Big Show’s attack as well. The crowd reaction for Austin-Rock was fantastic too. I guess Vince decided there and then to book Rock v Austin for WrestleMania 17, which definitely the right call. It helped the match because Austin eliminating him made Austin look badass. It also made Kane look great because it took three chairshots to the head to get him out of the ring. Kane may not be the same as he once was so it’s nice to reflect on moments like and remind ourselves how intimidating he once was.
Lex Luger received a mega push in the summer of 1993. He was touted by Vince to be the new Hulk Hogan. Whiles Luger had huge muscles, the kind of look Vince loves, he never had the same charisma or was able to connect with the crowd the same way Hogan could. He was pushed hard as I say in 93 so they had to give him the win here. However, Bret Hart was still vastly popular amongst the fans so they could ignore him either. Fast forward to the Royal Rumble and we’re down to the final two; Bret Hart & Lex Luger. The two biggest babyfaces face off, realising they’re the final two. The crowd’s going nuts. Luger picks Bret up for a slam. Bret fights him off, they tumble into the ropes, they go over the ropes and they touch at the same time! I was 7 years old at the time and I was sitting there in stunned silence. It was a finish that we weren’t used to. First, they announced Lex Luger as the winner and then, they announce that Bret had won. WWF President Jack Tunney shows up to try to calm down both guys. They show some different angles and I must say both guys timed it right. Eventually, Howard Finkel announces that both men had won the Royal Rumble. After all that! My thought for that finish is that Vince didn’t know who he wanted to win so he booked the double winner angle. It worked for the better because not only did Bret win the title at WMX but we also got that awesome Bret v Owen match which opened the show.
In October 2007, John Cena injured his pectoral muscle and was expected to miss 6 months of action. So with Cena “out”, Triple H was the new favourite to win the Rumble. I was watching this with a bunch of friends and I said sarcastically, imagine if John Cena came out. Guess who drew #30? Superman himself. I must admit, we were legit stunned by that. We honestly thought with the severity of his injury that he would miss the Rumble, and WrestleMania, so seeing him was a huge shock. He was supposed to be out for 6 months and instead he’s returned within 3 months. He’s a freak athlete. The fans go nuts. JR goes mental. A legit surprise. I still can’t get over how they managed to keep this a secret; it’s much like when Jericho returned at the 2013 Royal Rumble. The finish saw Cena going for the FU (now known as the AA), HHH counters and they end up hitting a double clothesline. Cena gets a boot up. He goes for the FU, but HHH fights out of it by the ropes and drops Cena with a DDT. Hunter comes close to dumping him, but Cena fights out, he gets him on his shoulders and dumps HHH over the top with the FU to win the match. Cena points to his surgically repaired right arm in celebration. It was a pretty good finishing sequence although they went to the well too many times with the countering finisher spot they always seem to do in high profile matches. When I look back, the winner meant nothing. Cena faced Orton at No Way Out the following month then had a triple threat match at WrestleMania which involved Triple H. It was not the true main event. Meanwhile Undertaker, who lost his chance at the title shot according to the announcers, got his title shot in the main event against Edge where he won the World Title. In hindsight, winning the Rumble didn’t seem as prestigious as it used to be. But let’s not take anything away here. If I was doing a list of top 10 surprises then this would be near the top of the list.
You would think that if you drew #1 in the Royal Rumble that was it. You had no chance of winning it. That’s what I thought way back in 1995 when Shawn Michaels was the first entrant in the Rumble with former Intercontinental champion Davey Boy Smith, as #2. I was pretty pissed off because Shawn Michaels was my favourite at the time so there was no chance of him winning. Shawn and Davey were the first two to enter and the final two left. That was unheard of so you have to give credit to them for lasting so long. After a few near elimination attempts, Bulldog clotheslines Shawn out and Vince declares Bulldog the winner and his music starts playing. He climbs the ropes, Michaels comes back in and hits a double axe to the back, knocking him out. The ref raises Michaels hand as the announcers are shocked. I was shocked. Shawn Michaels did the impossible and won the Royal Rumble as the number one entrant. It was announced that only one of Shawn’s feet touched the floor, they showed replays, it was a clever finish with the camera being in the right place at the right time. Shawn was on the rise and it was proven here. He was clearly head and shoulders above the rest with Davey and Owen Hart getting honourable mentions. Shawn won the Rumble again the next year but winning it from the number one position was damn impressive.
There was a time during 1997 where Mick Foley was portraying his three gimmicks (Mankind, Cactus Jack and Dude Love) at one time. It was unique and Mick was the only guy good enough to pull it off and make each gimmick seem different from the other. Come Royal Rumble time he was Cactus Jack and teaming up with fellow hardcore legend, Terry Funk. Funny enough, both guys entered the match as #1 and #2. They pretty much beat the shit out of each other with steel chairs and trashcans. It’s funny how back in ’98 I didn’t even flinch during the chairshot exchange but now I cringed like a wuss. That would never happen in WWE today. Cactus was eliminated early on by Funk. The announcers put over how Mankind and Dude Love weren’t apart of the Rumble so I thought that was it for Mrs. Foley’s baby boy. Mankind entered as #16 and quickly eliminated Terry Funk. After being eliminated by Goldust Mick’s final gimmick, Dude Love, appeared as the 28th entrant. He received a light-hearted reaction. It’s pretty cool how Mick entered the match as #1 (Cactus Jack) and made it to the final four under a different gimmick (Dude Love). He was eventually eliminated by Faarooq. He looked knackered by the end but through it all, you could tell that he was having a ton of fun portraying three different gimmicks in one match.
Hulk Hogan was the reigning WWF Champion whiles the Ultimate Warrior was a former Intercontinental Champion and a star on the rise. They were both immensely popular. There was always talk about who was the better man, fans were always interested in seeing a match between the two. Traditionally, the Royal Rumble is every man for themselves. It was a very golden rule back in the day with faces going after the heels at all times. These days we see John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan and no one batters an eyelid, in 1990 it was unheard of! Hogan and Warrior teamed up at times during the match but it got to the point where the ring was clear bar two; Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior. If you ever revisit that clip, listen to the crowd reaction at that moment. They go absolute APESHIT! They had battle it out, there was no hiding place. They connected with a series of shoulder blocks to measure each other but to no avail. It then led to a double-clothesline that knocked them both out. The entire time, the place remained unglued and if Vince McMahon had any second thoughts of putting up Hogan vs. Warrior at Wrestlemania 6, his confidence had to be through the roof. I can watch this segment a million times and it never gets old.
The 1992 Royal Rumble has always been considered as the greatest Rumble match in history. Why is that? The title was on the line for a start. Hulk Hogan defeated Undertaker at Tuesday in Texas back in 1991 under controversial circumstances so WWF President, Jack Tunney, stripped Hogan of the title and declared that the winner of the 1992 Royal Rumble would also be the new WWF Champion. The other reason why this Rumble was so special is because Ric Flair won it all after entering the match as the number three entrant. When he entered, the crowd erupted into a loud “ohhhhhhhh”, they were just as surprised as me when he entered so early in the match. I remember watching this show with a few family members and my older cousin who was a fan of Flair was pissed off. He went off on one how that “Dick Hogan was going to win”. What we witnessed was a one hour performance from Flair as he outlasted what was a very star studded Royal Rumble. Some years the people in the Rumble aren’t great. In 1992, though, it was loaded with top guys and the thinking was that Hogan would get the win. Didn’t happen. Flair outlasted everybody, carried the match to a very high level. After the match, Flair cut one of the best promos ever talking about how, with a tear in his eye, it was the greatest moment of his life. He pretty much buried his former employers, WCW, and put over how the World Wrestling Federation Championship was the number one title in the sport of professional wrestling. At the time I knew it was pretty cool to see the guy last an hour like that and looking at it now I can’t help but appreciate how great a moment it was.