RR Week: The 6 Moments In History That Shaped the Royal Rumble Match

by Bryan Hughes

When I turned 25 back in July 2008, I had a bit of an existential crisis.  Granted, I look back and would deliver the biggest right cross to 2008 Bryan for being a pussy, but there may have been something to my worries, fears, complaints.  I was 25 and unsure of the future, looking back on the first quarter century of my life, wondering what the hell I had done that was worth a damn.  Then it dawned on me.

At some point in the last 3 1/2 years I came to terms with something.  Everything I had done in my life up to this point has shaped me as a person.  Better or worse, it’s made me who I am today.  Simply put, we are a product of our past.

Why did I tell you that?  Because I have a similarly hard time coming to terms with the Royal Rumble having its 25th show this Sunday.  (The WWE misuses the word “anniversary” far too often.)  It’s hard to believe I was 6 1/2 years old when I watched Hulk Hogan win his first, and 11 1/2 when I was heartbroken to see Shawn eliminate the Bulldog who thought he won.  (I mean come on!  They played his music!)

I’m older now, and so is the Rumble.  While my childish love and excitement for it has never changed, the Rumble itself has seen huge strides to get to where it is now: an untouchable piece of living, breathing, wrestling history.

Here are six moments in the past 24 years that I feel helped get it to that point:

1. 1989 – Ax & Smash draw numbers 1 & 2

Many don’t count 1988 as a Rumble, but it’s there.  And we needed to have 1988 happen so 1989’s Rumble could happen.  What I remember most from 1988 was the definitive face vs heel split.  Faces never attacked each other, and same for heels.  1989 started off with a true “every man for himself” feel, with the tag champs taking each other on with reckless abandon.  Seriously, watch the clip and tell me that’s not the greatest thing ever.  Oh, and Andre is #3, so yeah.  Boom, as Pasco would say.

2. 1992

This one isn’t for what you think.  Sure, it’s considered one of the top Rumble matches of all time, and Flair’s performance was stellar.  (Everyone has favorite moments of his, mine being his expression when Roddy Piper comes out.  Gold.)

What made this Rumble special was that it was for something.  For the first time.  1990 and 1991?  Eh, cool, you won.  1992?  Fuck, man, you got the BELT.  Shit, that gave Skinner and IRS a chance.  I mean, it didn’t really, but… they were in there.  From 1993 on, the winner got the title shot at Wrestlemania, which is held true to this day.

Almost makes you wonder how people cared about 1989 through 1991…

3. 1998 – Honky Tonk Man enters at #19

(5:23 is where he enters, in case the link doesn’t jump right there for you.)

The Honky Tonk Man.  A classic heel of WWF past.  He was announced for the 1998 Rumble, but I will go on record to call him the first “legend” to appear in a Rumble.  Sure, there were Funks and Doug Gilbert, and Backlund, but Honky was really the first who wasn’t a regular roster member at the time, but someone from WWF/E past who had returned just for the Rumble.  I mean… think of all the legends who have appeared after this precedent was set.

Speaking of Backlund…

4. 2000 – Wait, Bob Backlund?  FUCK.  BOB BACKLUND.

As far as my research can tell, this was the first true “surprise” entry in a Royal Rumble.  And a “legend” at that.  For better or worse, it made it okay for WWE to stop announcing all 30 entrants ahead of time, but when you get wonderful, head-scratching surprises like this, it makes a stat geek like myself even accept it and just enjoy.

5. 2007 – FINALLY the odds come into play

Dibiase.  Perfect.  Tugboat.  Warlord.  Savage.  Adam Bomb.  Crush.  Duke Droese.  The Undertaker.  Vader.  Chyna.  X-Pac.  Rikishi.  Booker T.  The Undertaker (again!).  Goldberg.  Flair.  Orton.

That’s every person who drew the best number in the Royal Rumble, and did not win it.  All these years, we heard about how 30 was the best number to draw, and yet, we’ve seen in those 18 matches, we’ve seen 6 winners come from numbers 1-5, and 0 from #30.  All that hype seemed kind of worthless.

When the Undertaker won it from 30, it made sense from many angles.  Shit, he had three opportunities to finally do it.  But more importantly, the freshest guy winning added some sensibility to a match driven by so much fantasy.  Yeah, we love the iron man story of someone going the distance, but once in a while, it’s gotta make sense too.  Kudos to WWF/E for keeping us on our toes with this one.

Honorable Mention: 2008 – Piper & Snuka

You can visibly see Punk & Morrison mark out as the ring stops to watch.  Yep, that’s what you get when you let legends be surprise entrants.

6. 2011 – The Underdog

I may get criticized for this, but fuck you.  You try and tell me your heart wasn’t thumping in your chest when this played out.

The Rumble always had its underdogs, and unlikely iron men, but never had there been someone so obviously considered an underdog come so close to winning it all.  (And if anyone says Rey Mysterio, I will politely ignore you… it’s the more pleasant option.)

Santino played the part perfectly.  Getting knocked out of the ring long enough to be forgotten.  Watching as the crowd slowly started to realize he was still in (extra credit to the front row guys pointing at him on the floor towards the end of the match).  The moment where he enters the ring is magic.

Pure, uncut, white-as-snow Colombian magic.

The sign of the cross.  The look on his face as he forms the Cobra is one of “Dear sweet Jesus, Buddha, Allah, Jehovah, and wacky scientology alien dude, this is all I’ve got, please, please, for one time, let this work”.  For a moment, every single person felt the exact same terror, hope, and adrenaline that Santino felt.  In the back of our minds, we knew he couldn’t win, but something was tugging at that thought.

Doubt.  For a split second, our minds booked the next three months, as the underdog story of a lifetime would get his big shot at Mania.  Bigger than Horowitz, Waltman, and Rey combined.  Even if he lost at Mania, it would put Santino at folklore hero status.  But alas, it didn’t… but most importantly, we all remember that feeling of chests pounding and lightheaded vision, delusional enough after an hour of 38 eliminations to think what the WWF always wanted us to think back in the day: Anything can happen.

I like to think that we needed to have 23 Royal Rumbles end the way they did for that moment to happen.  The Rumble has grown up in front of our eyes, and we get to watch it continue on and watch just like we do every year, with the same youthful excitement and innocence of a pure, untouched format.

And most importantly, the Royal Rumble match is what it is today because of what it’s already been.

-Bryan

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