IT'S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN!!! - TOP 10 ROYAL RUMBLE MOMENTS Folks, we're just over a week away from the Royal Rumble 2013. The Rumble, with time, has become the #2 Pay Per View. Even as the WWE runs monthly Pay Per Views and has since the mid 1990's, the lure of the #1 Contendership at Wrestlemania is still there. Even with the Elimination Chamber Pay Per View deciding the other brand's World Title contender, the Rumble still remains a special match. Every January, it's something that we as wrestling fans can anticipate. It's amazing how well consistency can draw.
The Royal Rumble has existed since 1988 when it was initially a USA Network cable television special. However, thanks to the growing success of Pay Per View during the Hulkamania era, Royal Rumble 1989 was converted to Pay Per View. It wasn't until 1993, however, when the winner of the Rumble match itself was now guaranteed a World Title shot that remains to this day. As the WWE kept adding more and more monthly Pay Per Views, events like SummerSlam and Survivor Series became just another Pay Per View whereas the Rumble has remained unique and important. From Royal Rumble to Wrestlemania, it's clearly the WWE's biggest time of the year.
This top 10 is about MOMENTS of the Royal Rumble. You could rank matches, winners of the Rumble matches, Pay Per View events as a whole, or singles matches on each show. I'm choosing MOMENTS... Moments at the Royal Rumble which were special and hard to forget while also having major influences on future events. Keep that in mind as you read this column.
#10 - Goldust and Curt Hennig return to the WWE at Royal Rumble 2002 as Surprise Entrants. As owners of World Championship Wrestling (WCW), AOL/Time Warner made some lucrative deals to professional wrestlers between 1994 to 2000, especially after 1996 when WCW kept adding years and dollars to their guaranteed contracts. The reason that the WCW Invasion of 2001 appeared so thin was that many WCW wrestlers were still under lucrative AOL/Time Warner contracts that the WWE refused to buyout. Instead, the WWE waited patiently for many of those contracts to begin coming off the books through 2002. Heading into the year 2002, the Internet Wrestling Community was curious about who the WWE would get.
At Royal Rumble 2002, two former WWE wrestlers who jumped to WCW during late 1990's made their WWE returns. First, Goldust returned to the WWE after jumping to WCW during 1999 after probably exhausting all character avenues with his Goldust character. Things didn't go so well at the sinking ship known as WCW... Goldust returned to the WWE at the 2002 Royal Rumble and had a decent return run with the WWE. His Tag Team with Booker T could have been much more successful than it was. Off and on, Dustin Rhodes, behind the Goldust gimmick, would jump between WWE and TNA during the 2000's. Curt Hennig, on the other hand, was returning to the WWE for the first time since he left for WCW during 1997. Hennig battled injuries for most of the latter days of his WWE career during the 1990's so it was nice seeing him wrestle for the WWE again. Hennig could have had a stronger comeback, but then the "PLANE RIDE FROM HELL" occurred in which a drunken altercation with Brock Lesnar on an airplane created a reason to release Hennig. Unfortunately, we would lose Hennig one year later from this Royal Rumble moment.
#9 - Kane's dominance of the 2001 Royal Rumble - As the 6th entrant of the 2001 Royal Rumble, Kane was about to unleash a can on the competition by lasting 53 minutes and eliminating 11 wrestlers (1/3 of the competition). If Kane eliminated his 12th, he could have won the Royal Rumble for 2001 but Steve Austin finally eliminated him. It could have been a staple of Kane's career, and it does get mentioned about every Rumble... But serious WWE Title or World Title pushes didn't occur for Kane during the 2000's. 2002-2003 weren't the best years for Kane, especially when running into the Triple H buzzsaw. Of course, during 2004, it was back to the Undertaker.
#8 - Chairshot after chairshot at Royal Rumble 1999 - At Royal Rumble 1999, the Rock vs. Mick Foley in an "I Quit" match was scheduled and it was brutal. The match featured an awesome brawl between the two but the match shifted when the Rock put Mankind (Mick Foley) into handcuffs. Then, the Rock just cranked Mick Foley with chairshot after chairshot after chairshot... 11 total with Foley's hands cuffed behind his back and the Rock swinging for the fences. In one of Foley's books, he wasn't expecting as many chairshots and as hard as they were. For a while, there were some hard feelings with Foley regarding those chairshots on how Rock didn't check on Foley after this 1999 Rumble match and never getting a straight answer why the Rock lit into him. Either way, it is a reminder why the WWE has implemented policies to eliminate chairshots to the head:
#7 - ECW shows up at 2000 Royal Rumble - Tazz Debuts to defeat Kurt Angle, Dudley Boyz push Hardy Boys to a Great no-DQ match! Through late 1999, many of the wrestlers who carried the Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) during the mid to late 1990's were looking to evolve outside of ECW or to receive a big promotion payday. After all, ECW was a smaller brand that wrestled in smaller arenas and didn't have a major television deal for much of its existence. Many went to WCW (Shane Douglas, Bam Bam Bigelow, Chris Candido, Sandman) while the WWE picked up its best tag team, the Dudley Boyz, and its "Human Suplex Machine", Tazz. The Dudley Boyz debuted during late 1999 while Tazz, for weeks, had vignettes hyping his arrival. At Royal Rumble 2000, both the Dudleys and Tazz arrived.
The WWE Tag Division was about to explode with the Hardys vs. Edge/Christian vs. Dudley Boyz in a series of great tag matches and 3 way Tables, Ladders, and Chairs (oh my!) matches during 2000 and through 2001. What set the stage for that was the impressive Hardy Boys vs. Edge/Christian tag team Ladder Match at No Mercy 1999, but the Dudley Boyz vs. Hardys match at Royal Rumble gave credibility to the Dudley Boyz as a legitimate tag team to WWE fans. From Royal Rumble 2000 and onward, it could be argued that the Dudleys were the most successful crossover act that ECW had in terms of wrestlers who started with ECW and then jumped to WWE/WCW. On the other hand, Tazz debuted in a match against Kurt Angle. Angle was still new to the scene and the WWE was yet unsure as to how successful he would become. Thus, he was the sacrificial lamb to Tazz whose entrance pumped up the arena and started off Royal Rumble 2000 nicely. Royal Rumble 2000 allowed for 2 very successful ECW acts, Tazz and Dudley Boyz, to prove how legitimate they were in ECW and thus validating ECW. It's just too bad that Tazz wasn't a few inches taller to be respected by WWE officials. Tazz would eventually hurt his neck and become a WWE announcer and then eventually join TNA Wrestling as an announcer.
#6 - Randy "Macho Man" Savage costs Ultimate Warrior the WWE Title at Royal Rumble 1991, sets up Wrestlemania 7 match-up. The Ultimate Warrior won the WWE Title at Wrestlemania 6 in the epic face vs. face battle with Hulk Hogan. Since that event, however, the Warrior struggled to be equal to the draw that Hulk Hogan was as World Champion. I'd argue that after Wrestlemania 6, the WWE gave Warrior what essentially was midcarders in "Ravishing" Rick Rude and "Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase. With due respect to both, the WWE never gave either man a WWE Title reign or fully pushed either as such. Dibiase was the closest as he almost won the WWE Title at Wrestlemania 4. However, the WWE kept him in the midcard since that title tournament. Rick Rude feuded with Warrior during the year prior over the Intercontinental Title but Rude didn't appear to be pushed seriously as a WWE Title contender.
The REAL wrestler that Warrior should have feuded with all along after Wrestlemania 6 was "Macho Man" Randy Savage. Instead, the WWE kept Savage in a feud with WCW veteran Dusty Rhodes. Savage was a former WWE Champion who pushed Hulk Hogan to the limits through Wrestlemania 5 and was very over for 1988-1987. After Savage ended his feud with Hogan, the WWE basically wasted him for the next year. It wasn't until Savage began demanding the next title shot from Ultimate Warrior during late 1990 (I think) that Savage's career took off again. Ultimate Warrior was wrestling Sgt. Slaughter at Royal Rumble 1991 and Savage took it upon himself to screw Warrior out of the title. As Ultimate Warrior was hanging on the ropes, Randy Savage, who became the "Macho King" during 1989 (don't ask) nailed Warrior over the head with the King's scepter to cost Warrior the WWE title. The Ultimate Warrior and Savage would go on to have a "Retirement Match" at Wrestlemania 7 which is arguably the best Ultimate Warrior match on record. The WWE could have easily had Savage and Warrior feuding throughout 1990 and then performed the Sgt. Slaughter match at Rumble and then Retirement match at Wrestlemania 7. However, the Warrior had to endure a poorly booked 1990 and his career only became interesting when Savage cracked him over the head with the scepter at Royal Rumble 1991.
#5 - Chris Benoit gets standing ovation after losing match against Kurt Angle, Royal Rumble 2003. Oh no, Chris Benoit exists as a professional wrestler in this column. Again not condoning what he'd eventually did during June 2007, but during Royal Rumble 2003, a big "moment" happened that convinced the WWE to eventually give Chris Benoit a World Title. And this moment must have created enough momentum for Benoit to be considered ending Wrestlemania 20 by winning the World Title, right?
Chris Benoit would end up winning the Royal Rumble 2004 to set-up his World Title shot at Wrestlemania 20. But the REAL Royal Rumble moment came a year earlier at Royal Rumble 2003 after his match with Kurt Angle, the probable "Match of the Year" for 2003. The moment, though, isn't the match itself or the outcome of the match... But the standing ovation for the loser of the match afterward, Chris Benoit. Benoit submitted to Angle via the Anklelock submission and after Angle celebrated with his Team Angle (Charlie Haas, Shelton Benjamin), Benoit was in the ring by himself and the crowd applauded his efforts. They just witnessed a 5-star classic but they also knew that Benoit had never been World Champion (WCW Souled Out 2000 doesn't count!) after many years of enduring great matches in the ring. The fans cheered him after the match and it probably told the WWE that he was ready for a World Title reign. Imagine that... The fans telling the WWE that a wrestler was ready for a World Title instead of the other way around as seen today.
#4 - Cactus Jack (Mick Foley) and Triple H have "Match of the Year" at Royal Rumble 2000. I've argued that the year 2000 for the WWE was one of the best in-ring years ever seen. The roster was STACKED and actually didn't even need Steve Austin or Undertaker for much of the year, as both were out with injury. You had Triple H stepping up his game, the Rock allowed to be a babyface and peaking as an in-ring performer, and the many roster additions during late 1999 and early 2000 that thickened up the midcard to upper midcard for the WWE. The likes of Chris Jericho, Dudley Boyz, and Kurt Angle joining the WWE during late 1999 and the Radicalz (Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, and Perry Saturn). Meanwhile, existing WWE wrestlers began hitting their strides such as the Hardy Boyz (Matt and Jeff), Edge, and Christian to create a superior tag team division. LOTS of great match-ups from all of the above and many potential "Match of the Year" candidates to choose from.
But the winner went to Cactus Jack (Mick Foley) vs. Triple H at Royal Rumble 2000. Triple H was being built up as the next big Main Event star as he changed his look, was married to Stephanie McMahon in the storylines, and was granted the WWE Title through late 1999. But something was missing... He was lacking that eye opening moment that could be sold to fans that "yeah, he's a main eventer". Enter Mick Foley who played a very important role in elevating both Stone Cold Steve Austin during 1998 and The Rock during late 1998 and early 1999. His work with the Rock, especially, helped make Rocky into an established heel main eventer and the WWE needed this assistance with Triple H. At Royal Rumble 2000, the two squared off in a no-DQ match for the ages. Just an insane brawl that saw Triple H stepping up his game and taking abuse in the ring while Foley was Foley. It was an absolute classic and it put Triple H on the map officially as a legitimate Main Eventer that could draw. Royal Rumble 2000 was HHH's coming out party and it was the start of arguably the best 1 year and a half of wrestling for any wrestler in the last 30 years. Impressive match collection between Royal Rumble 2000 and the RAW during mid-2001 where he tore his quadriceps muscle (Austin/HHH vs. Jericho/Benoit, 5 star classic tag match).
#3 - Steve Austin "wins" 1997 Royal Rumble, pisses off Bret Hart. During early 1997, the WWE was beginning to figure out that "Stone Cold" Steve Austin could be the next star and top babyface. Problem, however, was that Shawn Michaels and Bret "the Hitman" Hart were both faces and in the way. Thus, the WWE opted to turn Bret Hart to the darkside and did it intelligently by having Bret becoming upset at how much the pro wrestling industry was changing around him. Hart made his WWE return after losing the WWE title to Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 12 in 1996 after signing a new 20 year deal and wrestled his first match back at Survivor Series 1996 against Steve Austin. The business was changing and the WWE wisely turned Hart. Royal Rumble 1997 was a big building block towards that turn with the Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart match at Wrestlemania 13 being the completion of the heel turn. Then, we had the Hart Foundation stable that kept the WWE afloat during the Summer/Fall of 1997.
Steve Austin was entrant #5 at the Royal Rumble and held up quite well for a solid 45 minutes of clocked competition. However, he was eliminated by Bret Hart... But the referees, who were tending to other eliminated wrestlers on the outside (Mankind and Terry Funk), did not see Austin's elimination! Austin rejoined the match and eliminated Undertaker, Vader, and Bret Hart to "win" the 1997 Royal Rumble! It was a classic pre-Attitude Era moment that helped define Steve Austin's character as a badass and anti-authority. This match result obviously pissed off Bret Hart who openly complained about Steve Austin's trickery. The controversial ending led to the following Pay Per View, In Your House: Final Four, having a 4 corners match between Steve Austin, Undertaker, Bret Hart, and Vader to settle the #1 contendership. Better yet for those 4, Shawn Michaels suffered a knee injury and had to drop the title (told the fans, though, that he had "lost his smile"). Thus the 4 Corners match was now for the WWE Title. And guess what? Bret Hart won the WWE Title that night but on the RAW following that In Your House Pay Per View, Steve Austin interfered and cost Bret the WWE Title in his match against Sycho Sid! This set up Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin and then Sid vs. Undertaker for Wrestlemania 13. Bret vs. Austin was an instant classic with the ending creating a double switch on character roles with Austin turning face and Bret turning heel based on the outcome of the match and aftermath.
#2 - John Cena makes surprise return after injury to win Royal Rumble 2008 Nobody saw it coming. John Cena tore his pectoral muscle on October 1st, 2007 and was projected to sit out for 7 months as the surgery healed and as Cena rehabbed the injury. Cena was the WWE Champion since September 2006 at the time and he was stripped of the title due to the injury. Heading into Royal Rumble 2008, nobody expected John Cena to be a Royal Rumble entrant... And then the #30 entrant arrived... John Cena shocked wrestling fans by returning to the WWE about 3 months earlier than expected and winning the 2008 Rumble match. Cena would go on to actually use the WWE Title shot earned from winning the Rumble early for the No Way Out Pay Per view against champion Randy Orton. Cena lost that match but was able to still earn another title shot by being inserted into a Triple Threat match with Orton and Triple H. Still, his surprise return remains one of John Cena's top moments in his career and remains the best moment of the late 2000's era of the WWE.
#1 - Ric Flair wins WWE Title at the 1992 Royal Rumble - For one, stating the obvious, Ric Flair won a Royal Rumble match that had a vacated WWE Title up for grabs, the only Rumble match of its kind for such an award. At the 2 prior WWE events, Survivor Series 1991 and This Tuesday at Texas 1991 (WWE's attempt for a quick Pay Per View buck after Survivor Series 1991, holding another PPV 6 days later), there was interference involving each of the WWE Title matches between Undertaker and Hulk Hogan. Ric Flair helped the Undertaker win the WWE Title at Survivor Series by slipping a chair underneath the Tombstone while Hogan won the Tuesday at Texas rematch against the Undertaker to regain the WWE Title by throwing the Urn's ashes into Undertaker's eyes to assist in the win. President Jack Tunney (figurehead authority figure at the time), who was actually ringside for the Tuesday in Texas rematch and got involved with the match, would have none of this... Provided both finishes, he declared the WWE Title "vacant" and it would be held up for the 1992 Royal Rumble.
"The Nature Boy" Ric Flair, during 1991, arrived after he departed from World Championship Wrestling (WCW) after being terminated before the 1991 WCW Great American Bash Pay Per View. Ric Flair had MAJOR creative differences with WCW executive at the time, Jim Herd, as Herd wanted Flair to change-up his character, his look, demote him from the main event scene, and also force Flair to take a pay cut. There were also creative issues over who Flair would drop the NWA/WCW World Title. Remember, WCW was still affiliated with the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and their champions had a $ deposit ($25,000 reportedly) on the big gold belt (hence, why the WWE obviously adopted the same title look for the World Heavyweight Title in 2002, presently being defended on the Smackdown brand - Alberto Del Rio as champion). Thus, in addition to being WCW's top draw, Flair had say in who he willing to lose the NWA/WCW title. For whatever reason during the 1989-1991, Flair consistently had issues dropping the NWA/WCW Title to Lex Luger and thus repeatedly refused to do business with Luger. They initially agreed, instead, to drop the NWA/WCW Title to Barry Windham instead at 1991 Great American Bash. But before that event could arrive, Jim Herd FIRED Ric Flair from WCW and stripped him of the "title" as NWA/WCW Champion. Ric Flair, still in the oldschool NWA settings of $ deposit on the big gold belt, physically kept the NWA/WCW Title...
As soon as Ric Flair was terminated from WCW, he contacted Vince McMahon for a deal with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now known as WWE). With Flair in physical possession of the NWA/WCW big gold belt title, Vince was definitely interested. Thanks to the oldschool NWA rules of a $ deposit on the World Title by its champion, Ric Flair and the WWE could proudly display the big gold NWA/WCW Title on television. Flair arrived in the WWE and declared himself the "Real World Champion" and showing the whole world the title he still owned from NWA/WCW. It was humiliating to WCW and Jim Herd, especially as the replacement match at 1991 Great American Bash was Barry Windham vs. Lex Luger for a vacated NWA/WCW Title that was now using a title that WCW booker, Dusty Rhodes, owned that looked nothing like the big gold belt. What hurt things worse were the repeated "WE WANT FLAIR" chants that WCW fans brought to each WCW event. WWE made certain to push the envelop on the "Real World Champion" angle and it eventually helped lead to WCW executive Jim Herd being FIRED from WCW during early 1992.
The "moment" that is #1 on this FINAL COUNTDOWN is, of course, Ric Flair winning the 1992 Royal Rumble and winning the vacated WWE Title. The moment is important for 2 important reasons... (1) Royal Rumble 1992 had a STACKED Rumble match. Look at the former World Champions from various promotions and of the WWE in this match: Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, the "Texas Tornado" Kerry Von Erich, the Undertaker, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Iron Sheik (repackaged as Colonel Mustafa), Hulk Hogan, Sgt. Slaughter, and Sid Vicious (or Justice). The supporting midcard was littered with former Intercontinental Champions or successful midcard champions elsewhere. Roddy Piper out of retirement, too. LOADED Rumble full of WWE Hall of Famers and all-time greats. Ric Flair was the #3 entrant and endured almost 1 hour of wrestling in the Rumble match to become WWE Champion thanks to Sid Vicious (Justice) tossing Hulk Hogan over the top rope and then Hogan pulling Sid over the top rope. Flair would hold the WWE Title until Wrestlemania 8 when he lost the WWE Title to "Macho Man" Randy Savage. Flair would regain the title later in the year on September first but would soon drop the title over a month later to Bret "the Hitman" Hart for Bret's first WWE Title reign.
More importantly for Flair's big 1992 Royal Rumble moment, (2), it validated Ric Flair as an all-time great, especially to Northern WWF fans. In the heat of promotional competition during the late 1980's, when the dust settled after the WWE raided most promotions and attacked others by placing content on national Cable TV, Ted Turner bought World Championship Wrestling appeared to be the remaining competition that would last. Ric Flair was the NWA/WCW World Champion but his popularity as a World Champion appeared to be less of the WWE's champion, Hulk Hogan. To many new wrestling fans who caught the Hulkamania fever or were longtime Northeast fans, they disregarded Flair as a legitimate World Champion. Both the Northeast and South thumbed their noses at each other's brands of wrestling. Ric Flair jumping to the WWF and winning its World Title validated Ric Flair but also his success and dominance in NWA/WCW. For many NWA/WCW fans, it was personal validation as a fan of Ric Flair that "their guy" made it in the WWF. This WWE Title win at Rumble 1992 and success crossing over to the WWF is a major bullet point on Ric Flair's resume to considered only second for "all time greats" of the last 30 years to Hulk Hogan. Without the successful 1991-1992 WWF run and title victories, Ric Flair is exactly in the position as Sting. Great WCW wrestler by all means but no crossover success in another big promotion to show for it. Sting would be a much bigger story in TNA Wrestling if he ever made it in the WWF/WWE.
The sad thing about Royal Rumble 1992 is that we didn't get Ric Flair vs. Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 8. There are various stories out there why the match didn't happen... For one, the WWE tried Ric Flair vs. Hulk Hogan at Houseshows during 1991 but reportedly, Vince McMahon wasn't thrilled with the reaction the match-up was getting at typical Northeastern WWF venues. Secondly, Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan reportedly struggled to work well together on matches and creative control over the results of their matches, including Wrestlemania 8 if it were to happen. Third, pressure from the WWE steroid allegations was increasing through 1992 in which the WWF and Vince McMahon were accused of distributing steroids to its wrestlers (Vince was acquitted in 1994). Hogan either took a leave of absence, "retired", or went off to Hollywood for more entertainment opportunities after Wrestlemania 8 and thus couldn't beat Flair at Wrestlemania 8. But finally, the WWF and Vince McMahon could have been smitten with Sid Vicious (Justice), as did every promotion and fan back then, and thought the REAL money feud with Sid vs. Hogan instead. Seems consistent with Vince's love of big hoss wrestlers... Either way, no "TOP STARS of the LATE 1980's" battle at Wrestlemania 8. However, Ric Flair vs. Randy Savage was a great match-up at Wrestlemania 8 instead while Sid vs. Hogan was considered by most as a major flop.
Flair and Hogan did business during 1994 after Ric Flair returned to WCW during 1993 and Hogan debuted with WCW during 1994. Of course, it was one-sided with Hulk Hogan winning most of the big match-ups, as WCW was getting its first taste of Hulkamania and rode his star for the rest of the 1990's.
Just chill till the next FINAL COUNTDOWN!
Special thanks to the following Twitter followers who helped me remember the specific Royal Rumble Moments above: @RobHickton @BrianNeall @ajBelet55114 @VeryAmerican @ajBelet55114 @connbrendan @bradzwithaZ @ChrisssLOP @thefrogbert @HEELDerek @rferris13 @CertifiedBA @MazzaLOP @Trevpax7 @BrianGL21 @DJSno1 @nishant_bansal