Doctor's Orders: The Royal Rumble Recall - The Greatest in WWE Rumble PPV History
By The Doc
Jan 26, 2014 - 9:28:33 AM
To purchase The Doc's first book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, click here
Normally around this time of the year, I begin my latest Wrestlemania series. However, with my book on the Wrestlemania Era “officially” coming out the weekend of the 2014 Royal Rumble, I wanted to do something different. I will still be writing plenty about Wrestlemania, just in a different format than the daily series that many of my long-time readers have become accustomed. I realized as Summerslam 2013 concluded that, with my customary Mania dailies, I had more or less neglected The Royal Rumble. It is time to remedy that.
The Road to Wrestlemania begins every year with the January PPV, often regarded in modern times as the second biggest of the year. Based on financial data alone, there is no questioning The Royal Rumble’s place on the WWE hierarchy. Its connection to Wrestlemania is pronounced. With the astronomic rise to unprecedented heights of “The Showcase of the Immortals” has come the similarly consistent maintenance in stature of its sister event from two months prior. The Royal Rumble PPV has inspired numerous classic moments mostly within the context of “Granddaddy” implications, creating a yearly phenomenon that has – to many fans - even managed to challenge Wrestlemania for “favorite” status amongst the WWE’s Big Three. So, who are the men who best define it?
Who truly is the “Greatest” Royal Rumbler of them all? To answer the question, definitively, one must take a broad view of the landscape. With several other words to describe the accolades of WWE Superstars, confusion can easily emerge as the word of the hour when attempting to separate the elite. “Greatest” does not mean “best” any more than it means “biggest.” Rather, it combines all of the superlatives. So, over the next month, in honor of the 27 Royal Rumbles in history, we are going to celebrate one of the most awesome events in wrestling lore. The countdown is 27 wrestlers long, categorized by a four-tiered formula created to account for all aspects of greatness in pro wrestling’s 2nd biggest event.
The usual statistics to categorize wrestlers specific to a given event are business/financial data, performance-related star ratings, and main-events/headlining matches. However, with the Royal Rumble match being a hallmark of each and every edition of the Winter Classic since its 1988 inception, a fourth collection of numbers must be accounted for in the form of “Royal Rumble match” statistics. Every year, the WWE presents a “Royal Rumble match by the numbers” video montage for a reason. Eliminations, total time in Rumble matches, victories, and top four finishes were tallied. Performance ratings (from my 5-star scale) were cumulative to include longevity/length of career as a relevant data point. To keep it simple, only the Final Four in the Rumble match, plus the man who lasted the longest, were given the star rating credit for each battle royal. Business statistics were based on PPV buys, specifically as they related to the Rumble match focal point and winner, as well as the main championship bout participants. The non-Rumble matches featured on the historically small line-ups were ranked according to their headlining stature, with title matches weighted for wins and losses.
Over the next month, the unveiling process will take place. In descending order, three wrestlers will be revealed on Sundays/Mondays and Thursdays/Fridays, wrapping it up on the weekend of the 2014 Royal Rumble. Follow me @TheDocLOP on Twitter or friend me on Facebook (TheDocLOP) for discussion of this year’s special countdown.
The Royal Rumble Recall
1. Triple H
2. John Cena
3. Shawn Michaels
5. Randy Orton
7. The Rock
8. Chris Jericho
9. Stone Cold Steve Austin
10. CM Punk
11. Rey Mysterio
12. Kurt Angle
13. Bret Hart
14. Mick Foley
15. Jeff Hardy
17. Chris Benoit
18. Hulk Hogan
20. Big Show
21. John “Bradshaw” Layfield
23. Ric Flair
26. Mr. Perfect
27. The Million Dollar Man
When I think of Shawn Michaels and the Royal Rumble, I think not of the consecutive Rumble match wins in 1995 and 1996 that were key components in the realization of his “boyhood dream,” nor do I think of his predictably excellent performance record. Rather, I think of his underrated matches and moments. I think about the 1991 Rockers vs. Orient Express match that tore the house down and arguably set the benchmark for WWE tag team matches in the 1990s. I think about the 1993 Intercontinental Championship match with Marty Jannetty that holds up very well with the 1993 Match of the Year that they produced on Raw several months later. I think of the opening minutes of the 2003 Rumble match that poured lighter fluid on the eventually red hot feud between he and Chris Jericho, the 2005 match that put Edge in the career position to finish fourth on this Royal Rumble historical perspective, the moment in the 2005 Rumble match where he eliminated and then mocked “The Simon System,” the wonderful job he did at portraying the poor financial decision-maker reluctantly doing the “Wrestling” God’s bidding to provide for his family, and the drama that he added to the 2010 Rumble match in his quest to earn a WrestleMania rematch with the Undertaker….the list goes on and on.
WrestleMania was an event at which Michaels forged his wrestling legacy. When Ricky Steamboat gave his 2009 Hall of Fame induction speech, he spoke of the “performance.” Masterful performance was HBK’s gift to WWE history. Critically acclaimed matches were the category in the conversation of “greatness” that keeps Michaels relevant in the discussion for the #1 wrestler of all-time. And, don’t get me wrong, HBK had some awesome performances that rank amongst the most memorable in Rumble lore (actually good for #1 in the Rumble performance category) – his incredible 2007 and 2008 double, for instance, that wound up previewing his eventual double classic Mania series with The Deadman. But here’s the thing - classic matches are not what define Shawn Michaels at the Royal Rumble quite like the rest of his career. His Rumble resume is full of the aforementioned underrated works, but there’s not a single, generally-thought-to-be 4-star singles match on HBK’s list of January Classic accomplishments. His placement as the #3 star in Royal Rumble history is, conversely, driven by the numbers. With two Royal Rumble match victories, including the first (and only remaining WWE-recognized) occasion of the #1 entrant ultimately winning, HBK is right up there with Austin on the Royal Rumble Mount Rushmore for success (Michaels also finished in the top four of the Rumble match five different times). He ranks atop the list for cumulative eliminations in Rumble matches with an incredible 40 – and that record may stand for a long, long time if Kane retires soon; the Big Red Machine is just two back of tying the mark, but the next closest star (with a chance) on the active roster is John Cena, who has half of HBK’s total. He ranks second in history with a combined three hours, forty-minutes, and thirty-six seconds in Rumble matches. Thus, his overall Rumble match stats put him atop the leaderboard. Michaels came in at #5 in non-Rumble headlining matches and main-events. His WWE/World Championship bouts with Sycho Sid, Undertaker, and Triple H (with a 2-1 record) aided his cause, as did the bouts with the Orient Express, Jannetty, and Edge.
His paltry ranking of 17th in the business category was nowhere near enough to overshadow the fact that he ranked #1 in two of the three other categories.
(Doc's Note - Someone asked the other day, "How can the winner of 3 Rumbles rank only 9th on this list of Royal Rumblers?" The top 2 in this countdown reflect the answer, which is that "GREATEST" is an exercise, in my opinion, of breaking down the various categories that define the success of a wrestler. It is not about just one thing - it's about everything. The best wrestler cannot be definitively named "greatest" anymore than the wrestler that drew the most money or had the longest career. "Greatest" is about compiling all of those attributes and statistics. I imagine that these two "Greatest" are unlikely to be popular picks)
Perhaps John Cena’s most significant accomplishment in WWE has been that, on his watch as “The Man,” WrestleMania has reached a level of sustained financial excellence never previously achieved in wrestling history. The Royal Rumble, in association with WrestleMania’s rise, has been as economically consistent during Cena’s eight years as the #1 star in the industry as in any other era. The following are the average PPV buys for the Royal Rumble in each of the respective eras in WWE history:
Hulkamania – 338K (granted, PPV was still in its infancy)
New Generation – 248K
Attitude – 514K
Raw/Smackdown – 368K
John Cena – 488K (excluding the one Rock-skewed event in 2013)
Cena is one of the stars that grew up on the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania being the definitive top events on the wrestling calendar. He and his family treated them like the NFL Conference Championship games and the Super Bowl and, subsequently, Cena has brought an unbridled passion for WrestleMania with him to the top of the WWE hierarchy that has permeated out to fan base. I don’t think that to be a coincidence. Passion and drive are huge components to success. Cena has brought a lot of box office success to the WWE in the first and second fiscal quarters, particularly. Right behind The Rock, who holds the distinction for being in the WWE Championship match at the three most profitable Royal Rumbles of all-time, Cena is the second of the two biggest financial draws in Royal Rumble lore.
With two Royal Rumble match victories (and counting), as well as four final four finishes, twenty eliminations (8th all-time, as of 2013), and two-plus hours in Rumble matches (tied for 10th), Cena is sitting pretty as the third best Royal Rumble participant in history with what would appear to be plenty of gas left in his career tank. He is already #6 on the main-event/headliner list with WWE/World title matches against Edge, Umaga, and JBL and #5 on the performance list with his classic Last Man Standing match for the WWE Championship in 2007, his unbelievable (match reputation-boosting) comeback to win the 2008 Rumble, and really strong work in other critically praised Rumble matches in 2005 and 2013.
The most memorable Royal Rumble moments for Cena have been at back-to-back Rumbles in 2007 and 2008. For as long as I live and breathe, I will never forget watching the 2008 Rumble at my buddy Jeff’s house. I had assumed for months that Triple H was going to win the Rumble and face Randy Orton at Wrestlemania 24 and when that buzzer went off signifying the 30th entrant, I was ready to get the last insignificant, non-winner out there to see how we’d get to The Game’s triumph. When that familiar opening to “My Time is Now” hit and Cena walked out with his head down, I initially thought that it was somebody else impersonating Cena in some silly joke. I actually said, “That’s not really him!” As the realization set in that Cena had overcome the odds to return several months early from injury, I came unglued in one of those rare occasions where wrestling has surprised me in my adult life. Word Life. And who could forget the match with Umaga from the prior year? Did anyone expect that match to be THAT good. It was arguably the finest outing in Royal Rumble history. Brutal, creative, well performed in all aspects by both combatants, the Cena-Umaga bout was the best Last Man Standing match I’ve ever seen.
When I was writing my book, I did a lot of number crunching. I was adamant about including certain statistics to shape the definitive list of the 90 greatest wrestlers of the WrestleMania Era. A theme arose as the data analysis was refined - Triple H ranked very highly across the board. From performance to box office to main-events to title stats to his pure wrestler score, he may not have ranked first in any category, but he was amongst the top 5-6 in every category. Subsequently, he placed ahead of a lot of stars that people would have assumed he would fall behind. Because of my book, I was not surprised when Triple H wound up ranking as the greatest Royal Rumble star of all-time.
Because of his lengthy headlining career, he tied for second in the non-Rumble match headliner/main-event category. As the top heel of the Attitude Era, he had two title matches on very strong drawing cards, including the 2000 WWE Championship Street Fight with Mick Foley at Madison Square Garden that excelled both financially (with the 4th highest number of buys in Royal Rumble history) and critically (atop many lists for best match in Rumble history). In my mind, that was the defining moment of Triple H’s entire career – defeating Cactus Jack in Foley’s signature match and overshadowing The Rock’s Rumble match victory in the process. When he transitioned to being the #1 star in the industry when the Attitude Era ended, starting with his 2002 return from his first quad tear to win the Rumble, he began to create a healthy statistical advantage over many of his peers. The 2002 Rumble gave the WWE an economic kick in the rear end with the second highest buy figure in Rumble history (nearly equaling the PPV numbers of Wrestlemania X-8). Triple H embarked on a helluva run, headlining the January Classic in 2003, 2004, and 2005 with the World Heavyweight Championship up for grabs. Between 2006 and 2009, he finished in the top four of the Rumble match on three different occasions, all of which were memorable performances on his part that rank amongst the best in the gimmick’s rich history.
The Royal Rumble is an interesting event to thoroughly analyze. It does not provide as many opportunities for individual glory as do WrestleMania and Summerslam. Triple H is a great representation of the event’s history, in that he has a few incredibly memorable matches and moments – the Street Fight at MSG and the 2002 Rumble win, most notably – but the rest of his resume is just solidly unspectacular. As did the rest of his peers, there were a lot of moments that did not jump off the page. I’ve spent so much time over the years studying WrestleMania that I’m used to identifying and categorically separating the best of the best and the greatest of the great based largely on those incredible, “no one that saw that is going to forget it” kinds of happenings. If you look at the top ten of this countdown…everybody had a few big moments and a whole bunch of smaller ones. It’s fascinating, though, because it makes for an engaging study.
In the end, Triple H is #1. Certainly not by a landslide. He was #3 in the business category, #2 in headlining non-Rumble matches, #4 in performance, and #3 in Rumble match stats. He narrowly edged out Cena, who is likely going to be #1 before all is said and done. One of the striking conclusions of this column series was that pro wrestling analytics strongly favor Triple H and John Cena.
Our Olympic Hero represents an excellent example of the benefits received from the WWE’s decision in the mid-90s to prominently feature World Championship matches as featured attractions at Royal Rumble events. Angle has the third worst Rumble match statistics out of everyone in consideration, but he owns the fourth best headliner/main-event ranking due to his title bouts in 2001 (Triple H), 2003 (Benoit), 2005 (Show/JBL), and 2006 (Mark Henry). The Rumble’s economic profile was boosted and steadily grew over time partially due to the addition of those World title matches of which Angle was frequently a part. Thus, his business ranking is also stellar (he ranks in the top 5 there, as well).
The most surprising aspect of Angle’s Rumble PPV resume is his low ranking in performance. Much like Bret Hart, Angle’s overall body of work is so critically well-received that you almost have to do a double take when he scores just outside of the bottom five in that category for the Royal Rumble. While there can be no denying that he absolutely killed it against Benoit in 2003, providing arguably the finest all-time example of how to work a classic match in under twenty-minutes, the rest of his Rumble title bouts were underwhelming. The match with Triple H should have been a classic, for instance. They had the storyline and the skill to do it. There were no excuses for it to simply be “good.” The recipe was written for greatness. Being saddled with 2006 Mark Henry did not help his cause. That match was awful.
Upon closer inspection, the area where Angle really needed a boost was his Rumble stats. He has the historical stature to suggest a much better showing in the WWE’s most popular gimmick match, but in only one year did he excel (2004). He made an impact in 2002 and 2005, respectively. His top 4 finishes in ’02 and ’04 were nice, but he spent just 45 combined minutes in the Rumble match with just 4 total eliminations in his near seven year WWE career. That’s amazing to me.
#12 is nothing to scoff at, but it fascinates me that his ranking did not come more directly due to the performance aspect that gave us his most substantial contribution to Rumble memory (the match with Benoit in ’03).
Perhaps one of the discrepancies between wrestlers like Kurt Angle and Rey Mysterio is that the WWE did not feel as though they needed to boost Angle through the Royal Rumble match as they did for Mysterio. Rey has an outstanding Rumble stats mark of 8th, brought about by his victory from the 2nd position in 2006 that somewhat shocked the wrestling world. I recall sitting in my chair that Sunday morning prior to his victory and openly stating my desire to see it while simultaneously questioning the possibility. Mysterio as a headliner at Wrestlemania 22 seemed so improbable when evaluating history. Yet, in spending over an hour in the match withstanding the onslaught of numerous top stars, Mysterio seized the day and was built up strongly as a go-to star. He now stands as one of just four wrestlers in Rumble lore to have spent over three hours total in the January Classic Battle Royal. Suffice to state that the Royal Rumble has been kind to Mysterio’s career.
Mysterio has also managed two WWE/World Championship matches at the Rumble that gave him a headliner/main-event ranking of 14th. The first, against Edge, was a match that I had hoped to see since their short-lived tag team days in 2002. Though it was not the classic that I had hoped for, their 2008 title bout further reminded the audience that Mysterio was a primetime player. The second, an underrated David vs. Goliath bout against Undertaker, should be talked about more when analyzing both Rumble lore and the history of super heavyweights engaging in battle with cruiserweights. Though it, like Mysterio-Edge, was not lengthy enough to warrant the praise that HBK and Bret’s matches with much larger wrestlers have garnered, Mysterio-Taker gave us as good an example of how to realistically showcase high flying offense in opposition to a man two hundred pounds or heavier in weight advantage.
His flashy, controlled aerial prowess has always made him a must-watch at the Rumble. His 2003 Rumble match debut certainly caught my attention and remains one of the pinnacle Rumble debuts that come to my mind when the topic arises. He also dazzled in 2009, capturing the imagination of my wrestling novice then-fiancée, now wife. The 2006 performance ranks amongst the finest of all-time, critically. If Flair was #1 and Benoit was #2, then Mysterio is right there with Shawn Michaels (if not a little ahead) at #3. It was work of that caliber that earned Mysterio the #9 ranking in the performance category.
Cracking the top 10 with a cumulative score just 0.25 points better than Mysterio is the Chicago Made Punk. Unlike many of his peers outside of the top 10, Punk’s numbers are pretty steady across the board.
In performance, he ranks an excellent #8. His match with The Rock last year was underrated. My expectations were too high. I was hoping for a MOTY candidate and instead it was a great match used to build up Punk for his headlining Wrestlemania attempt at ending the Streak. Nevertheless, Punk-Rock was one of the best showings of Punk’s career when viewed in context. His WWE title defense against Dolph Ziggler the year before was very good, albeit a bit unheralded due to the booking. He was awesome in the two prior Royal Rumble matches in 2011 and 2010, respectively, owning the 2010 version with his verbal outbursts in between eliminations and dominating the 2011 version with his Nexus-leading efforts. With his position set amongst the top 2-3 active roster members, his numbers should only get better in this category as the years pass.
In headlining/main-eventing, Punk ranks 14th. His two WWE Championship matches in the last two years have seen to that solid statistic.
In the business rankings, Punk impressed at #10, getting a considerable boost in that category from an utterly incredible modern number of buys for his match with The Rock last year. It is difficult to state whether or not Rock drew the number by himself or if Punk contributed to it, but the strong argument could be made that The Rock was able to draw that number because people wanted to see “The People’s Champion” capture the WWE title from the dastardly Punk. 434 consecutive days as champion ended in a blaze of financial glory that night. The bottom line was that 2013 earned more revenue than any Rumble before it. Despite prices being higher than ever, 510,000 people ordered the show. Punk was in the main-event.
In the Rumble match stats, Punk drew his lowest number at 17th. He has done well in the Battle Royal, with nearly two combined hours spent in the match since his debut in 2007. He ranks a solid 13th in total time and ranks 11th with 15 total eliminations. Where he suffered was a fat double zero in top four finishes and Rumble match victories. All of his really good work in the Rumble match has come relatively early.
Punk is in a good position right now. Nobody behind him seems poised to move up and he is one of only two active roster members in the top 10, so there is plenty of room for realistic upward mobility.
There were two areas where Steve Austin did very well in the rankings and two areas where he did not. The obvious top 5 statistics for him were economic and Rumble stats. Performance and non-Rumble match headliner/main-event matches were a different story. Naturally, since he won a record three Royal Rumble matches and finished in the top four on five different occasions, he ranks atop the first of the three Royal Rumble match sub-categories. He also had thirty-six total eliminations (third in that sub-category) and spent nearly three total hours in the Rumble match over the years (6th). His overall Royal Rumble statistical ranking was 2nd behind Shawn Michaels. The three victories may never be equaled given the ever-changing role of the Royal Rumble match in the current WWE hierarchy. Today, winning the Rumble is a method of elevating newer talent (Sheamus, Del Rio, Batista, Mysterio) or giving a consistent top star their one final accomplishment (Taker, Cena, Edge). Stories that lead to presumably obvious Rumble victories are few and far between. Unless Cena wins it again, then Austin’s record appears safe. Business is holding strong with the current formula, so I have my doubts that we will see many more double Rumble winners, much less triple. Cena was the first multi-time winner since Austin won his 3rd in 2001.
Austin ranked in the top five in financial data (again, not surprisingly). Though Stone Cold’s effect on WWE economics was better displayed when spread out over the entire calendar, the Royal Rumble events built on his quests for Wrestlemania title shots were very successful. 1997 aside, he was the focal point in four out of his five Rumble matches, all of which did great business. Though the concept of a Wrestlemania main-event spot being up for grabs in the Rumble match had been fully established before Austin, it was the Texas Rattlesnake that glorified it, fiscally. HBK did well to build the prestige, but it did not translate to bigger buyrates until Austin. Oddly, it was the Rumble that he did not win that was perhaps the most memorable one in which he was involved. 1999 saw McMahon screw Steve in the same way that Steve had screwed Bret two years prior. That was, to date, the biggest number of buys ever drawn by a Royal Rumble PPV. There have been modern Wrestlemanias that did not do that well. Austin vs. McMahon in the Rumble match had some help from the Corporation’s other big feud in ’99, but that was a wildly successful venture.
Only HBK rivals Austin’s Rumble match exploits. The images of Austin sneaking back into the ring to eliminate Bret in 1997, winning in 1998 to earn his first WWE title match at Wrestlemania, completing his comeback in 2001 to get back to Mania’s top spot, and looking at his non-existent watch in 2002 as he counted the seconds to his next victim in 2002 are indelibly etched into my mind as some of the most iconic Royal Rumble match happenings of all-time.
Longevity has greatly benefited certain members of the top ten, one of which has been Chris Jericho. Unlike an Austin or an HBK, Jericho did not build his Royal Rumble reputation on the PPV’s signature match. Though Y2J has had his moments, namely his tremendous 2003, 2012, and 2013 performances, Jericho’s spot in the hierarchy is predominantly based on his consistency over a number of years and through a variety of different Royal Rumble roles. He initially stamped his reputation with an outstanding Ladder match for the Intercontinental title against Chris Benoit in 2001. He had an IC title match the previous year with Chyna and Hardcore Holly, but it was forgettable. The 2001 Ladder match was exactly the opposite. If you have seen that match, the odds are strong that you have fond memories of it. Not the typically worked version of the gimmick (especially given the era of stunt brawls during which it took place), Jericho vs. Benoit took the focus of the stipulation back to its Wrestlemania X roots. The next year, as a major reason for the second biggest drawing number of buys in Royal Rumble history, Jericho successfully defended the Undisputed WWE Championship in the finest title bout of his first reign as champion. Y2J vs. The Rock was one of the Rumble’s best matches, historically. It is nestled safely in my top 10. He spent the next decade in-and-out of the WWE and in-and-out of the Royal Rumble match, itself, but he was always a rock solid contributor. The aforementioned 2003 performance was one of the event’s all-time best, boosted in its historical profile by the success of the subsequent Wrestlemania XIX match with Shawn Michaels, a strong part of the build up to which took place in the 2003 Royal Rumble match. Personally, I am quite partial to the finish of the 2012 Rumble match featuring Jericho and Sheamus going toe-to-toe for nearly five minutes in a climax reminiscent of 2007’s all-time best Rumble finish featuring HBK and Undertaker. His 2013 surprise (and quite lengthy) appearance may also hold up well as time passes.
Jericho ranked 14th in headlining/main-event matches, 7th in performance, 14th in the business category, and 12th in Rumble stats. His best category was nowhere near the ranking of some of his top 10 peers, but he was just so consistent. There were no statistical outliers, as Austin had without any non-Rumble matches on his Royal resume.
The Rock has done his career a tremendous service by coming back in the last few years. When he left, there was legitimate question about the fiscal part of his legacy. Three Wrestlemanias in a row that drew over one million buys have not only stomped out any remaining doubts as to his economic impact without Steve Austin by his side, but put him in the conversation with Austin and Hulk Hogan for the WWE’s all-time biggest star. Lost amidst the literal millions (and millions…) of Rock’s fans coming back to support his name with their money at Wrestlemanias since 2011 is the incredible Royal Rumble 2013 buyrate. Sure, there have been better buy totals. There have been six Rumbles with higher numbers of buys in the history of the event. However, it was the first time since prices increased to their current astronomic highs that Rumble buys reached above 500,000. When taking the actual price tag into account, has there ever really been a more impressive buy number in January? If you assume that half of the buyers bought the show in High Definition, then there were over 250,000 people that paid $55. That’s a lot of money. If you factor in that The Rock was the focal point in either the Royal Rumble match or the WWE Championship match in four of the previously mentioned six other Royal Rumbles that eclipsed the stellar 2013 number, then Rock’s overall economic resume for the January Classic is all the more impressive. He ranks #1 in that category in Royal Rumble lore.
With three WWE title bouts on his Rumble headliner list, one Rumble victory, and three top 4 finishes, The Rock has done quite a bit at the WWE’s feeder to Wrestlemania. I love the match with Mick Foley in 1999 and the bout with Chris Jericho in 2002. As singles matches at the Royal Rumble are concerned, those are two of the top four non-battle royal bouts in the history of the event. The “I Quit” match may be more iconic, but the Rock-Jericho match stands the test of time in a way that the era-specific Rock-Foley match can never hope to duplicate. I could pop Rock-Y2J into the DVD player tomorrow and fully appreciate the rapid fire pace of the 21-minute spectacle without reservation and/or need to put myself in a mindset for an era gone by. Rock and Jericho had incredible in-ring chemistry for a style that I most appreciate. I also think that Rock vs. Punk will wind up aging well, despite the mixed reaction it drew from 2013 critics. It was a very good match that could become great as time passes.
The Deadman has had an incredible career. As Wrestlemania XXX approaches, we are nearly two-and-a-half decades into the Dark Days of Destruction. From The Streak to the druids to the theatrics to the body bags, Undertaker has provided us with some of the most memorable moments in modern pro wrestling history. Though his most notable accomplishments have taken place at Wrestlemania, he has put together an incredible Royal Rumble resume, as well. Years ago, when I was doing a similarly-themed column series for Summerslam, I was caught off-guard with how impressive his rap sheet was for the August Classic. I find myself marveling at Taker’s Rumble statistics in a similar manner, today. I thought about it a little bit, wondering aloud during one of those lazy days when the wife and the kid were out and about, “Why is it that Taker’s overall career, to me, fails to stand out?” The answer became clearly apparent – it is because his Wrestlemania Streak, both generally and critically, is such a huge accomplishment that it overshadows everything else that he’s ever done, rendering an otherwise standout career full of championships and moments less important by comparison. Well, let us do the Deadman a favor in highlighting his work at another top WWE event.
When I think of Undertaker at the Royal Rumble, I am invariably drawn to his 2007 Rumble match victory, the climax of which I consider to be the single greatest 10-minutes in the history of the gimmick. Taker and HBK went onto an incredible Wrestlemania series that will stand the test of time as one of the greatest ever, but they hinted at a budding rivalry at back-to-back Royal Rumbles. The 2007 version was as dramatic a final few minutes as there has been in a Royal Rumble match. When they were paired as the opening entrants in the 2008 Rumble, they proceeded to give us 30 brilliant minutes that boosted that year’s match to another of the all-time best battle royals. I think of the WWE Championship in the 1990s with Yokozuna and Bret Hart and of the underrated classic with Rey Mysterio in 2010 for World Championship that showcased how a big man should work with a cruiserweight as well as any other match in modern lore. I reminisce back to 2004 when the gong went off signaling the return of the Deadman character.
The memories aside, just look at the numbers…
35 total eliminations in the Rumble match, 2 hours and 22 minutes spent in Rumble matches, 3 top four finishes and one victory, the 2nd best non-Rumble match headliner grade with four championship matches and two victories, and a sparkling performance record ranking second only to Michaels.
The way that the numbers are crunched often yields a few surprises….
Randy Orton has been a huge contributor during a time in which the Royal Rumble has really taken off as the second biggest PPV of the year, headlining in matches for the WWE or World Heavyweight Championship on four occasions, three of which transitioned the Royal Rumble into its current spot as a PPV that, no matter the cost increase, could be expected to draw a buyrate that would make all other WWE PPVs (sans for Wrestlemania) envious. The Rumble match itself has and will continue to be the primary draw for the event, but there was a reason why the WWE made the decision in the early 1990s to combine a title shot at Wrestlemania with a title defense by the current champion and it had everything to do with the fact that they felt it would be a legitimate draw. I firmly believe that the 2008 Royal Rumble, for instance, earned its buyrate largely on the shoulders of Orton’s WWE Championship match with Jeff Hardy. Title bouts with Triple H, Sheamus, and The Miz were also focal points of strong drawing cards. Orton’s Rumble match statistics are also quite good. He ranked 5th in that category, primarily because he has finished in the top four on the five different occasions, winning the Rumble in 2009.
The reason that I was surprised by Orton’s overall ranking (the top 5, for crying out loud), is that he has not performed particularly well at the Rumble. In fact, when it comes to the WWE’s most important PPVs, Orton has come up surprisingly short in the critical arena. If you look at his Wrestlemania and Royal Rumble resumes, he has never achieved the kind of acclaim through his in-ring work that one would expect of someone with his tenure and stature. The match with Hardy, for example, may have been one of the most financially fruitful headlining bouts of his numerous title reigns, but it was a critical disappointment. It had the build-up to be a classic, but it was a 14-minute match masquerading as the semi-main-event. Even in a feature-length match with Triple H in 2005, he could not muster more than “really good” out of the top members of the Wrestling Media. I personally loved his Rumble match performances in 2004 and 2009, respectively. As big a fan of Orton as I am, though, I do not think of excellence at the Royal Rumble when I think of The Viper.
In my book, you will read the term “objective subjectivism” – a phrase that I created to blend the objective statistics that cannot be disputed with the subjective nature of ranking pro wrestlers. Orton, as it pertains only to the Rumble, is a shining example of how “greatness” at a particular event (or overall) can be determined by the combination of numerous factors. Orton may not be the most memorable Rumble combatant, but he has one of the top 5 resumes in the event’s history.
I was watching two of Edge’s classic ladder matches last month in anticipation of the TLC PPV and they made me realize how much I missed him. One of the things that I always appreciated about him was that he wore his heart on his sleeve. Ric Flair was like that, too. It was a quality that made them both endearing in ways that others were not.
Edge’s emotional return to win the 2010 Royal Rumble match was one of my favorite in the event’s rich history. I had predicted in the summer of 2009 when he went down with his Achilles tear that he would be able to get back to win the Rumble and feud with Chris Jericho. From a creative standpoint, the proclamation turned reality did not garner much critical acclaim. Honestly, the last year of Edge’s career had some big time paper highlights – two Wrestlemania World title matches and a Royal Rumble win – but the way that they played out on TV was not overly memorable to the masses. I digress, Edge’s Rumble victory and title match with Jericho two months later still remain video items that I love to re-watch. From a statistical standpoint, the Rumble win gave Edge a career-boosting resume builder that secured his place in the top 10 of all-time in Rumble match data.
Much like Orton, Edge did not have a sparkling list of classic matches at the Rumble. The difference between them – and, ultimately, the reason why Edge ranks third in the performance category – is that the Rated R Superstar always made the most of his opportunities. Edge vs. Dolph Ziggler was expected to be a good opening match in 2011, but wound up being one of the most underrated matches of the year. His match with Rey Mysterio in 2008 was given just over 10-minutes to play out, but much as he had done as a talented young mid-carder in 2001 (w/ Christian vs. The Dudley Boys) and 2002 (vs. William Regal) for lesser championships, Edge worked his butt off in the World Championship defense and succeeded. He also put in standout performances in the 2003, 2005, and 2007 Rumble matches, the latter two of which were his other top 4 finishes (in addition to his 2010 victory). I am quite partial to his 2005 opening match with Shawn Michaels, pitting two of my all-time favorites in opposite corners, as well.
Nobody mixed Rumble match success with non-Rumble match success as well as Edge. He ranks #1 in the Headliner/Main-Event category with a Tag Team title match, an Intercontinental title match, and four matches for the World/WWE Championship (including victories in three of them).