Doctor's Orders: The Royal Rumble Recall (#13-#27) - Who's The Greatest in Rumble History?
By The Doc
Jan 13, 2014 - 7:33:29 AM
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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.
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
We begin the 2014 Countdown with Ted Dibiase, Sr., who narrowly beat out modern contenders The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, and Alberto Del Rio based on his memorable, standout performances in the 1989 and 1990 Royal Rumble matches. The ’89 version, you may recall, was the first to be featured on PPV. The Million Dollar Man was the last to be eliminated that year – his only top 4 finish. The following year, he set a then-record length in the Rumble match with 44-minutes of total time in the ring, stealing the show in one of the most star-studded incarnations of wrestling’s most famous gimmick. The ’92 Rumble is often cited as the Battle Royal with the biggest collection of “names,” but the ’90 Rumble – at the very least – gives it a run for its money. Dibiase entered #1 as the first of many current and future Hall of Famers on a list that also included Dusty Rhodes, Jimmy Snuka, Roddy Piper, Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Mr. Perfect, Shawn Michaels, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Dibiase’s work from 1990 was one of the ten best performances in the history of the Royal Rumble match.
Dibiase spent 25-minutes in the 1993 Royal Rumble, amassing four of his eleven total eliminations (good for 15th amongst his peers on this list). Given that his other appearances at Rumble events included a whopping one minute, eighteen seconds as the #2 entrant in the historic ’92 Rumble and a forgettable tag team match in which he teamed up with Virgil to take on Dusty and Dustin Rhodes in 1991, Dibiase’s memorable stint in ’93 significantly boosts his case to be included on this Countdown.
Personally, it was Million Dollar Man’s work, along with the next Royal Rumbler on the Countdown, that made me a fan of the Rumble match. The concept was ready-made for bump taker extraordinaires like Dibiase to shine. The 30-man, over-the-top-rope Battle Royal naturally derives its drama on the clock and the finish, but it was through men like Dibiase that made it possible to add a third element of excitement from wrestlers trying to make a memory in between.
The Million Dollar Man’s Rumble match stat ranking of 20th was his highest of the four categories. He did not heavily factor into the fiscal or headlining data, but his work in the first two PPV Rumble matches was good enough to make the ’89 and ’90 Royal Rumble matches two of the top ten in the gimmick’s history and, subsequently, earn Dibiase a spot amongst the greatest.
You could almost copy and paste Dibiase’s section to here, just with the roles reversed from the ’89 and ’90 Rumbles, respectively. Dibiase was great in 1990’s match, but more important to the finish in 1989. Perfect was great in 1989’s match, but more important to the finish in 1990.
The last five minutes of a Royal Rumble match were made for the Hulk Hogans, John Cenas, Steve Austins, and Rocks of the world. Everything before that is the time for men like Curt Hennig to shine. The first Rumble in 1988 was a shell of what we have come to expect from the match, both in the numbers of participants and the coinciding total time dedicated to the match. In 1989, Mr. Perfect taught the world how to make the gimmick into something special. With his uncanny ability to take bumps on display, Hennig put on a thrilling show for nearly a half hour. The Rumble match instantly became, very early in its existence, a place for young talents – like Hennig, who had recently debuted – to showcase their skills in a high profile situation. The first half of the 1989 Rumble match was, on Hennig’s merits, one of the finest stretches in Rumble lore. He stole the show. Thirteen years later, he would return to the Rumble match (and the WWE) in 2002 and, once again, add both substance and sizzle. His total time in all of the Rumbles in which he participated clocked in at less than an hour, but he made his presence felt each time.
In 1990 and 2002, he finished in the Final Four, being thrown over last by Hulk Hogan in ’90. Much like Ted Dibiase, Perfect did not have a dazzling resume at the event, but the impression that he made in its early, reputation-building years was important to shaping the identity of the Royal Rumble match, itself. Without Hennig’s early performances, a strong argument could be made that the Rumble match would never have reached its current position of extreme fan adulation.
Winning the Royal Rumble match became an extremely important legacy enhancer when Yokozuna won it in 1993 – the very first year in which a WWE Championship match at Wrestlemania was up for grabs. To the victor goes the spoils…and Yokozuna parlayed his Rumble victory into a Hall of Fame career. From the moment that he last eliminated Randy Savage – who curiously tried to pin him (that crazy Macho Man) - Yoko became one of the top superstars in the WWE. He, of course, went onto defeat Bret Hart for the WWE title at Mania IX and, after a slight hiccup in the proceedings, hold it for nine months until Mania X. That was a very memorable time in my WWE fan tenure. Bret was my favorite wrestler and any and all of his challengers took on a unique role in my mind’s eye. From the start of 1993 until Bret won back the strap in 1994, there was a race between Hart and Yoko for the #1 spot in the company. Because I so heavily rooted for Bret to be “The Man,” the villainous Polynesian super heavyweight grated on my nerves like few heels in wrestling history. Thanks to that rivalry, Yoko put up respectable rankings as the 19th biggest headliner in Rumble lore and the 21st most respectable Rumble match participant. The areas that hurt him were his lack of time in the Rumble match (just 34-minutes total) and his less than stellar record of performance (the category in which he ranked 27th of the 27 determined candidates).
Though his ’93 Rumble match victory that propelled him to WWE title glory was the biggest moment of his Winter Classic career, it was his championship bout with Undertaker in 1994 that stands out most to me. It may seem contradictory to somewhat insult his in-ring record at the Rumble in one paragraph and then praise one of the matches on that resume in the next, but I have always enjoyed the Casket match between two of the Wrestlemania Era’s most dominant athletes. Because their styles each commanded such typically one-sided affairs, it was fascinating to watch them clash. The match cut about twelve corners to avoid the plodding style that became famous once Yoko started tipping the scales at well over 600 pounds, but it was the finest title match of his life, by my estimation, beating out even the Wrestlemania bouts with Bret.
If there is one thing that Kevin Nash seemed to understand very well from the outset of his WWE career, it was that history making opportunities came best served at Wrestlemania and The Royal Rumble. Subsequently, those two events were the places that he made the greatest impressions. Starting in the ’94 Royal Rumble, Nash – as “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel – embarked on a highly successful two year run in which the Rumble PPV was second only to his work at Wrestlemania on his list of crowning achievements in the ring. In the ’94 Rumble match, Diesel spent his 17-minutes eliminating everyone that he could get his hands on. Seven eliminations later and he was a bonafide star in the making on the fast track to the WWE Championship (which he won later in the year). Diesel’s ’94 Rumble stats were off the charts, garnering one of the top 5 highest ratios of time in the match to eliminations in history. HBK, Bret, and Lex Luger often get much of the credit for what was a very solid edition of the Rumble match that year, but Diesel stole the show. His work in the 1996 version was also important, as he was the last man eliminated by Michaels. A surprise appearance in the 2011 “Largest Royal Rumble ever” was memorable, as well. Hearing that old “trucker” theme got me out of my chair at the bar, “marking out” with the best of them.
Nash was at his best when working with Bret Hart. I am partial to each and every match that Nash had with “The Hitman.” I thought they had great chemistry and told some of the best technical wrestler vs. big man stories of the 1990s. Though not their most famous clash, I thoroughly enjoyed their Royal Rumble 1995 WWE Championship match that doubled as the most financially important Rumble of Diesel’s career. It was the lone babyface match of their three PPV series (which also included King of the Ring ’94 and Survivor Series ’95). There were not many nights when it seemed that Nash truly had the all-around chops to be the top guy in the industry. Most of the time, it appeared that something was missing from his arsenal. On that night, however, I thought Diesel looked like a legitimate king of the throne. He had better matches in his career, but he was never better as the #1 guy in the company than the ’95 Rumble.
Unlike Wrestlemania, The Royal Rumble is not a microcosm of WWE history, in my opinion. That is part of the reason that I wanted to write this column series. To me, The Royal Rumble is a mixed bag of top star tryouts and moments that define eras. For instance, Ric Flair would be near the top of any legitimate list of the best of the best (or greatest of the great) from the last thirty years, but his Rumble resume – sans for his classic ’92 performance that ranks atop most peoples’ memories for greatest Rumble victory – is not of the variety that gives you an accurate reflection of what he meant to the wrestling business (as was Wrestlemania VIII, X-8, and XXIV). A lot of the work that he did for the WWE at The Royal Rumble was entertaining, such as it was in 2002 when he had a Street Fight with Vince McMahon, but it was a far cry from the caliber of work that he put in at the 1992 Rumble or even Wrestlemania X-8 and Wrestlemania XXIV in the twilight of his career. Nevertheless, he remains one of the finest Royal Rumblers of all-time if for no other reason than his brilliant ’92, WWE Championship-winning performance. There have been more aesthetically pleasing Rumble matches, but none were as “great” when taking into consideration the name value of the participants, the gimmick-centric wrestling, the story told by those involved, and the excellent commentary providing the audio backdrop to the visual artistry on display.
The Nature Boy was one of a kind. His ’92 Rumble performance was, too. There has not been a finer example of how one guy can provide all the essential elements of what it takes to create a successful Royal Rumble match – the background (Flair as the “Real World’s Champion”), the bumping to make the hour-long bout entertaining for its entirety, the anticipation by the focal point in the ring as the clock ticks down and the next participant joins the fray, the showmanship that gives the announce team plenty to talk about, and the ability to close a match on a climaxing high note. Flair gave other guys the blueprint on how to put it all together in the Rumble match. I think that we, at times, overrate Flair’s overall contributions to Royal Rumble history based on the sheer magnitude of what he did in 1992. He deserves to be remembered for it fondly, but the numbers do not depict Flair as much more than a one Rumble wonder.
The Celtic Warrior has had a stellar Royal Rumble career, so far. In just four appearances, he has successfully retained the WWE Championship, won the Royal Rumble match in 2012, and finished in the top 3 in 2013. His Rumble match-related statistics were very good, accordingly. Most of his time in Rumble matches was split between the last two – thirty-minutes on the average, to be exact. Despite only being in three Rumbles, to this point, he ranked 16th. The climax of his 2012 Royal Rumble match victory was arguably the most exciting final few minutes of any Rumble match in the event’s history. He and Chris Jericho kept us guessing at every turn for nearly five uninterrupted minutes. Only HBK and Taker’s amazing final five minutes in the 2007 Rumble exceed the ’12 climax, in my opinion.
He has had the good fortune to come about during a time when The Royal Rumble, financially, has been on a major upswing in accordance with Wrestlemania’s unprecedented rise in pop culture box office appeal. His business ranking was more a by-product of the way that the numbers were configured (he ranked in the top 20), but his presence is hard to ignore on three of the last four shows, all of which drew 440,000+ buys. We can debate his impact on the buyrates, but he has definitely been a key figure. Sheamus is a very good wrestler that seems to grasp the importance of performing at a high level during Wrestlemania season, as evidenced by his standout performances in the last two Rumbles and his admirable work against Orton four years ago. I suspect that we have not seen the last of Sheamus in prominent Rumble positions, either. If he keeps pace with his current Rumble resume, he could jump into the top 15 within the next two years – not bad for an off-again, on-again main-eventer. If his WWE tenure lasts for close to ten years, then I could see him becoming the next Rumble-version of Kane, who has been as consistent a presence at the Winter Classic as anyone in the WWE over the last decade plus.
JBL excelled in the main-event/headlining factor. He ranked 10th, largely based on winning a WWE Championship match in 2005 and clashing heads with John Cena three years later in a title bout. Like many longer-tenured veterans, Layfield had a lot of non-Rumble match appearances at the Winter Classic. In addition to his work with the World title on the line, he also had a high profile match with Chris Jericho in 2008 and a Tag Team title bout (as a member of the APA) against The New Age Outlaws. Though the latter two matches were under-timed and, subsequently, less than what they could have been from a critical standpoint, the two aforementioned World title matches were good, 3-star additions to their respective cards. The stinker with the abomination otherwise known as The Boogeyman drove down his match rating statistic to 19th. Who says a bad match does not adversely affect your career? JBL may be a future Hall of Famer, but his candidate for “worst Royal Rumble PPV match in history” dropped him out of The Doc’s Top Rumble 20. Smell what I’m cookin’?
The other stat that knocked Bradshaw out of the Top 20 was his pedestrian history as a participant in the Royal Rumble match, itself. Of the 27 wrestlers covered, he ranked 26th, virtually negating his strong position in the business list and his stellar spot in the headlining factor. He, along with CM Punk and Jeff Hardy, were the only superstars in contention who failed to tally a top four Rumble finish, putting him in a tie for last place in that part of the Rumble data. He also came in last in the elimination category, with a horrifying (and surprising) one elimination in his decade-long career in the WWE. A lot of it came down to simple lack of participation in the match. Early in his career, he was in the Rumble because they simply needed bodies. The tradeoff during his 2004-to-retirement headlining tenure was that, in being used to enhance the rest of the card, he missed out on a lot of Rumble match action. The only truly notable Rumble appearance that he had was in 1998, when he spent 35-minutes in the match and tallied his lone elimination. That is a bit astonishing, though, is it not? JBL had just one elimination!
In 2000, Big Show was on a roll. He finished in the top 2 in the Rumble match (some actually said that he unofficially won given Rock’s feet touched first upon video scrutiny), going onto the main-event of Wrestlemania 2000. A year later, he made his return from the hiatus that reduced him from wrestling in the biggest show of the year to wrestling in front of 50 people in WWE developmental. He was a non-factor for two years until he got his act together and had a strong performance at the next three Royal Rumbles, competing in the high profile next chapter in his lengthy feud with Brock Lesnar in 2003, finishing as the runner-up in the Rumble match for a second time in 2004, and competing for the WWE Championship in an underrated, rapid fire triple threat match in 2005. In the last two years, he competed for the World Heavyweight Championship twice and finished in the top four in the Rumble match once. Scattered everywhere in between have been moments of insignificance characterized by short, forgettable Rumble match appearances. Therefore, it would be safe to state that Big Show has had a mixed bag of a Royal Rumble career. At the end of the day, though, the good – three top 4 finishes, twenty-four total eliminations (7th all-time), a #11 ranking as non-Rumble match headliner, and a top 15 spot in every category but one – offset his relatively inconsequential impact on the fiscal bottom line and a few fairly meaningless appearances (without his second to last spot in the business rankings, Show would have done much better, overall).
My two fondest memories of his Rumble career have unquestionably been his runner-up finishes in the 2000 and 2004 Rumbles, respectively. The 2000 Rumble match was void of many “moments” that have defined the event’s history, but he and Rock toppling over the top rope simultaneously has been replayed every year since it happened. WWE would prefer us to forget anything that involved Chris Benoit, but it is very difficult for anyone that was invested in his rise to the top to push aside the classic moment when he caught Show in a front facelock and pulled him slowly over the top rope and to the floor. The 2004 Rumble match was one of my favorite Big Show performances. He spent 22-minutes in the match and was incredibly entertaining in his elimination of John Cena. He nearly got the Jackhammer from Goldberg and was ganged up on by some of the biggest stars of all-time (Cena, RVD, Kurt Angle, Benoit, and Chris Jericho).
It is a testament to the overall quality of Royal Rumble history that the soon-to-be-returning Batista managed only to rank 19th in Winter Classic lore. When I sat down to write his excerpt, I had to go back and look at the numbers again to confirm. I immediately thought of the fact that he was only in four Royal Rumble matches and finished in the top four in every one of them. He won the 2005 Rumble match. He also successfully defended the World Heavyweight Championship at the 2007 Rumble, setting up his classic Wrestlemania match with Undertaker. From 2003 to 2010, he had as sparkling a Rumble resume as any of his peers – incredible, considering that he was injured for 2006 and 2009. So, I had to do a double take to make sure that I had not miscalculated.
Batista ranked in the top 15 in both Rumble stats and economics. He was actually tied with Triple H for the 6th best Rumble match finish grade, with an incredible ratio of having been in the final four in all four Rumble matches in which he participated. He also did well in the headliner/main-event category. What cost him was the performance side. His non-Rumble matches were not well received, knocking down the cumulative star ratings from his dominant work in the Rumble match. Had those bouts been better reviewed, the credit that he received from being in the final four of the 2003, 2005, and 2008 Rumble matches would have likely carried him to the top 15 overall.
The finish to the 2005 Royal Rumble match was the most exciting of all-time, in my opinion. It has never been confirmed as to whether or not Cena and Batista were supposed to go over the top at the same time and magically hit the floor simultaneously, but it was wildly emotional. When Vince ran down to the ring and blew out both of his quads, it gave the situation an organic feel often missing from the climax of pro wrestling matches. It was the first of many years when the WWE seemed to identify who the quiet favorites were amongst the critical audience prior to the Rumble match and made sure that those two were the last men standing. Batista was the runaway winner in most people’s predictions. He had the hype and the great storyline. However, when it came down to him and Cena, some doubt started to creep in. When they both went over the top, it invoked feelings of 1994 (Bret Hart and Lex Luger being named co-winners). The controversy leading to the eventual definitive Batista victory was fantastic stuff.
How can a guy win two Royal Rumble matches and not even crack the top 15 in Rumble history? If we were grading based solely on victory, then there is no question that Hogan would be right up there amongst the greatest. Only three other guys have ever won more than a single Rumble match. However, Hogan’s other numbers do not hold up particularly well over time. Remember that he was the dominant force in the early Rumbles, but that he also was the face of the franchise during a time in which the Rumble PPV, itself, was still finding its place in the industry. He never took place in a Rumble match where the vaunted Wrestlemania title shot – which has aided in the Rumble’s surge in popularity and financial gains over the last decade and a half – was on the line. So, even though he has 26 eliminations in Rumble matches (still good for 6th all-time), three top four finishes, and two wins, he and the Rumble event were not around at the same time long enough for him to accomplish much else in January. He never competed in any non-Rumble match at the event, leaving him tied with Mr. Perfect and Steve Austin in last place in the headliner/main-event category. He also ranked just 20th in performance because other wrestlers had more opportunities to accumulate a better resume. Even his financial impact, which most would usually assume to be his greatest contribution to the WWE, did not hold up to his Wrestlemania standards. The Rumble, though currently the second biggest drawing card of the year for a long time, was routinely last amongst the big (and only) 4 PPVs during Hogan’s era.
Hogan’s work at the Rumble should be celebrated, no matter his placement in this ranking. The energy that his mere presence brought to the early Rumble matches, particularly once the event made it to PPV in 1989, gave each version a huge boost. I thoroughly enjoyed his Rumble appearances. He was instrumental to the success of each; and all four (’89 – ’92) still rank amongst the best in the gimmick’s history. I am partial to 1990 due to the section of the match that previewed Hogan vs. Warrior at Wrestlemania VI. I currently have the 1990 Royal Rumble match in my top 15 overall in Royal Rumble PPV lore. Hogan may have spent just 12-minutes in the match, but those 12-minutes provided the most exciting moments. Of course, he was also heavily involved in the exciting conclusion to the heralded 1992 Rumble match.
The Hulkster may not rank as highly as you might have thought, but his contributions were still historically formidable.
Three years ago, I put together a series called “Mr. Pay-Per-View.” Shawn Michaels earned the title of “Mr. Wrestlemania” with all of his dazzling “grandest stage” performances and I wanted to identify the top wrestlers for the other events. It was the project that got me called up to the main page, actually. Unlike this series, the 2010-2011 work was done to identify the best. And the best in Royal Rumble history, at that time, was Chris Benoit. Granted, I was basing my rankings purely on the most critically acclaimed matches of each wrestler’s respective January PPV career; so, it was top heavy. Benoit did not rank #1 in the performance list this time around, as it was a cumulative statistic. He ranked 16th. Yet, when I created this column series, I frequently thought back to “Mr. Royal Rumble.” You can find it at the beginning of the Doctor’s Orders LOP column archive. Chris Benoit: he of the top rated match (still) in the history of the event (vs. Kurt Angle in 2003), he of the amazing first entrant to winner story in the incredible 2004 Rumble match that rates as the 2nd best battle royal of all-time (still), he of the classic Ladder match with Chris Jericho from 2001 that ranks in the top ten in Rumble lore (still), and he of the numerous other standout appearances in the Rumble match.
“The GREATEST” in Royal Rumble history is not about being just the best on the basis of your most excellent work. This is about, across the board, “how did you statistically rank amongst your peers across multiple categories at the January Classic?” Benoit’s highest rank was 11th (in the Rumble match statistics, with the 7th all-time highest figure in total amount of minutes spent in the Rumble). His two amazing performances in 2004 and 2005 contributed significantly to his numbers. 2005 was an underrated Rumble match with a great finish, but it was Benoit’s 47-minutes from #2 entrant to 24th man out that helped carry the bout until the exciting finale with John Cena and Batista. Of course, the 2004 Rumble match was the second biggest moment in Benoit’s career (to Wrestlemania XX). If Ric Flair’s 1992 performance sits atop the pedestal, then Chris Benoit’s 2004 is its only real rival. It was 60-minutes of Rumble match mastery. I do not have enough words to describe my admiration for his WWE Championship match with Angle from the year before. I absolutely love that match. I also have great respect for Benoit’s Ladder match with Jericho from 2001 – a unique, psychologically sound edition of the gimmick compared to the more spot-dependent versions.
Unmistakably, Benoit’s performance record throughout his WWE tenure was spectacular, but the Rumble was his signature event.
If this were a series dedicated solely to Rumble match exploits, then Kane would rank amongst the all-time best (#4 to be specific). He is second only to HBK in total eliminations, including the highly regarded record for eliminations in a single Rumble match (with 11) – perhaps the description that most closely follows his name in discussions about the top stars of his generation. He also ranks fifth in total amount of time spent in Rumble matches at two hours, fifty-seven minutes, and twenty-four seconds. Of course, he also holds the record for Rumble match appearances with sixteen (including fifteen straight up until the “other Brother of Destruction’s” streak was broken in 2012). That helped skew the total time statistic in his favor, but considering that his appearances date back to his time as the evil dentist, Isaac Yankem, and the fake Diesel, it is a very impressive stat. Add in top four finishes in four different years and Kane is as viable a candidate for the title of “greatest” as any other superstar. He ranked poorly in every other collection of data points, however. He faltered greatly in the business department for having not had many featured singles matches in key situations. His performance record was limited, as well.
The Big Red Monster Machine has become synonymous with the Rumble match. Given the current state of the World Heavyweight Championship [this entry was written two months ago], I think it would be an excellent “thank you” to Kane for all of his many years of service to the WWE (during which time he put up with a lot of creative ineptitude) if they were to give him the elusive Royal Rumble match victory to pad his stats and definitively give him the title of “the guy that most people associate with when they hear or read the words ‘Royal Rumble.’” If they were to add the icing on the cake by having him take the total elimination record from Shawn Michaels, then that would be even sweeter. He only needs fifty minutes to break Triple H’s record for total time in the Rumble match, as well. So, how about this for satisfyingly creative – have Kane win the 2014 Royal Rumble match by eliminating more than two stars and give him fifty minutes to do it. The victory and the fifth top four finish would pull him even with Hulk Hogan and Randy Orton for fourth all-time in Rumble climaxes. A victory at Wrestlemania for the World title would further add to what would be a substantial, career-enhancing three months. Book it, WWE. Kane deserves it.
Jeff Hardy is an interesting case. When I put together my formula, I certainly had no anticipation that he would be around for the top 15. As he did in my book, Hardy sort of came out of nowhere to occupy a much higher spot than originally expected. Looking at his matches, there were some memorable ones that stand out, historically. The Tables match between the Hardys and Dudleys, for instance, is one of my favorite bouts in Rumble lore. It may not be a 4-5 star classic, but it is so unique that it gets a boost in all-time relevancy. I state confidently that the Tables match from Rumble 2000 was every bit the spectacle that the more popular TLC matches were. It was not as long, but every bit as action packed. I also thought that it was a smart match with better developed psychology than one might expect from that gimmick.
The next memorable match on Jeff’s resume did not come until 2007, when he and Matt reformed their team for an excellent series of era-specific tag matches with MNM during a time when tag wrestling was so formulaic that anything that deviated from the norm was almost outstanding by comparison. I fondly remember reviewing that match for LOP and being highly impressed by nearly every encounter between the teams. Jeff stepped up to the main-event in the two years that followed, which were the two primary reasons why he ranked this highly. 2008 and 2009’s WWE Championship matches put Jeff in position to have an outstanding ranking in the business factor, as both events drew great numbers. In particular, the 2008 match with Randy Orton was one of the best hyped non-Wrestlemania title matches that I’ve ever witnessed in my 30 years as a wrestling fan. The WWE strapped the rocket ship to Jeff’s back and shot him into the stratosphere where only stars of a certain stature reside. That kind of push was a difference maker to his standing amongst the elite of his era. In 2009, conversely, he did not have a better push, but it was a much better match against Edge. Hardy vs. Edge was ten years in the making given their TLC history and they delivered.
So, in the end, I suppose it is not altogether surprising that Jeff ranked this highly. His record clearly shows contributions on par with his contemporaries. He made the top 15 despite his dead last ranking in Rumble match statistics. The Rumble match was just never his stomping ground. He, instead, made his January living beefing up the undercard with top quality tag matches or carrying the card as part of the main-event in his last two years.
Mick Foley did not compete in many Royal Rumble matches. When he did, he was not that successful (despite a memorable triple performance with all three “Faces of Foley” in 1998). His Rumble statistic ranking was merely 23rd overall. He also had a relatively limited non-Rumble match resume. Guest (or surprise) appearances in recent years aside, Foley was on the card from just 1997-2000.
Yet, here is a statistic that may surprise you, doubling as the reason for his inclusion in the top 15:
Mick Foley was the common denominator in the two highest Royal Rumble buyrates of the last twenty years. The best defense that he was more than just a fourth wheel in the Attitude Era was the financial success that he helped bring the WWE in the winters of 1999 and 2000. Against The Rock in the midst of their incredible, reputation-enhancing series of matches in ’98-’99, Foley stamped his career by defending the WWE Championship in a classic “I Quit” match. It will never be mistaken as Rock vs. Austin, but it was of a caliber that few rivalries in WWE history could equal in terms of its economic impact and critical success. To this day, it remains an example of how to build another wrestler into a tougher version of himself (Rock) and of how not to push your body too far. Foley took more punishment with 10 consecutive chair shots to the head than he should have. It was memorable in the same manner that was his fall off Hell’s Cell. Against Triple H a year later at Madison Square Garden, Foley provided arguably the finest bout of his career. The Street Fight, to this day, has maintained a place amongst the top WWE matches of all-time on numerous lists. Repeating his efforts to take an aspiring megastar to the next level, Foley hit another critical and financial homerun. There has never been a better set-up man and never has a set-up man been more fiscally victorious in a pair of storyline losses.
The achievements of those two matches were enough to place Foley 5th in the business category and 12th critically, overcoming his inauspicious Rumble match stats and lack of a consistent presence.
The Royal Rumble was never Bret Hart’s best event. A strong case could be made for his being the top or amongst the top performer(s) in Wrestlemania, Summerslam, and Survivor Series history. Yet, the fourth member of the old Big 4 PPVs was not as kind to the Hitman. Absent were the consistently great matches that highlighted his work at the other shows. By my estimation, only his 1995 WWE Championship match with Diesel – a babyface vs. babyface borderline Rumble classic – was close to on-par with the rest of his career. He ranked outside of the top 10 in critical success, accordingly. Considering that performance is the hallmark of his placement at or near the top of the historical ladders for the other events, his #11 spot in that category for the Rumble took away his chances at cracking the ten best in Winter Classic lore. Typically, his star-rated accomplishments have helped him overcome the lack of business that he generated by comparison to his peers, but that was not the case for the Royal Rumble. With a Rumble statistic ranking of just 17th (despite a victory and one other top 4 finish) and the expected bottom tier placement in economics, Bret was lucky to be sitting here at 13th, frankly. What he did have going for him, by the numbers, was a stretch run of several WWE Championship matches. Thanks to bouts against Razor Ramon in ’93, Diesel in ’95, and Undertaker in ’96, Bret managed the 7th best headliner/main-event ranking.
The numbers aside, Bret did have some memorable moments at the Royal Rumble. Wrestling The Deadman was quite a sight for any fan from The New Generation and his budding feud with brother, Owen, was furthered in their unsuccessful attempt to capture the World Tag Team titles in 1994 on the same night that he won the Rumble match in the famed “both men touched the floor at the same time” routine also involving Lex Luger. On a personal note, there has never been any moment in Rumble match history that most had me wanting to jump through the television screen and strangle someone than 1997’s finish that saw Bret – my childhood wrestling hero – actually win the match while the ref’s back was turned, only for Steve (friekin’!) Austin to come in and eliminate Bret once the ref returned to his position. Blasphemously unforgettable nights like that one are part of the reason why I join the masses in being attached to the Rumble in a way that only Wrestlemania itself can rival.