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Posted in: The Eternal Optimist
The Eternal Optimist Presents a 30 Part Column Series - Ranking the Royal Rumbles (#14)
By Dave Fenichel
Mar 6, 2018 - 7:58:46 PM

Hi kids.

I’m back with part 17 of my 30 part column series, “Ranking the Royal Rumble Matches”. Today, I’ll discuss the Royal Rumble that came in at #14 on the countdown. As a reminder, here are the criteria that I used to analyze the matches:

The Participants - The easiest way to create a Royal Rumble is to have a compelling roster that people want to see participate. I’ll take a look at the level star power, the level of “overness” of the other players, and whether or not there were an unnecessary amount of jobbers and/or non-factors in the match.

The Storylines and Flow of the Match - The storylines are without question the most important part of a Royal Rumble match. I’ll look at whether or not the storylines presented enhanced the match. I’ll also look at the surprise entrants and evaluate whether or not they added value. Lastly, I’ll look at whether or not the match had a solid flow or if it dragged at times. This is by far the most important category, and it will be the category in which I spend the majority of each column discussing.

The Final Four - Every Rumble inevitably comes down to a “show down” between the final four competitors. Here, I’ll look at whether the WWE chose a strong group to represent the final four, and whether or not the end game to the Rumble was compelling.

The Winner - I’ll evaluate three things relating to the winner of each Rumble. First, was the winner a surprise? I have a strong appreciation for Rumble winners that weren’t necessarily expected to win. Second, was the winner satisfying? Just because the winner wasn’t someone I expected doesn’t mean that I enjoyed the outcome. On the other hand, just because the winner was a foregone conclusion doesn’t mean that I didn’t love every minute of it. Lastly, how did winning the Royal Rumble impact this wrestler at Wrestlemania and beyond? The overall success of the subsequent push impacts how I view many of the Rumbles and their winner.

A couple additional disclaimers:

First – lengthy Royal Rumble runs rarely move me. Sure, you might love Rick Martel lasting 53 minutes in 1991. I didn’t. He, as well as almost everyone else that goes coast to coast, spent the majority of the match sitting in the corner getting kicked. For me, a single wrestler’s longevity is the most overrated factor in evaluating the strength of a Royal Rumble.

Second – these factors aren’t weighted evenly. They are merely talking points. My overall impression of the Rumble is what ultimately mattered when I made my rankings.

Last, but certainly not least – I’ve added a new wrinkle to this column series. As you already know, my thought process on wrestling seems to wildly differ from the majority of the fans in our community. Many have taken me to task in other forums over where my rankings ultimately landed. I’ve decided to incorporate that into this column series. As such, every entry will end with a guest “rebuttal” telling me exactly why I’m an idiot for ranking that particular Rumble where I did. The guests range from my fellow columnists, both on the main page and the Forums, to real life friends, to buddies I frequently interact with on social media. I try not to take myself too seriously, and I think you’ll enjoy the alternative takes.

Today’s rebuttal came from none other than JCool, our own resident NXT expert. Seriously, if you like NXT and aren’t reading his recaps, you are missing out.

Here is where the countdown currently stands:

#30. The 2009 Royal Rumble.
#29. The 1991 Royal Rumble.
#28. The 2011 Royal Rumble.
#27. The 1998 Royal Rumble.
#26. The 2000 Royal Rumble.
#25. The 1995 Royal Rumble.
#24. The 2015 Royal Rumble.
#23. The 1993 Royal Rumble.
#22. The 1988 Royal Rumble.
#21. The 2006 Royal Rumble.
#20. The 2014 Royal Rumble.
#19. The 2002 Royal Rumble.
#18. The 1999 Royal Rumble.
#17. The 2012 Royal Rumble.
#16. The 2007 Royal Rumble.
#15. The 1989 Royal Rumble.

Question of the Day: Where do you rank Brock Lesnar on your all-time list of greatest wrestlers?

#14. The 2003 Royal Rumble.

The Roster.

Shawn Michaels
Chris Jericho
Chris Nowinski
Rey Mysterio
Chavo Guerrero
Bill DeMott
Bill Buchanan
Matt Hardy
Eddie Guerrero
Jeff Hardy
John Cena
Charlie Haas
Shelton Benjamin
Booker T
Brock Lesnar
The Undertaker

You don’t need me to tell you where this roster ranks amongst all of the Royal Rumbles. Just take a look. The acquisition of both WCW and ECW allowed for the best wrestlers from ALL of the top organizations to participate in the Rumble match. You had no less than nine absolute superstars in HBK, Jericho, Edge, Rey Mysterio, RVD, Kane, Booker T, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker. That doesn’t even include big-time rising stars like John Cena, Batista or Jeff Hardy, or the litany of other future hall of famers that were in this match.

Without question, the 2003 roster is one of, if not THE BEST, in Royal Rumble history.

The Storylines and Flow.

Rumbles that have a built in storyline going into the match always help with the match itself. In 2003, while you had Brock Lesnar as the obvious favorite, he wasn’t even officially in the match until the night of the Royal Rumble. He had to beat The Big Show in the opener of the show in order to qualify. It was a difficult task to make such a physical beast like Lesnar the subject of sympathy face heat, but the WWE did a decent job.

As for the match itself, it only contained one storyline. Fortunately, it was one of my all-time favorite Rumble stories – the Jericho sneak attack on HBK. I loved that they were the first two in the Rumble. It wasn’t a huge shock to see Jericho attack HBK from behind. However, it was a MASSIVE surprise to see Jericho eliminate HBK immediately. Even though Lesnar was the clear winner, conventional wisdom said that HBK would play the iron man role in the match. I loved the continuity the WWE showed when they had HBK return late in the Rumble to cause Jericho’s elimination. This storyline was spectacular, and set up one of the most iconic Wrestlemania matches of all time.

There weren’t any other storylines and there wasn’t a lot else noteworthy that happened in the match. However, unlike many of its predecessors on the countdown, the 2003 Rumble managed to overcome the lack of storylines and noteworthy moments with TREMENDOUS in-ring action. This should come as a surprise to no one, as this Rumble was littered with all-time great workers. Because the in-ring action was so good, this was a Rumble that moved along at a nice pace despite the lack of memorable stories.

Jericho was booked like such a superstar here. Not only did he eliminate HBK in short order, but he was the last men left standing during a flurry of eliminations around the 10th entrant mark. This was the year after he main-evented Wrestlemania X8. As you all know, he wasn’t booked particularly well during his feud with Triple H and Stephanie. He needed to re-establish his credibility, and the 2003 Royal Rumble went a long way to doing just that.

I miss rapping Cena. He was just getting started in 2003 and didn’t have a memorable run in this Rumble, but his rap as he made his way down to the ring was one of my favorite promos ever. “My game is like a swollen penis, you can’t beat it”. I cannot confirm or deny, but it’s POSSIBLE that I still use that line on my wife 15 years after the fact.

Lesnar entered late in the match and dropped six dudes right away. I was concerned that with all of the sympathy heat they were trying to build for him, he’d end up booked in a lengthy underdog role here. That wouldn’t have fit his character, and I’m glad that the WWE didn’t go in that direction. Instead, having him eliminate half a dozen wrestlers upon his arrival allowed everyone to see the obvious – that Brock Lesnar was a force to be reckoned with.

The only surprise in the match came at #30. It was a big one – The Undertaker was back. There were pros and cons to his return. He was a megastar and popped the crowd. I loved that the WWE recreated the Maven dropkick spot from the year before. At this point, Maven was a low card heel whose hype train had been completely derailed. To see him celebrate what he thought was a repeat elimination of the Undertaker only to get his comeuppance was humorous. However, having such a major face like The Undertaker make his return in the Rumble took some of the focus away from Lesnar. The fans were confused as to who they should be cheering for. When you’re trying to build Brock Lesnar as the cornerstone of your company, that’s not a good thing.

The buildup to the final four was very strong. Kane and RVD were a very popular tag team at the time. To see Kane pretend to hoist RVD over his head for a double team move only to turn around and dump him over the top rope was unexpected and killer.

The Final Four.

The final four consisted of The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, Kane and Batista. You would think that with that cast of characters, the final four would have been one of the more epic ones in history. That wasn’t the case. I loved the visual of having four monsters being the last four men standing. However, it didn’t make for the best ring action.

However, I felt like the ending was a little overbooked. Batista watched Taker and Lesnar go at it for roughly 2-3 minutes. He literally just stood there as Taker clotheslined him over the top rope. The Undertaker pretending to work with Kane only to dump him over the top, Batista returning with a chair only for Taker to toss him again, and Lesnar sneaking up behind Taker for a surprise elimination was simply too much going on in too short of a period of time. Additionally, having Lesnar win the match by sneak attack made him look weak in a moment where he should have looked strong.

Lastly, as I mentioned above, having a returning megastar like The Undertaker in the final four cast doubt as it relates to who the fans should have been rooting for. I found it ironic that the man who almost caused Lesnar to not be received as the top face during his initial run was the very same man who ended up ultimately doing more for his career than anyone.
The final four and ending is far from the worst I’ve seen, but far from the best as well.

The Winner.

Brock Lesnar was the obvious choice to win, but that wasn’t a bad thing. He was already the top guy in the company after his Summerslam 2002 victory over the Rock, and winning the Rumble to main event Wrestlemania was the next logical step for him.

Although already a star, this Rumble win certainly catapulted Lesnar onto bigger and better things. He went onto Wrestlemania XIX to challenge Kurt Angle in the main event. This was incredibly significant. Wrestlemania XIX broke the chain of five straight Wrestlemania main events involving wrestlers from the Attitude Era. It was a changing of the guard. When you take into consideration that Lesnar has become one of the biggest stars of the modern era, the importance of the 2003 Royal Rumble cannot be overstated.


Much like the 1989 Rumble that was ranked before it, the 2003 Rumble had incredibly strong action and a weak ending. Whereas the 1989 Rumble used strong storytelling, the 2003 Rumble relied on the incredible roster it had to provide an entertaining in-ring product. I ranked 2003 ahead of 1989 because the action was strong throughout whereas the 1989 Rumble falls off a cliff after entrant #20, and Lesnar was a far more satisfying and important winner than Big John Studd. All in all, despite the tremendous in-ring action, the lack of storylines outside of HBK/Jericho and a reasonably weak ending kept the 2003 Rumble out of the top 10 on the countdown.

The Rebuttal – by JCool.

J Cool: Royal Rumble 2003 is an incredulous match with as realistic a finish as you can get. It had something for everyone to enjoy. The first 8 featured the beginning of a fantastic HBK/Y2J Wrestlemania feud, the Hardyz fighting each other, Edge & Christian fighting each other, and it was more or less a hardcore match with weapons thrown into the fray.

If you like music and entertainment, John Cena had that covered, taking an entire minute to rap his way down to the ring, explaining why he was going to win, and he got barely any response from the crowd!

Dave's put priority on the final four, so take a look at this: Kane, Batista, Undertaker, and Brock Lesnar, who eventually won. That's a completely believable final four, all big men and all capable of destruction. How could anyone else stand a chance? Crowd loved seeing Lesnar win and, by defeating Undertaker, he earned another measure of respect from his peers, the company, and the fans.

As far as relevance goes, Lesnar's win continued to affirm his spot as the next big main event star, but not far behind him was Batista, who got a significant push being in the same ring as the brothers of destruction. Cena's first Rumble result earned him heaps of praise from the commentary and an elimination from 'Taker as WWE put the wheels in motion on sending #ThugLife to the toppermost of the poppermost.

This is a top 10 Rumble.

That’s a wrap kids. Tune in next week to see which Rumble landed at the #13 spot on our countdown. Agree or disagree? Sound off below!

Facebook: David Fenichel
Twitter: @FFFightLeague

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