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Posted in: The Eternal Optimist
The Eternal Optimist Presents a 30 Part Column Series - Ranking the Royal Rumbles (#19)
By Dave Fenichel
Feb 2, 2018 - 10:13:50 PM

Hi kids.

I’m back with part 11 of my 30 part column series, “Ranking the Royal Rumble Matches”. Today, I’ll discuss the Royal Rumble that came in at #19 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 Mazza. Spoiler alert, he crushed me.

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.


Question of the Day: How did you feel about Triple H’s baby-face run leading up to Wrestlemania 18?

#19. The 2002 Royal Rumble.


The Roster.


Rikishi
Goldust
Big Boss Man
Bradshaw
Lance Storm
Al Snow
Billy
The Undertaker
Matt Hardy
Jeff Hardy
Maven
Scotty 2 Hotty
Christian
DDP
Chuck
The Godfather
Albert
Perry Saturn
Steve Austin
Val Venis
Test
Triple H
The Hurricane
Faarooq
Mr. Perfect
Kurt Angle
Big Show
Kane
RVD
Booker T

Austin, Triple H, Undertaker, Kane, Big Show, Kurt Angle, RVD and Booker T all in their prime? I’ll take that all day every day. You could ignore the other 22 entrants and still come to the conclusion that this was one of the most star-studded Royal Rumble fields ever.

The remainder of the roster was pretty stellar as well. The Hardy Boys, Christian and Bradshaw were all up and coming stars. There was a nice blend of leftover popular acts from the early days of the attitude era and incoming stars from WCW. Top to bottom, WWE in 2002 was as close to as good as it gets.


The Storylines and Flow.

The 2002 Rumble had an unusually slow start to it. The WWE tends to come out with guns blazing, but that was not the case here. The first few entrants were low to mid carders, but it was logical. The WWE needed people in the ring for The Undertaker to toss out and establish dominance.

Speaking of the Undertaker, you could argue that this was his best Rumble performance ever. This was right in the middle of his “American Badass” heel run and he was fantastic. He tossed wrestler after wrestler, establishing the 2002 Rumble to be “his yard”. The entire sequence between Taker, The Hardy Boys and Lita was great television. The Undertaker catching Jeff Hardy in the middle of a Whisper in the Wind and chucking him backwards over the top was one of my favorite eliminations ever.

Of course, you can’t talk about the 2002 Royal Rumble without talking about the Maven spot. For those of you who don’t remember, Maven was the first ever winner of Tough Enough and more or less treated like a jobber. Thus, when he dropkicked the Undertaker over the top rope to eliminate him, it was one of the most shocking things that has ever happened in a Royal Rumble. The Undertaker absolutely beating the brakes off him post-elimination was hilarious to me. All in all, an absolutely stellar and often forgotten about performance from The Undertaker.

The three surprise entrants were interesting choices this year. I feel that the Godfather has been used far too often in this spot considering the wealth of talent that the WWE has to draw from. However, this was one of his more enjoyable appearances. He paraded out three or four different groups of street walkers. It was good fun for everyone.

I had absolutely no recollection of Val Venis being a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble. I had been under the assumption that he was still a member of the roster in 2002. I was always a fan of his character – I felt like his backstage vignettes pushed boundaries that need to be pushed every now and then. However, he simply hadn’t been gone for a long enough time for me to care about his return.

Mr. Perfect was the most noteworthy of the three surprise entrants by far. As much as I love Mr. Perfect and as much as he popped the crowd when his music hit, I thought that he was overused in this particular Rumble. With the massive star power in the 2002 rendition, having Mr. Perfect make the final four seemed out of place. I could understand it if he was returning to make a short term full time run, but this was a one-off appearance. The strong booking he received was both curious and misplaced.

One of the two major shortfalls of the 2002 Royal Rumble was the period between The Undertaker’s elimination and Steve Austin’s arrival. As anyone who has kept up with this series should know by now, I am critical of Rumbles that feature a long lull in the action. The Royal Rumble is an open canvas on which to paint. There are infinite possibilities and to have long periods of inaction during the match is completely unacceptable to me. With all of the stars in the 2002 Rumble, the WWE simply didn’t do a good enough job of spacing them out.

On the other hand, Austin was superb yet again in 2002. People put so much focus on the fact that he’s the only three time winner that his actual in-ring work during the Rumble matches gets overlooked. Austin eliminating wrestlers only to drag them back into the ring and toss them out a second time was both hysterical and unique.

Although the dearth of star power in the middle of the match was a negative, the cluster of stars that appeared towards the end of the match definitely made for compelling action. The match got really fun for a ten minute stretch from entrant 25 to the final four. Kane and The Big Show have been often maligned for what many perceived to be unwarranted strong bookings in recent Royal Rumbles. Back in 2002 though, both were stars and their confrontation was excellent. It was a perfect use for the two giants and a great lead in to the final four.


The Final Four.

The final four is where the 2002 Rumble falls apart for me. On paper you had four huge stars – three current ones in Austin, Triple H and Angle, and one of the past in Mr. Perfect. Despite the star power, it just didn’t work for me.

Austin being eliminated first was an absolute shocker. While it was a good moment for Angle, I was still holding out hope that the WWE wasn’t going to go down a bad path here. They did. Austin blasting everyone with a chair was an interesting moment. It felt like the WWE wanted a heel turn for him, but the fans weren’t buying it. After Austin was eliminated, the outcome was never in doubt. This led to boring and uninspiring action between Triple H, Angle and Perfect.

As I alluded to earlier, Mr. Perfect wasn’t a good choice for the final four. Making a final four in a Royal Rumble is an excellent rub for anyone. Instead of giving RVD and Booker T short runs in the 2002 Rumble, either would have been a better choice for the 4th spot. I can’t help but feel like the WWE was concerned that including either wrestler would have led to a lack of appetite for a Triple H win. That’s why they got rid of Austin first and I can’t say that their fears weren’t warranted. However, it highlights a fundamental flaw in their play. Don’t book someone that people don’t want to cheer for as a number one baby face.

I wasn’t compelled by anything that happened once it hit the final three. Mr. Perfect was surprise nostalgic entrant that shouldn’t have been there and while Angle was just becoming a huge star, he wasn’t quite Wrestlemania main event big yet. Thus, you knew where the WWE was going with the outcome. Woof.


The Winner.

Ugh, where do I even start? Triple H as the winner here was absolutely horrible. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Triple H is arguably the best heel of all time but a TERRIBLE baby-face. No one wants to cheer him long term. Sure, he received a tremendous sympathy pop when he returned from his quad tear several weeks earlier. However, one pop does not equate to #1 baby face status.

Everyone knew he was going to win and headline Wrestlemania. That didn’t mean it wasn’t awful. Steve Austin was still the most popular guy in the company and he absolutely deserved another run in the main event of Wrestlemania. Instead, we as an audience were forced to eat a $hit sandwich because Triple H was smashing the boss’s daughter. For me, 2002 is my version of most fans’ feelings on the 2014 and 2015 Rumbles. I was appalled at the booking decision and couldn’t get over it.

The Rumble didn’t do much for Triple H’s career. He was put into a position he wasn’t qualified for and didn’t deserve. By the time Wrestlemania came around, no one cared about his baby-face pursuit of the gold. The WWE compounded their mistake by putting Triple H v Jericho on after the all-time epic Rock/Hogan showdown. The crowd sat on their hands. What a lost opportunity. A double main event of Austin v Jericho and Rock v Hogan would have been absolute fire. I’m getting aggravated just talking about this, and it’s been 15 years. It’s time to move on.


Overall.

The 2002 Royal Rumble is mostly enjoyable but ultimately the parallels to 2014 cannot be ignored. While there were many strong moments during the match, the final booking was so unbelievably bad that it soured me on the entire production. Like with 2014, I tried to balance the overwhelmingly bad feelings that I had and still have regarding the booking with the actual action that took place. In the end, 2002 landed in the same position as 2014 – better than the bad Rumbles but not quite in the top half of the countdown.

The Rebuttal: By Mazza.

Mazza: The 2002 rumble match is top 3 for me. Now I know there is a touch of bias there considering the winner, but it should definitely be in top 5 contention and a lock for the top 10. Not having even challenged for that spot is just madness. I mean we do come to expect a touch of that where Dave is concerned but still, I very much call shenanigans. 2002 is full of fantastic examples of all the things that make the rumble the most anticipated match of the year for many fans. The king of the first third was The Undertaker in his finest rumble match outing (including his victory). At the time, he was heel and he was a biker, which meant he had more freedom of character than at any point during his career, and it was very much on display. Entering at 8, he’d make short work of the parade of jabronis who had filled up the ring before taking down Team Extreme (Lita included). The Hardy’s distraction however allowed Tough Enough winner Maven to deliver the biggest elimination shocker in rumble history. Unfortunately for the rookie, he would get his ass handed to him in an absolutely brutal beatdown throughout the arena.

Things would settle down after that until Steve Austin’s arrival at 19. As had been the case in 4 of the previous 5 rumble matches, he’d take centre stage and go on a tear but it would be the arrival of the returning Game at 22 that would take things up a notch. Two huge rivals who, when last seen together, were running roughshod over the company as the Two Man Power Trip. There battle through the next few entrants was fantastic as we got out annual comedy spot with Hurricane thinking he would be able to take out both legends and obviously failing. They wouldn’t carry the rest of the match alone though. Curt Hennig would come out at 25 and roll back the years with an eye opening return performance which had you wondering what could have been. Kurt Angle would be out next and delivered a very strong outing as you would expect. Those men would be our final four despite going through another 4 champions at the bitter end of match. It’s undoubtedly one of the best final four sequences in rumble history and when the smoke had cleared, my boy stood tall. Of course his road to Mania wasn’t the best but you can’t put that on what was a fantastic rumble match that had a bit of everything that makes it so special. A rumble match that you have severely underappreciated Dave and so I leave you with my finger of shame! Oh, and don’t worry about the smell.


That’s a wrap kids. Tune in next week to find out the Rumble that made the #18 spot on the countdown. Agree or disagree? Sound off below!

Facebook: David Fenichel

Twitter: @FFFightLeague

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