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Posted in: Requesting Flyby
REQUESTING FLYBY: The Royal Rumble Awards (A Miscellany of Matches)
By Maverick
Jan 25, 2015 - 8:02:45 AM

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REQUESTING FLYBY: The Royal Rumble Awards (A Miscellany of Matches)

As I said to you all in my preview of the Rumble match itself the other week, this is my favourite time of year, because we are just around the corner from my favourite pay-per-view of the year. In its twenty seven year history, there have been a multitude of brilliant matches at all points on the card, and so this month I thought I would try something different and list the best match in each category rather than a basic top 10 as I have done before. This is effectively my very own awards ceremony for Royal Rumble performances.

Best Non Title Singles Match: Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt, 2014

We kick things off with the award for the best singles match to take place at the event without a title belt on the line, and 2014’s iteration presented us with an instant classic that takes away the gong without any real competition. The feud between the American Dragon and the Eater of Worlds was controversial for the way in which the Wyatt Family held the upper hand throughout its duration, until a classic episode of Monday Night Raw saw Bryan reveal himself as undercover within the Family and take their leader to pieces inside a locked steel cage.

With this being a grudge match, we have ourselves a furiously paced bout from the outset. The constant and heavy strikes show the heated nature of the feud, and we are on an even keel until the intervention of the Family, who are then ejected by the referee, sensibly making the blow off to the rivalry a one on one proposition, with Bray’s exhortation to his minions "I don't need you to fight this war for me" showing admirable character awareness. Following this balancing of the ledger, Bryan throws caution to the wind with cross bodies to outside and in, but his daredevil ways cost him as he gets chopped off the top rope. In fact the story of the entire bout is based around the obsessive quest for vengeance that leads the Yes Man to take too many chances. Bray, on the other hand, is like an ambush predator, capitalising with deadly menace on the hot blooded babyface’s risk taking. The warlike tone of this piece of art, with no quarter asked or given, leads to both men sustaining punishing kayfabe injuries, with the leg of Wyatt bothering him after Bryan’s assault on it, and the bearded wonder having his head mashed against the steel post time and again, leading the announcers to speculate about concussion. Despite this, D Bry keeps fighting but when Bray bails out of the flying knee attempt and Bryan goes for the patented suicide dive he gets that brutal Sister Abigail into the barrier. A bloody lipped Wyatt hits another Sister Abigail for the win and the arena is in awe. A special piece of work that was actually better than I remembered it upon rewatch.

Best Non Title Tag Team Match: The Rockers vs. The Orient Express,1991

We now move onto the best tag match to have taken place on the Rumble undercard that had no gold involved. The 1980s and 1990s editions of the show were filled with tag matches, and the golden age of tag wrestling gave us a rich field to pick from, but ultimately I plumped for an instant classic that was miles ahead of its time. You remember that scene when Marty McFly in ‘Back To The Future’ played ‘Johnny B. Good’ to a hall full of awestruck 1950s high school students? This match had that kind of effect. You just didn’t see the kind of things that go on in within its 19 minute duration in the WWF at that time. And you know what? It stands up damned well to modern scrutiny, too.

As the bell sounds, an Orient Express ambush is overturned by the outrageous high flying of Shawn and Marty, with the Japanese workers offering some amazing counters. Everything is so smooth and on point, and after an early and highly enjoyable face shine, Michaels is caught with a classic blindside chop from Kato while the official’s back was turned. I miss those kind of heel team tactics; all those meaningless thrown together tags on Raw and Smackdown have really had a negative effect on the genre. Michaels seems as if he’ll be playing face in peril at this point, but he breaks out of a double team situation with a moonsault and the bout breaks down into a frenetic four man brawl. Stereo dropkicks and cross bodies to the outside get the crowd on their feet and The Rockers back on top, but the heel smarts of the Express save them once again as manager Mr Fuji cracks his cane across Shawn's chest. There’s another thing I miss, signature foreign objects! The selling from the future HBK is as on point as you might expect as the Express tag in and out efficiently, and in another lesson in tag wrestling, the hot tag is denied several times before Marty in finally unleashed. Indeed, the brains of the team goes bananas and takes it to Kato and Tanaka with drop kicks and scoop slams while Shawn sells on the apron (another excellent, realistic touch). As the action descends into chaos again, Shawn is back in to help his partner, but Fuji’s boys send him flying 15 feet to the floor in a crazy bump for the time period. However, just as Jannetty is being set up for the finisher of the Express, Michaels saves him and Marty gets a sunset flip for the Rockers to win the day. A clinic!

Best Midcard Title Match: Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit in a ladder match for the Intercontinental Title, 2001

The midcard gold of WWF/E has been defended a fair few times over the years, but one match over the Intercontinental Championship stands head and shoulders above the rest. The feud between Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit, longtime friends behind the scenes, has a claim on being the greatest midcard rivalry in wrestling history. Over the course of almost a full calendar year, from the build to Wrestlemania 2000 to the fatal fourway match at No Way Out 2001, the two Canadians were constantly in each others’ business, putting on numerous classics in the process...but they saved the best til last. There hadn’t been a singles ladder match in WWF since the outstanding Triple H/Rock battle from Summerslam ‘98, but Benoit and Jericho would have the chance to cap off their epic rivalry in that fashion, and my goodness, did they deliver or what?

We begin with stiff forearm shots and Jericho gets the better of the exchange, allowing an early face shine where he employs chops and kicks in the corner, but Benoit is able to come back into things and go for the Crippler Crossface early, with the psychology being that he wants to disable the arm so that Y2J can’t climb, which is really excellent attention to detail. Benoit escapes a Walls of Jericho counter and then sets about trying to wear the Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah, throwing him to the floor and then into the ring post. The match goes back and forth, with neither man getting a conclusive advantage; when Jericho goes headfirst into the ladder propped in the corner and all the way to the outside, Benoit’s suicide dive is met by a sick chair shot that really feels uncomfortable now we know what we know about the head injuries of the Wolverine through his career. It really is brutal stuff, as the steel ladders continually come into play, almost as if the two men are having a triple threat match with the ladder being the third man. Just as the babyface appears to be coming into his own, the Wolverine dumps him over the top with an inside out belly to back suplex. Benoit makes it all the way to the top, but his challenger catches him and gets the Walls of Jericho on top of the ladder! Allegedly, that was all Benoit’s idea and Jericho had to be convinced it was a good call. Crazy looking spot, even to this day. Numerous near grabs of the gold follow as the two men put their bodies on the line time and time again, and the psychologically brilliant Crippler slaps the crossface on Jericho to wear him out long enough for him to climb unopposed. However, as Benoit climbs, Jericho whacks him with a chair and then tips him out of the ring. As the champ tries to crawl back into the ring, Y2J climbs to the top and grasps the gold! What an incredible match. Intensity, storytelling, risk taking, originality...it had it all. Now THAT is how you end a multi month feud. I’d kill to see Ambrose and Rollins get to do something like this in the future.

Best Tag Team Title Match: The Dudley Boyz vs Edge and Christian for the WWF Tag Team Championships, 2001

The best tag matches at this event have actually been non title ones, but here we have a classic old school stylem tag title match that curtain jerked in 2001, my personal favourite overall card in Rumble history. The two teams already had a storied history by this point, and this was an awesome way point on the way to TLC 2 at Wrestlemania X7.

The Dudleys have storyline concussions from Edge and Christian sneak attacks in the week prior to the match, but they start quickly despite that kayfabe handicap, with the boys from Dudleyville putting some excellent tandem offense together, no matter whether it’s Edge or Christian in the ring at the time. However, a cheap shot on the apron behind the ref’s back by Christian puts D’Von in the face in peril role, and the two Canadians zero in on the head of their opponent in methodical fashion. JR gets irate at the heels for coming in and out without tagging, which is a nice old school touch, and D’Von is kept very much grounded. He stays resilient, however, and the crowd are certainly invested in his plight, chanting “We want tables”. A crotching of Christian and a double clothesline with Edge sees D’Von get the opportunity to take in Bubba, but following the old school theme, the ref waves off the tag. The two Canadians miss with the con-chair-to and D’Von this time gets a legal tag. Bubba comes in like a house on fire with clotheslines and Bubba Bombs, and D’Von goes up top for the Wassup and hits it, before being sent off to get the tables! Christian plays defense on the outside, while Edge misses a belt shot on Bubba, and the action breaks down into an awesome sequence where Christian is prevented from getting the Unprettier, but is stopped from being 3D’d when Edge spears Bubba out of his boots. Great tag team wrestling. Edge and Christian mock the Wassup, but it goes badly for them as Christian is shoved off the top into his partner and Edge eats a 3D for the Dudleys to pick up the championship victory. As good a standard tag match as you’ll see and proof that these two teams did more than stunt brawls. Really great opener.

Maverick's Choice Award: The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz, 2000

We move on to assign an award for a match at the Rumble that stood out to me during research, and an unbelievably hot gimmick match between the Hardys and Dudleys wins the day. It took a while for D-Von and Bubba Ray to really click in the big leagues, but this was the moment they did, and in the Hardys, they had the ideal opponents. The tables match gimmick was a new thing to WWF audiences, but the athleticism and smarts of these two teams led to an instant classic.

The Hardys sprint out to do battle, foregoing their high flying style to show in kayfabe that they can fight a war if need be. The Dudleys waste little time getting the tables out, and boy, it’s a gimmick that only these two teams ever made work. The quickness of Matt and Jeff allows them to avoid the wood in a variety of breathtaking ways, a kind of tables match version of the near fall, if you will. Bubba sells a table to the head like a champ, walking around as if groggy, but even so, he sets Matt up for the splash through the table only to take too long and almost get superplexed through it himself. Matt then brings in a ladder as the favoured weapon of their team and they use it to devastating effect (all of this is very much setting up for the triangle ladder match at Wrestlemania 2000, which I like to think of as the first TLC match even though it wasn’t called that). The Hardys drive Bubba through the table with a double leg drop off the ladder and top rope respectively, and then go after D’Von with a steel chair. The furniture is set up for D’Von, but Matt misses with a leg drop off the top to the outside and Jeff misses a suicide dive. However, the rules of the match state that only an offensive move counts, so even though Jeff and Matt went through tables, the contest continues. Matt takes a horrific powerbomb off the second rope through a table to tie things up at one all, with D’Von and Jeff being the two guys who can break the sudden death situation. The teams fight all the way to the arena exit, and Bubba sets up tables, places Matt on them even though he has been through one already, and goes up to the tier of the stand, Seth Rollins style- ridiculous for a 300 pound guy like Bubba- and goes to drive the elder Hardy through the wood for the second time only to find Jeff behind him using a low blow to prevent his brother being taken out for good. Bubba takes a sick chair shot and then Matt sets up D’Von on the table for Jeff to hit a Swanton from the balcony for the win. Amazing stuff. Everyone remembers No Mercy ‘99, Wrestlemania 2000, Summerslam 2000 and Wrestlemania X7, but this is up there actually.

Best World Title Match At A Royal Rumble: Cactus Jack vs. Triple H for the WWF Championship, 2000

It is now time to reward the best top title match at the event. This was the most hotly contested category, with Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit from 2003 and The Rock vs. Mankind from 1999 both jostling hard for the honour, but I just had to go for the Street Fight from 2000. Much of the attention in this match has- perhaps rightly- gone to Mick Foley and the magnificent put-over job he did for Hunter, but I think this somehow leads to insufficient attention being paid to the performance of the reigning champion. Everything about Trips that night screamed “star”, just as everything about Foley screamed “grizzled veteran”. The entrances alone hold that kind of semantic weight, and the pre-match staredown even more so; JR sells the mind games on commentary and Cactus shows his difference from Mankind by talking trash and starting at a rate of knots with high impact moves early, for example a swinging neckbreaker on the outside and a leg drop on the apron, before Helmsley is introduced to the stairs and the challenger to the ring bell.

Of particular note in this classic is just how well Hunter understands psychology and in particular the psychology of playing a heel champion. Look at the way The Game walks to the ring slowly, methodically, with a certain reluctance to step between the ropes and face Mick Foley’s Cactus Jack avatar. You can see it in the eyes of Triple H; he fears what may happen to his body as the match goes on and this selling of the “crazed” side of his challenger is incredibly important to the story the two men ultimately tell. Much like Macho Man and Ted DiBiase, great heels of the past, Trips resorts to underhand ambush tactics to keep his opponent at bay; a ring bell shot here, a chair shot there. The idea is that he’s working out a way to use Foley’s weapon-centric game against him; the psychology here is clearly that he needs to use smarts to survive. It’s an acute understanding of his own character that really works; he is “The Game”. Another impressive thing about the performance of Hunter here is the way he puts his body on the line, working one hell of a stiff match in order to sell the brutality of the Street Fight stipulation. How often in the modern era do we get Street Fight or No DQ rules and see two guys go out and wrestle a normal match with a few outside of the ring spots? The punishment Trips takes in this match in the name of selling the insanity of his opponent is just so impressive: a suplex onto a wooden pallet, garbage can shots to the head, and most infamously of all, a savaging with the barbed wire wrapped two-by-four. It needs to be stressed that few people have ever bled as well as Triple H. It’s so visually impressive to see The Game’s crimson mask, features contorted with pain, long hair utterly matted with blood, like the ghost of Banquo. The key thing here is to know that any crowd loves to see a heel get beaten up and Trips gives them just that. Everyone in that crowd remembered how Foley had been embarrassed and (kayfabe) hounded out of the company by Hunter, so the catharsis they feel at the comeuppance he receives is palpable.

Meanwhile, we have to also pay tribute to just how committed Foley was to getting Triple H over that evening. According to Foley’s recent DVD, he specifically went to Vince and said, and I’m paraphrasing here, hey, this guy just needs one more boost to go over the top as a top heel, let me do that for him before I retire. The way the match was put together had all the hallmarks of Mick’s legendary ability to tell a story and invest the audience emotionally, and at the death, he stands tall, despite having done the job to the younger man. Everything about this match is amazing. Much has been made of Meltzer not giving a single match from the Attitude Era five stars, well, I tell you what, Meltzer is wrong, dead wrong. This one is five stars. By anyone’s stretch of the imagination it is. It’s up there with the very best matches ever and retains a quite stunning power even today. It’s lost nothing. It’s a masterpiece.

Best Royal Rumble: 2009

There have been so many awesome Rumbles over the years, but for me, 2009 is the ultimate version of the reverse battle royal. For some of you, this may be a controversial position to take up, but there are plenty of reasons why I believe that it beats out populist choices like 1992 and 2001. It is a cerebral, weighty, story driven piece of work that keeps one invested from beginning to end, and everything from the order of entries to the way the match was worked was damned near perfect. My colleague, The Doc, feels that the ultimate disappointment of the Triple H/Randy Orton match at Wrestlemania XXV essentially prevents this Rumble from being remembered in the top echelon, but for me, the story it helped create for the run in to that ‘Mania was superb, and a lacklustre blow off does not necessarily mean the story was wrong. The Viper was on fire that evening and through that entire Road to Wrestlemania, and his career best work here is something I believe needs highlighting.

Part of the secret of a great Rumble is how you order the talent. I’ve always felt that the first four competitors are vital given the fact that they anchor the opening quarter of the bout more often than not. WWE was blessed with an excellent midcard during this time frame, and they cleverly sent out Rey Mysterio (who of course won the match from number 2 only three years before), John Morrison, Carlito and MVP, who engage in an exciting fatal fourway style elimination match, before the entrance of two consecutive dominant big men in Khali and Kozlov changes things up and brings us back to one of the classic kayfabe tenets of the Rumble; size matters. However, the entry of the main event talent in Triple H at 7 and Randy Orton at 8 makes things even more fascinating. Hunter and the big Russian had been feuding prior to the event, but The Game makes short work of Kozlov to initiate an interesting duel with Morrison as the time ticks down to the entrance of Orton. Straight away, the intensity and star power is palpable in The Legend Killer. Sometimes main event guys just “get it” at a certain event- think Punk at Money in the Bank ‘11, Cena with Umaga at Royal Rumble ‘07- and this was Randall’s time. It’s the little things that count in professional wrestling, and Orton’s snake like performance here- the stalking, the laying in wait, the striking from nowhere- was judged to perfection. Watch the facial expressions, the glances of disdain, the fire in the eyes. Once he has help from Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes, it becomes the three of them against the rest of the ring, but it would be remiss of me not to mention how many other stand out performances there are in this iteration of the reverse battle royal.

Jericho provides us with another antagonist as a counterpoint to Orton. Triple H, as the clear babyface favourite amongst the field, and Rey Mysterio, as the perennial underdog, are the anchors on the good side of things, and thus there is an enviable balance to this Rumble that many of the more jabroni filled ones lack. There are plenty of heavy hitters in the match early on, and the eliminations are well spaced out; we don’t really have that situation where the ring is constantly being cleared by dominant main event talents. Everyone gets a fair crack here, particularly up and coming midcarders like DiBiase, Rhodes, Morrison, Kingston and Punk, who get a chance to show what they can do in a prominent main event situation. There are plenty of fun set pieces too; Orton’s RKO rampage, the pack of dogs triple team on Triple H, a thrilling preview of the Chris Jericho/Rey Mysterio feud that would light up the summer of 2009, and best of all, the whole ring stopping, turning and staring when the bell tolls and the lights go out for The Undertaker’s entrance. Nothing quite like that moment when the whole ring sells the legend of the Deadman. This is a match which respects, sells and trades on the history and prestige of the Rumble, which is why I love it so much. Goldust being eliminated by his brother Cody, after coaching from Randy Orton is just one such moment, while the surprise returns of RVD and Jim Duggan are well presented and well received. It was great to see Van Dam’s unique offense again, and the guy was still in fantastic condition at that point.

Ultimately, I feel that the quality of a Rumble is often determined by what happens once the majority of the participants have entered; so many are let down by disappointing finishes, but here, the ring is filled with bodies, so much so that one isn’t sure where to look. There’s so much great action going on, with near eliminations aplenty. With Big Show coming out as an intimidating number 30, and with heavy hitters Kane, Finlay and ‘Taker all still alive, as well as young guns like Punk, Rhodes and DiBiase, and the fateful duo of Helmsley and Orton, we get a proper, high quality shoot out to see who will be the winner of 2009’s Royal Rumble. To me, it’s one of the best constructed finishes in the history of the event, with the dominant elimination rush of Big Show, Kane and Undertaker whittling the field down, until the Legacy gang up on Kane to take us down to six. The tactical nous of Legacy in kayfabe is fantastic to see as they corner the Demon of Death Valley, who comes back and destroys them, leaving us with a big man duel that ultimately costs them both, as Orton’s spectacular apron RKO takes out Show, who then pulls the Deadman off the apron. As we come down to four, the exhausted Triple H manages to dispose of Rhodes and DiBiase, but as he does so, Orton is there to dump him out. What an absolutely awesome Rumble, the best that’s ever been, in this writer’s view.


Well folks, there we have it, my Royal Rumble Awards...what would you guys have in each category? Feel free to comment below or hit me up on Twitter here!

I’ll see you all again early Monday morning UK time for my Royal Rumble 2015 pay-per-view review. Enjoy the show tonight people, and make sure you go full mark mode. It’s the Rumble! But until then, this is Maverick, requesting flyby!