How great is the Royal Rumble? For most years, it's the most exciting and enjoyable hour of wrestling WWE has to offer. Just because there have been so many hits doesn't mean that there haven't been misses. There are a lot of storylines, quirks and moments that stick out like a sore thumb when watching certain installments and before they send you to Rumble Heaven, I suppose we should take a trip through Rumble Hell.
I'm only counting the matches themselves and not the PPVs. So the excessive chairshots from that Rock/Mankind I Quit Match isn't going to be on here.
2002 was the year where they played up the returns of four big names from the past in Goldust, Mr. Perfect, Val Venis and the Godfather. The latter two weren't all that big a deal, considering they had only been gone for several months, but since the WCW inVasion seemed like three years, it's understandable. The Godfather showed up at the Rumble and like his usual entrances, he'd be accompanied by his ladies. Only he then ran away to bring out more ladies. Then MORE ladies.
This entrance went on during the entire interval process, meaning that this match that people at home looked forward to was ignored for the sake of watching a guy eventually walk to the ring. I was a pretty big fan of Diamond Dallas Page and his goofball, smiling motivational speaker gimmick, so his elimination being off-camera and glossed over never sat well with me.
The one saving grace was Jim Ross catching Jerry Lawler off-guard. Lawler made a big deal about how the Godfather had started up his own escort service and Ross dryly joked about being given a coupon. Lawler was so used to Ross playing bemused straight man to Lawler's horny antics that he completely lost it.
It's always possible to have too much of a good thing. Look no further than the 2012 Rumble where they padded the match with far too many guest entries. Having a mystery wrestler in there is necessary just about any year, but you shouldn't really go more than three. 2012 was swimming in guest appearances to the point that it really overstayed its welcome.
You had Mick Foley, Ricardo Rodriguez, Jerry Lawler, Booker T, Michael Cole, Kharma, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and Road Dogg. A few of them led to some great moments, but overkill is overkill. On the other side of this, you had the tag champs Primo and Epico being jobbed out like they were nothing and only one of the Usos was allowed to be in the match. A year earlier, they did a 40-man Royal Rumble because they had too many guys on the roster. Here, they might as well have done a 20-man Rumble.
Still, the implication that Booker T was doing commentary with no pants on the entire night and nobody else noticed will never not be funny.
When WWE did the roster split and later gave us two top titles, it gave the Royal Rumble some extra wiggle room. Someone could win their way to WrestleMania without having to be able to carry the main event on name alone. That meant that just about anyone could win. If the company was really high on, say, Carlito, they could have had him win and face the World Heavyweight Champion and it didn't hurt things too much because Cena would be competing for the other belt anyway. Exhibit A: Rey Mysterio.
Then they got lazy about it. Alberto Del Rio won the 2011 Rumble and while "main eventing WrestleMania" can be stretched to be in the middle of the card or towards the end, he instead got the opening match of the show. Where he lost. And was humiliated. After two months of losing cleanly and being humiliated. What was even the point?
A year later, Sheamus won the Rumble and went on to win the World Heavyweight Championship in a joke of a match that also took place at the start of the card. Things like this are why I wasn't crying any tears when they decided to unify the titles.
There are some Royal Rumble matches, especially in the first ten years, that suffer because of the roster. When you had the champion and number one contender fighting it out in a separate match, you needed all the other big names in the Rumble and you didn't always have too much to play with. The '91 Rumble suffered from this as while it had Hogan as the only viable face to win, Earthquake's status as a monster was dwindling and Undertaker was still being built up as a threat. At least they had Randy Savage in there...right?
The storyline of that night was that during an interview, WWF Champion the Ultimate Warrior was confronted by Queen Sherri, who tried seducing Warrior into giving Savage a title match. Even though it made no sense to refuse and his title run was a huge financial failure due to lack of compelling heel challengers anyway, Warrior still screamed, "nnnnNNNnnNNNNnnOOOOOoOOOOOOOO!!" into her face. Naturally, Savage appeared during Warrior's title defense against Sgt. Slaughter and cost him the title.
When it came time for Savage to enter the Rumble, nothing happened. He never came out. The idea was that Warrior scared him out of the building and he wouldn't even compete in the match. I get why they did it, but it wasn't the best idea. The match really needed Savage's star power and there were all sorts of ways they could have hyped up their budding rivalry by having them both in the arena. Imagine if Warrior had to push himself through a wave of referees and officials and got in hot water because he started tossing them around like ragdolls when trying to get his hands on Savage. That would have been nuts!
The whole Hornswoggle storyline in 2008 was a pain to sit through, excluding the parts when Finlay would mercilessly beat Great Khali with a shillelagh because that was hilarious. Hornswoggle was entered into the Rumble by his "father" Vince McMahon and for the most part, it wasn't too offensive. He'd hide under the ring and would only come out to drag someone over the top rope to the outside (like how he eliminated the Miz). This got him in trouble when he tried it on Mark Henry and Henry instead pulled him into the ring. With Hornswoggle cornered by Henry, Viscera and Chavo, his protector Finlay decided to make the save.
All well and good, except for how confusing it got right after. Finlay attacked them with his shillelagh and walked off with Hornswoggle. The commentators (all six of them) weren't sure what to make of it. At first they said he was disqualified for using a weapon. Then they said he was disqualified for coming out too early. Meanwhile, Hornswoggle was never eliminated and just plain never came back. They could have at least come up with some kind of elimination for the two that made more sense. I was there at that show and nobody in the crowd was too sure what was going on, especially when they skipped a number.
The one thing almost every Rumble had going for it was the fact that the winners made sense. Even in 99 when Vince McMahon won, I can't fault why they had it happen. From Duggan to Cena, they all made sense in terms of booking, which is itself rather surprising.
Then 2012 happened. They spent a lot of time and effort building Jericho's return via some really creepy and effective videos of a little boy giving an unnerving prophecy about the end of the world. It turned out to be hype for Jericho, who showed up and did...nothing! It was ridiculous! He'd smile, wear a sparkling light-up jacket and play to the crowd without doing a single goddamn thing. They were obviously building him towards a WrestleMania title shot against CM Punk and he really, really needed to win the Royal Rumble in order to make it work.
In pure modern-day WWE fashion, they decided that being unpredictable was more important than telling a good story. After a lengthy one-on-one battle at the end of the match, Jericho was kicked out of the ring by Sheamus. In one instant, the mystique and momentum of Jericho's return was gone. The enigmatic smiling and "end of the world" hoopla had to be swept under the rug because the only way the match with Punk could make sense was if they suddenly made it into a blood feud and reverted Jericho to his usual self. As much as they tried, it never hit its potential and meanwhile, as mentioned a few entries earlier, Sheamus followed up his Rumble win by winning an eight-second match at the start of WrestleMania.
Most Rumbles have the same pattern. The first half is dedicated to all the jobbers and midcarders with a couple big names thrown in there. Then as it gets later into match, more and more big names come out around the same time. Usually #30 is a wrestler who kayfabe has a chance to win, but really won't, such as Big Show or Adam Bomb. When you notice this, it gets really annoying. Hell, it was annoying when they'd program guys like Cena and Triple H to constantly come out as #29 and #30 in some of the Smackdown video games.
2002 was the most blatant use of random draws that in no way came off as random. After a midcard parade, Undertaker came out at #8, followed immediately after by Jeff Hardy and then Matt Hardy, who he happened to have been feuding with. Even Lawler was pointing at the holes in this concept. The ring filled up again until Austin arrived at #19 and the match finally picked up and felt like it was going somewhere even though it was past the halfway point. Triple H came in at #22 and soon after that, it became a cavalcade of top names.
#25 was Mr. Perfect, who made the final three. Then after that you had, in order, Kurt Angle, Big Show, Kane, Rob Van Dam, and Booker T. At least try to spread it out, guys.
WWE Champion the Miz sat on commentary during this Rumble and commented that his protégé Alex Riley was being very, very smart. Normally, that would have been a nice and perhaps apt thing for him to say about Riley, but Miz nor any of the other commentators realized that Riley was eliminated about five minutes earlier. For good reason because he wasn't supposed to be!
Early in his time in the ring, Riley was shoved over to the apron by John Cena and Kofi Kingston. This was your usual time-killer spot to keep people busy. Riley would hold onto the ropes, get back into the ring and they'd keep it going until they had to do something important. Unfortunately, Riley slipped and fell out of the ring. Nobody noticed this at all except for Kofi and Cena, who seemed really distressed and nervous because Riley was instrumental in how Cena was planned to be eliminated later on.
They improvised something for later with Riley returning to distract Cena so Miz could toss him out, but seeing such a wrench tossed into the plans was pretty funny.
Nothing can hurt a wrestling show like bad commentary and several years ago, we had the absolute worst. During the 2010 and 2011 Rumbles, we had to put up with the trio of Jerry Lawler, Matt Striker, and Michael Cole. And not just any Michael Cole, but the infamously awful Heel Michael Cole. Unlike Bobby Heenan and Jesse Ventura, who could be bad guys while putting over the product, Cole took to his role by being obnoxious about burying every single thing and having a hissy fit whenever anyone argued with him.
Matt Striker gets made fun of a lot for his commentary, and rightfully so, but during these two Rumbles, he’s somehow the lesser evil. Unlike the other two, he seems to be into the matches and tries to make it sound interesting whenever possible. Lawler’s reached a point where he is all but asleep and Cole will just scream, “WHO CARES?!” to shut him down.
But for real, Lawler spent years doing a gag where he would mention a wrestler as his favorite to win, then be as flaky as possible in switching his choice around and saying it was always his original pick. Yet here, Striker would ask him who his favorite to win is and Lawler would act like somebody’s bugging him on his break.
I suppose I should probably mention something about 1999, what with it being the least popular of Rumbles. It was the Rumble where there was too much going on, yet at the same time, nothing going on. After eliminating Golga at #3, Steve Austin chased Vince McMahon around the arena with neither eliminated. This meant that the ring was completely empty and the crowd had to wait until the next two guys showed up for there to be any action. That was fine the first time around because we got to watch Austin smack around McMahon until the Corporation caught up to him backstage.
The ring filled up again until Mabel showed up and cleared it of everyone but a hurt Road Dogg. Then the Ministry of Darkness popped in to abduct him. Kind of sucks that he'd be taken out without anyone in the match being made to look good in any way, but whatever. Road Dogg waited it out for the next guy.
Then later on, Kane showed up and cleared the ring AGAIN. This time, he was followed by men in white coats meant to bring him to the asylum, which was his storyline at the time. Kane proceeded to manhandle his would-be captors and then eliminated himself and ran off for no reason. It's like if Spider-Man beat up a room full of criminals and webbed them up before thinking, "Oh, crap! I gotta get out of here!" and cheesed it.
Eventually, Ken Shamrock appeared and hung out with a returning Vince McMahon until Billy Gunn limped out from the back. The ring had been cleared out three times and they were only 2/3 done with the match.
In 1989, Andre the Giant was so scared when Jake Roberts threw his snake Damien into the ring that he stepped over the ropes and high-tailed it. That counted as an elimination and precedent was set.
Three years later, Randy Savage threw Jake Roberts out of the ring and was so furious that he kept attacking him. He was so in the moment that he leapt over the top rope to climb out. He probably wasn't supposed to do that as the commentators didn't know what to do. They knew he wasn't supposed to be eliminated, but he just went over the top. Monsoon and Heenan went over it for a moment until Monsoon pulled the explanation out of his ass that Savage wasn't eliminated because he left on his own accord.
Oddly enough, there was really no reason for him to return to the match. Even though he got fourth place, he didn't do a single thing of note.
In the late 80s and early 90s, one of the best finishers was Jake "The Snake" Roberts' DDT. Even when it became a move that every wrestler did, few could ever do it on the level of Jake. That made it all that much more frustrating that he was constantly foiled in the Royal Rumble whenever he tried to do it.
He tried to give it to Danny Davis? Davis would grab the nearby ropes and slip away. He tried it on Ted Dibiase? Randy Savage would run over and clothesline Jake over the top rope. Year after year, Jake would show up, be a house of fire and hint at the DDT. Even at the first Rumble, the crowd was chanting, "DDT!" before chants were even much of a thing! Every single time, somebody would evade it and live to fight another minute.
Then he showed up at the 1996 Royal Rumble during his last major run with the company. He got in there, mixed it up with Savio Vega, put Vega's head underneath Jake's armpit and...
THE CAMERA SHOT CHANGED AND WE DIDN'T GET TO SEE IT! GOD! Oh, sure, we could hear it, but the one time Jake actually hit the damn move, only the live crowd got to enjoy it.
One of the things the 2014 Rumble will be remembered for is being the final WWE appearance of CM Punk, likely forever. Entering at #1, Punk received a concussion, seemed out of it for much of the match, and then got eliminated when Kane returned and pulled him out of the ring. Of course, that very spot was blatantly obvious considering how the camera man accidentally showed us Kane trying to hide about five minutes before striking.
The next night, Punk had finally had enough and walked out on the company. Some say he’s a man with legitimate gripes who did the right thing while others call him a crybaby quitter. Regardless, Punk remained quiet for a long time until appearing on his friend Colt Cabana’s podcast. He went into detail about how banged up he was over his last year or so with the highlight being discussion of a growth on his lower back the size of a baseball. One of the company doctors kept mistreating it with z-paks and only after leaving and going to a third-party doctor did Punk discover it was really a staph infection that could have literally killed him.
Sometime after, WWE doctor Chris Amann sued Punk for defamation. While the whole situation is a bit complicated in ways, many believe that WWE is using Amann as a tool to get at Punk. Never has that been more blatant than when they decided to reveal a video to show how off-base CM Punk was about his staph infection.
In an act that’s so hilarious in how ridiculous it is, WWE put up a video on their own official YouTube page that is literally nothing but shots from the 2014 Rumble match of CM Punk’s ass. No audio whatsoever. Just camera angles that show off CM Punk’s posterior followed by pauses and slow zooms. I guess when Punk said the growth was the size of a baseball, someone in the company thought he meant it in all three dimensions or something.
Christ, this company...
Ah, man. If there was ever a condensed look at what was wrong with WWE in 2011, it's the 2011 Rumble, especially the beginning. CM Punk was the leader of the New Nexus and they were sort of at war with Nexus splinter group the Corre. Punk came out at #1 and was followed soon after by the Corre, out to start a fight. The rest of the New Nexus came out and we had a big brawl.
Then the Anonymous Raw GM summoned Michael Cole, who obnoxiously shouted at them to stop and break it up. Everyone but Punk got sent to the back and that's the end of the whole feud. There was no blow-off and that's partially understandable because they were both heel groups and Punk had other stuff going on, but if that's the case, don't act like you're building up to something if you aren't. Besides, a feud with the New Nexus probably would have been better than anything else they did with the Corre.
1995 was the year where Shawn Michaels and the British Bulldog would draw numbers one and two and be the two finalists. Sounds pretty impressive, but they made it a whole lot easier for them by cutting the match time down by making each entrance a minute apart. I can understand the reasoning, what with them wanting to make it less strenuous for Michaels to win at #1 and that Rumble having one of the saddest of all rosters, but it was still disappointing.
The Rumble is something you look forward to every January. Finding out that the match is going to be just barely over a half hour is like getting pumped for the next Lord of the Rings movie only to find out that it's only going to be an hour and fifteen minutes.
I wasn't sure whether to consider this one of the worst Rumble moments or one of the best. Cena and Orton each lasted towards the end of the 2011 Rumble and at one point, they turned around to find themselves the only ones standing. The two top names in WWE were ready to face each other for the sake of earning a title shot at WrestleMania! It's just like Hogan vs. Warrior or Bret Hart vs. Lex Luger or Austin vs. Rock!
Only it wasn't because those guys at least had people caring. When Orton was heel, WWE ran the feud into the ground for so long and so hard that nobody ever wanted to see these two mix it up ever again. Even with the added novelty of Orton being a good guy, this staredown got absolutely no reaction. Nothing. Even the crickets didn't think it was worth talking about.
And that's hilarious.
Hulk Hogan was always kind of a jerk that they pretended was noble and heroic. In the '89 Rumble, he eliminated his Mega Powers partner Randy Savage accidentally-on-purpose and after Elizabeth showed up to smooth things over between the two, Big Boss Man arrived. Hogan stood up to him a little, despite Boss Man being the fresher of the two, but then the next entrant was Boss Man's partner Akeem. The two easily dismantled Hogan and threw him out, turning their attention to the next man in, Brutus Beefcake.
Despite the odds and his opponents being heels, Hogan lost fair and square. So of course he made sure to have Boss Man eliminated via cheating. He pulled down the top rope as Boss Man was bouncing against it, causing Boss Man to tumble to the outside.
Worse was three years later. Hogan was in the final three with Sid Justice and Ric Flair. As Hogan tried to get Flair out of the ring, Sid grabbed him from behind and threw him out. This was barely any different from what Hogan did to his then-best friend Savage in '89, so there was no reason for Hogan to have a cow over it. Especially because Sid was a face! Being a total petulant brat, Hogan reached into the ring and grabbed Sid by the arm. Flair took advantage of the assist and eliminated Sid, winning himself the Royal Rumble and the WWF Championship.
The crowd booed Hogan into oblivion (and rightfully so) because there was absolutely no reason why he should have given the title to Flair like that. When they replayed it on television, they changed the audio so that the fans booed Hogan being tossed out and cheered when he took his revenge on Sid (plus got rid of all the "BULLSHIT!" chants). Yes, they wanted us to believe that Hogan was the good guy in all of this and led us to one of the worst WrestleMania feuds of all time.
On paper, I can see why people would love this. It was an instance of faces and heels finding a common enemy so vile that even they were able to put aside their differences and teach him a lesson. Too bad it's part of one of the more insulting wrestling gimmicks in WWE's long and storied history: Muhammad Hassan.
Hassan's gimmick was that he was a Muslim-American (really an Italian dude with a tan) who was critical about the way Americans wrongfully treated other Muslims over the events of 9/11. You know, something that actually happens that absolutely shouldn't. This made him a heel. Yes, a guy whose mantra was that people shouldn't automatically assume anyone with a Middle Eastern bloodline is a terrorist was considered an anti-American jerk. I even remember Jim Ross yelling at him, "America! Love it or leave it!" to a huge ovation which makes me kind of die inside.
Royal Rumble 2005 played up the rivalry between Raw and Smackdown. At one point you had Edge, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, and Shelton Benjamin from Raw facing down Luther Reigns, Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero and Booker T from Smackdown. In the middle of their brawl, Hassan's theme song played and everyone stopped what they were doing. They stood in silence and watched him make his way into the ring all full of himself and soon he realized that they were all focused on him, including the guys who weren't even American. They beat him down 8-on-1, allowed Mysterio to 619 him and then dumped him out.
"Hey! It's that guy who preaches against bigotry! GET HIM!"
The '03 Rumble is one of the most solid of Rumbles, but once Chris Nowinski walks out at #3, things get uncomfortable and honestly hard to watch.
Nowinski came from the first season of Tough Enough and had way more charisma than the winner Maven. He stuck around and used his gimmick of being a Harvard graduate and mixed it with his natural heel charisma. While the only storyline I can recall with him is the time he wanted to deflower Molly Holly, he at least had potential.
In the Rumble, he played it smart, hanging out on the outside of the ring until the time was opportune. He slipped into the ring in an attempt to throw out Rey Mysterio and Edge at the same time. He failed to make them touch the floor and they double-teamed him. They each climbed a turnbuckle and went for dual Missile Dropkicks. Their timing was off and Mysterio jumped first, knocking Nowinski over. Edge leapt an instant later and landed directly on Nowinski's head. It was nasty and gave him a pretty big concussion.
Even worse, Nowinski stayed in the match for another minute or so and didn't appear to be all there. He ended up being tossed out and that was the beginning of the end for him. He never truly recovered from that concussion and had to retire from wrestling at 24.
At least his experiences and education allowed him to devote himself to studying the effects of concussions and to this day, he's a major expert in sports-based head injuries.
I originally wrote this list in early 2014 top hype up the Rumble that year. I had no idea how outdated it would be by the time #30 hit. Then with the year that followed, I could either figure out which was worse or just stick them together in the #1 spot.
So WWE has a habit of pushing smaller guys at times and then quietly shoving them into the background so they can push bigger guys. Bret Hart was their champ in the 90s, but they quietly pushed him into never-ending feuds with Jerry Lawler and stuff so that they could try pushing Lex Luger and Diesel. Same kind of thing with Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit, and so on.
The company was in the middle of doing this with Daniel Bryan, but they made two major mistakes. First, they didn’t give him any real closure. He simply got screwed out of the title without getting his big win despite being wildly popular with the crowd. Every victory was immediately thwarted by Triple H. But just as importantly, they made what they were doing part of the story. “Daniel Bryan is being shoved into the background to push someone we like better” was not only what they were actually doing, but what they were telling all the fans that they were doing.
Bryan was put in a match against Bray Wyatt on the undercard. In the weeks leading up to the show, it wasn’t outright said one way or the other if Bryan was going to be in the Rumble match. Fans simply hoped he would because, again, his story wasn’t finished. All while that was going on, WWE made a big deal about Batista’s big return. While his appearance on Raw popped a good rating, there was nothing about his appearance that really endeared itself to the fans as a top face.
Most of the match was very good, but when they got into the late-20s of the entrants, the crowd got antsy. After #29, the crowd chanted for Daniel Bryan and got into a big “YES!” chant. When Rey Mysterio came out instead, it became a gigantic mess of boos. Suddenly it was very apparent that not only was Bryan NOT in the match, but they were going to actually have Batista win and go to the main event of WrestleMania. The remainder of the PPV was the crowd hating on just about everything while the commentators got very passive aggressive about how Bryan already wrestled a match and how nothing will change that Batista’s the winner.
The fan outrage, which continued in the weeks that followed, along with CM Punk’s sudden departure, caused WWE to rewrite their WrestleMania plans around Bryan. A couple months later, Bryan needed surgery and had to give up the title. During this time, they were gradually building up Roman Reigns as their new #1 guy. The eventual Reigns Royal Rumble win could’ve gone over just fine, but then he too ended up on the shelf with an injury.
When Reigns came back, the company was very insistent that he was the coolest, most badass guy you should cheer, but went about it wrong. To make up for lost time, Vince McMahon himself started writing Reigns’ promos, which would have been passable for Cena, but came off as downright stupid from Reigns.
But on the bright side, the returning Bryan would be in the Rumble this year! Man, how cool would Bryan vs. Lesnar be?
Well...Bryan got eliminated without fanfare about halfway into the match. Coincidentally, the next entrant was Goldust, giving the fans a “Shattered Dreams” graphic to accompany their anger. Having the final ten minutes of 2014’s show be all fan rebellion was one thing, but we still had half a match! And it was terrible regardless! The 2015 Rumble stunk to high heaven and the crowd let them know, mainly because they could see through how desperate the company was to make fans want to like Roman Reigns.
To give you an idea of how tone-deaf WWE’s decision was, the Rock came out to support Roman Reigns and the crowd still booed! Insanity.
After two years of this, the Royal Rumble is no longer greeted with the same enthusiasm from the fans. It’s just not as fun anymore. With Roman Reigns having to defend the belt this year, we might just get a hat trick of pissed off fans. Or maybe a return to glory. We’ll see soon enough.
Gavin Jasper is already working on updating the list in case nobody from New Day wins the 2016 Rumble. Follow him on Twitter!