Saturday, January 24, 2009

Top Ten Cases: Favorite Royal Rumbles

So the Royal Rumble is tomorrow, and to commemorate the big event I thought I would rank my ten favorite Rumbles, ever. The Royal Rumble, in and of itself, is probably my favorite Pay-Per-View after WrestleMania. Ironically, I did attend one Rumble, and it turned out to probably be my least favorite in modern history (2000). For the period between, say, 1996 and 2003, the winner of the Royal Rumble was completely predictable (and yes, there are exceptions). It got to the point that you almost had to wonder if they should discontinue the stipulation that you get a WrestleMania title shot. That being said, the past few years they've done a wonderful job of surprising us with some unexpected winners. And as I always say, this is a ranking of my "favorite" Rumbles, not the best ones.

For what it's worth, here are my predictions for this year's event: Beth Phoenix retains against Melina (a Women's Title match at the Royal Rumble?), Jack Swagger retains the ECW Championship against Matt Hardy, John Cena retains the World Championship against JBL (sorry, but I just don't see JBL vs. Michaels for the World Heavyweight Championship headlining WrestleMania -- even if it is in Texas), and Edge defeats Jeff Hardy for the WWE Championship when Christian makes his triumphant return and helps his "brother" win the gold. As far as the Rumble itself, that's really, really tough. I normally would have guessed that they're doing Triple H vs. Edge and John Cena vs. Randy Orton for WrestleMania, leading me to believe either H or Orton will win. But after what happened on Raw, who knows what they have planned for Orton. So, if I were a betting man, I think I'd go with Triple H (yawn). But I do have to give WWE credit, because the past several years they've come up with some pretty cool endings. One possibility is Michaels entering the Rumble, winning it, and JBL demanding that he give up his spot so that he can get yet another shot at Cena. Or Undertaker winning and challenging Cena for the title (although doing the "Streak vs. Title" storyline three years in a row might be a bit much). There really are a lot of fun possibilities. Oh, and even if it's just lip service (and trust me, it would be only that), I do hope the announcers remind the viewers that the winner can also challenge for the ECW Championship at WrestleMania.

Click the "Read More" link for the list.

10. 1999 (Winner: Vince McMahon)

The reason I'm including this Rumble on my last is because it was really the first time in which the match itself was made into a storyline. However, the reason why I can't possibly rank it any higher is because what is supposed to be perhaps the biggest moment in the careers of 30 individuals took a massive backseat to a single storyline. And because of that, you just knew that either Austin or McMahon would win. And if by some miracle they didn't, they'd be playing the starring role in the ending (and not the actual winner). I also have to take off a few points because they didn't take full advantage of the bounty storyline. For those of you who don't remember, McMahon put a bounty on Austin, offering a great deal of money (I believe $10,000) to whoever could eliminate him. They did have a few Superstars make an attempt, but nowhere near as many should have. That being said, it was an interesting Rumble, with Austin and McMahon starting out, both leaving for the vast majority of the match, and then returning for the end.

9. 1991 (Winner: Hulk Hogan)

I'm placing this particular Rumble here because it was the first one I ever remember watching live on Pay-Per-View. And as a huge Hulkamaniac, it was incredible seeing the Immortal One walk away the winner, especially after shockingly seeing the dastardly Sgt. Slaughter dethrone the Ultimate Warrior as WWE Champion.

8. 1994 (Winners: Bret Hart & Lex Luger)

You really can't exclude this Rumble for historic reasons, as for the first time ever, two competitors won the match (a similar situation would happen 11 years later, but by accident). It was a fun little story, too, with the odds on favorite Luger against the scrappy, underdog, injured Bret Hart fighting the good fight.

7. 2007 (Winner: The Undertaker)

This was one of the most star-studded Rumbles in recent memory, with guys like Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Edge, and Randy Orton all conceivable winners. That's one of the best parts of the brand extension: With two (or even three) World titles to choose from, it's not an absolute foregone conclusion as to who will win. Along with that, with Triple H out of the picture due to injury, both of World title situations were exceptionally unclear. In the end there was Michaels and The Undertaker, and these two tore the house down in a series of moves and exchanges that really kept you guessing. 'Taker ended up winning, putting to end the dubious distinction where the #30 competitor had never won the Rumble.

6. 1997 (Winner: Stone Cold Steve Austin)

This Rumble really set the stage for the Attitude Era, paving the way for Austin's anti-hero, rebellious character and Bret Hart's overall distaste for what the wrestling industry had degenerated into. It had an innovative ending, with Stone Cold getting eliminated without any of the referees witnessing it, resulting in him re-entering the ring and eliminating the rest of the competitors. It also had Mick Foley appearing in the Rumble three times, under each of his identities (Cactus Jack, Mankind, and Dude Love). Of course, this also led to arguably the most disliked WrestleMania main events ever, so there ya' go.

5. 2008 (Winner: John Cena)

In the age of the Internet, there are rarely ever any genuine surprises left in this wacky sport. At best, we know somebody will return or debut, we're just not entirely sure about the "when" or "how." This Rumble was the rare exception: When John Cena returned as the surprise 30th entrant (just a couple months after tearing his pec), it was a truly shocking moment. The crowd's reaction was great, as was Triple H's. The final few moments were great as well, as you couldn't be quite sure which of these two mega-stars would be victorious.

I would be doing a disservice if I also didn't mention the great side story with Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker. The previous year they were the final two competitors. This year they were the first two. Throughout the entire Rumble, Michaels would allow 'Taker to eliminate somebody, and then he'd sneak up behind him and try to throw him over the top rope. This continued for about a half an hour, mostly going unnoticed, until it finally worked. Of course, Michaels was so caught up in the moment that he ended up getting eliminated as well.

4. 2001 (Winner: Stone Cold Steve Austin)

Despite the fact that it falls into that period of "Completely Predictable Winner," this was a pretty fun Rumble, actually. And it actually has very little to do with the person who won. On the contrary, Kane was the MVP of this particular year's match. Not only was he the last person to be eliminated, but he also lasted nearly an hour -- I think the exact number is 54 minutes, 49 seconds -- and set a record for most eliminations in a single Rumble match (11). The match was also set up into different "themed" sections, all of which Kane took part in and concluded (by eliminating everybody). There was a "comedy" part, with characters like the Honky Tonk Man. Then there was a "Hardcore" part, where pretty much all the guys in the Hardcore division beat the crap out of each other with weapons. And of course, Drew Carrey was a participant. And truth be told, it's unfair of me to say the winner was completely predictable. Angle was the WWE Champion at the time, but you knew they were planning on doing Rock vs. Austin for the title. That meant either of those two could win, allowing the other to win the title before Mania.

3. 1992 (Winner: Ric Flair)

Undoubtedly the most prestigious Royal Rumble in history, as the 30 competitors were fighting for the industry's grandest price: The WWE Championship. There was plenty of star power, including Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, Randy Savage, Sid, and the eventual winner, Ric Flair. If I'm not mistaken, this was the first time a heel won the Rumble (was Big John Studd a heel when he won in 1989). Not only that, but Flair set a new record for time spent in the match itself. I also think it's fair to say that this was the first Rumble that really set in motion the Road to WrestleMania.

2. 2004 (Winner: Lord Voldemort)

Much like my #1 pick (spoiler alert!), this Rumble did a wonderful job of showing that you can win even if you draw the unenviable first spot and catapulting a midcarder to the main event scene. This storyline was handled rather magnificently, with Smackdown's General Manager Paul Heyman doing whatever he can to prevent Chris Benoit from facing Brock Lesnar, the WWE Champion. In order to do this, they had him enter the match at #1. Benoit overcame the odds and survived until the very end. He then went on to challenge Raw's champion, Triple H, at WrestleMania. He finally won the big one that night, and celebrated in the ring, in a genuinely emotional moment, with his wife and son (awk-ward....) This Royal Rumble also set the precedent that you don't have to necessarily fight your brand's World Champion if you win Rumble (a plot device they had particular fun with the following year when Evolution imploded).

1. 1995 (Winner: Shawn Michaels)

I'm sure many people find it odd that my favorite Rumble of all time is the one that is likely the most critically panned in the event's history. And I suppose the criticism is justified. It's the shortest of all the Rumbles, with the participants entering every minute instead of the typical two minutes or 90 seconds. As such, the match itself was barely over a half hour. The caliber of Superstars, in hindsight, wasn't exactly up to par either. But for the longest time before and after this Rumble, the winner was completely telegraphed. I mean, with the WWE Title match stipulation attached, you could pretty much determine who they wanted to face the champion. This seemed like the first time that the WWE actually got behind a midcarder with potential and had him win the Rumble out of nowhere in order to catapult him into the main event. And I loved the overall story of this particular Rumble: Two men started (Shawn Michaels and British Bulldog), and everytime the ring would clear, these two would SOMEHOW be left standing. They even ended up being the last two competitors in the damn thing. And the ending was brilliant, with Shawn Michaels getting thrown over the top rope and hanging with every thread of his being as one foot hit the ground. The Bulldog was declared the winner, but Michaels ran back in and knocked him off the turnbuckle, eliminating him. Replays would show that only one of HBK's feet actually hit the floor, really giving some meaning behind that often mentioned "both feet must touch the floor" stipulation. The Rumble set a lot of precedences: Just because you draw #1 doesn't necessarily mean you're a dead man and you better make damn sure that both of your opponent's feet hit the ground when you throw them over the top rope.

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