Last weekend WWE held its most recent Royal Rumble event to middling reviews for the most part. I don’t really follow WWE’s product on a week-to-week basis anymore now that I have companies such as AEW and Pro Wrestling NOAH to entertain myself with, but I do tend to watch the Rumble every year just because I have strong nostalgia of staying up past my bedtime on a school night back in 2000 in order to watch The Rock win the Royal Rumble in Madison Square Garden live (on tape delay) on Channel 4.
Regardless of what is going on in WWE from a storyline standpoint, the Rumble match itself is usually a fun extravaganza just because 30 wrestlers enter with the goal of flinging their opponents over the top rope to the floor in order to attain victory. I decided to take a trip down memory lane this week and list some of my personal favourite Royal Rumble bouts that have taken place over the years. Please feel free to add your own favourites in the comment section.
It’s been 32 years since this event first took place (and goodness me does that make me feel old) and I can comfortably claim that it still holds up after all of those years. What the Rumble is most remembered for is the epic collision between Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior, as they smash one another with a big double clothesline to set up the epic “Winner Takes All” Main Event of WrestleMania VI.
It would be wrong to think of this Rumble match for just that spot though, as there some other fun stories taking place as well. Ted Dibiase comes in at #1 to last an admirable 45 minutes in total, whilst Demolition gets the honour of eliminating Andre The Giant to set up another big match at WrestleMania VI. Andre himself seems to be having a lot of fun in this one, as he winds back the clock for one of his last remaining memorable performances.
Pretty much all of the major feuds leading into WrestleMania get some work here, with Dusty Rhodes sending Randy Savage to the showers, whilst Roddy Piper and Bad News Brown prove to be the others’ downfall. It’s a really tightly booked Rumble, with plenty of spots to pop the crowd and very little slowdown. I would go as far to call it the first “classic” Rumble after 88 and 89 had been solid starts but hadn’t quite kicked the concept into high gear yet.
For many, this will always be known as “The Flair Rumble”, the same way that the 1953 FA Cup Final is known as “The Matthews Final”. In both instances, two legends of their particular fields delivered a performance so brilliant, that it became one of their defining moments. For Stanley Matthews it was being the catalyst for an epic Blackpool fight back against Bolton Wanderers. For Ric Flair, it was coming in at #3 and lasting all the way to the end to become the new WWF Champion.
Flair truly is magnificent in this match, as he not only keeps up the pace for the majority of the bout but also makes a point of trying to do at least a spot with every wrestler who enters the contest. Having the Rumble itself be for the WWF Title ensures that there is a star studded cast of characters for Flair to do battle with, including the likes of Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Randy Savage, Kerry Von Erich and Shawn Michaels.
Aside from Flair’s excellence, the match also sees WWF Intercontinental Champion Roddy Piper on a quest to become a dual champion, whilst Randy Savage is heck bent on getting some revenge on hated foe Jake “The Snake” Roberts. The crowd are with the match all of the way and are not afraid to voice their displeasure when Hulk Hogan causes the elimination of fellow good guy Sid Justice at the end, with Flair taking advantage to win the match after a herculean effort. Indeed, the reaction was so vociferous that the WWF felt the need to amend the audio to cheers post-production when it was replayed on television so as to make Hogan look like less of a spoilt brat. This is not only one of the best Rumble matches ever but you could make a genuine case that it is the definitive best Rumble contest of all-time.
This is another Rumble that I stayed up to watch back in the day due to it also being shown on Channel 4. Kane is the surprise stand out star of this particular Rumble, as he gets to eliminate a third of the field before finally falling to eventual winner Stone Cold Steve Austin. This is another stacked Rumble, with Austin, Rock, Undertaker, Kane, Big Show and Rikishi all making up the list of top entrants. Rock and Austin get to have a Hogan/Warrior moment at one point, as they brawl with one another to lay the groundwork for their incredible WWF Title match at WrestleMania X-Seven.
I’ve always thought this Rumble was excellently paced, with clearly delineated sections and some good comedy entrants to break things up. For instance, Honky Tonk Man makes a surprise appearance, only to get blasted by his own guitar courtesy of a baffled Kane. Haku even makes his return to the WWF in the match, whilst being the current WCW Hardcore Champion at the time. Comedian Drew Carey even enters at one stage, with his appearance leading to him eventually getting added to the Celebrity Wing of WWE’s Hall of Fame 10 years later.
The Rumble even gets hardcore for a while, with Steve Blackman and Al Snow bringing in a collection of weaponry for their fellow entrants to play with. This is a Rumble with interesting surprise entrants, a good story of Kane being the unstoppable monster and also some tight booking that sets up the next couple of months’ worth of stories very well. I wouldn’t say this Rumble is objectively the best, but it’s probably my own personal favourite, if only because of the nostalgic feeling it gives me. 2000 almost made the list as well, but I personally think 2001 is better so it gets the nod instead.
This Rumble was meant to be all about the coronation of Triple H as the new main hero of the WWF, but what I remember most from it is the wonderful performance of Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig, as he turned back the clock for one last Perfect showing before is untimely death in 2003. The image of Perfect desperately hanging on to remain in the Rumble, whilst still taking the time to swat his chewing gum away out his mouth in mid-air like he used to do in his prime, is just a wonderful moment that I’ll never forget. There was a man who understood his character.
Triple H ends up being a bit of a second fiddle in the end, but his showdown with long-time rival Stone Cold Steve Austin at least provides the sort of epic moment that a Rumble match desires. Rookie WWF Superstar Maven gets his big moment by drop kicking out The Undertaker. He gets killed straight after of course, but he was able to ride the momentum from that elimination for months after. Had he actually been a decent wrestler it probably would have set him up for life, but sadly for him his greenness would eventually prove costly. It’s still a fantastic moment though.
This is yet another Rumble with a stacked list of entrants, as Triple H, Austin, Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Booker T, Rob Van Dam, Big Show and Kane all enter. Man, WWE would kill for an upper card of contemporary stars like that today. It really rams home just how much of a dearth there is at the moment, although that is all WWE’s own doing due to their paucity of ability when it comes to creating stars these days. The 2002 Rumble pay per view as a whole is still a good watch and this particular Rumble bout is the Perfect way to end it, pun intended!