As a goof, I was initially going to keep track of how many times the commentators bring up how the Royal Rumble is “every man for yourself”. That lasted about ten minutes. When you see D’Lo Brown attacking Rikishi and the commentators say it’s because it’s every man for himself, you have to realize you might as well be marking down every punch.
13) Royal Rumble 2006
I bet there are so many confused non-wrestling fans visiting 4th Letter right now.
The set-up: Vince McMahon had been getting on Shawn Michaels’ case for a while for little reason, going so far as to say that he has no chance at winning the Royal Rumble. Meanwhile, the WWE was still reeling from the death of Eddie Guerrero, prompting his friend Rey Mysterio to dedicate the match to him. Other than that… nothing.
The roster: This is the first entry on this countdown to take place after the “brand extension”, so for once we have a really packed roster. Randy Orton, Triple H, Rob Van Dam, Booker T, Chris Benoit, Big Show, Kane and a lot of others who didn’t hold the quality down.
Guest entrants: Jonathan Coachman is here thanks to earning his shot from defeating Jerry Lawler via screwjob. Tatanka and Goldust both make their surprise returns.
The match: We start it off with the Spirit Squad coming out and generating crowd heat. Boy, remember when we had to put up with those guys every week? Now we’re down to one and he looks to have some potential.
It starts off with Triple H vs. Rey Mysterio. Rey comes to the ring in the style of Eddie Guerrero by bouncing down on a lowrider. Rey has also blamed his low number on Eddie’s playful ribbing from beyond the grave, which is cute but still a rather strange thing to say.
There’s a real nice touch early on with the entrants. Psichosis comes out and fights Mysterio, but Mysterio ends up eliminating him. Then Ric Flair comes out and fights Triple H, but Triple H ends up eliminating him. Both Triple H and Rey show that they transcend their old feuds and are pushing for something greater.
Big Show steps in and dominates the two. That eats up enough time for Bobby Lashley to come out. At this point, Lashley is still early in his career and they have high hopes that unfortunately don’t pay off. That being said, his fight with Big Show rules, especially when he hits the giant with a running backdrop/suplex thing. Big Show ends up rolling outside the ring and Kane comes out. Lashley bests him as well, but does so a little early as he has Triple H, Rey, Kane and Big Show beaten and rather than try and throw any of them out he just walks around menacingly.
Sylvan runs out and comes up with the brilliant plan of throwing out all these unconscious guys, then screws it up by hitting Lashley from behind. After Lashley tosses Sylvan out, he walks into Big Show and Kane, who get their revenge. That leaves Big Show and Kane, who are at the time best friends and tag champs, to turn on each other. Triple H throws them both out, ruining the fun.
The ring fills up a lot and things remain exciting enough. One of the coolest bits has Chavo Guerrero run in and take care of several wrestlers before grabbing Joey Mercury and hitting Eddie’s trademark Three Amigos suplex. All the while, everyone else in the ring allows him to do this, seemingly out of respect. Chavo then goes to the top rope for the Frog Splash, but Triple H runs over and pushes him off the rope, eliminating Chavo early. What a great heel move.
Speaking of great moves, Randy Orton comes in at #30 and immediately goes and shoves the exhausted Chris Benoit out of the ring. Then he hits Viscera with one of the best RKOs I have ever seen. The hang time is incredible.
Shawn Michaels, who I would recall is probably the one fans expected to see win, is tricked when Vince McMahon walks out and distracts him enough that Shane McMahon sneaks in and throws Michaels out from behind. This would all lead to the return of Degeneration X and months upon months of dick and crap jokes.
By the end, it’s Triple H, Rey and Orton. So it’s #1, #2 and #30. The declaration that this match was for Eddie ruins things a bit, but there’s some definite tension. You have two heels that most fans would rather not win and a mid-carder who has little right to be there at the end as is. Triple H tries to finally throw Rey out, but Rey grabs onto the ropes, flips down and gets Triple H to the floor instead. Triple H responds by grabbing Rey and slamming him into the steel steps outside before throwing him back in.
Orton toys with Rey for a while and then tries to heave him out. With one last surge of energy, Rey hops up, grabs Orton’s head with his legs and lets loose with a hurricanrana that propels him out of the ring.
Rey gets his upset win, but it’s not an especially great ending. Two of the three were exhausted and yet they spend way too much time on the final moments. No surprise that everyone but Orton appears sluggish.
And you can’t help but remember how this leads to Mysterio’s absolutely horrible title reign.
Longest time: Rey Mysterio (62:12)
Shortest time: Sylvan and Booker T (0:18)
Most eliminations: Rey Mysterio (6)
Best elimination: The final four has Rob Van Dam helping out Rey. He lays out Orton and goes for the Five Star Frog Splash, only for Triple H to make him trip and land crotch-first onto the turnbuckle. Rey runs at Triple H, but gets backdropped. Rey ends up headbutting RVD in the gut and sending him over the top.
12) Royal Rumble 1997
The set-up: I really don’t remember. I think there was some kind of feud brewing already between Bret Hart and Steve Austin, but that’s about it. The show seemed to be more hyped about the main event of Shawn Michaels vs. Sycho Sid.
The roster: It’s lacking due to the guest entrants, but not awful. It has Bret Hart, Austin, Vader, Undertaker, Ahmed Johnson, Fake Diesel and a bunch of strong midcarders. The ending and aftermath at least shows that this wasn’t a totally predictable Rumble by any means.
Guest entrants: Jerry “The King” Lawler is in there, but I’ll talk more of that later. Because they’re in San Antonio, they have an army of luchadors to fill up the ring. This includes Pierroth, Mil Mascaras, Cibernetico and Latin Lover. They add nothing to the event, other than Mil Mascaras eliminating Pierroth, climbing to the top rope and jumping down on him, only to be surprised that he was for some reason not allowed back in the match.
The match: It’s starts off with Ahmed Johnson vs. Crush. Johnson has already wrestled against Farooq and Crush is one of Farooq’s henchmen, so there’s that sense of interest. It’s #3 who I find even more interesting.
Since the beginning of the Royal Rumble in general, the highest profile WWF/WWE wrestler to never be in the match is Razor Ramon. Every time Scott Hall has been in the company during the event, he’s always been given matches for one of the singles titles. This is ironic as #3 in this Rumble is Fake Razor Ramon, a mistake of a concept where the WWF had two new wrestlers take over the gimmicks of Razor Ramon and Diesel in response to Scott Hall and Kevin Nash’s success in WCW. The only reason anyone really remembers it is because Fake Diesel went on to become Kane.
If you’re wondering, Fake Razor lasts a generous seventeen seconds.
Ahmed Johnson sees Farooq walk out towards the ring, so he hops over the top rope and gives chase. Not a smart man in or out of character, that one. Phineas Godwin comes to take on Crush and all the while the clock system is broken. Even the ability to anticipate who’s next is taken from us.
So far it sounds like a really shitty Royal Rumble, doesn’t it? It’s okay because #5 is Stone Cold Steve Austin and the clock finally fixes itself. Austin clears the ring of everyone but himself as Bart Gunn runs in. Austin handily defeats him and waits for the next entrant. This time it’s Jake “The Snake” Roberts, who lost to Austin in the match that made Stone Cold a superstar.
Austin responds with immediate mock fear and prayer. Then he gets up and tells Roberts to get into the damn ring. As you can probably guess by now, not only did Austin eliminate Roberts, but he did so during another instance of DDT Blueballs.
With the start of the British Bulldog coming out, the ring is finally able to shake off Austin’s dominance and fill up. There’s a really bad botch by Goldust who takes a dropkick from Latin Lover that propels him into the ropes, but he doesn’t quite give himself enough momentum to go over. Owen hits him from behind, but against, Goldust can’t quite make the full jump. Owen has to pick him up and do it for him. I’m pretty sure it isn’t intentional.
Austin is able to clear the ring yet again (thanks to Ahmed Johnson chasing Farooq away with a two-by-four) and the crowd starts to get a little bit behind him. He bests Savio Vega, another old rival and waits for his next opponent.
I can’t say I’m an expert on Steve Austin. A lot of this era is a blur to me. I know his anti-authority personality and bad attitude got him over with the fans, fully coming together with his match against Bret Hart at the following Wrestlemania. I know the crowd was beginning to respect him from his performance in this match. I realize all that.
But there’s little doubt in my mind that the exact moment Stone Cold Steve Austin got truly over is when he fought “Double J” Jesse James in the Royal Rumble. Jesse James, AKA Road Dogg, AKA BG James, AKA Goddamn Worthless Armstrong has the most grating face gimmick in wrestling history during this match. You can just feel the crowd’s annoyance at him and appreciation when Austin throws him out like a piece of trash.
To remind us that he’s still a heel, Austin gives the most beautifully horrified expression as Bret Hart walks to the ring. I’m betting it’s a better piece of acting than the entirety of the Condemned.
The two focus on each other and allow enough other wrestlers to enter the ring. It’s fun to see brawls between certain wrestlers before it means anything, like Austin vs. Rocky Maivia and Undertaker vs. Fake Diesel.
The ending has Mankind and Terry Funk going at it on the outside with all the referees too busy to notice Bret Hart throw out Austin. Austin sneaks back into the ring and proceeds to eliminate Vader, Undertaker and Bret to become the winner. Bret proceeds to have a fit.
I mentioned before how Diesel carried the 94 Rumble on his back. You get the same deal here with Austin, only they were nice enough to keep him there until the end. It’s a wonky Rumble, but Austin’s presence puts it over the top and makes it good.
Also, I feel this wouldn’t be complete without posting the British Bulldog’s Royal Rumble promo where he explains why he’s going to win. There’s some foreign guy talking over it, but the important part is the end.
Longest time: Stone Cold Steve Austin (45:07)
Shortest time: Jerry “The King” Lawler (0:04)
Most eliminations: Stone Cold Steve Austin (10)
Best elimination: As Bret has Austin the Sharpshooter, the countdown finishes and the next entrant’s music begins. It’s Jerry Lawler, who has been commentating with Vince McMahon and Jim Ross. Lawler reacts to Vince’s surprise by standing up and removing his headset. “Like I always say, it takes a king…!”
He steps into the ring and Bret Hart punches him twice. The second punch causes Lawler to tumble over the top rope. He stumbles over to the announce position and puts his headset back on, telling them, “…to know a king!”
It’s made apparent for the rest of the night that Lawler doesn’t even recall being in the match.
11) Royal Rumble 1996
The set-up: After losing the WWF title to Bret Hart, Diesel had become uncontrollable and the company’s first real “tweener” wrestler. His buddy Shawn Michaels had quite a scare when the night after being brutalized in a Survivor Series match, he received a kick to the back of the head by Owen Hart that hospitalized him and gave him a major concussion. The two enter the Royal Rumble along with the unstoppable Man They Call Vader and Yokozuna, both represented by Jim Cornette. A match just prior to the PPV has Duke “The Dumpster” Droese takes on Hunter Hearst Helmsely with Rumble numbers on the line. By getting himself disqualified and losing, Hunter draws #1 while Duke draws #30.
The roster: Other than the above mentioned, it’s a pretty good lineup. There’s enough to question whether or not Michaels is going to definitely win or not even with his momentum. There is something very special about those in the match that I’ll get to a bit later.
Guest entrants: A strange grouping here. We have Dory Funk, Takao Omori (or as Vince calls him, the Wild Man from Japan) and Doug Gilbert. The latter is a guy from Lawler’s promotion in Memphis who won the ability to compete in the match. He currently wrestles in Japan while dressed as Freddy Kruger. That might be the coolest way to make a living I’ve ever heard of.
The match: It begins with Hunter vs. Henry Godwin. I don’t remember much about Henry in the WWF, but from these old Royal Rumbles, I have to say that I really appreciate his big man style. I think they could have done more with him rather than put him in a failed tag team with Mideon.
Bob Backlund and Jerry Lawler come out soon after and they all team up on Henry. Lawler gets the idea of splattering Henry with Henry’s own slop bucket, but it backfires and Henry gets all the heels instead. Especially Lawler. Later on, Lawler gets dumped on some more when Jake Roberts tosses his snake onto him in the center of the ring. Lawler decides another strategy and hides himself under the ring.
This Rumble goes the longest without a single elimination, waiting for the point when Yokozuna comes in at #9. It remains entertaining for a while and even has Yokozuna vs. King Mabel, which is funny if only for the commentating botch, “Yokozuna eliminating Yokozuna!”
We get a very special instance of DDT Blueballs here. Jake Roberts grabs Savio Vega and ACTUALLY HITS THE DDT! YES!
Even though we see the DDT hand gesture from Jake and the set-up, the director of this mess decides to cut to something else! We hear the impact but see nothing! WHY?!
To go back to form, Jake grabs Doug Gilbert and sets up for another DDT, but Vader clotheslines him over the top rope. *sigh*
There’s some bizarre bullshit halfway into the Rumble involving a short-lived tag team known as the Samoan SWAT Team. A large, bald man with facepaint is #15. He comes into the ring, lasts over a minute and gets dumped out by Vader. On his way up back to the entrance #16, his identical twin brother, walks out. They both go to the ring and attack Yokozuna and Vader, only to be easily disposed of. I don’t know if that’s the best way to get your new team over.
After Vader is eliminated, he goes on a rampage and clears the ring of everyone. He also punches the hell out of Michaels’ vulnerable head. Everyone has been thrown over the top rope by Vader except for Owen, but President Gorilla Monsoon allows everyone to reenter the ring.
Later on, after recuperating, Michaels leaves the ring to discover that Lawler is still hiding out. He drags the King, kicking and screaming, back into the ring, where he smacks him around and gives him a long-overdue elimination.
As the match reaches towards the end, it features some fights that look extra interesting in retrospect. For instance, a rare brawl between Steve Austin as the Ringmaster vs. Kevin Nash as Diesel. You even have Diesel vs. Isaac Yankem, which is funny in its own right. Mary Jannetty goes after Michaels upon entering yet again, which doesn’t feel right when Michaels is a face. The Ringmaster is eliminated by Fatu; an act that seems both random and fitting when you look at their future “mystery driver” feud.
What’s truly intriguing about this match is the foreshadowed changing of the guards. The match focused on Diesel and Shawn Michaels. It’s the final days of the Clique in the WWF and the New Generation Era. By the time of the Attitude Era, both men would be gone from the company for varying reasons. At the same time, look at those making their marks in the match. They have different gimmicks, but they’ll go on to help shape the company in the years to come.
I’m talking about the Ringmaster (Steve Austin), Isaac Yankem (Kane), Fatu in his “Make a Difference” gimmick (Rikishi) and Kama (The Godfather) being in the ring after #30 has entered. Or how the two longest lasting entrants are the blue-blooded Hunter Hearst Helmsley (“The Game” Triple H) and “Sparkplug” Bob Holly (Hardcore Holly). They all evolved and their careers, the company and the business are better for it.
The ending is very sudden, with a final four of Diesel, Michaels, Kama and the Bulldog. Michaels throws out Bulldog on one side of the ring as Diesel throws out Kama on the other side a couple seconds later. Diesel turns around and gets hit with Sweet Chin Music, sending him out. Diesel cools off enough not to kill his buddy, but still takes it out on the Bulldog and later the Undertaker.
While the WWF intended for Shawn Michaels to make it to Wrestlemania for months, a lot of the booking, including this match, made it feel a lot more up in the air than it really was. Plus, unlike the Austin and Rock wins, there was the underlying question of what would happen between him and Diesel.
Longest time: Hunter Hearst Helmsley (48:01 in addition to wrestling a match at 6:25)
Shortest time: SWAT Team #2 (0:24)
Most eliminations: Shawn Michaels (8)
Best elimination: Without a doubt the Vader vs. Yokozuna spot. The two are meant to be on the same side, but they keep butting heads until the start grappling with each other. As they lean on the ropes, Shawn Michaels dives over, grabs them by the legs and flips both of them over and out. When you consider the weight of the two, the way they were pushing Vader at the time and how unstoppable Yokozuna is supposed to be in Royal Rumbles, this act is pretty damn impressive.
Tomorrow we break into the top ten.