It was 1988 when Jim Duggan won the first Royal Rumble, a new breed of battle royal that would break new ground. The show was not held on pay per view, but was instead aired as a special show on USA. The Rumble has come a long way since then. On January 29th, World Wrestling Entertainment will hold its twenty-fifth Royal Rumble. Over the years the Rumble has become one of WWE’s big four shows, and a favorite for many. Ask any casual fan what their favorite annual wrestling show is, and you will likely receive Royal Rumble as an answer. But what is it about the Rumble that pulls people in? After all, it seems like it’s just a bunch of guys thrown in the ring, but there is so much more to it than that. Over the years WWE has made the evolved and created something incredibly royal about the Rumble.
At first the Rumble was a whole new take on the battle royal concept. Instead of all the guys in the ring at the same time, there were various numbers in the ring throughout the match. It has to be one of the hardest matches in wrestling to put together. Both creative and booking must works countless hours trying put this thing together. How do you call that as an announcer? Look at the great Rumbles throughout history. There’s the 1990 show, 1992, 1997 and 2004 just to name a few. These were great matches that told stories. It’s not just putting a bunch of guys into the ring and telling them to go at it. Finding just the right moment to have someone enter and another eliminated brings a flow to the match. Finding the winner and just how they win is another.
With how big the roster is, the Rumble will usually allow for guys who normally don’t touch each other have an interaction. There are those moments when time seems to stop when it comes down to two guys like Hogan and Warrior, Austin and Rock, Austin and Triple H, as well as Undertaker and Michaels. It’s a glimpse into that may happen one day. The Hogan-Warrior showdown forecasted their classic WrestleMania VI match. When Undertaker and Michaels had their own mini-match at the end of the 2007 Rumble, it got fans excited for them to have another series like they did in 1997. They would get their wish in back to back WrestleMania matches in 2009 and 2010.
A common theme in the Rumble is the prize for the winner: a title match at WrestleMania. One of the great wins a WWE wrestler can pick up is a Rumble win, followed by capturing the title at WrestleMania. Hogan, Yokozuna, Hart, Michaels, Austin, Lesnar, Benoit, Mysterio and Undertaker have all done it. Just the very prize of the Rumble is enough to get excited about it, but things were not always that way. It was a few years after its creation before WWE incorporated the Mania title match into the Rumble. Many feel the Rumble win has lost its novelty in recent years. With two championships in the picture, the Rumble winner isn’t always going to be the most important title match at WrestleMania. Last year, it was the opening bout. This year won’t be much different with Rock-Cena already scheduled, as well as an all but unavoidable rematch between Triple H and Undertaker, not to mention Big Show’s possible encounter with Shaq. Disappointment around the Rumble winner’s lack of prominence at WrestleMania is understandable. However, WWE has been doing the Rumble for twenty-five years. You can only do the Rumble thing so many times before it gets old. In a way, dialing back on the Rumble’s prevalence at Mania has helped preserve both shows.
Commonly overlooked are the matches that precede the Rumble. The Undertaker, for example, has had a number of epic matches at the Rumble. There’s his Casket match with Yokozuna in 1994, his title shot at Bret Hart in 1996, another Casket match in 1998 with Shawn Michaels and the 2010 title defense against Rey Mysterio. Undertaker isn’t the only one to have a big title match at Mania, there’s also Ultimate Warrior’s defeat at the hands of Sgt. Slaughter in 1991, the 1995 draw between Bret Hart and Diesel, Mick Foley’s grueling challenges against The Rock and Triple H in 1999 and 2000. John Cena had one of his best matches of his career when he defeated Umaga in 2007. Every now and then we get to see those rare title matches that you wouldn’t normally see on pay per view. There was a heel vs. heel encounter between Triple H and Kurt Angle in 2001, Hardcore Holly got a title shot in 2004, and Jeff Hardy challenge for the gold in 2008, a full year before he would rise to the main event scene.
Heading into this year’s Rumble, WWE has so many different roads they can take. With John Cena already booked for WrestleMania, there isn’t the worry of finding the right opponent for him. This leaves the Rumble wide open. There are the favorites such as Randy Orton and Chris Jericho, the possibilities such as Wade Barrett, Sheamus, Miz and Del Rio. Then there is also the chance of a surprise entry taking the win such as Undertaker or Triple H. With a huge match already main eventing WrestleMania, there’s not the pressure to find that big title match. Both Daniel Bryan and CM Punk could go into Mania with the belts, and have virtually anyone as their opponents. For the first time in a few years, the Royal Rumble truly feels like anybody’s game.