It feels like just yesterday that our calendars changed from 2021 to 2022, but now, here we are, on the verge of the Royal Rumble. Time is stupid, man.
Like a lot of people, I have a yearly tradition in the weeks leading up to the Royal Rumble event. I go back and watch previous Rumble matches. When I started the tradition, I would watch every single one of the Rumble matches, and I’d do it in chronological order. Eventually, that led to two problems. First of all, with each passing year, there was another Rumble to watch… and then, with the addition of the women’s matches, there were two new ones every year. Also, some of those matches are pretty bad, and having to watch them every year became tedious. Sure, there are certain ones that I find myself watching every year, but for the most part, I just find myself watching whatever comes to mind now.
I’ve been thinking about what type of Rumble-themed column to write this year. I didn’t want to do an outright predictions column. The idea of running my “Curse Of The #14 Entrant” column back had crossed my mind, but the amount that changes from year-to-year usually isn’t enough for a yearly update. As I sat in my recliner and watched the 2020 Rumble match the other day, I found myself creating mini “lists” in my head, thinking about some of my favorite matches and happenings that have taken place on Royal Rumble cards through the years.
So I decided to turn that into a column.
I’m going to take a look at my 30 favorite things that have taken place during a Royal Rumble show. The entire show, not just the titular (heh… tit) match itself. It can be a match, a match result, a debut, a return, and so on… as long as it took place during a Royal Rumble event, it is fair game. The key word to remember here is “favorite.” These may or may not be the 30 BEST moments. They’re just things that have stuck with me and resonated for one reason or another. I’ll be counting them down from 30 all the way to 1, which will be my all-time favorite. Because the Royal Rumble is so near-and-dear to me, I’m going to waive my “there never is a three” line for this one. That’s major.
Let’s get things underway…
30. Chyna Makes History (1999): She was barely in the Rumble for 30 seconds before she was eliminated by the eventual match runner-up, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, but it was still cool to see Chyna make history by being the first woman to enter a Rumble match. It wasn’t the first time we saw her get physical with the men on the roster, and it wouldn’t be the last time, but her eliminating Mark Henry was a fun spot. This appearance would open the door for other women to be in the men’s Rumble in future years.
29. Kofi Kingston Avoiding Elimination (Numerous Years): Every year, keeping up with Kofi Kingston in the Royal Rumble was like participating in a video game side quest. It wasn’t a major part of the story, and it wouldn’t play into the ending at all, but it was still fun to see how things would play out nonetheless. Falling out of the ring into a handstand and “walking” to the ring steps? Jumping onto Tensai’s back and then using JBL’s chair at the announce table like a pogo stick to bounce himself back to the ring apron? Running from the barricade in the aisle and jumping to the ring apron as if he were Bob Beamon? Being caught by Adam Rose’s Rosebuds and placed back into the ring? Every single year, he was doing something wild to avoid being eliminated from the Rumble. The only reason that this isn’t listed higher is that… well… he would end up being eliminated… every… single… year. It was like Shelton Benjamin in the early days of the Money In The Bank ladder match. Shelton could always be counted on to produce at least one jaw-dropping spot that would have everyone talking, but he would eventually lose the match, anyway.
28. Virgil’s Face Turn (1991): We’ve seen stories like this time and time again in pro wrestling. You have two heels, but with time, one of them begins treating the other one like garbage. The one being treated like garbage takes it, but they’re clearly getting frustrated by the entire thing. As it continues on, fans begin to anticipate the dickish heel finally getting his comeuppance, and then they go nuts when it finally happens. That’s what happened here. Ted DiBiase had been treating Virgil, his bodyguard, worse and worse. DiBiase was such a great heel that fans were dying to see him get punched straight in the mouth one day. After DiBiase and Virgil defeated Dusty Rhodes and Dustin Rhodes at the 1991 Rumble, Virgil decided he had enough of the verbal, physical, and emotional abuse. After DiBiase demanded Virgil place the Million Dollar Title around his waist, he turned around and waited, only for Virgil to drill him with the title belt as the crowd exploded. Just like that, it looked like the WWF had just created its next singles face star. Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way, but for that night, it was a very memorable turn.
27. Final Four Of The Men’s Rumble (2018): John Cena, Roman Reigns, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Finn Balor. Going into the Rumble that year, those were, arguably, the four betting favorites to win the match. They ended up being the final four when the dust settled. Two of the most established WWE stars of the decade, and two of the most exciting new (not young, as Balor was pushing 37, while Nakamura was almost 38) WWE stars of the decade. Even watching this on television, I could feel the tension in the air. That live crowd in Philadelphia felt like they were on the verge of a riot whenever it looked like there was even a hint of a possibility of Reigns or Cena winning. It was a glorious emotional roller coaster, made worse when Cena eliminated Balor. When Nakamura eventually tossed Cena out, even the people who predicted Nakamura to win were probably left doubting themselves. Would WWE really create a brand new main event player by having him eliminate Roman Reigns, of all people? Yes, they would. Nakamura won, and everyone lost their minds. For all of the shit that WWE gets from people, much of it being well-deserved, this was an instance that shows how great they are at telling a story when they really set their minds to it. Unfortunately, they would cancel this out by how they booked Nakamura in the months to come. *shrug*
26. Post-Match Of The Undertaker vs Yokozuna (1994): Yes, it was corny. Sure, it was as over-the-top as anything you’ll ever see in wrestling. It still remains one of my favorite “guilty pleasure” moments, though. This is something that was so bad that it ended up flipping to the other side of the scale and became entertaining. It’s why movies like Sharknado end up being so popular, even though nobody would ever call them “good” films. After watching what seemed like every heel on the WWF roster coming out to help Yokozuna defeat The Undertaker and throw him into a casket, we got enough cinematography and effects to make Roger Deakins blush. Thick green smoke billowing from the urn that was stolen from Paul Bearer, and then from the casket after Taker was placed inside. A camera that was inside the casket for some reason, which allowed us to see and hear Taker deliver a soliloquy about how his spirit would never die and how the world would soon witness his rebirth. Then came the thunder and the surging electricity. For the finale, we watched as THE UNDERTAKER ASCENDED TO MOTHERFUCKING HEAVEN. It was so, so stupid, but so, so fun. You know what the best/worst part is, though? 28 years later, with all of the advancements in technology and know-how, and you could argue that WWE’s “supernatural” stuff (Bray Wyatt, Alexa Bliss, and so on) looks less believable now than it did back then.
25. Asuka vs Becky Lynch (2019): This was six weeks into Asuka’s reign as the Smackdown Women’s Champion, which was her first main roster title. She was in need of a big-time match against a top challenger, and she would get that here with Becky, who was fresh off of becoming “The Man” and turning into one of the top stars in all of wrestling. This was one of those matches where you were almost expecting some sort of screwy ending, as neither competitor should’ve lost at this point. That’s why it was such a shock to see Asuka go over clean. The match itself was great, landing on many Match Of The Year lists once December rolled around. It was very physical, with both women wrestling with a chip on their shoulders. Just an incredibly fun match, a great way to start the show, and the right booking decision, especially to get Becks into the Royal Rumble match later that night.
24. Lawrence Taylor & Bam Bam Bigelow’s Showdown (1995): Celebrity involvement wasn’t exactly new in the world of wrestling, especially in the WWF. Lawrence Taylor was still something special, though. He had only been retired from the NFL for a year, and it’s not like he was just some random player. He was, and still is, one of the greatest players in NFL history. Seeing him get physically involved in the world of pro wrestling was crazy. This wasn’t like some of the past celebrities you’d see on WWF programming. There were a ton of people who weren’t getting anywhere close to physical, and/or who were well into their retirement when they were working with the company. LT was someone who looked like a wrestler, and was still in great shape. This confrontation was EVERYWHERE after the Rumble. Sports news, entertainment news, news news… everywhere. It was a huge story. Everything Vince McMahon could’ve hoped for. This was cool enough, but the fact that it led to a WRESTLEMANIA MAIN EVENT MATCH between Bigelow and Taylor takes it to another level.
23. Rey Mysterio Goes Wire-To-Wire (2006): He wasn’t the first person to do this. Hell, he wasn’t even the second person to do it. However, fresh off of the tragic passing of Eddie Guerrero, the start of Rey Mysterio’s main event push may have made for the most memorable wire-to-wire Rumble performance. Yes, he wasn’t the first entrant in the match, but he was the second, which means he was there from the beginning. It’s weird how that doesn’t really get mentioned. To this day, Rey still has his share of detractors who feel that he’s too “small” to be “believable” in pro wrestling. Ironically enough, most of those people are the same ones who hate on people like Omos because he isn’t their definition of a “skilled” in-ring performer. So, which one is it? Is it all about skills, or is it all about size? If you feel Rey Mysterio isn’t “believable” in wrestling, then you’re saying Omos should be the undefeated WWE Champion because nobody’s bigger than he is. Then, if you feel Omos isn’t “skilled” enough, why are you hating on Rey Mysterio, one of the absolute greatest to ever do it? Size doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. Ric Flair, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, Terry Funk, AJ Styles, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero… the list goes on and on and on of some of wrestling’s undisputed greats who were, at best, average-sized human beings. Anyway, rant over. This was a cool moment.
22. Hulk Hogan & The Ultimate Warrior’s Showdown (1990): In early 1990, Hulk Hogan was still a God-like character in wrestling as the biggest star in the business. However, The Ultimate Warrior was quickly becoming one of the hottest acts around and was in the middle of a meteoric rise to the top of the mountain. You could wonder all you want about what would happen if those two were to have a match against each other, but it wasn’t realistic. This is back when Face vs Face or Heel vs Heel just wasn’t something that you would see very often, let alone involving two of the biggest stars in the business. Obviously, something changed Vince McMahon’s mind that year, as these two would main event WrestleMania 6 a few short months later, but it was still strictly fantasy warfare up until this. As Hogan entered the Rumble at #25, he and Warrior got to clear the ring of a bunch of wrestlers, and then, it happened. The only two men standing in the ring for a few brief moments were Hogan and Warrior. They went face-to-face and the crowd in Orlando ate it up. Hogan and Warrior fought to a stalemate, and although they wouldn’t be together for long, it was enough to give WWF fans a tasty morsel to chew on and a sign of what was to come at WrestleMania. It showed that Face vs Face could work, provided you had the right faces to work with.
21. Batista & John Cena Botch The Finish (2005): Do you realize how hilarious this moment is? A Royal Rumble match is full of so many moving parts, and everyone that has ever been in one or put one together will tell you how difficult it can be to make sure everything goes as planned. As the story goes, the original finish for the 2005 Rumble was Batista throwing Cena over the top to win the match. Unfortunately, shit happens sometimes, and what we got was both men tumbling out of the ring and hitting the floor at the exact same time. That was an all-time great “botch” all by itself, but then… oh, but then… we get an angry Vince McMahon marching to the ring to fix things, but he had been sitting in Gorilla for the entire show. His muscles weren’t warmed up, so when he went to hop into the ring, he barely got any air underneath him, and he slammed into the ring apron, tearing both of his quads at the same time. Watching it live, I think we were all incredibly confused about why Vince got into the ring and was just sitting down. Just a surreal moment. It’s crazy to think of how much went wrong because of one “little” mistake.
20. Bianca Belair Wins The Rumble (2021): At one point, winning the Royal Rumble was a true star-making performance for a wrestler, moving them up the ladder and putting them into the main event scene. It certainly doesn’t always happen that way, but it can be a special thrill when it does. That applies here. Bianca spent nearly 57 minutes in the match, winning from the 3rd spot, but it was her celebration that really made this a fun one for me. It was clear just how much it meant to her that she just won the Royal Rumble. She simply could not contain her emotion. For you long-time readers of my work, you know that one of my favorite things about wrestling is when people are able to break character and show real emotion when they accomplish big things. She was “made” from this moment on.
19. Triple H vs Cactus Jack (2000): Two men who played their roles to absolute perfection. Triple H was so easy to hate, and Mick Foley, in any of his roles, was so easy to love. Putting them in a Street Fight here allowed them to really take fans on a ride. It was brutal, and it was bloody. Lots of weaponry and plunder was involved. The story being told was great, too, with Foley deciding that Mankind didn’t quite have what it took to defeat Triple H in a Street Fight, so he called in a substitute that would take his place… Cactus Jack. Kudos to Triple H for working the majority of the match with a puncture wound to his calf after taking a suplex onto a wooden pallet and having a piece of the broken wood basically stab him.
18. Chris Benoit Goes Wire-To-Wire (2004): For obvious reasons, this has been scrubbed from history, with WWE going out of their way to never mention it. They’ll talk about how many people have won the Royal Rumble from the #1 spot, and then name everyone else that did it, but leave Benoit out. There was a long period of time when I couldn’t go back and watch this again, simply because of the range of emotions that Chris Benoit would bring up after what happened at the end of his life, but that doesn’t take away how great of a performance this was. It helped to make Benoit a main event star in a company that many people thought would never push him like that.
17. Tazz Debuts (2000): In the history of pro wrestling, there haven’t been many debuts that were cooler than this one. Appearing in front of his hometown crowd in New York City, Tazz got a huge pop, coming in and steamrolling the previously unbeaten (in televised singles competition) Kurt Angle, looking like every bit of the killer that he was in ECW. Just like that, it looked like the WWF had themselves a new main event star. Unfortunately, that never quite happened. Three months later, he challenged Triple H for the WWF Title on an episode of Smackdown, but that couldn’t even main event the episode. We’ll always have Madison Square Garden in January 2000, though.
16. The Rockers vs The Orient Express (1991): This is one of my favorite “out of nowhere classic” matches of all-time. Both teams were working a style that REALLY stood out in the WWF in 1991. It was like watching time travelers from decades in the future. Lost in the conversation about their split and how much Shawn Michaels accomplished as a singles wrestler is just how good The Rockers were together. Their in-ring chemistry was simply off the charts. On the other side of the ring, Kato (Paul Diamond) and Tanaka (Pat Tanaka) were always solid workers, but they stepped their games up with this new spotlight that was on them. As I said, this was like watching people from the future working a style that nobody had seen before. Remember… this is January 1991. The Ultimate Warrior was the WWF Champion, and he was facing Sgt. Slaughter on this show. Hulk Hogan was still one of the top guys in the company. The Undertaker was very early in his time there. Up and down the roster, there were big, lumbering workers that wrestled a certain style. Even the better workers at the time… Intercontinental Champion Mr. Perfect, Rick Martel, Bret Hart, Randy Savage, etc… weren’t wrestling like what we got in this match. I highly recommend checking this one out if you haven’t already done so.
15. John Cena vs Umaga (2007): I was a huge fan of both men in 2007, but I had no idea what to expect here. Umaga wasn’t exactly a “proven” main event guy, so there were a lot of questions about how well he would be able to perform under the bright lights of a Last Man Standing Match against the WWE Champion, John Cena. We ended up getting a big-time fight from bell-to-bell. Umaga was the perfect opponent for Cena at that stage. He was a monster that didn’t seem to have any weak spots, while Cena was really working the babyface champion role well. Everything Umaga dished out, Cena was able to take it and return fire. At the same time, Umaga was able to take everything that Cena dished out and was able to bounce back, as well. Even the finish was great, with Cena taking the top rope that had been loosened during the match and using it to choke the challenger out. It was creative, but it also made Umaga look strong in defeat, as it showed just how far Cena had to go to finally put him away. The match made a lot of year-end Match Of The Year lists, which really made me happy.
14. Crowd Hijacks Everything (2014): If you ever want to see just how much the WWE Universe loved Daniel Bryan, look no further than the 2014 Royal Rumble match. We were in the middle of living through the storyline that people felt wasn’t a storyline at all… WWE viewing Daniel Bryan as a “B+ player” and a really good wrestler, but not quite what the company was looking for in one of their top guys. Fans had talked themselves into believing that it would all play out with Bryan winning the Rumble and going on to WrestleMania 30, where he would finally get to the top for sure. When Bryan faced Bray Wyatt in the show’s opening match, that pretty much guaranteed it in the eyes of everybody, as he would have plenty of time to rest and recover before entering the Rumble and winning. The Rumble came, and man after man after man came to the ring, but none of them were Daniel Bryan. That’s fine. There was still time for him to be in the match. Then we got to the 30th spot. Surely, this was it. That capacity crowd in Pittsburgh was ready to explode when their guy came out. Then… Rey Mysterio entered the match in the 30th spot, and the crowd lost their fucking minds. They booed Mysterio out of the building. Do you know how difficult it is to get any crowd to boo Rey Mysterio, let alone give him one of the loudest heel reactions you’re ever going to hear? The crowd then proceeded to take a nice, creamy shit all over everything that happened for the rest of the match. Batista? Fuck that guy! More like Bootista, amirite?!? They started to cheer for Roman Reigns, who was a heel at the time, simply because he wasn’t going to be the “status quo” of established names like Batista and Sheamus winning. What a weird thing to witness.
13. Crowd Hijacks Everything… Again (2015): THEN IT HAPPENED AGAIN!!! Even after the storyline played out and we actually did get Daniel Bryan in the main event of WrestleMania 30 and successfully reaching the top of WWE, the WWE Universe still wanted more. Mere weeks after WrestleMania 30, Bryan needed to have neck surgery and would be out of action for a while. He would return to the ring ten days before the 2015 Rumble, so fans were eager to see him get another shot to be the top guy, this time with an actual title reign to go with it. People didn’t have to wait too long to see him in the Rumble, as he entered in the 10th spot. Then… he was eliminated by Bray Wyatt. Bryan was barely in the match for ten minutes. The fans in Philadelphia were LIVID. Like the Pittsburgh crowd the year before, the Philly fans took a steamy doodoo all over the rest of the Rumble. Unlike the previous year, these fans did not want Roman Reigns to win. At all. It was clear that he was going to, though, and that only infuriated the crowd more. Not even an appearance by The Rock could win the crowd over, giving us the iconic image of Rock raising the victorious Reigns’ arm, only to get caught off-guard at just how angry the crowd was. Daniel Bryan was special, man. I don’t think we’re ever going to see anything like him and his connection with crowds again. Not to that wild and intense a scale, anyway.
12. Owen Hart’s Heel Turn (1994): The heel turn itself was really well done. Owen and his brother, Bret, were challenging for The Quebecers’ WWF Tag Team Titles. During the match, Bret would (kayfabe) injure his knee. Instead of tagging out to his brother, he tried to tough it out and play “hero ball” by staying in the match. Eventually, his knee proved to be too big an obstacle to overcome, and the match ended by Referee stoppage when it was deemed that Bret could no longer continue. Just like that, The Quebecers had retained their titles, and Owen was understandably upset. After the match, an angry Owen berated Bret for not tagging out and would go on to kick Bret’s injured leg, cementing the heel turn. The only problem is that, for as good as the turn was, the thing that will be remembered most about this is the backstage promo that Owen cut after leaving the ring. It was a perfectly acceptable promo until Owen stumbled over his words, saying “…and that’s why I kicked your leg out of your leg!” An unfortunate slip-up, but again, it’s what gets remembered the most about this, which is a shame.
11. Kurt Angle vs Chris Benoit (2003): This is a fantastic match, but like the Benoit Rumble win in 2004, it’s something that I find myself having a difficult time watching all over again. It remains one of the best technical matches you’ll ever see from this company, with two of the sport’s best technicians going after each other. They had a tough spot on the card, following back-to-back dog shit matches (Torrie Wilson vs Dawn Marie and then Triple H vs Scott Steiner) that nearly killed the live crowd. That showed in the opening couple minutes of the match, as the crowd just wasn’t reacting to much. Once Angle and Benoit got the crowd’s attention, though, they kept it and got them going crazy.
10. Ronda Rousey Debuts (2018): There was a lot of buzz that Ronda Rousey could be switching from MMA to pro wrestling. A ton of buzz. When Asuka won the very first women’s Royal Rumble match and was standing in the ring with Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss and Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair, all that was on our minds was wondering which champion Asuka would choose to face at WrestleMania. Then, “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett played, and the crowd went banana pancake when the word “Rousey” appeared on the big screen. When Ronda herself walked out on stage, the pop was deafening. It was an electric moment. We had no idea if Ronda was any good as a pro wrestler, but what we could tell right away was that the WWE women’s division was about to change forever.
9. The Undertaker & Shawn Michaels Close The Rumble (2007): Far more often than not, the final two people left in the Royal Rumble go to battle for a very short amount of time. One, or both, of the competitors are exhausted, and there’s a lot of ways to write a quick elimination. 2007 saw WWE stray from that “formula” a bit. The Rumble came down to The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels as the final two. They’re two of the greatest of all-time. They’re both Texas boys, and the Rumble that year was coming to us from Texas. Instead of a quick duel, though, we damn near got ourselves a Taker vs HBK singles match. From the moment that Edge was eliminated, leaving just two men left in the match, until the moment that Michaels was eliminated, over seven minutes went by. There were elimination attempts, kip-ups, finishers, and tons of drama packed into that time frame. I would love to see something like this revisited one year. Just to use two random names, but say this year’s Rumble came down to AJ Styles and Riddle. They’ve both been in the match for a while, and they’re exhausted, but this is a WrestleMania main event that’s on the line here, so they’re going to give everything they have to try and pick up the win. Finisher attempt, big move, big move, finisher attempt… lots of drama on the ring apron… give us a ten-plus minute “singles” match between the two before one of them eliminates the other. It’s the type of emotional roller coaster we’re supposed to be on for these matches.
8. The Curse Of The #14 Spot (Numerous Years): You had to know it would be listed here eventually. If you’re new around here, this “curse” goes all the way back to the beginning of the Royal Rumble. For some reason, the men that have entered the Rumble in the #14 spot have encountered personal and professional troubles at an alarming rate. Sometimes, it comes years down the road, but other times, it happens almost immediately. We’ve seen 34 men’s Rumbles, and I’ve made the argument that the curse has struck 16 times. That might not sound like a lot, but we’re talking about things like death, loss of family members, major injuries, drug addiction, and so on. As I said earlier, it’s difficult to keep posting the curse column every year, as there isn’t always updates from the previous year, but I will certainly revisit it at some point. When you’re watching the Rumble this year, keep a close eye on who enters the men’s match in the 14th spot.
7. Chris Benoit vs Chris Jericho (2001): Keeping with the trend, here’s another all-time great Rumble performance that just so happens to involve Chris Benoit, making it difficult for me to sit through and watch all over again. This was a Ladder Match for Benoit’s Intercontinental Title, and boy howdy, did they beat the shit out of each other. Not just with the ladder, either. If you watched them face off at any stage of their careers, you knew you were getting an intense, physical contest. Throw a ladder into the mix, and the level of violence escalates. Lots of creative spots with the ladder, helping this match stand out from a lot of the other matches in this “genre.”
6. AJ Styles Debuts (2016): Recently, it seems like we’re getting a couple “I never thought I’d see the day” moments in wrestling each year. At the 2016 Rumble, we got one of those with the WWE debut of AJ Styles. Sure, there was a lot of buzz that he maybe possibly potentially might be debuting, but most people thought it was just the usual speculation during Royal Rumble season. Even after it was reported that he may have signed his WWE contract, people were having their doubts. There was a lot of reason to think he wouldn’t debut. He was staring down the barrel of turning 39, he wasn’t the stereotypical body type that Vince McMahon seemed to love, and he seemed like he was doing incredibly well for himself elsewhere. Then… he walked out in the middle of the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida to a huge pop. It was poetic. He could’ve made his debut in just about any city, but doing it in Orlando… the long-time hometown of TNA/Impact Wrestling, where he starred for years… that was beautiful. Say it with me… I never thought I’d see the day.
5. AJ Styles vs John Cena (2017): A year after his WWE debut, AJ Styles entered this match as the WWE Champion. He had proven that he belonged on the grand stage that the company provided for him. It wasn’t just a fluke, either. In 2016, he showed that he may have had John Cena’s number. He pinned Cena at Money In The Bank in June, and then again at SummerSlam in August. In October, Styles would pin Cena again at No Mercy, this time in a Triple Threat that also involved Dean Ambrose. How many times can you remember Cena being pinned by the same person three times in a four-month span? That might have choreographed that Cena was going to win the match at the Rumble, but what a match it was. AJ was AJ… phenomenal as always. This was in the era when Cena was having a ton of fun wrestling a bunch of “indie darlings” and working a completely different style than a lot of what we were used to from him. Both men stepped their games up tenfold, and brought the best out of each other.
4. Brock Lesnar vs John Cena vs Seth Rollins (2015): I’ve said this before, but WWE has shown, time and time again, that they really know how to put a Triple Threat (or a Fatal Four Way) together well. This was a perfect example of that. Three wrestlers, each bringing something unique to the table. Rollins was the daredevil. Cena was the strongman. Lesnar was the human wrecking ball. All three of them got to showcase that here. Lesnar got to look like the absolute monster that he is by going from nearly being taken out of the match on a stretcher to re-entering the ring and picking up the win in a matter of seconds. This was 23 minutes of train wreck wrestling, and I mean that in the best way possible.
3. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan’s Commentary Roller Coaster (1992): Realistically, I could’ve put the entire match on the list. It remains my favorite Rumble match, even after all these years. If I had to pinpoint one specific thing about it, though, it would be Heenan’s performance. Over the course of the 60 minutes that Ric Flair was in the Rumble, Heenan went through just about every possible emotion there is while on commentary, and then cycled through them all over again… and again… and again. It was a master class from the man who many feel is the best color commentator in wrestling history.
2. John Cena’s Surprise Return (2008): The internet has made TRUE swerves very difficult to pull off. Websites will post news that so-and-so has signed with such-and-such company and is set to debut on the next show. Fans will tweet pictures of wrestlers in the airport of a city that is hosting a pay-per-view that weekend, “ruining” their surprise appearance on that show. The list goes on and on. In October 2007, John Cena tore his pectoral muscle, and was set to be out of action for a minimum of six months. That timetable meant he had a very, very slim chance of being back before WrestleMania 24. Even after undergoing surgery, Cena was still doing tons of media work for the company. He would always give updates on his status, saying that he was working hard and was ahead of the original schedule, but that he was still going to be gone for a long time. Returning at the 2008 Royal Rumble, less than four months after injuring himself, was not on anybody’s mind. You can tell that by the crowd reaction he got that night. Keep in mind that this was 2008, right in the middle of the era where Cena was supposed to be WWE’s top face, but was getting HUGE heel reactions from the very vocal male portion of live crowds on a nightly basis. When his music hit in Madison Square Garden and he came out as the 30th entrant in the Rumble, the initial reaction was a clear, 100% face pop. People got lost in the moment of his shocking return, and then, a couple seconds later, it’s like they remembered they were “supposed to” boo him, so a lot of them started to do just that. As an added bonus for me, Cena was my favorite wrestler at the time, and I had just acquired tickets to WrestleMania 24, which would be my first Mania event that I would be in attendance for. I had been disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see Cena there, but just like that, he was back.
1. Edge’s Surprise Return (2020): Incredible. Simply incredible. As I’ve said, I love it when wrestlers display real emotion, and Edge has always been great at that. Other than this, one of my favorite instances was at the Unforgiven 2006 pay-per-view. Edge had said that one of his biggest dreams as a kid was being announced as the WWF Champion in his hometown of Toronto. Fast forward all those years later, and Unforgiven 2006 took place in Toronto, and there was Edge, the defending WWE Champion. Check him out during the pre-match introduction of his TLC bout against John Cena. As he’s being announced, he is fighting back tears. Even though he was in his hometown, he was still one of the most dastardly heels in the business. It’s very clear that he has always been a huge fan of the business, and has just been living out his dreams for the last couple decades. Having him return at the 2020 Rumble, from what was supposed to be a career-ending injury, was a moment I’ll never forget. His music hits, and Minute Maid Park in Houston nearly crumbled to the ground because of one of the loudest pops you’ll ever hear. The shot of Edge stepping through the smoke in his entrance should be on highlight reels for the rest of time. Once again, he was fighting back tears, wide-eyed as he looked out into the crowd and soaked everything in. Then, like a true professional, he snapped back into business mode instantly. A true “never thought I’d see the day” moment if there ever was one.
Your turn, ReaderLand. What are some of your favorite Royal Rumble moments? They can be things I’ve mentioned here, or they can be some things that aren’t on my list. As always, drop me a line in the comments section below, or on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and let me know what’s on your mind.
Weekly Power Rankings
- Jon Moxley: It was great to see him back on television. He looked to be in tremendous shape, too. We got to hear him cut a great Moxley-style promo, blending his on-screen character and the real-life person behind it. It was incredible to see the level of respect that AEW fans have for Moxley, as outside of the heckler that got his attention in the start, you could hear a pin drop in the arena when he was talking. That crowd was on the edge of their seats listening to everything he had to say.
- AJ Styles vs Austin Theory: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… WWE clearly sees big things in Austin Theory’s future. With performances like this, a lot of you are starting to see that, too.
- The Tease Of Jon Moxley vs Bryan Danielson: It’s a good problem to have, but AEW keeps running into situations where they have people feuding against each other that could both really use the win. This would be another instance of that. We’ve seen a ton of Daniel Bryan vs Dean Ambrose matches, but there hasn’t been a Bryan Danielson vs Jon Moxley match since September 2010, when they squared off at Dragon Gate USA’s Way Of The Ronin show. The build for that match features my favorite Moxley promo of all-time, when he goes deep into the Heath Ledger Joker world and demanded Danielson’s head on a stick while talking about what it would take for Danielson’s “King Of The Independent Wrestlers” empire to come crashing down. If you haven’t seen it, just search for “Jon Moxley challenges Bryan Danielson” on YouTube, and it’ll be there.
- Cody Rhodes’ Promo: When he really wants to be, Cody can be fantastic on the mic. This was one of those times. He was all over the place, but in a good, chaotic way. There was good build for a Ladder Match against Sammy Guevara to crown an undisputed TNT Champion, but also a lot of “insider” stuff about everything going on around him. Good stuff.
- Randy Orton vs Chad Gable: A long, competitive singles match for Chad Gable against a top-tier performer? More of that, please! Enough of him getting squashed in under two minutes all the time.
- Seth Rollins & Kevin Owens vs The Usos: People are confused because Rollins and Owens are definitely heels, but WWE seems like they want you to cheer for them in this story with Roman Reigns and The Bloodline. Either way, this was as good a match as you would expect with the four names involved.
- Solo Sikoa vs Boa: Solo looks like his brothers, The Usos. He wrestles like his brothers, The Usos. On top of that, he brings a Muay Thai style to his matches that provides an extra layer to the onion. Add me to the ever-growing list of people who think he won’t be in NXT for long, and that he’ll eventually get involved on-screen with his family on Smackdown.
- Jade Cargill vs Anna Jay: Jade Cargill’s best match yet? I believe so. Anna Jay’s best match yet? I believe so. It exceeded all expectations I had for it, and became a pleasant surprise. I’m glad to see AEW putting Jade in longer matches now. She has everything needed to be a huge star for them, but we just needed to see if she could handle herself in the ring beyond a squash. Looking good so far.
- Hook: What else can you say at this point?
- Cameron Grimes vs Tony D’Angelo: As always whenever Cameron Grimes is mentioned, I am legally and contractually obligated to mention that he nearly broke my leg at an independent wrestling show a few years back. This was a surprisingly good match, mainly because of D’Angelo and his rapid improvement in the ring. With each passing match, he is becoming more of a wrestler instead of just a character like he was when he debuted. If he stays on that track, NXT might have themselves another big star.
This Week’s Playlist: “Call Me Little Sunshine” by Ghost… “Hunter’s Moon” by Ghost… “New Devil” by Asking Alexandria & Maria Brink… “Never Gonna Learn” by Asking Alexandria… “Find Myself” by Asking Alexandria… “Dying To Believe” by Papa Roach… “Kill The Noise” by Papa Roach… “Re-Entry” by A Day To Remember & Mark Hoppus… “Haru Haru” by Tashannie… “All Bets On Ace” by Ace Hood… “One Mic” by Nas… “Lose Yourself” by Eminem… “My Lowrider” by The Game, Paul Wall, WC, E-40, Chingy, Techniec, Crooked I, Lil Rob & Ice Cube… “It A Ring” by Tonto Irie… “John Crow” by Jimmy Cliff… “Bam Bam” by Sister Nancy… “Here Comes Trouble” by Chronixx… “Nobody Move Nobody Get Hurt” by Yellowman… “Kill Us All” by Twista… “Everlong” by Foo Fighters… “Hunger Strike” by Temple Of The Dog… “So What’Cha Want” by Beastie Boys… “Watermelon Crawl” by Tracy Byrd… “Carrying Your Love With Me” by George Strait… “That’s All” by Genesis