(1) Triple H vs. Cactus Jack (’00) vs. (16) Royal Rumble Match (’14)
mizfan: Probably the best non-Rumble contender to win this whole thing, HHH/Foley should take this in a landslide over the bitterly disappointing 2014 version of the big match.
The Doc: The stink of the ’14 Rumble may never wear off; the brilliance of the Street Fight at MSG has never worn off. Result? Domination. Hard not to think of Cactus vs. Trips at the frontrunner to be crowned the greatest.
Mazza: No contest. The Game maker.
Skulduggery: I was perfectly fine with Daniel Bryan’s exclusion from the 2014 Rumble, and this still may be the biggest margin of victory from any of my votes in five editions of Madness. Street Fight by the combined sum of every landslide recorded.
Prime Time: To put it succinctly, I think you’d have to be insane not to take the Street fight.
Oliver: I’m still of the opinion that the 2014 Rumble is enormously underrated, Batista win or otherwise. It’s such a strong, story-driven match. A shame it has to fall here to bloody gore of HHH vs Cactus, but so it is.
Samuel ‘Plan: Both these matches carry strong memories for me. I remember speaking with my LOP good brother Maverick about how deceptively good the 2014 Rumble Match was and why it deserved a little more love. I stand by that. I also remember standing in my classroom’s cloakroom almost nineteen years ago and telling my childhood best friend that the Street Fight between the Game and Jack was going to be a match we’d be talking about for years to come. And here we are, talking about it. H vs. Jack remains an outstanding accomplishment. As much as I like to champion the unsung successes of years past, in this instance the more popular match is also undoubtedly the better.
(1) Triple H vs. Cactus Jack (’00) wins 7-0
(8) The 1-2-3 Kid & Bob Holly vs. Bam Bam Bigelow & Tatanka (’95) vs. (9) Jeff Jarrett vs. Razor Ramon (’95)
Mazza: Ah 1995. Can I choose neither? No? Okay then. Jarrett and Ramon is actually pretty fun so give me that one.
Prime Time: Ugh, the 1995 Royal Rumble. I’ll take the IC title match but really speaking nothing from this card should be going too deep.
mizfan: I love Razor Ramon, but I just can’t get into Jarrett. The match was fine but just didn’t pop very much for me. The tag match, on the other hand, hugely overdelivered in my opinion, with Kid and Bigelow’s interactions being the clear highlight. Never though I’d vote for a match with Tatanka, but here we are!
Skulduggery: Not crazy about either of these matches. Jarrett and Razor is a nice character match, with the dimwitted babyface macho’ing himself out of a championship, but in terms of in-ring action, nothing about it stands out as more than merely decent. The tag match is a far cry from the Hardys and Dudleys of five years later, and from the Rockers and Orient Express from four years earlier…but it tells a good story of the quicker Kid & Holly using the bulk and the dysfunction of their larger foes against themselves. Honestly, I have a feeling we are just voting for which lamb ought to be slaughtered by HHH and Cactus next round…but I’ve been more surprised in these tournaments!
The Doc: Tag team wrestling in the New Gen just didn’t do it for me, but the strength of the IC Title during the same period goes underappreciated historically. Few were ever better at carrying the Intercontinental Championship with confidence and class than Razor Ramon and, in the first half of 1995, he found perhaps his top foil over said gold in Double J. Jarrett’s performance at the Rumble was one of his career best, as he was arguably never more in his element as a heel than on that night, which helped make Razor’s role as the protagonist come across as natural as possible (considering he was, you know, “The Bad Guy”). ‘Plan and I gushed over this one in our New Generation series and I hope we get to talk about it more in the next round before it makes a graceful exit.
Oliver: I’m not voting for a Jeff Jarrett match on principle, so the tag match gets the win.
Samuel ‘Plan: As far as past Rumble pay-per-views in their entirety go, 1995 is actually one of my favourites, thanks to its pervading subtext about the levels of athletic competition. The tag bout, that sees long term unlikely heroes take on the sponsored cronies of the Million Dollar Man, tells a typical underdog story as effectively as you might expect from such steady in-ring hands, culminating a tourney to crown new Tag Team Champions in a high stakes encounter. Unfortunately it is, here, against the opening chapter of an outstanding Intercontinental Championship feud that kicks the event off in style and complements the more viciously competitive World title bout of the same night beautifully. Double J and the Bad Guy have this one for me.
(9) Jeff Jarrett vs. Razor Ramon (’95) wins 4-3
(5) Kurt Angle vs. Triple H (’01) vs. (12) CM Punk vs. Dolph Ziggler (’12)
Mazza: Remember when Kurt Angle and Triple H were feuding 17 years ago? You’d think they’d be over it by this stage. Anyway, this is Hunter in the middle of, what in my opinion is, the best run in pro-wrestling history. Sure, may not be as good as what happened a year before, but still comfortably beating a match I can’t even remember.
Skulduggery: Now we’re talking! A rare heel vs. heel match in WWE lore squaring up against a technically underrated gem. While it would be a tough argument that either of these matches would rank among the best of any of the four wrestlers involved, you could certainly make the argument that these matches happened during the peak of each respective wrestler’s careers. Rumble ’01 was a shade off of 2000, the year many would call the best of the Game’s career; Xerox the sentiment for Punk and his match in early 2012, right on the heels of his white hot 2011. I’d argue heavily for Ziggler being at his best circa 2011-2012. Angle might be the toughest argument, that’s only because his peak could easily be described as broad as it is high. By hitting hot zones in the career of all four men, even above average matches by their standards would be very good by your typical measuring stick. And that’s exactly what we have here.
All that said…I think I’m going to marginally opt for the upset. Angle and The Game wrestled well in an unconventional dynamic, and they benefited from the extra-curricular happenings. The emergence of Stone Cold also made a dusty finish a satisfying one, a feat uncommonly achieved. The conclusion of Punk and Ziggler, meanwhile, wasn’t as tucked in – I get what they were doing with Laurinaitis counting Punk’s victory, but it still felt odd. Like a sock that is slightly over-rotated on your foot. Still functional but feels weird. However, bell-to-bell, I enjoyed the crispness, innovation, and sheer fun of Punk and Ziggler more. Dolph reversing the GTS into a Fame-Asser is ridiculous.
Samuel ‘Plan: At the time of his WWE Championship challenge against the Voice of the Voiceless I was a major Ziggler fan, and a long-time appreciator of his effort against Edge in a not dissimilar situation the year before. I was left bitterly disappointed by a match invaded by disinteresting authority figure-related shenanigans and a match style that watches as far too stop-start considering the talent involved. The uncomfortable truth is that Punk didn’t leave many of his opponents during his title reign better off for having competed against him, and that Ziggler ended the year in pretty much the same spot he started it stands as testament to what a disappointing underachievement his bout with Punk turned out to be. I therefore have to go with the Angle / Game encounter.
Oliver: Is it so wrong that I want to vote Punk vs Ziggler just for the presence of Big Johnny, the greatest GM in history, on the outside as the special guest ref? People Power fricking ruled.
Fuck it, I’m voting for it. Angle vs Trips doesn’t do it for me that much.
Prime Time: Both decent, but a clear win for the Angle and Hunter match which I remember being a low-key great. Maybe it won’t hold up so much when we get around to rewatching but for now it can survive on memories with relative comfort.
mizfan: I actually consider these to be more or less on the same level, both matches are quite good but would be so much better without the outside nonsense. Ultimately Laurinaitis was less annoying than the seemingly never ending catfight between Trish and Stephanie, so I’ll go with Punk and Ziggler. Loved revisiting Punk at the height of his popularity by the by, so many small touches that made him great in that period.
The Doc: Truth be told, I have never thought much of the chemistry between Angle and Triple H in the ring. They were a 3.5 star duo to me who inherently brought 4-star expectations to the table, and when you expect great and only get really good, there is a natural tendency to feel a little off-put. Ziggler and Punk were a 3.5 star duo who probably could have earned a much higher critical mark had they been given the same kind of time that did Triple H and Angle at the ’01 Rumble. Aesthetically, I feel like these matches are of similar quality, speaking little to the story behind them, so I’m calling for the upset on account of expectations met.
(12) CM Punk vs. Dolph Ziggler (’12) wins 4-3
(4) Bray Wyatt vs. Daniel Bryan (’14) vs. (13) Royal Rumble Match (’13)
mizfan: The ’13 match was another one that I actually liked even more than I remembered, but I think Bray/Bryan just narrowly edges it here. Great showing by a super hot Bryan and certainly the singles match of Bray’s career to this day.
Samuel ‘Plan: At this stage I’m hoping my picks aren’t provoking too much ire! I love the Rumble, and I adore indulging myself in its lore at any time of the year. Its quieter moments are deserving of much more props than they get credit for, and the 2013 Rumble Match is one such moment. It’s restrained, understated and straight-forward, and to many that made it feel anti-climactic; especially considering who wins, of course. Ultimately, though, I think it’s a masterful demonstration of the genre with one of the best surprises in the show’s history to kick it off and one of the best climactic final six or seven participants we’ve seen in the match’s dense library. Not to detract from the 2014 curtain jerker – an excellent match with an ever more compelling subtext – but I love the ’13 Rumble so much I can’t vote against it.
The Doc: Of all the modern Royal Rumbles, 2013 was the best up until 2018. It reminded me a lot of 1990 in the sense that it flowed very well and it did a really good job of executing the basics of what we have come to expect from a Rumble Match; so, in spite of its pretty predictable winner, the ’13 Rumble did a heck of a lot right. That said, Bryan vs. Wyatt is a bonafide mid-card classic that remains one of the high watermarks of the Yes! Movement regardless of Wyatt emerging victorious on the night, and it of course also maintains its place in history as perhaps the finest use of The Eater of Worlds across a career that most would agree could have and should have been greater.
Prime Time: Another one I’d be quite happy just to pass on. We’re definitely into joke Rumble territory by 2013. I may have to choose Wyatt and Bryan, even though I’ve no great love for it.
Mazza: Hard to believe there was a time where Wyatt was destined for great things. You just have to watch this match to realise why that is such a shame. Bryan made Bray look like an absolute superstar here, all for Cena to kill his momentum (and pretty much his career) a couple of months later. The big match John burial coupled with the disappointment of no Bryan appearance in the rumble later than night can distract from just how good that match is. It is certainly better than the 2013 rumble match.
Skulduggery: The battle of the beards is a crazy fun match, and I can’t gush enough about Wyatt getting the clean heel win over a red-hot Daniel Bryan while the latter was en route to a huge WrestleMania. Shades of Triple H beating Austin at No Way Out 2001 in the midst of Stone Cold’s volcanic blitz towards his massive WrestleMania. Great execution of beefing up the resumes of the heels while avoiding a reciprocal cooling of the babyfaces. The first time is often the best, and that applies to Cena Royal Rumble victories as well. Smell ya later, 2013.
Oliver: Wyatt vs Bryan forever and ever and ever and ever.
(4) Bray Wyatt vs. Daniel Bryan (’14) wins 6-1
(3) Diesel vs. Bret Hart (’95) vs. (14) Royal Rumble Match (’17)
The Doc: I’m a little surprised that the ’17 Rumble made the cut, to be honest. It was a Royal Rumble, so it inherently was enjoyable, but like most modern versions it just does not maintain much in the way of good vibes that often stimulate greater rewatchability. Diesel vs. Bret, on the other hand, would in a perfect world be one of the frontrunners to win the whole darn thing, like a 3-seed in March Madness with a handful of wins over Top 10 teams, its non-finish the equivalent of a momentum-killing early loss in the conference tournament. I will save my praise for the next round, where I feel it might meet some push back from judges who maybe do not fully appreciate its awesomeness, but I will close by saying that I encourage everyone, judges included, to go back and watch it one more time with ‘Plan’s words echoing in their minds.
mizfan: Probably my least favorite choice in the whole thing. I am baffled by the seeding of Nash/Bret here, this was a far cry from their massively superior Survivor Series match nearly a year later. Plagued with blatant interference to the point of nonsense, including the referee allowing the match to continue after an obvious screwjob repeatedly, it’s another match that goes a very long way for a really terrible finish. Credit to Bret for making the match as good as it was in spite of everything, and I guess for that I’ll still give the Hitman my vote here, because the 2017 edition of the Rumble is probably my least favorite of all time. WWE has never proclaimed more loudly that nobody on the roster matters except a small handful of guys who barely show up for work. Not sure the Rumble has ever had a colder winner either, leading to another putrid ‘Mania title match.
Oliver: I’m siding with Diesel vs Bret. The 2017 Rumble isn’t bad, exactly, but it’s not going to be talked about for years to come. Diesel vs Bret is pretty good. Easily the best Nash match, at least.
Skulduggery: The 2017 version of Line ‘Em Up and Toss ‘Em Out started out so well. I loved everything that had even an inkling of Strowman’s fingerprints on, including the multi-man effort it took to eliminate him. Jack Gallagher as a fun lower-card participant, Ambrose’s trickery on Ellsworth and the latter’s subsequent elimination at the mammoth hands of Strowman, and the Harper-Wyatt-Orton interactions were all the stuff of diamonds. But you won’t catch me writing love notes about the ass end of the match, notably everything to do with Goldberg and the Undertaker. Really wrinkled what was looking like a beauty Rumble. Such bipolarity does not exist in the much more consistent WWF Championship match. For its overindulgence of interference dessert, Diesel/Hart put forth a straightforward but brilliant effort in the main course.
Samuel ‘Plan: Anybody who has been paying attention to my work over the years will know that, in the case of Hart / Diesel, you’re talking about one of my favourite matches of all-time. And it’s a pretty highly ranked one too. Of course I’m going to vote for it. I really hope it doesn’t lose out here either, because if it does it will simply be through a lack of familiarity. I know that reads as confrontational, but there’s no way that the ’17 Rumble – a good enough effort but one that ends on an uncomfortable note equal parts retrograde and spiteful – should beat a master class of competitive fire like 1995’s World title defence.
Prime Time: Love pretty much any match between Diesel and Bret, and think it’s the only thing that mitigates my previous comment about that show. The later Rumble match rule still applies. Point to 1995 with room to spare.
Mazza: Ugh 2017. Diesel and Bret seems a little OP with its seeding but I will worry about that in later rounds.
(3) Diesel vs. Bret Hart (’95) wins 7-0
(6) Edge vs. Jeff Hardy (’09) vs. (11) Women’s Royal Rumble Match (’18)
Oliver: Edge vs Hardy ends really strongly, but I think the Women’s Rumble match might just about edge this, for me. It’s a lot of fun, is that match.
Skulduggery: There was a lot to like about the inaugural Women’s Royal Rumble. Entrants like Molly Holly, Beth Phoenix, and Ember Moon ticked the boxes of crowd excitement and surprise. Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch were a picture-perfect starting duo, and Banks’ longevity was particularly impressive. And I guess it was nice of Kelly Kelly to show up and remind everybody of exactly how much women’s wrestling had improved in the last 8 years or so. However, there were things to dislike about it too. There was an inordinate amount of time spent on the outside by active participants. The Bellas playing such a key role was eye-rolling. And as much as I love her as an antagonistic authority figure, Stephanie on the commentary booth was sub-optimal. Not many negatives on the No DQ match, though. They’ve had better bouts, but Edge and Jeff still dealt strong hands on this one.
Mazza: The inaugural women’s rumble match wasn’t without its faults. It wasn’t wrestled very well and it had an over dependence on comebacks. However, it had some fantastic moments and sequences too and was a monumental part of the women’s revolution. Edge and Jeff’s chemistry is eternal and they had a very good match in 2009, however I have to go with the ladies here.
The Doc: I’m predicting an upset, but going with what I feel to be the stronger overall performance. Hardy vs. Edge is an underrated series from 2009. Every single match in their series was psychologically engaging and aesthetically pleasing, but they lacked that one “knock your socks off” effort to take their rivalry to the next level. Nevertheless, if you committed the time to their match at the Rumble, you would find yourself thoroughly entertained by the chemistry, the execution, and the storytelling, which is a trio of attributes that usurps the nostalgic resonance that the first-ever Women’s Rumble Match brings to the table in hindsight.
Samuel ‘Plan: Is this a politically correct vote, or a viably justifiable one? Well, it’s a bit of both in some ways. There was no denying that the pressure was on the women’s division back in January to deliver on the bet WWE placed on them. I think it fair to say they did. It executed its conceptual vision well and, despite several awkward passages, demonstrated confidence, relish and zeal. I was a big fan. I’m also a big fan of the Edge / Hardy encounter from near 10 years ago. It’s a robust and solid piece of work that, had it happened perhaps outside the shadow of the Rumble, might get spoken about a lot more than it does. What it doesn’t have on its side here, however, is history, and it’s history that pushes me to vote for the first women’s Rumble.
Prime Time: No real recollection of the former off the top of my head. Might have to throw the vote to the women just for the historic nature of it, and for being more enjoyable than the men’s match was that night.
mizfan: I think the women’s Rumble is massively underrated, I actually consider it in the top 10 editions of the big match. The past/present/future mix was executed very well, and far less ham-fistedly than in the men’s version this year, and the booking and structure was exemplary as they absolutely maximized everything they had to work with. Edge/Jeff is a fine match but rather underwhelming, considering who’s involved, and I don’t think it should stand a chance here. Do the right thing, put the women through here!
(11) Women’s Royal Rumble Match (’18) wins 5-2
(7) Royal Rumble Match (’09) vs. (10) Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (’04)
Prime Time: 2009 was the last Rumble match I really liked. Going to give it the vote rather than HBK vs HHH #873 because it has that kind of landmark status for me. Plus, I think there’s a lot going for it. Great performance by HHH.
Samuel ‘Plan: I am, quite frankly, going to be extremely annoyed if the Last Man Standing Match from ’04 goes through here. 2009’s Rumble remains, to my mind, the single greatest version of the 30-Man Battle Royal there’s ever been. Overflowing with effortless iron man performances, with big name entrants a dime a dozen and spaced out expertly to maintain interest, crammed with interesting set-pieces – some action driven, others character driven – that go well beyond the casual brawling remit the match usually sticks to and, of course, an opus of a final six brimming with bright, character-founded subtext all help position 2009, with distance, atop the list of Rumble quality as far as I’m concerned. When opposed by an indulgent, predictable, overlong and laborious self-aggrandising abhorrence like the most lazily produced Last Man Standing Match ever wrestled was, it should, by rights, sail through.
Skulduggery: The 2009 Rumble is an interesting one. By my scorecard, it has a lot more peaks than your average Rumble, but also a few more valleys. Its commencement is a very fun one, with Mysterio and Morrison performing some seriously breathtaking near-eliminations. Things get sluggish with Khali and Kozlov, and then, almost immediately once again, the engine is revved with early entrances of HHH and Orton. RVD was a fantastic surprise entrant, Mysterio was arguably more impressive in this one than in his 2006 win, Santino Marella’s record-setting elimination and his reaction are absolutely wonderful, and I love the subversion of the traditional Final 4 to a Final 6 that’s…really still a Final 4. Simultaneously, though, the ring gets immensely cluttered at points – I swear more than half of the entire field is fighting by the time #30 hits the ring. Also, there’s typically an element of “fresh man dominates” in Rumble lore, but it seems particularly prevalent here, almost annoyingly so. I think, coupled with the clutter, it stands out more. A 2009 Finlay dominating the entire field for his 90 seconds becomes more baffling when it’s like 10 other guys…and some of them have only been in there for 2-3 minutes themselves! Like I said though, lots of highs to balance out the lows.
Triple H and Shawn Michaels, meanwhile, put on a master class. I think this one is underrated by HHH/HBK terms – I like it a lot more than their Hell in a Cell, for instance, and nearly as much as their rightfully vaunted SummerSlam encounter. Two wrestlers: one is a serrated dose of reality in his skill and sadism; the other a never-say-die warrior filled with heart. I love how the opening of this match has Shawn fighting his way out of the corner every time – it’s never HBK backing the champion into the corner, and HHH fighting his way out, it’s always Michaels responding to the aggressor. These early match base hits are mirrored later, but they are magnified into home runs. Hunter bloodies the challenger first, and it’s only by digging deep into the gas tank that the Showstopper is able to even the playing field. Last Man Standing over the Rumble, please, and eyeballing the bracket, I am hopeful this one goes on a bit of an underdog run.
mizfan: I’d say the ’09 edition of the Rumble is massively underseeded here, there are only a small handful of matches I would consider voting above that expertly executed match! HHH/HBK is quite good in it’s own right but suffers from the overdramatic tropes their feud sometimes fell into. The ’09 match should take this one in a sweep, I’d say.
Mazza: Now we are talking. Love both of these matches a lot. I think the Last Man Standing gets lost in a sea of seemingly endless matches between the two DX buddies but it is an excellent watch despite the draw. My vote has to go to the Rumble here though. 2009 is an elite rumble match with Randy Orton at the peak of his character work with Hunter anchoring the match with him all the way.
The Doc: Though I’m not nearly the fan of the ’09 Rumble that some of my long-time LOP peers may be, I have been willing over the past few years to give it a greater chance at impressing me by watching it with their key points of admiration in mind; and, I must say, they have largely won me over to the point where I feel like the ’09 Rumble probably got a little under-seeded here. The HBK-HHH Last Man Standing, meanwhile, is one of those matches that showcased the downside to the dynamic between the co-founders of DX; when their characters clicked in the ring, it was absolute magic between the ropes, but when they did not, their efforts were overlong and featured a heavy dose of self-importance that jumped off the screen and punched you in the nose. I would not go so far as to say that the ’09 Rumble is the masterpiece that I know at least ‘Plan will say that it is, but it is worlds better than HBK vs. HHH from the ’04 Rumble.
Oliver: Ooh, the ’09 Rumble is one of my favourites! I’ll vote for that.
(7) Royal Rumble Match (’09) wins 6-1
(2) John Cena vs. AJ Styles (’17) vs. (15) Royal Rumble Match (’89)
Mazza: For somebody my age, any old school rumble comes with a certain nostalgia which helps carry it through. While 1989 isn’t one of the better early ones, it’s still a fun watch. However, it can’t really hold a candle to AJ and John’s classic (which is somehow almost 2 years ago!!).
mizfan: While this AJ/Cena match was far and away the best of the bunch they did together, I never did enjoy that series the way others did. The ’89 Rumble is a pleasure to watch by comparison, filled with big stars and fun exchanges, and even if Studd was a lame duck winner I’m still giving ’89 my vote here. I doubt I’ll get my way, but I do think Cena/AJ will fall sooner than the seeding suggests, it just didn’t live up to it’s potential.
Oliver: Cena vs Styles here was absolutely incredible and, I think, a smidge better than their SummerSlam ’16 match. It’s an empty the tank match, just the two of them throwing everything at each other, Cena finding his work sneakers again, and them absolutely nailing everything. An easy and deserved win for that one.
Samuel ‘Plan: In ’89, the Rumble was a year old and still very much finding its feet. The second ever instalment watches very much like the company was only just beginning to tap into the potential of the concept they now had on their hands. DiBiase ‘buying’ the thirtieth spot, the continued dissension among the Mega Powers and an iron man showing from Hennig show the germs of what would explode into vibrant and mastered life the following year. Perhaps it is because it’s a Rumble still in its gestation period that sees me instead voting for the Cena / Styles bout to go through – not a match I hold a great deal of love for, but definitely the superior outing among these two.
Skulduggery: When we did the SummerSlam tournament, which saw Styles/Cena ejected early, a few people mentioned that they like the pair’s Rumble encounter far more than the overrated SummerSlam one. Truth be told, I’m not fond of either. And Cena/Styles won’t see much love from me for however long it lasts in this bracket. That said…Cena’s Flair-tying win does outmuscle the mediocre 1989 Rumble here. Just.
Prime Time: Those first couple of Rumbles before they hit their stride are nothing to write home about, in all honesty. Usually I plump for the older match when in doubt but I might vote against type and head to the singles bout this time around.
The Doc: I have been looking forward to discussing this match for a long time. I wrote about in my book how matches like Styles vs. Cena would eventually have to deal with the fact that they simply relied so much on big moves and finisher kick-outs that it is almost guaranteed that they will never watch as anywhere near as good as all-time classics that have proven they can stand the test of time. Doesn’t that matter? I think it does. Accordingly, I think that AJ vs. Cena is on massive upset alert from here on, but if we get a panel of judges that concentrate more on what happens in the moment, then it could go the distance. I named it my 2017 Match of the Year, personally, feeling it was the strongest effort in their library of work, taking place entirely inside the wrestling ring and combining elements of what made their first two singles PPV matches so successful. Still, put it up against something that ages well – that we know ages well – and I like it to get knocked out early, I think.
(2) John Cena vs. AJ Styles (’17) wins 6-1