Doc’s Note – Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome back to a presentation that I have absolutely loved participating in but did not conceptualize. This is the brainchild of Skulduggery of the LOP Columns Forum and it is awesome, so I’d like to continue sharing it with you. Enjoy!
(1) Triple H vs. Cactus Jack (’00) vs. (4) Bray Wyatt vs. Daniel Bryan (’14)
Prime Time: If the more recent match puts this out I will need to go back to it and take another look. But it will have to win the day without my vote, which is going to Hunter and Mick.
Mazza: The Street Fight is on a steam rolling mission right now. I adore the Wyatt vs Bryan match. However it comes nowhere near testing Paul and Mick. I’m a smark so I call them Paul and Mick. Paul and Mick FTW.
Oliver: (Opening sidebar: Remember how fucking cool Roman Reigns was in the 2014 Royal Rumble? Remember how much people disliked him, like, 12 months later? Poor guy.)
There’s a funny thing happening to me as I watch Wyatt vs Bryan this time around – for the longest time, I’d effectively categorised the match as a dominant Wyatt victory, with Bryan playing into the underdog character that had served him so well during this period of time. But watching it now it seems ot be a much more even bout than I had in my head for the longest time. Bryan comes out of the gate hot as a pancake on Shrove Tuesday, gunning for Wyatt, and then the match settles into a much more to and fro bout than I had in my mind’s eye. I really, really love it, and this was the first time on the main roster that Bray really clicked into the gear that he was in when becoming a star on NXT.
Plus, here that motherfucker LEANED INTO HIS SHIT. Sweet Jesus, some of this looked utterly brutal. Bryan took an absolute beating, which is de rigeur (yeah, I can use fancy words too, ‘Plan, how do you like them apples and oranges?) for him anyway, but Bray damn well gave it to him as well. That fucker’s out here decapitating Bryan with clotheslines and squashing his whole chest concave with crossbodies and Bryan is taking it like a man. And holy shit, that Sister Abigail counter to the suicide dive.
A star making performance for Bray, orchestrated by Bryan. And possibly only ever bettered, if memory serves, by it’s opponent here for delivering on making a star.
Because make no mistake about it, in the piss and gore soaked Attitude Era, Triple H wasn’t The Man (® Becky Lynch, 2018) at the turn of the Millenium. I mean, he looked like what you’d get if JBL sat down in front of WWE 2K19 and was told to build a superstar from the ground up. Jeez, I can already hear him jacking it somewhere to Triple H looking like this. But it’s a valid point – he looks like a professional wrestler. He just didn’t feel like someone you could hang the company around the neck of. This is the night that changed, and it’s all down to Daniel Bryan’s father, Mick Foley.
And Foley here is actually God – this is the best level of Foley I think we ever got in WWE, and I know that he talks about his bout with Michaels from Mind Games being his best in terms of shape and so on, but this, for me, is when he was truly at his best. And he was Cactus Fucking Jack, man. Not the parody of Cactus he ended up being, but proper, actual Cactus Jack, half an ear and all. We didn’t get him for very long in WWE, but here we definitely did.
I mean, this kind of almost does the Rock/Mankind thing from a year before again and become too grim to watch, especially when Triple H gets spiked with some wood or whatever and has a hole in his leg BUT it all works in context. I think in the context of Rock/Mankind they could have done less and been effective. Here, Mankind had been so beaten and bloodied by Triple H and his douchey douche friends that he had to go hardcore and bring out Cactus Jack, and you knew in that moment this shit was going to get real. And boy, did that shit get real. I love this for being that brutal and main eventing a WWE show in Madison Square Garden. I love it for making Triple H a star and giving us an incredible Cactus Jack moment that everyone can go and see. I love it for being interesting, innovative, fun, and taking everything good about this period of WWE and distilling it into one match.
But I don’t quite love it as much as Bryan vs Wyatt. So that has to have my vote here.
mizfan: A great match against one of the best matches WWE has ever put on. Wyatt and Bryan did a wonderful job but Foley’s all time great performance catapulted Triple H to where the WWE always wanted him to be, or as close as possible, and the Game gives one of his best ever showings to boot. There’s really no competition here, it’s the street fight for the ages all the way.
Skulduggery: This is actually a really close battle; I would happily take both to the Elite Eight in favor of the other two matches in Bracket C if it were possible. Alas – making tough decisions is part of the territory with these tournaments! Let’s dissect Wyatt/Bryan first. Given the setting in which it occurred, I get a bit of an old-school feel from this one. The crowd is decidedly behind Daniel Bryan, roundly booing Bray Wyatt at every chance. Wyatt’s early hits, like flooring Bryan with an elbow, are met with a collective “Oh!” of disappointment. I love that, even though their united support for Bryan later becomes childish and tantrum-esque during the Rumble match. Ah well – I’ll stick to the Wyatt match! Crowd is fantastic here.
I adore that this match is wrestled accordingly to the size difference. The smaller and quicker Bryan lands several blows to stagger Wyatt, but one landed shot from the cult leader equalizes things – be it the chop that sends a top-rope seated Bryan to the floor or a wicked clothesline that tumbles Bryan as though in a dryer. Seriously, when you have JBL, who threw some of the best clotheslines in WWE history, praising your lariat up and down, that’s something. Add in spots such as Bryan’s running tornado DDT to the outside and Bray’s Sister Abigail to the security wall, character moments like Bray subtly reinforcing the Wyatt Family hierarchy when speaking only to Harper (“I don’t need you to fight this war for me”), and the brilliant fact that the Eater of Worlds won cleanly, and you have a fantastic match start to close.
Compare that with the blood-stained Street Fight of 2000. Cactus shows how insane he truly is when HHH has the chair in the ring and invites an unarmed challenger in to one-sided battle. Trips shows how cold and ruthless he is by cleaning the clock of a charging Foley without a shred of hesitation or remorse. Then you have the handcuffs – a wink back to Foley’s 1999 Rumble match that is on its way to becoming equally as harrowing before The Rock himself steps in and prevents Hunter from straight up maiming his opponent. I get what the presentation was with Rocky doing a 360 from a year prior, and saving his Rock n Sock buddy, but it turned the wink into a shove in the face. Past that minor quibble, the conclusion of the match is downright phenomenal, with The Game delivering a sadistic Pedigree to Foley on thumbtacks. Mick took that one cleanly, the sick bastard.
I think, when one puts on very sharp nitpicking glasses, that Wyatt/Bryan has a bit of a better pace than the Street Fight, with the latter possibly being a touch plodding at times. But the peaks of HHH/Cactus Jack are viciously superior, despite a great fight from the 2014 opener. I think you have to go with the Street Fight, though it’s pretty close.
The Doc: Bryan vs. Wyatt is quite an achievement, and I think if the seven of us were polled individually about our top 16 matches in Rumble lore, it would probably make the composite list, but as good as it was and as enjoyable as it remains on replay as one of the seminal parts of the entire Daniel Bryan saga between Summerslam ’13 and WrestleMania XXX, it is not Cactus vs. Trips, which even if it were 25% lesser as an in-ring product would carry far too much historical weight to be upended at this stage of the tournament. When you take into account what his victory over Foley in Foley’s character’s hardcore environment in the arena in which Foley’s love for pro wrestling was built meant to Triple H’s career, and not just that he won but HOW he won (clean as a whistle), then what was accomplished in 2000 was still so titanic in scope that it would still advance past most of the field. I haven’t really felt the need to deep-dive this one yet because it has yet to face any sort of challenge in my opinion; another no-brainer win for the Street Fight!
Samuel ‘Plan: In a previous round I wrote about how the 2014 curtain jerk has lost a lot of its charm for me since the event took place five years ago. Why that is I’m not 100% certain, and frankly I don’t need to be. The part that matters most on this occasion is that, by comparison, every time I’ve ever gone back to revisit the Street Fight nine years ago I’ve only ever fell more in love with it than I was before. So to compare is simple: one sees my admiration erode, the other sees it strengthen. No matter the details, that’s the reaction I always have and that’s why I will vote, with remarkable ease I have to say, for the Street Fight between The Game and Cactus Jack.
(1) Triple H vs. Cactus Jack (’00) wins 6-1
(3) Diesel vs. Bret Hart (’95) vs. (7) Royal Rumble Match (’09)
The Doc: Though I feel the ’09 Rumble might have the greatest chance of any remaining lower seeded Rumble to end up in the Final Four, I just don’t want to vote for it over Bret vs. Diesel. I love the Bret vs. Diesel series, thinking it similar to the New Gen what Rock-Mankind was to Attitude and what Cena-Orton was to the late 2000s and what Bryan vs. Cena was to the Reality Era – perhaps not THE defining rivalry of its era, but certainly one of the defining rivalries of its era. There’s all kinds of crap going on at the end that leaves a lot to be desired, but what we get during the Bret vs. Diesel run-time is Kevin Nash showing us the best version of his in-ring self and Bret tightrope walking the fine line between not turning heel and still keeping Diesel a babyface. The ’09 Rumble, if we’re nitpicking, can be rather laborious to sit through at times; it probably was a little bit underseeded, looking back, but at the same time there was a reason it wasn’t seeded higher – you have to think long and hard about why it would be considered great because the reason doesn’t jump out and slap you in the face. I’m all for a thinking person’s wrestling match, but I’d rather get that from a 25-minute headlining singles match than an hour long Rumble. I have never questioned the greatness in the Diesel-Bret match, but I had to reconsider over and over again the ’09 Rumble to fully appreciate it.
I don’t know; call it rebelling against the notion that it’s some sort of masterpiece, but the ’09 Rumble’s Cinderella run should come to an end at the Sweet 16.
Skulduggery: Somehow, I just keep voting for the 2009 Rumble even though I keep saying I don’t dig it quite to the extent that others have said they do. It’s a good version of the January classic, unquestionably. But my previously mentioned minor qualms with it – a combination of “fresh man dominates” too much and that it can get bloated at times – prevent me from calling it a top 5 Rumble. But I can’t ignore its strengths, either, and it has plenty of those. So does Hart/Diesel, another match that I like but can’t sit here and say truthfully that I unabashedly love. Speaking of loving both of these matches, I can’t wait to see ‘Plan have to pick between these.
Samuel ‘Plan: One of my favourite matches of all-time against…another one of my favourite matches of all-time?! This is a brutal turn up for the books for me. Not only are both among my favourite matches ever I’d also contend they’re among the best versions of their type of matches in Rumble lore too – one of the best World title undercard bouts and, in my opinion, the greatest Rumble bout of all-time bar none. I suppose that’s the key point really. As much as I adore Diesel’s first pay-per-view title defence – yes, mizfan, even including the interference! – the 2009 Rumble is just a masterpiece composition to my mind. More iron man runs than you can shake a stick at, each one of them with the appearance of being effortless, combined with far more complex action throughout than is normal for the match type, combined with a wonderfully character-infused final six showdown, combined with a sensible and relevant victor, combined with incredible, breath-taking near eliminations occurring with relentless frequency – just everything about it is masterful! And this is about the greatest match in Royal Rumble history. I guess I don’t have a choice after all. I vote for the ’09 Rumble!
mizfan: I can’t fathom how Nash and Bret got this far. Shawn Michaels, Owen Hart, Jeff Jarrett, Road Dogg, and Bob Backlund interfere freely in front of the referee, yet the match continues for nearly half an hour until finally a DQ is called seemingly at a whim. I credit Bret Hart with the fact that despite this it’s still a good match when separated from the nonsense, but this is a poor comparison for their Survivor Series classic later in the same year. On the other hand, the underseeded ’09 Rumble is one of the best there is, telling a fantasticly coherent story over the course of an hour and proving itself decisively as one of the smarter and more layered Rumbles in history. Pulling very strongly for this #7 seed to make it at least one more round.
Prime Time: Enjoy both of these and it’s a shame they are against each other. I’ll vote for Bret and Diesel, though I can’t say I expect it to win the day given the jury and previous votes.
Oliver: I’ve got a real soft spot for that 2009 Rumble, and love that finally a team of people worked their way through the whole match without turning on each other. It’s another of those Rumbles where there’s only really one story going on, and yet the story is told really well and the ending delivers on it. There’s also a lot of nice interactions going on through the match, with Regal and Punk throwing hands at each other for a time, Cody and Goldust going at it again, like they do every year at this time, and a good bit of enjoyment to be had from the interactions Jericho, RVD, and Undertaker all had together. It’s not perfect, but it’s a personal fave.
I would probably say the opposite was true of Diesel vs Bret Hart – and perfect might be overstretching it. It’s not a match that I particularly have in mind if I ever want to just sit and watch some wrestling, nor is it one I’m going to pull off the shelf unless someone prompts me too. It’s just another match to me, and certainly it’s good and almost great.
I’m ultimately lumping in on the personal feelings I have for the 2009 Rumble, over the technically better 1995 match. Sometimes you’ve just got to go with your heart, you know? Not a Hart. Unless it’s Owen, of course. Then you should go with both your heart and a Hart.
Mazza: Get this New Gen nonsense out of here. It may have snuck through last round but 2009 showed it was massively underseeded but blowing an excellent bout between Cena and Styles clean out of the water. It should absolutely do the same thing again here.
(7) Royal Rumble Match (’09) wins 5-2
(1) Royal Rumble Match (’92) vs. (5) The Rock vs. CM Punk (’13)
Oliver: Am I going to vote against Rock vs Punk just because it knocked out the Bomb Angels in the last round? Probably.
Thing is, I thought Rock vs Punk was actually a really, really good match. Punk tries his best to keep a decent pace going throughout the match, even when Rock’s cardio isn’t quite as good as it perhaps once was – all that sushi and woo-sabi, I suspect – but largely speaking they worked well together. They probably did better work a month later at Elimination Chamber, in all honesty. Not to spit on this one, though, which is fun. That said, it’s up against a Rumble that’s so good, so brilliantly booked from start to finish, and so impressively called by Monsoon and Heenan, that I can’t vote for it here. The 1992 Rumble dominates it’s opponent and moves on.
Skulduggery: I think Rocky and Punk have benefited a little bit from luck of the bracket, not unlike Jeff Hardy and Rob Van Dam did in the SummerSlam tournament. Here’s a true test against a juggernaut, though! And I think it’s one that’s too massive to overcome. With Rock/Punk, you have two wrestlers who each had a library of brilliant wrestling matches, but largely in different eras and in different veins. CM Punk was a mat wizard, employed wonderful psychology, could turn anything into a submission, and against opponents like Daniel Bryan and John Cena, wrestled bigger than he was without ever appearing implausible about it. The Rock shined on electricity, pace, fluidity, and the ability to find the fifth gear with admirable ease. In other words, Punk was about a picture-perfect wrestler for the circa 2012 era of WWE; Rocky was about a picture-perfect wrestler for the circa 2000 era of WWE. Both would likely score an A in any era of wrestling, but maybe not an A+. I think these different styles, while overall meshing well, experienced just a bit of stumble when the two mega-stars met. For instance, take the end of the match – after a year and a half of kicking out of nearly every Cena AA thrown at him, it does feel a bit off that Punk was pinned after a People’s Elbow. I point to that as a big difference in eras. That was CM Punk in a circa 2000 Rock match. Don’t get me wrong, the two still did a nice job – but disappointing and underwhelming given the A+ expectations.
With Ric Flair’s ironman performance, you have a match that is often pointed to as the greatest of its genre. I’m not quite that generous with it, but it’s still a fantastic match. Based not only on his duration, but on the wonderful commentary track and how the match is structured, this is Flair’s Rumble start to finish. The question of “Who will win?” is not as overtly asked as is the question “Can Flair win or not?”. It’s not a formula that you want to repeat very often, but in this setting, and the way things were executed, it’s a brilliantly refreshing theme to this one, and gets strong raving from me. Again, don’t count me among those who label this the greatest Rumble ever, but it’s up in that echelon, and it skunks the 2013 title bout handily.
Samuel ‘Plan: I’m going to vote for Punk and Rocky here actually. I swear I don’t keep voting against the ’92 Rumble to be a hipster. I have a lot of love for it like most do, though I do think its achievements as a match are quite excessively over-hyped. I like it, I admire it, I just don’t love it. And I have to say that I’ve sort of come to love the 2013 WWE Championship match…. I love Rocky imbuing it with weighty personal stakes and a powerful and affecting theme in his pre-match promo, both of which help reaffirm the imperious scope of CM Punk’s villainy in continuing on as champion. I think the action is actually pretty darn great; simple, sure, but effective. I like that it still puts something of a spotlight (though by no means literally!) on The Shield and I think the atmosphere of pandemonium as the match gets restarted is pretty infectious. It expresses this wonderful sneer towards the tropes of the Attitude Era while at the same time utilising some of those same tropes to great effect. As a piece of performance art I think it’s quite remarkable. So, yeah, it’s going to get my vote on this one!
The Doc: I’ve said some nice things about Rock vs. Punk and I stand by them, but the ’92 Rumble‘s combo of Heenan and Flair along with compliments paid previously to the match at large make this a landslide, “no need to think about it” sort of scenario for me.
mizfan: So I guess it’s a credit to the Rock and Punk that people still like their match despite showcasing one of the dirt-worst finishes to a major title match in recent memory, but please, please let’s dump that match decisively in favor of the greatest Rumble all time. If you don’t vote ’92, you’re not being fair to Flair!
Mazza: No contest. 1992 to advance.
Prime Time: One of the heaviest hitters getting a gentle ride so far. 1992.
(1) Royal Rumble Match (’92) wins 6-1
(2) Chris Jericho vs. The Rock (’02) vs. (3) Royal Rumble Match (’04)
MAZZA: I have got this horrible horrible feeling that more than half of this panel will try and force 2004 through against 1992. I may have to bust some heads if that happens. In the meantime, it is pretty well matched up here. I’d say that both these matches are a tad overseeded. I am going to go for Rock and Jericho however, just because I feel I need to even out the 2004 love.
Prime Time: I’m going to round this out with another vote for the Rumble match concept and for 2004.
The Doc: Jericho vs. Rock pulled one out in the last round, and I can appreciate why, but I truly do not believe that it should advance again. The ’04 Rumble is the best in gimmick lore and I would love to see a rumble between Rumbles in the Elite Eight next round. It’s going to be a close one, in my opinion, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it came all the way down to the wire, 4-3 either way, but here’s my stance on picking the ’04 Rumble: Jericho vs. Rock, separated from the over-arching rivalry, is just a great match and a marvelous standalone example of in-ring chemistry, but the ’04 Rumble is one of the pinnacle achievements in the 31 year history of the Royal Rumble Match. Maybe you feel like it was tarnished because Benoit’s seminal moment was tainted a decade ago, and that is fine, but there is not another Rumble Match like ’04, and that deserves to be celebrated for at least another round. Recognize that, at no point until the climax does the ring fill up like we customarily expect it to; it instead moves swiftly through the bit players, giving them a solid spotlight while maintaining primary focus on the major stars whose angles connected into WrestleMania XX’s top matches. When the ring does fill up, it is with Angle, Cena, Show, Goldberg, Jericho, Christian, and Benoit – a dazzling collection of talent, each a World Champion at some point in his career. It may not overwhelm from start to finish with star power, but the utilization of its roster is spectacular. If it advances, then it sets up a very unique dichotomy in Rumble formatting philosophy against presumably the ’92 Rumble in the Elite Eight.
Oliver: It’s still kind of remarkable that Jericho was the champion in 2002, isn’t it? How did he get out of Vengeance with those two belts? Still, here he is, the champions, and doing the best heel work since he was in WCW in 1998 but actually getting appreciation for it. And hey, even here, with the blatant anti-Canadian bias from Earl Hebner and the outrageous flaunting of the rules by The Rock, still he retains the titles with a good, clean, and moral victory. Just a shame for The Rock that Nick Patrick can’t remember what comes after 1, I guess. Before that, though, we had a great display of the chemistry between the two which was always there but has never been really talked about in terms of in ring greatness. A shame, truly a shame.
On the flip side here, the 2004 Rumble is an truly terrific effort but really only about one man. In fact, it was only ever about one man. WWE had this weird run of making the Rumbles only really about one person and then that person winning in the end, and they all seemed to run during this sort of timeframe. But it worked, and with Benoit having been front and centre for the build he was then front and centre in the match. The first 20 minutes or so is a little on the dull side, but once they get Orton eliminating folk as well as Benoit stitching basically the whole match together – somewhere around Albert and Shelton Benjamin turning up – it really kicks up a gear and has a lot of fun going on.
Ultimately though, I’m leaning to the better in ring pairing of The Rock vs Chris Jericho. There’s something that just drags the 2004 Rumble match down a bit when watching it now, and I can’t put my finger on what exactly. It’s possibly a little formulaic, I suppose, in terms of having a big guy come out and nail a bunch of moves then get thrown out. Close, but no cigar.
mizfan: I remain baffled at the staggeringly high seeding for Jericho/Rock here. It’s a perfectly good match but under-delivers considering the talent involved. The ’04 Rumble, by contrast, tells one of the best underdog stories ever and features the greatest coast to coast performance of any Rumble, while at the same time informing or escalating just about every major match on the Wrestlemania card in a way no other Rumble can boast. If ’04 falls here, y’all are just nuts!
Skulduggery: I loved Doc’s Round 2 analysis of the color visual of 2004’s Rumble. That’s something I probably appreciated subtly, but something I definitely never put a finger on why. Makes me appreciate it that little bit more now that he pointed it out! That said, that incremental leap isn’t enough for me to vote for 2004 over the liquid match between Y2J and The Rock. The pair completely engages the crowd from the word Go, peaking with a beautiful Rock Bottom through the announce table. The Rock’s nearly unmatched natural athleticism is on display here, complemented nicely by the smaller but equally as fluid Chris Jericho. I’ll take that over an above average Rumble all day.
Samuel ‘Plan: Another tough one! The chemistry in the Undisputed Championship Match is off the chain. They compete and perform at such a pace you can practically see smoke rising from the canvas as they set it alight with their relentless pacing and vast degree of content. The shenanigans come thick and fast but somehow never manage to overshadow the athleticism at the heart of the contest. The theme is a pretty compelling one too, with Jericho fighting to prove he isn’t a joke, but so desperate in the fight he threatens to prove exactly that. He cheats in every which way imaginable but still comes up short! But sadly, despite all of this, it comes up here against another strong contender to be named greatest Rumble ever – Benoit’s underdog story, Randy Orton’s star-making performance, Foley’s story, the construction of the final six and the design of the conclusion, Goldberg’s explosive cameo, the brief spurts of anxiety-busting humour, it’s practically Rumble perfection. So 2004 gets my vote.
(3) Royal Rumble Match (’04) wins 4-3
And with that, we are down to eight. An octet of Rumble matches remain in the quest to determine which is the greatest ever in the January classic. Boy, I can’t wait to hear what ‘Plan has to say about the Rockers and Orient knocking out Rollins’ star-making performance… (Although I’m not one to talk – I spent several paragraphs bemoaning the fact that the ’05 Rumble got ditched in the second round!)
The Rock took a particularly notable tumble here in the Sweet 16, as three of his singles matches all bade farewell. Pretty damn impressive that he had three singles bouts to make it that far, but his lone existence in the Elite 8 is in a 3rd place position at Rumble ’01. Benoit still has some strong presence, with his Rumble win and ’03 classic with Angle still alive; ditto Triple H for his Street Fight and a dominant performance in the ’09 Rumble moving forward. In terms of eras, the noughties are crushing it – 6 matches in the Elite 8 occurred between 2000 and 2009. Only two remain from the ’88 – ’99 stretch, and everything from ’10 – ’18 has bitten the dust.
On the other hand, both matches that had been perfect in terms of voting received some X’s this round, meaning there are no sacred cows left that have been unmarred (…though both were lightly marred). Additionally, we have exactly 4 and 4 in terms of Rumble matches and non-Rumble matches. Seeing as though the A/B side has 3-1, and the C/D side has 1-3, statistically, there’s a decent chance of getting a Rumble vs. non-Rumble in the final match-up! But all of these matches are so strong that anything could still happen.
Elite 8 is up next! More Madness incoming.