The Eternal Optimist Presents a 30 Part Column Series - Ranking the Royal Rumbles (#21)

The Eternal Optimist Presents a 30 Part Column Series – Ranking the Royal Rumbles (#21)

Hi kids.

I’m back with part 10 of my 30 part column series, “Ranking the Royal Rumble Matches”. Today, I’ll discuss the Royal Rumble that came in at #21 on the countdown. As a reminder, here are the criteria that I used to analyze the matches:

The Participants – The easiest way to create a Royal Rumble is to have a compelling roster that people want to see participate. I’ll take a look at the level star power, the level of “overness” of the other players, and whether or not there were an unnecessary amount of jobbers and/or non-factors in the match.

The Storylines and Flow of the Match – The storylines are without question the most important part of a Royal Rumble match. I’ll look at whether or not the storylines presented enhanced the match. I’ll also look at the surprise entrants and evaluate whether or not they added value. Lastly, I’ll look at whether or not the match had a solid flow or if it dragged at times. This is by far the most important category, and it will be the category in which I spend the majority of each column discussing.

The Final Four – Every Rumble inevitably comes down to a “show down” between the final four competitors. Here, I’ll look at whether the WWE chose a strong group to represent the final four, and whether or not the end game to the Rumble was compelling.

The Winner – I’ll evaluate three things relating to the winner of each Rumble. First, was the winner a surprise? I have a strong appreciation for Rumble winners that weren’t necessarily expected to win. Second, was the winner satisfying? Just because the winner wasn’t someone I expected doesn’t mean that I enjoyed the outcome. On the other hand, just because the winner was a foregone conclusion doesn’t mean that I didn’t love every minute of it. Lastly, how did winning the Royal Rumble impact this wrestler at Wrestlemania and beyond? The overall success of the subsequent push impacts how I view many of the Rumbles and their winner.

A couple additional disclaimers:

First – lengthy Royal Rumble runs rarely move me. Sure, you might love Rick Martel lasting 53 minutes in 1991. I didn’t. He, as well as almost everyone else that goes coast to coast, spent the majority of the match sitting in the corner getting kicked. For me, a single wrestler’s longevity is the most overrated factor in evaluating the strength of a Royal Rumble.

Second – these factors aren’t weighted evenly. They are merely talking points. My overall impression of the Rumble is what ultimately mattered when I made my rankings.

Last, but certainly not least – I’ve added a new wrinkle to this column series. As you already know, my thought process on wrestling seems to wildly differ from the majority of the fans in our community. Many have taken me to task in other forums over where my rankings ultimately landed. I’ve decided to incorporate that into this column series. As such, every entry will end with a guest “rebuttal” telling me exactly why I’m an idiot for ranking that particular Rumble where I did. The guests range from my fellow columnists, both on the main page and the Forums, to real life friends, to buddies I frequently interact with on social media. I try not to take myself too seriously, and I think you’ll enjoy the alternative takes.

Today’s rebuttal once again comes well recommended. His name is Chad Matthews. I don’t know him. I’ve heard he writes columns.

Here is where the countdown currently stands:

#30. The 2009 Royal Rumble.
#29. The 1991 Royal Rumble.
#28. The 2011 Royal Rumble.
#27. The 1998 Royal Rumble.
#26. The 2000 Royal Rumble.
#25. The 1995 Royal Rumble.
#24. The 2015 Royal Rumble.
#23. The 1993 Royal Rumble.
#22. The 1988 Royal Rumble.

Question of the Day: Would Rey Mysterio still have won the Royal Rumble in 2006 had Eddie Guerrero not passed away? If not, who do you think would have?

#21. The 2006 Royal Rumble.

The Roster.

Triple H
Rey Mysterio
Simon Dean
Ric Flair
Big Show
Jonathan Coachman
Bobby Lashley
Chris Benoit
Booker T
Joey Mercury
Johnny Nitro
Trevor Murdoch
Road Warrior Animal
Orlando Jordan
Chavo Guerrero
Matt Hardy
Super Crazy
Chris Masters
Shelton Benjamin
Randy Orton

Overall – I thought the 2006 Royal Rumble had excellent star power. You had big names such as HBK, HHH, Ric Flair and Randy Orton. This was immediately after Eddie Guerrero’s death, so it also marked the height of Rey Mysterio and Chavo Guerrero’s popularity. The Coach, although a non-wrestler, was a reasonably big deal at the time. Matt Hardy had really found his footing as a single’s competitor over on Smackdown. MNM was a red-hot act. Chris Benoit and Booker T were still top acts. RVD was a big deal just making his return. This was arguably peak Shelton Benjamin as well.

The top to bottom roster was stronger earlier in the 2000s than in 2006, but this Rumble was filled with both headliners and acts that I found to be interesting. No complaints here.

The Storylines and Flow.

There was a lot to like about the 2006 Royal Rumble. The WWE had two of the three biggest players in the match as the first two entrants in Triple H and Rey Mysterio. This is a rarity in Royal Rumbles. It reminded me of when the WWE put HHH and Randy Orton into the 2009 match so early on, only the execution and thought process were light years better here. Rey Mysterio was an incredibly sympathetic underdog that everyone, myself included, was rooting for. This was the perfect contrast to the hated heel space that Triple H occupied for the majority of his career. Unlike in 2009 when you had two unlikeable trolls trying to play the good v evil route, the traditional storytelling of 2006 worked for me.

The 2006 Royal Rumble went heavy on the surprises and the nostalgia. I marked really hard when Tatanka showed up. He was always a favorite of mine during the early 1990s. I marked even harder when RVD made his return. No one was expecting it and it was by far the biggest pop of the match.

The unquestioned highlight of the 2006 Royal Rumble was the storyline elimination of HBK. Going into the Royal Rumble, he was at odds with Vince McMahon. Vince didn’t want him to win the title, yet HBK was still standing as part of the final six. I loved that Vince showed up only for distraction purposes while Shane did the dirty work and eliminated HBK from behind. It was so low and cowardly. HBK seemed like a very likely winner and as a result, this angle was impactful. It also led to a criminally underrated match between Vince and HBK at Wrestlemania 22. This was a Royal Rumble that was short on storylines, but the HBK/Vince arc was fantastic.

Unfortunately, there were plenty of issues with the 2006 Royal Rumble as well. Ric Flair at #5 should have been so much more than it was. Ric had recently turned face and there was a ready-made feud for him and Triple H. This should have been a moment where Triple H received a come-uppance. Instead, Flair was squashed and eliminated immediately. This was a complete waste of one of the all-time greats.

I also failed to understand the booking of Bobby Lashley. He was arguably the biggest rising star at the time. I enjoyed the beginning of his hoss v hoss interaction with The Big Show and Kane, but was flabbergasted when they eliminated him so easily. The Big Show and Kane were already two all-time greats. They absolutely didn’t need the rub. On the other hand, Lashley could have benefitted tremendously from eliminating both. To top it off, it’s not as if either Kane or The Big Show ended up playing a significant role in the match. There was no need to make them look strong yet that’s exactly what happened – to Bobby Lashley’s detriment. This was really illogical booking.

The middle of the match was rough to watch as well. It seems like the top talent and storylines were both front and back loaded. Chris Benoit had some rock solid in ring work between Entrants 11 and 20, but it was the sole highlight of a particularly boring 20 minute stretch.

While the Tatanka and RVD surprises were excellent, Goldust fell flat for me. He had been in the previous year’s Royal Rumble and he wasn’t a big enough star when he left to be missed only a year later. I was completely indifferent to his entrance being billed as a “shock”.

Overall, the strength of roster allowed for much of this Rumble to be enjoyable, and I feel that the main eventers were all used well. The drawbacks were obvious but the good outweighed the bad.

The Final Four.

It was obvious to all that Mysterio, Triple H and Orton were going to be the last three. Adding RVD to the mix was an interesting choice. If the idea was to build sympathy for Mysterio, the WWE would have been better served to not include a wrestler more popular than he.

The fans were disappointed when RVD was eliminated rather than excited at the revelation that Mysterio was going to be the winner. I didn’t find the final four to be compelling, but the action itself was pretty good. You had four all-time great workers and they were allowed to do their thing.

The Winner.

While Mysterio wasn’t a surprising winner, I was happy to see him get the nod. He was a guy that everyone knew was an all-time great but didn’t fit the profile of the type of guy who could win a world title, much less win one at Wrestlemania. However, I was all about his push at the time and was glad that a tragedy opened the door for bigger and better things for him.

In a sense, this match certainly catapulted Mysterio to greater heights. He went onto Wrestlemania and won the World Title. However, the WWE never really bought into him as a world champion. This Rumble was one of the few to be booked as a match other than the main event. That should have been a warning sign that the WWE wasn’t nearly as all-in with his push as they led us to believe.

It surprised me that not only wasn’t his world title win the main event of Wrestlemania 22, but they only gave the match itself ten minutes. In hindsight, the card placement of the 2006 Royal Rumble told me everything I should have needed to know about how the main event would be booked. His title run never got off the ground and he was moved out of the picture just a few short months later. Thus, this Rumble really only catapulted Mysterio to short term success, not long term success.


2006 is a good Royal Rumble, not a great one. I enjoyed Rey’s story throughout the match and Triple H put in one of his better Rumble performances. Most of the surprises were good and the angle between Vince and HBK was great. However, took much illogical booking and a twenty minute dead spot in the match keep this one from cracking the top 20.

The Rebuttal – by “The Doc” Chad Matthews.

The Doc: The 2006 Royal Rumble Match certainly would never be confused as one of the greatest iterations in the gimmick’s history, but it should also not be mistaken for one of the ten worst either. Perhaps the lone bright spot on an otherwise all-time bad Rumble event, the ’06 over-the-top-rope Battle Royal offered much of what I hope to see each January from WWE, with a flowing narrative taking shape across the near-hour runtime, a few surprises here and there, and a satisfying winner. With eventual victor, Rey Mysterio, and Triple H anchoring from the first two spots, the match avoided the pitfall of having one or less potential winners in the ring at a time, so at no point did I feel like I was watching a segment of the match that had no connection to the beginning or end of the presentation.

Another thing that this Rumble had going for it was the continuation of a trend from last decade that I was really fond of, in which WWE would identify the heavy favorites and make sure that they were all in the ring together during the climax. That year, everyone knew that it was going to be either Triple H, Randy Orton, or Mysterio winning, with a few holding out hope that maybe a returning Rob Van Dam would get the chance to capitalize on the momentum he started in June 2005 with his emotionally charged promo at the first ECW One Night Stand. They comprised the final four, which was smart booking. Recent years have gotten away from that page in the playbook, to the detriment of the overall performance.

I also hope to see a Rumble victory be the start of an engaging story for the ensuing WrestleMania, and we got that from the ’06 version as well; Mysterio won, Orton goaded him into a match to steal his shot, and we ended up with a Triple Threat for Kurt Angle’s title and Mysterio becoming the smallest World Champion ever. The Royal Rumble Match is at its best when functioning as the next step in a massive career journey.

At times, the roster members involved failed to excitingly fill their minutes, but all in all, I thought it was a really good match that has held up reasonably well on limited replays over the years. I think a more appropriate spot for it would have been the 15-18 sort of range.

That’s a wrap kids. Tune in next week to see what Rumble came in at the #20 spot on the countdown. Agree or disagree? Sound off below!

Facebook: David Fenichel

Twitter: @FFFightLeague

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