We need to talk about the Royal Rumble. It is generally recognized as the (Biz) marquee match of the year in WWE and is one of the most prestigious events in the industry.
Let’s be honest though. The Royal Rumble is a match that is heavily cemented in the moment. It does not warrant much rewatchability. The match is not the premier place to find actual wrestling or in-ring storytelling. The 1992 Royal Rumble is one of the few outliers in that respect.
The ’92 Rumble was the only one that offered the WWE WHC as the prize for the winner (until Vince McMahon’s announcement last night). Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, who was on color commentary in ‘92, placed a large wager on WWE newcomer Ric Flair to win the Rumble. To Heenan’s surprise, Flair entered at the undesirable #3 spot. Flair scratched, clawed, and heeled his way to victory, with a little help from
Hulk Hogan [name redacted]. The match was so successful because of the drama involving Flair and Heenan.
Unfortunately not all Rumbles are as fluid as 1992’s offering. I binge watched a fair amount of Rumbles last year and have re-watched a few this year. If there’s one consistent quality of the Rumble it’s tediousness.
While watching the Rumble, it’s obvious to know who has a shot of winning and who doesn’t. The matches are mostly populated with mid-carders and jobbers. Sitting through these entrances gets tiring real quick.
Of course we also can’t forget about comic relief taking valuable spots (Santino Marella, R-Truth, etc.) or tired spot booking (How many times can Kofi Kingston acrobatically avoid elimination?). WWE really outdid themselves in 2012 by having each of the commentators (Michael Cole, Booker T, and Jerry Lawler) enter the Rumble.
With all of that being said, the Royal Rumble isn’t so much a match as it is a spectacle. It offers the WWE Universe the chance to witness unsuspecting in-match alliances, unforeseen clashes, surprise cameos and the chance to see dozens of superstars fighting in the ring at once.
When it’s boiled down, the Royal Rumble is a beauty pageant. It’s essentially the unveiling of WWE’s handpicked man of the moment. Once the dust is settled at the Rumble, fans know who WWE corporate is entrusting with the spotlight of the Wrestlemania main event.
As this has grown more and more apparent to WWE audiences, the magnifying glass surrounding the Rumble has only expanded. Recent history has shown us the WWE Universe is using the Rumble as a soapbox to air its dissatisfaction with the product.
The 2014 Rumble failed because it featured an overreliance on cameo booking (Kevin Nash, El Torito, JBL, Batista, Rey Mysterio), Roman Reigns prematurely broke Kane’s Rumble elimination record, a part-timer won (Batista) and fan favorite Daniel Bryan wasn’t in the match.
The 2015 rendition wasn’t much better. It also featured puzzling guest entrants (Bubba Ray Dudley, The Boogeyman, DDP), a really short appearance for Daniel Bryan (he lasted only 10 minutes and was the 12th entrant eliminated), it gave the nearing 50 year-old Kane and Big Show a combined 9 eliminations (they had been booked as jobbers at the time), and gave the green Roman Reigns the win in Philadelphia aka Heeltown, USA.
Both the 2014 and 2015 Rumbles had widespread critical disdain initially, but WWE managed to clean up both messes. In 2014, Bryan was rightly supplanted into the Wrestlemania main event. In 2015, Reigns proved his credibility in a feud vs. Daniel Bryan and delivered a knockout Wrestlemania main event vs. Brock Lesnar.
The last few Rumbles have disappointed because fans want one thing and management wants another. Unlike mark fans of past generations, modern fans are unwilling to accept storylines that don’t go along with their rooting interests. Fans can oftentimes be so rebellious that they don’t allow WWE the chance to unveil their intended post-Rumble storylines. This forces WWE to audible at the line of scrimmage.
I think WWE fans are willing to roll with the punches WWE creative has to offer, to a certain extent. Fortunately, 2016’s offering looks promising now that the Rumble winner will receive the WWE WHC. There is added mystery because it remains unclear who will receive the challenging bid in the main event of Wrestlemania.
The next few months will keep fans guessing. That’s when WWE’s at its best.
– Kevin D’Hooge