The Eternal Optimist Presents: Ranking The Royal Rumbles (#6)

QUESTION OF THE DAY:  Which Royal Rumble to Wrestlemania stretch do you believe was the worst booked but led to the best results?


Hi kids.

Welcome back to another edition in my Royal Rumble column series.

In today’s column, I’ll discuss the Royal Rumble that came in at 6th place on my 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.

This week’s rebuttal once again comes from the man who writes more now that he’s “retired” than he did when he wasn’t, The Doc!

Here is where the countdown currently stands – links to the previous columns are embedded:

Without further ado, here’s the Royal Rumble that came in at #7 on the countdown:


#06:  The 2001 Royal Rumble:


The Roster:

  1. Jeff Hardy
  2. Bull Buchana
  3. Matt Hardy
  4. Faarooq
  5. Drew Carey
  6. Kane
  7. Raven
  8. Al Snow
  9. Perry Saturn
  10. Steve Blackman
  11. Grand Master Sexay
  12. The Honky Tonk Man
  13. The Rock
  14. The Godfather
  15. Tazz
  16. Bradshaw
  17. Albert
  18. Hardcore Holly
  19. K-Kwik
  20. Val Venis
  21. William Regal
  22. Test
  23. Big Show
  24. Crash Holly
  25. The Undertaker
  26. Scotty 2 Hotty
  27. Steve Austin
  28. Billy Gunn
  29. Haku
  30. Rikishi

This was smack in the middle of the Attitude Era and just about all of the major players were involved.  Austin, The Rock, Undertaker Kane and The Big Show were all MASSIVE superstars at the time.  The beauty of the Attitude Era is that just about everyone was over in a gigantic way.  

You can look back on the roster and state that outside of the big five, there isn’t a tremendous amount of talent that rose to a main event level afterwards, but just about everyone in this match was at the peak of their popularity at this point in time.  In my opinion, that makes for an incredibly strong Rumble roster that stacks up with almost all of the others in the history of the event.

The Storylines & Flow:

I thought that the inclusion of The Hardy Boys at the beginning of the match brought a faster pace to the 2001 Rumble than any of the earliest Rumbles in history.  The increased pace brought something to the early part of the match that I feel is often lacking in other Royal Rumbles.

You may not have liked it, but I thought Drew Carey’s guest appearance was awesome and memorable.  He isn’t a wrestle.  He’s a comedian.  He wasn’t there to be taken seriously.  Having the first four wrestlers of the match be eliminated prior to his entrance only to have him alone in the ring when Kane’s music hit led to an absolutely priceless reaction from Carey.  I loved that the WWE avoided the obvious outcome of Kane choke-slamming Carey to hell in Pete Rose fashion and instead allowed him to get out of dodge without harm done.  It’s the type of moment that distinguishes this Rumble for its uniqueness.

Another often underappreciated element of The Attitude Era was the hardcore division.  I loved how this match broke from traditional and turned into an Attitude era style hardcore match for a roughly ten minute period after Drew Carey’s elimination.  The action between Kane, Raven, Al Snow, Saturn and Steve Blackman was so different from anything that has happened in other Rumble matches that I couldn’t help but again give this Rumble credit for being unique.  A special shout out to the spot that saw Al Snow toss a bowling ball into Raven’s junk.  Ouch.  To be honest, there was so much focus on Raven and Snow that it makes me wonder if Al Snow was originally scheduled to be a part of the infamous Wrestlemania 17 Hardcore Title Match.

Speaking of Kane, his run of dominance was one of the big stories of 2001’s Rumble.  His almost 54 minute performance that saw him eliminate eleven wrestlers was as fine of a performance as he’s ever had in the squared circle.  I’ll touch on this more when discussing the final four, but it should be noted that his presence and eliminations provided a tremendous boost to the flow of the match.

I thought that the WWE put together an unusual strong first third of the match compared to other Rumbles, but The Rock’s entrance at #13 took it to an entirely different level.  Facts are facts – The Rock is arguably on Wrestling’s Mount Rushmore and the energy when he is in the ring is just different in all of the right ways.  There wasn’t another “star” that entered until The Big Show did at #23.  A ten-entrant stretch of mid-carders is usually a recipe for a lull in the action and crowd excitement, but The Rock’s presence was never going to let that happen.  

Speaking of The Big Show, his participation in The Royal Rumble was short yet memorable.  I loved how he choke-slammed EVERYONE in site only to be eliminated by The Rock in shocking fashion.  He was a legitimate monster at the time and you had to assume going into the match that he was going to be a major player at the end.  I thought the angle that saw him snap and choke-slam The Rock through the announce table did a spectacular job of building sympathy for one of the two major baby-faces in the match.  This was a prime example of maximizing your time in front of the camera.

I’ve grown to appreciate Biker Taker far more in hindsight than I did during the time the gimmick occurred.  The change in gimmick allowed for far more flexibility than the previous character would in an era where that was needed.  I loved that he and Kane teamed up to clean house.  It’s the type of nod to the past that always work for me when it comes to Royal Rumble matches.  

Triple H attacking Steve Austin as he came down to the ring felt awfully big at the time.  This felt like a setup to one of the featured matches at Wrestlemania X-7.  I’ll discuss the tremendous number of audibles that the WWE made in relation to the Wrestlemania X-7 card when I discuss the impact on the winner portion of this entry.  Needless to say, Austin/Triple H was tabled and the blow off instead occurred at No Way Out via an incredible “three stages of hell” match.  Despite all of the chaos that followed this angle, the angle itself painted the second of the two top faces into a position to be an underdog.  It was reminiscent of 1994 when the WWE booked Bret Hart and Lex Luger in a similar manner.

The last ten minutes of the match building up to the final four felt really fresh.  Rikishi was in the midst of the biggest push of his career as a heel.  It might seem ridiculous to think that he would eliminate The Undertaker in The Royal Rumble, but that’s where the WWE was at with his push at the time.  Haku’s surprise inclusion was a moment that I thoroughly enjoyed and I thought his interaction with all of the major players in the match was arguably the highlight of his entire career.

All in all, I found the action of the 2001 Royal Rumble to be unique, well-paced and interesting.  

The Final Four:

I thought this particular final four was well-booked.  Billy Gunn was important but not a real factor so it made sense to eliminate him right away.  

Perhaps my favorite part of the match was the showdown between Austin and The Rock.  They were both as popular at the time as any wrestlers in the history of the business.  Their face-off reminded me of when Hulk Hogan & The Ultimate Warrior went nose to nose for the first time in the Royal Rumble of 1990.  I wonder if the incredible reaction to this moment led to the WWE deciding to call the audibles that they did for Wrestlemania X-7.

I thought the remaining action between Austin, The Rock & Kane was superb.  I was shocked to see Kane eliminate the Rock.  Allowing him to be in the final two with Austin after such a strong performance really cemented his status as a legitimate star. 

The WWE did a good job of swerving me at the time.  When it came down to the top two faces and Kane, Kane seemed like the sure thing to be eliminated in third place.  When he eliminated The Rock and the WWE had already set up Austin/HHH, I bought into the notion that Kane was going to win the match.  

Star power, an iconic moment, great action and unpredictability is a recipe for an excellent conclusion to a Royal Rumble match.

The Winner:

I can’t really say that Steve Austin was a surprise winner.  Going into the match, I felt that it HAD to be either he or the Rock.  While there were other stars in the match, none felt like they could be heading into the Wrestlemania X-7 main event.

Austin was a satisfying winner for me.  Back at the time, I was always an Austin guy first and a Rock guy second.  I wanted to see Austin win and headline Wrestlemania again.  Hindsight has allowed me to look a little more critically at Austin’s overall run and to appreciate The Rock’s more than I did at the time, but Austin’s win here was definitely the outcome I desired.

The long term impact was tricky.  Austin was already the biggest star in the company and one of the 2-3 biggest stars in the history of the industry.  However, I view Wrestlemania X-7 as the pinnacle of arguably the greatest era in wrestling history, and the greatness of that event doesn’t happen without Austin squaring off against The Rock in one of the best main events ever. 

There’s a reason that the WWE called an audible when it came to their Wrestlemania booking.  They literally broke everything that they had planned to do and started from scratch.  The driving reason behind this was to get to Austin v The Rock.  Thus, while the 2001 Rumble may not have elevated Austin from his individual career standpoint, it elevated the entire stature of the WWE as a result of what it led to.

Overall:

Gosh, I love the 2001 Royal Rumble.  I really can’t find a flaw from beginning to end and it checks off all of the boxes that I used as criteria on my countdown.  It’s a testament to the greatness of the remaining Rumbles that this only ended up as #6 on my countdown.  

The Rebuttal, By The Doc:

2001 is a very good Royal Rumble Match, and there should be no mistaking that, regardless of what I’m about to say, but I have never been as enamored with this performance as some. In isolation, for instance, I was not overly bothered by Drew Carey being the centerpiece of the early runtime, but if we’re comparing Rumbles for the ultimate countdown, then I find Carey to be a jarring presence that stands firmly in opposition to the emotions I’m supposed to feel about the over-arching narrative regarding this match being the play-in game for the biggest main-event of the year (and perhaps, in hindsight, of all-time). Call it nitpicking if you will, but comedy has little place in what is ostensibly the second biggest match of the year, especially not when there is but one World Championship and only one World Title shot.

My next issue is with the sheer lack of standout performances aside from Kane and The Rock. The very best Rumbles, even if they place a premium on Ironman-type runs, give spotlight eliminations aplenty, but for the life of me I cannot recall anything overly memorable about anyone else besides Kane and Rock, and of course Austin winning. The field is deceiving because the event takes place in 2001 during the final months of the Attitude Era and is actually not that engaging a group of twenty-nine (Carey doesn’t count); the Rumbles during Attitude never overwhelmed you with talent interestingly enough, or at least not talent that seemed to understand how to maximize their minutes in a reverse battle royal. Granted, Kane is awesome and is deserving of the credit that he gets and Rock probably deserves a little bit more than he gets, but is that enough to get this deep into the Top 10?

I would be fine with this being a fringe Top 10 choice because, as mentioned in my opening comments, it is a very good match overall, but it is one of the weaker versions from an absolutely stacked decade of Rumbles.

That’s a wrap kids.  Tune in next week to see which Rumble landed at the #5 spot on my countdown.  Agree or disagree?  Sound off below!

I can best be reached @The_Eternal_Optimist

 

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