Doctor’s Orders presents: Half Luck, Half Skul – January Madness – The Greatest Royal Rumble Match (Sweet 16, Part 1)

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!

Back at it again! After saying goodbye to a swath of lower-seeded matches in Round 2 (though many not without a fight), we have a relatively stacked Sweet 16 in matches battling it out to be labelled the greatest match in Royal Rumble history. Proving to be particularly divisive so far are Lesnar/Cena/Rollins from 2015, Bret/Diesel from 1995, and the 2004 Royal Rumble. Meanwhile, the 2001 Royal Rumble and Triple H/Cactus Jack from 2000 are breezing through, having picked up every single possible vote so far. Which will batter their way through even steeper competition and make their way to the Elite 8? Madness rolls on!

I once again am honored to be joined by mizfan, Oliver, Mazza, Prime Time, Samuel ‘Plan, and The Doc. Here we go!

Bracket A

(1) Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit (’03) vs. (5) The Rock vs. Mankind (’99)

Oliver: This is probably the hardest choice so far, and given it starts the round I’d envisage we’ve got something else tricky coming up in the rest of this that’ll give it a run for it’s money. The weird thing here is that neither match is really perfect, despite Angle vs Benoit holding the number one seed for the bracket, and that’s for different reasons in both cases.

Angle vs Benoit works as a technical match, but the first quarter or so is a little bit leaden when compared to the rest of the bout. There’s a point in it where Angle goes for an Angle slam and Benoit turns it into a sharpshooter which is where it really starts to get over, and with the exception of a little bit of chinlock work in the middle that’s where the pace really kicks in and the crowd gets into it a bit (after, as I’ve said, being killed stone cold by Steiner vs HHH beforehand – even when a match isn’t his, HHH can still bury people. Or try to, at least). With the crowd behind them and the two really clicking up the gears, the match finally delivers on it’s on paper promise and that last couple of thirds is spectacular.

Against that, you’ve got The Rock vs Mankind. This is probably the match that I first thought really took things too far – and given I was 12 at the time, that feeling has only really increased over time. It’s incredible as a brawl, and The Rock gets to do a bunch of fun microphone things that reinforce the reason why he became so loved as a heel. And yet…it just goes too far come the end, you know? It’s almost impossible to watch now. I feel like the right ending to this one was when Rock threw Foley through the electrical stuff a bit before the end of the match. But hey, that’s kind of the point of the match I suppose – Foley will never say ‘I Quit’, The Rock knows Foley will never say ‘I Quit’, so he never feels like the level of beating he gives is enough to get to the point where he would. So certainly, it’s a tough watch, but it almost has to be to make you realise how much Foley will refuse to crumple and the depths The Rock will have to go to – and is willing to go to – in order to win.

Ultimately, I think this one is going to be a tricky one to call for all my fellow columnists, but I’m going to side on the seeded underdog here and throw the win at Rock vs Mankind. I’m not sure which way this will go, but for me I just got a little more from it in terms of a story on this viewing.

The Doc: This is one of those Sweet Sixteen matches that should go the distance, especially if you feel as I do that the violence exhibited in Rock vs. Mankind is to be more than just a cautionary tale in hindsight, and really should be celebrated considering what Foley was willing to go through to go down as one of the most legendary wrestlers of the most celebrated and competitive era in WWE history. It was uncomfortable and brought out emotions that sports entertainment has rarely been able to draw from its audience, and while there is some inherent issue that we can take with being OK with the method to the madness, the achievement by Foley as Mankind is still substantial. You know who clearly appreciated nights like that and what Foley was willing to do to his body? The Rock. The Rock knows and understands what that night meant, and we should take nothing away from what he achieved at Rumble ’99 either. “Next level” would be an adequate way to describe the entertainment value that he brought to that match; no match in his body of work better married together his communication skills with his ability between the ropes. I think the “I Quit” is one of the greatest matches of all-time that too few talk about in that context.

That said, Benoit vs. Angle is one of the two utter masterpieces of the non-titular battle royal part of Rumble lore, and to defeat it would take a match that really suffers very little hindsight backlash. Benoit was involved, so there is some inherent backlash involved with Angle-Benoit as well, but I feel like history has been reasonably kind to it by comparison to other performances in the Benoit pantheon-erased. Just in case an unexpected upset happens, allow me to say this about Benoit-Angle crystal-clearly: no match since I joined the “know” has ever equaled this one’s marvelous act of taking an outcome that I 100% knew to be coming (Angle over Benoit to get to Angle vs. Lesnar at Mania 19) and made me question it to the extent that I questioned it when Benoit nearly defeated Our Olympic Hero on so many occasions.

Mazza: One of these is a throwaway title bout. The other is historically huge. The throwaway bout however is one of the greatest examples of in ring action you will ever see. As a wrestling fan, the wider story is often a much bigger deal for me. A great 20 minute bout is awesome and all that, however when you are watching week to week, you invest so much more into a match before and after. The Rock and Mankind feud definitely brought that to the table at the back end of 1998 and start of 1999. In this kind of setting though it’s a different beast. We aren’t revisiting 4 months, we are looking back on one match. And match vs match here, despite the importance of the I Quit, it’s not really close. Angle and Benoit to advance.

Skulduggery: These two matches represent about as big a dichotomy in style as you will get in high-caliber WWE Championship matches, and yet they’re both phenomenal. One would not be inaccurate if you called Angle/Benoit the “sports” and Rock/Mankind the “entertainment” halves of “sports entertainment”.

With Angle/Benoit, you have a game of wrestling chess and quite possibly the two very best to engage in such a game. Skill levels virtually equal, they grapple artfully, each constantly looking for the definitive advantage. The two demonstrate a level of fluidity and chemistry that pour their way into every exchange. Tremendous to watch.

With Rock/Foley, you have something completely different. Watched as a psychological thriller, this bout is far less about two incredible athletes looking to gain a wrestling advantage, and far more about two men who go to scary lengths to test one another’s psychological makeup. Viewers are asked a chilling question when Mankind is handcuffed, and it’s how a man as unshakeable, as determined, as Mick Foley can possibly surrender…but, given his situation, how on earth can he not? The Rock plays a merciless role in determining that limit, and what others have found a cheap finish, I find extremely creative. Neither The Rock’s sadism nor Foley’s stubbornness will give, so the heel challenger finds another way to exact his victory.

After a lot of hemming and hawing, I thinly vote for the I Quit match. It’s frightening but masterful storytelling. Listening to Foley barely gurgle the words, “Go to Hell, Rock”, followed by his opponent’s response, “Well, The Rock may go to Hell…but your candy ass first” – having The Rock basically admit he’ll pay for his sins, but he’s happy to do so afterward, because he’s got a job to do first. Ominous.

mizfan: For god’s sake, can we please dump the parade of concussions already? Hopefully this is where the road for that match ends. I’ll take Angle/Benoit all the way here.

Prime Time: This is the moment that discomfort probably puts the Rock/Foley match out. More to the point, though, that match only really has the added stakes and heat of attitude to recommend it. If we’re talking about which is the better match and all things being equal, Angle and Benoit top it pretty much anytime they met.

Samuel ‘Plan: As violent as the infamous “I Quit!” Match is, the 2003 exchange between Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit is a brutal match in its own right, if for different reasons. It is their physically balletic technical masterpiece that wins out over an outrageously affecting hardcore encounter from the Attitude Era here. It achieves something just as gritty, just as vicious and disquieting as its opponent here, but does so with significantly less at its disposal while remaining safely within a realm of greater realism and believability. That it throws out the rule book of the typical WWE style makes it even more impressive. Angle and Benoit take it!

(1) Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit (’03) wins 5-2

(2) Royal Rumble Match (’07) vs. (3) Royal Rumble Match (’01)

Skulduggery: Damn, the decisions are not getting any easier here in Bracket A! I said at the start of the tournament that 2007 was one of my two favorites, but re-watching 2001 has seen it climb my rankings. The entry order is a little formulaic, with the midcard fodder entering early and the bulk of the big names coming in late, but it’s still a very well executed formula. Kane eats virtually the entire midcard, and still hangs tough after a long run when the rest of the heavyweights arrive. But I think what captivates me the most is Austin’s journey. He still has scores to settle – one of which he did in part earlier in the evening against Triple H – so of course his nemesis evens things up by making the Rattlesnake’s Rumble win even trickier. I wasn’t watching from ’97 to ’99, so I don’t know if there was any underlying frustration with Austin’s 2001 win (effectively making it 3 wins in 4 goes for him), but I find it immensely satisfying. Kane put on one of the greatest non-winning efforts of all time, and it still took Austin (who entered more than 20 spots later) chair shot after chair shot to eliminate the Big Red Machine, so I, even as a big Kane fan, had no qualms with him coming this close rather than winning.

With 2007, I’ve paid luxurious tribute to the Final 4, and I maintain that. Taker and Michaels both rip apart the competition in their individual entrances, and other than Khali to HBK, neither are offered tremendous heel resistance – until the Final 4. Edge and Orton do a tremendous job presenting a united front that provides just enough thorns for the two home-state Texans to get obstructed by…although ultimately one had to think that your eventual winner was going to be Shawn or Taker.

Both are tremendous Rumbles, and I’m really happy they made it to this point. Ultimately, I think I’ll stick with my original guns and go for 2007, but anything that goes through here is great by me!

Samuel ‘Plan: This one is easy for me, and those who have kept up with the series should know why by now. I have said it before and I will again – an enticing conclusion is not enough in my mind to mark a Royal Rumble Match out as being great. When you have a cast of thirty and a minimum average run-time of fifty minutes you better damn well do something with it before the final five or ten. 2001 does, and to great extent. Kane’s performance, the hardcore passage, the moment when all the top stars of the Era are interacting in an explosive couple of minutes, the amazing final three – there’s a reason it’s rightly considered as one of, if not the best ever. It does a damn sight more than 2007 and it does it better too, emphasising the stars of the moment rather than the stars augmented by nostalgia (which, amazingly, they were even eleven years ago!). So yeah, it’s 2001 for me, and several times over to emphasise the point.

The Doc: In a recent edition of Dave Fenichel’s epic Rumble countdown, I made clear that I was not a huge fan of the ’01 Rumble, though I do not dispute that it is a very good one and a strong candidate for the Top 10 of the gimmick’s history. That said, the ’07 version has its weaknesses too. Like in ’01, the field in ’07 largely just takes up space, so both of them lack a group of wrestlers from the mid-card who seem to relish the opportunity afforded them to do something special, like so many did in ’03 for example. Analytically, where I give ’07 the nod is obviously the climax, the criticism for which baffles me – HBK and Taker, two of the greats of all-time, were coming head to head for the first time since that fateful night nine years prior and tested themselves against one another whilst trying to win (what’s confusing about it?) – combined with what I felt were well above average Rumble performances from Edge and Randy Orton. The ’01 Rumble is the Kane and Rock show, with a nice supporting Steve Austin performance; the ’07 Rumble peaks gloriously and is defined by Taker and HBK, then Rated RKO.

What I want to bring to the table with ’07, though, is what I feel to be an important aspect of a comparison between two Rumble matches, and that is how exhilarating they are in the moment. I have talked about rewatchability as a key trait in match analysis, but given their run-time, the Royal Rumble Match is probably the best WWE example of a performance best appreciated by the single rather than the repeated viewing. As such, in the moment, the ’07 Rumble is absolutely exhilarating because of its climax; that approach was completely novel back then, at least to the extent to which it took place, and it boosted the profile of the match to such critical heights that only two Rumbles in the gimmick’s long and storied history have equaled it in terms of the Dave Meltzer star ratings. Meltzer is famous for basing his rating system on the first watch, like a sporting event; many others have followed his lead. Just throwing that out there for consideration.

mizfan: Ah, Rumble vs. Rumble! Always a hard decision. 2007 is well thought of and not without reason, but I admit I find it somewhat overrated. 2001 never fails to thrill me though, the legendary run of Kane is just a pure pleasure to watch, and the combination of the white hot crowd and huge stars going to war left and right is a big win for me. It’s the ultimate chaotic success in the field of Rumbles, and I actually hope it wins the whole bracket!

Oliver: The trouble here is that both matches aren’t great matches, and especially not great Rumble matches. People have already spoken about 2007 having a great ending sequence between HBK and Taker and not much else, which is a little bit harsh I think – there’s some good fun going on within the body of the match, and the Flair opening especially is really entertaining. But there are just those moments where it all gets a bit too much. It really only takes off once Khali gets in, and I appreciate that a Rumble can’t go at one hundred percent for the full hour but it needs to have something more than just fifteen/twenty minutes of action going for it.

I think 2001 is in a similar boat. It opens really, really well, and starts in on some interesting and crowd popping hardcore stuff before Kane clears the ring. Then The Rock turns up and slowly but surely the ring just gets stuffed up with bodies that mean absolutely nothing in the run of the match itself. That middle bit of a Rumble is always prone to doing that, sadly, but here it’s particularly frustrating given how well it started off. It’s probably the only problem with Rumble’s themselves, really, as opposed to something specific to the 2001 version, but here it’s kind of notable because of the hot start itself. At least we get Kane continuing to wreck shop, plus Meng showing up. Meng is great. All worship Meng.

I think that’s what gives the 2001 match the edge, actually. If 2007 had more Meng, it would get my vote, but nope – 2001 wins out on the Meng tiebreaker.

Mazza: I can’t tell you how much of a headache this one is to me. You have two rumbles that are loved for one epic reason. Neither is the most rounded addition of the match but they warrant their seedings purely for their main events. In 2007 it was the fantastic ending pitting The Undertaker against Shawn Michaels. It was the catalyst for one of my very first columns in the CF where I questioned the quality of “The Streak” and said that it desperately needed a rerun of this cameo to give it some substance (which is happily did and them some). 2001 is all about Kane and probably the greatest performance in rumble history. So is it the match at the end of the match, or is it the most dominant ironman run. Flip a coin on this but mood is telling me THAT’S GOTTA BE…. THAT’S GOTTA BE KANE!

Prime Time: I recently gave 2007 a quick rewatch and didn’t like it as much as I have done in the past. So it took itself out of the running. 2001 for me.

(3) Royal Rumble Match (’01) wins 5-2

Bracket B

(1) Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins (’15) vs. (4) The Rockers vs. The Orient Express (’91)

mizfan: So we’ve still got THAT triple threat to contend with, do we? I can’t deny it’s a very good match, but I just can’t bring myself to love it the way some can. When Lesnar takes a nap at ringside, I can’t help but roll my eyes, and Cena and Rollins working a large portion of the match alone just doesn’t do much for me. The Rockers tag in ’91 is nothing but a pleasure by comparison, as fun and exciting a tag match as you might hope to see highlighted, and I’m happy to give it my vote here in hopes of an upset.

Mazza: As a young wrestling fan, I was taught that a good little guy never beat a good big guy. I am converting that logic to this match-up. A great main event shouldn’t beat a great tag team filler. I love The Rockers vs The Orient Express a lot. It is still a fantastic watch. However the fact that triple threat is also an excellent example of pro-wrestling AND is for the WWE title gives it the edge here for me.

Prime Time: My thoughts on triple threat matches are well documented by this point. I will cast my vote for the tag match.

Samuel ‘Plan: Easy. The Triple Threat. It’s awesome. The tag team match, I loathe. I swear to the good lord, if it wins out here….

Skulduggery: As far as Sweet 16 match-ups go, this is a fairly easy decision for me, even though I have a lot of love for the Rockers and the Orient Express. The greatest qualities of the tag team match are duplicated or enhanced when comparing to the triple threat – both are innovative as hell, but the tag team match sparks with fun while the triple threat is nothing short of explosive. The 2015 bout allows each combatant to show off his strengths – Lesnar’s brutal combination of power and speed, Rollins’ high-flying, situational brilliance and opportunity capitalization, and Cena’s bullish determination. Brock looks like a near invincible beast, but one that could fathomably lose due to the sheer combined effort of his two opponents. Seth shows the world why he is a bona fide superstar with a performance that firmly entrenches him in the main event. And John, as I’ve called him before, is the straight man that allows these conditions to occur. Without him, you’ve simply got Battleground 2015.

One thing I really want to key in is the Lesnar-less part. Prior to that, the explosiveness exhibited by both him and Rollins spikes the pulse of the match to a thrilling level – be it the double suplex to J&J Security or Rollins’ breakup of the Kimura with a flying knee. But when Lesnar is taken out with a spectacular flying elbow through the announce table, you’re left with Rollins and Cena. The skeletal setup is not that far out of the playbook for triple threats – one guy is laid out, the other two go to battle. What I love about this is the pace and the atmosphere it creates. Even with Brock waylaid, Cena and Rollins begin to wrestle each other with an urgency that evokes the sense that both know the Beast is not likely to be out long despite the massive crash. Both are keen on picking up the victory quickly, because even a collapsed Lesnar is a ticking time bomb; the Sword of Damocles that could easily fall on their heads if they tempt it with too much time. It speaks so much to the character of all three – Seth’s opportunism, Lesnar’s aura, and even Cena, who has learned from his past battles with Lesnar that he is a different breed of monster. As they battle at a high pace, John and Seth floor each other with a series of moves, allowing them to gradually slow to a standard pace, out of nothing but the emptying of gas tanks. It’s eventual, it’s organic, but the pace does trickle down back to normal, which sets the stage for a blitzing Lesnar to rev up the energy upon his comeback, and he puts the competition away in short notice. Seriously great stuff. As much as I love the Rockers and Orient Express, the triple threat can’t fall yet.

The Doc: I went back and watched the triple threat one more time, taking into account of the kind things said about it, and while I still maintain that it’s outright great, I think it fits better as part of the over-arching Brock Lesnar Conqueror story than it does as a standalone performance. I, thus, feel as comfortable voting against it, if from no other standpoint than “which would I rather watch,” now than I was before. Nevertheless, now that we are here, I have to strongly consider it advancing. Aesthetically, it’s no contest, and going back to the gymnastics score analogy from last round, Rockers vs. OE wins. However, in terms of storytelling, it’s no contest in the other direction; what makes Lesnar-Rollins-Cena great is the story told. And shouldn’t we consider it, historically, the breakout main-event singles performance of Seth’s career? Counter to that, from the tag match’s side, is that their match with the Orient Express was the best PPV match in The Rockers’ library and a wonderful example of what made that team special.

All in all, I think in a situation like this tournament, you’re kind of playing favorites unless the answer is clear and obvious, as would be the case for this tag match against the other #1 seeds. I’m picking The Rockers vs. Orient Express, siding with aesthetics in this case over storytelling.

Oliver: I love that Triple Threat, as I’ve already expounded on – from Rollins being a jerky jerk who can just jump in to view from nowhere, to Cena having infinite specials, to Brock being a gamma radiated farmhand who can throw people into the sun if he wants to. I said that all in the last entry, too, but it’s worth noting that the three characters in this one are well defined and really work together to create something fairly special. It’s just a really well balanced, sensibly worked match, and the most important thing is that it doesn’t piss around. It doesn’t have this long feeling out process or anything, they just get in there and bring their shit. It’s beautiful.

But…I think I prefer The Rockers vs The Orient Express? At least, right now? That thing fucking rocks from start to finish, the pace is frenetic, and it feels like these two teams are perfectly in sync. Really, this should be the blueprint everyone in a tag team was sticking to for years to come, a Steamboat/Savage for the tag team division. Unfortunately, as we know, Triple H, NXT, The Revival and DIY only just invented tag team wrestling, so nobody could really follow a template for a type of wrestling that didn’t exist. Isn’t that a shame.

Anyway, yes, give the win to The Rockers and The Orient Express.

(4) The Rockers vs. The Orient Express (’91) wins 4-3

(2) Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit (’01) vs. (3) John Cena vs. Umaga (’07)

Samuel ‘Plan: This is a tricky one. In a way, it’s like comparing apples to oranges, so different are the genres and what fans expect from them. I think I’ll go for the Last Man Standing Match, with the winning factor being its greater character depth. Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit had an incredibly rivalry, and the way the Ladder Match is promoted as being something of a conclusion to it is great. It’s also an excellent example of its more psychological styling – a Ladder Match as it should be, in my mind at least. It just doesn’t have the same sense of vibrant colour that the albeit simple character intonations of the Last Man Standing Match has. The fighting hero against the primal monster may be as old a wrestling trope as you get, but there’s a reason it continues to resurge: it works. And it works excellently in the case of one of both Cena and Umaga’s best. Both play their roles with perfect pitch, the stand-out moment being the finish in all honesty. The aesthetic helps too. Cena vs. Umaga wins my vote, by a narrow margin let it be known.

mizfan: Not an easy decision here, both of these matches work on a deep level. Jericho and Benoit draw on their hunger and experience to tear the house down, and Cena digs deep to deliver a classic in the heart of his mixed popularity against an Umaga working overtime to show he belongs in a top spot. I don’t think you can really go wrong here, but I’m throwing my vote towards Cena/Umaga in this one. There’s something more visceral about that match, the story it tells is simple yet told so well that even a Cena cynic such as myself can’t help get sucked into the action. The babyface comeback works better when they strike a balance between the vicious heel beatdown while still allowing the hero just enough room to fight back and win, and I think this is one of the best modern iterations of the formula.

Skulduggery: I want to have the first half of this write-up dedicated to describing why Cena/Umaga is so damn great. The Samoan Bulldozer went into this match a dangerous monster, having a nearly flawless win-loss record punctured only by a roll-up defeat the PPV before. Cena went into this baby as the gritty, fight at all costs babyface champion with a mountain to climb. And both emerge looking even better. Umaga is so dominant that Cena has to empty his entire arsenal just to put dents into the monster’s armor – absolutely launching the steel steps clear into Umaga’s face, swinging a TV monitor into the prone head of his challenger so violently that dust billows, and narrowly escaping a splash through an announce table – all of this just to stand a chance against this beast. Umaga responds with vicious Samoan Drops, athletic Spinning Heel Kicks, cerebral targets to Cena’s injured ribs, and a brutal counter out of an FU that drops Cena’s head onto the steel steps.

The conclusion is nothing short of iconic. Capitalizing on the undone top rope by a cunning Estrada, Cena harnesses the rope and turns it into a shockingly lethal noose. Cena chokes Umaga, pulling on the rope with all of his might, blood spattered across his face. It’s hauntingly primal – this fighting champion has come across a monster so mighty that he has had no choice but to abandon any shred of remorse, to cross any line possible. Cena’s screaming as he pulls gives the impression of somebody leaving absolutely everything he has in the ring more than anything I can think of in all of WWE history. When he releases, sure of his victory, and the monster still stirs, how quickly he goes right back to it screams volumes about Cena’s urgency, near fright. Finally, to the incredible Jim Ross call – “Even a monster’s gotta breathe!” – Umaga runs out of air, barely defeated by a man who poured his blood out and fought with every tool available to him. Sapped of everything, Cena escapes the monster and lives – marginally – to fight another day. Just an incredibly guttural and unforgettable finish to the match.

Now, for the second half, I would typically give to the other match in the battle, but since I wasn’t done gushing about the 2005 Rumble last round before it was unceremoniously eliminated at the hands of Jericho/Benoit, I’m going to pettily forgo the discussion of the ladder match and keep talking about my beloved 2005 Rumble! Even though it’s gone from this tournament, it remains one of my absolute favorites. I covered the intro and middle sections in Rounds 1 and 2, so time to talk about the conclusion. First of all, entrant # 30 in Ric Flair is a treat in this match. How great is it that the Dirtiest Player in the Game nearly got out-dirtied by Latino Heat pre-Rumble, only to have to be saved by the rule-abiding administration? Naitch quickly tries to make up for his embarrassing time on the good side of the law and order, albeit unintentional, by eliminating a series of wrestlers after they’ve been wiped out by a Batista Spinebuster. Flair, no doubt on the advice of a secretly threatened HHH, even tries to blindside his Evolution mate Batista, though the execution is hilariously feeble. The methods of elimination are pretty exciting in the close of this match, too, from Paul London terrifyingly being spiked by a Snitsky clothesline to Cena’s FU of Kane to the floor or Batista gorilla press slamming Christian through Tomko.

Then you get to the Final 4. One of the greatest and freshest in Rumble history. At the time, none of them had been World Champion in WWE, and in the last 20 years, ’05 is the only Rumble to have been that daring. Obviously, Mysterio, Edge, Batista and Cena would go on to absolutely dominate the next number of years, and this close to the Rumble is a fantastic prelude to that. Edge clears the field of the big guys in Cena and Batista, then demonstrates that ubiquitous chemistry with Rey Mysterio. Once it gets down to Cena and the Animal, the crowd is electric. The double elimination, be it accidental or not, is pure magic thanks to some insane timing. And then you’ve got Vince McMahon’s appearance, which is the stuff of wonder. I feel bad for the guy getting such an injury like that, but, man, the Chairman sitting on his ass in the ring with a pissed off look on his face never fails to put a grin on mine.

I know it’s petulant to spend so much time lauding a match that bit the dust a round ago (and thank you for indulging me while I kicked rocks about its disposal), but so be it! Obviously, I’m not voting for the ladder match that took it out. I mean, I’d vote Cena/Umaga over the Canadians’ brawl in any scenario, but it feels good to mix some spite in the justification for that vote. I’ll now put on my big boy pants, and promise I’m done talking about the ’05 Rumble.

Oliver: That 2007 match was probably the real start of ‘Never Give Up’ Cena, and him going to incredible lengths just to survive matches with his championship. It remains a shame that they spent time building Umaga up pretty much just to kill him off against Cena via a fluke roll up in one match and then by choking in another one, but it’s pretty much the pattern for Cena during this period so it is what it is. And it remains an incredible viewing experience even now, although slight flaws do creep through when you look at Cena’s inconsistent selling and a slightly generic and bland opening stretch. Realistically, the match hinges on Cena getting split open, and when that comes in it really does lift the match up by a handful of levels. It is, also, a hardcore match and suffers with the normal pitfalls of that genre, with spot set ups and so on absorbing momentum from it all.

And against it here is one of the best ladder matches, and best Intercontinental Championship matches, that WWE has ever put together. It’s a real crime that between 2000 when Benoit and Jericho were fighting for this title, and then this match, WWE decided to crap on the title by putting it on Val Venis and Billy Gunn – the latter is a talent void, for sure. But hey, here it is back being rightfully recuperated by two masterful wrestlers, delivering the type of ladder match that doesn’t depend on the titular weapon and instead focuses on the technical aspects of wearing an opponent down before climbing. I love it, you love it, and it gets the vote.

Mazza: See my logic from the last matchup? Scratch that. I have criticisms of the ladder match others don’t. I have a lot of love for the Last Man Standing. However seeing them matched up against each other, it is clear to me that I have to give my vote to the Canadians.

Prime Time: Given that my vote in the last round for Cena and Umaga was a coin toss it won’t surprise anyone that I am going with Jericho and Benoit.

The Doc: Here’s the deal. The research process for my latest book was extremely meticulous. I went through and ranked all the greatest matches by year, then by gimmick, then by event, and then head-to-head against each other. This was an actual head-to-head battle in the process, as well as a part of the overall Royal Rumble event rankings, and Cena vs. Umaga came out on top. The Last Man Standing from the ’07 Rumble is not a particularly strong contender for the Top 50 matches ever, but it is also comfortably better than most of the back half of the Top 100. Benoit vs. Jericho is tremendous, but when you go through and you watch all of these matches in a big giant group, then it stands out as something a tad lesser than its higher end opponents in discussions like these, with all due respect to it. As the crescendo of a great rivalry, Jericho and Benoit’s Ladder Match is excellent and praiseworthy and 4+ stars and all that jazz, but Cena vs. Umaga is just something else, a brutal brawl that joined the pantheon of physical wars the night it happened and has never been challenged by hindsight for its place among the classics. Personally, give me Umaga’s struggle in the rope-assisted STF over Jericho trapping Benoit in an awkward Walls any day, and give me the Last Man Standing to advance!

(3) John Cena vs. Umaga (’07) wins 4-3

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