Royal Rumble is, by a distance, my favourite pay-per-view of the year. It has played an indispensably central role in my life as a wrestling fan, and every January, while the rest of the world grumbles its way through breaking those newly made resolutions, I get steadily more excited every day until the best night of the year comes back around and you hear those nine magical words (or, I guess, eighteen these days!).
“It is now time for the Royal Rumble Match!”
I know Royal Rumble better than I know anything in pro wrestling. I’m a little bit obsessed with it. I know most of them like I know the back of my hand, so I know that over the course of its thirty-plus year history it has offered up many a classic performance. Its legacy and history is rich with in-ring excellence, from world class feats of athleticism and endurance to vibrant displays of character and shared universe storytelling. The Royal Rumble Match has a library of performance kaleidoscopic in par excellence.
Yet we only ever really talk about a select dozen outside of those famous winning efforts.
That is why, this year, I have compiled a list that I will be sharing with you over the course of the coming month, ten entries at a time. The title says it all – what follows will be my top sixty non-winning performances in a Royal Rumble Match ever. I’ll be focussing on everyone except those performances that crowned a victory – there’ll be no ’92 Flair, no ’04 Benoit and no ’18 Nakamura here. Instead, the idea is to cast a light on the plethora of forgotten and undiscovered gems of performances littering the landscape of the Rumble’s history.
So without further hesitation, my name is Samuel ‘Plan and these are my Top 60 (Non-Winning) Royal Rumble Performances of All-Time, numbers 60 through 51.
Enters: 11th | Lasts: 16:16 | Eliminates: 3 | Eliminated By: Dino Bravo / One Man Gang
Many won’t remember much about the inaugural Royal Rumble Match of 1988 and few performances from its retinue of stars will stick in the memory. If any do, Don Muraco’s should be one of them. 1988 contains none of the genre-defining conclusions or set-pieces that would become famous and enter common practice years later for Muraco to be a part of, but his is an impressive fifteen minute run all the same.
Constantly moving in the thick of things, what stands out most is the prominence of his well-placed feature eliminations, more of which, alongside eventual victor ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan, Muraco boasts than any other member of the field that year. While Ron Bass proves little more than par for the course, Muraco’s dispatching of King Harley Race stands out from the pack, and more so does his feel good elimination of the bout’s first entrant, the then-villainous Hart Foundation member Bret Hart (who had somehow stayed alive for 25 of the Rumble’s 33 minutes). Throw in an impressively athletic two-on-one underdog passage in the match’s Final Four and you end up with quite the charming outing for a nostalgic favourite wrestler of mine, regardless of whether or not it fails to break any real ground.
Enters: 27th | Lasts: 09:39 | Eliminates: 1 | Eliminated By: Finn Bálor
I have never had much love for Rey Mysterio in my time as a fan, but his surprise return at the tail end of last year’s Royal Rumble Match, which in itself was one of the best versions of the match we had seen for almost a decade, was of a quality that had even myself admiring the late-career return for the so-called ‘Biggest Little Man.’
Returning in remarkable physical shape, Mysterio put on a clinically precise showing that thankfully never found itself intruding to an unwanted degree. His selection as one of the three old guard roster members in the bout’s concluding six-man showdown reflects his continuing star power, as does his privilege of nailing his famous 619 finish on both John Cena and Roman Reigns – the latter, in fact, twice over. He’s involved in a number of big set-pieces that inject the general action with vivid colour, one of which involves the notorious cult favourite The Miz and another, the NXT alum Adam Cole, whose elimination comes at the hands of the famous luchador. All of this indicates how brilliantly judged the production of Mysterio’s role was last year, balancing prominence with humility – the trademark of the 2018 Rumble Match in general.
Enters: 2nd | Lasts: 47:26 | Eliminates: 3 | Eliminated By: Ric Flair
When people still talked about Chris Benoit, they naturally talked about his wire-to-wire winning Rumble effort from 2004 and rightly so. Even then, though, nobody talked about the fact the Rabid Wolverine almost repeated the achievement like-for-like the following year – the only man to ever go wire-to-wire two years running, I believe.
Starting second and making it all the way to the final six, Benoit’s 2005 effort may be less infamous than his 2004 victory, it may even be less obviously busy, but it might just be more impressive. Alongside that year’s first entrant, eternal ‘frenemy’ Eddie Guerrero, the two open the Rumble unusually with some of their typically clinical chain wrestling before going on to be involved with each of the three major set-pieces of the first half hour: Daniel Puder’s humbling, Muhammad Hassan’s humiliation and the inter-brand fist fight. Benoit outlasts Guerrero, contributes to three feature eliminations and crowns his effort by being afforded the privilege of an ‘Event Elimination’ in the final six – he interrupts the growing momentum of a united Evolution by chopping the living hell out of the ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair, requiring eventual victor, the much fresher, much larger Batista, to finally oust the Wolverine and derail the second of the only back-to-back wire-to-wire pair of performances in Rumble lore.
Enters: 5th | Lasts: 16:12 | Eliminates: 7 | Eliminated By: Big Boss Man / Bob Backlund / Edge / Gangrel / Test / British Bulldog
It should come as no surprise, considering Rikshi’s popularity at the start of 2000, that this was the closest anyone had come up to that point to recreating the domination of Diesel in 1994’s version of the Royal Rumble. In one of the weakest Rumble Matches we’ve ever seen, the dominant run from the Big ‘Kish is one of the hour’s highlights, Rikishi himself providing one of the most compelling performances of the night.
Racking up a monstrous seven eliminations to his name, Rikishi confirms a number of Rumble clichés to be true in the fictional universe of Rumble Matches, primary among them being that big men dominate. He also underscores the fact it is every man for himself as his actions live up to his business-faced demeanour upon entering, seeing him eliminate his Too Cool friends following a momentary dance break. The economy of his dominance is notable, allowing his victims to come to him while he remains as stationary as a wrestling monolith, and he is afforded the affirmation of a traditional impromptu team-up ‘Event Elimination’ – it takes almost as many guys as ‘Kish has thrown out himself to get the better of the Stink Face artisan. There is only one word to describe Rikishi’s all-too short performance that year: awesome.
Enters: 18th | Lasts: 00:53 | Eliminates: 4 | Eliminated By: Himself
We should not assume that all the best Rumble performances are the kind of iron man runs that last for over twenty, thirty or forty minutes, or that they are the kind of dominating performances that break elimination records. Sometimes, the best efforts in Rumble matches are those that maximise even the shortest passages of time to tell a story all their own or make an impact that irrevocably changes the face of the match – maybe even the Road to WrestleMania itself. In 1999, Kane’s short-lived outing is one such performance.
Character is the word of the day for the Big Red Machine in 1999. His quick spurt of domination followed by the extraordinary manner of his elimination, that sees him eliminate himself in pursuit of the ‘Men in White Coats’ Vince McMahon had sent after him thanks to a rebellious moment on the preceding episode of Raw is War, offers up shades of fictional brother Undertaker’s own outing in 1993. And like in 1993 with the Dead Man, the manner of Kane’s performance reasserts his aura as an almighty ring force (eliminating four men in less than sixty seconds is pretty crazy, even for a big man!) while his elimination writes the match out of a potential corner without chipping away at that very same aura. The character-driven nature of Kane’s single minute, then, combined with the historical symmetry, both capped off by the sheer fun of seeing Kane at his most…erm…‘Kane-ish’…makes for one of the best, if shortest Rumble performances ever.
Enters: 22nd | Lasts: 17:56 | Eliminates: 4 | Eliminated By: Asuka / Bayley / The Bella Twins / Natalya / Trish Stratus
The dominating effort of Nia Jax was always going to be inevitable. She fit the role too perfectly for such a simple but effective trope not to be deployed in the first ever all-women’s Royal Rumble Match last year. To my mind, she proved equal to the task. Not only does she show nothing but eagerness in rampaging her way to the ring, she’s soon knee deep in eliminations as she chucks out two ‘legends’ and one top contemporary name in a matter of moments. She, frankly, commands the canvas during her ring time, even adding an ‘Event Elimination’ to her opening volley in the form of curtailing Naomi’s Kofi Kingston tribute.
Jax does spend downtime outside of the ring it must be said, but her production more than makes up for that during her near-twenty minute stint. From a showdown with former women’s heavyweight Beth Phoenix (one that garners “This is awesome!” chants from the live crowd no less) to her 2004 Big Show-style showing at the bout’s conclusion preceding a multi-woman elimination, Jax is never bested in a one on one situation, making her look and feel like a true star without exposing her relative weaknesses as a performer. It was a classical outing for the Unstoppable Force, and one of the major pluses for the women’s division’s first foray into such hallowed WWE ground.
Enters: 14th | Lasts: 01:48 | Eliminates: 0 | Eliminated By: Bam Bam Bigelow
Doink the Clown? Really? Yeah, really. 1994’s version of the Royal Rumble Match is one of the absolute finest nobody ever talks about, and one of the reasons for that is because of how it makes the most out of what many might consider considerably meagre resources. Doink the Clown’s cameo effort is, in turn, a fine example of that method in action.
Doink enters as Diesel and Crush dominate the ring and, faced with two massively heavy -hitters, the Clown plays things in a manner so smart it would make Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts smile. At first, he holds off, laughing as the two giants batter each other. Then, when he catches the attention of his larger opponents, he never flinches. He gets the better of them both in fact, just like recently despatched two-time former World Champion ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage! Sure, it’s with a little water to the eyes of one and a stomp on the toes of the other, but it proves immensely effective. Doink might then be quickly eliminated upon the arrival of a third big man in the form of Bam Bam Bigelow, but as cameos go it’s one of the best ever, exampling how to use and demonstrate character in even the most limited of circumstances in the most succinct of performances!
Enters: 2nd | Lasts: 20:55 | Eliminates: 2 | Eliminated By: CM Punk
It was in one of my Royal Rumble columns last year that I came to discover 2011’s extra-long 40-Man bumper edition watched like the Reality Era knocking on the door, and a major reason for that is Daniel Bryan’s fighting underdog effort that begins from the very onset of the match itself, opposite fellow Reality Era pioneer CM Punk. Truthfully, it isn’t among the busiest of Rumble performances and for the majority of the second half of his stint in the ring Bryan has a tendency to fade somewhat into the background.
Nonetheless, the reaction to his performance and his wilful characterisation between the ropes makes for an infectiously plucky effort which channels the spirit of Bret Hart in 1991 and makes it easy to see why he would go on to become such a beloved unlikely hero of the people. Bryan nails the first two eliminations of the match – fittingly getting rid of First Brand Extension Era red herrings Justin Gabriel and Zack Ryder – finds himself embroiled in a compelling physical exchange with mentor William Regal and lasts a solid twenty minutes before being eliminated by the feature performer of the night and fellow inaugural combatant, Punk – and even Punk needs several of his New Nexus sidekicks to facilitate that elimination and bring an end to Bryan’s deeply likeable outing.
Enters: 30th | Lasts: 01:58 | Eliminates: 2 | Eliminated By: Edge
I know I have deliberately excluded winning performances from this countdown because we all know them so well already, but I’d be remiss not to make mention of Flair’s 1992 winning run – in the sense that a part of me actually prefers his 2005 cameo instead! I know that’s sacrilegious to say, especially in the IWC, but it’s true. Flair’s momentary performance fourteen years ago is infectiously fun and, even coming at the tail end of his career when he really had no business still wrestling, I can’t help but smile when revisiting it.
Flair enters last, immediately picks off Coach and, while strutting and showboating his way around the ring like it was 1985, he soon begins double-teaming the remaining participants with Evolution’s enforcer, the ‘Animal’ Batista. As a matter of fact, the wily Flair gets Batista to do all the heavy-lifting (quite literally, in Christian’s case!), directing traffic like an infant equal parts hyperactive and malicious. Only after Batista rescues Flair from the brutal onslaught of an exhausted and humourless Benoit does ‘Naitch’ allow his instincts to get the better of him – one failed traitorous elimination of Batista later and it all goes awry, Flair’s wonderfully elating cameo coming to a swift and deserving end; although, it should be stressed, not until a key WrestleMania narrative and character were both significantly developed inside of The Man’s crucial two minutes.
Enters: 1st | Lasts: 1:00:16 | Eliminates: 6 | Eliminated By: Rey Mysterio
There is something undeniably vainglorious about Triple H’s wire-to-wire effort in 2006. His entering first feels less subtle than him screaming down a microphone, “Look, world, I can do it too!” Yet there’s no denying it certainly suits his love-to-hate character, the Cerebral Assassin being exactly the kind of individual who could thrive in as hectic an environment as a Rumble Match. It should be noted that it’s a deeply in-character performance too, from his sneering expression as Rey Mysterio emerges second to his violent response to his elimination at the climax.
Triple H wrestles smartly, wrestles with barbarity, wrestles opportunistically and even takes time to receive more than his fair share of comeuppance, and all of this within just the first ten entrants. Beyond that busy opening stretch, he remains constantly in the thick of the action, far more so than eventual victor Mysterio, regularly engaging in protracted exchanges with fresh entrants. He claims the most hateable elimination of the match when he despatches Chavo Guerrero, momentarily reforms one of WWE’s most infamous factions, Evolution, by uniting with Randy Orton at the conclusion and, lest we forget, competes for a whisper over one hour. A performance of vanity it may be, but it’s also an immensely impressive one all the same.
Do YOU think that Royal Rumble Match cameos that last less than a couple of minutes can be as effective as prolonged iron man runs, or do only the most prominent Rumble competitors ever succeed in showcasing themselves?
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