The Eternal Optimist Presents: Ranking The Royal Rumbles (#1)

John Cena

QUESTION OF THE DAY:  What is your favorite Royal Rumble match?


Hi kids.

Welcome back to the final edition in my Royal Rumble column series.

In today’s column, I’ll discuss the Royal Rumble that came in 1st 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.

A passionate final rebuttal comes from none other than Samuel Plan!  Make sure to check it out below.

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

Without further ado, here’s the Rumble that came in at #1 on the countdown:


#01:  The 2008 Royal Rumble:

The Roster:

  1. The Undertaker
  2. Shawn Michaels
  3. Santino Marella
  4. The Great Khali
  5. Hardcore Holly
  6. John Morrison
  7. Tommy Dreamer
  8. Batista
  9. Hornswoggle
  10. Chuck Palumbo
  11. Jamie Knoble
  12. CM Punk
  13. Cody Rhodes
  14. Umaga
  15. Snitsky
  16. The Miz
  17. Shelton Benjamin
  18. Jimmy Snuka
  19. Roddy Piper
  20. Kane
  21. Carlito
  22. Mick Foley
  23. Kennedy
  24. Big Daddy V
  25. Mark Henry
  26. Chavo Guerrero
  27. Finlay
  28. Elijah Burke
  29. Triple H
  30. John Cena

The 2008 was absolutely loaded with legends.  Just look at that roster.  John Cena, Triple H, The Undertaker, Batista, Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, Rowdy Piper and Jimmy Snuka.  Eight of the 30 spots were taken up by absolute icons of the industry.

The hits don’t stop there either.  The mid-card was tremendous here.  Wrestlers like Umaga, CM Punk, Cody Rhodes and John Morrison were rock solid.  Even some of the lower card guys like Santino Marella, Finlay and The Great Khali all served their purpose here.  The roster for this Rumble isn’t quite as deep as say, 1992, but it certainly isn’t that far off.

The Storylines & Flow:

First off, having Michael Buffer as the special guest ring announcer was amazing.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, he was the LEGENDARY ring announcer for all major boxing events for over 20 years.  He’s an iconic figure in the fight sports industry and for the WWE to be able to land him for this role made the event feel like a much bigger deal than it would have otherwise been.

Hearing him do a crazy introduction for The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels at #1 and #2 was such a surreal moment.  The WWE is all about pomp and circumstance when done correctly, and they absolutely hit one out of the park here.

As for the decision to have Taker and Shawn in first – brilliant.  As mentioned in my last entry for 2016, I love it when the WWE maintains continuity from the previous year’s Rumble.  2007 saw an absolutely iconic back and forth between Taker and Michaels as the final two.  Having them in first was a great tribute to that match and ensured that the 2008 Rumble was going to get off to a red-hot start.

The 2008 Rumble did a good job of maximizing the roster that they had.  Sure, it was absolutely loaded at the top and in the mid-card, but the under card wrestlers more than served their purpose.  I got a good laugh out of Santino showing up at #3 only to realize that he absolutely did not belong in the ring.

The Great Khali was more or less useless at this point in his career for anything other than a memorable Rumble appearance.  Because he’s just so damn big, seeing the Undertaker eliminate him elicited a tremendous pop from the crowd.

Tommy Dreamer is another example of someone who didn’t have a tremendous amount of big moments during his WWE tenure but more than filled a worthy role during this Rumble.  He was a hometown guy and the NYC crowd went absolutely bonkers for him.  His run itself wasn’t all that noteworthy but his appearance popped the crowd and certainly helped maintain what was a fantastic flow to start the match.

Batista was a mega-star and already red hot crowd managed to get even louder.  The WWE knew that they had tremendous firepower in this Rumble and didn’t bother to waste time getting the big guns into the match.

Hornswoggle was a gloriously underrated member of the 2008 Rumble.  This was smack in the middle of the “Hornswoggle is Vince’s son” story line.  Rather that be used as a credible threat, he hid under the ring.  It made sense to me.

The first ten entrants of this Rumble were my favorite first ten of any Rumble match, and they were just getting started.

You can add Chuck Palumbo and Jamie Noble to list of wrestlers who maximized their minutes during the 2008 Rumble.  They were under card wrestlers but they were currently entrenched in a feud and their back to back inclusion and subsequent brawl was a small touch that continued to keep the match moving along.

I was surprised at the pop that C.M. Punk received at #12.  He was not the star that he’d become later, but the NYC crowd knew what they had in front of him.  It was certainly a sign of things to come.  

Speaking of Punk, I thought that he, along with John Morrison, Cody Rhodes and Batista all put in memorable iron man-type performances in the Rumble.  Batista’s was the longest run, but the other three provided top quality action throughout the entire duration of their stays.  You could see the talent dripping from all three – it should be no surprise to see where all ended up.

Have I ever mentioned how much of a sucker I am for nostalgia?  Seeing Jimmy Snuka and Rowdy Piper enter at entrants 18 and 19 was without a doubt my favorite five minute stretch in any Royal Rumble match ever.  I’m a fan who grew up watching wrestling in the 1980s and the image of Piper smashing a coconut over Jimmy Snuka’s head is one that I’ll never forget.  

Of course, Kane had to ruin it all.  What a d*ck.  He always has an important role in any Rumble match that he’s in.  In 2008, it was to crush my hopes and dreams.  

As if Snuka and Piper weren’t enough, seeing another hometown icon in Mick Foley show up out of nowhere at #22 sent me and the crowd into a frenzy.  At this point, I was standing up in my living room jumping up and down like a child.  I’m not proud.  I’m lying.  I’m very proud.  This match was awesome.

As I find myself drawing a tremendous amount of parallels between 2016 and 2008.  Much like it made sense for the WWE to get Styles out of the match before the end hit in 2016, it made sense for the WWE to do the same with Taker and HBK in 2008.  Both were such icons at the time that their inclusion in the finale could have detracted from what the WWE was trying to do.

I loved that the WWE let HBK get his “revenge” on Taker from the prior year by eliminating him via Sweet Chin Music.  I liked that Michaels was eliminated immediately after.  Their participation in the 2008 match should be forever linked to each other and the stare down between the two was only a taste of what was to come in the next couple of years.  

Naturally, Hornswoggle had to emerge from under the ring before the end of the match.  God, this was such an underappreciated comedic angle.  I laughed when he eliminated The Miz.  I laughed harder when he tried to eliminate Henry, only to be dragged into the middle of the ring and caught between Henry and Big Daddy V.

I really thought we were getting another King Kong Bundy/Little Beaver Wrestlemania III moment here.  It made sense for Finlay to show up and carry him away as his “protector”.  This wasn’t a story line that had tremendous long term consequences but it was thoroughly entertaining and added tremendous value to the 2008 version of the event.

When Triple H showed up at #29, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he was going to win the match.  He was being positioned as a top star and there didn’t appear to be anyone else in sight.

And then, IT HAPPENED.  John Cena showing up in the #30 spot was the single biggest shocker in the history of the Royal Rumble.  For my money, it’s one of the biggest shocks in the history of wrestling.  Cena had a legitimate shoulder injury that was supposed to keep him out well past Wrestlemania 24.  NO ONE knew that he had been medically cleared to wrestle.  When his music hit, I thought it was some type of swerve because never in my mind did I think a John Cena appearance was remotely possible.

How big and how awesome was this moment?  The NYC crowd…..New….York….City…..cheered John Cena like he was Hulk Hogan in the 1980s.  Need I say more?

The Final Four:

Awesome final four.  Even though he wasn’t a huge factor in the match, I’m glad that Kane was given the honor of being the 4th entrant in an obvious three horse race.  Once he was out of the way, the action that ensued between Cena, Triple H and Batista was simply phenomenal.  

If you don’t believe me when I tell you how big this felt, just go back and listen to the pop that the NYC crowd gave the final three men.  Everything from here on out was magic.  It was surreal to see Cena win.  An awesome finish to an awesome match.

The Winner:

It’s amazing that John Cena winning anything could be considered a shock, much less the biggest shock in the history of the event.  His return was on absolutely no one’s radar and I probably could have listed twenty potential winners before the idea of a Cena victory came to mind.

His win was just as satisfying as it was surprising.  He was the biggest star in the industry but hadn’t yet had the honor of winning a Royal Rumble match.  I’m glad that it happened and it worked for me on all levels.

The victory didn’t catapult him to a higher level.  He didn’t even main event Wrestlemania 24 as the WWE used the opportunity to right a wrong with The Undertaker from the previous year.  Again though – I’m not going to hold the lack of elevation against this Rumble simply because the winner couldn’t possibly attain a greater height than they were already at.

Overall:

It really was a tough call between 2008 and 2016 for the top spot on my countdown.  In my eyes, both matches are flawless on all levels.  I gave the nod to 2008 because the moment of Cena’s return is so iconic and felt so big that I just didn’t think any one individual occurrence in 2016 could compare.  My hats off to 2008, the greatest Royal Rumble of all time.

The Rebuttal – By Samuel Plan.

One moment does not make a 60 minute match.

The 2008 Royal Rumble Match lives in infamy because of its shocking conclusion that was so successfully kept under-wraps in an age where we all thought such a thing was impossible. It was, we are told, the night everyone “forgot to hate John Cena.” Such a statement is a radical over-simplification of the audience reaction, I feel, as is the notion that the 2008 Royal Rumble Match is an all-time best effort just because of its swerve ending.

Can you recall anything else that happened in that match?

The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels entered first and second to mirror the ending of the preceding year. That had been done before. Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka turned up to relive a moment from some decades ago. That stops the match dead in its tracks. The ECW Champion enters. That contradicts the attitude adopted the preceding year. Triple H and John Cena have an “epic showdown” at the end. That fails in light of 2007’s own ending.

Otherwise, the ring gets too full because eliminations are too few and far between; there is far too much in the way of enhancement filler in the line-up; exciting first-time confrontations are disregarded or incapable of taking place because of the over-crowding; subplots are completely inexplicable; the <I>six man</I> announce booth is terrible; and the action is one big solid block of nondescript.

John Cena’s comeback is a cool moment. That’s all the 2008 Royal Rumble Match provides: a cool moment. The rest pales in comparison to a great many of its brethren.

That’s a wrap kids.  This has been a heck of a journey over the course of the past two years.  I just wanted to thank everyone who read these columns, anyone who commented, anyone who engaged me in private discussions about Royal Rumbles of past and all of my fellow columnists that took the time to write engaging and insightful rebuttals.

I hope that you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.  Thank you.

I can best be reached at @The_Eternal_Optimist

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