The Eternal Optimist Presents: Ranking The Royal Rumbles (#3)

QUESTION OF THE DAY:  Which Rumble to you believe did the most to set up the WWE’s future?


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 3rd 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 comes from Sir Sam!

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 #4 on the countdown:


#03:  The 2005 Royal Rumble:

The Roster:

  1. Eddie Guerrero
  2. Chris Benoit
  3. Daniel Puder
  4. Hardcore Holly
  5. The Hurricane
  6. Kenzo Suzuki
  7. Edge
  8. Rey Mysterio
  9. Shelton Benjamin
  10. Booker T
  11. Chris Jericho
  12. Luther Reigns
  13. Muhammad Hassan
  14. Orlando Jordan
  15. Scotty 2 Hotty
  16. Charlie Haas
  17. Rene Dupree
  18. Simon Dean
  19. Shawn Michaels
  20. Kurt Angle
  21. Jonathan Coachman
  22. Mark Jindrak
  23. Viscera
  24. Paul London
  25. John Cena
  26. Gene Snitsky
  27. Kane
  28. Batista
  29. Christian
  30. Ric Flair

I loved the WWE roster in 2005 and the Rumble participants reflect that.  HBK, Kurt Angle, Ric Flair, Chris Jericho, Booker T, Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero were bonafide superstars.  Batista and John Cena were about to become superstars.  Edge and Rey Mysterio weren’t that far behind them.  

The back end of the roster for this Rumble had some stinkers – guys like Orlando Jordan and Mark Jindrak weren’t really adding any value.  However, the remainder of the roster was filled with great workers the likes of Shelton Benjamin and Paul London, along with underappreciated characters such as Muhammad Hassan, The Hurricane and Simon Dean.  

It’s not THE best roster of any of the Royal Rumbles, but it’s not that far from the top.

The Storylines & Flow:

It was a brilliant decision to have Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero as entrants 1 and 2 in the match.  2004 had been such an important year for both men and their journeys to the top of the mountain will be forever intertwined.  This served as a nice tribute to that.  In addition, they were two of the best workers in the world at the time and got the match off to a fantastic start from an in-ring perspective.

In fact, I actually enjoyed Benoit’s entire 2005 Rumble stay more than his one the prior year.  It may sound crazy since he went wire to wire and won the match, but I felt that he contributed more from a quality standpoint in 2005.  In 2004, he largely laid against the ropes while all of the interesting action was going on elsewhere.  In 2005, he was an integral part of the action for just about the entire time that he was in the match.  

I LOVED the beatdown of Daniel Puder.  For those of you who don’t remember him or the circumstances that led to this, Daniel Puder was a former “UFC” fighter that won the season of Tough Enough where The Miz finished second.  I absolutely hated him.  The UFC was at the peak of its popularity at the time and anyone who was affiliated with the brand had credibility in the wrestling world. 

The only problem?  As The Miz correctly pointed out – he never fought in the UFC.  He was an MMA fighter that hadn’t made it to the big time.  I hated that the fans took to him and pooped on the guy who clearly was made to be a WWE superstar simply because he got his big break from a reality television show.

Puder caused real problems with his attitude backstage.  The breaking point was his decision to “shoot” on Kurt Angle during a “Tough Enough” segment in the ring.  This f’*cking guy legitimately tried to break Kurt Angle’s arm with a kimura.  

The WWE’s solution?  Put him in the Rumble match with some of the stiffest workers they had and let them beat the hell out of him.  Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero & Hardcore Holly pummeled the guy and ultimately tossed him to the curb like the common street trash that he was.  It marked the end of the Daniel Puder experiment and it is a moment in Royal Rumble lore than still makes me stand up and cheer to this day.

After the fantastic start to the match, the WWE did a really smart thing.  They loaded up the ring with some of their hottest up and coming stars from each brand.  There was a big Raw v Smackdown theme to this Rumble.  The brand split is pretty much talked about like a red-headed stepchild these days, but it was still a hot and fresh concept in 2005.

The WWE was smart to have Eric Bischoff and Teddy Long, the GM’s for each brand, come out on stage once all of the necessary participants had hit the ring.  This led to an amazing moment that saw the Raw team of Edge, Shelton Benjamin, Chris Benoit and Edge go face to face against Eddie Guerrero, Luther Reigns, Booker T & Chris Jericho of Smackdown.  A massive brawl ensued and the crowd absolutely erupted.

The WWE made another great decision by stopping the brand supremacy violence in order to deal with Muhammad Hassan.  By having both brands together to immediately toss him, it made him look like a huge deal and the hated heel that he needed to be.  I really wish that the WWE hadn’t let political correctness ruin what was an amazingly good story line, but that’s a conversation for another day.

I liked that Hassan attacked Scotty 2 Hotty as he made his way down to the ring.  With such a quick stay in the Rumble, one could have potentially viewed Hassan as being delegated to jobber status.  This attack showed that he was still someone to take seriously.

If you can’t tell that I enjoyed the first half of this Rumble as much as just about any in history – allow me to reiterate.  I ENJOYED THE FIRST HALF OF THIS RUMBLE AS MUCH AS ANY OTHER IN HISTORY.  All that said, the best was yet to come.

There were rumors that Kurt Angle could take on HBK at Wrestlemania 21 in what was considered to be one of the biggest dream matches that could be made at the time.  However, up until this Rumble, there was nothing on television that gave any indication that the match would become a reality.

When HBK eliminated Angle shortly after Kurt entered the match, many thought the 2005 Rumble was just going to be the hint at what was to come.  When Angle showed back up two entrants later, eliminated HBK and absolutely obliterated him with a beat down on the outside, everyone knew that it was on.  

The eruption of the crowd for this angle was seismic.  It led to one of the best matches in the history of wrestling and it couldn’t have been executed any more perfectly than it was.  This angle scored tremendous points when evaluating the 2005 Rumble.  It included larger than life wrestlers, added tremendous value to the match itself and had earth shattering consequences from both a match quality and historical perspective.

The 2005 Royal Rumble also featured what I consider to be without question the single greatest elimination in the history of the event.  You all already know what I’m talking about.  Paul London getting crushed by a Snitsky clothesline and doing a backflip off the apron only to land face first on the floor was a moment in time. 

Many people who want to downplay the greatness of this Rumble often do so because they’ve chosen to forget about some of the great moments and happenings that occurred.  NO ONE forgets about the London elimination.  It WAS Snitsky’s fault, and it was AWESOME.

Kane is one of the biggest contributors in Royal Rumble history, both in volume and in the significance of his time in each individual Rumble.  Regardless of where he stood on the card, he was always treated as a big deal come Rumble time.  Watching Kane chokeslam ten wrestlers in a row upon his entrance was amazing.  It made Batista look even better when he entered the match and power bombed him.  It made Cena look even better than that when he finally eliminated him.  We all know that the biggest purpose of the entire match was to establish those two as top stars and Kane did a great job in helping accomplish just that.

Ric Flair is a national treasure.  At this point in time, Batista and Flair were still somewhat aligned as Batista’s full-fledged face turn didn’t happen until the week following The Rumble.  To capture the rocky nature of the relationship wasn’t an easy task, but Flair pulled it off with ease.  The way he grabbed Batista when he wasn’t looking to eliminate him and his mannerisms afterwards both when he thought he was successful as well as when he realized he wasn’t were priceless.  His plan backfired, it led to his elimination and it was one of the more under-the-radar comedy spots in any Royal Rumble match.

All in all – people remember the end of the match and the Paul London elimination, but they forget about everything else that makes this match great.  It contains great action, meaningful story lines and strong comedy throughout.  I can’t find a point in time where the match drags in any way.  Onto the final four.

The Final Four:

I loved what this final four stood for.  There was the wrestler who was about to take the reigns as the face of Raw in Batista.  You had the wrestler who was about to become the face of Smackdown in John Cena.  You had Edge and Rey Mysterio, two wrestlers that were next in line after Batista and Cena to receive major pushes.  Edge went onto win the first ever Money in the Bank ladder match at Wrestlemania 21 and Mysterio would end up winning the Rumble the following year.  2005 was a time of change for the WWE – they had more or less moved on from the Attitude Era and were in the process of transitioning grooming new homegrown stars.  The final four of this Rumble showed that loud and clear.

The action itself was good.  I thought Rey’s elimination that saw him get speared by Edge when he was on the apron was really cool.  The double elimination of Edge was a strong face push for both Cena and Batista.  The pop when it came down to the two future faces of the company was intense.  

Many claim that the ending was a botch and should never have happened.  I honestly don’t know if that’s true or false, and I don’t care.  The only thing that I care about is what ACTUALLY happened and whether or not it was good.  

The end of the 2005 Rumble was AWESOME.  The 1994 double winner finish was always a favorite of mine, and I loved that the WWE recreated it in 2005.  With the Smackdown v Raw theme being an important concept at the time, it made sense that the Raw referee would raise Batista’s hand while the Smackdown ref would declare Cena the victor.

Vince coming down to the ring and completely blowing out both of quads upon his entrance was both hilarious and tragic.  On one hand, I felt bad for the guy at the time.  On the other, I felt that him sitting down in the corner of the ring because he couldn’t stand actually ADDED to the spectacle.  I thought it was a nice touch that both Cena and Batista took turns tossing each other over the top rope in front of Vince, as if to say that they should be the only wrestler considered for the victory.

I thought it was a really nice wrinkle to the 1994 ending to have the match restart.  The way that the story was playing out, I really felt that they were simply going to recreate the draw ending and have that lead to both world title matches at Wrestlemania.  

I’m a big fan of definitive endings and I’m glad that the WWE gave us one while still making sure both men looked as good as possible.  In my eyes, this ending was both memorable and compelling.

The Winner:

The winner wasn’t a surprise at all.  Batista was the only real option as it had become clear by that point that he was going to take Randy Orton’s spot as the #1 face on Raw.  

Batista was an incredibly satisfying winner.  It’s hard to picture Batista’s rise being something that would be unexpected rather than a foregone conclusion, but that’s really what it was.  He caught fire out of nowhere and was absolutely the right guy to go after Triple H at Wrestlemania.  He was everything that Randy Orton wasn’t.  

There’s no Rumble that catapulted the winner to greatness better than 2005 did for Batista.  This Rumble made his entire career.  It was the moment you knew that his time was here.  Triple H did the right thing for him at Wrestlemania 21 in one of the more anticipated main events in the history of the show, and a Hall of Fame career was off to the races.  

The 2005 Rumble was unique in that it not only catapulted the winner to greatness but also the man who finished second.  Even though he lost, John Cena was treated like a winner and booked accordingly.  His rise to the top also culminated at Wrestlemania 21 when he too one his first world title.  

Overall:

I don’t know how anyone can view the 2005 Royal Rumble as anything other than one of the best Rumbles ever.  The action never lagged.  There was a ton of star power.  The angles were memorable and the crowd response epic.  It had an amazing finish and the consequences of the match were far-reached and seismic.  I have nothing but praise for the 2005 rendition.

The Rebuttal – By Sir Sam:

Number 3, wow that is a big call. There have been thirty two Royal Rumbles and this is in the top three? Unlike the 2017 Rumble which you placed 8th for some ungodly reason I’m not going to be able to tear stripes off of this one however I truly don’t understand what makes this one stand out so much.

Apart from the hilarious West Side Story commercial, botched ending which while kind of hilarious shouldn’t push it up this list and Paul London’s shooting star press to the floor there is really nothing that separates this from the pack. Sure it has a lot of star power but what does it really do with them all? You have Chris Benoit doing a pretty good iron man run but not as well as he did just the year before, you have lazy repetition of the ‘everyone gangs up on one guy’ spot, there is a Smackdown v Raw storyline that picks up out of nowhere and is discarded just as quickly and no real narrative that connects the start to the finish.

I will say that the ending deserves credit for trying to make stars out of both John Cena and Batista at once and also giving a rub to Edge & Rey who were also midcarders on the rise. However the fact that Batista and Cena botched the ending is absolutely a black mark on the rumble. Watching this back the looks on their faces are priceless – trying to remain in character while knowing they screwed up on the biggest stage they had been on and just hoping they aren’t going to get fired when they get out the back.

This is not a terrible Royal Rumble but to rank it higher than the character masterpieces of 1992 or 2009, the ‘make a star’ version of this done right in 2018, the excitement of seeing Austin run wild in 1999 or 2001, the iron man performances of Bulldog and Shawn in 1995 and Benoit in 2004 or the controversy of 1997 that set up such an awesome few months of TV is just crazy to me.

That’s a wrap kids.  Since there is no longer any intrigue once #2 is revealed, I will be posting the last two entrants to the countdown simultaneously next week.  Tune in to see which Rumble claimed the top spot as the greatest in the history of the event.  Agree or disagree?  Sound off below!

I can best be reached on Twitter @The_Eternal_Optimist

 

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