I love the Royal Rumble. It’s my favorite type of match. One reason is because of its rarity. Whereas WWE likes to trot out an assortment of gimmick matches multiple times over the course of the year—street fights, steel cage matches, ladder matches, etc.—the Royal Rumble match is presented as a special event that only happens once a year. It is something to really treasure and look forward to, an annual treat that would be hard to get excited about if it happened every two or three months.
Another reason I love the Rumble is because I can relate to it in a way. The Royal Rumble is basically an intense game of “the floor is lava.” When I was a kid, “the floor is lava” was some of the most fun I could ever have. I would jump from the couch to the ottoman to the comfy chair, desperately trying not to touch the fiery green inferno that was the living room carpet. As I watch wrestlers hang on for dear life on the apron, I feel a little closer to them. Their plight was my plight at times. It is a lot more relatable to me than climbing really tall ladders or going through tables.
The core reason why I love the Royal Rumble match requires a trip to January 25, 2004. This was the date of my first ever Royal Rumble. I had been a wrestling fan for around six months and it didn’t take long for it to become an obsession. You can imagine my joy when my dad told me I could order the Royal Rumble event. Not only was this my first Rumble, it was my first wrestling pay-per-view.
At the time, the concept of the Royal Rumble was not entirely foreign to me. I had seen a couple of battle royals, so the additional rule of timed entrants was not some heavy conundrum that took me ages to figure out. Two guys start, a little later another guy comes in, standard battle royal elimination rules apply, last man standing wins. It isn’t rocket science.
As for whom I wanted to win, there was only one wrestler who I was rooting for: Chris Benoit. He was my guy. Brock Lesnar cheated to beat Benoit in a WWE Championship match a few weeks earlier on SmackDown and that no-good General Manager Paul Heyman made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that Chris Benoit would never get a shot at Brock’s belt again. So this was Benoit’s only chance at redemption. And to top it all off, Heyman made Benoit the number one entrant in the Rumble.
I was putting all of my 11-year-old hopes and dreams into this intense Canadian man with a missing tooth and a vicious snap suplex. His chances did not look good even if he wasn’t number one. I mean, Kurt Angle was in this Rumble. That guy won matches all the time. Big Show was in it too! He was a giant, how the hell could anyone eliminate him? And for the love of all that is good and holy, Goldberg was number thirty. Goldberg! No way was he going out easy. Oh and of course there was Rico… well, I wasn’t too nervous about Rico.
The match arrived. Chris Benoit came out at number one. Number two was Randy Orton, who was one of the guys I hated most on the roster. No one deserved more of an asskicking in my mind than Evolution’s “Legend Killer” Randy Orton. It was a perfect pairing.
Benoit made it five minutes in the match. Then he made it ten. Fifteen. Twenty. There were HUGE entrants coming out too: Matt Morgan, A-Train, Bradshaw, Kane, Mark Henry. These guys dwarfed Benoit, yet he lasted longer than all of them; Benoit actually eliminated most of those wrestlers himself! I could feel my adrenaline rising. Wrestlers came in, wrestlers went out. But Benoit remained. My guy was still in the fight.
Lo and behold, the last two wrestlers remaining were Big Show and Benoit. At this point, I was pacing in front of my TV, my heart beating a mile a minute. He could win this, Benoit could actually win this. Big Show lifted Benoit over his head, looking to military press slam him over the top rope. But Benoit landed on the apron and locked Big Show in a guillotine choke. With every ounce of fiber in his being, Benoit started pulling Big Show over the top rope by his neck. I stopped pacing, my eyes glued to the TV screen. I had begun frantically clapping like every anxious kid does when he can’t put his excitement into words. Big Show finally toppled to the floor and Benoit slid back into the ring victorious.
That was my first taste of the Royal Rumble; a cathartic experience if ever there was one. Here was a man I wanted to win so badly that when he won, it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Pure elation. Pure emotion. I’m sure it helped that I was 100% percent invested in his story. I was certainly more invested in that than I was the Brock Lesnar vs. Hardcore Holly match that took place earlier in the night.
Since then, I have seen every Royal Rumble match past and present. What I’ve discovered is that the Rumbles that I like the most are the ones that take me back to 2004, when I can feel that pure emotion that I felt when Benoit won. That’s why I love the Rumble. It can connect me back to that same rush, that same investment, that I had all those years ago.
2001: A bloody Steve Austin is trying to claw his way back to the top after a long injury period. Kane’s been in the match for almost an hour. He’s eliminated eleven guys, including The Rock. The man looks unstoppable. Austin is the weakened underdog armed only with a chair and his take-no-bullshit attitude. How do you not get invested?
1992: Ric Flair has to somehow fight his way past Hogan, Savage, Sid, Slaughter, Bulldog, Roberts, Piper, and everyone else under the sun to win the WWF Championship as the number third entrant. Bobby Heenan sounds like he’s going to pop every blood vessel in his head on commentary when Flair is in danger of getting eliminated. How do you not get invested?
2007: The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels are the last two men in the ring. Taker has never won a Rumble. Shawn is the hometown hero with two Rumble victories already under his belt. They fight for almost ten minutes to see who will win. Who wants it more. Who is the best. HOW DO YOU NOT GET INVESTED?!
Even the Royal Rumble matches that I feel less kind towards, such as the way-too-short 1995 Rumble or the 1999 Russo Rumble, still give me some enjoyment. Like Rich Kraestch says, a Royal Rumble is like pizza. Even if it’s bad, it’s still okay. Would I prefer my pizza to be topped with Tiger Ali Singh and Kurrgan? Or Mantaur and Duke Droese? Hell no. But if you put it in front of me, I’m gonna eat it.
This Sunday is the 2016 edition of the Royal Rumble. For the first time ever, the WWE Championship is being actively defended in the Rumble match itself. It’s an interesting shakeup that could make for an exciting match. Will I be as invested in this match as I was for 2004 or 1992 or 2001? I don’t know. Given the proceedings of the previous two Rumbles, as well as my lack of interest in the Roman Reigns-Authority storyline, I’m going to be watching with caution. But I will watch regardless. After all, it is the Royal Rumble.