By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. I love the Royal Rumble match. Out of WWE’s big four pay-per-views, the Rumble always been my favorite. Survivor Series used to be a solid No. 2, but we’re lucky to get one actual traditional Survivor Series match these days. Plus, well, the brand supremacy thing is dumb.
Anyway, the premise of the Rumble match, while simple, has always been unrelentingly effective in my eyes. In fact, it’s so fail-safe that for nearly 35 years now, even the WWE hasn’t been able to mess up the formula or tweak it in such a way that would ruin it. Every 90 seconds (or 60 seconds or two minutes, depending on the year), the crowd counts down from 10 to zero and a new wrestler comes out to join the fun. The only way to be eliminated is to be thrown over the top rope and have both feet land on the floor. The last one standing wins.
Actually, truth be told, I owe my current phase of wrestling fandom to the Rumble. The year was 2014 and the city was Pittsburgh. On a whim, some friends and I bought $20 tickets and sat in seats parallel to the big screen marking the entrance way. I hardly knew anyone involved. Some dudes named Bray Wyatt and Daniel Bryan opened the main show, and after staying away from the business for a handful of years, I was instantly back in love.
But this isn’t about me. It’s about the Royal Rumble. More specifically, the Royal Rumble match. And as we lie in wait for the next installment of WWE’s best pay-per-view, set for this Sunday, I thought that, despite my life-long admiration for such an event …
… I’d take a few minutes to outline the five most annoying things about this fabulous January tradition.
What? Did you think I was going to reflect on some of the best winners? The coolest ways to buck elimination? The biggest surprises? The most memorable moments? What do you think this is? The Bump?
Let’s begin with the most obvious annoying element of each year’s Rumble match: The long, arduous, pointless, laughingly predictable moments when you see a wrestler fighting for his life while being draped across the top rope.
I recently re-watched the ’92 Rumble and I stopped counting when the number hit 15 times that Ric Flair flirted with elimination by having some dope lift his legs over the top rope in the corner. And at least 10 of those times, the dirtiest player in the game used the ol’ finger poke to work his way out of the predicament. He’d go on to win the match, of course, becoming the first person to win the WWF Title by winning the Rumble, but wow, if we are to believe his fellow wrestlers are any good at their jobs at all, perhaps one of those 15 potential eliminations would have been successful.
Hey. Just a thought.
Either way, this is perhaps the worst trope of all Rumble match tropes. It goes back to the very first one, and I’d be willing to bet all of Tom Brady’s money that we’ll see a whole lot more of it this Sunday as well. I often wonder what the wrestlers are saying to each other as one feigns potential elimination while the other grimaces in ways men are only supposed to grimace when they are trying to pass a kidney stone. “What’d you think of the chicken in catering today? Kinda dry, right?”
It’s low-hanging fruit to pick on this element of the Rumble match, I know. But don’t you think that by now we could have come up with a better way to kill time in these things? Wait. Speaking of time …
WHAT TIME IS IT?
… If you caught that Spin Doctors reference, I’ll raise a glass of water to you. Even if you didn’t, that’s fine, because it doesn’t take a genius to realize that despite whatever Michael Cole tries to tell you, the intervals between wrestlers’ entrances are suspect at best and flat out egregious at worst.
Take the 1995 Royal Rumble. Shawn Michaels was the first entrant into the match and subsequently became the first person to run the table from one to 30 and win. The split between entries that year was listed as 60 seconds. His total time in the match? 38:41.
Now look at the aforementioned 1992 Rumble, during which Ric Flair entered at No. 3 and went on to win the match. His total time? One hour and two seconds. As for Shawn Michaels’ end-to-end run … well, it doesn’t even stand in the top 20 when it comes to the most amount of time one wrestler has lasted in a Royal Rumble match. Can’t we all agree there’s something wrong with that picture?
Don’t get me wrong. Some shows run long. Some shows run short. And before the days of the WWE Network, all pay-per-views had to adhere to a very specific time frame, so the WWE can be forgiven for not being perfect when it comes to keeping the time intervals consistent each year. Still, when you hear Michael Cole boast about how great it is that Baron Corbin has lasted 48 minutes on Sunday or some such nonsense, just remember that the person who holds the longest stretch is Daniel Bryan.
Which is fine on paper, but then remember that his 1:16:05 came while competing in 2018’s Greatest Royal Rumble, which featured 50 wrestlers.
See what I mean? For as much as WWE wants us to take these bogus timestamps seriously, they ought to do a better job at coming closer to reality when they begin to laud someone for not letting their feet touch the floor, despite coming oh-so-close 25 times in 10 minutes. For being the one thing that the WWE can actually proclaim is objective during one of its major events, perhaps they could, you know, make it objective and pay more attention to making sure that the time they say it is, is at the very least a reasonable facsimile of what we at home can keep track of with our cellphones.
Set it up so we aren’t wondering what it means when they tell us someone has lasted the longest in a Royal Rumble match and quit qualifying the accomplishments. Daniel Bryan can have the Greatest Royal Rumble accolades. The Rumble we all know and love, however, should stay with Rey Mysterio (2006, 1:02:15).
WHEN IS ENOUGH, ENOUGH?
Come to think of it, I’m glad I brought Rey up. Mysterio is rightfully acknowledged as one of the best to ever do it, and he built up a lot of that credibility with his high-flying attack and innovative move set. The guy’s a legend who overcame all stereotypes pertaining to size and became one of the best WWE champions in history. But you want to know what I don’t want to see him or anyone else do on Sunday?
Hand-stand his way across the floor to avoid elimination.
Look, it was cool the first two (or, um, 50) times we saw a wrestler do it. But after a while, much like everything else in wrestling, the shine wears off and the predictability of it handcuffs any ability to appear innovative and/or imaginative. For a good few years, Kofi Kingston became the highlight of any Rumble match for me because you knew it was coming and you also figured he had to find a way to top what he did the year prior.
But, if one’s good, and two is great, three doesn’t mean it’s amazing. I mean, what’s left? Is someone going to throw him over the top rope, yet because there is no crowd this year, they’ll do some editing trickery and he’ll just fly over ringside with invisible strings attached to his biceps? Maybe he’ll leap over the top and a New Day Lamborghini will magically appear so he can drive around the ring before jumping back in.
This is all, of course, if he can actually compete this year (word has it, he’s been legitimately sidelined with a jaw issue). But either way, the tricks and the stunts only work so well for so long. Plus, they shine a spotlight on the “both feet must touch the floor” rule, which, if you think about it, can be worked around if someone just took a flat-back bump onto the outside.
Hey. The feet didn’t touch. Might as well nudge my back toward the steps and walk right on back into the match.
Yet of all the expected traditions we have come to accept in the modern Rumble, this pales in comparison to …
OLDER AND WISER?
Remember that 2014 Rumble I told you I went to? And remember how I said it meant the world to me? The legends that showed up that night were Kevin Nash, JBL and The Great Khali (if you want to argue Rey Mysterio, you can, but he’s since become a full-time performer). You want to take a shot at the total amount of time those three legends spent in the ring?
Even as a fan that knew nothing about anybody involved, I was happy to see Nash, but that initial excitement wore off before long, and by the time he was eliminated by Roman Reigns, I had almost forgotten that he was there. Keep in mind, he wasn’t even in the match for three minutes.
My point is that the legends might be fine for a cheap pop, but there are guys in the locker room who could very much benefit from an eight or 10-minute run in the Rumble. I’m not saying they have to win, and I’m not even going to argue that they need to be part of a big spot to justify their entry; I’m just saying that the Rumble is a quick and effective way to give someone a little extra boost of forward momentum as they perhaps flail away in mid-card oblivion.
Why waste that on people who have already had their respective times to shine? And especially this year, when there isn’t a crowd from which you can obtain that elusive cheap pop? Imagine how much fun it would be if Kushida ran down the aisle, representing NXT, and somehow managed to be in the final four? Better yet, what if someone like Kushida actually won the thing? It’d get everybody talking and the time wouldn’t be wasted on allowing someone who’s far past his heyday to get that tiny bit of shine if for only one more minute.
WWE hasn’t been great at building new stars lately, so here’s an idea: Cancel “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan’s weekend plans and give Tommaso Ciampa 45 minutes in this thing. And if you don’t …
… At least change … wait. Before I continue, there are actually a few things that could go into this final segment.
First, there are surprise entries. It seems like nothing in the wrestling world is sacred anymore, and even if you try your hardest to keep a secret about who might show up and make their WWE debut, that typically ends up being a futile task. The best surprise entry, in my mind, came in the form of AJ Styles. I jumped off my couch and I didn’t even think wrestling could do that to me anymore.
Another suggestion is the constant tie to WrestleMania. I know it gives the Rumble match some cache, always having the winner head to the company’s biggest show of the year for a title shot. So, with that in mind, I can understand it. But the constant pointing to the sign, the constant “Road to WrestleMania” statements … it’s just too much. Tone it down, guys.
Then there’s the ability to eliminate someone even if you are already eliminated. Hulk Hogan did Sid Vicious dirty in ’92, and ever since then, it’s felt like you don’t even have to be in the match to have a significant impact on what actually happens in the match. Can’t we have just a little more rule enforcement? I mean, really. If you are a wrestler who hates a wrestler, but isn’t in the Royal Rumble match, why couldn’t that wrestler just sit at ringside, wait until that wrestler is in the match, and then conspire to eliminate that wrestler? Just look at Edge. It doesn’t even matter if the guy’s in the match this year. If he can just find a way to make sure Randy Orton loses, we have our program for WrestleMania. This also goes for champions. Drew McIntyre doesn’t want to face Brock Lesnar? OK. Just run in and help him get eliminated.
Yet of all these other auxiliary reasons why the Royal Rumble match needs a little more care, there’s only one true way to end this column.
“The final four are, unless if there’s anybody else hiding underneath the ring …”
You know how many times I read that in recaps for Royal Rumble matches? Even if the answer was one, that’s still one too many. The gimmick was sort of fun the first time someone pulled it off. And even the second and third times had some novelty to them. But at this point … come on, guys. Leave it alone for a few (20) years. Make it feel like it has impact again, if you’re going to do it. It didn’t even feel fresh when you had the “Saturday Night Live” guys do it. How’s it supposed to matter if Sheamus pops up out of nowhere on Sunday?
It won’t. And that’s why the best thing WWE could do with this weekend’s Royal Rumble match is simply just make it a good Royal Rumble match. Don’t overthink it. Don’t cheat. Don’t attempt some weird, impossible-to-believe gimmick. Just give us a really good battle royal with an outcome that leaves us talking about what might happen next as WrestleMania looms.
After all, that’s why we all tune in, in the first place. Isn’t it?