1. You don’t need to keep up with current wrestling storylines to enjoy it. I haven’t actively followed the product in years, yet I still love watching the Rumble every January because it’s so brilliantly crafted. Trying to watch WrestleMania makes me feel bitter and out of touch, but the Rumble always brings out the best in my fandom.
2. It lends itself really, really well to drinking games.
3. The ten-guys-team-up-to-eliminate-the-really-fat-guy routine, which always reminds me of the precautions required to lift your portliest college friend up for a keg stand.
4. The lying-down-in-the-corner-while-guys-stomp-on-me-and-I-take-a-rest routine. This is a classic move, as mid-carders whose matches typically don’t go beyond 10 minutes are often asked to work in the Rumble for much longer. Road Dogg perfected this in 2000, when he hung in the match for 19 minutes and spent about 18 of them horizontal, underneath the bottom turnbuckle. I think he was eventually eliminated via spatula.
5. Speaking of Road Dogg in 2000, I’m also a big fan of the random mid-carder who hangs around in the Rumble for an unexpectedly long amount of time. The greatest example of this is Rick Martel hanging around for 52 minutes in 1991, but there’s always some random guy hanging in for 20+, like 8-Ball’s unforgettable 30 minutes in 1998, or Nasty Boy Jerry Sags’ 21 minutes in 1993.
6. Inexplicably, the WWE has run Royal Rumbles during house shows a few times, including one won by Owen Hart in Madison Square Garden in 1994. I’ve always been fascinated by these largely unseen Rumbles and the circumstances that prompted them.
7. The same thing I love about Power Hours and fondue dinners — I prefer to have my enjoyment parceled out to me in small doses, one or two minutes at a time. Left to my own devices, I’ll just drink all my beer too fast or eat my food too quickly and then fall asleep or get a stomachache, so I need controls in place to prevent the hazards of my own eager stupidity. Take fondue, for example: when you eat a fondue dinner, you can’t scarf down your entire plate of chicken or beef in some manic, sensory-gratifying craze because you’re forced to take the time to individually cook each piece. Consequently, it helps you actually savor your meal (and talk to your tablemates, breathe occasionally, etc.), instead of just continuously shoving various food groups into your mouth like some kind of drooling moron pressing a button marked “Pleasure” over and over and over, which is what I would usually do. This is why cocaine is bad for me.
Basically, I need to have fun on a schedule because I don’t have very strong self-control. The Royal Rumble does this for me by providing me with an exciting new participant every 2 minutes. If I ran the Rumble, everybody would just run down all at once in an overexcited panic and the ring would immediately clog up with confused, crammed wrestlers jostling for space like unusually muscular commuters on a rush hour subway. So, thank you WWE for teaching me the virtues of patience and graciously monitoring my stimulation levels. And thank you Pat Patterson.
8. Speaking of which, it’s awesome that Pat Patterson, a former Intercontinental Champion whom Attitude Era fans remember as one of McMahon’s Stooges (along with Gerald Briscoe), is supposedly the uncelebrated mastermind behind the Royal Rumble. According to his Hall of Fame entry on WWE.com, “In 1988, one of Patterson’s greatest ideas came to life in the form of the Royal Rumble Match; while it has been modified and expanded since its debut, the Royal Rumble Match format itself is an idea credited to Patterson.”
9. What the entry doesn’t mention is that most insiders give Patterson the lion’s share of the credit for booking the event throughout the 90s, planning the various elaborate sequences that are pieced together to turn the match into a cohesive and organized finished product. Good job by you, Pat Patterson!
10. Guys working themselves into awkward pretzel-like configurations as they half-heartedly act like they’re trying to eliminate each other.
11. Announcers grossly embellishing how long certain wrestlers have been in the ring. I remember that once anyone had been in there for more than 10 minutes, Gorilla Monsoon would lose all perception of time and shout things like, “You’ve got to hand it to Dino Bravo — he’s been in the for 86 minutes!”
12. The Royal Rumble is a perfect example of giving fans just the right amount of a good thing. When WCW tried to outdo the Rumble with their 3-ring, 60-man “World War 3” match, I remember my 10-year-old self thinking, “60 guys!?! 3 rings!?! That sounds freaking awesome!” Even though my intense WWF fandom meant that watching WCW left me feeling guilty and shameful (years later, I came to appreciate the multitude of areas in which the NWA/WCW was far superior), I had to check it out.
Of course, it was a muddled, chaotic mess, impossible to coherently film and present, lacking completely in storytelling and drama. Despite the fact that if featured twice the amount of wrestlers as a Rumble, the match lasted only about 25 minutes! Whereas the Rumble specialized in foreplay, World War 3 just repeatedly ejaculated on the viewer’s face without any warning or reason. I spent the entire thing wondering what the hell was going on and thankful that the WWE had the restraint to stick to a mere 30 men and 1 ring.
13. Which really speaks to just how perfectly constructed the Royal Rumble is — the only match as intricately and flawlessly designed is, arguably, WarGames. When you boil it down to its bare essentials, the Rumble is exactly what we want from pro wrestling — a story told through controlled chaos. Although at any given moment it may merely look like anywhere from 2 to 10 guys slugging it out without any sort of overarching plan or organization, the match is actually anchored by a dogmatic, disciplined structure, with rules dictating exactly who enters, how often they enter, and how they are eliminated; there are assigned numbers, countdowns, entry lists, and all the other minutia that makes real sports so obsessively fascinating — the kind of aspects that are fun to mull over but that wrestling promoters usually assume their own fans are too dumb to follow.
There’s never a dull moment because the system is inherently designed to be engaging and exciting, as a new guy joins the fray every two minutes, plus others are continually eliminated or suffering near eliminations. It’s like March Madness condensed to a single hour.
14. Seriously, I’m not kidding about the minutia — check out Monday Night Warriors, a website that has gloriously compiled like a million Rumble stats unique to each wrestler. Suck on that, Baseball Reference.
15. Since the architecture keeps it effortlessly entertaining, part of the trick of booking the match is to let it breath — it’s already so packed with different faces and micro-events that it can easily feel overcooked if the powers that be decide to gimmick it up with too many subplots. Unfortunately, an overabundance of gags and gimmicks has been the theme in recent years. You’d think that with Patterson gone, the event might have become rudderless and unfocused, but the company has actually responded by over-scripting, planning each second down to the very last detail. I’d love for the bookers to take a page from the beloved 1992 edition, where a single overriding narrative (Ric Flair defying all odds and winning despite drawing #3) and the Rumble’s inherent charms were enough to create a classic that’s still well remembered over 20 years later.
16. I’m onboard for anything with a countdown clock — New Year’s Eve, the 4th quarter of sporting events, rocket launches, you name it. My biggest problem with NHL shootouts is not that they’re an arbitrary and unapt method for determining a winner, but that they don’t have a little 5-second countdown clock before each shooter. I want countdown clocks in all facets of my life, if possible.
17. During the WWE’s highly popular (and overrated) Attitude Era, the company rarely acknowledged its past — like a 13-year-old eschewing his OshKosh B’Gosh overalls and suddenly lame Disney sweater for a backwards hat and ripped jeans, anything beyond the product’s current incarnation was deemed deeply uncool. As the WWE moved away from the obnoxious Attitude Era, the Royal Rumble provided a great opportunity for the company to bring back old favorites, often as surprise entrants, like Bob Backlund in 2000, The Honky Tonk Man in 2001, or Mr. Perfect in 2002. The appearance of unexpected legends is now a hallmark of the event; last year saw the inclusion of “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and Road Dogg. Who knows, maybe this year we’ll get TL Hopper or Duke “The Dumpster” Droese (but don’t get your hopes up).
18. Re-watching old Rumbles is an amazing opportunity to see failed gimmicks that usually never make it to PPV. The Rumble’s demands on the roster require quite a bit of padding and many historically awful and/or completely obscure gimmicks that are gone from the company mere months later often make a token appearance. My favorite examples of this are the back-to-back Rumbles from the talent-thinned years of 1993 (featuring such luminaries as Max Moon and Damien Demento) and 1994 (with the immortal Kwang and Bastion Booger).
19. The Final Four combatants is an exciting checkpoint that signals the climax of the match. My two favorite Final Fours are 1992 (Sid Justice/Randy Savage/Ric Flair/Hulk Hogan) and 2002 (Triple H/Mr. Perfect/Steve Austin/Kurt Angle). The worst is probably the original (1988’s Jim Duggan/Dino Bravo/One Man Gang/Don Muraco), but that seems unfair, so let’s go with 1999 (D-Lo Brown/Big Boss Man/Steve Austin/Vince McMahon).
20. Those awesome vignettes they used to show where wrestlers would pick their number out of one of those old school bingo ball-rollers.
21. The Royal Rumble Betting Game: Divide 30 by the number of friends you’ll be watching the Rumble with — that’s how many picks you each get (i.e., if there’s 5 people you each get 6 picks, if there’s 10 people you each get 3 picks, etc.). Then write down numbers 1 through 30, put them in a hat, and have everyone draw their numbers. If one of your numbers wins the Rumble, you win the pre-determined pot. The Rumble Betting Game adds another layer of excitement to the event and usually led to me rooting for guys like D-Von Dudley or Goldust to earn their world title shot at WrestleMania.
22. Part of the Rumble’s original appeal was that it was truly “every man for himself” — for once, you would see heels fighting other heels and faces fighting other faces. As the product changed and became less rigid, this was less and less unique, but it’s still true that the Rumble offers unique combinations of opponents that you’d rarely see otherwise.
23. Likewise, the specter of a tag team being forced to face off has always been a Rumble staple, like when Demolition’s Ax and Smash drew #1 and #2 in 1989.
24. The WWE has pulled the Early Entrant Goes All the Way and Wins the Rumble Against All Odds card enough times that it’s pretty much a legitimate possibility every year. Ric Flair (entrant #3 in 1992) was the first, but we’ve since had Shawn Michaels (#1 in 1995), Steve Austin (#5 in 1997), Vince McMahon (#2 in 1999, but won via lame chicanery), Chris Benoit (#1 in 2004), and Rey Mysterio (#2 in 2006). It’s a great way of simultaneously opening the possibility of a win for early entrants, yet still creating doubt around certain main event favorites by having them draw a bad number.
25. There’s also a long history of giving an upper mid-carder a lengthy run in the Rumble as a means of showcasing their main event potential — in this way, the Rumble can be a huge boost even for guys who don’t win. Think Diesel’s 7 eliminations in 1994, Kane’s 51 minutes (!) and 11 eliminations (!!) in 2001, The Rock’s 51 minutes in 1998, Triple H’s 48 minutes in 1996, or Bret Hart’s 25 minutes in 1988.
26. The anticlimactic moment when someone kind of lame is the first entrant, but the announcers still have to sell it as an exciting surprise so that the match doesn’t get off to a flat start. “My God, it’s Mideon! Mideon drew number 1!”
27. The Royal Rumble really accentuates what has always been the WWE’s strongest suit in its glory years — strong characterization. Whereas throughout the 80s and 90s, the NWA/WCW was for fans tuned in to find high quality wrestling matches between the likes of Ric Flair and Chris Benoit, the WWF/WWE, with some exceptions (particularly the workrate-friendly early 2000s era), has always focused less on the in-ring product and more on the colorful characters that drive storylines. So it makes sense that the Rumble is kind of cramped and crowded, inhibiting wrestlers from the kind of high-flying acrobatics or skilled mat wrestling that hardcore wrestling fans celebrate. Instead, the Rumble focuses on the company’s strong points, like broad spectacle: a shitload of guys packed into one ring, each with their own distinctive look and style.
Well, that’s the idea at least — now every guy just looks like Randy Orton. I try and tell them apart by their tribal tattoos, but it’s like trying to pick out which constellation is Orion’s Belt and which is the Little Dipper.
28. Crazy, flailing, over-the-top eliminations. The watermark here is Paul London (of course), who, while standing on the apron in the 2005 Rumble, received a clothesline from Gene Snitsky and proceeded to take a completely reckless back flip to the ringside floor.
29. Of course, it’s always fun to pick a winner beforehand and seeing how your prediction fares. As you might expect, the best Rumbles, or at least most unpredictable, have been the ones with the most potential winners. For example, 1992 had the following legitimate candidates: Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Sid, Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, The Undertaker, and Sgt. Slaughter.
30. While some people are predicting victories for Ryback or Daniel Bryan this year, the general consensus seems to be that John Cena is the heavy favorite to earn the title shot. To me, it barely matters who wins anymore. For 60 some odd minutes, it’s just good to be a fan again.