The Road to WrestleMania is in full swing and we are now just 3 weeks away from one of the biggest Pay-Per-Views of the year, the Royal Rumble. As always with the big PPV’s on The Wrestling Mania we like to showcase these events with our special countdown articles, and this is no different.
We tasked Matthew Roberts this week to write about his Top 5 Rumble Winners and he certainly didn’t disappoint. The following page showcases the diversity of writing styles that we have at TWM.
It is difficult to single out my “favourite” Royal Rumble winners. For instance although Shawn Michaels is my favourite wrestler of all-time, neither of his wins make the cut here. As exciting as his 1995 win was at the time for me as a fan, the fact that it came in the shortest rumble of all time and in a rumble a bit low on star-power means that it didn’t make the cut. Many of these may prove to be “obvious” choices, but these are the five that stick out for me.
1992 – Ric Flair
This is not a choice made with hindsight. Although my knowledge of WCW was limited in the early 1990’s I’d read enough of the Bill Apter produced magazines to know that Ric Flair was a star. His presentation in the WWF merely backed that up. The stuff with him and Heenan was top-notch indeed. To that point when the 1992 Rumble came around, with the World Title on the line for the winner, I was firmly in Flair’s corner. I remember vividly that my friends at school at the time were all rooting for the likes of Hogan, Savage or Sid. But I believed (back when it was so much easier to believe) in the Nature Boy. In those days we didn’t have the internet so the delay in the show being aired on Sky TV didn’t matter, simply because there was no real way I was getting the result “spoiled” for me. When Ric drew number three, I thought it was over. There was no way that Flair could win from that spot. But win he did, much to my delight. And Bobby Heenan’s heartfelt commentary made it all the more of an amazing match.
1997 – Stone Cold Steve Austin
You could argue that 1998 and 2001 victories for Austin were “bigger” but they were somewhat expected. In 1997, although Austin was a star very much on the rise he wasn’t really expected to win here. Most would have presumed that the WWF would have played it safe and set up a Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels WrestleMania re-match but little were we to know that the WWF had other plans. Of cause Shawn’s “lost smile” somewhat changed booking plans, but the storyline where Austin was “elimination” was missed by the referee’s only for him to return to the match and win was pure gold. Not least because it further cemented Austin’s “Stone Cold” character but also because it showed that this era of the WWF would not be afraid to think outside the box and would become a far less predictable place.
2002 – Triple H
It’s certainly easy to fall into the trap with Triple H and believe he only became a star because he married the bosses daughter. That conveniently forgets he was a genuine main-eventer before he hooked up with Stephanie. And whilst he got given numerous chances to get over in those early days, that’s exactly what many people argue should be done today in the WWE, rather than the stop-start pushes that evaporate as soon as one quarter-hour segment of Raw doesn’t quite capture the imaginations. Suggesting that Triple H’s connections are the only reason for his success also does him a disservice in other ways as well. You simply don’t get some of the reactions from crowd’s he got without being a legitimate star. This Rumble win was set up by his “heroic” return from injuries suffered in 2001. Whilst the hype was certainly laid on thick in anticipation of his return, with vignettes focusing on his injury and rehab, people genuinely wanted to see him return and the reaction he got when he returned to Raw at Madison Square Gardens was one of the loudest you’ll ever witness. It would be easy to say his subsequent win at the Rumble was “ego booking” but the fact remains is that fans wanted to see him win and take his spot in the WrestleMania main event. I wanted him to win. Of course, ‘Mania was a bust (I was there and saw thousands of people walking out during his match with Jericho) but that can’t change the effectiveness of the Rumble set-up and win.
2007 – The Undertaker
This choice is less about the winner in of himself, and more about the absolutely fantastic last section of the match when it came down to two of the greatest of all time in Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. Perhaps part of it was that this was a match-up that the WWE had never burnt-out. This wasn’t Orton/Cena part 25. This was two of the greats who had largely been confined to one feud a decade or so earlier. There are many reasons for this, not all down to judicious booking by the WWE, but it made this encounter absolutely spellbinding. There was also genuine doubt as to which of the two would emerge victorious which only added to the spice of the proceedings (not least because of the Texas setting of the event). There’s arguably never been a hotter ending sequence to a Rumble.
2008 – John Cena
Whilst I think that he’s a damn sight better than his most vociferous critics would suggest, it’s fair to say that I am no great fan of John Cena. Yet his surprise return in 2008 was a genuine moment in which the WWE’s long held adage that “anything can happen” was actually true. It was almost like a throwback to the old days, in which we hadn’t been made immune to the storytelling that can happen by years of “spoilers”. No-one was expecting his return and even the notoriously contrary Madison Square Garden crowd were blown away by it and cheered Cena. It was perhaps the last great “surprise” winner we have had.
– By Matthew Roberts