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Wrestling Historian Mike Rickard

There's Always The Rumble

As this wrestling fan gets older and jaded, the days of watching any pay-per-views based on name value diminishes, with no show except one always guaranteeing at least a good match.


WrestleMania is big, but it’s also notorious for not living up to the hype. SummerSlam has become what WrestleMania used to be, but even that show can be a dud. Survivor Series too has its traditional elimination matches, but they’ve seemed to have lost a step over the last decade.


However, the Royal Rumble can always be counted on to have one good match—that is of course, the Royal Rumble match.

The Royal Rumble has come a long way since it was designed as Vince McMahon’s FU to Jim Crockett Promotions’ pay-per-view The Bunkhouse Stampede.


The Rumble went from a TV special designed to take the wind out of Crockett’s sails (which it did) to a pay-per-view in its own right.

Once the WWF added the stipulation that the winner of the Rumble gets a world championship match at the Rumble, the event was solidified as a must-see show, with the Rumble always generating suspense who would head to WrestleMania. 


Sure, the Rumble got off to an odd start with its 20-man event (rather than the 30-man event it became known for) and odd 2-out-of-3 falls match between perennial jobbers The Young Stallions vs. The Islanders, but even this inaugural show had its moments with Jesse “The Body” Ventura giving a heelish lift to Dino Bravo’s attempt to set a world bench-press record as well as the contract signing between Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan for their much-anticipated rematch from WrestleMania III.

The early Rumbles may not have seemed like they meant much with the winner getting nothing but bragging rights, but the WWF knew how to use the Rumble to get angles over. 1989’s Rumble saw the build-up to the Mega Powers exploding while 1990’s featured the showdown between Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior that led to the “Ultimate Challenge” at WrestleMania VI.

1991’s Rumble was used to build up the Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter match with Randy Savage helping Slaughter defeat the Ultimate Warrior for the WWF Championship while Hulk Hogan won the Royal Rumble, establishing himself as a viable foe for Slaughter (this would also be the first time a WWF Superstar won back-to-back Rumbles, something Hogan didn’t need, but at this point in Hogan’s career, it didn’t matter).


Naturally, everything changed when the WWF president Jack Tunney put the vacant WWF Championship up for grabs at the 1992 Royal Rumble. Arguably the best Rumble of all time, this 30-man spectacular had fans biting their fingernails and screaming at their televisions as “Nature Boy” Ric Flair overcame the odds to win the Rumble (thanks to a questionable assist from Hulk Hogan who eliminated Sid Justice, even though Hogan was no longer in the match). With Bobby Heenan’s comedic commentary and a legendary victory promo by Flair, Heenan, and advisor Mr. Perfect (“We hate to tell you we told you so—but we told you so”), this one would prove to be hard to top.

In 1993, the WWF established the stipulation that the winner of the Royal Rumble would receive a WWF Championship match at WrestleMania, cementing the Rumble as a must-see show and closely linked to WrestleMania. This stipulation has led to some wild finishes including the controversial 1994 one that saw Lex Luger and Bret Hart declared co-winners and 2005’s Rumble where Batista and John Cena were the last two competitors when they eliminated one another, only for Vince McMahon to restart the match.


Through the years, the Rumble has surprised fans with unlikely entrants ranging from the first female competitor (Chyna) to celebrity Drew Carey to little man Hornswoggle. The Rumble has also featured a number of surprise entrants such as John Cena who returned in 2008 following an injury that was supposed to keep him out of action long past the Rumble and Edge who returned early from injury in 2010, proving the WWE could still keep fans guessing at times. Past favorites such as Mr. Perfect (2002), Diesel (2011), and Booker T (2011) have returned at the Rumble, just a few examples of how the WWE has used fan favorites to create a nostalgic pop.


The Royal Rumble is one show my friends and I will always watch, just for the Rumble match. The undercard can be complete rubbish (and on occasion it has), but we are always excited to watch the Rumble. There’s no denying we’ve been disappointed a few times, but they’ve been few enough that the Royal Rumble’s incredible potential for surprises and suspense make it the much-see show of the year. Wrestling PPV’s may have lost some of their appeal for me, but when I want the closest thing to a guaranteed hit, there’s always the Rumble.

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