We’re coming up on one of the biggest matches of the year which will set the stage for the biggest match of the year in the main event of “Wrestlemania XXXII”. This Sunday is the Royal Rumble match with thirty men fighting it out in a single battle royal, this time for the WWE World Heavyweight Title. Today we’re going to look at some of the most important elements of a Royal Rumble and how bad things can get if a lot of these pieces aren’t met, using some historical examples.
Now look back at the last two years. In 2014, aside from Batista, the only real option was CM Punk. Yeah the Shield guys were in there but they were hardly ready to go to the main event of Wrestlemania. The same problem held true in 2015 with Roman Reigns. In this case, the only other option was Daniel Bryan, whose elimination left thirty five minutes of wasting time until the inevitable Reigns win.
The worst part about this is how easily something like this can be fixed. You don’t need to have three or four people on equal footing. All you need to have are multiple people who could reasonably win. Let’s take a look back at the 2002 Royal Rumble where HHH was another nearly guaranteed winner. However, look at the other three members of that year’s final four: Steve Austin, Kurt Angle and Mr. Perfect. While Perfect isn’t exactly a big threat, Austin and Angle are two people who could possibly pull it off. If nothing else, they could be conceived as potential threats.
Now back to the three years we looked at earlier. Here are the final fours from those three Royal Rumbles:
1993: Yokozuna, Rick Martel, Bob Backlund, Randy Savage
2014: Batista, CM Punk, Sheamus, Roman Reigns
2015: Roman Reigns, Big Show, Kane, Rusev
In all those years, the only one with more than one potential other winner would be 2014 but Punk was eliminated first of the final four and had already been out there nearly fifty minutes. Batista continued to be the only real option of those four, which doesn’t even factor in the fans going insane over the lack of Daniel Bryan involvement. You need multiple options for winners or you’re going to have a very flat ending to the Royal Rumble.
Moving on, there’s also the issue of surprise entrants. This is always a tricky one as you can’t let the match meander along with one boring entrant with no chance to win after another but at the same time you don’t want to go with surprise after surprise. Again, let’s look at some examples. We’ll start back in 2012 which had the following surprise entrants:
Mick Foley, Ricardo Rodriguez, Jerry Lawler, Booker T. (then a commentator), Jim Duggan, Michael Cole, Kharma, Road Dogg
That’s over a fourth of the match dedicated to low level surprises or comedy entrants. Only Foley lasted more than five minutes and four of the entrants didn’t last ninety seconds. I understand that you don’t want comedy acts around long but the problem here is these acts were all throughout the match. On the other end of the spectrum though, we have the 2015 edition. Here are the surprises from there:
Bubba Ray Dudley, Zack Ryder, Boogeyman, Diamond Dallas Page
That’s assuming you count Ryder, who was a jobber before he left and was a jobber when he came back from his injury. His most recent match before that was in November so it’s a stretch to call this a return. Other than that though, only the Boogeyman was really there for comedy as the Rumble was being kept serious. None of these people made and impact and the last one was Page at #14. That left a bunch of upper midcarders and little else until the very end, which isn’t exactly a great way to fire up a card.
A good (though certainly not perfect) example of how to use surprises came in 2008. First and foremost, keep in mind that the opening entrants in the Royal Rumble that year were the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. In other words, you already had a good start to the match and the fans didn’t really need a pickup at first.
Later on in the match though, Jimmy Snuka and Roddy Piper entered at numbers eighteen and nineteen. Put mildly, the roof was blown off Madison Square Garden for a pair of New York legends. The fans were instantly back into things and the match basically stopped while they had a quick fight. Both were put out very quickly and it was really more of a moment than anything extended. Another New York legend, Mick Foley, was the twenty third entrant and lasted nearly twelve minutes.
Finally though, there was the number thirty entrant. This was the real surprise as John Cena made his big return months before he was scheduled, legitimately shocking a lot of the fans in attendance. Cena would go on to win the Royal Rumble after about ten minutes and be right back in the World Title picture months before he was expected to be.
Like I said it’s not perfect, but this was a great example of how to put in surprises throughout the match to keep things moving. Piper and Snuka were only there for a quick cameo each, Foley was around for a little while and did well enough, and then Cena was the big game changer at the end. They kept things serious here but the surprises were strong enough to help bring the match along.
One last thing that can help a Royal Rumble along is a three act structure. Perfected by Pat Patterson, this is the standard operating procedure for almost every great Royal Rumble and it was done nearly as perfect as ever back in 2001. Here’s a quick look at how the Royal Rumble went that year to see how this format can work so well.
The match started with Matt and Jeff Hardy as number one and three (Bull Buchanan was second and was gone in about two minutes) for an old school tag team battle until they eliminated each other. This left comedian Drew Carey as the only active entrant until Kane came in at number six. The next several entrants were hardcore wrestlers for a quick segment, followed by the Rock at number thirteen to pick things back up again.
Things slowed down a bit until Big Show came in at number twenty three, quickly followed by Undertaker at number twenty five and Steve Austin to get us to the big ending with the main players of Rock, Austin, Kane and Undertaker. Throw in a staredown between Austin and Rock to set up the main event of Wrestlemania and everything is fine.
The key idea to this is simple: keep things moving at the right times. They started fast enough, then picked things up with Kane, then boosted it again with Rock before bringing in Undertaker and Austin to set up the big finish. Kane was fine for a first monster of the match and was there at the end as well to tie things together. The match never got boring (at least not for too long) and the ending was well built up throughout. This has been done multiple times and worked almost every time because it’s a formula that works.
The Royal Rumble is a rare match that has to be done just right throughout because it’s so long. If it’s screwed up early on, it’s nearly impossible to get the whole thing back on track. This is a match that has to be set up properly and executed throughout, but if it’s done well, it’s the most exciting match WWE puts on all year. Just don’t let it be boring and things are going to be a lot better, as is the case with everything.
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