As you are reading this I am away on a well deserved (if I do say so myself) holiday in sunny Malta. However, never fear I have not left you without anything to quell your unending thirst for wrestling based content. No sir, this week will mostly consist of a look back at a few of my own personal favourite Royal Rumble memories in the run up to this week's event.
For me, the Royal Rumble is the second most important event WWE produce every year, and a massive highlight for me. The 30-man over-the-top-rope hybrid battle royale elimination match has been a cornerstone of WWE for years, and since 1992 has been the starting point for setting up the title programme for Wrestlemania. As such I wanted to take you through a few of my favourite rumble moments from years gone by.
Best Rumble ever?
There have been many top rumbles over the years, with 2001 a firm favourite and a perfect snapshot of the peak of the attitude era; the 1993 rumble was my first that I watched at the time rather than restrospectively; 1990 had perhaps the biggest star power ever, while 1999 had one of the best story-lines ever. 2005 had one of the most controversial endings, while 2007 told a great story. I could go on and on, but for me the best rumble ever is 1992. It had star power, it had multiple hot feuds including the Randy Savage vs Jake Roberts feud which had included the infamous snake bite angle, the simmering tension in the friendship of Hulk Hogan and Sid Justice, the ongoing 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper-Ric Flair feud and many more. It felt like a big deal, and the story being told with Ric Flair coming in at number 3, and becoming the genuine 'real world's champion'. The match is a masterpiece, booked to perfection, and easily my favourite. Flair plays this perfectly from start to finish, and is never the sole focal point of the match, but always quietly there. Another integral part of this is the commentary of Bobby "The Brain" Heenan who is excellent, acting as a Flair cheerleader throughout. The whole package is brilliantly done, rectifies the mess of This Tuesday in Texas/Survivor Series '91 without anyone ever having to do a clean job, puts Flair in the main event, and avoids the continued 'digitisation' of the NWA belt (which in truth was a WWF tag belt, but still). It was a masterstroke from start to finish.
Best surprise entrant?
One of the big draws of the Royal Rumble over the years has become the element of unpredictability. While it was less of a factor in the early days of the event, the thinning of rosters in the mid 1990s (see the 1995 iteration if you don't believe me) meant initially you would get random entrants appearing. Be it legends or independent talents who wouldn't normally get into a match that had a bearing on WWE Title contention. However, as the years went on and WWE no longer needed to flesh out the numbers they began using this as a nostalgia spot, especially since the close of WCW and ECW meant there are always available talent who might be happy to come in for a one shot. Be that a returning one-shot like Goldust on multiple occasions; In 2008 we had Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka who brawled with each other in Madison Square Garden. However, this spot was also used repeatedly for talents returning from injury as surprise entrants, like Edge in 2010 and John Cena in 2008 who both returned unannounced and went on to win the match. Mr Perfect in 2002 was one of my favourites, just because he had been absent from WWE for such a long time, much like Diesel and Booker T in 2011. It's a great nostalgia spot, and It makes it one of the most unique matches of the year.
Of course one of the most famous surprises was not an entrant, but an attacker in the form of Giant Gonzalez, who made quite the impression in 1993 taking out The Undertaker in a way no-one had ever seen up until that time. The sheer domination by Gonzalez was unheard of, which made for a hugely memorable segment. However, for me the best surprise came in 2001 with the return of Haku. Now I appreciate that there are bigger names who have featured in this spot, but what made this so surprising was that technically Haku was still WCW Hardcore Champion, and had somehow been allowed to have his contract expire while still champion. An amazing happening at the time, and probably one of the first major signposts that WCW was in the beginning of it's final days. Maybe not the most spectacular surprise. but surely one of the most historically significant.
While the Royal Rumble may be a highlight of the wrestling calendar, there have been a few years that have really failed to live up to expectations. 1997 was something of a mess, despite the brilliant ending with Bret "The Hitman" Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin. It furthered the story-lines of the time, but the match itself wasn't great. 1999 suffered from similar issues, but the match had a very strong story-line throughout with Stone Cold Steve Austin fending off Vince McMahon and The Corporation. The 2015 edition was a very good match but suffered from a serious misjudgment in booking with Roman Reigns dealing with a plodding Big Show and Kane for much of the final moments in front of a predictably hostile Philadelphia crowd. Obviously the 2014 edition had its issues due to the absence of Daniel Bryan but that was actually a very good match. However, for me the 1995 edition is the weakest ever rumble match. The roster was paper thin, the match was shortened by having the gaps between entrants shortened to 60 seconds, which was far too short, and without the top two stars in the match Shawn Michaels and British Bulldog, this match would have been abysmal. The shortened match also undercuts the achievement by Michaels of having run the table in terms of being the first entrant and the winner. Not a good match, on an even worse show.
So what of 2017?
TyeThis year is perhaps one of the toughest years to predict in terms of who will win the rumble, who will turn up and what the ramifications of the event will be when it comes to Wrestlemania. For me, the outcome of the WWE Universal Championship match and WWE World Chamionship matches may have a big say in who wins the rumble. If John Cena beats AJ Styles I think that potentially signposts a win for The Undertaker to set up Cena vs Undertaker at Wrestlemania. However, if Roman Reigns beats Kevin Owens that may signpost to a Braun Strowman, Goldberg or Brock Lesnar win. If Owens retains, I think we could see a Chris Jericho win in the rumble. There's also the NXT situation to consider, with Samoa Joe looking ready to come up to the main roster, as he has no obvious programme in NXT, and possibly even one of Bobby Roode or Shinsuke Nakamura depending on who wins the NXT Championship match at Takeover: San Antonio. I'm not saying that an NXT superstar would come up and win the match, but it would be a hell of statement to have them do so. Bobby Roode especially seems ready. In addition, Tye Dillinger as the number 10 entrant is either going to happen to a huge response, or the they are going to slot a heel into that slot for massive heat. Hopefully Dolph Ziggler or The Miz. Either way, that is an important spot. This is such a difficult year to call and even with the build-up this year it's impossible to say who the favourite is to win the match. However, I'm going to throw a spanner into the works and back a returning Finn Balor to take the win as a surprise entrant. With all the speculation as to who might win this year Balor has flown slightly under the radar, and WWE love a good swerve. Regardless this is shaping up to be a great Rumble, and I for one cannot wait to see where we go on the road to Wrestlemania.
Well that is all from me for this week, join me next week when we will have a full run down of the fallout from the Royal Rumble, Raw, Smackdown, and whatever else breaks in the next seven days. In the meantime checkout all the best news, film reviews, Blu-ray and DVD reviews, opinions, competitions and more right here on Screenjabber. Until next week, so long folks.