Historically Speaking: What Makes These Battles So Royal?


”History does not repeat itself. The historians repeat one another.” – Max Beerbohm

WrestleMania is just mere days away and every internet mark, smark and fanboy is showing at least some sort of interest in the Mecca event of the wrestling calendar year. Everyone chimes in with their opinions on what is right, what is wrong and what should be done and what has been done at the big event. I am one of those that will chime in about what has been done previously.

This week in Historically Speaking, we take a look back at an often overlooked, forgotten, ignored and bad-mouthed part of the WrestleMania card-the battle royal. The battle royal: the sure-fire “get all the boys a WrestleMania payday” match. Some people hate them and feel they are a waste of time and talent and some people like them and think they are entertaining. I am one of the latter. I mark out for a battle royal, good or bad. I love seeing a variety of wrestlers all together at the same time and interesting match-ups that show up during it. And if the match has an innovative or interesting ending to it, then it is all the better.

So this week, as a way to find my own niche in the glut of the pre-WrestleMania coverage that is found on the web, I present you a brief history and analysis of battle royals that found their way onto WrestleMania cards throughout the years.

A Giant, A Hit Man and A Fridge
One of WrestleMania 2’s featured matches was a 20 man battle royal featuring 14 wrestlers and 6 NFL football players in an interesting bit of cross-promotion between the two entities. The wrestling side was well represented with former World Champions like Iron Sheik, Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales, plus top mainstays like Big John Studd, the Hart Foundation complete with swank evil blue outfits and Andre the Giant. The football players were best represented by Chicago’s own William “The Refrigerator” Perry. Andre was billed as undefeated in battle royals so he seemed a sure bet to win again, which he did, after eliminating both Bret Hart and Jim “the Anvil” Neidhart. The real story was Chicago favorite The Fridge as he held his own against heels like Sheik and Studd, and even outsmarting Studd after he was eliminated.

This match served several purposes, as it showed the WWF-NFL cooperation, kept Andre in the spotlight with another high profile battle royal win and it got the hometown pop with The Fridge in the ring. It also added to the celebrity involvement that WrestleMania became known for as Dick Butkus served as a special referee and the “Where’s the Beef?” lady from the old Burger King commercials was keeping time. A brief spotlight was also shown on Bret Hart, as he was last in the ring with Andre and foreshadowed his later involvement and success at WrestleManias to come

That’s Some Bad News
WrestleMania IV two years later opened up proper with a 20 man battle royal that basically featured the jobbers and mid-card roster that didn’t have a real place on the card and didn’t really warrant one either. This battle royal really did personify the idea of getting all the boys a payday. This was one didn’t really have a lot of long-term impact in the large scope of things. It ultimately came down to Bad News Brown and Bret Hart, both heels at the time. Bad News showed his true loner side when he turned on Bret and eliminated him, taking the win for himself. This match only helped to show off Bad News’ character and help his push while kicking off the Hart Foundation face turn, as Bret returned to the ring and smashed Bad News’ winners trophy.

What a Rush!!!
It would be a decade later before a battle royal appeared on a WrestleMania card again as the WWF went through a phase of over booking matches for subsequent WrestleManias before discovering the less-is-more approach for creating cards through the mid-90s. WrestleMania XIV, like the event 10 years earlier, opened with a battle royal, this time a special tag team edition that showcased the bloated nature of the current roster. The participants consisted of tag teams like The Godwinns, The Headbangers, The New Midnight Express, the old Rock & Roll Express and factions like DOA, The Nation and Los Boricuas. It also featured some slapped together teams like Chainz & Bradshaw and Scorpio & Steve Blackman. But it ultimately was nothing more than a showcase for the returning Hawk and Animal, now dubbed LOD 2000 with a very hot Sunny by their side. They went through the battle royal in quick fashion, last eliminating the New Midnight Express. Ultimately the LOD experiment failed and a year later Sunny was long gone, Hawk was a drunk and Animal was teaming with a drug pusher named Puke.

Wacky Mismatched Tag Partners Who Hate Each Other (TM Vince Russo)
A year later a battle royal was called upon again, only this time it would be live on the Sunday Night pre-show. The purpose? To find tag challengers to meet Jeff Jarrett and Owen Hart later on in the night on PPV. Hart and Jarrett were tentatively scheduled to defend against D-Lo Brown and Mark Henry who they were feuding with at the time, but surprise, surprise, Mark Henry got injured and the match was out. Logic would say that D-Lo would be able find a new partner, but logic doesn’t have “Attitude” so this 21 man battle royal was thought up, where the final two men in the ring would go on to challenge the champs. Rather than having an established team like The Acolytes, Public Enemy, LOD, Matt & Jeff Hardy or even Too Much co-win, they went the “wacky, mismatched partners” route and had D-Lo and a heel Test win en route to a four minute loss to Jarrett and Hart an hour later on the actual PPV broadcast, really rendering the whole exercise useless.

It’s Basically a Battle Royal, But it’s Hardcore!
As WrestleMania 2000 (I still hate that moniker) came around the Hardcore Title and the 24/7 defense rule were in full swing. Looking to capitalize on the popularity of the belt a 13 person, 15 minute hardcore battle royal was held were pins were legal and whoever ended the 15 minutes with the Hardcore Championship walked out as the winner. This match led to such people as Funaki and The Mean Street Posse walking out with not only Hardcore Title reigns but WrestleMania paydays as well. The match turned into a giant cluster and saw a botched ending as Hardcore Holly pinned cousin Crash with a couple seconds left when in reality the time was to run out at the count of 2 to preserve’s Crash’s title. The whole event really amounted to jack as the next night on RAW Crash beat Hardcore to win back the belt and pick up right where they left off.

This Match Had a Lot of Talent…If It Was 1990…
WrestleMania X-7 (another terrible name) is considered by many, including yours truly, as the pinnacle of wrestling PPV events. It featured multiple matches that earned four snowflakes or more, had a great atmosphere, great arena, phenomenal video packages and music and this match, the gimmick battle royal. Nineteen wrestling personalities of past and present showcased themselves in the all their ridiculous gimmicked glory. The match was atrocious, barely going 3 minutes before Iron Sheik eliminated Hillbilly Jim for the win. Rumor has it Sheik got the win as they were afraid of him taking a bump would be tragic to his health. But in reality this was just an exercise to calm the crowd down after TLC 2 and let them relieve times of the past. The real highlights for everyone were really just all the wrestlers’ entrances and the commentary of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Mean Gene Okerlund, hitting every ‘80s commentary cliché they could fit in five minutes.

The Dark Matches…
As we fast forward to the post-brand expansion era of WrestleMania we have seen the advent of the pre-show, DVD exclusive, dark match battle royal. With the rosters split there is more talent than ever that is available for the main card and rather than try and fit everyone on as they attempted at WrestleMania XX (two four team tag matches and a 10 man cruiserweight open?) the idea has shifted to make the main card more selective and give the remaining talent at least a WrestleMania DVD pay day. WrestleMania 21 saw Booker T, easily the biggest star left off the card, outlast the World Tag Champions William Regal & Tajiri, the US Champion Orlando Jordan, Cruiserweight Champion Paul London and a host of others to win the match. WrestleMania 22, a stacked card in its own right, opened with an 18 man battle royal that saw Viscera of all people walk out with a win. As we approach WrestleMania 23 a few short days from now the possibility of another pre-show battle royal is very evident as currently 18 RAW guys, 16 SmackDown! guys and 6 ECW guys are all without a match, including some fairly big names like Carlito, Ric Flair, Johnny Nitro, WWE Tag Champions London & Kendrick and Cruiserweight Champion Chavo Guerrero. Plus the rumor of a tag battle royal featuring teams like Haas & Benjamin, Cryme Tyme, Cade & Murdoch, The Highlanders has been swirling lately so I fully expect some sort of multi-man gimmick match or battle royal to start the show off and get the crowd warmed up.

The Perspective
Whether you like them or hate them, battle royals are an easy way for the boys to earn a payday on the biggest stage of them all. Perhaps they can also be seen as a thank you for everyone who worked hard during the rest of the year and this is their reward. The Showcase of the Immortals can include everyone on the card so this is a way to keep everyone’s jobbers and mid-carders fresh in the minds of the fans. They are a solid and easy booking tool to advance future storylines and feuds and can break up the monotony of traditional matches. And they are entertaining. I mean who wants to watch Michaels and Cena duke it out when you can see Chris Masters and Balls Mahoney leaning on the ropes in hopes of gaining ultimate battle royal supremacy?

For this week the vault is closed…

Linked to the Pulse
Brashear has another Great-ing Gimmicks, one of my favorite columns anywhere on the web. It’s a shame Sabu didn’t last longer in WCW, I always thought we would’ve fit in with guys like Benoit, Guerrero and Lynn when they all arrived.

Scott Keith is currently going through his run of WrestleMania rants, including some fresh re-rants for shows he’s finding on WWE 24/7. As of this posting he’s up to WrestleMania 2000, which looks to be re-done in 2004. All of Scott’s rants are a good read, and I think I’ve been reading some of these WrestleMania rants for close to a decade now, yet every year I look forward to their reposting.

Phil Clark breaks down what the Fertitta brothers buying Pride will do to the MMA landscape. It’s a good read.

Everyone Likes to See Their Name in Print
I’m not a big fan of sifting through reader feedback in other columns so I’ll keep it to a minimum in mine, but I do want say I appreciate any and all feedback I get from readers and encourage you to e-mail me.

This week I just want to give a shout out to Ryan Ro for the feedback I got on the first issue and hope to hear from anyone else who feels like taking the time to drop a note and tell me what’s on their mind.

Mark was a columnist for Pulse Wrestling for over four years, evolving from his original “Historically Speaking” commentary-style column into the Monday morning powerhouse known as “This Week in ‘E.” He also contributes to other ventures, outside of IP, most notably as the National Pro Wrestling Examiner for Examiner.com and a contributor for The Wrestling Press. Follow me on Twitter here.