Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic – Ready to rumble…

Some pro wrestling matches are intense, violent, or high-flying; some feature technical grappling, brawling, power wrestling, or even a little comedy. There are all sorts of matches, and very few can be consistently relied upon to be “fun”, but the WWE’s Royal Rumble match is always a lot of fun, and routinely delivers excitement, entertainment, drama, and more often than not, a fan-pleasing outcome.

TODAY’S ISSUE: The Royal Rumble.

In honor of next week’s Royal Rumble (on ppv 25 January), which will be the WWE’s 22nd annual installment, I went back into the archives and watched many of the previous Rumble matches to take a look at where this unique gimmick match has been, and how enjoyable I found the ride. From superstars with household names like Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Nature Boy Ric Flair, Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock, and John Cena, to relatively unknown underdogs like Barry Horowitz, San Houston, Damien Demento, Virgil, Jim Powers, and Kwang the Ninja; from foreign legends like Carlos Colon, The Great Kabuki, Genichiro Tenryu, and Mil Mascaras, to wrestling icons like Bret the Hitman Hart, the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Triple H, the Undertaker, Rey Mysterio, and Dory Funk, Jr.; from beloved performers like CM Punk, RVD, Matt and Jeff Hardy, and Mick Foley, to late, great warriors like Andre the Giant, Eddie Guerrero, Rick Rude, Davey Boy Smith, Owen Hart, Curt Hennig, Road Warrior Hawk, Bam Bam Bigelow, and Yokozuna, hundreds of wrestlers of all shapes, sizes, styles, and experience levels, even including WWE owner Vince McMahon, have tossed their hat into the ring for that one chance to grab the brass ring by competing in the amazing opportunity that is the Royal Rumble.

Ever since 1993, when the stipulation was added that the winner of the Rumble would go on to face the reigning world champion in the main event of WrestleMania about two months later as the number one contender, the Royal Rumble has been one of the most important matches in WWE. Nature Boy Ric Flair entered the 1992 Rumble at #3 and won not only the match, but the then-vacant WWF championship, and since then, the match has always included the ‘Mania title shot for the winner. A new stipulation was added in 2004, allowing the victor to chose which world title under the WWE umbrella (the WWE Championship or the World Heavyweight Championship) he wished to compete for, including jumping brands in the process if necessary, and in 2007, a third choice became available to Rumble winners when McMahon and company revived the ECW Championship.

WWE would like their fans to believe that “anything can happen” inside the squared circle, but even the greenest enthusiast knows a lower tier guy isn’t about to earn a world title match any time soon. However, within kayfabe, thanks to the Rumble it’s almost possible for an underdog to sneak through the cracks and find himself in the main event of the greatest wrestling spectacle ever by surviving 29 opponents and remaining inside the ring while all the others are tossed over the top rope and outside to the floor. Jim Ross once described it as a two-match series. Somehow, you win the Rumble; then all you have to do is win a single one-on-one match, albeit against one of the greatest performers alive, and you’re the world champ. JR described a guy like Terry Funk, who might not have had the stamina anymore as a senior citizen to withstand a rigorous schedule and earn a title shot the old fashioned way, but who might be able to survive the Rumble and pull a rabbit out of his hat at WrestleMania to shock the world. That is the enormous appeal of the Rumble, and why it’s such a fun match to watch.

The great thing about a Rumble match is that when properly planned, it can remain exciting the whole way through. Just when the contest starts taking on a personality, the Creative Department might toss in a curve ball to change the complexion of the match by bringing out a monster like Kane, Undertaker, Sid, Diesel, Vader, Viscera, or Yokozuna, an intense competitor like Stone Cold, the Hitman, or the Rock who simply will not be denied, or a madman like Mankind or Terry Funk, willing to do anything to their opponents and themselves as they seek victory. So much can happen in this one match. Sometimes tag teams and factions will work together and then against each other in the same contest. New allies will form, friends will become enemies, gangs of wrestlers will team up to toss a big man out, sneaky heels will hide and run for as long as possible, and agile grapplers may survive multiple tosses over the top rope without ever allowing both feet to touch the floor.

The Royal Rumble allows an opportunity for new stories to begin, and for several to advance, with the WrestleMania title shot on the line serving as strong character motivation, thus driving the action up a notch. This unique environment makes it easy to believe that emotions are running hotter than normal, nobody can trust each other, and that the phrase “do unto others” was never more appropriate than on this one crucial Sunday in January. The fans get caught up in this environment, gleefully counting down from 10 to 1 as the next competitor is about to be revealed. Who will it be? How will he (or she) impact the match? Will the underdog who’s already been in the ring longer than anticipated survive this new entrant, or will fatigue and a more rested, stronger participant finally overwhelm the exhausted warrior and bring down the curtain on an impossible performance? Waiting for these answers allows fans to be sucked into the drama, and makes us eagerly await the next wrestler to join the fray.

Davey Boy Smith, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Chris Benoit, and Rey Mysterio have all made outstanding accountings of themselves in individual matches, among others, by enduring lengthy stays inside the ring, while HBK, Benoit, and Mysterio (and technically Vince McMahon) are the only men to start the match at the beginning and go on to win. Why Mysterio entered the 2006 Rumble as #2 was beyond me, since numbers 1 and 2 BOTH have to survive the same amount of time to win anyway. So if the plan all along was for him to start the match at the beginning and win, they should have just announced him first and let him shine in the lofty company of Michaels and Benoit as one of only three men to start the match at #1 and go on to victory, outlasting all 29 other wrestlers in the process. That same year, Mysterio broke the record for lasting the longest in a Rumble match by surviving for 62:12 (the previous record was 61:34, set by Chris Benoit in 2004), and he also became the first superstar in WWE history weighing less than 200 pounds, as well as the first masked superstar, to ever win the Rumble.

Stone Cold Steve Austin has won the most Rumble matches with three victories, and also holds the record for eliminating the most opponents single-handedly throughout all his appearances (36), while Glen “Kane” Jacobs holds an impressive four records: most eliminations in one Rumble (11), most eliminations in a row (7 – tied with Khali), most Rumble appearances (12 – as Kane, Isaac Yankem and the Fake Diesel), and most rumble appearances in a row (10 – as Kane). In the 2007 Rumble, another record was set, this one for the most wrestlers involved in an elimination. It took no less than 8 men to throw Viscera over the top rope, and ironically, the previous record was set in 1994 when 7 men were required to eliminate Viscera, who was then known as Mabel.

While Glen Jacobs competed as three different characters in separate Rumbles, Mick Foley appeared as three different characters in ONE match by entering the 1998 edition in all three of his well-known personas of Dude Love, Cactus Jack, and Mankind. Joanie “Chyna” Laurer is the only female to ever compete in the Royal Rumble, having entered both the 1999 and 2000 events. Terry “The Warlord” Szopinski holds the dubious distinction of having the shortest tenure in any Rumble match (:02 seconds) after being eliminated by Hulk Hogan the instant he set foot inside the ring.

Interestingly enough, although logic would seem to dictate otherwise, more men have started this grueling contest at the beginning and gone on to victory than those who entered at #30. In fact, only two men, John Cena and the Undertaker, have entered last and emerged victorious, while four men, Shawn Michaels, Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio, and Vince McMahon have all started the match at the opening bell and had their hands raised in victory (although McMahon slipped through the ropes early and sat out for most of the 1999 match and only won because Stone Cold had been distracted by the Rock outside the ring).

In the twenty-one Royal Rumble matches since 1988, 13 winners have drawn numbers in the final third (from 21-30), but surprisingly 6 winners drew numbers in the first 10, and only 2 came from the middle segment of entrants. Apparently wrestlers either win it by luck of the draw or by enduring an amazing run from the beginning, but few ever emerge from the middle of the pack to earn the WrestleMania title shot by combining a decent draw with a reasonably difficult effort. There is some luck in the number 27, as four men have drawn #27 and won the Rumble, Big John Studd in 1989, Yokozuna in 1993, Bret Hart who “tied” with Lex Luger in 1994, and Stone Cold Steve Austin in 2001. In ’91, ’98 and 2000 respectively, Hogan, Austin and the Rock each won after entering at #24, so that’s another fairly lucky draw. One more noteworthy statistic is that overwhelmingly (somewhere around 75%), the man who wins the Royal Rumble goes on to win the world title at WrestleMania, so the momentum started by the huge catalyst of outlasting 29 other competitors is often powerful enough to ride right through to the big one, and fans can take a fairly reliable glimpse into WWE’s future booking plans by seeing who emerges victorious this Sunday night.

At different times in Rumble history, factions like the Right to Censor, the Nation of Domination, and DX have ruled the ring, but eventually the pot of gold was too tempting for all of them, and no team ever stayed together as a unit long enough to ensure one of their members would proceed to WrestleMania for a shot at the champ. The possibility of earning the number one contendership has inspired brothers, friends, and teammates to turn on one another, thinking only of their own career opportunities which is, quite frankly, the right thing to do in a situation like the Rumble. You might only get one shot and you need to take it. The 2000 Royal Rumble match produced such a moment as all three members of Too Cool danced in the ring to their theme music for a bit before Rikishi eliminated both Grandmaster Sexay and Scotty Too Hotty. Rikishi had to do what he had to do, but for the other two members of the hip-hop team, it was good while it lasted.

In 1994, Kevin “Diesel” Nash dominated the ring for several entrants, as did Stone Cold in 1997. Austin even had the gall to do push-ups while waiting for his next victim and to stare at an invisible wristwatch as if to say, “how long will it take before I get to throw another piece of trash out of my ring?” In 1996, fans got a brief showdown between monsters when Yokozuna and Vader squared off against each other, and six years earlier it was the collision between Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior in the Rumble that led to one of the most famous main events in WWF history, a clash of world champ versus Intercontinental champ in the first WrestleMania babyface match. Bret Hart and Lex Luger set a template utilized by the Rock and the Big Show six years later (one year early according to Jim Cornette’s seven-year rule) when there was controversy regarding who actually won, leading directly into something other than a single, one-on-one match for the title at WrestleMania.

These moments, among many others, are the special Royal Rumble memories that keep crowds coming back year after year. WWE fans will tune in on pay-per-view this Sunday to see which records might be broken, which underdog might defy the odds, and who will go on to headline the granddaddy of them all, WrestleMania XXV, in Houston, Texas on April 5th. So now there’s one cliché: let’s get ready to rumble!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “How great are the dangers I face to win a good name in Athens.” – Alexander the Great

Elsewhere on Pulse Wrestling this week…

Speaking of pay-per-view, John “The Wiz” Wiswell covered Ring of Honor’s latest ppv outing, Rising Above, which debuted last Friday night.

This Week In ‘E, Mark Allen discusses the massive cuts in WWE’s front office which recently occurred.

Jonathan Kirschner is the CHIKARA master. Just read his Chikarticles and you’ll surely agree!

Scott Keith goes back into the archives once again, looking at an infamous night in WWF history just after the Montreal Screwjob in his latest Smark 24/7 Rant, then reviews WWE’s new DVD release, The History of the Intercontinental Championship.

Norine “The Machine” Stice once again provides the finest blue brand coverage with her Real-Time SmackDown! Report , and newcomer Victor Malar offers his 10 Thoughts on SmackDown! in his debut as a Pulse Wrestling staffer.

Another new arrival to the Pulse Wrestling team also offers his thoughts, as Jake Zeigler brings you 10 Thoughts on TNA iMPACT!, give these newbies a read and a comment, please.

Brad Dykens continues reviewing SHIMMER DVDs, this time with Volume 17.

Finally this week, Mark Allen covers everything in the land of Panda Energy in another Total Nonstop Weekly.

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