The WWE Royal Rumble.
Perhaps the most unique match in wrestling history. Used to highlight numerous stars, but ultimately used to help launch one per match into a different universe. The elements provided include constant gratification, attention adjustment, and hopefully, satisfaction.
There's an awe of watching a wrestler heave opponents over the top rope in various fashions. The anticipation of who will be next. Who will be first? Who will be last? Ultimately, who is left standing? Last year, we took our first extended look at the Royal Rumble match with "Inside The Royal Rumble." We were able to talk to Bret Hart, Kevin Owens, Victoria, announcers, writers and more about their experiences. Inside the Royal Rumble 2 expands with another 20 stars.
Since 1990, every single Royal Rumble winner has also been a world champion in the company, outside of Shinsuke Nakamura, so the company clearly has those names etched in stone pretty well forever. The honor of winning the Rumble is one that lasts a lifetime. Last year we spoke to Bret Hart, Drew McIntyre, and others that had won the Royal Rumble match itself. However, there are so many more supplemental moments that make the Royal Rumble what it is. There are laughs, terror, awe.
In 2021, a big wrench was thrown into the plans as the COVID-19 pandemic caused huge changes.
Fightful learned that there were "numerous" names planned for the WWE Royal Rumble that year that ended up having to be pulled from the match. Jey Uso was advertised for the match before being pulled and wasn't at that week's episode of Smackdown. Fightful was told that Keith Lee and Robert Roode were supposed to be in the match as of several weeks a prior but also ended up being pulled and unable to compete.There were several pitches that didn't end up happening, and changes to the match. Originally, the match was laid out to have Ricochet come out late in the match before that was changed. Another pitch featured the members of Retribution at ringside, with one on three different sides causing mayhem. That didn't end up happening, but a similar spot with Omos did. Those who were wondering where Buddy Murphy was during the match, he was slated as a Royal Rumble alternate for the show. In addition, we're told that Cedric Alexander was set as an alternate. 2021 ended up being the most heavily changed match in Rumble history behind the scenes.
2022 looks do be different as WWE has contingency plans in place
Let's look back at some of the....less chaotic times, as if there could be such a thing in a match built off of chaos itself.
There are tons of emotional moments that will live forever, and are remembered just as fondly as the victories themselves. In general, WWE and pro wrestling/sports entertainment, are variety shows, and the Royal Rumble is such a perfect example of that. One of the earliest instances came in the 1991 Royal Rumble. Armed with his signature Bushwhacker walk, Luke walked into the Rumble, and was promptly eliminated by Earthquake.
The spot was cooked up by the godfather of the Royal Rumble match, Pat Patterson.
Luke recalled, "That came from Pat Patterson to go out. But, Butch said, pump those arms when you go out." Bushwhacker Butch added, "Keep walking! ‘Keep marching,’ I said."
Four seconds later, Luke was gone.
Luke followed, remembering that his tag partner lasted about 151 times as long as him -- "Yeah, ‘Keep marching.’ Of course, that began very notoriously. It was only two years ago that Vince stopped playing that in the pre-Royal Rumble. He played that clip for 18 years and that kept me in the people’s eye, that moment. Of course, on top of that, Butch was in there for ten minutes. I was in there for four seconds. Of course, when we got the checks, I got the same as Butch."
To this day, Bushwhacker Butch still ribs his longtime friend and tag team partner about it. Money talks, and unfortunately for Butch, it didn't say much more for his longer performance.
"I’ve never ever let him forget it, either," Butch told Fightful. "How I was working my bloody ass off for ten minutes, and you gotta keep going all the time, ‘cause you don’t know which camera’s on you. So, you can’t just stand there. I’m working my guts off for ten minutes, here comes Luke, takes three or four steps in the ring, marching, hits the deck, he marches out. I went out of the match after him, didn’t I? I was bugging and I was puffing and I was scratching and I knew I had another five minutes left. Oh, boy. When the checks came around and I knew that he’d got the same as me, boy, was I mad. But, it was the greatest thing, though. We laugh about it now. They used to talk about that more. They didn’t care who was in the ring for how long. They didn’t care who won what battle royal anywhere. All they ever said, which one of you two marched in the ring, marched on through, got thrown over the top, and kept marching, and that’s all they would ask. They might’ve forgot which one it was, but once they knew, they never ever forgot."
Over 25 years later, the "Bushwhacker spot" lives on, as Mike Bennett will let you know of his Greatest Royal Rumble appearance. The eventual 24/7 Champion was flown all the way to Saudi Arabia for a quick appearance, and a really nice payday.
"They tell us ‘We’re gonna line up certain guys and then those guys were gonna get eliminated.’ But, for me, it was easy. ‘Cause, here’s a scoop. They came right in and they were like, ‘Alright, Mike—’ I don’t remember what number I was, fifth? Sixth, maybe? I don’t know. Twelve? I have no idea. But, they go, ‘You have the Bushwhackers spot’ and I went, ‘Sweet. Awesome.’ Everyone knew what that was. I went, ‘So, hold on. You flew me away from my two week old daughter so I could come do the Bushwhacker… Okay. Thank God you’re paying me a lot of money for that, because…’ I remember I was getting ready, I was oiling up in the trainer room and Orton, [whose] always been so good to me. I don’t know why, but he’s always gone above and beyond and just been so kind to me. He’s always the guy that was like, ‘I hope you get a spot. So, I’m oiling up, I’m getting ready and Orton comes in, ‘Oh, what are you doing in the Rumble?’ I was like, ‘I got the Bushwhacker spot.’ He just stopped and went, ‘Really?’ I went, ‘Yeah. I’m gonna make the most of it.’ He’s like, ‘That’s all you can do.’ It was just one of those things. So, I was like, ‘I’m gonna come out,’ I talked to Mark Henry, I was like, ‘Here’s what we’re gonna do.’ ‘Cool. Whatever.’ At the end of the day you just gotta laugh it off and make the most of it," he said.
As the decades rolled on, comedy in the Royal Rumble has evolved (or devolved, according to your tastes). While a quick elimination can garner some laughs, there are times that not even making it to the ring can create moments. Scotty 2 Hotty was an example of that.
There were absolutely zero people who believed that Scott was going to win any Rumble matches or even have a deep run. However, he was perpetually over and very sympathetic as a member of the Too Cool trio. In 2000, fellow members Rikishi and Grand Master Sexay got to dance together in the middle of the ring...in Madison Square Garden!
Scotty said "I think that was definitely a career highlight, if you look back. It’s the Royal Rumble, it’s Madison Square Garden, it’s sold out, it’s at the peak of the Attitude Era and we just stop the Rumble to do the dance and blow the roof off the place. It’s one of those things; nobody can ever take this away from us. We had this magical moment out there that was awesome. I can remember I didn’t know about it until the day of the Rumble and I walked in and I saw the line-up on the wall. I can remember Pat Patterson explaining it to us. He was there right at that moment, gave us the rough idea about what was going to happen. It’s one of those things, when it happens and he’s telling you, you don’t realize twenty-something years later it’s going to be still such a cool thing, right?"
The spot put "smiles on faces" as WWE often touts their knack for. The next two years certainly didn't put a smile on the character Scotty 2 Hotty's face. Though, Scott Garland, the man behind the character remembers it fondly.
The year was 2001. WWF had firmly cemented its status as the top wrestling company in the world and was preparing for a major change. They were so stacked, that you'd often see Kane and The Undertaker join forces as the Brothers of Destruction. That happened in the 2001 Rumble, where the two were destroying everything in their path. A nervous Scotty approached the ring, cautious and aware of the fate that awaited him. The moment served numerous purposes -- putting over the two men in the ring, the person walking up the ramp, and the gravity of the situation.
In 2002, The Undertaker was busy beating the brakes off of rookie Maven after a shocking elimination. Scotty 2 Hotty, unfortunately (for him), was next up, and got attacked en route to the ring. He was promptly eliminated when he actually made it in. In 2005, he was attacked before he hit the ring and never even made it in, thanks to Muhammad Hassan.
"There were two Royal Rumble moments with ‘Taker because I came out with Maven, but there was when my music hit Kane and Undertaker were the only two guys in the ring staring down the aisle at me. Usually, I come out dancing and jumping around and I walked out. I always had a regret with—I mean, it played out perfectly—but it would have been even better with Kane and Undertaker if when I finally got in there, I pulled out two pairs of yellow glasses like I wanted them to dance, then they goozle me and chokeslam me. But who knows? It turned out awesome anyway. It’s crazy to think back. I was probably was in the Royal Rumble, all the Royal Rumbles I was in, a combined minute. But they were pretty cool moments, right? Crazy. So I’m still in one of those Rumbles, right? Because I never actually got in there. Yeah, but you know what? If I had just gone out there and stayed in there for fifteen minutes with none of that, no one would remember any of it. That’s the crazy part, right?," Scotty told us.
In last year's edition, we heard from Ricardo Rodriguez, who remembered his hilarious Rumble moment. It featured Ricardo returning in place of an injured Alberto Del Rio, complete with entrance music, scarf, and vehicle. In 2016, Del Rio remembered discovering the moment happened, because he wasn't watching it live!
"I didn't know that," Del Rio said. "I was in Miami at the time, and I got a text from Vince. It said 'Alberto, WTF. Hahaha.' I didn't know what was going on. I text somebody and they said 'You didn't see what just happened?! You better not tell Vince.' I turn on the TV on the PPV, hit rewind. There's Ricardo in my car, wearing my scarf. It's a classic moment. I called him, and he said they came to him. I asked 'Did you have fun?' and he said 'the time of my life.' It was fun to hear the reaction from the crowd, I was out with injury at the time. They hear my music, there's his car and Ricardo with all of his muscles."
THE GREATEST ROYAL RUMBLE
Del Rio himself was a Rumble winner the one year that the match was composed of 40 stars instead of 30. We've seen 20, 30, and 40-man Royal Rumble matches across the three-plus decades of the historic match, but the company went one step beyond in 2018. After landing a controversial deal to see WWE run events in conjunction with the Saudi government, a 50-man "Greatest Royal Rumble" was announced.
There was plenty to remember about that match. It was the longest in Rumble history, the biggest. Daniel Bryan, now Bryan Danielson, lasted an hour and sixteen minutes. But that's not what anyone talks about. Everyone remembers Titus World Slide.
Titus O'Neil approached the ring late in the match at number 39, only to trip, stumble and slide underneath the ring in a hilarious accident.
"That was an epic Titus O’Neil slip, remember?," the former Sin Cara/Hunico told Fightful, who watched from backstage following his elimination. "I know a lot of people when they think about it, they laugh. We laughed in the back. It was crazy. But, then if you really look back, if you would have had the old wrestling ring with the screen. Imagine. He could have really hurt himself, broken his neck or something. But, good thing that the ring he could have gone underneath and there was a little barrier also in the middle and he went in the side. If he would have hit it, something really bad could have happened. So, inside of all that funny stuff that happened, that’s my way of thinking. ‘Man, you could have really hurt yourself or something really bad could have happened.’ But, I’m glad that he didn’t. It was just a funny moment and I got to live that. It was a lot of fun. He’s a good guy, too."
Brian Myers, formerly known as Curt Hawkins, was tasked with coming out shortly after, which put him in a memorable scene for that one.
"I was in Gorilla for because I was coming out right after. It was people laughing in a way I’d never seen people laugh in my life. Crippling with laughter. Wild." Myers said, clarifying that nobody thought he was hurt. "That was such an afterthought because obviously, he was fine because he popped right out. If he was under there for a minute, I think people would have got scared. But he didn’t even give them time to be concerned. He came right out. So everyone just lost it like, ‘No way that just happened.’"
The situation was a happy accident as it turned out, as he avoided any injury. During most shows at that period, where the ring apron was usually housed thick LED boards that would not have been forgiven.
Talent in the ring also said Titus trying to make up for it by violently decking everyone in the ring.
Due to the expanded roster necessary -- and as some unique demands from the Saudi hosts that included long since deceased wrestlers.
"I do remember the rumors swirling—let’s throw an ‘allegedly’ in front of this—were true, like the Saudis had a list of demands. That’s why, if you watch that thing, every freak-sized guy from NXT was randomly there, people who’d never even wrestled yet were there. I guess they asked for Yokozuna and Ultimate Warrior was the rumor," said Myers. "But then we had a legitimate sumo there, who spoke Japanese and not English, and had never wrestled before in his life. Jamie Noble’s running this huge meeting, telling us what’s going on. He’s like, ‘Alright, and then sumo brother’s gonna come out there,’ he’s standing there and has no clue what’s going on. It was kind of surreal to be part of."
Mike Bennett remembered the odd requests, as well.
Bennett said, "So random. So, what I’ve heard is they wanted Yokozuna. They wanted Yokozuna and someone had to explain to the prince that he was no longer alive. So, they were like, ‘Just get any sumo wrestler.’ Yeah. They were also gonna do a Hornswoggle match, too, that they ended up cutting. So, they actually brought over a guy, his name is Robbie Araujo, who’s an independent wrestler, they flew him over there and he did nothing. He was supposed to wrestle Hornswoggle. Flew him over there, he did absolutely nothing. I think he did JBL or J-Wee-L, or whatever they were doing at the time. But, yeah. They brought him over and then just completely canned it."
While they couldn't resurrect anyone, WWE brought in several names from the past. One of those included former World Heavyweight Champion and film star Great Khali, who never spoke the best English, which kept some of the laughs going based on one specific interaction.
Myers said "I’ve been around Khali since day one ‘cause he was a Deep South guy in ’06 before we debuted him. Me and Broski would have to stay after practice and get demolished by him. We’ve known him for a long time. You’re jarring all these funny memories. I remember seeing him that day because we hadn’t seen him in a while. We were bullshitting with him, sitting in catering and the boys kind of ball busting. We were making fun of him that he knows nobody’s name even though he’s been around us for like ten / fifteen years. ‘Hey, man,’ everyone’s just whatever. So Gallows, who knows him very well, was with him in Deep South, wrestled him a million times, is like, ‘Hey Khali, what’s my name?’ He’s like, ‘Drew.’ We’re like, ‘Holy shit! He knows his name!’ Then Windham—Bray Wyatt—tries to go, ‘Khali, what about me? What’s my real name?’ He goes, ‘Michael Hayes, man.’ You talk about a locker room pop, the boys fucking exploded."
The process of putting that Rumble together was a remarkable job simply because of its enormity. WWE had a method to their madness, with producer Jamie Noble leading the charge.
"I think they were doing it in sections," Myers said. "Basically, when you’re out you could walk away until it got down to who was up next. Braun Strowman won it. I think I do a funny spot with Braun where I run away from him and he beats the crap out of me on the ramp. I had the ramp implanted on me because it hurt so bad.No, you just got your thing and scram. It was this massive, almost an indoor soccer field we’re all standing around talking it out on.
Mojo Rawley told Fightful that the process was chaotic, even though it was streamlined about as well as it could be.
"Man, those things are all over the place, bro. Yeah, there’s usually a little list. But a lot of it’s on the fly. You might get some pointers while you’re in there. There isn’t like a setlist like, ‘Number one, this guy eliminates that guy.’ Sometimes there are, but when you got fifty people, you can’t wait in succession ‘cause it’s just gonna take too long and no one can see across the ring to know who’s been eliminated let alone know who’s left. So, it gets crazy, man. Those things can be a blur sometimes," Mojo said.
Rawley spent about nine minutes in the Greatest Royal Rumble himself. He tossed out the Breezango duo of Fandango and Tyler Breeze, but there was consideration for Mojo to have a much different role on the Saudi shows.
"That one was kind of funny, actually," Mojo said. "So, I have an Arab background. Half of my dad’s family lives in Saudi. My whole family speaks Arabic. I’m learning. So, every time we would go to Saudi, they would always send me over a week or two ahead of time. For PR, for promos, community service. Whatever we could do. I always wanted to go. I loved it. It was great and I’d get to see my family. So, that was always one of my favorite parts of the gig over the past nine / ten years was moments like this. Especially international travel. The Saudi battle royal was funny because they were trying to figure out who they wanted to be as their figurehead or spokesperson for that market. For all promos it was me. They had me in that role, but they brought in Mansoor, whose family is also from Saudi. He looks Arab. I don’t look Arab at all. They were trying to figure out, ‘Do we use them both? Do we use one?’ So, I remember, it was so funny because in the creative meeting they were like, ‘Alright, who are we going to win this thing?’ There were some people that wanted Mansoor and there were some people that wanted me. They were like, ‘Dude, Mojo’s already on the main roster. He’s already been here for promo and whatnot. Let’s use him.’ They decide to use Mansoor, and I’m so happy for him. He’s worked his butt off in a lot of different ways to be the representative there. I just remember it was funny because, I guess when they decided Mansoor was going to be the guy, they were like, ‘Well, shoot, we can’t have two Arab representatives in the ring at the same time. It’s gonna split the crowd. We gotta get Mojo out of this thing ASAP.’ So, I think, first commercial break they were like, ‘Just toss out Mojo and get him out of there so it doesn’t split the crowd,’ and that’s what happened. It was kind of funny. I was like, ‘Guys, you do realize I’ve been here for two weeks on TV every day in the region? You’re aware of this, right?’ We could do a tag team thing over here or I could always be the heel to build him up or whatever you guys want. Whatever. Well, you never know what actually goes on behind closed doors. I had just heard that this was one of the conversations that was had. So, it was funny. But, Mansoor’s done a hell of a job over there and again, he is the part but he also looks the part, too."
Mansoor has been one of the flag bearers for WWE in the country, winning a 50-man battle royal the following year that wasn't in the Royal Rumble format, and going undefeated across the last three years there.
Women's Royal Rumbles
Also, in 2018, a significant shift in the Royal Rumble was made, as women got their own Rumble match. Before that, the likes of Awesome Kong, Chyna, and Beth Phoenix had entered the men's version of the match, which technically was never gender-specific.
Like the men's Royal Rumble, the women's version has plenty of surprises.
In 2020, a former Tough Enough competitor and IMPACT Knockouts Champion Chelsea Green was among those.
"Nobody told me I was gonna be in the Royal Rumble. I just showed up and they threw me in," Green recalled to Fightful. "I actually had heard the year I got hired my name had been thrown around for that Royal Rumble in 2019 to come out for the Royal Rumble as the Hot Mess. Whether that’s true or not, I heard that and that’s awesome. That was cool. Then when it came to the Royal Rumble, Robert Stone and I did talk about, ‘This is a possibility this year. You’re on TV. You done a couple of Main Events and RAWs and you’re on NXT TV. This could happen.’ But, we never heard anything and we got a notification in our WWE app saying that, ‘There is a dress rehearsal for the Royal Rumble that you’re needed for.’ So, I texted them, ‘Wait, are we in? What’s happening?’"
Green had a stop-and-start WWE run that involved teases of an NXT tag team, an appearance on Raw and Main Event, and then this particular Royal Rumble appearance. She looked back at the process and prepared for a complete uncertainty.
"I believe it was like the day before. I got that and I got all my flight information and it was maybe the next day or something like that. But, luckily we had spoken about it, so I was ready. I’m always ready with gear. Always. I didn’t know if I was going to be in WrestleMania in 2020, but I had WrestleMania gear ready and I had backup WrestleMania gear ready and I had Smackdown and RAW, just in case they wanted me to debut, gear ready. So, I’m good on that front," Green laughed.
Maria Kanellis was on the roster the year prior but hadn't been actively competing. Her appearance in the Rumble was a surprise considering she'd not regularly competed in two years prior. She looked back on being asked.
"I’m sure it was just a text message. I’m sure it was a text message from Mark Carrano. I had new clothes and everything. I was ready to go. It was exciting. Coming back and wrestling, especially because I don’t take it so seriously any more, is so much fun," Maria told Fightful.
As mentioned, Maria hadn't regularly competed for years prior and said that though she was familiar with some of the talent, she was well protected during the eight minutes she was in the match.
"I was in there for a bit. I was taken care of. I was really well taken care of. I had been training. I was taken care of by the other girls. They were so lovely to me. They just took care of me. Some (were people I'd never worked with). But, some I had known from the indies, too. So, it was a little bit of both," Maria said.
As has been the case with so many big women's matches in recent years, TJ Wilson, the former Tyson Kidd, was credited with helping put it together.
"I believe TJ was there to help with it, too. It was a collective effort, for sure. He fights for the girls. Fit always fought for us girls. So, that’s the biggest part about it. Knowing what the girls can do and fighting for it," said Maria, who would go on to help do much of the same for Ring of Honor's women's division in 2021.
One NXT star got to experience two wide ends of the spectrum as far as the Royal Rumble goes. In 2020, Dakota Kai got the call to participate in the stadium show at Minute Maid Park. The following year, she was in another baseball stadium, Tropicana Field. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fans weren't present for the event. Instead, the WWE had virtual fans as a part of the Thunderdome.
"It still meant a lot to me to be included in (the 2021 Rumble)," Dakota told Fightful. "Obviously, any of the girls included from NXT, and, given they couldn’t include as many just because of the circumstances with COVID and things like that. They had to keep it pretty low key in terms of the number of girls they could use. But, it still meant a lot to me just because the Royal Rumble is my favorite pay-per-view, too. Growing up watching it, I think it’s just this weird thing when you’re watching it. You’re constantly getting excited. Every few minutes a new entrant comes out. It’s like this amazing match filled with surprise and shock returns."
The contrast was evident for Dakota, who had appeared on some big shows for WWE in the past. Walking out as a surprise entrant on its own was enough for her.
Kai said, "(2020) was crazy and the entrance itself, in that stadium, that was all that I needed. I didn’t care about the rest of what I was doing. I could have been in there for one second and it wouldn’t have mattered because the vibe of the live crowd, especially a big pay-per-view like that, took my breath away. Us NXT girls also got to watch the men’s match, too, later on that night, and none of us knew Edge was coming back. So, we’re just sitting up top and it happens—oh, my God. Like, that moment was insane and we were all little kids again. It was cool."
Kai remembered being given the good news that she'd get to be a part of a match that almost every childhood WWE fan grows up.
Kai said, "In 2020, I’m pretty sure it was the day after World’s Collide. So, we had a little promo—me and Tegan—on that show. We all got told after that. It was very last minute. We were all rushed onto the bus to go get ready for it and that was cool. That was super, super cool. (In 2021) we found out a few weeks prior, which was also cool. It was myself and Shotzi and Rhea and then Toni as well. We were all pulled into Coach Bloom’s office and told. They really like sharing that information with us ‘cause it’s such a cool, exciting time. Us girls were super, super happy. It’s a nice little moment, you know? Like, there were no cameras around. It was nothing over the top, but it was just nice for him to deliver that news to us and it felt special just because of the limitations and restrictions in which NXT is being used with RAW and Smackdown."
For the 2022 Royal Rumble, a much different approach was taken to many of the surprises, as over a half-dozen women that weren't a part of the regular roster were announced three weeks before the match itself. When Fightful inquired about this, we were told that this was to increase ticket sales and buzz for the show and that backups and other surprises would also be prepared. In addition, the people contacted to be surprise entrants didn't know they'd be announced ahead of time!
Ain't I Great?
For years, Royal Rumble surprises have been a mainstay in the match. With debuting stars and legends making their way in for the match. That variety show aspect coming back into play. In 2019, Jeff Jarrett rejoined WWE as a producer and popped up in the Rumble as an in-ring performer.
"From the Hall of Fame the previous year and fast forward twelve of months, the discussion and, at times lack of discussions and I’ll say one-on-one discussions, it literally came about because I left—the very condensed version that goes into it—I left my house, either a Thursday or Friday morning, and was in the gym, got a text, ‘Hey, can you talk?’ ‘Sure.’ I said, ‘Let me finish my work out,’ went out to the car, took the call and that was like nine days before Royal Rumble," said Jarrett to Fightful.
The last-minute nature of these surprises is a shocker in its own to many, Jarrett included.
The co-host of Ad Free Shows' My World Podcast, Jarrett remembered the conversation. "I’m like, ‘You realize that event is next weekend? Thanks for the head’s up. I’m glad I’m still in the gym and ready to go.’ But, no, the call came quickly and the layers that go into it and then really, quite frankly, what transpired out of that is a cool story. Conrad a couple of times over the last sixty days when we just touched on things and had some text exchanges, and I’ll say, you just wait until the mic’s hot on this one. It’s one of those stories that’s going to be exciting."
There were plenty of different iterations of Jeff Jarrett across WWF, WCW, NWA, and TNA, but the 1995-1997 horribly striped gear prevailed as the big return presentation. We asked Jarrett if he had to have special gear made.
"Now, Sean, you are really telling on yourself," Jarrett joked. "If you watch, you would have known that ain’t new gear. I mean, I cracked up. I’ll leave this, when we get to that episode, some comments were made through headsets and that question was asked. They said, ‘Where the hell did he get this?’ Somebody said that and then the answer was, ‘He dug it out of his pack rack closet.’ I’ve never thrown anything away. What’s funny is that hat, that is the original hat that they saved. So, hat’s off to the WWE warehouse. But, that hat has seen its better days. But, no, that was all original gear."
The aforementioned Chelsea Green also had her outfit good to go, saying "I had that pink outfit ready and planned for the Royal Rumble just in case. You don’t even want to see the amount of gear I have for things I thought I was going to do. I probably have twelve sets of gear I’ve never worn sitting, waiting for me, and I have four pairs of boots."
It's not just legends like Jarrett who are popping up in the Rumble or people who have had runs in competing companies like Laurel Van Ness/Chelsea Green. Well, 2019 had Jarrett and also highlighted NXT talent as the brand marched its way towards a prime-time cable TV deal later that year. Johnny Gargano recently left WWE as his contract expired, but growing up a WWE fan, appearing as #6 in the 2019 Royal Rumble was a bucket list moment.
Gargano said "Royal Rumble was always one of the main things I wanted to do, it's my favorite pay-per-view. To get the chance to be in it. I found out...I had a feeling, a vibe that I was going to be in the Royal Rumble, but I didn't know for sure. I didn't find out for sure until literally the night before at TakeOver. TakeOver just ended and Hunter pulled us all aside; me, Aleister, Pete Dunne, and told us we were going to be in the Royal Rumble the next night. Candice was told she was going to be in the Royal Rumble earlier in the week. I got the vibe I was going to be in it too, but I was officially told the night before at like 11:30, and then I had to get ready for it. I told my mom, because she was in town for TakeOver, 'Hey, maybe you should stay and go to the Royal Rumble too because I'm in it.' It's cool because Candice's parents and my mom got to go to the Royal Rumble the next day and see us. It's my favorite pay-per-view of all-time so to get the chance to be in it is amazing."
Since NXT has become a brand of its own and doesn't regularly feature Raw or Smackdown talent, bringing up that bubbling under talent to be spotlighted is an easy way for WWE to make a special moment, which they did with one of their top stars a few years back. Adam Cole was all too familiar with that as well. Just a few months after his NXT debut, he made a huge leap to appear in the Royal Rumble match itself in 2018. As seems to be the tradition within the company, if you're under contract to WWE, you pretty well learn of your spot in the Rumble within a day or two prior to it happening.
"I found out less than twenty-four hours before," Adam Cole told Fightful. "I was pulled into a room after Takeover and Triple H was the one who told me. He goes, ‘Hey, congratulations. You’re gonna be in the Royal Rumble tomorrow.’ This was right after my extreme rules match with Aleister Black. But, aside from being such a massive fan of the Royal Rumble, that one was in Philadelphia and I used to go to shows in Philadelphia all the time. That was like, I would get there at noon and it has a certain parking lot where you can sit there and you can watch all the guys show up in their cars or limos or whatever. So, I can’t tell you how many events I’ve been to in Philly. So, to be able to do the Royal Rumble in Philadelphia where I trained to be a wrestler, where I would go to shows all the time, and as a surprise, and for the fans to be excited about it. I was like, ‘Oh, my God. What an amazing thing to check off the bucket list.’ It was awesome."
Some that have recently left the company, like Scotty 2 Hotty, are open to popping back up in the match.
"Yeah. I have nothing against it. Dude, I grew up a WWF fan. I’m still a fan. I want the best for everybody, but I was there for five years and available for five Rumbles and nobody said anything. They tend to use the same people over and over and over. I don’t know. It was a weird thing, you know?" Scotty said.
Not all Royal Rumbles are created equal. In fact, not all of them even made television. In 1994, a special, house show Royal Rumble,m was held in Madison Square Garden. In asking Jeff Jarrett about it, he didn't have any sentimental connection, but he recalled being volunteered to eat an elimination from a prominent name.
Jarrett said, "Back then, obviously the world has changed, we’re sitting here talking on a Zoom call and video and you’ll throw it online in just a minute. The quote unquote pay-per-view was in Providence, if I recall correctly, but the amount of events we did back then—we were ten days on, three days off, four days on, four days off—so it was a complete churn, it was another live event that we cranked out. Obviously, it was the Garden and every time you step foot in the Big Apple in that arena, it’s special. But, it’s like, ‘Oh, wow. This is different.’ Like I said, rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. But, it’s a unique story that that day of the Royal Rumble with Savage. Savage is the one who eliminated me. Going around and Pat Patterson in the room, Savage walking up to me and said, ‘Hey, I volunteered. I’m going to eliminate you.’ Just all the cool stuff that goes into the making of that match."
The legendary Owen Hart would go on to win the match.
One oft-forgotten Rumble that did make air took place in 2004. Plenty of Royal Rumbles that deviated from the standard formula, but hardly any of them are remembered with over 30 classic ones taking place. In 2004, Chuck Palumbo didn't enter the 30-man Royal Rumble on pay-per-view, but participated in two Royal Rumbles. However, they were mini Royal Rumbles! The first featured his fellow Full Blooded Italian members Johnny Stamboli and Nunzio being defeated by the eventual 2004 Rumble winner. As punishment, only one of the trio got to enter the 30-man contest, and the three of them had to compete in another mini-Rumble the next week to determine that.
Palumbo remembered how those matches went, and how he felt with his spot as a supporting player, saying "Did they lay it out ahead of time? No. I think that was a fly by the seat of their pants thing. As was a lot of things. For a midcard guy or midcard stable to have something laid out three or four weeks in advance? That’s a rarity, you know what I mean? So, yeah, I really didn’t know. Back then it was a week to week thing. I think I was content with it. I gotta be honest with you. I was always pretty content with the fact that I was on the show. Obviously you want to continue to grow. So, those were my concerns more than anything else was to continue to climb the ladder. But, I tell people this all the time—I come from humble beginnings. So, the fact that I’m wrestling in the WWE and I’m on TV every week, making good money, more money that I’ve ever seen, it doesn’t get much better than that for me. I was happy."
Kurt Angle never won a WWE Royal Rumble, but came close a couple of times, including that night in 2004. Eddie Guerrero would win, but Angle was the runner-up. The WWE Hall of Famer told Fightful it was much more relaxed.
"The one on TV was a lot less organized," Angle remembered. "The pay-per-view one they want to make sure they nail it and it has to be perfect. The timing, when guys exit the ring and when they come into the ring. There’s a lot of timing issues that you have to make sure you’re dead on with. But the one on Smackdown, we had a little more leeway. It was a pre-recorded show. So, if someone messed up, we could edit it. It was a little bit different from the regular Royal Rumble matches."
Producing Moments, Big and Small
A lot has changed about the Royal Rumble since its inception. From stakes, to intervals, to who can be involved in the match itself, and who helps out with it. Originally Pat Patterson cooked up the concept, and in recent years, others have taken responsibility for planning it all out.
Jeff Jarrett served as a producer, and had a little bit of experience in helping set up Rumble-style matches prior to rejoining WWE.
"As we get into the TNA years and we call it Gauntlet for the Gold and the ins and outs, and the ebbs and flows. Chris Park—The Monster, Abyss—he had a real good mind. There’s certain guys that have the ability to step back and look at all thirty, or twenty competitors, or forty competitors, whatever. That’s really what you have to do, is take a step back and look at the big picture and make sure that—whether it’s a one on one match or a triple threat or a tag or six man tag—you gotta have the ebbs and flows, the rollercoaster—if you will—the ups and downs that really tell the viewer, the consumer, the right story. It’s a real fascinating thing that when people hear it for the first time they’re like, ‘I never really thought of it that way," said Jarrett.
With 30, and sometimes many more competitors in the Rumble match, one would imagine the undertaking is quite difficult. We were told how exactly to navigate yourself if you're just a member of the pack and not getting quite the shine others were.
Chuck Palumbo reminisced, saying "You kinda knew what number you were. I remember always—‘always,’ it was only a couple of times—I remember just trying to remember who was going out before me. You got a lot of guys, right? Royal Rumbles are tough, and dangerous—number one.. It’s dangerous, there’s too many guys in there. Number two—they’re all over the place. Then some guys are trying to get high spots off in the ring when there’s all these guys. It ends up just being a lot of punching and kicking, unfortunately. I get it. I get the whole gimmick."
Not being the top guy doesn't mean that you won't get SOME shine. Specifically, Palumbo remembered one Royal Rumble All-Star trying to help him look as good as possible while he was in the ring.
"At MSG when I was doing the biker gimmick, I believe Shawn Michaels was in it. I remember Shawn, who I always respected as a worker—great talent—I remember he told me, ‘Hey, give me an overhead press.’ I remember at the time I had a super nagging rotator cuff injury. So, I don’t know if he was punching me or what, we were talking in there, but I was like, ‘I can’t, my shoulder’s messed up.’ But, I was thinking, ‘Gosh, here’s a guy that’s way over and he’s asking me to do an overhead military press.’ Which I thought was cool. That basically builds my character. I couldn’t’ do it ‘cause my shoulder was shot. So, unfortunately that’s one of my memories. The other one was, I don’t know if Austin threw me out of the other one when I was doing the Billy & Chuck character—we didn’t say much, I don’t remember. Yeah, I just remember they’re kind of a cluster," Palumbo said.
The Rumble shine is essential. When you look at specific Royal Rumbles, the match serves as a first impression of some characters for many fans. When Johnny Gargano made that surprise appearance, he got to toss out Jinder Mahal, a much larger, former WWE Champion.
Gargano told us, "Luckily enough, I'd been with NXT and the company long enough to where I have a decent reputation, so it's not just a random guy in a Royal Rumble. Everyone was on the same page and wanted to make the best of the situation, and make a cool moment happen. He's a big dude, but I've been in the company long enough and everyone is a big dude compared to me. I love the fact that we've gotten beyond that and size doesn't matter as much anymore. Daniel Bryan kinda kicked that door down for us."
For the Olympian, eventual Hall of Famer, and well... almost every championship holder Kurt Angle, eliminating a mastodon like Bill Goldberg was pretty simple.
"I didn’t work with him much. All I did was snuck up behind him and threw him over the top rope. So, it wasn’t that difficult. Sorry, Bill. I didn’t mean that you were hard to throw over the top rope. It was an easy spot to do. I just had to show up, throw him over the top rope and continue on," said Angle. "The Royal Rumble matches aren’t that difficult. You do your spots and you pretty much just hang out in the ring and try to chop wood for a while. You wait for the next guy to come in to do his little comeback on everybody and then things calm down a little bit. Then somebody gets thrown out, then another guy comes down the aisle and they get in the ring, you give them their shine. So, it’s a continuous process throughout the whole match. It’s pretty easy psychology. You just have to know when you’re supposed to be feeding the individual and when you’re supposed throw the individual over the top rope."
The opposite of Bill Goldberg and Kurt Angle was probably Curt Hawkins and Titus O'Neil. In 2019, Hawkins was deep in the middle of an all-time losing streak that played a huge part in his career. Titus was just a few months removed from that infamous sliding incident. O'Neil would follow that up by being eliminated in mere seconds by Hawkins. Brian Myers, who portrayed Curt Hawkins, says that he wished he'd been able to play up his losing streak more in the year prior.
Myers told Fightful "That was really fun, actually. I was always jealous. Even though he’s one of my best friends, I thought the year before I should have had Heath’s spot ‘cause I was doing a losing streak. He was on the ramp. I thought that was an awesome spot. But I was doing the losing streak thing, he really wasn’t doing anything on TV. But Heath’s so lovable and has that role in history in WWE. So he can fill that role whenever.The best and he cried all through that. ‘Man, they’re jobbing me out!’ We’re like, ‘Dude, this is one of the coolest spots you’re ever gonna do in your career.’ I think now he thinks of it like that, but back then, I think, he was hoping to be champ. I was real jealous that he got to do that. ‘Cause my losing streak deal, in that spot, keep getting drilled by guys on the ramp would have ruled. To finally be in a real Rumble, but in a massive baseball stadium was so cool and to have a cool spot, that wasn’t forgettable, I thought it was great. I got a nice little pop. That was right when the losing streak was so deep that the crowd was starting to turn for me, too, so I got a nice little reaction, I thought. It was a pretty cool moment."
Lovable losers have etched their place into regularity in the Royal Rumble match. Just today we've heard about Santino Marella's near-victory and Curt Hawkins' big elimination. One of the most memorable in the early years of the women's Rumble happened in 2020. Before he was the Alpha Academy Tree Trunk, Otis was vying for the affection of future NXT Women's Champion Mandy Rose. As Mandy faced a sure-elimination--Otis rolled from under the ring, letting Mandy land on him.
As inconsistent as the Royal Rumble rules can be, the "don't let both feet hit the floor" has become quite literal. Mandy stood on a prone Otis and made her way back in the ring. For Mandy, it remains a career highlight years later.
"That was probably still top two, now I have obviously the women's champion moment and that's number one, but that was definitely one of the top moments of my career. Just getting that crowd reaction. You see it in the video when I finally stood back up on the apron and the crowd erupted. Obviously, the fans were really behind Otis and our storyline. It was that Beauty & The Beast and they saw a different side of me as well, which was kind of cool. The process of being involved with Dolph and Sonya, there were so many parts of the story and we were really involved in that storyline, the creative aspect of it. Sonya and I were really on top of things because we really wanted to make this storyline and feud be amazing. Obviously, in the end, it didn't turn out the best because of the situation but overall, it was during the pandemic, and WrestleMania with no fans, but we had the biggest social reaction of the year and it was a lot of fun. Otis is so much fun to be around and so great to work with," she said.
Mandy also said it's a heavily collaborative effort these days, as opposed to decades prior when only one or two people masterminded the Rumble.
"That spot, specifically, I don't remember but I know it was a collaboration with a few of us. It might have been TJ Wilson, Michael Hayes. John Laurinaitis too. It was a bunch of us that came up with it and it worked out perfectly, thank God. It was awesome," Mandy remembered.
There Can Only Be One....Usually
Ultimately, it all comes down to two people. There's a winner who stands out from the pack, and a loser, who is in the same boat as (usually) 29 others. In both 2002, and the 2004 Smackdown Rumble, that was Kurt Angle. With all the accolades that Angle posseses, the Royal Rumble is still the big one that eludes him.
Angle said "I distinctly remember the Royal Rumble where it ended up with Triple H and myself at the end of the match. That was a very special Royal Rumble. I think Triple H just came back from injury, I believe. So, it was a good time and Triple H picked me to be the final one to throw over the top rope. I thought that was a great compliment. It was his night to shine. It wasn’t mine, unfortunately. I never won a Royal Rumble. I wish I did. It’s the one thing that I wanted to do to put a feather in my cap in my career, but it just never happened."
The winner of the Royal Rumble match lives in history. Unfortunately, some burn less bright in others. There aren't many people these days talking about Alberto Del Rio's historic win (for various reasons). Despite the massive push he received heading into the match, he didn't believe it would end in a victory for him.
Del Rio told us in 2016, "There's probably people who know where the company was going to take them, but I wasn't one of them. I didn't know anything about the Royal Rumble. I got there and they said 'you're winning the Rumble.' What?! That changed my life. I didn't have a clue of anything. That's the way that company works sometimes. To hear the reaction from the crowd when I was celebrating, and thinking Santino was going to win, that was special. That company is the number one in sports entertainment for a reason. Moments like that are fun."
Everyone under the sun knew that Del Rio was headed for a top spot going into that Rumble, as did fans with Drew McIntyre in 2020. That didn't solidify it in Drew's mind, however. For a good reason, too. Even though Drew was set to eliminate a massive star in Brock Lesnar to end his dominant stretch, McIntyre feared the audience would reject him in favor of the legendary returning Edge.
"I was just hoping for a big moment that day," McIntyre told us. "When I got the idea that I might eliminate Brock, considering what I heard the story was going to be and how dominant he was going to be in the Rumble as WWE Champion, I thought, 'Man, that's pretty cool and the thing that can make somebody.' Then, the idea of winning as well, that blew my mind. I didn't really believe it was going to happen until I was the last person standing in the ring. There are always these checks where the referee is close by and I half expected them to whisper to me that things had changed. I've had things changed on me in the past many times in my career, nothing is official until it's official. It wasn't until that very end moment when I eliminated Roman, half expecting the crowd to boo because Edge had returned after a nine-year absence, and that reaction was unbelievable. We've seen the fans turn on winners in the past if they don't get what they want and if I was in the crowd, I'd be hard-pressed to turn on me too, seeing Edge eliminated, but it was so cool when Edge was eliminated, Roman and I getting into it and I eliminated Roman and I heard the reaction I heard that was equal to when I eliminated Brock, which was such an incredible moment itself. That night was the night when Drew McIntyre finally arrived after being the future and everyone talking about my potential since I was 15 years old."
We've yet to hear of a Royal Rumble match that changed the winner on the fly, though it did happen in IMPACT Wrestling at Bound For Glory in 2020 in their gauntlet. Still, Drew McIntyre thought it was a real possibility considering the circumstances.
McIntyre said he spoke to Edge, "We definitely chatted, but it didn't change the fact that I was thinking, 'Hmm, nine years, career was over, he was never coming back. There he is. Coming back.' If I'm in that crowd, I'm going, 'Drew is kinda cool right now, THERE IS EDGE! I want to see him win the big one.' It was definitely weighing on my mind. After I got the Brock elimination, I told myself, 'Whatever happens, happens. People are going to react however they react.' I had that amazing moment right there, I'm winning the thing, hopefully they like it and don't crap all over it. if they do, I still won and got my title match at WrestleMania. I was so fortunate. I don't take it for granted they reacted the way they did. 'Oh my goodness, I can't believe they are behind me this much right now and all I've done the past few months is be myself.'"
Drew would go on to win at the Royal Rumble and at WrestleMania. The man who a decade prior was dubbed "The Chosen One," only to be pushed down the card and fired, worked his way back and captured a couple of the biggest spots you possibly can in wrestling.
How can you not be romantic about the Royal Rumble?