How can you not be romantic about the Royal Rumble?
The Royal Rumble holds a special place in the hearts of wrestling fans. For good reason -- it's awesome.
Every year, the Royal Rumble comes around, and usually, an overflowing sense of optimism does as well. Surprises, returns, familiar foes going face-to-face. In the brand split era, you see Superstars duke it out that normally don't (or shouldn't) encroach on one another's territory
For years, the Royal Rumble winner would be guaranteed the 'main event' of WrestleMania. Sure, they're still in a title match, but we mean the main event of WrestleMania, the show closer. This is an opportunity that lives forever, or at least decades, as we've seen with the show heading into its 37th edition. Nowadays, that emphasis isn't quite as guaranteed. The last 19 Royal Rumble winners have resulted in nine show-closing WrestleMania matches. That looks like it's going in a different direction. Brock Lesnar, Undertaker and Triple H are not heavily figured into WWE's on-screen plans, and the perpetual coronation of Roman Reigns has finally happened in the form of a business-altering heel turn.
Drew McIntyre and Becky Lynch are the two most recent Rumble success stories, and a huge part of WWE seeing a resurgence could be placing importance on a match that so many already adore.
Even wrestlers themselves seem to have a soft spot for the spectacle.
"It's one of the most exciting pay-per-views for everyone. There's something about the ten count and something happening, whatever setting it is. People love that. I was no different with the Royal Rumble. I love being in those matches. I've only gotten to do it a few times because I've either had a singles match or, one of them, I was injured at the time. I really love the Rumble and it's always an exciting time because when it comes around, you know WrestleMania is around the corner. It's like the first step to our big season, even though we don't have an off-season," Kevin Owens told Fightful.
We've spent the last several years collecting exclusive, never before seen quotes and stories from some of the people who have lived through the matches.
Planning the match
30 men or women, in rare instances 40 or 50. That's a pretty huge task to tackle when you're laying out a battle royal with peripheral stories involved. WWE employs agents and producers to help direct traffic, but it's the creator of the match that is often credited with making sure the first 20 or so went off without a hitch. In speaking with nearly 20 superstars who had participated, Pat Patterson's name constantly came up.
"Pat Patterson set those up," said 1996 #30 entry Duke 'The Dumpster' Droese. "He sits everyone down, usually it’s in the catering area. He’ll have a big white dry erase board. He’ll give everybody the order that you’re going out to the ring. Then he will tell you, ‘Then you go out of the ring after you see this wrestler go out.’ He tells you who is going to throw you out of the ring. That’s basically how it works. It’s like, what number you go into the ring, and then, basically, what number you go out. Because you watch to see and you go out after a certain person. You make sure the right person throws you out of the ring. That’s how it works. The rest of it is just a big ol’ mish-mosh in the ring and people goofing off and making each other laugh, basically, is what it is and ribbing each other."
Years ago, when Fightful began work on the Inside The Rumble project, MLW founder Court Bauer recalled Patterson having plenty of help as the years went on. Especially with Michael Hayes, a man known for having the ability to create high spots and big moments for other wrestlers.
"Michael was the day-to-day guy on that (when I was there)," Bauer said. "So, Michael has kind of come up with entertaining scenarios and collaborating with talent and seeing what they can add to it to sprinkle in. That’s starting, really, right around early December / late November and you go through January. Sometimes you know you’re destination and it’s assumed everyone knows, everyone’s on the same page. We know who the winner’s going to be. Other times it can almost be up to a game-day decision. It just depends on how stable the operation is, the creative direction, how healthy the talent is, what opportunities come in at the eleventh hour for WrestleMania that may require the creative team and the chairman to rethink the game plan for the Rumble. So, there’s so many variables that can come into play that can change up anything and everything. But, you try, in your best effort, to have a game plan and hopefully stick to it. But, year to year it’s different, and regime to regime it’s different within WWE."
Bauer wrote for WWE for several years and witnessed how the match came together from a creative perspective. With as many people that were involved in the actual match, it took a lot to make the magic and turn it into the finished product.
"Well, it’s a collaborative process. Everyone has their opinions, their thoughts, their vision for the Rumble, which is essentially the big bang for the year for WWE. It kicks off WrestleMania season and that then takes you into late spring into summer. So, everyone has their vision how they see the year playing out and the tent poles throughout the year. Rumble, then Mania, etc, and so, you’re constantly having informal conversations in the hallways at the arenas or Titan Towers. You’re having a flurry of e-mails traded back which has everyone on it. Once in a while, Vince will jump in and bark something or put over something or just not feel it at all. You have guys like Michael Hayes who had taken over the day to day operations of being the architect for the Royal Rumble from the days when Pat Patterson was real hands-on, and he still contributed to it. ‘Cause he's a phenomenal finish man. Just laying out matches, he’s just a wizard at it. You're collaborating for the few weeks going into the Rumble. It can be fine-tuned and stuff, but right now, Michael Hayes, Pat Patterson, Shane McMahon will be in a hotel suite they'll rent out in Stamford, Connecticut. They'll have a lot of food and there will be some liquor and they will game plan the Royal Rumble: the entrances, the eliminations and by the end of the week, the last week going into the holiday, they'll then pitch and present their game plan to the creative team and Vince McMahon. This is what it was like for 2006, at least," Bauer noted.
Pat Patterson was widely regarded as one of the best creative minds and "finishers" within the wrestling industry. Even respected Hall of Famers who were known for such a thing themselves spoke to the way that Patterson was able to bring certain things to life.
"When they lay out the strategy or the psychology of the match, Pat was always one of the best to lay it out," Bret 'The Hitman' Hart told Fightful. "He always had a great vision. Pat was one of those kinds of guys that, if you had an idea, and you were talking to Pat, if you said to Pat, ‘How about this?’ and then you explain the idea to Pat, Pat had an ability to visualize what you’re talking about while you’re talking. He could visualize it and recognize right away whether or not it would work. I can remember when I first started in WWF, it wasn’t a Rumble or anything, but I could remember I’d been there for about two years. I remember Pat coming up to me, he was kind of out of ideas and I said, ‘How about this?’ I ran a whole finish by him that we used to do in Calgary with Stampede Wrestling. I just remember I laid it out to him and Pat goes, ‘You can do all that?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I can do all that. We’ve done it lots of times.’ He goes, ‘I want to see it. You do everything you just told me, and I’m going to go out and watch.’ We went out, did the whole match like clockwork and he came back and he was just blown away. He was like, ‘I can’t believe how good that match was and how you had so much in there. It didn’t look rehearsed or practiced.’ We had done it a million times. I think that was when, if I can pat myself on the back, I think that was when they started realizing that I was a good finish guy. I could come up with my finishes. I always liked that, and appreciated that respect that they had for me."
Nowadays, Jamie Noble is considered one of the minds behind the men's Royal Rumble. Also, Fightful learned that both Shane McMahon and Hayes helped out in creating the 2020 men's Match, which had significant input from the wrestlers themselves.
An anonymous current WWE talent told us "Noble is always one of the ‘go-to’ guys at Royal Rumble, but it's always a handful of producers who are involved and when it comes to ideas, anyone can make a suggestion. So it really is a group effort, but Jamie would be responsible for being able to answer the question ‘what’s supposed to be going on right now’ at any given moment once the Rumble match has started."
According to other people involved in the 2020 match, things were set up and then those who were supposed to be involved at the end were split off into another group to work things out privately. About half of it was simply Brock Lesnar running through people.
Even though the Royal Rumble holds a special place in the hearts of many, not everyone loved the match, or what went into it.
"Definitely not one of my favorite matches," said AEW's Jake Hager, who was in six Royal Rumbles. "Depending on who you’re in there with, you’ll have levels of creativity and you’ll have levels of restriction. There was a group of three or four guys who decide the whole storyline throughout the thing. Then you would try to implement your stuff to make it a fit to your storyline type deal and it can be easy or it can be difficult."
Getting The Work Done
In any battle royal matches, there are some unwritten rules -- and written ones -- depending on where you are. Let the new entry get some shine, watch bumping in the middle of a crowded ring. From a story standpoint, you want to help as many people as possible. Something that has been the formula for decades now.
"I don't think [things have changed]," former WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens told Fightful. "It's so many people to contend with and so many stories to tell at one time. There's no way that it won't be chaotic. It always is chaotic, but it always turns out exciting and memorable. That's how it's always going to be, the process. You've got 30 guys in one match and you have so many things to accomplish."
Jake Hager said that even though he wasn't really keen on working Royal Rumbles, it helped him adapt to that style of match. That's pretty important considering he's been in over 40 other battle royals.
"That’s definitely a different beast," Hager said. "They say every pro wrestling match is different and every gimmick is definitely different. Being in the Royal Rumbles definitely helped me prepare with that and helped other people set their stuff up. You really have to, you’re limited, ‘cause there’s people in the ring. You want to do some cool stuff and make an entrance, but you’ve got other people in the ring. So, you’ve gotta be careful with ankles, about throwing people, and hiding in the corner so that they can have the spotlight. There’s a lot of little things that go into it. Main thing is, I feel, is you don’t want to do too much. You don’t want to get too much stuff in. I was proud of what Sonny (Kiss) and I did (in AEW's Casino Battle Royal) because it made a big shock and it made a big splash, and it was something as easy as him turning it around on me and throwing me out. I was like, 'that’s all it needed to be.'"
When it gets down the coveted last few, that's where business picks up. Bret "The Hitman" Hart knows a thing or two about that. He won the 1994 Royal Rumble and was 'cheated' out of the 1997 edition by his rival "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
"With the Rumbles, if you’re lucky enough to be in the final eight guys in there to be part of the best part of the storytelling of the Rumble, I think, if I remember correctly, the Rumble with Steve Austin in Texas and all that, where I got double-crossed and I actually won and all that. That was all, I think, Vince. Steve was such a great guy to work with, he was such a natural. He had a great chemistry of playing his heel part, especially at that time and being that badass rattlesnake heel he was trying to be. We always had such great chemistry together, Steve and I. We enjoyed the role-playing. I loved the look on Steve’s face when I walked out and he’s stunned and almost scared that I’m coming out. A lot of that was Steve, a lot of that was me, a lot of that was Vince. Everyone gelling together and having good chemistry," Hart said.
There might be some spots you look at and wonder how much planning went into them. As Shane Helms tells Fightful, even his 2004 body press on Matt Hardy upon entering the ring was discussed before the match. However, him grasping at his knee after his elimination wasn't!
"You're not going to do a body press in a Royal Rumble without the other person knowing what's coming. It's having a little moment and making the most of it. I'm not winning it, and I'm not getting paid by the hour, so let's get in and get out! (I wasn't hurt) at all, but I knew it was a weird landing, so I started to oversell my knee. They had the trainers lined up and they thought I blew out my knee. I sold you a ticket! That's what happened," Helms joyously recalled.
Since the turn of the millennium, one of the most anticipated aspects of the WWE special has been surprises associated with the Royal Rumble. Over the years, WWE has run back historic feuds like Jimmy Snuka vs. "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. They've brought back legends of the calibre of Chris Jericho, Mr. Perfect and Diesel. They've debuted NXT favorites and highlighted incoming superstars, and they've had the first appearances of non-WWE legends like AJ Styles.
The Royal Rumble has served as a launching pad for some of those names. A loud reaction and stellar performance for a big return can lead to a huge run. MVP came back in 2020 after over a decade out of the company and wound up becoming one of the most prominently featured characters on WWE TV. "Hurricane" Shane Helms had departed WWE eight years prior before his 2018 Rumble appearance and would find himself in WWE's employ the following year.
How do those surprises come about? How do they keep the secrets?
Shane Helms told Fightful in 2018 "30 minutes before the Royal Rumble, we were hidden. A lot of the people in the actual match didn't even know we were going to be there. The pay-per-view had already started, and they sneak us in the building. That was a cool moment too because I get to see the boys' reaction to me. Some of the guys lit up and guys from production that I knew from nearly a decade before. That was a super special moment on a personal level. The fans didn't get to see that, but that was very cool. The idea was for me to get in there with Cena. There was going to be a couple of other guys. 'Think about who you could do something best with.' So of course I pick Cena (laughs). It was a play off of my Rumble moment with Steve Austin and Triple H. They were two of the top guys. If I'm gonna be in there, that's what I would do," At first Cena was like 'Ah, I don't want to be the one to throw you out.' I said 'whether I'm King Kong or not, I think I am. I have to go after Godzilla.' He started laughing and I knew I had him there. He's the ultimate good guy, but when I explained it to him, you could see him grinning. I would have been cool if he said no. I was going to swing for the fences. Here's how cool Cena is -- if he'd have said no, it wouldn't happen. It's going to be quick, in and out, but if Cena says no, it doesn't happen. It just worked out perfectly, and that pop was ridiculous. As far as us being one-on-one, that was the first time we touched."
Then there's the dreaded swerves. With technology advancing and leaks (sorry!) happening with such frequency, sometimes WWE has to keep fans on their toes. In 2020, such a fan was leaking Titantron videos from within the rehearsal of the Royal Rumble. One of those was since-retired Victoria, who hadn't appeared for WWE in over a decade. There were no plans for her to appear, either.
"I found out from social media as well. I was like, “What?” I go, “Maybe my Titantron had a lot of coloring.” I don’t know, but maybe they did that to throw people off. I don’t know because it’s hard to keep a secret in wrestling. Something always leaks, you know what I mean? Which is a shame," Victoria, real name Lisa Marie Varon explained to Fightful.
Not only was Victoria absent from the Royal Rumble, but she was also nowhere near the city at that point!
"I was (just getting off) the Jericho Cruise. Yeah, I was in Miami. I was trying to stay off my phone because I wanted [to be] in the moment. I was visiting family, I was like, “We’re always glued to our phone,” and so I went back and I had missed a ton of e-mails, text messages, everything. I was like, “They must be testing out the coloring on their Titantron because my picture came up there.” But, I was already in Miami, the following day I was going to go on the Jericho Cruise. So, I couldn’t," Victoria clarified.
Social media exploded with speculation. To that point, the story behind the moment -- or lack thereof -- was the most requested heading into our interview. The former Tara in TNA never heard from anyone within WWE about why her Titantron graphic was used.
"No. Not in the company, no. Nuh-uh. Just on social media, just going, “Oh, you know…” I didn’t respond because I didn’t want to… I don’t know what to say ‘cause I don’t know the back scene because I’m not part of the company anymore. So, I couldn’t tell you why they were testing it out," she stated
Even women who were a part of the match itself heard the buzz...but also subsequently heard that they were simply using the legend's Titantron for a test run.
Such is life!
Factoring in someone who isn't a regular part of the roster can prove to be a battle for the writing team. With such a typical focus on week-to-week programming, the surprises are often one-offs that don't require a lot of creative juice. Pitching them, however, can be a matter of preference. Sometimes that matter of preference can turn a famed "one-shot deal" into a full-time return and contract as we've seen happen numerous times in the past.
"It’s just something that will pop up from random people," Court Bauer noted. "There’s people like Brian Gewirtz that was a fan of Bob Backlund. So, he pitched sometimes, ‘Hey, maybe we can find a way to get Backlund in this?’ He’ll have an idea that’s possibly humorous and then you just have talent relations dial him up and see if they can get him in. I always loved those kind of surprises. Sometimes you’ll have a receptive audience from the chairman, etc. Sometimes he’ll bark and say, ‘Goddamn. It’s about our stars, not the stars of yesteryear,’ or guys that maybe our fan base today doesn’t know. Then there’s sometimes validity to it. You have to balance the star power and the surprises and it has to be the right balance. Too many and it’s kind of funky. The wrong star coming out is like, ‘Oh. That’s random.’ You just never know. Hopefully, they have a purpose. You know what I love about it, too? Guys like Goldust, they’ll trigger a whole resurgence for their career, a revival for them just off of that kind of randomness. I think it happened for a lot of guys over the last ten / fifteen years where guys like Mr. Perfect were anticipated to come back. They were just a one-off and, man, they got a big pop, it looked like a million bucks, let’s bring ‘em to TV. Then TV turns into the next week, then they’re offered a deal. So, I like that. It’s a wildcard component. Sometimes you can bring in a veteran when you realize you needed him and missed that."
Announcers are an integral part of the Rumble match itself and aren't always clued in on the surprises themselves, as Matt Striker told Fightful.
"WWE’s great at this, they hide people. It’s not like everyone’s backstage, herd in a pen and we see, ‘Hey, you’re Stone Cold Steve Austin. I guess you’re here tonight.’ No. You don’t see certain people the whole entire night. So, when they pop out through the curtain you’re like, ‘Holy sh—I didn’t know he was here.’ But, you don’t finish your sentence.’ Yeah, it is nice when the reaction can be genuine. Look, when I can be a seven-year-old kid that watched wrestling with his dad, that’s when I think people enjoy me the most. When I become this overproduced mechanism of something other, then people have different opinions," Striker said, having served as a color commentator for multiple Rumble matches.
Royal Rumble Production
The surprises go hand in hand with the soundtrack that walks them to the ring, and not just the music. Ah yes, the production of the Royal Rumble. There's so much going on at any given time, how do announcers parse what to focus on? Striker would go deeper to explain.
"You basically are trying to create thirty magical moments that last about twenty seconds for an entrance. You want to, on the entrance, make it like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this person can do it.’ That’s how I tried to approach it, but I got great advice from Jerry Lawler who said, ‘You don’t want to look at the list. You don’t want to know.’ A lot of times there isn’t really a list. You don’t want to know who's coming down. You want to genuinely react and some of my most famous reactions were, let’s say, genuine," Striker told us.
Matt Striker was only 13 when the first Royal Rumble happened and grew up on the match. Getting to call one, was a daunting task, an intimidating one. How does it evolve as experience is gained?
"The first one I did, I over-prepared. I had every note of everything you ever did and where you did it and so on and so forth, and by the second one it was about halved, and by the third one, honestly, it was one of my favorite nights of the year because I didn’t have to do any prep. If they handed me a show sheet, I folded it. All I needed to know was times. Because as an announcer there’s also a producer counting you to different types of cues and business. So, that was when I got really comfortable calling my Rumbles or being a part of Rumbles. When I have fun with something when I enjoy something, the more of it the better. I remember as a kid growing up playing guitar if I learned a song, I wanted to learn more. So, it gave me more chances to use more words, to look more things up, to say something silly or infuriating," said Striker.
For a shock-heavy show like the WWE Royal Rumble, Striker says that not only is being less prepared better in this situation for him, it's better for the viewer as well.
"I knew enough to know I don’t want to know unless I have to know. You also have to remember, never was I tasked with the ‘responsibility’ of a, say Michael Cole, who probably needed more of that information than I. I had a luxury of being able to straight-up react. If you knew all the different things that were going on, it’d make your head explode. Because if they open up my ear channel, I’m going to hear all sorts of things. Yes, as a timed show, when that train gets going it’s really about just keeping it on the tracks and knowing when we have to throw this graphic up, lose this graphic, throw up this sponsor, layout over here. That is one thing. But, also, there’s a trust to the people that are at the announce desk. There’s a trust to the people in the ring. You’re going to do that part, and we’ll tell your story. Let the guys in the truck worry about if you’re well lit enough or that punch maybe didn’t land as well as we wanted it to," said Striker.
Even today's WWE announce team prefers that method. A decade after Striker was calling Rumble matches, WWE's go-to color commentator Corey Graves likes the surprise factor.
"Honestly on any night, I prefer to know as little as possible regarding anything that happens on TV. I enjoy being able to react as genuinely as possible. I find that if I need to know too much, it sounds prepared. When this place wants to keep a secret from us, they can do a pretty good job!" Graves told us.
The aforementioned Striker got to call some of the biggest surprises in Royal Rumble history, and those calls got some polarizing reactions. Booker T, Diesel and others had the soundtrack of Striker's reaction announcing them walking to the ring. The latter caused Striker's most memorable moment in working commentary for the Rumble
"For me, it’s the one where I almost cursed on internationally broadcast [television]. Because bless her heart, my grandmother was still alive at that time and she called me afterwards. The second one has to be for Booker because for so many people, I don’t know why it’s remained with a lot of people. I think that’s nice if it empowers their love of pro wrestling," said Striker. "I guess by the time this rolls around I was fortunate enough that either that or they were silly enough to leave me to my own devices, to be honest with you. But, I think at the end of the day it was about making every single person that came down that ramp for at least ten to twenty seconds, in every fan’s mind, they have to have plausible doubt to say, ‘This person can do it. There’s a logical path to victory for this fifth party candidate.’ So, there you go."
The commentary team isn't the only one that is capable of slip-ups. Stuff happens with things from audio cues to camera work, and it did in 2016 as one former production employee told us.
"That Royal Rumble was one of the biggest 'oof' moments I was ever a part of," the former employee stated. "AJ Styles was set to make his debut, and he did. It was incredible. It was perfect, except for us leaving the camera on Roman Reigns for about 15 seconds too long. We missed Styles' entire Titantron video, and there were some heads rolling over it. We had to put together a video that was more fitting to release the next day. The same thing happened with Edge when he made his return, but it was the opposite. Instead of one static shot, it was 'cut cut cut cut cut' and missed his first Spear. We had to do the same edit for that as Styles. Other than that, there weren't many blunders in my years. They're not the easiest matches to shoot, and we were on top of our game for them."
The magic moments created are often remembered for a few people, but it takes an army to fine-tune them. One of the more popular aspects of "Royal Rumble season" has been WWE's own "by the numbers" videos. Sometimes the stats, facts, and history behind the Rumble ends up playing to a story within the story inside the ring.
"The TV department does a phenomenal job and they’re looking for that information, they’re trying to pull stories into and enhance the attraction," Court Bauer said. "Very rarely you’ll have a directive from the creative team saying, ‘Hey, make sure we have this, this and this.’ Sometimes, if it’s a well organized year or week, they can anticipate that and co-ordinate with the TV, and sometimes TV builds it regardless. They do a phenomenal job of building content like that. Sometimes too much. You’ll see a pay-per-view and you’ll be like, ‘Oh, my God. There’s so many video packages in this.’ Maybe it’s a benefit for people that don’t want to watch that content on a week to week basis. But, if you watch it as a die-hard fan, it’s like, ‘I’ve already seen all this, can we get to the action and get some the interviews?’
Pro wrestling and WWE specifically are often a variety show, hence the term "sports entertainment." The Royal Rumble isn't any different. With an hour-long battle royal, some variety is common sense and has led to times that helped make a character. Shane Helms, who we mentioned as a surprise earlier also had a memorable outing in 2002.
Helms will be quick to point out that his Hurricane alter-ego isn't a superhero, he thinks he's a superhero. So when that alter-ego went after Triple H and Stone Cold Steve Austin, he was quickly disposed of. He didn't need to eliminate a host of competitors to make a special moment.
"That was 100 percent me. As short as it was, that was all my idea," Helms told Fightful in 2016. "Pat Patterson always (helped) put together the Royal Rumbles, and that was the Bushwacker spot. You come in, get out quick. It came to be known as the Bushwacker spot. This was going to be something similar. Now I know I’m going to be in there with two top guys. THE two top guys in the company. Not just any two, THE two. … Now, also, keep in mind that I’m still a new guy in the company, still fresh-faced … You gotta be tactful when you’re going up and suggested spots with the top two guys in the company, with your monkey ass still a new guy in the company, but I knew it was a good idea."
Getting that idea over less than a year after migrating from the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling could be a rough situation for many still adjusting to a new-ish locker room, but Helms knew who to go to. Or so he thought!
"I talked to Kurt quite a bit; Kurt Angle was the first guy I went to because I had an amateur background," Helms recalled. "Nowhere near as extensive as his, but we had that in common and he was a cool guy and he was someone I went to (for advice.) I told him the idea and he popped huge; he was like 'Yeah! Go tell Steve!' I think in my mind I just wanted him to offer to go tell Steve for me, to suggest it for me, and I was like 'dammit.' So I go to Austin, and I tell him and he goes 'HAHAHAHA', big pop from him, and he goes “yeah, go run it by Pat (Patterson),” and I’m like DAMN, so now I gotta go tell Pat. … So then I go to Pat Patterson and run it by him. ‘Oh my god, I love it! Crowd go banana!’"
The crowd would indeed go "banana." It wasn't just the crowd, though. Everyone that Helms pitched the idea to seemed to think that it was a great idea as well.
"So now I gotta go tell Triple H too. So I go run it for the fourth time, like ‘yeah, here’s the idea, I wanna see what you think,' he’s like 'aw, that’s great, that’s perfect.' That’s over the course of like two hours because everyone was always busy every time I went to them, they were never just free, so there’s all this anguish because you don’t want someone to go ‘Who the f*ck do you think you are suggesting such a thing to me?’, you know what I mean? You don’t want it to come off like that," Helms clarified.
When it came time for the Rumble match itself, Helms was nervous. Not about the spot, but about the reaction his still-relatively-new character would get from the crowd.
Helms noted “All I remember was being at the curtain and being like (prayer hands) 'Please pop when they play my music.'"
But how did Vince McMahon like the spot? Where did it rank from "not good" to "good shit, pal?" Apparently, pretty high.
“I came to the back, got the big thumbs up, but even better, the next day, they were watching in catering … and that spot unfolded again, and (Vince) was like 'HAHAHAHA, now that’s good shit!'" Helms fondly remembered. "But I’ll tell you what I said when I came through the curtain, (after the spot in the Rumble) I looked at him and I said 'I almost had those motherf*ckers.'”
Sometimes those classic Royal Rumble surprises and comedic moments cross over. Ricardo Rodriguez saw those two meet during his lone appearance in the 2012 Rumble. He'd been seconding Alberto Del Rio, who was unavailable for the match. The pitch actually came from Rodriguez himself and caught the ears of that influential name, Pat Patterson.
"Alberto was out with an injury he had sustained late December," Rodriguez told Fightful. "Fast forward to like a week or two later in Tampa. We had just finished an FCW show and a group of us decided to go to Cheesecake Factory to eat. When we walked in I saw Pat Patterson sitting at the bar by himself. When everyone went to go sit down I went over to Pat to say hello and offered to buy him a drink. I sat with him for a few minutes and just casually said 'hey wouldn't it be funny if for the Rumble, they play Alberto's music but then I come out?" We chuckled and just left it at that as I went back to my table. Several days later we're stuck in Dallas on a layover because of a storm. I was chatting with (Dean) Malenko and I casually brought up the Rumble spot again. He laughed and said that would be funny and then left it at that. Neither Pat nor Dean mentioned it to me again. ...then the day came and Michael Hayes told me I was in it!"
Michael Hayes is a right-hand man of Vince McMahon, heralded as a creative mind of his own. Not only did he find out he was going to be in the Rumble match, but that he'd have a very special entrance meant to parody the fancy car that Del Rio would drive to the ring.
"The day of the Rumble, I was ringside rolling around and Michael Hayes had asked me if I had seen my car yet. I didn't know what he was talking about and thought he was referring to my rental car that maybe someone had damaged it or something! Then he took me behind the TitanTron and showed me the car I would be using for the entrance. That's when he said, " no one told you?" Umm NO, none one had told me. That's how I found out!" Rodriguez said.
The rest is history.
"Paying Your Dues"
For all of the planning that goes into the match, sometimes the wrestlers take it upon themselves to prove a point. Such was the case in 2005 when Tough Enough season 4 winner and MMA prospect Daniel Puder had one of his first matches in that year's Royal Rumble. Unfortunately for Puder, he entered number 3, behind a couple of wily veterans that included Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit.
Bob "Hardcore" Holly would immediately follow, and an ass-kicking ensued. Stiff chops brutalized Puder. Holly and Benoit had reputations for being stiff in the ring and were clearly sending a message, one that is still remembered to this day.
"It was a different time in WWE and their locker room culture was so different than it is today versus even on the indies," former writer Court Bauer remembered. "That was a different time and how they treated young talent that they felt maybe shouldn’t be getting a certain push and shouldn’t be paid a certain price and the whole Kurt Angle thing. So, there was a real old school undercurrent to the Smackdown locker room. You had the whole kangaroo court deal. You had just a lot of etiquette and challenging issues that would come up with the younger guys. It was baptism by fire. These kids don’t know that this is a certain process and they don’t know that the veterans expect certain things because they’re not being smartened up to it. So, it was a really tough time. Let’s put it this way, I’m very glad that that’s not the culture today. It’s not like people didn’t see it as concerning at the time, but it’s nice to see it’s evolved into something that’s a bit more professional, a little more conductive. That whole period of time was rough. I mean, there were guys that would just be dressed down and humiliated by guys like Chris Benoit. I don’t think it really helped anyone’s cause. I don’t think it really helped the talent in any way. I think it demoralized talent."
Things didn't get much better for the next guy coming out. Shane Helms followed, and he knew that as fired up as the guys in the ring were, he was about to get some residual chops. He wasn't wrong.
"I remember them chopping the shit out of Puder and thinking, 'I'm gonna get some of these when I get in there.' I didn't talk to them about chopping the shit out of me, and I didn't talk to them about chopping the shit out of Puder. Puder was one of those guys who was getting a little bit of heat in the back. I don't think he meant to or did anything malicious. That's just how that locker room was sometimes. I remember they were beating the shit out of him, though. They got me in the corner and Eddie hit me right in the lips! We didn't call how I got eliminated. I tried to talk to Eddie during the day and he had a lot going on. He kept trying to brush me off a little bit. I knew I was only going to be in there a little bit and wanted to make it count. When we got in there, there was a moment that was the perfect moment to get me out of there. I felt it, they felt it, without saying anything, three minds came together and made it work. Once again, it takes two of the biggest superstars in wrestling to eliminate me," Helms said.
Not everything happens according to plan when you have so many moving parts. We mentioned a couple of the production snafus that have been few and far between, but the past three-plus decades have seen a few shocking errors that most fans didn't even know were such. Alex Riley being eliminated before his time in 2011. Randy Savage accidentally eliminating himself in 1992. Batista and John Cena's miraculous and unintended simultaneous elimination in 2005. Even Stone Cold Steve Austin's Rumble debut was earlier than expected in 1996 when Fatu (the eventual Rikishi) tossed him out.
Duke Droese was in that 1996 Rumble and said that he wasn't even sure if it was an accident or an elaborate work. "The funny thing about stuff like that in the wrestling business is the boys in the back are very skeptical. We’re like, ‘Alright, was that a work? Or was that a shoot?’ So, we’re always very skeptical. So we were unsure. I think that was the approach that the boys, the attitude the boys had about it. We’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. They’re trying to work us and the fans.’ Some people take longer to go out before you than they’re supposed to. You’ll be sitting there and you know you gotta get out of there before a certain number of people are in the ring. Or they’re gonna start setting up spots with the last four people, but the guy that’s supposed to go out before you is still just lollygagging around for more air time and he’s not going out yet or taking his time. So, you got people start yelling at each other, ‘Get out! Get out!’"
We've mentioned production snafus and accidental eliminations. John Cena and Batista's was even more unique in that very same Rumble in which saw Puder get beaten down. Not only was that unplanned, it was so perfectly unplanned, that it gave birth to even more botchy behavior. After the two simultaneously fell out of the ring, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon charged to the ring on the fly to run things back. Unfortunately in the process, he tore BOTH quads in front of the whole world. McMahon was sidelined, during the entire build to WrestleMania 21.
Court Bauer said "Backstage you’re not only dealing with the aftermath of a funky finish, you got Vince being stretchered out. It was a weird thing. Vince really doesn’t like to put himself out there looking weak. So, he kind of became reclusive until he was at a point where he could be mobile. So, you had the voice of Vince McMahon on a speakerphone, but you didn’t see him for a while. Which speaks to this kind of image he’s always had. This strong guy that’s larger than life. Everything about him is very much by design and if he doesn’t look strong and if he doesn’t look 100%, he doesn’t want any other image of him looking weaker, like in a wheelchair, out there. I heard all the stories and Stephanie freaking out backstage. Vince trying to will himself and his quads to kick out of this injury and the shock of it. It’s live TV and he went out there to call an audible, now you had to call an audible on the audible. So, it’s like, ‘Oh, my God, what do we do here?’ Those kind of moments, hey, that’s live TV. That’s the splendor of it all, I guess. It’s hard to call an audible when you’re in a situation like this. Sometimes TV can go by very quickly, and other times it goes by very slowly. Those are one of those moments time stopped"
By the next year's WrestleMania, Vince McMahon would be in the ring in a featured spot against Shawn Michaels. From 1998 through 2010, 2005 was the only year he didn't compete in a match, thanks to that injury. There was a lot of concern for the boss backstage.
"We just saw the massive 'what the hell is going on?' of the situation," Shane Helms said of the Batista-Cena finish. "I got up and went to Gorilla when I saw Vince walking to the ring. We couldn't really see him get hurt. I saw him sitting in the ring and said 'WTF is going on here?' It looked crazy. When any one of us is seriously injured, it changes the tone backstage. No matter what the crowd is doing, it changes the tone. We're no longer worried about the finish of the match, we're worried about Vince."
Even with the heavily scripted nature of modern-day WWE, anything can happen...and does.
"Things change up until the last minute, I’ve had guys ahead of me get injured, so sequences of eliminations were changed minutes before needing to be executed," one longtime WWE wrestler told Fightful.
The Not So Glamorous Side
Not everyone gets their shine in the match. There are lots of spots set up to highlight an entering wrestler and make them look good, but sometimes that's just not the job. With the field a wide one, often some names have to be sacrificed to help out others.
AEW's Jake Hager, a former World Champion in WWE as Jack Swagger, was in that position in 2016. He didn't really mind that, though, all things considered.
"The time I was in there was the shortest where Lesnar just threw me out. I really think that was my favorite because that was the most I got paid for a Royal Rumble with the shortest time. Who knows how they decided to pay us. But, for some reason, that was a good payday for me. It was literally seven seconds. It was like duck a clothesline, F-5, see ya. Mike Chioda came running over to me, he was so upset. He was like, “Swags, what was that?” I just turned to him and said, “I just got tagged, Chi-chi. What do you want?" Hager laughed.
Dr. Tom Prichard is known for his wrestling career and his stellar track record of training eventual megastars. He's definitely not known for the five and a half minutes he spent in one of the shortest Royal Rumbles of all time in 1995. No eliminations and ceremoniously dumped out.
"I just remember we certainly were not an integral part or heavy part of that match at all. But, they’re gonna try something and see if it works," Prichard told Fightful of the uncharacteristically short 38-minute 1995 Rumble. "I think that was part of just trying to keep the pay-per-view down to a reasonable time and try to give everybody a chance to get out there and have a lot of fun. WWE knows how to innovate and knows how to regroup and knows how to reinvent. I’ll go that far. They reinvented the business before when pay-per-view was in its infancy."
The shorter Rumble matches didn't stick around long. There was never another on PPV that even approached that pace. In fact, they got longer. Way longer at times.
SUPERSIZED Royal Rumbles
The Rumble match is a proven formula. It works. It's exciting. There's the adage, 'don't fix what isn't broken.' But you can add a NOS pack to the jalopy in hopes of turning it into a ten-second car, right? Thus, the 30-person format has sometimes been adjusted.
"They had done the 40-man Rumble one year, which I really liked. I wish we'd go back to that. The more people involved, the better. The longer it is, the better. If I were to pick any changes to make, I would add more people," Kevin Owens suggested when speaking to Fightful.
Alas, the 2011 40-Man Royal Rumble went a whopping 69 minutes, twenty longer than the prior year. The project was quickly abandoned -- at least for seven years.
In 2018, WWE launched a controversial deal with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to run huge events there. Odd requests from the Kingdom -- in the form of wanting long-dead wrestlers -- and some tumultuous experiences resulted from the partnership. To kick it off, however, WWE took their Royal Rumble staple and souped it up, bringing an unprecedented 50 wrestlers to the match.
From what Fightful was told, the process was not that much different than a standard Royal Rumble, even though it was halfway around the world. Jamie Noble would lead the production in those matches, and wrestlers would know when they were to be eliminated by taking cues from the referee
"You just knew who a guy or two before you who was going out and got ref cues," one former WWE wrestler told Fightful. "Those events in Saudi are usually laid back and easy. We were just introducing WWE to a whole new audience."
Another source reiterated that point, stating that because they were working to a new audience, they were able to turn the clock back on the match and try things that hadn't worked in years.
Third Brands and Women's Rumbles
In recent years, WWE's third brand has been NXT, but that wasn't WWE's first effort, as ECW once filled that role, and Rumble entrants were divided up into intermittent amounts. However, with the NXT crew landing on cable TV in 2019, this called for an accelerated usage of the show's stacked women's division. With double the Royal Rumbles, there's double the planning.
The two-time Royal Rumble winner Triple H has a huge hand in making those calls. His familiarity with the NXT roster goes a long way, and his input carries plenty of weight. He reveals that those special circumstances of seeing an NXT star in the match is a product of the split itself.
"There's always conversations about that as the Rumble gets closer every year. I'm a big fan of having separation. That doesn't mean that's the sole answer, but I'm a big fan of having separation, where there's some uniqueness. I love the fact that Raw and Smackdown have Survivor Series. I love the fact that (NXT has) WarGames. It's different. It has a different vibe and a different feel. I love the fact that the Rumble is the big thing that leads you to WrestleMania. I think having those differences are great, and as you're building NXT into its own brand more and more, having those differences be stark is great. When you have moments like the Rumble where they can all come together and have those moments is even cooler. As that gets closer, I'm sure we'll have a lot of conversations about who should be in there, and who we should give that opportunity to."
Sometimes those decisions and conversations come down to the wire. Just ask NXT star Shotzi Blackheart, who made her Royal Rumble debut at Minute Maid Park in Houston in 2020, tank and all. About 36 hours before her entrance, she had no idea that it'd be happening.
"I mean, that was like a text message the night before. “Hey, get on a plane. You’re going to Texas.” Then getting there and being like, “Alright, here’s your number,” and I’m like, “What?” In a baseball stadium in front of too many people... I was up in my hotel room being like, “Is this real? What is my life?'" Shotzi told Fightful.
In recent years, technology has helped ease the process of organizing a Royal Rumble. In the 1990s, talent would be provided with itineraries that would mandate them back at the venue or hotel at a certain time. These days, WWE has a talent relations app that streamlines the process. Those we spoke to involved in the 2020 Women's Royal Rumble said that they found out that week via the app they'd be required to come to rehearsal, even though the rehearsal was more of a walkthrough.
Talent that participated in the match told Fightful that setting up the 2020 Women's match included some major influence from the combatants, as well as Adam Pearce and Tyson Kidd. Those that weren't in the match very long talked through their numbers and eliminations, while some of the others went through rehearsals for the pre-written match. The process was split into two rough halves and worked on from there. Numbers were finalized and determined the night before the match.
It all came together so quickly that Blackheart told us she didn't even get nervous.
"No, not at all. I really didn’t even have time to think about it. But, the Royal Rumble has always been my favorite pay-per-view. It has the most surprises. It’s so much fun to watch. I was just ecstatic when girls got introduced finally and to be a part of the beginning of that? Insane. I mean, I got some good forearms from Beth Phoenix. That was enough for me," Blackheart said.
Some names get left out. That particular match was NXT heavy, and some additional performers were brought in. That included Kay Lee Ray of NXT UK, who was at rehearsals but didn't end up getting in the match. It's easy to say "there's always next year," but with travel restrictions in 2021, there probably isn't in that situation.
As mentioned, NXT wasn't the first "third" brand to be integrated. In 2007, and for years that followed, WWE presented the ECW show as a part of the Royal Rumble. This led to names like The Sandman, CM Punk, Sabu, Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamers and others plying their extreme trade on a grand scale. Working alongside multiple creative teams proved frustrating, said Court Bauer.
"Everyone’s trying to build up ECW and help support this brand extension," Bauer told Fightful. "So, whatever was required to make it successful, make it viable, was important. The concern always, within some circles within the creative team, was the selection of talent used in the Rumble and also making sure that they, not only held their own with the other brands but if possible could be showcased. So often, because there’s this internal rivalry about brand superiority that Vince kinda likes to have within the writer’s teams—the Smackdown team, the RAW team, and the ECW team—is to have it be like they’re competing. So, it can undercut the creative process and so that sometimes a challenge in making ECW stand out. You had other people that said, ‘Well, what does it do for my Smackdown guys?’ ‘What does it do for my guys from RAW?’ Instead of it being a collaborative creative experience in the writer’s room in L.A. where those kinds of issues don’t happen because these are all characters in this world that you want to see go in different directions. Wrestling’s a hybrid. It’s a totally different thing."
A staple of the over-the-top-rope classic has been that of the Iron Man. Rick Martel, Bob Backlund, Ted Dibiase all proved their mettle within the match. Even though they didn't win it, they all would last over 45 minutes in early editions. Particularly for bad-guy heel characters that spend so much of their time avoiding conflict throughout typical WWE shows, the cunning nature of outlasting the majority of the field adds an aura to the character.
Court Bauer added some detail on how that is constructed.
"They'll go through it, a lot of it is very impressive. There will be some red flags, some fine-tuning, Vince might say, 'Hey, hold on for a second.' They'll go through that whole process and you'll know what they're going to showcase in a guy and tell a story and he's the iron man guy. He'll go the distance. Then you'll go out and ask if he's going to break any records? What records are there? You fire up Google and you go 'hey!' because there is no in-house system that has all the records except for Howard Finkel. He's the in-house Google that can tell you everything about anyone," said Bauer.
Rick Martel, Ted Dibiase, Bob Backlund, Kane, Dolph Ziggler, Sasha Banks all had defining performances that didn't end in a Rumble win, but serving as the Iron Horse in individual matches.
As we said, the Royal Rumble is a variety show. You laugh, you cry, you're on the edge of your seat. At least that's the intent. For that dramatic finish and story to play out in a manner that either leaves you satisfied, or coming back for satisfaction. One of those instances was the 2006 Royal Rumble and Rey Mysterio.
Two months removed from the unfortunate passing of Eddie Guerrero, WWE built a story gaining sympathy for his friend and foe Rey Mysterio. This led to a dramatic, record-setting Royal Rumble victory. As Court Bauer recalls it from being a part of creative, Vince McMahon wanted to turn Mysterio into Guerrero of sorts.
"I think the prevailing thought was Rey should win coming off of the death of Eddie Guerrero," Bauer remembered. "It was a weird time, too, because Vince wanted to, by design, create an opportunity to get some heat and heat up Randy Orton. So, they did what many people consider—internally, of course, and the fans and media—a fairly distasteful set-up with Orton and Rey and trying to, per the chairman, create heat for Orton in that situation using Eddie’s name. There was a lot of justification that this is what Eddie would love and this is what Eddie would want. It’s not like we have a direct line to Eddie Guerrero to get his notes and his feedback. So, it was a little uncomfortable for a lot of us. But, the idea was that Rey would be earmarked to be the top star to ascend in the aftermath of that horrible tragedy."
Eddie Guerrero's passing left a huge hole in WWE, both personally and professionally. The company lost a beloved star. They also lost an integral performer and character who had been a part of a major world title feud at the time of his passing. This led to some scrambling to find someone who could fit that mold, something Bauer says they just couldn't do. However, it became very clear from the start of planning the 2006 Royal Rumble that Mysterio would emerge victoriously.
"It’s weird because I remember that moment in time where you try to pick up the pieces after Eddie Guerrero’s passing and try to figure out, ‘Okay, what’s next? How do we figure this out?’ Vince is saying we need to find the next Eddie Guerrero and I’m instantly, personally, thinking, ‘Well, you don’t just find the next anyone, especially not someone so super talented like an Eddie Guerrero.’ It’s like, back in the 80s when Vince was already, in the late 80s, looking for the next Hulk Hogan and the next this guy, the next that guy. There’s only one Rock, there’s only one Hogan, there’s only one Austin, there’s only one Eddie, there’s only one John Cena. You can’t just clone that or make another talent just because he’s Hispanic is going to be that, and I’m not just, by any way, devaluing Rey Mysterio. He’s an incredible attraction, a Hall of Famer. But, he’s not the same. You can’t program him. You can’t write, you can’t book a Rey Mysterio the same way as Eddie Guerrero. Eddie Guerrero had a totally different persona, totally different belief system as a character—lying, cheating stealing. Rey Mysterio was a totally different character. He was so much smaller and was like a superhero come to life. The children related to him different. His audience was slightly different. Eddie was a little greyer. He had a little edge to him. He could be a lot of things. It couldn’t be the same thing. But Rey was, for all intents and purposes, our guy going into the Rumble in 2006," Bauer said.
Another special moment came outside the auspices of television cameras. When Shane Helms made his surprise appearance in 2018, he returned backstage to meet Roman Reigns -- the brother of his recently fallen former tag team partner Rosey. The moment was captured in a touching photograph that went viral.
Helms said that actually wasn't the first time he and Reigns had crossed paths after Rosey's passing and said that he navigated the territory carefully when talking to Rosey's younger brother.
"I got to talk to him -- I went to a house show after Rosey passed and we had a moment there. I was able to express how I felt and condolences. It was nothing I want to get heavy into when somebody's gotta go to work. 'This is how I feel now go risk your life in the ring here.' I don't want to bring anyone down too much," Helms told Fightful
As emotional as the photo itself looks, Helms indicated that it's much more a highlight of the good person that Roman Reigns himself is, and how much Rosey meant to him personally.
"At the Royal Rumble, we weren't having this deep conversation, we were just two dudes talking," said Helms. "Because of the history with his brother, it did add a little special meaning to that picture. It looks like we're about to embrace. That's just him being a good guy, when you talk, he listens. I think that was my caption, whenever I see Roman, I see Rosey. I see him and I think about good things, but I see him and I miss Rosey, too."
The Big Finish
Closing out the Royal Rumble is usually pretty straightforward. There isn't a big pin or a submission, and nobody comes out looking worse for getting chucked over the top rope, but someone does look better for doing it. Over the course of dozens of Royal Rumble matches, there have been three times where a "dual elimination" happened. 2000s with The Rock and The Big Show didn't quite go according to plan, with Rock hitting the floor before he should have. 2005's with Batista and John Cena wasn't. So of the three, only 1994 with the Lex Luger Bret Hart double elimination was planned and went off without a hitch.
Bret Hart claims it was one of the more difficult things he's ever pulled off in wrestling.
"I think my favorite Rumble was the one with [Lex Luger[, where we both went out at the same time," Hart told Fightful. "That was so hard to do if you really think about it. You can both go over the top rope, but you have to land exactly the same time on the ground. It has to be done perfect. There’s no way to guarantee that, there’s no way to ensure that. In fact, they filmed it and they didn’t show it ‘cause they didn’t want anyone to go, ‘Oh, Bret Hart hit the ground, he’s way ahead of Lex,’ or vice versa. But, I always give Lex credit for that. If you watch Lex, the way I go over the top, Lex grabs me and we just flip over the top rope. It's great athleticism that both of us landed exactly. I remember they showed the next day, Vince and Pat, ‘We didn’t want to show anyone the camera angle. But, in fact, we can show the camera angle, because you both landed at the same time.’ That’s the beauty of two guys that are good. Lex was always a great athlete. Just two consummate professionals in there.
Lex Luger isn't widely considered one of the most polished in-ring performers of his era, let alone all-time, but Hart is. However, according to Hart, the athleticism of Luger which he touted may have been the determining factor in what made the spot work.
Hart told Fightful "I give all the credit to Lex on that one. If you watch it, I just sort of grab him and he does the flip. I remember when I was falling over the rope and going to land I remember trying to pull my feet up, and I’m sure Lex is doing the same because I didn’t want my feet to be first. We both hit at the exact same time. It’s pretty much a fluke and impossible. If we had to do it twice, I don’t know that we would have done it twice the same way."
Times have changed in the last 25-plus years. The New Generation that Hart then-led is the one that paved the way, set the stage and created moments. They also ran the gamut creatively, making the finishes of the match more of a challenge to top year over year. The most recent was 2020, which saw Brock Lesnar dominate half the field. Well, until a Scottish Psychopath got in his way.
"When I found out I was winning didn’t believe it until it actually happened," WWE Champion Drew McIntyre told Fightful. "I've been around too long nothing is official until it’s official, which made it more real to me and hopefully came across to fans that when it happened. It was the realization that it actually happened. On top of that, they were cheering as loud as when I eliminated Brock (Lesnar) and could have turned on match considering Edge had just returned."
In 2021, the Royal Rumble is not innovative. It's now existed across five decades, but it's still the attraction it was intended to be. The magic is still there. The business has to keep evolving, and in an uncertain 2020, it did.
"They’ve always tried new things," Tom Prichard said. "Hell, the cinematic look. Things like that. So, I think, no matter what happens, there’s always gonna be something new and innovative coming from them. It’s just the way they operate. It’s the vibe. It’s the magic pixie dust they throw in the hallways as you walk down the hallways that causes everybody to just come alive and start thinking of things. Hunter’s got a great mind, no doubt about it. He’s got a lot of great people behind him, no doubt. So, they’re always going to have something on the front burner and as well as the back burner, just to be ready."
2020 was by far the most innovative year for new match types in mainstream wrestling. I Quit Hell in a Cell, the NXT Fight Pit, a Casino Ladder Match, Eye for an Eye (we didn't say they were all good). Cinematic based innovations like the Boneyard Match, Firefly Funhouse, a rooftop Money in the Bank and Stadium Stampede. It was a time when the wrestling business was forced to get creative, and few get into said business without already being creative at heart. After over 15 years of largely the same match types on American wrestling television, they have a huge reputation to live up to. Maybe in 33 years, we'll be talking about the magic created in a tragic time.
We asked several wrestlers what they do after they're eliminated. Without fail, there was one answer. They watch. They go to the backstage area and they watch one of the matches that so many associate with memories of their youth.
"You go back and watch it. I never stopped being a fan!" Helms said.
Us too. 30 heads will rock, 29 will roll, or whatever the commercials used to say. I just know I'm ready for the Royal Rumble.
Thumbnail credit: WWE