The following is an excerpt from Fightful's Inside The Royal Rumble feature. For the full story an additional context, please visit the full article at this link, and when posting quotes from this piece, please link to the original article.
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.