The Royal Rumble brings excitement to WWE fans every year. It’s considered by many the most entertaining single-match in WWE with a track record to back up such a claim. You can say that the main-event of WrestleMania is bigger, and of course it is, but Mania is all about the end of the journey. The Royal Rumble is where the journey begins. Like a great first chapter of a book, or a great first episode of a TV show, a well-executed Royal Rumble can be the catalyst to a memorable Road to WrestleMania.
Steve Austin’s memorable win in 1998 is a great example of how to do it right. Austin was the hottest thing going at the time, and Shawn Michaels/DX along with “evil Mr. McMahon” (in the fallout of the Montreal Screwjob) provided the perfect foils to his quest to the mountaintop. Let’s not forget the ace in the hole that was Mike Tyson. Together those three components propelled the WWF to the top of wrestling, never to be supplanted.
But the Royal Rumble isn’t always a slam dunk. There have been many instances where fans walked away from the most anticipated match of the year shaking their heads at how it all went so wrong. With that said, when looking back on past Royal Rumbles, which was the most disappointing? There are a lot of metrics to consider, so let’s break the answer down into five categories…
WHO WAS THE MOST FRUSTRATING WINNER?
Answer: Roman Reigns, 2015
Timing is everything in wrestling, and there’s not many examples more obvious than the saga of Roman Reigns’ WWE title quest in early 2015. It was a time when Daniel Bryan had finally returned from injury; an injury that had stripped him of his WWE Championship months earlier. He finally reached the top where fans knew he belonged and then fate snatched it away. When he returned he vaulted to the top of everyone’s wishlist, hoping to see him face the monstrous Brock Lesnar in the ultimate David vs. Goliath match at WrestleMania 31.
Instead he was tossed from the Royal Rumble with little fanfare fifteen minutes into the match.
The angst, the bitterness, the palpable frustration that had been brewing over WWE’s treatment of Bryan finally reached a boiling point and the rest of the Rumble was spent with frustrated boos by the WWE faithful to anyone in the ring. When it finally came down to Roman Reigns, whom everyone knew had been appointed as the next face of the company, fans turned so viciously against him he’s still struggling as a babyface. Vince has a long history of frustrating (to the fans) moves as the top promoter in the world, but few were as intense as 2015’s Royal Rumble.
WHO DID THE LEAST WITH THE WIN?
Answer: Shawn Michaels, 1995
The Heartbreak Kid was a back-to-back winner in 1995-1996, but the two victories kickstarted quests to WrestleMania that could not have been more different. In 1996 Shawn was the center-piece of the promotion, on a collision course with WWF Champion Bret Hart (the current torch-bearer in the post-Hogan era). The two men would meet in an hour-long WrestleMania match that set a new standard for athleticism in main-event wrestling.
A year earlier, however, and Michaels was too green in the main-event scene to be given the spotlight. He chased after Diesel’s WWF Championship and the two ex-tag partners met in the semi-main-event of WrestleMania 11. They were bumped for Bam Bam Bigelow vs Lawrence Taylor. Michaels of course failed to win the title in 1995, and the Rumble failed even to cement him as a new main-event player; he spent the rest of the year in the midcard, chasing the Intercontinental Championship. His back-to-back Rumble win streak is an accomplishment often praised outside of its context. When considering the circumstances around it, that first Rumble win was the biggest waste thus far in the match’s history.
WHOSE WIN WAS THE BIGGEST WET FART?
Answer: Sheamus, 2012
CM Punk was on top of the world, and though Rock vs Cena was obviously going to be the headliner, the WWE Championship scene felt fresh and exciting. A worthwhile challenger to Punk had returned in the form of Chris Jericho, doing brilliant work as the self-proclaimed “best in the world” (a mantra shared with CM Punk, of course). Jericho returned in January after a long hiatus to a series of wordless promos that turned the fans hard against him. When he finally spoke it was on the Raw just before the Royal Rumble, where he finally declared “At the Royal Rumble, it’ll be the end of the world as you know it.” He entered the match at #29, a great spot for a heel to win.
And then was booted out of the ring by Sheamus.
Freaking Sheamus, the bland white (white!) bread babyface that Vince decided “needed it more” or something so he swerved for the sake of it after so many fans rightly assumed Jericho would win. This was the birth of “SO OF COURSE” if you’re wondering.
WHO WAS THE MOST DISAPPOINTING WINNER?
Answer: Rey Mysterio, 2006
Have you heard of the Peter Principle? In a nutshell, the concept is:
managers rise to the level of their incompetence
The basic idea is that a person is often promoted from one position to another (better) position, based on their success at their current job, instead of how qualified they are for the new job they’re being promoted to. If I’m really good flipping burgers at McDonalds, and I do that job really well for a decade, that doesn’t mean I’m somehow qualified to be a manager of the store. Yet that incongruous thought process is common in business. A person will be promoted and if he succeeds despite himself, he’ll be promoted again, and again until he reaches a level where his incompetence undoes him and he is brandished a failure, simply because he was given a job he wasn’t supposed to do.
Poor Rey Mysterio was a perfect mid-card babyface. He had fans of all stripes in love with him. His small frame made him a great underdog and his aerial moves made him an easy performer for non-fans to get invested in. Naturally he found himself in more and more high-profile feuds and, in the wake of Eddie Guerrero’s death, a WrestleMania “heavyweight” championship storyline starting with a Royal Rumble win. He never had a prayer. Despite all the tools in the world to do what he was good at, Rey was pushed in a role he wasn’t built to excel at. He still might have made something out of his brief World Championship run, but he never had support from the one person who mattered. Rey’s Rumble win goes down as a bust, and the most disappointing of the bunch.
WHO SHOULDN’T HAVE WON BUT DID BECAUSE “VINCE McMAHON GONNA VINCE McMAHON”?
Answer: (Dave) Batista, 2014
This one shouldn’t even need a summary. Who doesn’t know the real-world twisty tale of Daniel Bryan’s journey to main-eventing the biggest WrestleMania ever? Never forget the role the Royal Rumble played in that saga: Dave Batista had returned and was soundly rejected as yesterday’s news, while fans pined for Bryan to move back into the spotlight after being knocked down a peg the previous fall. Instead, Vince’s bull-headedness reached critical mass as not only did Batista win the Royal Rumble, but Daniel Bryan didn’t even appear in the match.
There are a lot of superstars who could be argued should have won this match or that, but in the moment of January 2014, every wrestling fan on the planet was in tune to one another, and all understood one thing: Daniel Bryan should win the 2014 Royal Rumble.
This year’s Rumble will be here before you know it, and sure enough there are a few names that make a lot of sense and who could do a lot of good with a win. Will they get the chance? Will history repeat itself ala 1998 or 2012? Who can say? One thing’s for sure, we’re all going to be watching, enjoying the hour-long spectacle for all it has to offer and then collectively crying or rejoicing when the fireworks finally go off.
See you then!