Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Royal Rumble by (Entry) Numbers: 2014

On the right, the winner. On the left, the star performer.
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Putting aside any immediate feelings about the narrative, let’s take a look at the 2014 Royal Rumble by the numbers. Where was history made — for better or for worse? What performances will stand the test of time?

The most obvious starting point is Roman Reigns. In his first Rumble appearance, the Shield member logged nearly 34 minutes and made a record 12 eliminations. How good is that? Only 15 wrestlers have more career eliminations than Reigns produced in a single night — and that list of 15 includes Cody Rhodes, who was credited with his 13th elimination for helping to oust Alexander Rusev.

Reigns and CM Punk made their first final four. For Punk it was his first time in six Rumbles. His three eliminations on the night moved him to 18 all time, passing Chris Jericho (15) and Edge (17) and leaving him one behind Randy Orton for tenth on the all-time list. (A reminder here that I don’t give credit for illegal eliminations, so Kane’s endgame ouster of Punk adds nothing to the Big Red Machine’s career total.)

Punk’s 49:11 and three eliminations are impressive, though that’s only the fifth-longest time for a No. 1 entrant. There are seven No. 1s with less ring time and three or more eliminations, including Punk himself in 2011, when he made seven eliminations in just 35:21. And without going back and watching both, I’d wager Dolph Zigger in 2012 (49:47, two eliminations, fourth place) was significantly more involved in the match than Punk, whose semi-disappearing act led Wrestlespective’s Jason Mann to compare him to Road Dogg Jesse James’ rope-clinging run in 2000.

As for the winner, Batista, it was his third time entering 28th. He finished fourth in 2003, won in 2005 and again in 2014. The 2005 run was already the best No. 28 performance ever — the first and, until this year, only winner from that spot. How does 2014 stack up? A little less time (no overtime, as was needed for the classic clash with John Cena) and two fewer eliminations. So 2005 remains the best a No. 28 has ever fared.

Of course that puts Batista in the repeat winners’ club, though his Rumble career doesn’t hold a candle to the charter member, Hulk Hogan, or the others, Shawn Michaels and three-time winner Steve Austin. Batista also joins Austin and Michaels on the short list of wrestlers who have made the final four five times. The others are Glenn Jacobs (once as Diesel, four times as Kane) and Randy Orton.

Sheamus made his third final four in three years (Hogan was the first to do that, 1990-1992). The other three-timers are Big Show, Davey Boy Smith, Edge, Rock and the Undertaker. Of those, only Sheamus seems to have a chance to join Cena and Triple H in the four-time club. But given Sheamus’ style and reputation, he’s not a bad bet to make the final four at least once more, if not several more times.

Reigns’ incredible showing has a downside — it means hardly anything else happened of note during the match as would relate to Rumble history. There were only 17 eliminations left for the 29 other wrestlers — Batista had four, Punk had three … and 18 of them had none. Twelve is such an astronomical number it may just never be broken. Imagine how much less of a story there could be to tell when one mane makes 13 or 14 eliminations. At that point, why not let them own all 29?

It’s not to say there was nothing enjoyable from the other 29 spots, just nothing historic. Fellow NXT fans no doubt enjoyed seeing Rusev in the match — the perfect choice from that roster and a guy who could be a great example of how to use time in NXT to make a strong leap to the main roster. But so long as it’s on Hulu, there are a lot of people who pay no attention to NXT — especially those who only tune in to the Rumble and WrestleMania each year, so the impact of his surprise showing was muted. Plus he didn’t eliminate anybody. Neither did Kevin Nash, entering for the first time under his actual name (he was branded as Diesel in 2011).

That calls to mind the surprise entrance of John “Bradshaw” Layfield, a totally wasted spot evocative of 2012 when all three members of the announce team entered the match. As Michael Cole pointed out during the show, the JBL character had never entered a Royal Rumble. That seemed as clunk as all the “Corporate Kane” references, as if he’s materially different from regular Kane. If Corporate Kane is different, then why not acknowledge Glenn Jacobs’ turns as Isaac Yankem and Diesel?

There were ten Royal Rumble rookies in 2014, the most since 14 the 40-man event in 2011. The last time there were ten rookies in a 30-man Rumble was 2006. There were four former winners in the match as well, the same as in 2013. That’s the most ever, but it’s also happened six times in the last nine years, starting in 2006.

When people look back on this Rumble in ten years, they may or may not remember it as the night they wanted Daniel Bryan to win except he wasn’t even in the match. The only thing of note historically will be Reigns’ sheer domination and near win. If the ten Rumble rookies become Rumble veterans, there is a chance the numbers earned will be foundations of legendary career marks (I’m looking at you, Seth Rollins).

And, of course, there is sadness because we’re as far away from the next Royal Rumble as possible. Waiting sucks, especially when there are some memories from this edition many folks would like to wash away.