Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Rumble Reign of Reigns Is Impending

Could Reigns fast-track his way to Rumble history this year?
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When beginning any discussion about the Royal Rumble, it is important to establish the ground rules — and to be immediately aware they sometimes conflict.

My preference is to look at each match and career in story terms as much as possible — to give credit to Rey Mysterio for his incredible bell-to-bell run in 2006 on face value, and not in acknowledgement of the backstage influence — yet some statistical compiling must take into account real-life factors such as Mick Foley entering the 1998 Rumble as three distinct characters, or the fact 28 wrestlers have been in Rumbles as multiple personas (Charles Wright racked up five), and at least two characters (Diesel and Sin Cara) have been portrayed in Rumbles by multiple wrestlers.

Also, the only plausible way to tabulate eliminations is to give each wrestler who took part in an elimination full credit for that feat. So when Mil Mascaras and Pierroth dumped Cibernetico in 1997, each is attributed one elimination. And yet, there were only 27 total elimination credits in 1997, because three people eliminated themselves, and that shouldn’t count. Neither do no-shows, or failure to make it to the ring (see Axel, Curtis, 2015). Neither does an illegal elimination, such as Kane returning to toss CM Punk in 2014 or Giant Gonzalez appearing from nowhere to oust Undertaker in 1993.

(The oddest oddity remains Bret Hart and Lex Luger eliminating each other in 1994, but being named co-winners. This is the kind of thing that drives Rumblemetricians mad.)

Other ground rules, your time in the match begins when the buzzer hits zero, not when you hit the ring. Your time in the match ends when your body hits the floor. Wikipedia doesn’t count things this way, but I found I had to in order to preserve sanity. And if you no show (like Randy Savage in 1991 or Bastion Booger in 1994), you just get zeroes. No one is credited with eliminating you, you are not counted in the order of elimination, although clearly it does change the number of remaining opponents.

With that out of the way, we come to the issue of Roman Reigns. At the end of the January 4 RAW, Vince McMahon announced the 2016 Rumble would be unique — like the 1992 Rumble, the winner would be crowned WWE World Heavyweight Champion. But this time the title isn’t vacant; the defending Champ has to enter and win the Rumble to keep his belt.

In 1989 Randy Savage became the first reigning WWF Champion to enter the Rumble. Hulk Hogan did the same in 1990, he won that match and lost the title at WrestleMania VI. Since then, excepting 1992, the Championship has been defended on the show but not in the Rumble itself. (The “winner gets a title shot at WrestleMania” rule began in 1993, although that was the de facto policy in place in 1991.)

While McMahon’s edict came off as unprecedented and a vile means by which to punish a heroic Champion, it also — like so many odds-stacking gambits aimed at humbling Reigns or especially John Cena — is akin to forcing Brock Lesnar into a match that can only be won following 16 suplexes and three F5s. Roman Reigns is already on the Mount Rushmore of Royal Rumble competitors.

In his first Rumble appearance in 2014, the then-Shield member entered 15th and was the runner-up. He logged nearly 34 minutes and made a record 12 eliminations. How good was that? At the time, only 15 wrestlers had more career eliminations than Reigns produced in a single night — and that list of 15 includes Cody Rhodes, who was credited that night with his 13th elimination for helping to oust Rusev.

In 2015, Reigns became the first person to be last eliminated in one year’s Rumble and win the succeeding year’s match. (And yes, Shawn Michaels was arguably the runner-up in 1994 before winning in 1995 and 1996, but 1994 deserves an asterisk for the aforementioned double-winner situation.)

Reigns became only the second man to win from No. 19 (Cena, 2013) and logged the eighth-longest appearance by a winner (28:00). If you followed my series leading into the 2014 Rumble looking at performances based on each entry spot (to see how No. 4 in 1996 compared with No. 4 in 2006, for example), you know Reigns now is the best No. 19 in Rumble history, topping Cena, who lasted 26:39 and made just four eliminations en route to his win.

Reigns last year joined four other winners who eliminated six men. That gives Reigns 18 career eliminations, good for tenth on the all-time list (tied with Punk, they trail No. 9 Randy Orton by just one).

Yet remember, Reigns has only been in two Rumbles, and at this pace he’ll match Hogan, who logged 24 legal eliminations in his four Rumbles — though to be fair, Hogan did so in a cumulative 55:44, and Reigns is already a second shy of 62 minutes.

That 30:35 split moves Reigns to fourth all time in average minutes per Rumble for anyone with two or more Rumbles. But now checking in at second there is Bray Wyatt (if you factor in the minutes from his Husky Harris appearance in 2011, which I do) with an average of a bit more than 31 minutes. They join Fit Finlay (roughly 31:15 per in two matches) as the only men in the top 10 AMPR with only two Rumbles.

From a story standpoint, forcing Reigns to try to win the Rumble isn’t stacking the odds against him, it’s asking him to do what he does best. Steve Austin clearly has a better overall track record. Michaels is a legendary Rumbler, but he’s thrown up some serious duds (18 seconds in 1990). Hogan also has a magnificent résumé, and while for the moment he remains ahead of Reigns, it’s safe to assume when the dust settles on Jan. 24, Reigns will have either passed the trendsetter or pulled nearly equal.

With so many weeks of story to tell between now and the Rumble, it’s almost Certain Reigns’ entry spot will be determined before the match begins — which by convention would mean he’ll end up entering first or last. The former would almost guarantee he establishes new records for Rumble dominance.

For Rumble nerds like myself, 2016 is already fascinating — much more so then we’d expected not 24 hours ago. Just how much history changes remains to be seen, but that’s the fun in watching a Royal Rumble.