Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Best Endings in Royal Rumble History

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There have been 30 editions of the Royal Rumble match, and not all of them have been noteworthy. Big John Studd won one of them, for goodness' sake. But let's focus on the good, in the face of all the difficulties we must endure in this ridiculous world of ours. Certain Rumbles have ended in excellent fashion, and we should take a minute to show our appreciation, if only to get ready for our inevitable disappointment at the end of the 2018 Royal Rumble.

(moments are unranked, because rankings are unfair)

1994 Royal Rumble - The Co-Winners
In the first and only time in which there were officially two winners of the Rumble, Bret Hart and Lex Luger toppled over the ropes and eliminated each other at the same time. It's a precarious spot that WWE tried again last year with AJ Styles and Luke Harper, and even Mr. Gay Community wasn't talented enough to pull it off. But Bret Hart was. And even with a clumsy oaf like Luger in his hands, Hart knew just how to fall with him and how they should bounce just barely off the edge of the mat in order for their feet to hit in synchronicity.

The crowd wasn't very satisfied with the tie, but the post-match confusion did give WWE the answer to the question they were asking: Who did the crowd like better? And duh, it was Bret Hart all day. Get outta here with your Lex Express.

1992 Royal Rumble - This Isn't Fair to Flair (But He Won Anyway)
I wrote about the 1992 Rumble last year, eventually deciding that the match was probably the best ever. So it's obvious that it would appear here, and we all know about the marathon effort from a 42-year old Flair, but I'd like to highlight an underrated aspect of the ending — the beginning of the death of Hulkamania.

Sid Justice eliminated Hogan, in a slightly underhanded manner, but hey, it's the Royal Rumble, you know? When Hogan went out, there was a noticeably excited crowd reaction. And then when Hogan pulled the ultimate dick move and pulled Sid's arm from the outside, allowing Flair to throw him out, the crowd booed.

Yet when they showed this recap on episodes of Superstars, the crowd noise had curiously been doctored. Suddenly, the crowd booed vociferously at Hogan being eliminated, and cheered wildly when Sid was eliminated. It's really nice to imagine a pissed off Vince McMahon screaming at a video production guy to make the cheering louder, all the while not listening to anyone around him. Good thing history doesn't repeat itself!

2005 Royal Rumble - AGGGHHH, MY QUADS
In keeping with the theme of laughing at Vince McMahon, we should all be thankful that we got to see the Chairman rip one of his quads for the whole world to see. McMahon stormed out from the back to mediate yet another draw between two co-winners (gotta admit that John Cena and Batista also did a bang-up job of landing at the same time), and as he climbed into the ring, Vince's weird, old, muscled-up right quad got tore up. Common wisdom says he tore both quads, but Bruce Prichard recently cleared it up: Vince tore one quad in the ring, and then tore the other quad backstage. But still, it doesn't take away from the joy of seeing that Trump-donating ghoul sitting on his ass, in excruciating pain but doing his best to hide it, while everyone in the ring sits there wondering why the hell Vince is sitting down.

2007 Royal Rumble - Suddenly, a Five-Star Match Breaks Out
We all know the magic created by The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels at Manias 25 and 26, but they got a two-year head start at the end of this Rumble. For the last seven minutes, it was just the two of them, battling it out and showing everyone that there was a reason why WWE had saved this pairing for so long. They were true masters of the artform, and they were rightfully given a huge chunk of time to show it. Usually, the Final Two of the Rumble are only in there together for a minute or two because the frantic drama of the match needs to be maintained. Michaels and Taker maintained this drama based on their stature alone, and then raised it even higher with brilliant work.

1993 Royal Rumble - Savage Forgets How Rumbles Work
Yokozuna was the obvious favorite to win the '93 Rumble, as he had been running through jobbers and was really the only clear contender to Bret Hart's title (this was the first Rumble in which the winner would get a title shot at Wrestlemania). The match came down to Yokozuna and Randy Savage, and with all the psychotic energy he could muster, Savage became the first man to put Yoko on his back. Savage hit him with the Elbow Drop, and then against all logic and reason, went for the cover. YOU DON'T DO THAT IN THE RUMBLE. It's likely that this memory lapse was intentional, because Yoko kicked out of this pin so hard that Savage went flying over the ropes and got eliminated. But were we supposed to believe that Savage was that stupid to forget the one basic premise of the Rumble?

Now that I'm remembering the previous year's rumble, when Savage eliminated himself by jumping over the ropes to chase Jake Roberts, yes, we were probably supposed to believe he was that stupid.

2015 Royal Rumble - Roman Wins and Everything is Terrible
Everyone expected the returning Daniel Bryan to win this, and then he got eliminated midway through the match. And when it became clear that Roman Reigns was going to take it, the crowd in Philadelphia went into open revolt. Not even The Rock could save the moment. No matter what happens with Reigns in the next decade or so, even if he becomes beloved, it will never stop being hilarious to go back and watch this ending get utterly shit on by the entire world. It's one of the first times we really started to have conversations about problematic crowds actively ruining or altering WWE's product, and three years later, it doesn't feel like we've come any closer to answering any of the questions posed that night.

1997 Royal Rumble - The Rattlesnake Slithers Back In
Stone Cold Steve Austin was technically "eliminated" by Bret Hart, but hey man, if the ref didn't see it, it didn't happen. Austin slid back into the ring, eliminated Vader, Undertaker, Fake Diesel (yikes), and then Hart himself to win the Rumble. Of course, this victory was immediately tainted, and it led to the best WrestleMania match ever, so it belongs on this list by law.

2008 Royal Rumble - If Cena Returns, We'll Be Happy
John Cena tore his pectoral muscle in October of 2007, and everyone thought he'd be out for nearly a year, because that's what humans are supposed to do. So when Cena entered this Rumble at #30, looking like he hadn't been gone a minute, the crowd at Madison Square Garden erupted. Remember, this is well after the adult male audience had turned on him and made him their sworn enemy. And still, when Cena's music hit, you could not hear one boo (or boo-urns) among them. They all lost their cool and became little kids again, because when pro wrestling is done right, it makes us forget everything we've previously known.

2006 Royal Rumble - One For the Little Guys
Though I wasn't watching WWE at the time, I have to imagine that a fan like me would have gotten a little bummed out by the constant milquetoast vibes of Triple H and Randy Orton. This is why it's thrilling to watch the crowd begin to believe Rey Mysterio has a real chance of winning, especially when it comes down to him, Trips, and Orton. After Mysterio gets Triple H out of there, there was probably still a hint of pessimism among jaded fans like myself, since Orton remained, but then Mysterio worked some magic and hurricanrana'd Orton out, and the crowd came unglued. It was a clear tribute to the recently passed Eddie Guerrero, and judging by the audience's reaction, everyone needed something to be happy about.

1995 Royal Rumble - The Skinning of the Cat
As Davey Boy Smith tossed Shawn Michaels out, he looked for a second and then turned his back and raised his hand in victory. Little did he know, the most talented pro wrestler in WWE history was on the outside, skinning the damn cat and not letting both of his feet touch the floor. The cruelest trick WWE ever pulled on Davey Boy was making him look like a goober who just assumed he won, and then got knocked out of the ring and lost. To make matters worse, Davey Boy lost the chance to have '95 Pamela Anderson on his arm at the end, and dear lord was she just a 10-alarm smokeshow at the time. 11-year old me was VERY INTO THIS.