Royal Pain: My love/hate relationship with the WWE Royal Rumble

I love the Royal Rumble, but I also kind of hate it. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but with any luck, by the end of this piece, it will.

The Royal Rumble is my favourite WWE event of the year. WrestleMania is, of course, THE event of the year, and while I get hyped for it, nothing beats the Rumble for me. I think it goes back to my early days of WWE fandom where the very first Rumble I can remember was the ’91 show from Miami. Having never seen this kind of match before, 11-year-old Zach was blown away. I thought, 30 wrestlers…all in the ring (not all at the same time of course, but try to explain that to me back then)! I’m pretty sure I thought it was the coolest thing in wrestling I had ever seen. Even the poster was awesome:

Friends fighting friends! Foes fighting foes! Fees fighting fums! Some parts of the match still stand out for me, like Rick Martel’s epic 52-minute run, and the dispatching of Bushwhacker Luke in just four seconds. I was so excited for Martel; the longer he stayed in, the more I thought he was going to win. Then Davey Boy Smith throws him out and it just crushed me. And with that, my complicated love/hate relationship with the Rumble began.

The ’94 Rumble from Rhode Island is another one that I remember affectionately. That year’s Rumble match ended in controversy ( 20+ YEAR OLD SPOILERS AHEAD) when Bret Hart and Lex Luger eliminated each other simultaneously and were declared co-winners. As a young, naive viewer, that ending totally blew my mind. I mean, what are the chances that the final two competitors would both go over the top and touch the floor at the exact same time? Like, a billion to one probably.

The ’94 Rumble was also the year with the completely insano Undertaker vs. Yokozuna casket match. I don’t even want to know how that match would hold up if I watched it again today, but 13-year-old me thought it was amazing. IT WAS A MATCH WITH A CASKET! You had to put your opponent in a casket! How could anybody put Yokozuna or Undertaker in a casket? You don’t put Undertaker in a casket! He puts you in a casket! It was madness! And then Tenryu! And then Great Kabuki! And Bam Bam (and some other guys)! What is even happening!? Then Taker appears on the screen from inside the casket! How can we see him inside the casket!? There are no cameras in caskets! Then the CASKET EXPLODES with Undertaker inside! Then Undertaker FLIES! Guys, I’m pretty sure this is the moment pro wrestling peaked.

Back to the actual Rumble match: man, that finish peeved me off. You have to understand I was a big time Bret fan (and Owen) at the time, so obviously, I wanted him to win. And then for the match to end with a double elimination…ugh! Damn you, Luger! You may be noticing a pattern developing here. Just like a few years earlier, even though I loved the match itself, the ending left me completely deflated. And it wasn’t going to be the last time.

Each year, the Rumble comes around and I’m just as excited for it now as I ever was despite knowing full well it’s going to leave me feeling empty inside. The past few years have been no different. In fact, they’ve been especially dispiriting. In 2012, Sheamus won by eliminating my all time fav Chris Jericho (excluding ’16 Jericho, whom I refuse to acknowledge). The following year, John Cena won lol. Then, we had the infamous ’14 Batista win that nearly broke the Rumble for good. Poor Rey. And of course, ’15, the year Roman Reigns shocked absolutely nobody anywhere by winning the Rumble and going on to main event WrestleMania.

Come to think of it, there have only been maybe two really satisfying Rumble finishes. 2004, when Chris Benoit won (which led to him winning the World Heavyweight Championship at Mania), and 2006 when Rey Mysterio beat all of the odds and won. Those are the only truly “happy ending” Rumbles that I can recall.

Just as the Rumble, and pro wrestling in general, continues to do this very day, those early Rumbles made me have feelings. Lots of feelings. Laughter and joy at Bushwhacker Luke. Anger at Lex Luger and Davey Boy Smith. Hope for Rick Martel. Pity for Bret Hart. This might sound weird, but the Royal Rumble is a lot like one of my previous relationships: exciting at the beginning, moments of joy, moments of laughter, moments of anger, hope that it’ll all work out in the end, knowing deep down that it won’t, and then the disappointment when the inevitable finally happened.

Yes, the parallels between the Royal Rumble and my love life are worryingly apparent. (I did say it was complicated.) Maybe I’m just a sucker for punishment, or maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic. All I know is that I’ve been watching Royal Rumbles for 25 years, and I’ve experienced all the feelings the Rumble can make a person feel. Even with the heartbreak, I’m just as excited for this Sunday’s edition now as I was then.

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