It’s time for the Royal Rumble!
On Sunday night, WWE will present one of my favorite shows of its annual big event calendar, the ROYAL RUMBLE! The event is the first big show of WRESTLEMANIA season and sets the stage for the next few months of WWE action, giving the winner of the scheduled mens’ and women’s matches the opportunity for a world championship match at the biggest show of the year.
As I did for HELL IN A CELL last year, I thought I would get ready for Sunday’s show with a look back at past Royal Rumbles to see what the show has to offer.
The Royal Rumble was first introduced at a house show in late 1987, as a test run for a televised debut. It entered the national wrestling fan consciousness, though, in January 1988 with a special on the USA Network. The show was opposite an NWA pay-per-view, the Bunkhouse Stampede, and was planned to mess with the competition. What resulted, though, was an annual tradition that has become one of the most important dates on the wrestling fan’s calendar.
The match is a take-off on the battle royal concept, where multiple men battle in the same match and win by throwing their opponents over the top rope and to the floor. But in a Royal Rumble, only 2 men begin the match and more come in after regular intervals. Originally set as every two minutes, it’s evolved over the years to every 90 seconds. Once the last contestant has entered the match, it continues until only one man remains in the ring.
Since 1993, the winner of the Royal Rumble match has earned a world championship contest at WrestleMania. In 1992, however, the WWF Championship was vacant after a screwy match between HULK HOGAN and the UNDERTAKER in December 1991. Then-WWF President Jack Tunney ordered that the winner of the 1992 Rumble would be the Undisputed WWF Champion.
In one of the greatest Rumbles ever, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair entered at number 3 and lasted nearly an hour to win the match and the championship.
It wasn’t until 2016 before the title would be up for grabs again. Champion Roman Reigns was ordered to begin the match at number 1 and defend his title in the Rumble that year. Reigns lasted nearly an hour before eventually losing to Triple H, who entered the ring at number 30.
While not defending his championship, WWE Champion Brock Lesnar entered the Rumble at number 1 in 2020 and eliminated 13 straight entrants before getting eliminated by eventual winner Drew McIntyre, who would go on to beat Lesnar for the title at last year’s WRESTLEMANIA.
Main Event Challenge
Since the number one contender stipulation was added to the Royal Rumble in 1993, there have been 26 championship matches made as a result of the Rumble. The first, Yokozuna challenging Bret “Hitman” Hart at WrestleMania IX, gave us a new WWF Champion. Sure, Yokozuna lost the title seconds later to Hulk Hogan due to the arrogance of manager MR. FUJI, but he still got the job done at first.
In total, the Rumble winner has gone on to win their WrestleMania championship challenge 16 of those 26 times. The longest winning streak came between 2001 and 2007, which was immediately followed by the longest losing streak, from 2008 to 2011. Shinsuke Nakamura is the last mens’ Royal Rumble winner to lose his championship challenge, in 2018 at WRESTLEMANIA 34.
For the 3 women’s Rumble matches, only Asuka, the first women’s Rumble winner, lost her championship challenge, also at WrestleMania 34.
Only 5 men have spent more than an hour in a Royal Rumble match, not counting the 2018 Greatest Royal Rumble from Saudi Arabia. Of those 5 men, only two were the eventual winners. The record for the longest time in a Rumble belongs to Rey Mysterio, who won the 2006 Rumble after lasting 1:02:12. A close second is 2004 winner Chris Benoit, who survived for 1:01:30. Both men went on to win their WrestleMania matches. The other three are Bob Backlund (1993), Triple H (2006) and Chris Jericho (2017).
Flair (1992) and Reigns (2016) both lasted more than 59 minutes, but fell short of the official hour mark.
Chris Jericho also has the record for most cumulative time spent in Royal Rumble matches, with almost five hours over 11 appearances. Mysterio, who has also been in 11 Rumbles, is second, at just more than 4 hours in Rumble matches.
Other Championship Matches
The first titles defended on a Royal Rumble card was the short-lived WWF Women’s Tag Team Championship, held by the Glamour Girls (Judy Martin and Leilani Kai). Kai and Martin defended against the Jumping Bomb Angels at the 1988 show, on the USA Network. The Angels won the 2-out-of-3 falls match to win the titles.
On pay-per-view, the first championship defended was also a women’s match, as WWF Women’s Champion Rockin’ Robin defeated Judy Martin at the 1989 Rumble.
The first men’s championship match at the Royal Rumble wouldn’t be until 1991, when WWF Champion Ultimate Warrior defended against Sgt. Slaughter. After interference from “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Slaughter, at the time an Iraqi sympathizer who had turned his back on the United States, defeated Warrior to win the title.
After the 1992 Rumble championship match, the WWF Championship wouldn’t change hands at the Rumble until 1997, when Shawn Michaels regained the title from Sid.
The 2021 Royal Rumble will be live Sunday night on the WWE Network (and, I assume, on pay-per-view, but who orders pay-per-view any more?). Check back here Monday morning for the highlights!