It’s that time of the year once again, when a group of sweaty, topless men attempt to throw each other out of an enclosed space.
Now, while you can probably see a similar sight in your local pub every weekend, there’s just something special about the WWE’s annual Royal Rumble extravaganza.
Indeed, no matter how lapsed you might become from watching pro-wrestling on the box, it’s tough to resist the allure of the 30-man over-the-top rope clusterfuck every January.
In many ways, the Royal Rumble is like Christmas, only better. Both days only come round once a year, but while presents under the tree is all well and good, Xmas Day doesn’t feature grown men and women brawling over the chance to win a gold belt. At least, not unless your family gatherings get way out of hand.
For many, the Rumble ranks as the greatest sporting event of each calendar year. Sure, wrestling isn’t technically real, but we don’t expect that football’s European Championships this summer will feature a scary cult leader doing a crabwalk across the field, while the crowd in the stadium all hold up their mobile phones and sing in unison to the tune of ‘He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands’.
As a kid, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in frequently playing out Rumble matches on games consoles, before re-enacting your own Rumble matches with your mates, throwing one another off the sofa, breaking furniture in your friend’s living room and getting into a shit load of trouble because of the absolute racket you were all making. Plus, you’d all inevitably fall out with each other, since there was no referee to confirm whether both your feet had officially hit the ground. Plus, there’s no way that Scotty 2 Hotty would ever eliminate Chris Jericho, you idiots! Sorry, old wounds…
But just what is it that we all love so much about the Royal Rumble?
Well, for me, it was the 2000 Royal Rumble which hooked me on the crazy world of professional wrestling in the first place.
Having heard my friends at school raving about this stuff, I taped the show when it aired in the early hours of the morning on Channel 4. When I watched it the next day, it’s safe to say that my impressionable 10-year-old eyes were not prepared for the sights of a 300lbs man wearing camo gear falling off the stands and through four tables, a toothless man with one ear being driven face first into a bunch of thumbtacks or, indeed, a 76-year-old woman’s bare breasts.
No, really, that all happened. Wrestling was a strange beast in the Attitude Era, to say the least.
Despite its very real potential to scar me for life, from that point on, I was hooked. The next year’s Rumble event was even better, with the big match itself featuring just about every major star in the business at the time – Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, Kane, Rikishi, Big Show, Triple H (making a run-in appearance to batter Austin), comedian Drew Carey (yes, really), and even the Honky Tonk Man showed up for some reason – and had his guitar smashed over his head by a 7′ tall, fire loving psychopath. Again, wrestling is weird sometimes.
Since then, no matter how disillusioned I might have become with the product (remember when JBL was WWE champion for 9 months in 2004-05? Dark times, indeed), I haven’t missed one Royal Rumble match. And there’s been some bloody great ones along the way – 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010, to name but a few.
Quite what is so appealing about the Rumble match itself is hard to put your finger on. Ultimately, it’s just a souped up battle royal. Guys enter ever two minutes and the aim is to throw your opponents over the top tope, with both their feet touching the floor, to eliminate them. The last man standing is the victor.
On paper, it doesn’t sound all that exciting.
In practice, however, the Rumble is something very special indeed.
Maybe it’s the prestige of the WrestleMania title shot for the winner – no matter how much the championship may have been devalued in recent years by WWE, that remains a big selling point. Maybe it’s the joy of seeing so many stars in the ring at the same time, interacting with one another, sometimes for the first ever time. Or the thrill of new feuds being started as the company enters WrestleMania season, or the surprise entrants, or the emergence of new stars, or the creative ways guys try to hang onto the top rope and stay in the match. Or, even, how quickly the crowd can turn on the match if the WWE screw up how they book it. We’re a passionate bunch us wrestling fans, don’t you know!
On that note, it’s safe to say that the WWE have majorly messed up the prestigious Rumble match in the last couple of years.
The 2014 debacle, in which a returning Batista (yeah, that guy who’s a big movie star now) was booed out of the building after fan favourite Daniel Bryan wasn’t even an entrant was pretty terrible. So, naturally, WWE CEO Vince McMahon thought the best plan of action for 2015 was to put Bryan in the match, have him be eliminated early, and then have Roman Reigns win the whole thing instead. Cue the most negative reaction to a controversial pretty-boy since Justin Bieber arrived on the scene.
Still, the twist this year of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship being on the line in the Rumble match, for the first time since 1992, gives the show a much needed shake-up, although it does limit the potential winners to about four guys.
Plus, there’s the added appeal that, surely, the WWE can’t screw this thing up for a third consecutive year. Can they?
Still, no matter what happens in the match this year, you can bet that I – and many more – will be tuning in again. After all, it comes back to that first watch back in 2000. There’s just something undeniably special about this show, this match, and the prestige and sense of fun which surrounds it. In many ways, the viewing experience has the potential to make you feel like a kid again, even when the company do manage to get it completely wrong.
So invite your friends round for a Rumble viewing party. Stay up ’til 4 in the morning. Drink a beer every time someone is eliminated from the match. Count along to the ten second countdown for each new entrant. Chant ‘Suplex City’ when Brock Lesnar rolls out at No. 30 to fuck shit up. Boo Roman Reigns to show your mates how cool you are. Point to the WrestleMania sign in unison, just like the victor. And, then, when you’re eight cans in, conduct your own drunken Royal Rumble match on the futon in the corner to ensure a 6am trip to A&E.
Happy Royal Rumble day, everyone!