While taking a journey through all these Royal Rumble matches, I’ve examined my own evolution as a fan. The ’88 Rumble was the first wrestling even I ever saw on TV, with the endless Dino Bravo benchpress segment being the thing I remember seeing first. So it’s a wonder why I stuck around after that. Like many people, I stopped watching in the mid-90s and came back for the Attitude Era. Also like many, I mostly stopped watching after Wrestlemania 17.
Here are my reasons: 1. Monopolies on just about any level are a bad thing, whether it is Comcast or Rogers being the only cable provider in your town or a national wrestling promotion with no competitor. When a business doesn’t have to be competitive, it stagnates. 2. In 2001 I had graduated from college and moved out of Massachusetts and wasn’t willing to devote the time anymore. Even today there are 8 hours between RAW, Smackdown, Superstars, Main Event, and NXT. You have to discriminate. I’m glad I missed the Invasion angle: it was botched in its entirety due to ego and cheaping out on the WCW side.
I did come back for Wrestlemania 18 and bought the PPV simply because I wanted to see Rock vs Hogan, not Triple H vs Jericho. Trips of course had busted a quad in 2001 and returned at a RAW held at Madison Square Garden where he got a huge ovation. Mixed emotions about that: while I’m glad he was able to overcome serious injury, HHH went on to bury so many people in the ensuing years that I think everyone in that MSG crowd could theoretically be charged with involuntary manslaughter.
The Great HHH Push of 2002 began at the 2002 Royal Rumble, held in Atlanta of all places. The home of WCW actually provided a decent crowd here; I like a good southern ‘rasslin crowd. You’ll note that when I start writing about late 80s WCW more. Speaking of that era, Jim Ross is here to do play by play alongside Jerry Lawler, who did the old “leave and come back” move in 2001 when his girlfriend got fired so he quit. Eventually he came back in November because where else could one make big money with one major promotion? Memphis? Nah.
Rikishi is #1, and since he was #30 in 2001 that means he was consecutive entrances over two years. Goldust is #2 so the start is a nice little WWE Hall of Fame midcard match, since Goldie will be in someday. Goldust inexplicably tries a sunset flip but moves before Rikishi sits on him. The bizarre one is nearly tossed twice before the buzzer for #3 the Big Bossman. Finally….the Boss Man has come back….to Fulton County. Short enough commute from Cobb County even with bad Atlanta traffic. Goldust gets crotched on the top rope and the three guys do the old triangle fight before they remember that the proper strategy is to gang up on the big fat guy.
Bradshaw is #4 and just sort of runs over everyone. Bossman is sent to the corner by Rikishi to set up the Stinkface. Still have no idea how these guys could take that move, just from a hygienic perspective. Kick and clothesline spell the end for Bossman, and Rikishi scores with a Samoan drop on Bradshaw. It’s a little like 2000 here with Rikishi in control thus far. Lance Storm is #5, a guy who is good at all aspects of wrestling except for personality.
Al Snow is #6 and is billed as “from Tough Enough”, a show that I have never watched. Not even on demand on WWE Network. Storm gets a huge lariat from Bradshaw as the crowd chants “We want Head” for Snow. Interesting to note that when Al Snow had his huge ECW push in 1998, his PPV match for the ECW title took place in Atlanta at Wrestlepalooza against Shane Douglas. He inexplicably lost that match; my booking would have seen him win then drop the belt to Taz before heading to WWF.
Billy is #7 as that is what Billy Gunn is called. This is during Billy and Chuck, a very irresponsible angle in how it ended. Don’t promote a gay wedding and then mock it in the end. It looks even more distasteful in retrospect. Lance Storm is engaged with Al Snow in a battle for a suplex, with Storm on the apron. Snow eliminates Storm with a kick and I just hope this led to a SnowStorm match. The American Southeast is having a blizzard as I type this, oddly enough.
Time for a ring clearing and the Undertaker at #8 is just the guy to do it. Billy eats a monster chokeslam because that’s one thing Billy Gunn did well was take big moves. Meaning he could jump. Goldust is chokeslammed over and out, then Snow, Rikishi and Billy follow. This is still the Biker Undertaker, as he rode down to the ring which really serves to cut his the time on his walk down. It’s a shame he wasn’t around for the Wrestlemanias (3 and 6) with the ring carts: they could have fit in 3 more matches by cutting down his entrance.
Matt Hardy with Lita is #9 and they kiss before he runs down. Man, what a journey that duo would go on the next four years. He gets caught by Taker, but Lita runs in as well and she gets caught. Because it’s 2002, a shot to the nuts allows Hardy and Lita to get control and after nailing a Twist of Fate, they put the boots to Taker. They hold their own until #10 arrives, and it’s brother Jeff Hardy, who would have a much more famous moment with Undertaker later in 2002. Jeff saves his brother and all three put the boots to Undertaker again before a referee awkwardly drags Lita out. Undertaker gets a short comeback and Jeff is almost eliminated, but they get a cool looking double team with the Twist of Fate/Swanton combo, just like the 2001 match. But then Jeff is caught and dumped out and Matt takes the Last Ride and he’s gone too. Well, that was sudden.
And now here is #11 Maven, Tough Enough season 1 champ and surely he won’t do anything remarkable, right? He takes a boot before Lita gets on the apron again and the Hardys come back to try and take down the Deadman. Jeff is thrown out under the ropes and he does a cool looking slide. Undertaker looks out at the Hardys and Lita in the aisle, and this happens:
Seeing all these Rumbles has hurt my capacity for surprise so when I see a guy like Maven take out Undertaker, it’s kind of a thrill. The crowd pops huge for this moment too. It’s just a shame it had to be followed by an extended Undertaker beatdown of Maven that was so unbelievably over the top, presumbly to get a legendary figure like Taker over more as a heel instead of having people cheer him. But at least Maven will always have that moment. Meanwhile, #12 Scotty 2 Hotty is walking into the Undertaker driven maelstrom for the second straight year and he gets belted before Maven is dragged through the crowd and ends up in a popcorn machine on the concourse. Watch the poor security people in the concourse try and keep order, what a crap job that is to have. Maven’s busted open by the way, so welcome to the big time.
Lucky #13 is the European champ Christian, who poses with the belt in the ring for more than five seconds. Scotty gets in but Christian hits an inverted DDT and controls on offense. Christian’s Wrestlemania 18 opponent Diamond Dallas Page is #14 and JR points out that he’s no stranger to the Atlanta crowd. One of my favorite odd Wrestlemania facts is that DDP’s only two Mania shots were both at the SkyDome in Toronto. At Mania 6, he drove Honky Tonk Man’s car. DDP hits a Diamond Cutter on Christian but Scotty sends him through the middle ropes. Now that’s a trope I haven’t seen much: the guy avoiding going over the top by going through the middle. This allows Scotty time to set up for the Worm on Christian to get the crowd going again after Undertaker’s beatdown ground everything to a halt, but DDP tosses Mr. 2 Hotty after he does the move.
Chuck of Billy and Chuck fame is #15 and Godfather is #16 as they try to rebuild the match. Godfather clearly had a good harvest from the fruitful Atlanta strip club scene, bringing out three sets of four women. The guy looked genuinely happy to be out of the stupid Goodfather gimmick and his entrance takes the full two minutes. They even miss DDP’s elimination, but who cares since we’ll see a replay. This is all about passing time and engaging the crowd.
Albert is #17 and I won’t diss him since he’s a Massachusetts guy. I am weirdly loyal like that and is part of the reason why I’m the rare person who still likes Jay Leno. Christian and Chuck form an impromptu team to eliminate Albert, who was tied up with Godfather. The C&C Wrestling Factory, which I will call them, get sent to the corner by Godfather to set up the Ho Train charge, which misses and now Godfather’s is dispatched. Back to the Gold Club, I guess.
Saturn is #18 and the ring is midcarderiffic right now. The crowd is distracted by Godfather’s antics in the aisle while exiting. This is probably your cue to head to the bathroom, grab a smoke, whatever.
Oh crap, here comes Austin at #19. Quick, come back! Oh right, this is during the unfortunate “what” period, which poisoned promos for years even to this day. But in the ring he looks like himself once again, sending out Christian, Chuck and Saturn. He pantomimes looking at a watch and grabs Christian, brings him back into the ring for a Stunner then tosses him again. Austin sees he has more time so he does the same with Chuck. Funny stuff, you can always count on Stone Cold to bring the entertainment in the Rumble.
Val Venis is #20 and he is jumped after taking his damn time to get to the ring. Austin does the mudhole stomp in the corner with the “what” chant in unison. Test is #21 and JR says he’s immune from being fired because he won a battle royal from the Survivor Series last November. That’s funny because he hasn’t been very good in Rumble matches at all. Miscommunication as Val takes a boot from Test, allowing Austin to eliminate the porn star. Test takes a Stunner and he’s gone too.
It’s time for a showdown with Triple H at #22 and he looks jacked to the gills. Pretty sure he would have failed any wellness test on the spot. he very slooooooowly gets in and after a tense staredown between the former members of the Two Man Power Trip, we get a slugfest that turns into an even trade of offense.
Austin and HHH are down from a double clothesline as the buzzer goes for #23: Hurricane Helms in the superhero gimmick. In another funny moment, he grabs Triple H, then Austin like he would chokeslam both. The two main eventer share a delightful glance like “what the hell is this guy doing” and eventually throw him out to resume their carefully crafted battle where they must get the same offense in to placate egos.
Farooq is #24 but all he gets is a Stunner from Stone Cold before the Game sends him out. See, Austin hits his move, but Trips gets the elimination. Sharing is caring. Mr. Perfect is #25 and he looks pretty good here. Just a shame he would pass away only 13 months later. He was a favorite of mine from the 1989 Rumble, where was the 2nd star.
Kurt Angle is #26 and he still has his hair, but the “You Suck” chants have started with his song. Actually, it was a “You Suck What” chant this time. The Olympian blocked a suplex before scoring with one on Triple H, and Perfect is doling out chops left and right like it is 1991. Austin rescues Triple H from a tough spot in top for the Big Show at #27. Perfect takes goes for that chokeslam ride before Show does the same thing Hurricane did and grabs Austin and HHH but still ends up looking strong. Show cuts a swath of destruction in his first minutes.
Last year’s MVP Kane is #28 and the Big Show is waiting on him, and lands a big boot. They grab each other’s throat, and then HOLY CRAP Kane picks him up and slams Show over the top, a la Cesaro at Mania 30. That spot will never get old for me. Kane eats a Stunner and is tossed by Angle, but man he knows how to make an impression quickly in these matches.
Angle is on the mat as #29 Rob Van Dam arrives so he goes up top immediately to land the Five Star Frog Splash. Van Dam lands a spinning heel kick on Austin with those educated feet, but because he crossed Austin he’ll answer to Triple H in accordance with that weird unspoken alliance. Pedigree time, so Van Dam has to sell it like he’s dead. The last man #30 Booker T came in to sweep up the Van Dam mess and throw him out. Angle and Perfect trade shots as I wonder what a late 80s/early 90s version of Curt Hennig could do with 2002 Kurt Angle. That would be some incredible stuff. Booker T did a Spinneroni to celebrate so Austin stunned him and sent him over and out.
Very suddenly we’re down to the Final Four: Angle, Austin, Perfect and Triple H. Austin fights his way out of Pedigree, but takes a series of German suplexes from Angle. A low blow gets him out of that jam. Angle and Perfect get Austin close to elimination and the crowd freaks out in case you think Austin had lost too much steam by 2002. Later, Austin is engaged with Perfect and Angle comes up from behind to score the first non-bullshit elimination of Austin since 1996. The Rattlesnake drags Perfect out of the ring, but Angle makes the save there. Because he’s apparently a very sore loser, Austin takes a chair and wallops the other three guys in the head and leaves.
Angle misses a clothesline on Perfect and goes over the top but hangs on. Crowd is not chanting “Hunter’s Sleeping!” because that kind of derision is reserved only for Roman Reigns, I guess. Angle tries for a backdrop but gets hooked in a PerfectPlex. Because this isn’t WWF WrestleFest in the arcade, pinfalls do not count in the Rumble. When I played that game in my youth, I would ALWAYS be Mr. Perfect because he was the best all-around guy. Same logic as why I would be the Charlotte Hornets in NBA Jam with Larry Johnson and Kendall Gill.
After letting him have his moment, Trips rises and eliminates Perfect. Angle and HHH go back and forth, with a Angle belly to belly tossed in. Trips looks like he’s gone, but he hangs in but Angle thinks he won. Clearly he didn’t watch the end of the 1995 Rumble because that’s a mistake. Trips gets a facebuster and clotheslines Angle out. Let the burials commence, it’s MY TIME now for Triple H. For whatever reason, I couldn’t accept him as a top guy since he was always #2 to me in everything he did. Working with Rock, Austin, Angle, Foley, etc. he was always the “opponent” and not a guy I wanted to see. Oh well, clearly I’ve accepted it. Time for awards:
1st Star: Steve Austin – This guy knows how to wake up a crowd at the Rumble. What a shame that this would be the last Rumble for him. His sort of thing would have greatly helped in the last two Rumbles in 2014 and 2015.
2nd Star: Kurt Angle – Nice engagements there with many of the main guys in the match. Presence made the outcome somewhat in doubt.
Triple H Maven – I can’t do it. I can’t give Triple H the third star. I’m giving it to Maven because that was a cool moment, and the poor guy had to blade or at least have Undertaker blade for him.
Morrison Award: Mr. Perfect at 15:18, though I liked him in this match. Too bad he got caught up in that Plane Ride from Hell nonsense in May.
WWE Hall of Famers (5): Steve Austin, Farooq, Rikishi, Booker T, Mr. Perfect
Pending Hall of Famers, in my opinion (9): Goldust, Undertaker, DDP, Godfather, Kane, Big Show, Kurt Angle, HHH, Rob Van DamDeceased (3): Big Bossman, Test, Mr. Perfect
Summary: Lot of star power here, though it was more heavily backloaded than in prior years. They didn’t give anyone a big Iron Man spot with Austin leading at 26:46. The Undertaker business brought the match to a halt briefly, which might have been the price of the Maven Moment and keeping Undertaker’s heel heat in place. Certainly not the best Rumble and a step back from 2001, but probably worthy of your time.