This week's extra is a new TOP ROPE LIST dedicated to those fun times when the winner of the Royal Rumble was something that we cheered about and by the time WrestleMania was over and done with, the whole Road to WrestleMania felt like an amazing trip.
As explained before, sometimes we bump this up to a top 50/25/10/5, but the true focal point of the list revolves around the top 3 which are designated the Bottom Rope (essentially the bronze medal), Middle Rope (silver medal) and Top Rope (gold medal). Let's get down to it!
The factors that determined my choices were 1) the build up to the Royal Rumble, 2) the person winning, 3) how that person won, 4) what happened at WrestleMania with their title shot.
5. The Undertaker (2007)
The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels have always been my two favorites of all time, with Bret Hart being a close #3, so when the Royal Rumble came down to these two, that was pretty awesome to begin with. Randy Orton and Edge rounded out a fantastic Final Four to make that even better beforehand, and HBK and Taker were able to fight a good few minutes after they were the only two men left, which is contrary to the norm. Undertaker's victory was the first time that someone won from the #30 spot, which seems remarkable as it should have happened long before that, after being built up as the best logical spot every year.
Undertaker followed up his Royal Rumble win by challenging Batista in a match that just seemed to make sense. Although there are exceptions to the rule, Undertaker had a good track record of fighting "the big guy in the company" at WrestleMania, so this followed the pattern. Better yet, when the time came, Undertaker was again victorious and won the World Heavyweight Championship.
4. Lex Luger & Bret Hart (1994)
Although in retrospect it was telegraphed by Vince McMahon before the match even started, at the time this was pretty shocking. Lex Luger had been built up as the next big guy in the company, similar to how Ultimate Warrior had crept up on Hulk Hogan's spot, with Bret Hart's top draw status. Ironically enough, Bret Hart was not 100% fulfilling the Hulk Hogan role, as he had been usurped of his title at the previous year's WrestleMania by none other than the Hulkster himself. The story for him was that Yokozuna had won the 1993 Royal Rumble and defeated him, so The Hitman wanted his title back.
Luger wasn't supposed to win the Royal Rumble, as he had enemies that were targeting him. Bret Hart wasn't supposed to win, as his leg had been injured earlier on in the evening. But lo and behold, it comes down to the top 2 babyfaces in the company, and BOTH men win. Whaaaat?!! That ending was done perfectly, which has yet to be replicated as well ever since.
WrestleMania would feature something that had never been done before, as Lex Luger would get his rightful shot against Yokozuna and the winner would face Bret Hart, who would have a match putting over Owen Hart on the card as well to even things up. Luger was unsuccessful, but Bret Hart was able to win back his WWF Championship and WrestleMania X ended in fantastic fashion, with the locker room holding Bret on their shoulders and celebrating.
*BOTTOM ROPE: 3. Batista (2005)
Funny enough that he's on this list, right? The difference between 2005 and 2014 is exactly what is upsetting people about him winning the second time around. In 2005, Batista was one of the two guys who were being groomed as a potential face of the company that the fans were actually behind (*ahem* Daniel Bryan *ahem*). The other man, John Cena, happened to be the final hurdle for Batista to get over. This was very similar to 1994 as both of these finalists would go over the top rope and be eliminated at the same time, leading to both men getting a title shot at WrestleMania.
The outcome was slightly different in that there was no draw-ruling, nor did they both fight the same champion as Luger/Yokozuna/Hart had happened. Instead—now that there were two championships—the match was restarted and Batista got the edge on Cena, becoming the official winner. But who would he pick to challenge?
That's where this got interesting, as at the time, Batista was a member of Evolution and Triple H was the World Heavyweight Champion, urging him to pick the obvious choice in the WWE Championship shot against JBL. But Batista had other plans, turning babyface and opting to fight his former partner at the big event.
Batista's Royal Rumble victory follows what my favorite plan is, wherein someone who has never won a WWE Championship and is poised for a main event spot wins the battle royal, challenges a heel champion, and beats them in the main event of the show. Extra points are awarded due to the fact that John Cena was able to get a title shot against JBL and do the same thing, effectively putting BOTH men over and giving the fans exactly what they wanted and what WWE would need and depend on for years to come...and then, unfortunately, get completely stuck on and never want to try anything different again.
* MIDDLE ROPE: 2. Stone Cold Steve Austin (1998)
This is a pretty simple, standard call due to the layout I just described. Austin was a rising star, a fresh babyface who had risen to the main event but had never won the WWF Championship, and him winning made absolute sense.
Austin would go on to defeat a heel champion (Shawn Michaels) at WrestleMania, starting "The Austin Era". It was Shawn's last match for quite some time, involved one of the most well-known celebrity partnerships in WWE history, and it was even a big enough of a moment in history to justify changing the logo of the company AND the championship belt.
Fun fact: the final person that Austin eliminated was The Rock, who would be the champion that he would challenge the next year at WrestleMania and subsequently the winner of the 2000 Royal Rumble.
* TOP ROPE: 1. Shawn Michaels (1996)
Hulk Hogan might have been the first person to win back-to-back Royal Rumbles, but Shawn Michaels was the first person to do it in style when it mattered. His 1996 victory doesn't top the 1995 one in terms of how he actually won it, since 1995 had the famous "one foot on the floor" gimmick, but 1996 was extremely important as well.
Michaels had gone through a storyline where he had a concussion and it was in doubt as to whether or not he could participate in the Royal Rumble, let alone win it, with people like Vader and company being in there as well.
The Heartbreak Kid proved them all wrong, though, and in a bit of irony, the last person he eliminated was his former friend Diesel—the man who had beaten him at WrestleMania the year before, stopping him from winning the title after his first Royal Rumble victory.
WrestleMania XII would feature an Iron Man match between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, which is one of the best matches of all time in my opinion. As we all know, "the boyhood dream came true" and HBK won his first ever WWF Championship in overtime.
I'm admittedly a little bit biased towards this victory because of the memories that I have of it. Not only were two of my favorites in the match and everything else mentioned above, but for a few other reasons that I will break down in this week's episode of Smack Talk, which you can watch below:
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