Without a doubt, the Royal Rumble is one of the best shows of the year and my favorite match to get pumped up for. This latest edition of TOP ROPE LIST revolves around us picking our favorite things that have happened during the chaotic 30-man match.
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!
HONORABLE MENTION: Kofi Kingston and John Morrison
I simply couldn't pick my favorite ways that these two stars had evaded elimination over the years. Any of these are worthy of being in the top 10 moments, so I'm copping out a bit here by lumping them together in the Honorable Mention category. There's the famed "John Morrison Spider-Man" moment where he jumps onto the barricade and then back into the ring. Kofi Kingston has done a handstand, ran on top of the barricade, and more, even in non-Royal Rumble situations that don't technically count here. These guys are just awesome at doing this and I can't wait to see what Kingston pulls out this year. If that's unfair and you want me to disqualify that for the Honorable Mention spot, then I would have to go with Rikishi and Too Cool dancing in 2000.
10. (2001) Kane Sets the Record for Most Eliminations at 11
Although the record would be broken last year by Roman Reigns, the original ceiling was set in 2001 when Kane dominated the Royal Rumble and eliminated over 1/3 of the participants. This would mean much more in retrospect than it did during the actual event itself, but it is still super fun to watch. The reason I don't put Reigns above Kane is because I have a feeling this will be a situation where each time Roman's record is mentioned, it will have to be set up by also mentioning Kane's. (IE, "For over ten years, The Big Red Machine held the record for most eliminations in a Royal Rumble at 11. That is, until Roman Reigns broke that record with 12 in 2014.")
9. (1992) The 60-Minute Man Ric Flair Wins the WWF Championship
For the first and only time (so far) in WWE history, the Royal Rumble winner would take home the biggest prize in the company itself, the WWF Championship. Ric Flair went into it as the top heel, but he would be given a horrible number with the #3 entrance spot. The entire match is made fun to watch if not just to listen to Bobby "The Brain" Heenan's cheerleading for Flair, which created the classic line "this isn't fair to Flair". However, Flair would defy the odds and win the championship, becoming the most impressive distance-goer at the time.
This moment is somewhat tainted, though, as there is a lapse in logic that has always bugged me severely. It is more than okay that Flair won and that he capitalized on two people being caught up with each other. The problem is that Hulk Hogan was the one to pull Sid Justice over the top rope. If the plan was to make Sid the heel going into WrestleMania, why in the hell was Hogan the one to act like a heel here? Either this was an instance where WWE wanted to turn Hogan and changed their minds, caving into the status quo, or they made a mistake in judgement while booking this event. Which one is it—were they gutless or stupid? If Sid was the heel, he should have been the one to help eliminate Hogan. If Hogan was the heel, they should have had a babyface Sid defeat him at WrestleMania. None of this is Flair's fault, so that's why it still ends up on this list.
8. (2007) The Undertaker Eliminates Shawn Michaels to Win from #30
The final four for the 2007 Royal Rumble is such a great group and perhaps the most well-rounded you could possibly be. There are two faces and two heels. All four are main event draws. One of them is a former winner. One of them is the #30 entrant. One is a big man. Two of them are veterans and the other two are younger. The two heels are a tag team that had no reason not to work together until that point. It's so fundamentally structured and essentially flawless. Hell, even chairs are brought into play. The only thing lacking from the scenario is that none of them had yet to become a world champion at some point in their career.
This was the first time Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had locked up in years, and since the two of them were always my top two favorites of all time, that was just awesome on its own. It was the first time that Undertaker won, but perhaps more importantly, it was the first time that the coveted #30 spot actually took home the win. After 20 years of beating down the point that #30 was the best possible chance at winning, nobody had won, surprisingly. Now, it finally happened.
After Randy Orton and Edge were eliminated, HBK and Taker continued to have a great exhibition until Michaels was tossed over the top. It was a precursor to what would be in my opinion the best match in wrestling history at WrestleMania XXV and sooner than that, it would lead to Undertaker defeating Batista to win the championship in one of his final runs (assuming he doesn't win it again).
7. (1997) Stone Cold Steve Austin Checks his Watch
It would be boring if this kind of thing happened every year, but once in a while, it's fun to see someone run through a good portion of the challengers and keep things solo. One of the best cases when that happened was in 1997 with the still heel Steve Austin tossing out a variety of names. The best part of this was when he was gloating. The pushups were one thing, but then something special happens. Beforehand, the clock was malfunctioning. Austin pretends to check his nonexistent watch to see how much time is left before the next entrant comes out, and miraculously, the counter starts working again. The sheer act of checking the imaginary watch was hilarious to begin with, but it is made all that much better if you imagine that Austin's improvisational skills actually fixed it, must like his character would help fix WWE's positioning against WCW during this time frame. This has been replicated in various ways over the years by others, but none of them have come close to the magic that happened here.
6. (2012) Mr. Socko vs. Santino Marella's Cobra
This moment illustrates three pivotal things that make the Royal Rumble so entertaining. First off, bringing a legend like Mick Foley back is something that is always cool to see. Surprise competitors that aren't regular roster members make up a big part of the anticipation every year. This is made even better when you can see people interact with others that they wouldn't normally face off against (ala HBK vs Undertaker). Third, the Royal Rumble is just so FUN, and this was a silly moment that took fun to a whole new level. The very moment Mick Foley and Santino Marella were standing together in the ring, my mind immediately raced to wanting this to happen. Mr. Socko was so stupidly awesome and Santino's Cobra was the modern day equivalent to it. To see those two sock puppets lock up together is the type of comedy that I love seeing out of WWE. It's dumb, sure, but it's smart-dumb. It isn't a bad joke that you groan about because it's legitimately awful. It's something that makes you crack up because of how ridiculous it is in a positive way.
5. (1998) The Three Faces of Foley
Foley is the only person to wrestle three times in the same Royal Rumble match and he achieved this feat by utilizing the concept of his different monikers. This was SO fun to watch, because it was disappointing to see Cactus Jack get eliminated to begin with. Foley's one of my top five favorite wrestlers ever, so having three of him in the same match is nothing to complain about in my book. Just as the Cobra vs Socko situation was a smart idea, so was this. It showed how "anything can happen" in this match and how fun it can be. Also, when you factor in how many weak people were in this match (although not as much as in 1997), there's no question that having Dude Love, Mankind and Cactus Jack meant a lot more than having only one of them and using the two other spots for the members of Los Boricuas or something.
4. (2009) Santino Marella is Eliminated in 1.9 Seconds
Contrary to Kane and Roman Reigns record, the newer one takes the spot here. Warlord wasn't a total joke of a character and he wasn't remembered for pretty much anything. Santino has had a much bigger impact on the business than Warlord ever did, and seeing him take this position as the quickest elimination in history makes so much more sense. It's odd to refer to this as an honor to be rewarded with, but that's true. Plus, it makes sense for Kane to be given the honor of being the one to eliminate him. This was made even better by having Santino be someone who is the #28 entrant that should, theoretically, have one of the best chances at winning the whole thing instead of being the biggest joke in the match's history. Expertly done.
*BOTTOM ROPE: 3. (1994) Both Bret Hart and Lex Luger Win
Only three times so far has there been two winners of the Royal Rumble, to an extent. The most recent was in 2005 when John Cena and Batista both went over the top and landed awkwardly. The way they are positioned was a bit of a botch and it would be followed up by Vince McMahon suffering an injury just by walking to the ring. The match would be restarted and Batista would simply win a few seconds later. Meh.
In 1997, although it isn't recognized as a co-winner situation, it can be argued that it is similar, considering how Steve Austin had been eliminated before he would go on to win it. Bret Hart is the actual winner, but Austin would be given credit for it. Neither would go on to wrestle the champion at WrestleMania, so in effect, they were both losers in a different kind of draw.
But the first time something other than a clear-cut winner would happen was in 1994 when Lex Luger and Bret Hart both eliminated each other at the same time. Looking back at different angles, they pulled this off PERFECTLY. They actually do both hit the ground at the same time. How they did that is astonishing. This would lead to Yokozuna defeating Lex Luger at WrestleMania X but dropping the title to Bret Hart later on that night, ending the story that had been built up for an entire year ever since Yokozuna had defeated him at WrestleMania IX to win the championship to begin with.
* MIDDLE ROPE: 2. (1995) Shawn Michaels Wins from #1 - The HBK Rule is Born
Over the years, the Royal Rumble has had pretty much the same rules, even though aspects can sometimes change. There originally were 20 wrestlers instead of 30 (and one year, 40). No entrance music used to play, but now it does. One year, Finlay was "disqualified" for using a weapon, but in all other years, weapons are allowed. In 1996, Vader tosses people over the top rope, but it's declared unofficial because he had already been eliminated, although this has been okay every other year. Savage eliminated himself and it was ruled okay, but Mil Mascaras, Ahmed Johnson, and more weren't given the same leeway. But then there's this other rule which has been dubbed "The Shawn Michaels Rule".
In 1995, HBK would be the first person to go from the #1 spot and win the whole thing, which is on its own impressive enough to be the Middle Rope of this list, if not the Top Rope winner. But this is also coupled with the first ever time that someone evaded elimination on a technicality. Michaels would be knocked over the top rope, but only one of his feet would touch the ground. Since the rulebook stated that both feet must touch the floor, he was technically not eliminated. Ever since then, it is emphatically stated that BOTH FEET must touch the floor itself, which means Kofi Kingston's handstand was allowed, as are people that land on another wrestler or the steps or anything else. Simply amazing.
* TOP ROPE: 1. (2008) John Cena Returns from Injury at #30
When John Cena went down with an injury in 2007, he wasn't expected to return for months, if ever. This gave everyone an impression that there was no chance that he could even show up at the Royal Rumble, let alone win it. WWE thankfully was able to keep the secret of his return and when his music hit at the #30 spot, Madison Square Garden erupted. Don't forget that this was during a time period where people militantly HATED John Cena and booed him even in segments that he wasn't taking part in. But despite this, the roof blows off and everybody drops their guard for a second and marks out in legitimate surprise. This was one of the biggest pops in history and it shows something that should not be overlooked: the fact that even the most bitter, cynical, critical fans that threaten to stop watching because of people like Cena are still in fact watching it because that inner child in them hasn't left yet. For a split second, those people (myself included) stopped analyzing and armchair booking and instead, just reacted the way their eight-year-old self would have. It is an impressive feat just to come back from injury like that, but coupled with this being John Cena's first ever Royal Rumble win, the second ever #30 win, the first ever back-to-back entrance number victory, and one of the best kept secretive returns ever, it is a legendary moment that may never be equaled.
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