Pro Wrestling

10 Ways The Royal Rumble Match Changed Wrestling Forever Source:

Every January, anticipation builds for one of the biggest matches of WWE’s year, the Royal Rumble. Often cited as the favorite gimmick match of many a wrestling fan, the Rumble has reached mythical proportions over roughly three decades of existence. At this point, the Rumble is more than just a match, it’s an institution, and in many ways, it was a major factor in shaping WWE over the years. Here’s a list of the many different ideas and concepts that came about thanks to the creation of the Royal Rumble, and how this match massively affected the course of wrestling history.

10. Everyone For Themselves

Before the Attitude Era and the legacy of Vince Russo gave us the nebulous concept of “shades of gray”, wrestlers were sharply divided across heel-face lines. If you were a face, you didn’t ever associate with a heel, and you got along with every other face on the roster, and vice versa. The minute you crossed the line, all previous good or bad deeds were forgotten, and wrestlers who you might have fought with for years would embrace you and become completely trustworthy. But in the Royal Rumble, allegiances meant nothing, because only one person can win (in older battle royals, a traditional booking trick was to have tag partners or allies as the final two decide to share the victory, especially if prize money was at stake). It took a couple years to truly catch on, but the Royal Rumble was, for a long time, the only place where you’d be able to see faces working with heels, and even longtime tag team partners facing off against each other. This became especially important once the winner of the Royal Rumble actually started to mean something. Source:

9. Incredibly Organized Chaos

Before the Royal Rumble, battle royals were the easiest and laziest match in the world to book. You put a bunch of guys in the ring, tell them who wins, and let them hash out the details on the fly. The match structure didn’t really matter, as long as the right guy won. Even then, if mistakes were made, unless there was something huge on the line, who cares who wins? Frankly, the reason why Andre The Giant usually won battle royals is probably because it was easiest to not have to make him take a bump over the ropes. But the Rumble changed that, and became something where every wrestler and every elimination had to be booked, due to the staggered nature of entry into the match. No longer a match designed to fill time and get wrestlers on the card, the Rumble had to be treated like a real match, albeit one that could have a dozen story lines happening over the course of it. This, of course, led to the idea that… Source:

8. Battle Royals Don’t Have To Suck

Once you were taking the time to book the Rumble match, you might as well try and make it a good match. Many credit WWE Hall of Famer Pat Patterson with booking the majority of the Rumble matches, before his retirement, and it was something that clearly required skill. Inside the confines of the Rumble match, feuds have both begun and been resolved (sometimes during the same match), alliances have been formed and broken, stars created, and fascinating stories told. The length of the match and rotating participants mean that something must be happening nearly all the time, and why waste it on just watching people hang on the ropes? As a result, there have been Rumble matches that have qualified for Best Match of the Year voting, a far cry from the traditional battle royal, which barely even merited a match rating. In fact, due to the Rumble, battle royals were forced to evolve and incorporate storytelling into the match, to a certain extent. They’ll still never hold a candle to the Rumble itself, but they’ve definitely become more interesting to watch over the years. Source:

7. Unbreakable Kayfabe

If nothing else, the Rumble match is a place where kayfabe will always live. For all the rumors, the leaks, the backstage information that makes its way to the public ear, the Rumble always remains shrouded in a certain amount of mystery. Sure, the winner often seems obvious, but more often than not, there’s always a couple of options going into the match. And WWE often does a fairly good job of making sure there are one or two surprise entrants that somehow never get revealed ahead of time (most notably, John Cena’s shocking early return from injury in 2008 to win the match). But most importantly, short of some sort of pre-match punishment or reward as part of a story line, from the moment the first two competitors enter the ring, every time that timer winds down from 10, no one watching ever knows exactly who will be the next entrant. It’s the ultimate mystery of wrestling, and one that has persevered no matter how much the curtain gets pulled back on every other aspect of the business. Source:

6. The “Diesel” And “Iron Man” Pushes

The Rumble can be used to create more stars than just the wrestler who wins the match. One obvious way is to be the wrestler who lasts the longest in the match, and is recognized as the “Iron Man”. Unfortunately, the ultimate Iron Man record for the Rumble is currently over an hour, so at this point to break that record, you’d probably have to be one of the first two (or possibly three) entrants, and likely win the whole thing, at which point the Iron Man mark becomes secondary. Generally, the Iron Man mark in a specific Rumble is more of an interesting statistic than anything, but it has led to increased visibility for some Superstars in the past. The other way, which traditionally leads to a big push, is to be the guy who goes on a run of eliminating a bunch of people, possibly even spending time standing alone in the ring and waiting for more entrants. This is commonly called the “Diesel Push”, in reference to Kevin Nash’s run through the 1994 Rumble, where he eliminated seven wrestlers in a row and basically became a huge star in the process, leading to his WWE Title victory later that same year. Source:

5. The Numbers Game

Speaking of things like the Iron Man record, the Royal Rumble is an event that lends itself to statistics, to the point that WWE runs a “By The Numbers” promotional video pretty much every year at this point. It’s a match type that satisfies that itch in wrestling fans to be able to quantify accomplishments in their beloved fixed sport. There are so many things to keep track of in a Rumble match: orders of entry and elimination, number of eliminations, time in match, saves, holds, WHIP…sorry, we crossed over into sabermetrics for a second, there. And then there’s the career stats. The Rumble is also an event that makes for fun and friendly gambling. If you’ve never tried it before, here’s the traditional way to bet on the Rumble: everyone pulls numbers from 1-30 out of a hat (either through a standard buy-in where everyone gets the same amount of entries, or by buying a single draw at a time) and if your number wins the Rumble, you win! You can add other victory conditions as you wish, and it doesn’t even have to be for money, because half the fun is watching people get down to their last number, wait in anticipation of the countdown, only to see Heath Slater make his entrance. Better luck next year, pal! Source:

4. An Exclusive Club

2016 will mark the 30th Royal Rumble ever (okay, there were a couple unofficial Rumbles that happened outside the traditional yearly show, but they don’t really count). Over the previous twenty-nine, there have been twenty-two different winners, with the only multiple winners up to now consisting of Shawn Michaels, Batista, John Cena, Hulk Hogan, and most recently Triple H with two victories each, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin the clubhouse leader with three. Now, that still seems like a lot of winners, but compare it to the fact that there have been 48 unique WWE Champions. In the brief time that WWE had two World titles, there were 25 World Heavyweight Champions. There have even been 32 ECW Champions! Winning the Royal Rumble is actually a harder accomplishment for a wrestler than winning the a World title, mostly because it only happens once a year. It’s an extremely exclusive fraternity, and that’s why, every year, some of the Rumble conversation turns to wrestlers who “deserve” to win the match, having never won one in their career. In fact, there are plenty of wrestlers with Hall of Fame careers who have never won a Rumble. In an age where titles have been devalued, winning the Rumble still means something significant. Source:

3. Gimmick Pay Per Views

Over the years, WWE has turned a lot of their popular gimmick matches into the much-derided “Gimmick Pay Per Views”, such as the Elimination Chamber, Hell in a Cell, and TLC. And while the Royal Rumble can’t lay claim to being the ultimate predecessor of that concept (that dubious honor goes to Survivor Series, even if the original idea behind the PPV has all but disappeared over the years), it’s certainly WWE’s most successful example of a Pay Per View centered around a gimmick match, largely due to all the examples on this list. WWE has worked hard to maintain the Rumble as one of its crown jewels. Even when the match itself doesn’t deliver, it’s always been treated as one of the most important events of the wrestling year, and that has lent it additional prestige. Perhaps that’s why WWE’s other gimmick PPV’s have met with responses varying from mediocre to downright poor. It’s one thing to build a Pay Per View around a huge spectacle like the Rumble, it’s another thing entirely to have random gimmick match Pay Per Views strung out over the entire year. Source:

2. The Spoils of Victory

Ah yes, the ultimate goal of the Royal Rumble. Newer fans might be surprised to learn that for the first four years, there was no reward for winning the Royal Rumble, other than the thrill of victory. That would, of course, explain why relatively minor stars Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Big John Studd are Rumble winners, and why WWE Champion Hulk Hogan won in 1990. In 1992, the vacant WWE title was actually on the line in the match, an occurrence which would not happen again until 2016, when Vince McMahon decided to punish WWE Champion Roman Reigns by forcing him to defend the title in the Rumble match from the #1 spot, which amounted to the same thing and saw a new champion crowned at the end. But starting in 1993, the winner of the Royal Rumble officially earned themselves the title of #1 contender, and a title shot against the WWE Champion at WrestleMania (during the brand split era, the winner was allowed to choose which champion they would challenge). By adding that stipulation, WWE immediately raised the prestige of the Rumble, and ultimately led to the creation of our last entry… Source:

1. The Road To WrestleMania

WrestleMania has expanded by leaps and bounds over the year, from a single night event to a weekend, to a full week, all the way to the months-long, multiple PPV-spanning build-up we now know as The Road to WrestleMania. And it all kicks off with the Rumble, although technically, you could even say it starts before that, when WWE starts booking for the Rumble on TV in the weeks leading up to the Pay Per View. For nearly four months at the start of every year, fans have come to expect to get the very best of WWE as they build towards their biggest show of the year. And at the Rumble, thanks to the stipulation which has existed since 1993, we get our first potential (because “guaranteed title shot” should come with an added “unless they lose it somehow” caveat) participant in the main event of WrestleMania (well, assuming a more important match doesn’t end up actually finishing the show). After months of speculation, most of it without any true justification, about what the WrestleMania card could be, the Royal Rumble is where things finally start to come into focus, even if it’s just a little bit. Source:
Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle is an avid wrestling and film fan. He's been writing about WWE, movies, and video games for Goliath since 2015.