Royal Rumble – Still WWE’s Second-Biggest Spectacle by Matt Corton

Watching WWE is great because it’s partly made up of getting excited about moments and as fans, we’re each moved by different moments.

Some fans will simply await the next match of a very high quality. Some fans will not be interested in even the best match if the storyline behind it doesn’t at the least make sense. Some fans think people who complain should just shut up and enjoy what we’re being given because compared to the past, it’s actually pretty good. Some fans will constantly want more because entertainment in general has moved on so much in the past few years that they want to see something new from WWE too.

It’s the beauty of being a wrestling fan – we’re part of a set of passionate people who like the same thing for often completely different and even sometimes conflicting reasons.

And it’s impossible to please all of us all the time.

Isn’t it?

Well no, I don’t think it is, actually. I think if there’s ever been a time where WWE can be sure of what fans want it’s in the years since the launch of WWE Network. It will now have concrete facts about what gets the most views, what is searched for the most times and reams of data from fan polls about their favourite moments.

They have so much programming at their fingertips, so much time available now the roster is split, that they really do have enough time and enough different shows to give each fan what they want. They have 205 Live for those who like the smaller high flyers. There are giants aplenty now on Raw for those who like the heavyweights. There is plenty of actual wrestling on both shows for those who just want to watch the matches. For those who like the more complicated and involved storylines? Well, we still have to wait a little bit longer for that.

The thing is, a lot of those requirements conflict and whilst there’s a lot of hours of programming, WWE does have to fill its shows with content that most will want to watch most of the time, not something for everyone. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible. And that’s where the Rumble comes in.

The Royal Rumble is among some of the moments I’ve enjoyed most as a wrestling fan. Not specific Rumbles, or specific parts of those Rumbles; just the very Rumble itself. A match we only see once a year. A match which usually has great star quality. A match which when it’s not clear-cut who is going to win provides as good a piece of suspense as WWE produces. A match that always throws out at least one surprise.

It’s not usually a match that you can from start to finish say is a contender for match of the year. Not every wrestler comes into the match and does something memorable before being thrown out. There isn’t always a great deal of good feeling about the winner, as Roman Reigns and The Rock can attest to from 2015.

But there’s something about it that has a very special kind of appeal, something that makes you forget the bad years and still look forward to the next one.

It’s never been about the quality of the match for me – indeed, bar the Hardcore Rumble in 2001 (my favourite) which was a great quality match because of the distinct and different phases it went through, they can follow a predictable and repetitive formula. But in the Rumble it works, because the goal isn’t to win the match, it’s to beat the next guy, then the next guy, then the next guy. The individual tussles aren’t the spectacle, as in a one-on-one match; the event is the spectacle.

It’s not unique any more, now we have the Andre the Giant Battle Royal at Wrestlemania, a show which remains WWE’s no.1 spectacle, but the Rumble match remains unique in history, size and importance. It’s a guaranteed opportunity at a title and also the potential start of more than a few feuds. Having won the Rumble is almost as prestigious in a wrestler’s career as having won one of the main titles. Steve Austin holds the record at three and it will always be part of his legacy, as much as the title wins and great matches. It matters, to win the Rumble. To the wrestlers and to the fans.

But it’s not the only thing that matters for the match. A surprise or two are always among my favourite moments because I love watching the unexpected. We got AJ Styles and Sami Zayn last year, the latest in a very long line of surprise entrants to the Rumble, whether they be legendary, comical or returning from injury. They’re not the best part of the match, but they’re part of it and many a column inch will be dedicated in the coming weeks to pondering who will make a spectacular return at this year’s event and rightly so, given the impact some of the surprise entrants have had.

When Triple H, Batista and John Cena (and some others) squared off in 2008 to end the match, that was a spectacular moment. We hadn’t seen all in the ring together many times and it felt special. A big moment, with some of WWE’s biggest heavyweights at the time. John Cena being a big surprise as the no.30 entrant was the icing on the cake, because it put doubt in Triple H’s mind, having been convinced he was going to win – in and of itself it gave the final act of the Rumble its story. It was a similar story in 2010 when Edge returned at no.29 as a surprise to also win, this time dashing John Cena’s own hopes.

Great moments and great spectacles provided by great surprise moments, but they’re only part of the story. Without the rest of the Rumble to back them up, the surprise returns can’t have the same impact.

Because the Rumble really can be WWE’s way of pleasing all of us at the same time.

Those of us who like high flyers have a chance to see them. Those of us who like to see two giants face off in a titanic test of strength get to see that. Those of us who want to see our favourite get a chance at a main title that he would never otherwise have got get to see that, albeit less often than many would like. Those of us who like to see the big hero win the big match, however few of us there may be these days, get to see that. It’s not one of those things in isolation and it might well not be enough of any of those things to satisfy, but it’s a microcosm of WWE in an hour and I love it.

It’s the whole spectacle that interests me where the Rumble is concerned. It’s not just about the quality of the match, or who is going to be in the title match afterwards or the surprise returns. It’s all three – all put together in one hour-long moment, the like of which you can only see once a year.

It might be WWE’s second-biggest spectacle, after Wrestlemania, but I look forward to the Royal Rumble more.

What about you guys? What do you love (or hate) about the Rumble?