WWE Royal Rumble Chaos, Explained

On the night between Saturday and Sunday in St. Petersburg, in the American state of Florida, the 37th edition of the Royal Rumble will be held. One of the most famous and internationally followed events in wrestling, the combat sport combines elements of free wrestling with submission techniques and martial arts holds and maneuvers. Wrestling is practiced by professional athletes and the matches are predetermined: that is, it is decided first how they will end and often also a large part of their progress, to guarantee a form of entertainment and spectacle.

Usually the matches take place between two fighters in a ring similar to that of boxing: square in shape (and for this reason also often called "the square"), with four poles at the corners supported by three ropes that surround it entirely. The Royal Rumble is a rather exceptional and highly anticipated event because it overturns this pattern: it involves the simultaneous presence of multiple wrestlers in the same ring, but in the end there is only one winner.

In essence it is a contest in which thirty wrestlers take part, but they do not enter the ring at the same time: after the entry of the first two, all the others reach the square at regular intervals of time, usually every ninety seconds. To eliminate your opponents you have to throw them out of the ring by making them pass over the last of the three ropes that hold up the support poles, the highest one: the last fighter remaining in the ring wins. The name “Royal Rumble” indicates both this special group fight and the event that is organized around it, where the real Royal Rumble is preceded by several matches and shows.

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The event comes at a particular time for the future management of the federation that organizes the Royal Rumble, namely World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). On Saturday, company president Vince McMahon announced his resignation from the board of directors of the TKO group, a company founded last September following the merger of WWE with UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), the main professional mixed martial arts circuit in the world. This week McMahon was accused of sexual abuse by Janel Grant, a former employee of his.

The Royal Rumble is an important event for the WWE season, especially for narrative purposes. Due to the way in which it is programmed, wrestling is in fact completely similar to a TV series: the results of the matches, the moral inclination of the various wrestlers (who depending on the appropriate opportunities can become "face", i.e. good, or “heel”, bad guys) and the developments of the rivalries are decided in advance by a group of screenwriters ( the “bookers”). The wrestlers combine athleticism with a certain theatricality both in gestures and speeches.

Usually the most important narrative turning points take place during the so-called "Premium Live Events" (events that can only be seen by subscribing to the official WWE network), such as the Royal Rumble. During the "Premium Live Events" things happen that normally don't happen in weekly episodes: titles are up for grabs, old wrestling glories reappear after years of inactivity, "turn faces" occur (a term that indicates the change in characterization of a character from bad to good) and “turn heel” (the opposite), or rivalries that have been going on for months come to an end.

However, the Royal Rumble has a unique peculiarity: whoever wins the match gets the opportunity to face the champion (or champion: for some years now two have been organised, one for men and one for women) of one of the three main rosters –  Smackdown! , Raw and NXT  – at Wrestlemania, the most important and well-known event in the sector, which this year will be held in Philadelphia over two evenings, 6 and 7 April. As a result, the male and female wrestlers who win their respective Royal Rumbles play a central role in WWE developments, and in most cases become top names in the federation.

The first Royal Rumble in history took place on January 24, 1988 in Hamilton, Canada, although an experimental match of this type had already taken place two years earlier in Chicago, during the second edition of Wrestlemania, when some players had also been involved of the NFL, the top division of American professional football. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, a very popular wrestler of the period, won, eliminating One Man Gang last. However, Duggan was never considered for an important title, and initially the Royal Rumble formula did not meet with the hoped-for success among fans, also because it was a match for its own sake and with nothing at stake.

Things changed starting in 1993, when WWE management decided to make changes to the rules, establishing that the winner of the Royal Rumble had to get a world title match at Wrestlemania. The first wrestler to exploit this new formula was Yokozuna, who won the match in 1993 and subsequently defeated Bret Hart at Wrestlemania, obtaining the world champion belt.

The way the Royal Rumble is held is particularly appreciated by fans, because it allows you to amaze the audience with twists, unexpected comebacks and fun skits. One of the most used gimmicks is the sudden entry of celebrities not related to the world of wrestling, who usually remain in the ring for a few minutes before being eliminated. In 2001, for example , the actor and television host Drew Carey participated , who eliminated himself after interacting with Kane for a few seconds. In 2022, the Puerto Rican singer and record producer Bad Bunny was invited to participate, who amazed the audience with his unexpected athletic skills , performing among other things a "Canadian destroyer" (name of a popular wrestling move) on wrestler Matt Riddle . 

Then there is the fight itself, which has slightly different rules than usual because the objective is not to neutralize the opponent in the ring, but to try to push him out. Everyone can thus use unusual but perhaps effective fighting tricks, which contribute to further arousing the public's curiosity. One of the most imaginative moments is when someone tries to save themselves from elimination: according to the rules, one is eliminated only when the floor outside the ring is touched with both feet, and so some wrestlers have experimented bizarre ways to avoid doing it. The Ghanaian wrestler Kofi Kingston also became famous this way: in 2012, for example, he walked for a few meters on his hands after being pushed out of the ring and returned without having put his feet on the ground, the following year he moved awkwardly on a chair and managed again to escape elimination. But similar things have happened  several other times .

Another narrative mechanism typical of the Royal Rumble is that of the unforeseeable elimination: it often happens that little-known wrestlers with little impact on the public eliminate more successful colleagues. In some cases eliminations of this type are programmed to carry out a "push" (i.e. generate interest around a particular fighter, in order to bring him to the top of the federation), while in others they have an essentially comical function. In 2002, for example, The Undertaker, one of the most important and well-known wrestlers of all time, whose presence always generates a certain solemnity, was eliminated to the general surprise by the debutant Maven, whose career lasted a few months.

One of the functions of the Royal Rumble is to allow the creation of statistics that help strengthen the status of a particular wrestler. In other sports, the achievement of various statistical records occurs naturally and is obtained from empirical data, analyzing the actual performance of an athlete. In wrestling, where the results of matches are predetermined, sporting performance matters up to a certain point: the wrestlers who compete for the top titles are not necessarily the most athletically gifted. To become a top name in the federation you need to meet different requirements, such as charisma, skill on the microphone, audience appeal and merchandising sales. Consequently, the only way that the writers have available to allow commentators to quote statistics on a wrestler's sports performance is to plan them in advance, perhaps in a relevant event such as the Royal Rumble.

The fighter who lasted the longest in a Royal Rumble, for example, is the Austrian Gunther, who in last year's edition entered first and remained in the ring for an hour, eleven minutes and forty seconds, without however succeeding to win the match. During the 2020 edition, Brock Lesnar set the record for the highest number of eliminations (13), surpassing that set by Roman Reigns six years earlier, as well as the record for the highest number of consecutive eliminations (13), i.e. all carried out by the same wrestler without others being able to eliminate opponents in the middle. The latter record previously belonged to the well-known wrestler and actor Hulk Hogan (8).

With the victory obtained in the 1995 edition, Shawn Michaels became the first wrestler to win a Royal Rumble match by entering the ring first. This record was later equaled by Chris Benoit (2004) and Edge (2021 edition). In 1992, for the first time, the WWE world title, which at the time was called WWF, was also up for grabs during the Royal Rumble: on that occasion Ric Flair won, who eliminated Sid Justice last. It happened again in 2016, with Triple H winning.

The record for the greatest number of Royal Rumbles won belongs to Stone Cold Steve Austin, one of the leading names of the so-called "Attitude Era" (the period between the end of the nineties and the beginning of the 2000s, when WWE characterized by a more violent and less family-friendly proposal than in the past). Over the course of his career, Austin has won three Royal Rumbles (1997, 1998 and 2001), surpassing the 2 victories achieved by Randy Orton (2009, 2017), John Cena (2008, 2013), Triple H (2002, 2016), Batista (2005, 2014), Shawn Michaels (1995, 1996) Hulk Hogan (1990, 1991) and Edge (2010, 2021). 

In 2018, in the context of the so-called Women's Revolution (the strategy adopted by WWE to increase public interest in women's wrestling), the first Royal Rumble aimed exclusively at women was organised. Since then it has taken place every year: the first winner was Asuka, followed by Becky Lynch (2019), Charlotte Flair (2020), Bianca Belair (2021), Ronda Rousey (2022) and Rhea Ripley (2023).

Those who win the Royal Rumble do not always manage to succeed in other wrestling events, and the reasons always have to do with entertainment needs. In 2018, for example, the winner Shinsuke Nakamura failed to endear himself to the public, and at Wrestlemania he was defeated by the then reigning Smackdown!  champion , AJ Styles.

This year, due to some unexpected returns and a narrative knot that is difficult to unravel, the interest in the event is even higher than usual. In September, actor and former wrestler Dwayne Johnson, known by his stage name The Rock, which had been the company's flagship name in the 1990s, appeared on an episode of Smackdown! after more than four years since his last appearance in WWE.

The Rock is the cousin of Roman Reigns, the current Smackdown World Champion ! : they both descend from the Anoa'i, a Samoan lineage linked to the world of professional wrestling for generations, which includes wrestling legends such as Rikishi, Yokozuna and Peter Maivia. Reigns hasn't been defeated for more than three years: he won the title in August 2020, when the writers decided to make him a top fighter of the federation and to change his moral inclination, making him a villain.

Many viewers consider the length of his reign excessive, and hope that the writers planned to have him lose the title at WrestleMania this year. The problem is that in the narrative fiction carried out by the federation Reigns no longer has opponents on his level: in the last three years he has defeated practically all the main wrestlers under contract with the WWE, in some cases on more than one occasion.

The Rock is considered one of the few names capable of competing with Reigns in terms of reputation: for these reasons, some insiders argue that he could participate in the Royal Rumble and win it, thus gaining the chance to face his cousin at Wrestlemania. If it were to happen, the match would acquire a lot of importance and could be talked about even outside the circle of wrestling fans. The Rock is one of the most famous actors in the world, and his presence at Wrestlemania would generate public interest with few precedents in the recent history of the event.

Another possibility is that the federation chooses to focus again on Cody Rhodes, the wrestler who won the Royal Rumble last year, but was unable to interrupt Reigns' domination at Wrestlemania. Rhodes is currently one of the most loved and appreciated wrestlers by the public: he was built to be the "baby face" (the good person supported mainly by an audience of children) of the federation, and until a few months ago the specialized press and the works assumed a second match with Reigns at WrestleMania. However, in recent days authoritative publications such as Sports Illustrated have written that the federation may have changed its plans, choosing to focus on The Rock.

The other possible winner is CM Punk, stage name of Phillip Jack Brooks, who returned to WWE last November after ten years since his last appearance due to long conflicts with the top management of the federation. CM Punk's return had surprised the public and some of the industry press, also because until a few months earlier he was the champion of WWE's main competitor federation, AEW.

CM Punk also during his period of absence had often criticized Vince McMahon, the president of the company, and Triple H, the operations director, accusing them of granting little creative freedom to the wrestlers and of having flattened the proposal on a single name, namely that of Roman Reigns.

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  • Max Coutinho
    Max Coutinho April 8, 2013 at 3:51 AM

    Hi K,

    Whoa...WWE is in the house lol.
    I never like the show; but I understand why people would like it: entertainment is the ultimate game.

    Thanks for sharing, K.


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