It is the greatest time of the year for fans of the squared circle as the month of January officially kicks off WrestleMania season.
One of the marquee stops on the Mania journey, and a fan favorite worldwide, is the Royal Rumble—the 30-man/woman over-the-top elimination match where the winner is meant to go on and headline WrestleMania (sometimes) for a shot at the world titlist of their choice between RAW and SmackDown brands, respectively.
The match begins with two participants and every 90sec-2min a fresh entrant makes his way to the ring until all 30 wrestlers have entered.
This year’s Rumble is scheduled to take place today (Saturday) at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL and the WWE Universe© is excited on multiple fronts.
What separates a highly anticipated Rumble from one that is stale comes down to how many participants have tangible skin in the game and head into the event with winnability.
Momentum all by itself is not enough, and there must be continuity involved in the overall arch of the match. Sadly, these storytelling elements are often ignored or sacrificed for the sake of getting someone “over” in the Rumble.
This year, however, there are plenty of interesting storylines heading into the men’s Rumble between Cody Rhodes, who was the winner of last year's Rumble, and the recently returned CM Punk, whose absence spanned nearly a decade following his final appearance for WWE—coincidently enough, at the 2014 Royal Rumble.
There is so much continuity between those two that the rest of the participants would normally fall by the wayside, and yet you have the longest reigning intercontinental champion, Gunther, with his sights squarely set on being the last remaining participant in the Rumble.
After all, Gunther lasted longer than any other wrestler at last year’s Rumble when he entered at #1 and lasted until the final two—eventually eliminated by Rhodes in front of a frenzy Alamodome.
A video package on this past week’s RAW featured Hulk Hogan, and in it he gave his predictions for this weekend’s “Premium Live Event” and hinted at everyone’s favorite aspect of the Rumble—the mystery entrants—and how he may dust his boots off for one more Rumble run-in.
We are unlikely to see Hulk Hogan as an entrant, but John Cena, who lives less than an hour’s drive from St. Petersburg is a viable possibility.
Still, the idea of the WWE hinting at possible surprises means we could be in store for a genuine curveball.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is one of those possibilities.
“The Rock” surprised everyone when he showed up at RAW: DAY ONE earlier this year, and he’s been making the rounds this week hyping up a potential main event match at Mania between him and his cousin Roman Reigns.
There’s an off chance we get a Sasha Banks return or the more likely Naomi, in the women’s Rumble, and that would be awesome.
However, there just isn’t as much story headed into the women’s Rumble, which is unfortunate after how well last year’s women’s Rumble was booked.
The beauty of the Rumble is that it is a spectacle all by itself. The match is a test of a wrestler’s fortitude and an athlete’s endurance. It is both physical and tactical.
So, to help this year’s Rumble participants, specifically the first timers and surprise returnees, here are 5 Royal Rumble Recommendations.
Think of this as an over-the-top rope, 30-man master class with the goal of giving anyone who reads this a fighting chance.
1. WHEN THEY GO HIGH, YOU STAY LOW:
It might not vibe with Michelle Obama’s memorable message at a time of turmoil in America, but it works as a strategy in the Rumble.
The idea of staying low is creating as much distance between yourself and the top rope. Both feet must hit the floor to be eliminated, but you must be thrown over the top rope. So, staying low to the mat makes it difficult to be eliminated.
In fact, the 1994 Royal Rumble is a perfect example of this strategy. That year, Bret Hart, who had been dealing with knee issues, was injured earlier in the night during a tag team match with his brother, the late-great Owen Hart, against the champs—The Quebecers.
The Harts lost that match, and Owen subsequently turned on his brother, who he blamed for losing. He attacked Bret’s injured leg, and it was seriously doubted that Bret would be well enough to compete in the Rumble later that night.
Bret would go on to enter and win the whole thing, sort of—he was declared “co-winner” with Lex Luger after both men went over the top rope at the same time. Bret spent the bulk of the Rumble on the ground, favoring the injured leg.
That injury played into Bret’s ability to remain in the match, and he survived long enough to make it to the end.
The second half of this strategy might seem obvious, but every year multiple wrestlers make the mistake of going to the air.
Staying off the top turnbuckle can be difficult for high-flyers who incorporate arial moves into their fighting strategies. However, the higher you are above the mat the more risk you incorporate.
2. EXCEPT WHEN IT COMES TO THE BIG GUYS:
Since the Royal Rumble was introduced in 1988, the phrase “every man for themselves” was repeated constantly to get over the idea that there are no friends in the Rumble. Tag team partners and factions be damned because there can only be one winner.
Trusting anyone in the Rumble is a mistake. Heels have sided with faces and faces have turned on other faces in this match, so no amount of brotherhood can blur the big WrestleMania sign hanging over the arena and the goal of headlining the event for the world title.
However, there is one instance where trust must be found and executed.
Big guys have always had the one-on-one advantage in the Royal Rumble. They are heavier than everyone else, which limits the ways they can be eliminated, and they are stronger than everyone else, so “test of strength” elimination attempts against them is a fool’s mission.
The best way to deal with the big guys is to allow the ring to fill up enough so that a group effort can be made at forcing them over the rope.
The participants must realize that at these moments their goals align, and staying away from the big guys only ensures the difficulty in eliminating them later in the match.
3. LEAVE YOUR FUEDS IN DECEMBER:
The saddest way to be eliminated from the Royal Rumble is to not enter at all. This happens when a wrestler is attacked on their way to the ring or before the match even begins.
There are 30 participants, but there are far more than 30 competitors in WWE, so some of the more ambitious superstars will attack an entrant in hopes of replacing them.
When you take a feud into the Royal Rumble event, you’re putting a target on your back bigger than the one that 29 other superstars see on your back during the Rumble.
You must ask yourself, is your pride and ego more important than your desire to win the Rumble and main event for the title? If so, your chances of winning are gloomy.
However, you must engage in the Rumble. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to have the most eliminations, but “laying and praying” does not work.
Take, for example, the 1996 Rumble when Jerry “The King” Lawler crawled underneath the bottom rope and hid underneath the ring to survive long enough to be one of the final four.
The strategy did not work because staying out of the action keeps you cold and momentum-free, and both of those things hinder you when it comes down to the final four.
Simply put, the muscle memory of eliminating others and preventing your own elimination are important, and to not engage is to guarantee you’re not standing tall at the end.
4. SAVE YOUR FINISHER:
It is natural for a wrestler to seek out his finisher, especially on an opponent that is beat up and tired. However, the attention and focus that goes into delivering a finisher makes you a prime target in that moment.
Hitting your finisher on someone means you’re not totally aware of the wresters around you.
Now, some wrestlers have simple enough finishers that can be executed quickly, reducing the time under danger.
However, the more you hit your finisher in the Rumble the more telegraphed it becomes to others.
Instead, save your finisher until the final four, or if you are fortunate enough to make it to the final two.
In that 1996 Royal Rumble, Shawn Michales eliminated his former bodyguard Diesel (Kevin Nash) with his finisher — the Superkick– to win it all for the second consecutive year.
Diesel had over a foot height advantage on Michaels, but the Superkick was well-timed, and he caught Diesel flush.
5. AVOID RUNNING ELIMINATIONS:
This is the last piece of advice on the list because it is simple: REFRAIN FROM RUNNING ELIMINATION ATTEMPTS.
One of the easiest achievable eliminations is taking an opponent from the center of the ring and using their momentum to launch them over the rope.
While this elimination is common, even by the winners, it is too high-risk. The problem with momentum in a match like the Rumble is that it can be used against you, and that goes for throwing your opponent into the rope as well.
These strategies may sound simple, but rest assured that you will see several participants violate these rules and be eliminated for it.
I am not suggesting adhering to these rules assures any one wrestler the win because there is a certain amount of luck that goes into the Rumble, but following these strategies lowers the percentage of a participant being eliminated by avoidable tactics.
Regardless, this weekend will be fun and, best of all, we have no idea who’s winning.