I was a fan of wrestling when I was a kid. My dad had been a fan, and I was a kid during the tail-end of Hulkamania, throughout the Monday Night Wars and the Attitude Era, and all my heroes were alive long enough for me to see at least one of their matches before retirements or untimely passings.
SAY WHAT YOU WILL about wrestling. I fucking loved it. After Stone Cold Steve Austin retired though, and the Rock was bound for Hollywood, most of my heroes were gone, and by around the end of high school, my fandom with wrestling was more or less at a close.
It was only recently revived when my most recent ex-roommate, Joe, and I inadvertently began watching Monday Night Raw together on an almost weekly basis. It was never a plan, we just usually happened to be home for the Raw show on Monday nights for the months we lived together.
Not too much had changed, although the PG-rating I think has altered the show significantly in a bad way, and I recognize almost no one on the roster anymore, though I do see the talent and potential, and every once in a while, I see a match that is exciting and gets me on my feet and excited again, like I was 8 years old all over again.
When I was a kid, these guys were superheroes before I even had superheroes. Before I had Superman, Batman, the X-Men, the Avengers, I had these guys. I had the Immortal Hulk Hogan, the Eighth Wonder of the World Andre the Giant, I got to see the high-flying Macho Man Randy Savage, The Phenom The Undertaker, Mr. Wrestlemania himself Shawn Michaels, the Excellence of Execution Bret Hart, and of course Stone Cold and The Rock.
They were larger than life, but they delivered something special, something different.
I figured out pretty early on it wasn't as real as it was made out to be. But the unbelievable punishment these men put themselves through, the blood and sweat, the almost dance-like way they told a story in the ring through movement and a well-honed but improvised choreography of violence, plus the blurred lines of reality and entertainment, was a wonderful and intriguing combination to me, and I loved it.
I realized I still loved it, but nothing moved me the way it used to.
There are a couple matches with spots in them I will cringe and writhe in sympathetic pain over. There are clips of iconic moments I remember watching live or live on Pay-Per-View as they happened. I watched the Montreal Screwjob in real-time. I watched Mankind fall off the Hell in a Cell in real-time. And there are matches that I will cry over for their sheer brilliance and beauty, the same way a musical, a ballet, a good movie, or a song will bring me to tears.
The closest sure-fire match that gets me to that sort of emotional high today, as an adult, is The Royal Rumble.
For the most part:
30 men enter (sometimes it's 20, sometimes 40)
The first 2 start in the ring
And every 2 minutes another wrestler enters (sometimes it's 90 seconds)
A wrestler is eliminated when they are thrown over the top rope (this is the most ambiguous rule from over the years.) Some years, a person has to be literally thrown over, meaning if they jump or climb over the top rope themselves they are not eliminated; some years, a person is eliminated only if they are thrown over the top rope by someone else competing in the Rumble; and some years, if two people hit the floor at the same time, everyone shits themselves trying to figure out what to do. Most years though, anything goes.
The Royal Rumble is unpredictable and a bit like watching a three-ring circus at times. There are always surprise returns of superstars, interesting moments, some great interactions, and the end game is always a masterful build to a satisfying ending.
Here's my list of My 5 Favorite Royal Rumbles:
Where: Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim!!
I SAW THIS LIVE!!!
Undercard: Of course, the big match of the rest of the card was the "I Quit" match between Mankind and The Rock. The Rock was becoming a huge star at this point and Mankind had established himself as a frightening risk-taker. This was after the unforgettable King of the Ring Hell in a Cell between Mankind and Undertaker. Nobody thought Mankind could survive another night of horror like that. But The Rock was going to lay the smackdown, and give it to him. And boy he did. The Rock beat Mankind all over the Pond. They destroyed sound equipment, security equipment, backstage areas, audience seating areas, and then The Rock made Mankind quit and won the Championship again. Who cared what the rest of the card was, it was probably crap anyway.
The Rumble: And of course, me as a kid was most excited about this match. Austin had controversially won in '97 and then won again in '98. The poster featured him most, and I wanted to see Austin win it a third year in a row, the first time that feat would be accomplished. I was sad when he appeared first, because I knew it would be almost impossible for him to win from the number 1 spot. But I was even more mad when Vince McMahon came out second. He was the villain. He'd screwed Bret Hart. I was still mad. He was going to cheat and win somehow.
When they left the ring and fought away from the arena, it was a little unprecedented. You didn't really leave the ring during the Rumble. Not really too many memorable moments, although some legit talent was involved throughout: Edge, Road Dogg, Billy Gunn, Kane, Goldust, Ken Shamrock, Val Venis, D'Lo Brown, Triple H, and Owen Hart. Chyna was in it, the first woman to ever be included. McMahon shocked the world when he won. He had help from The Rock, but still. He threw Austin over the top, after they had entered first and second, they left first and second, and McMahon set up the first of three immortal encounters between Austin and The Rock at Wrestlemania 15.
Where: New Orleans
Undercard: I vaguely remember like all the under matches being championship exchanges, which is good, because no one can remember the undercard from a Rumble anyway. I remember Benoit versus Jericho. I'm going to put this here, so I don't have to ruin the entry with it later. Benoit was a talented wrestler, one of the best to ever step into the ring. That said, his personal life, how it ended, what he was on, was he okay, they are severely unfortunate and may change your opinion of his in-ring accomplishment but they shouldn't. And I tire of reading articles online written by fans that have to apologize profusely by prefacing anything they say about Benoit by first distancing themselves from his personal life. They don't condone what he did. We get it. No one did or does. If Benoit had been in his right mind, he would have found the actions abhorrent. I won't relay details here, there's plenty of documentation on it.
The Rumble: In ANY case, 2001 was an impressive year for one of the Rumble's greatest performers in its history: Kane, who eliminated the record-setting 11 other competitors in a single Rumble, including surprise return entrant The Honky Tonk Man. Some other good names too: The Hardys, The Rock, Big Show, Al Snow, Rikishi. Great pacing on the match, and an equally impressive performance by eventual winner Steve Austin, securing his legacy with most Rumble wins.
Undercard: The poster depicts Cena, steadily growing in popularity as WWE moved out of the Attitude era, but he didn't even have a match that night. I don't remember the rest of the matches really, except Triple H versus Shawn Michaels which I wasn't a fan of.
Rumble: Holy shit. First of all, for its time, this was a pretty star-studded Royal Rumble. Besides Benoit and Cena, Goldberg was the 30th man, Randy Orton, Mark Henry, Kurt Angle, Mick Foley, Chris Jericho, and RVD were all in it. It was a little up in the air who could take this year's win. And absolutely no one thought it might even come close to being the number 1 entrant, The Rabid Wolverine himself, Chris Benoit. But he took the win, and turned in one of the single greatest Rumble performances I have ever seen, becoming only the second man in history ever to win from the number 1 spot.
Undercard: A lot of the card was over the Rumble, which was maddening. Something like six matches were scheduled, the Rumble going on fourth.
The Rumble: And it deserved to close the show, simply for the underdog performance of Rey Mysterio. Ric Flair, Triple H, Benoit, Tatanka in a surprise entry, Animal in a surprise entry, Shawn Michaels, Goldust, and Randy Orton... I might have been personally rooting for Shawn Michaels to take a third Rumble, become the second man to do so, make a little bit of history as both Mr. Wrestlemania and Mr. Royal Rumble (at the time he'd also eliminated the most competitors cumulatively out of all his appearances in the event). But Mysterio's underdog story, which he always has been, coupled with his dedication of his performance to the recently passed Eddie Guerrero, who was pretty much a hero to everyone, it made for quite a Rumble story. Everyone always talks about the distinct disadvantage of starting at number 1. But number 2's start is just as problematic because they start at the same time. When Mysterio entered the arena, he did so in Guerrero fashion, and you can even see a smile creep on Triple H's face. H took most of the punishment throughout the match, seemingly setting up a win from number 1, but Mysterio stayed in step the whole way through, and then Rey did the impossible, and set a new record for the longest single Rumble appearance of all time. Eddie would've been proud.
Location: New York
Undercard: All I remember is the Natural Disasters fighting the Legion of Doom to a disappointing finish, despite being two of my favorite Tag Teams.
The Rumble: Years later, this is still the best Rumble. The stakes were high, it was the only time the actual championship was on the line for the winner, and there was no surprise entry, just a long list of amazing legends. At one point in the ring: British Bulldog, Ric Flair, Ted DiBiase, a young Shawn Michaels, Tito Santana, Greg Valentine, Roddy Piper, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Undertaker, Randy Savage, Slaughter, and Hogan. And of course, it's the performance of one man in particular that makes this Rumble the emotional journey it is for me. The eventual winner, "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, eliminated Sid Justice last with the help of the eliminated Hogan, and took the WWE Championship, an incomparable feat hardly outdone since. Heenan on commentary is what truly sells the moment, but Flair proves why he was the undisputed consummate performer of that generation.