The Art of the Royal Rumble Elimination

Kimberly Schueler
source: WWE
The 2003 Royal Rumble match.

The 2019 Royal Rumble pay-per-view—which will include both a men’s and women’s Rumble match—is fast approaching on Sunday, January 27. The rules for the annual battle royal are simple, and the stakes are high: The match starts with two wrestlers in the ring, with another of (usually) 30 competitors entering every 90 seconds. Everyone tries to toss each other over the top rope and out of the ring, and if both a wrestler’s feet touch the ground after they exit the ring over the top rope, said wrestler is eliminated. In the words of WWE, “The last one standing is crowned the winner and earns a championship opportunity at WrestleMania.”

*Despite not being one of the annual matches, stats from the Greatest Royal Rumble event have been factored into this breakdown of the Royal Rumble match.

Tossing someone out of the ring over the top rope can be trickier than it sounds, especially when dealing with a supersized Superstar. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan had to solve the size problem to win the first Royal Rumble match in 1988. Rather than try to deadlift the “450-500 pound” One Man Gang, Duggan cleverly pulled the top rope down and moved to the side while Gang was running at him, sending the giant tumbling out of the ring. The crowd went wild.

In the video above, you can see the more creative tactics wrestlers have used to eliminate much larger competitors. Multiple men teamed up in 1990 to push out Andre the Giant when he was off-balance, Beth Phoenix—one of only three women to participate in a men’s Rumble match—baited The Great Khali over the top rope with a kiss in 2010, and Shawn Michaels took advantage of exactly the right moment to eliminate the massive Big Van Vader in 1996.

More than just anecdotal evidence and common sense back up the statement that larger wrestlers are harder to eliminate: The argument has numbers on its side. Of the top five (well, technically six) WWE Superstars with the most career eliminations, three are notable big men: The Big Show with 31, The Undertaker with 40 (tied with Shawn Michaels), and Kane topping the list with 44.

However, size clearly isn’t the only thing that matters, since Shawn Michaels and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin are second and third on the list of all-time eliminations. However, Braun Strowman now holds the record for the most in a single Rumble match with 13. Size can be an advantage, but aggression, stamina, speed, and the ability to think on one’s feet can also play important roles in this type of match.

Still, “The Big Red Machine” has had a skill at Royal Rumble matches that can’t be overlooked. In 2001, he set the record for eliminations in one match (later beaten by Reigns, who was then beaten by Strowman) when he sent 11 men tumbling to their doom by using a trash can… as well as the more straightforward kicking and throwing.

The following year, Kane entered the ring to immediately face off with The Big Show. The two giants started throwing hands and attempted chokeslams at the same time. Kane ultimately came out on top and impressed the crowd by being one of the few people to be able to just pick up Big Show and drop him over the top rope, creating a memorable Rumble moment in the process.

In the wrestling world, you can never rule out that a character could use blatant cheating to win a match, and the Royal Rumble is no exception. Especially dramatic Rumble endings over the years have included The Rock helping Mr. McMahon eliminate Austin so McMahon could win in 1999 and Hulk Hogan cheating to help Ric Flair eliminate Sid Vicious in 1992, leading to a Flair victory. Running interference isn’t the most sportsmanlike of tactics, but for some wrestlers, it’s worth it when a top championship match at WrestleMania is on the line.

Could foul play end up playing a game-changing role in this year’s men’s or women’s Rumble match? Could a size advantage contribute to a wrestler like Nia Jax, Samoa Joe? Maybe even a returning big man like Kane or The Undertaker punching their ticket to WrestleMania? We’ll find out on January 27t.

You can see more highlights from Royal Rumble matches over the years in the WWE Network’s “The Royal Rumble Match” collection.

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