The 16th Royal Rumble was the first one under the World Wrestling Entertainment name after WWE changed their name from the World Wrestling Federation in May 2002.
Steve Austin had a tumultuous 2002, he wasn’t back regularly for this match although he would return for WrestleMania 19 for one final match against The Rock. Speaking of The Rock, even though he was in his early 30s with many great years ahead of him in wrestling, he was more focused on a movie career.
They were building the company around new stars like Brock Lesnar, third-generation superstar Randy Orton, the animal Batista and this rapper kid named John Cena. There were other fresh faces on the roster too, but those were really the big four that all trained at OVW together over the previous couple of years. Out of those four guys, Lesnar received the biggest push and after he lost the WWE Title at Survivor Series 2002, he came into this year’s Rumble as the obvious favorite to win.
Also, Shawn Michaels was making his Royal Rumble return after not being in a Rumble match since 1996. Michaels was in title matches at the 1997 and 1998 Rumbles. As a fan of Michaels, I was so excited to see him in a Rumble match again.
Another factor that went into this show is that WWE did the brand extension shortly after the name change in the summer of 2002. That meant that some wrestlers were exclusive to Raw while others were Smackdown only. This was a year where WWE followed their own rules regarding the brand extension, so it made the Rumble more unique because it was a match where Raw and Smackdown superstars could interact.
This show was used to set up WrestleMania 19 (read my review here). I think that’s the second-best WrestleMania ever, behind only WrestleMania 17 two years earlier. This was written in 2020 although the Rumble match was probably ten years before that. I have added some updated thoughts in blue font because there’s always more to say.
WWE Royal Rumble
January 19, 2003
From the Fleet Center in Boston, Massachusetts
The opening video package put over the importance of the Royal Rumble match and what it means about going into the main event of WrestleMania. An impressive pyro display followed that. The Boston crowd was very loud as you would expect.
Big Show made his entrance with agent Paul Heyman joining him. The Smackdown announce team of Michael Cole and Tazz welcomed us to the show. Brock Lesnar entered as the opponent. Lesnar got a big pop from the crowd since he was positioned as a top babyface.
Big Show (w/Paul Heyman) vs. Brock Lesnar
Pre-match notes: Big Show was a heel and Lesnar was a face. Lesnar was only 25 years old at the time of this match. Show beat Lesnar for the WWE Title at Survivor Series 2002 due to Heyman turning on Lesnar, which was also Lesnar’s babyface turn. Show lost the WWE Title to Kurt Angle one month after that. This was Lesnar’s chance at payback.
The winner of this match gets to be in the Royal Rumble match while the loser is not in the match. It did not take a rocket scientist to figure out who would win.
Show shoved Lesnar back into the corner, the crowd was chanting for Lesnar and Lesnar hit Show with shoulder tackles against the turnbuckle. Lesnar hit an impressive belly to belly suplex, which drew a lot of cheers from the crowd. Lesnar hit another belly to belly suplex on Show leading to more cheers. Show came back by grabbing Lesnar and tossing him over the top to the floor. Show worked over Lesnar with kicks as well as hard chops to the chest followed by Show tossing Lesnar across the ring. Show charged, Lesnar moved and Lesnar hit a German Suplex for a two count. Heyman was on the apron, he avoided a strike from Lesnar, Heyman grabbed the leg of Lesnar and Show hit a boot to the face. Show with a sidewalk slam followed by the yell signaling for the Chokeslam. Lesnar countered with an arm drag into a roll. Lesnar hit another belly to belly suplex across the ring. Heyman was on the apron, Lesnar brought him into the ring, Lesnar wanted an F5, but Show was there and Show hit a Chokeslam on Lesnar. Show did a slow cover for just two. Great nearfall right there with Show having a shocked look on his face. Lesnar avoided another Chokeslam, he shoved Show into Heyman on the apron, Lesnar with a kick to the gut of Show and Lesnar picked up Show with an F5 with the whole crowd standing up and cheering as Lesnar hit the F5 for the pinfall win at 6:29.
Winner by pinfall: Brock Lesnar
Analysis: **1/4 This was good enough for the time given as an opening match to pop the crowd with the popular Lesnar getting the win. It was a power match with Show dominating a part of it while Lesnar looked impressive in making his comeback to win. Lesnar was impressive with his suplexes, that nearfall for Show with the Chokeslam worked really well and then Lesnar looked great again with the F5 finisher. I thought they could have used Show in the Rumble match since he was one of the top guys. These two would wrestle many times over the next year.
(It was an obvious result and a way to make the fans happy since they loved Lesnar. As I alluded to in the comments there, I think Big Show’s presence in the Rumble match would have helped and I don’t think they really needed to do a match like this.)
Chris Jericho was interviewed backstage by Terri. Jericho said that he was not given the option to choose what number he was in the Rumble match, he was #2 because Shawn Michaels was #1 in the Rumble match. Jericho bragged about being the first Undisputed Champion, which is something Shawn Michaels can’t say he was and Jericho said he’ll win the Royal Rumble.
The Raw announce team of Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler were shown at their perch by the entrance area.
The Dudley Boyz entered for their title match with JR noting they were 15-time Tag Team Champions in three different organizations. Their recognized number in WWE is less than that. They reunited at Survivor Series two months earlier. William Regal and Lance Storm entered as the champions with Lance Storm carrying a Canadian flag while Regal had the Great Britain flag. The referee checked Storm and Regal to see if they had any illegal objects.
World Tag Team Championships: Lance Storm and William Regal vs. The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley)
Pre-match notes: This was a Raw brand match. Storm and Regal were the heel champions that won the titles 13 days earlier from Booker T and Goldust on Raw. The Dudleys were back together as a face team. after being on separate brands in the second half of 2002.
Bubba started with his old ECW buddy Storm with Bubba hitting a spinebuster. D-Von tagged in with a jumping back elbow on Storm and Storm hit a jawbreaker on D-Von leading to Regal tagging in. D-Von with a diving shoulder tackle on Regal, then a body slam and an elbow drop got a two count. Storm saved Regal from a corner attack, the heels hit a double clothesline and Regal took control with an overhead suplex on D-Von. Storm tagged in with a back elbow on D-Von for two. Regal was back in with a knee drop on D-Von. Regal with a monkey flip to keep D-Von on the heel side of the ring. Storm slapped on a sleeper on D-Von, who fought out of it with a snapmare. Bubba got the hot tag with three clotheslines on Storm, then a back body drop and Bubba whipped Regal into Storm. Bubba with a running splash on both champions. Bubba dumped Regal to the floor followed by a sidewalk slam on Storm for two. Bubba hit a release German Suplex on Storm for two. Bubba worked over both opponents with punches and a Bubba Bomb (full nelson slam) for a two count as Regal broke up the pin. D-Von got the tag, Bubba with a body slam on D-Von, the referee was looking at Storm and D-Von jumped off the top with a headbutt to the groin of Regal. Bubba and D-Von hit a double team flapjack on Storm for a two count. Chief Morley (Val Venis) walked down to the ring to distract the referee as the Dudleys hit the 3D on Regal, who had brass knuckles on his hand. D-Von got the brass knuckles and punched Storm with them, so D-Von covered Storm for the pinfall win at 7:24.
Winners by pinfall and NEW World Tag Team Champions: The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley)
The Dudleys celebrated with the titles. The fans popped huge for the title change. They were happy to see the Dudleys holding the titles again.
Analysis: **1/2 It was a high energy, fast-paced tag team match where they had a traditional tag by working over D-Von and Bubba did a great job when he got the hot tag. The faces cheated to win like Regal liked to do, so it was nice to see a finish where the faces were able to outsmart the heels for a change.
(A decent match that the fans cared about and they loved the title change since the Dudleys were apart for the second half of 2002.)
A video package aired about Nathan Jones, who was a huge Australian guy that spent ten years in prison. The video featured Jones staring into the camera. He was a major bust and did not amount to much in WWE although he had some mild success in the movies.
There was a video package for the Torrie Wilson match with Dawn Marie. It was a bizarre story where Dawn married Torrie’s father Al Wilson, who died on their honeymoon. That led to a bizarre funeral scene where Dawn (in a very revealing dress) and Torrie got into a brawl, which is what led to this match.
Analysis: This whole feud was ridiculous, but Torrie and Dawn had no problem being over the top with it and that made it fun sometimes. Plus, they’re both very good looking, so it wasn’t that bad seeing them battling in lingerie. Torrie’s dad Al actually died in 2019 right before Torrie was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Dawn Marie made her entrance first with a black veil over her head. It was announced as a Stepmother vs. Stepdaughter match. Torrie Wilson was up last.
Dawn Marie vs. Torrie Wilson
Pre-match notes: Dawn was the heel and Torrie was the face.
Dawn decked Torrie with a forearm to the face, Torrie tossed Dawn to the other side the ring followed by a catapult that sent Dawn across the ring. Dawn slapped on an armbar, but Torrie was in the ropes. Dawn sent Torrie into the ropes and dropped her with a flapjack. They did a spot where Dawn charged, she knocked over Torrie and they both went down. That looked like a mistake by one of them. Torrie got a backslide pin for a two count. Torrie with two arm drags and Dawn came back with a clothesline off the middle ropes. I think there were “boring” chants from the crowd. Torrie with a kick to the chest and a swinging neckbreaker for the pinfall win at 3:36.
Winner by pinfall: Torrie Wilson
After the match, Dawn said this wasn’t over, which was a scary thought. It was pretty much done by this point if I recall.
Analysis: -* This was really bad. It was smart to keep it under five minutes. It feels like they went to the finish quick because it came out of nowhere and WWE officials must have known the crowd was dead, so maybe they called for the finish. Torrie winning meant it was pretty much the end of this rivalry with Dawn. The feud was lame.
(A short match and a bad match. Since there was a lot of TV time dedicated to this feud, WWE probably felt like they had to put an end to it with Torrie getting the win. They weren’t that good in the ring, so this was tough to get through.)
Stephanie McMahon (the Smackdown General Manager) was shown walking down a hallway where Raw GM Eric Bischoff was talking to Randy Orton, who at this point was just a 22-year-old rookie on the main roster. Stephanie and Eric each shook Orton’s hand and Bischoff said he’ll talk to him later. Stephanie said goodbye while adding that it sounds like Vince was going to fire him in 30 days. Stephanie wondered what Eric’s bombshell might be. Eric said it’s an atomic bombshell. Stephanie said that she has a bombshell of her own this Thursday on Smackdown. Stephanie reminded him that she is a McMahon and in terms of her job security, blood is thicker than…urine in Eric’s case. Bischoff said another saying is that money is much thicker than blood, she said “we’ll see” and that was it as she left.
Analysis: The Stephanie bombshell was the return of Hulk Hogan on Smackdown, which led to Rock vs. Hogan at No Way Out 2003 and Hogan vs. Vince McMahon at WrestleMania 19. The Bischoff announcement was the return of Steve Austin, which led to Austin beating up Bischoff at No Way Out 2003 and then Austin’s last match ever against Rock at WrestleMania 19.
(The returns of Austin and Hogan were both a big deal, so it’s fair to say WWE’s tease here was fine.)
There was a Sean O’Haire video promo talking about how you have to take control of your own life and if there is a God, he’ll forgive you. O’Haire ended with his “I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know” line.
Analysis: O’Haire was a guy with all the physical tools to be a huge star, but it never happened for him. These video promos were very popular with fans online because I remember them well with fans wanting O’Haire to get pushed. Sadly, O’Haire committed suicide by hanging himself in 2014 when he was just 43 years old.
A video package aired to set up Triple H defending the World Heavyweight Title against Scott Steiner, who was new on the Raw roster at this point. The story was that Triple H has beaten everybody, but Steiner noted that Hunter never beat him. Steiner also beat Hunter in arm wrestling and posedown competitions. Steiner had the upper hand in most of their confrontations.
Triple H made his entrance with manager Ric Flair joining him with Hunter wearing the World Heavyweight Title around his waist. Triple H had titles a lot during his career and one thing I always liked is that he usually wore the title around his waist. Some guys never did that. Scott Steiner got a good pop for his entrance with Steiner looking as big as he ever looked in his career.
Analysis: I remember this match being really bad and that it went on way too long. I haven’t watched it since the live airing 17 years ago because I know it’s bad. It is not going to be fun to watch it again, but obviously I need to do that for this review.
World Heavyweight Championship: Triple H (w/Ric Flair) vs. Scott Steiner
Pre-match notes: Triple H was the heel World Champion on Raw while Steiner was the face challenger. Triple H was the champion for about one month going into this after he beat Shawn Michaels for the title at the previous PPV, Armageddon 2002. Triple H would go on to have a long title reign that lasted 280 days. Steiner was 40 years old here while Hunter was 32.
The match began with Earl Hebner telling Hunter, Steiner and Flair that he’s not putting up with any crap from any of them. Hebner said he’s in charge here. The bell rang to start the match.
Hunter and Steiner got into a slugfest to start the match with Steiner dominating that thanks to several forearms to the back. Steiner hit a press slam leading to Hunter rolling to the floor where Steiner met him with a clothesline. Steiner sent Hunter back first into the barricade and hit a suplex back into the ring for a two count. Steiner with two forearms to the back. Steiner whipped Hunter into the turnbuckle. Steiner with a back elbow to the face followed by a Boston Crab submission, but Hunter managed to crawl to the ropes to break it. Hunter hit a facebuster into the knee, Steiner no sold it and Steiner slapped on a bearhug. Hunter did an eye rake and Steiner followed by a belly to belly overhead suplex. Flair pulled Hunter out of the ring to save him from Steiner’s submission finisher. Steiner whipped Hunter into the ropes leading to Hunter coming back with a boot to the face. The action spilled to the floor with Hunter whipping Steiner into the steel ring steps. Hunter went back into the ring with a neckbreaker on Steiner followed by stomps against the turnbuckle, which led to Flair choking Steiner with his jacket while the referee didn’t see it. Hunter got another neckbreaker for a two count, then he set up Steiner on the ropes for some cheap rope choking from Flair. Hunter set up for a Pedigree, Steiner countered it and did a catapult that launched Hunter into the turnbuckle. Steiner with a belly to belly overhead suplex. They battled over a powerslam leading to Hunter hitting another neckbreaker for a two count. Hunter hit a suplex. Hunter took way too long to go for a move off the middle ropes, so Steiner caught him and hit a belly to belly overhead suplex. Steiner with two clotheslines, then a back body drop and two more belly to belly suplexes across the ring. Steiner brough Triple H back up with another belly to belly suplex. Steiner hit another belly to belly suplex (more of a side belly to bell this time) for a two count. Steiner with a double underhook suplex attempt, but it was botched because they both fell over to the floor. The fans booed that. Steiner looked like he was very tired, which isn’t surprising since this was a long match. Hunter with a back elbow, Hunter went up top with nothing and Steiner met him with a superplex off the top while Scott was standing on the middle ropes. Hunter and Flair tried to leave, Steiner got in Flair’s face, the referee kept Flair back and Steiner blocked a belt shot by Hunter. The idea was that Steiner hit Hunter in the head with it, so Hunter did a blade job after the title shot to the head that wasn’t really near the head.
They went back into the ring with Steiner hitting another overhead belly to belly suplex as JR said he didn’t think he has seen so many suplexes in his life. Triple H tried to leave through the crowd, but Steiner went after him and brought him back to the ring while the referee did not count them out. The referee checked on Hunter, who grabbed Hebner’s shirt and tossed him out of the ring. Hebner was about to ring the bell, but he told Hunter he won’t disqualify him. Steiner blocked Hunter hitting the referee and Steiner hit a side belly to belly suplex for a two count. Flair distracted Hebner, so Hunter kicked Steiner in the groin and got a rollup for two. Hunter grabbed the sledgehammer from under the ring, he hit Steiner in the ribs with the sledgehammer and Hebner called for the bell for the disqualification finish at 18:14.
Winner by disqualification: Scott Steiner (Triple H retains the World Title)
Analysis: 1/2* This match was a big-time failure. I almost went negative stars because it went on too long, there just weren’t enough exciting moments and the action was boring for most of it. If they went ten minutes and had the same type of match it would have been fine. Instead, they went nearly 20 minutes, which was a big mistake. I thought it was wrong to make Steiner a babyface upon his WWE return because he was a natural heel that was much better in that role during his WCW days. That’s partly why this match failed too. I also did some research about this match and found out that they edited some of the mistakes in it. That’s not a surprise, but it’s also a reminder that this match was even worse. As the match went on, the crowd hated it even more. This was structured poorly and it didn’t help either guy.
(This sucked. I know some people that have gone into negative stars in their reviews of this match. I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s tough to watch it and enjoy it. There was no chemistry here and I think the finish sucked. It was done to set up a rematch at the next PPV as we would see in the post match segment.)
After the match, Hebner stopped Hunter from using the sledgehammer, so Hunter pushed Hebner down. Steiner got his hands on the sledgehammer, Steiner hit Hunter in the ribs with the sledgehammer and Steiner hit Flair in the ribs with the sledgehammer too. Steiner hit Hunter in the head with the sledgehammer. Steiner celebrated while the fans booed him because they hated this match. Steiner slapped on the Steiner Recliner submission on Hunter as fans continued to boo even though Steiner was the referee. That led to other referees going into the ring to try to pull Hunter off and Raw GM Eric Bischoff told Steiner to let him go, so Steiner stopped. Steiner left while Hunter sold it like he was knocked out with a bloody head. Steiner stood over Hunter after putting the World Title on him. The fans booed that even with Steiner as the face.
Analysis: The DQ finish along with the post-match attack was done to keep the feud going even though these fans rejected the match in a big way.
(I always thought it was a huge mistake to bring Steiner in as a face. Scott was such a great heel in the years prior to this, so I think putting him as a face was a big reason why this feud failed miserably.)
The video package aired for the WWE Championship match with Kurt Angle defending against Chris Benoit. Angle won the WWE Championship at Armageddon 2002 thanks to an assist from Brock Lesnar who hit then champion Big Show with a F5 leading to Angle’s pinfall win. Angle introduced Paul Heyman as his manager as they said Angle will face any challenger, but Brock Lesnar. It also led to Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas joining Angle as Team Angle. Benoit earned a WWE Title shot by beating Big Show on Smackdown.
Analysis: I loved the Team Angle concept. It was a great idea. Sadly, it only lasted a few months even though it could have gone on for years if they booked it right. Angle and Benoit were Tag Team Champions a few months before this, but they did not get along, so it made sense to continue the rivalry leading to this title match.
Kurt Angle made his entrance with the WWE Championship around his waist along with Benjamin and Haas joining him at ringside. The fans greeted Angle with “you suck” chants. Angle had a knee brace on his right knee because he had minor surgery prior to this match. Chris Benoit got a big ovation from the crowd because he was really gaining some steam as a babyface wrestler on the Smackdown brand.
Analysis: Going into this match in 2003, it was a match I was very much looking forward to because they were two of my favorite wrestlers. I remembered their awesome match at Unforgiven 2002 a few months earlier, which was outstanding, but I was hoping they could improve on that effort with an even better showing here. In 2020, it’s a lot harder to enjoy Benoit matches for obvious reasons.
When Benoit got into the ring, he shoved Haas and Benjamin, so referee Mike Chioda called for other referees to come to the ring. The referees ejected Haas and Benjamin from ringside.
WWE Championship: Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit
Pre-match notes: Angle was the heel champion while Benoit was the face challenger.
Benoit with a shoulder tackle, then Angle bailed to the floor to avoid a Sharpshooter attempt. Benoit continued the aggressiveness with a leg lock, but Angle got to the ropes to break free. Angle sent Benoit shoulder first into the ring post followed by a suplex. Benoit came back with chops, punches and a boot to the face followed by a clothesline to the back. Benoit with a knee to the ribs for two. Angle came back with a suplex that sent Benoit’s ribs onto the top rope, but then Benoit choked Angle on the top rope to take him down. They battled on the apron with Benoit hitting a DDT on the ring apron. This was before wrestlers did apron spots a lot like you see in today’s WWE. It appeared as though Angle had a bloody nose or mouth after that move. Benoit went up to, he jumped off with a headbutt, Angle moved and Benoit hit the mat. Benoit recovered quickly by slapping on the Sharpshooter submission with Angle crawling to the bottom rope to break the hold. Benoit with a belly to back suplex for a two count. Angle with a hard whip into the ropes leading to a belly to belly release suplex. Angle dumped Benoit out of the ring. Benoit sent Angle throat first across the barricade. Angle with a clothesline for a two count followed by Angle slapping on a rear chinlock on the mat. When Benoit got back up, Angle hit a belly to belly overhead suplex followed by a high angle back suplex for two. Angle grabbed a headlock, Benoit charged and they did a double clothesline spot.
The comeback of Benoit started with clotheslines, then a back body drop and the German Suplex sequence began with Benoit hitting two. Angle hit a German Suplex, then Benoit switched around and hit a German Suplex of his own. Benoit went up top, he blew some snot on Angle, then Angle popped up and hit a top rope belly to belly superplex for a two count. I loved when Kurt would do that spot. Benoit avoided the Angle Slam and slapped on the Crippler Crossface submission, which led to a lot of cheers as well as fans chanting “tap” at Angle. It was loud in there. Angle managed to crawl to the bottom rope to force the break. Benoit slapped on the Ankle Lock on Angle, which of course is Angle’s submission finisher. Angle countered that into an Ankle Lock of his own as the announcers put over how incredible this was and Benoit countered that into the Crippler Crossface. Angle countered that into a pin attempt. Benoit slapped on another Crippler Crossface submission this time on the right arm of Angle, who nearly tapped out and then Angle countered into an Angle Slam! Wow that was incredible as Angle did a slow cover for just two. Great nearfall there. Angle slapped on the Ankle Lock again, Benoit countered by sending Angle into the middle turnbuckle and Benoit got a forward roll to counter a German Suplex for two. That was a cool spot. Benoit with a German suplex, Angle with a German Suplex, Benoit with a German Suplex and Angle did a flip bump where he basically did a moonsault to land on his stomach. That was incredible and drew a huge pop from the crowd. Benoit went to the far corner of the ring, he jumped all the way across the ring and hit a headbutt into the shoulder of Angle with Tazz freaking out about that leap. Benoit with a slow roll to turn Angle over for just a two count. Angle with a Powerbomb that sent Benoit face first into the turnbuckle and Angle hit another Olympic Slam for a two count, which drew a huge pop from the crowd. Benoit slapped on the Crippler Crossface again, he was wrenching back, Angle nearly tapped out again and then somehow Angle picked the ankle of Benoit again. That was a freaky good counter. Angle had the Ankle Lock locked in again, Benoit kicked him again, Angle was relentless in applying the Ankle Lock again, then Angle slapped it on even more, Benoit nearly got to the ropes, Angle went to the mat with the heel hook Ankle Lock and Benoit tapped out to give Angle the submission win at 19:49.
Winner by submission: Kurt Angle
Analysis: ***** I think this match is incredible. It’s one of the best technical wrestling matches in WWE history. I thought the first half was a bit slow and the fans weren’t into it, but then it was very intense after that. It’s still five stars to me. The crowd wasn’t into it early probably because the previous two matches were bad, but then they really got into it for the second half of the match. Angle was probably the best wrestler in WWE at this point while Benoit was one of the best, so it’s no surprise that they had a classic match in the 20 minutes they were given. I think what’s cool about the match is that nearly all of it took place in the ring. They didn’t venture out of the ring much at all, so it was all about keeping the action in the ring. They told a great story with each man nearly winning multiple times. I knew Angle was going to win going into it, but they made it look so close. The amount of false finishes really got the crowd into the match because the wrestlers kept on coming back for more when it looked like they were down. Watching Benoit matches isn’t fun for fans today, which I totally understand, but this is still one of the best technical wrestling matches I’ve ever seen in a WWE ring. I also believe it was the best WWE match in 2003 and one of the best of the decade.
You can also check out Alex Podgorski’s detailed review of this match. He went just under five stars for it.
(I think it’s one of the best matches in WWE history. Angle was so amazing even for a guy that only had about four years of experience at this point. Everything Kurt did was so believable and you can tell how much he loved working with Benoit. I just wish I could enjoy Benoit matches as much as I used to because this was special, but it’s just not that easy to mark out and have fun watching him work considering what happened four years later. )
In a recent interview with SportBible, Angle called this match the best match of his career. Here’s what Angle said:
“I do remember my match at the Royal Rumble with Chris Benoit for the world title in 2003. That was my best match ever I think. Chris Benoit was the real deal. He was probably the best in-ring performer, I wouldn’t say overall talent but as far as an in-ring performer, [there was] nobody better.”
Analysis: I think Angle’s match with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 21 in 2005 is probably better, but if Angle wants to say this is the best then obviously, he knows what he’s talking about with his own matches. They’re both five stars to me and he’s got several other matches at that level.
Post match, Angle’s buddies Haas and Benjamin joined Angle in the ring. They helped Angle slowly get out of the ring while Tazz called this a five-star match. The fans chanted “you suck” at Angle because it’s a catchy thing to do with his theme song.
Chris Benoit was shown in the ring as the fans gave him a standing ovation for his performance. Benoit pounded on his chest to salute the crowd. Benoit sold the left ankle injury as he slowly left the ring while Tazz and Cole praised both men for their performance with Cole making the point that Benoit had what it takes to be champion.
Analysis: At this time, this was one of my favorite moments in WWE because it showed that Benoit really was getting over to a point where he was a main event level guy. The fans respected and liked him. One year later at the Rumble, he got his big moment. It’s just hard to watch this now without having any emotion towards it.
(I remember being so happy about the standing ovation for Benoit. I can remember writing at the time that WWE had to put him in a main event spot after this. One year later, they did.)
Rob Van Dam was shown stretching backstage. Kane said that Rob is a good tag team partner, but tonight it is every man for yourself. Kane said he nearly won two years ago, so he will not hesitate to eliminate RVD. Van Dam said that is cool while telling Kane it’s fine because Rob said tonight he’ll make sure to do whatever it takes to ensure that the Royal Rumble winner is Rob Van Dam (along with the thumb pointing).
30-Man Royal Rumble Match
The announcers are Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, so both Raw guys got to do this, which made Smackdown really like the B show since their announcers were not calling this match at all. The intervals are at 90 seconds. Jim Ross also calls this the 15th Royal Rumble at several points during the match. I guess they’re not counting the 1988 Rumble that was on USA Network while the 1989 Rumble was the first one to be on PPV. It’s the 15th Royal Rumble on PPV, but the 16th Royal Rumble event overall.
It’s Shawn Michaels at #1, who is of course a babyface. At this point, he had only wrestled a few matches since his August 2002 comeback and we didn’t know how often he’d be wrestling. The #2 person is Chris Jericho, but it’s his tag partner Christian in the aisle. Jericho sneaks up from behind Michaels. He’s in evil heel mode. Jericho hits Michaels with a low blow, a running forearm and punches. Jericho has a steel chair from ringside, then he crushes Michaels in the head with a steel chair. You can see Michaels on his back about to blade himself as the camera moves away. Shawn comes up bleeding while referee Jack Doan made Jericho get rid of the chair. Michaels did block it with his hand, so that’s good to see. Speaking of head shots, here’s Chris Nowinski the Harvard grad at #3. Nowinski’s career would be cut short due to concussions and now he’s a big part of the Sports Legacy Institute that studies brain injuries of athletes. Jericho dumps out Michaels, who is battered, bloody and in a lot of pain. I remember being so excited about Michaels in a Rumble again. Shawn’s short tenure was disappointing, but I loved this as an angle. It did a great job in building up to their match at WrestleMania 19. Making his Rumble debut at #4 is Rey Mysterio since Rey started in WWE in the summer of 2002. Mysterio comes in with a lot of energy with a springboard dropkick and takes it to Jericho who nearly eliminates Rey, but he holds onto the ring post. Springboard dropkick by Mysterio to Jericho as Nowinski finally gets in the ring. It’s Edge at #5, who was an energetic babyface at this point. Edge hits spears on Jericho and Nowinski, who rolls out to the floor. Mysterio with a hurricanrana off the top on Jericho. Edge and Rey double team Jericho, throwing him into the ring post. Even though they’re friends, Edge and Rey start fighting while Jericho and Nowinski remain on the floor. Edge and Mysterio nearly eliminated eachother, but each man was able to hang on. Edge blocked a hurricanrana attempt and hit a Powerbomb.
“Christian! Christian! At last you’re on your own!” It’s Christian at #6. Christian comes in to hug his “brother” Edge. They were still called brothers here although with Edge as a face he wasn’t going for it, so Edge hit a Spear on Christian. We’re not allowed to remember that they were billed as brothers anymore. Rey goes on Edge’s shoulder to do a move, Nowinski shoves them and they are able to hang on to avoid elimination. They go for a double dropkick spot, Rey hits Nowinski first and Edge lands on his face with his legs. Maybe that’s a concussion for Nowinski? It looked bad as a referee checked on Nowinski. Rey hits the Bronco Buster on Nowinski. It’s Chavo Guerrero at #7, who goes right after Rey. They immediately bust out some awesome moves as Rey hits the 619 on Chavo and Christian. Mysterio eliminates Nowinski with a hurricanrana. When Mysterio gets back to his feet, Jericho clotheslines Rey out of the ring. I’m surprised Rey didn’t last longer in his Rumble debut considering how popular he was. Tajiri is #8, who comes in with a lot of offense on Christian and Chavo including an impressive spin kick. Chavo with a back suplex on Tajiri. Christian tried to get rid of Tajiri to no avail. It’s a bit of a dead spot as we await the next competitor. A “very disturbed and dangerous human being” is #9, according to JR, Bill DeMott. He was also known as Hugh Morrus in WCW as well in his early WWE days. DeMott used his power to stomp on people as well as hit some clotheslines. There are no eliminations during his time in the match either. It’s Tommy Dreamer at #10, who is entering with a trash can full of weapons to a big pop. Dreamer beats on people with a kendo stick including a shot to Jericho’s face, which I assume was accidental. Edge and Dreamer take turns destroying DeMott with kendo sticks, so DeMott is gone after Edge hit him in the head with a kendo stick. Jericho and Christian double team Dreamer with trash can lids. Jericho and Christian eliminate Dreamer together. Tajiri hits a lovely springboard elbow and then he goes for the Tarantula on Jericho, but Chris shoves him out. That was a clever elimination spot.
It’s B-Squared aka Bull Buchanan at #11. This is not a gimmick that would last very long for B2. B2 charges in at Edge, who avoids him and tosses him out after 24 seconds of fun. Chavo gets eliminated by Edge via spear while he’s standing on the apron. We’re down to Edge, Christian and Jericho while I have a Canadagasm. Edge and Christian are battling by the ropes, so Jericho throws out Edge & Christian at the same time even though Christian is his buddy. Jericho’s got a nasty cut on his head from that kendo stick shot from Dreamer. Jericho’s all alone in the ring until #12 comes out and it’s Rob Van Dam, who is a very popular babyface. RVD dominates Jericho with kicks, leg drops and the Rolling Thunder splash. RVD does a slingshot to Jericho and Jericho avoids elimination by holding onto the top rope. That was an awesome job by Jericho hanging on. It’s heel Matt Hardy at #13 with Shannon Moore by his side and the Matt Fact is that Matt strongly dislikes mustard. Me too. Ketchup is okay, though. I hear he loves grapes. Hardy takes down RVD while Jericho dropkicks RVD. Jericho hits the bulldog on RVD and misses the Lionsault. RVD counters with a spinning kick and Five Star Frog Splash on Jericho. That was an awesome one. It’s “Latino Heat” Eddie Guerrero at #14, who was a heel tag champ with Chavo Guerrero at this point. RVD gives Eddie a monkey flip and nearly eliminates him, but Eddie holds on. Hardy slams RVD, Eddie hits a frog splash on RVD, and Hardy hits a Twist of Fate on Eddie leaving Matt the only guy left standing. It’s Jeff Hardy at #15, who is a babyface of course. The Hardy brothers were on different shows at this point with Jeff on Raw and Matt on Smackdown. Jeff takes control and Shannon Moore saves Matt by using his feet to keep him on the apron. Jeff hits the Twist of Fate, but Shannon goes in the ring to prevent it. Shannon lies on top of Matt, so Jeff hits a Swanton both of them. Why would you lie down on a guy to prevent somebody from jumping? Why not just move him? I guess he was sacrificing himself.
Rosey from 3 Minute Warning is in at #16 with Rico walking him to the ring. It’s a slow time period as Eddie hits a nice back suplex on Hardy. There’s Test at #17 with Stacy Keibler, who was his actual girlfriend at the time. Test busts out the power moves on everybody while nearly eliminating Jericho, who hangs on by the turnbuckle. The big story of this match has been Jericho’s ability to keep himself from being eliminated. “Yo yo yo” it’s John Cena in the #18 spot coming out to his rapping gimmick. Cena cuts a rap on his way to the ring. Cena was only doing this for a couple of months at this point and getting a lot of attention for it. I’m not going to write it all out. Cena’s a heel here and the last line of his rap has him say: “My style’s like a swollen penis – you can’t beat me.” Most of his career was in the PG era of WWE where lines like that never would have been allowed. How time flies, huh? King: “Did you like the rap JR?” JR: “90 seconds of what the hell did he say? Word to your mother.” Haha. Ross calls him a future main event player who is a top prospect. Cena’s wrestling in jeans, which looks weird for him.
It’s Team Angle member Charlie Haas at #19, who comes in on fire except he doesn’t really eliminate anybody. Jeff Hardy jumps to the top, RVD chases him and pushes him to the floor to eliminate him. Eddie hits a great hurricanrana off the top rope on Jericho. It’s Rikishi at #20 as JR mentions that he’s in his 8th Rumble, which was the most of all time at this point. If you’re counting other gimmicks for him then he is because he had a few different incarnations over the years. Anybody miss The Sultan? No? Okay. Rikishi knocks everybody down with kicks and then has a showdown with Rosey who is a part of that huge Samoan family tree that exists in wrestling. Rosey helps him take down Matt and Moore, who was interfering, but then Rosey turns on Rikishi with a clothesline leading to a flip bump from Rikishi. That’s impressive by the big man.
The #21 spot belongs to Jamal, who we would later know as Umaga. Jamal goes after Rikishi, but he eats a kick and so does Rosey. Rikishi hits a Stinkface on Jamal, which is the way we all should treat our family members (they are cousins). Jericho tries to eliminate RVD, but he hangs on. You know it’s a big name because they go to a wide camera shot as Kane graces us at #22. The ring is full of people, so Kane attacks everybody including a Chokeslam on Rico. He’s still in mask wearing mode, by the way. Kane eliminates Rosey with a backdrop. Double chokeslam by Kane on Matt and Moore. Jericho barely hangs on again. Shelton Benjamin gets the #23 spot as Team Angle does some double teaming. Matt avoids elimination. The ring is getting pretty full while nothing major is happening. It’s Booker T at #24, who was now a babyface getting a good pop. He hits the Scissors Kick on Kane. Flapjack to Matt Hardy leads to a Spinarooni. Eddie charges, so Booker eliminates Eddie with a back body drop over the top to the floor. Booker goes to work on Rikishi. Cena hasn’t done a whole lot in the match. It must be the jeans’ fault. It’s A-Train at #25 as JR throws in the usual comment about his head size being 8’3/8” which is something JR said all the time. A-Train hits his power moves on three of the guys, but never eliminates anybody as Rikishi hit A-Train with a superkick. Jericho saves himself from a Rikishi elimination with an eye rake. Here comes a bloody Shawn Michaels to go after Jericho. Other heels jump in to help Jericho. After Jericho punched Michaels, Test boots Jericho in the gut and throws Jericho out. Of all people to throw him out, they pick Test? Michaels uses the ropes to propel himself over the top, crashing onto Jericho on the floor. Referees broke that up to keep Michaels and Jericho apart.
It’s Maven in the #26 spot as the announcers reference the fact that he eliminated Undertaker the year before. Kane beats on Maven with punches. By my count there are 13 guys in the ring right now. The #27 spot belongs to Goldust, who hits a nice powerslam on Benjamin. Goldust hits the Shattered Dreams kick on A-Train. Goldust goes after Benjamin, so Haas clubs him from behind to get Goldust out of the match. Team Angle works together to live Booker over the top and then they stomp Booker T out of the ring. It’s a 317-pound Animal at #28 Batista, who is a heel. JR goes over his size as he drills Cena with a clothesline. Those two might have a bright future. Batista looks so awkward with that much hair. Test hits a Full Nelson slam on Batista. Test tries to boot Batista out, but Batista hangs on and Test falls out. Sorry Testicles – that’s the name of Test’s fans. Batista with a spinebuster on Rikishi. Batista hits an awkward spear on Benjamin and then Batista clotheslines Rikishi out. Here Comes The Pain at #29 Brock Lesnar, who is making his Rumble debut (Lesnar’s main roster debut was March 2002) and he’s a babyface now after being a heel for much of his 2002 debut year. Huge reaction for Lesnar as a favorite in the match. Team Angle tries to throw Lesnar out, but Brock throws them out at the same time. Lesnar hits the F5 finisher on Matt Hardy over the top to eliminate him. Wow, that was an awesome move and bump as Hardy crashed onto Team Angle on the floor. A-Train with a bicycle kick on Batista.
The #30 spot belongs to The Undertaker, who is back to being a babyface after I enjoyed his heel character so much in 2002. Taker went into the ring and hit punches on a bunch of different guys. Taker got taken out by Big Show prior to this, so this was a return. When doesn’t he make returns?
Taker goes right after Cena and eliminates him. Cena didn’t have an impact in this match at all. Undertaker clotheslines Jamal out of there. Maven dropkicks Undertaker in the back like he did the year before and he celebrates, but Maven did not eliminate him this time. Big chokeslam by Undertaker for Maven, so Maven gets thrown out by Undertaker. A-Train hits the A-Train Bomb on Undertaker. Kane hits a Chokeslam on Lesnar as we have five big dudes left plus RVD. RVD hits spin kicks on A-Train and Batista. A-Train with clotheslines for Kane and RVD. A-Train wanted a Powerbomb on Kane, RVD with a spin kick, so Kane and RVD team up to clothesline A-Train out of there. Kane goes to press slam RVD on Batista, but Kane changes his mind and throws RVD out of the ring to eliminate RVD. Kane shrugged his shoulders at him.
Final four are Undertaker, Kane, Batista and Lesnar. Big guys only, pal. It’s a hoss-fest! Double clothesline spot by Batista and Kane. Now it’s time for a Lesnar-Undertaker showdown. They had a feud in the autumn of 2002 when Lesnar beat Undertaker in a very good Hell in a Cell match. Batista hits a spinebuster on Undertaker in an impressive move. The crowd’s not reacting to Batista much at all. Lesnar hits an overhead belly to belly and an F5 on Kane. The F5 is one of my favorite finishers ever. Undertaker hits the big boot on Lesnar. Brock nearly eliminates Undertaker, but he hangs on. Lesnar wanted an F5, Taker fought out of it and Undertaker hits a Tombstone on Lesnar that looked sloppy. Batista got back up, so Undertaker clotheslines Batista out.
It’s down to three men. Undertaker pulls Kane up to his feet as JR didn’t think we’d see them working together again. Kane walks in front of Undertaker, Taker grabs him by the neck and throws him out. Batista comes in with a chair, but Undertaker kicks him avoids it. Stiff chair shot by Undertaker to Batista’s head. Lesnar sneaks in from behind Undertaker, picks up Undertaker by the legs and dumps him out for the win.
Winner: Brock Lesnar
The match ended at 53:41.
FIVE RANDOM THOUGHTS on the Royal Rumble match
– It felt very average a lot of the way and didn’t have the same excitement that the last three Rumbles (all very good to great matches) had. The winner was pretty obvious like a lot of the Rumbles are. I think having more than 10 guys in the ring for as much as they did really slowed down the action to the point that it hurt the match a bit.
– The finish was weak. It would have been nicer to see Lesnar knock out Undertaker with some power move rather than a cheap elimination after a heel tried to cheapshot Undertaker. I guess it’s typical WWE booking in that they want to protect Undertaker, but WWE was banking their future on Lesnar. I think Lesnar should have been even more impressive during this match.
– The Jericho/Michaels angle to start the match was very well done to set the stage for their WrestleMania 19 match. It fit Jericho’s heel persona perfectly while giving us a reason to care about Michaels getting revenge on him. Good booking. Jericho carried the match while he was in the ring.
– It’s interesting to see Cena and Batista before they were stars. I don’t even remember Batista in this match. You could tell they were high on him if they booked him into the final four this early into his career. I’m pretty sure this is the first Rumble ever to reference a swollen penis. Thanks Cena.
– The Maven/Undertaker spot was a lot of fun because of what happened the previous year. That was clever.
FACTS & OPINIONS about the Royal Rumble match
Person that lasted the longest: Chris Jericho at 38:54.
Most Eliminations: Chris Jericho with 6.
Best Performers (3): Chris Jericho – Easily the star of this match. His near eliminations were great, the attack on Michaels early was fantastic, he had the most eliminations and he was in the ring the longest. Star of the match by far.
Rob Van Dam – He was in second longest at 33 minutes and did a good job bringing energy to the match.
Brock Lesnar – I was impressed by his power as always.
Best Elimination: Brock Lesnar hitting the F5 on Matt Hardy to eliminate him.
Match Rating: *** A good match with an obvious result although I liked the way the final two was booked with Lesnar getting rid of Undertaker to win. You can tell their booking for these matches got a lot better as we entered into the 2000s.
(Vinny Mac must have felt like he needed to push the big guys since the final four were all big guys. Lesnar worked well here. I thought Jericho was tremendous in the match early on with Michaels and then throughout the match he was so entertaining. The Lesnar/Undertaker stuff was good too. I liked how the ending was booked.)
After the match, Undertaker went into the ring and signaled for the title belt around his waist. It was Undertaker telling Brock he wants a title shot if Brock wins the title. There were replays of the last few eliminations.
The show ended with Lesnar celebrating the win.
The show had a run time of 2:38:10 on WWE Network.
Show rating (out of 10): 6
This was just an average show or maybe slightly above average with a lot of new faces getting featured in the Rumble match. It’s hard for me to say the whole thing was great. I think it’s a two-match show. Check out the Royal Rumble because it’s always fun to watch Rumble matches with some future all-time greats like Lesnar, Cena and Batista at early points in their careers. (Randy Orton was on the PPV, but not in the Rumble match.) I recommend Angle/Benoit if you want to see an outstanding match. I know some people don’t want to watch Benoit matches, though, so that’s up to you. It really is one of my favorite WWE matches ever and the Boston crowd loved it especially after the stinker that was Triple H/Steiner. The rest of the card was weak including Triple H/Steiner in a bad match, plus Torrie/Dawn was awful and the first two matches were just average.
(I think that rating is fair. If there wasn’t a five-star match then it would be at five or less, but the one match really helps a lot.)
Best Match: Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit (***** out of 5)
Worst Match: Torrie Wilson vs. Dawn Marie (-*)
Five Stars Of The Show
- Kurt Angle
- Chris Jericho
- Rob Van Dam
- Brock Lesnar
- The Undertaker
I don’t include Benoit here for obvious reasons, but based on his performance, he would have been here along with Angle.
That’s all for me. Check out the full list of my WWE PPV Review archive right here. Thanks for reading.